English 5950 Special Topics in Literature: 

Studios and Stars/American Cinema of the 1930s and 1940s


FRANK GRADY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          SPRING 2016

461 LUCAS                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    T 7:00

516-5592 / fgrady@umsl.edu                                                                                                                                                                                                                         455 LUCAS

T 3:30-5:00, Th 11:30-1:00                                                                                                                                                                                                                             [SEC. G03, #11670]

& by appointment                                          



In 1990 the U.S. Post Office issued commemorative stamps honoring four classic American films: Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, and Beau Geste.

It was hardly a coincidence that all four films had originally been released in 1939, for that year has widely been regarded as "Hollywood's greatest year," during

which the major film studios finally shook off the effects of the Great Depression, reaching new heights in employment and drawing in 40 to 50 million patrons a

 week to see what most students of American film consider to be some of the best movies ever made in Hollywood.  Of course, Hollywood was the first to break

the good news about Hollywood's artistic triumphs that year, and some of this is just standard entertainment industry hoopla, at seven decades' distance. And if

that year marked a pinnacle of one sort, it was also the beginning of the end for the studio system that had dominated the film industry for a generation: the European

 markets that had traditionally provided Hollywood with a quarter of its income were about to be lost to World War II, and soon after the war the studios finally

lost the fierce battle against antitrust legislation that they had waged for two decades. Even the most successful film of 1939 (indeed, the most successful film ever,

to that point), Gone withthe Wind, can be seen  as the precursor of the blockbuster event-movie that dominates the cinema industry of our day, an industry very

different in organization from the system that governed American filmmaking in the ‘30s and ‘40s.


In this course we'll try to see what the excitement was all about by studying several films from that era. Along the way we'll also learn something about the entertainment industry and the studio system, American cultural history, film language and technology, film stars and genres, and film theory and criticism. We'll be "taking Hollywood seriously," as one of your textbooks puts it, as a site of artistic, cultural, social, economic, and imaginary importance, both then and now.


Required texts:

·         Edward Buscombe, Stagecoach. British Film Institute, 1992

·         Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema. 2nd ed. Blackwell, 2003. (hence HC)

·         Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz. British Film Institute, 1992

·         Richard Schickel, Double Indemnity. British Film Institute, 1992

·         Additional essays available through MyGateway

·         Note: two relevant volumes in the History of the American Cinema series are available electronically through the UMSL’s link to the Gale Virtual Reference Library: Tino Balio’s Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939 (1993), and Thomas Schatz’s Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s (1997).  We will certainly be reading portions of the former; both can be accessed through the library catalogue page.



Additional Resources:                        

·         Required films will be available for streaming via MyGateway and should be watched carefully before the class date for which they are assigned. A high-speed connection is recommended.

·         Supplementary films are typically available via a rental service (e.g. Netflix or Amazon) or the public library; I can lend or supply some of the rarer ones.

·         Though most relevant documents (e.g., essay topics and supplementary readings) will be posted on MyGateway, the main course page will be at http://www.umsl.edu/~gradyf/5950filmSP2016.htm, which can also be reached through my home page (www.umsl.edu/~gradyf).  Bookmark it and expect frequent updates.

·         A reserve list of relevant texts will be maintained in the TJ library.


Course Requirements:: Two short 5-6 page essays, 15% each ; two 500-word film reviews, 7½ % each; final 12-15 page seminar paper, 35%; class grade, 20% (including attendance, participation, occasional writing assignments, and posting on the class discussion board according to the schedule we’ll establish).


Tentative Syllabus:

T JAN 19 Introduction; coming attractions; some film technique and vocabulary

Viewing: Sullivan’s Travels (1941; 90m) (links)

Reading:  "Taking Hollywood Seriously," HC 6-32 (also available on MyGateway)



T JAN 26  Studio production; Hollywood style

Viewing: “American Cinema: The Studio System” (MyGateway)

Reading:    "Industry 1: to 1948," HC 113-58

"Introduction" from Grand Design (MyGateway or UMSL online access)

Bordwell and Thomson, "Technological Change and Classical Film Style," ch. 5 in Grand Design  (MyGateway or UMSL online access)

Schatz, “New Hollywood, New Millennium” (MyGateway)


            Also relevant: "Feeding the Maw of Exhibition," Grand Design 73-108



T FEB2 America (and Hollywood) during the Depression

            Viewing: My Man Godfrey (1936; 94m); The Grapes of Wrath (1940; 129m) (links)


Reading:  Levine, “American Culture and the Great Depression” (MyGateway)

             Rauchway, “Americans in the Great Depression” (MyGateway)

            Leitch, “Twelve Fallacies in Contemporary Adaptation Theory”


            Also relevant: "Social Problem Films," Grand Design 280-98

                                    Leuchtenberg, “Smashup,” from The Perils of Prosperity (MyGateway)



T FEB 9 The prestige picture; Hollywood and the Civil War

Viewing: Gone With the Wind (1939; 232m) (links)


Reading: “Narrative 1," HC 452-70

 “Space 1 & 2,” HC 312-67

Also relevant: "Prestige Pictures," Grand Design 179-211



T FEB 16 Hollywood and race; the publicity industry

Viewing: Judge Priest (1934; 71m); Gone with the Wind: The Making of a Legend (1988)


Reading: “Entertainment 2,” HC 54-73

   “Performance 1,” HC 369-92

               Burks, “Gone with the Wind: Black and White in Technicolor” (MyGateway)


Also relevant: “Entertainment 1,” HC 33-53

Leff, “Gone with the Wind and Hollywood’s Racial Politics” (MyGateway)

Higgins, “A Fully Integrated Design: Light and Color in GWTW” (MyGateway)


**TH FEB 18 First Short Essay Due—Group One**



T FEB 23 The Production Code; Hollywood and War

Viewing: Casablanca (1942; 102m)


Reading: Maltby, "The Production Code and the Hays Office," Grand Design 37-72

                        “Narrative 2,” HC 471-90

                        Forman, from Our Movie Made Children (MyGateway)

                        “The Production Code of 1930” (MyGateway)

            Eco, “Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage”


Also relevant: Zizek, “Ego and Superego: Lacan as a Viewer of Casblanca” (MyGateway)

Ray, “The Culmination of Classic Hollywood: Casablanca” (MyGateway)


**TH FEB 25 First Short Essay Due—Group Alpha**



T MAR 1 Genre in film; what we know about the Western

Viewing: Stagecoach (1939; 96m); Dodge City (1939; 105m)


Reading: Buscombe, Stagecoach

"Genre," HC 74-110

Altman, “A Semantic/Syntactic Approach to Film Genre” (MyGateway)

Altman, “Where do genres come from?” (MyGateway)


Also relevant: Browne, “The Spectator-in-the Text: The Rhetoric of Stagecoach” (MyGateway)               

Bazin, “The Western: or The American Film Par Excellence” (MyGateway)



T MAR 8 Movie stars

Viewing: Ninotchka (1939; 110m) [in class] (links)


Reading: Dyer, “Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society” (MyGateway)

 Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (MyGateway)


Also relevant: Holmes, “The Hollywood Star System and . . . 1916-1934” (MyGateway)

                        “Selling Stars,” Grand Design 143-78



T MAR 15 Melodrama and the “women’s film

Viewing: Dark Victory (1939; 106m)


Reading:  Williams, “Melodrama Revised” (MyGateway)

Mulvey, “Afterthoughts…” (MyGateway)

Klaprat, “The Star as Market Strategy: Bette Davis in Another Light” (MyGateway)


Also relevant: Gledhill, “Rethinking Genre” (MyGateway)



T MAR 22 Spectacle and estrangement

Viewing: The Wizard of Oz (1939; 155m) (links)


Reading: "Time," HC 413-51

                         Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz

             Friedman, “Relinquishing Oz: Every Girl’s Anti-Adventure Story” (MyGateway)


Also relevant: Doty, “My Beautiful Wickedness: The Wizard of Oz as Lesbian Fantasy”   (Mygateway)



T APR 5 Hollywood and politics (links)

Viewing: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939; 130m)


Reading: "Politics," HC 268-303

 Levine, “Hollywood’s Washington” (MyGateway)

                        Capra, from The Name Above the Title (MyGateway)


Also relevant: Rogin and Moran, “Mr. Capra Goes to Washington” (MyGateway)


**TH APR 7 Second Short Essay Due—Group One**



T APR 12 Film criticism; auteur theory

Viewing: Only Angels Have Wings (1939; 122m) (links)


Reading: "Criticism," HC 493-525

            Wollen, “The Auteur Theory: Michael Curtiz, and Casablanca” (MyGateway)

            Stillinger, from Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius (MyGateway)


Also relevant: Staiger, “Authorship Approaches” (MyGateway)

Polan, “Auteur Desire” (MyGateway)           

Foucault, “What Is an Author?” (MyGateway)


TH APR 14 Second Short Essay Due—**Group Alpha**


T APR 19 Film noir

Viewing: The Maltese Falcon (1941; 100m); Double Indemnity (1944; 107m) (links)


Reading: Schickel, Double Indemnity

            Schrader, “Notes on Film Noir”



Also relevant: “American Cinema: Film Noir” (video link on MyGateway)



T APR 26  Essay conferences



T MAY 3 Conclusions; Film Conference/Oscar Ceremony



T MAY 10 Final Essays Due



SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS: Students with disabilities of any sort who believe that they may need special accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact the Disability Access Services Office in 144 Millennium Student Center at 516-6554 as soon as possible to ensure that such accommodations are arranged in a timely fashion.