Laughing Hysterically: American Screen Comedy of the 1950s / Edition 1

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With the likes of Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, and Frank Tashlin revelling in "monkeys, babies, beautiful blondes, money, and cruelty" in their signature films of the 1950s, this seemingly conformist period turns out to be one of the most dynamic and original eras in Hollywood history. What distinguishes these directors is their candid and amusing exploration of cultural anxieties in carnival form. Quirky yet complex films such as Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Sunset Boulevard, The Trouble with Harry, and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? released and expressed the sexual repression and frustration we commonly associate with the decade. In clear and elegant prose, Sikov argues that these comedies are examples of popular cinema's uncanny capacity for cultural criticism. Highlighting Hawks's "skewed classicism," Wilder's "gallows humor," Hitchcock's "subversive morbidity," and Tashlin's "shrill CinemaScopic" fragmentation, the author discusses the raucous "rebelliousness" of the films these directors made in an era of widespread conservatism. Through satire and caricature, their films focus on the general anxiety - particularly over homosexuality, female sexuality, rock and roll, and Communism - that lay below the surface of homogeneity, progress, and domesticity in the period. Illustrated with over forty film stills, Laughing Hysterically captures the clout and glamour of such '50s icons as Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, William Holden, and Jerry Lewis by insightful analysis of their influence on and expression of a burgeoning culture of consumption in the movies. The 1950s produced comedies "that looked and sounded like nothing had ever looked and sounded before." Laughing Hysterically delights readers with an exploration of this very special group of films, and in the process, accomplishes what all good criticism should do: it makes the reader want to see the movies again from a fresh perspective.
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Editorial Reviews

Sikov's work is an engaging, slightly quirky exploration of the comedy of the 1950s through the work of four directors-Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, and Frank Tashlin. . . . An excellent addition to a neglected area of study.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Rejecting the notion that the 1950s was a bleak, comformist decade in the U.S., this engaging, sophisticated study argues that the era's film comedies reflect the period's underappreciated artistic and social rebelliousness. Sikov focuses on four directors-Howard Hawks Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Billy Wilder Some Like It Hot, Alfred Hitchcock The Trouble With Harry and Frank Tashlin Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?-whose comedies undercut drab normality, attack moral hypocrisy, satirize the powerful, and expose sexual repression and frustration. Sikov Screwball: Hollywood's Madcap Romantic Comedies also examines filmic references to homosexuality in the context of the period's antigay obsessions, exploring, for example, the ``homophilic'' bond between screen buddies Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Illustrated. Oct.
Library Journal
Film scholar Sikov closely analyzes a choice group of the funniest and most complex films by Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, and Frank Tashlin, including Some Like It Hot, Monkey Business, and Artists and Models. He is interested in how these films cleverly present, question, and satirize the intricate web of societal values and repressions that characterized America in the Fifties. In particular, Sikov analyzes-with vehement intensity-such issues as the double-edged representations of women's roles, homosexual innuendo, intimate relationships, and family structure. He studies dialog, roles, situations, contrasts, and film technique, occasionally debating positions taken by other scholars. A unique study for large film collections.-Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, N.J.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231079839
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 8/20/1996
  • Series: Film and Culture Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 282
  • Product dimensions: 5.94 (w) x 8.94 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Hearing the Laughter 1
Ch. 1 Howard Hawks and the Comedy of Frustration 39
Ch. 2 Billy Wilder and the American Dream 88
Ch. 3 Unrest in Peace: Hitchcock's Fifties Humor 150
Ch. 4 Living Looney Tunes: The Art of Frank Tashlin 179
Epilogue: The Big Carnival 243
Notes 247
Bibliography 257
Index 269
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