Transforming the Screen 1950-1959

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Overview

In the early 1950s, the film industry was threatened on several fronts. Competition from television, a government-mandated division of production studios from theater chains, and widespread Cold War fears, resulting in the infamous Hollywood Blacklist, all threatened to undermine the business. Cinema admissions declined by about 50 percent between 1946 and 1957, and some observers suspected that the industry did not have a future. Hollywood's response was dramatic. In the decade that followed, the cinema-going experience was transformed by new technologies, including 3-D, Cinerama, Cinema-Scope, and stereophonic sound. Bigger, visually spectacular films like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments began to appear. Above all, the decade witnessed the astonishing invasion of science fiction and horror, as monsters from space came to represent the public's growing fear of Communist infiltration and the atomic age, culminating in classics such as Them!, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Peter Lev's volume in the award-winning History of the American Cinema series considers the films of the 1950s in detail. It documents the transformation of the old Hollywood, with its familiar stars and genres, into a new, more diversified industry that was able to reach out to the newly acknowledged "teenage" generation with rock and roll films, and movies as diverse as Rebel Without a Cause and Gidget. Film content in the early 1950s was constrained by the Motion Picture Production Code, the Catholic Legion of Decency, and government pressures stemming from the Cold War. Filmmakers involved in leftist or liberal causes were likely to be blacklisted -- even Charlie Chaplin was not exempt -- and an escalating number of American artists found themselves unable to work. By the later 1950s, however, the Production Code had been loosened and Cold War anxieties had begun to recede. Controversial topics such as race relations were once again on Hollywood's agenda.

Hollywood glamour and spectacle were still important to the box office, but alternative approaches were now also possible. A New York school of filmmaking, influenced by Method Acting, Italian Neorealism, and live television drama, garnered Best Picture Academy Awards for On The Waterfront and Marty. Documentary films ranging from Disney's True-Life Adventures to This Is Cinerama and Come Back, Africa were released theatrically, and hundreds more were shown on television. Farther from the mainstream, experimental film benefited from a growing network of filmmaker organizations, exhibition opportunities, and critical outlets. This wide-ranging volume considers the breadth of 1950s production, contributing important background information on the changing structure of the industry and including separate chapters, some by guest authors, on censorship, the blacklist (by Brian Neve), genres, the impact of television on the cinema (by Janet Wasko), documentary (by Jack C. Ellis), science fiction films (by Victoria O'Donnell) and experimental film (by Greg S. Faller). The 1950s has aptly been called an era of transition; Transforming the Screen is an invaluable study of the period's challenges and changes.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The 1950s was a decade of tension and transition in Hollywood, brought about by television, the breakup of the studio system, runaway film production, censorship, and the blacklist. This closing entry in the publisher's ten-volume "History of the American Cinema" series ranks as an academic survey of notable trends during that important decade. Lev (American Films of the '70s: Conflicting Visions) places this country's moviemaking in historical context, attempting to cover its many aspects, from lavish spectacles to intimate independent productions. While there is good coverage of new processes like CinemaScope and Cinerama-wide-screen ventures that Hollywood devised to lure audiences back to the theaters-surprisingly little is found on that Fifties favorite, the drive-in. Lev zooms in on specific films like The Ten Commandments in detailed "case studies" and describes emerging genres like teen flicks, sf "creature features," and Cold War political thrillers. He also comments on how the new sexual frankness of postwar America contributed to the fraying of movie production codes. However, as the 1950s was surely a golden age for romantic films, more coverage here would have been welcome. Charts and graphs will be quite useful to students, ranging over such varied topics as the average price of a ticket, number of theaters, top moneymakers, and even the number of wide-screen and 3D releases. Readers looking for popular studies should be directed to Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair's gossipy but readable The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties or Peter Biskind's Seeing Is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us To Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties. This rather pricey book is recommended for large academic film collections.-Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Contributors xiii
Introduction 1
1. The American Film Industry in the Early 1950s 7
2. Genres and Production Trends, 1950-1954 33
3. HUAC, the Blacklist, and the Decline of Social Cinema 65
4. Censorship and Self-Regulation 87
5. Technology and Spectacle 107
6. Hollywood and Television in the 1950s: The Roots of Diversification 127
7. Hollywood International 147
8. Science Fiction Films and Cold War Anxiety 169
9. The Film Industry in the Late 1950s 197
10. Genres and Production Trends, 1955-1959 217
11. American Documentary in the 1950s 257
12. "Unquiet Years": Experimental Cinema in the 1950s 279
Appendixes
Appendix 1 Number of Feature Films Released by the Eight Major Distribution Companies, 1950-1960 303
Appendix 2 Number of Motion Picture Theaters in the United States 304
Appendix 3 Motion Picture Box Office Receipts in the United States 304
Appendix 4 Average Price of a Movie Ticket in the United States, 1950-1960 305
Appendix 5 Widescreen and 3-D Releases, 1952-1960 305
Appendix 6 Top Ten Moneymakers Poll (Actors and Actresses), 1950-1960 306
Appendix 7 Academy Award Nominations and Winners for Best Picture, 1950-1960 307
Appendix 8 Other Major Academy Awards 309
Notes 315
Selected Bibliography 341
Picture Sources 347
General Index 349
Index of Films 377
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