“Film makers can’t get enough of Adolf Hitler. I think it’s because he’s the perfect villain.” Arnold Pistorius
Once upon a time in Hollywood…1941-1976
So in a sweeping look at American film history today we’re going to clip off 35 years. Again one of the reasons for this brief look back at film history is to see how change has been a constant throughout the business and to see how we are in another major shift.
Hollywood had enjoyed its greatest decade through the 1930s in the short history of the film industry. (Some still believe that era was the greatest movie decade of all-time.)
1940 & 1941 continued the Golden Era of cinema. But then on December 7, 1941 the world changed for Americans with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The United States was coming off The Great Depression which started with the crash of Wall Street in 1929.
Hollywood actors and directors lended a hand in making training and propaganda films . And then there were movies about the war and its lingering effects back in the states.
So Proudly We Hail, 1943
Best Years of Our Lives, 1946
But I think the biggest lingering effect of Hitler and the Nazi’s is it created a world of fear. I’m not sure we’ve ever recovered from the idea that one man could cause so much pain and destruction in the modern world.
“The motion pictures made during World War II deeply affected Steven Spielberg, and movies about the war remain fertile ground for numerous filmmakers during subsequent decades. One reason for the continued popularity of these sages, and for movies about different wars as well, is the panoply of visual pleasures such conflicts offer.” “Citizen Spielberg”: by Lester D. Friedman
Europe exported existential thought and a new wave of movies that we free morality standards in the American film industry.
Much has been written about the prosperity that followed World War II, but many films reflected a period of questioning human existence and sometimes landing on nihilism or some for of despair. And themes that followed from World War II were prevalent for at least the next 30 years—and maybe until the present day. (The names and fears have just changed over the years)
Look at some of the top films of the 50s:
Rebel Without a Cause
On the Waterfront
War of the Worlds
Death of a Salesman
Sci-Fi films with end of the world themes were popular:
It Came From Outer Space
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Hilter may have been gone but there were plenty of worries beyond wondering how Jerry Mathers was going to break in his baseball glove on Leave it to Beaver. (The Korean War, Soviets, the Bomb, communists, etc.)
And then into the 60s President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr were shot and killed, there were riots in Chicago, L.A. and other cities. Viet Nam War. And if things werem’t bad enough TIME Magazine’s cover on April 8, 1966 asked, “Is God Dead?”
Some of the more well known movies of the 60s were:
Dr, Strangelove; or how I stopped learning to Love the Bomb
They Don’t Shoot Horses Do They?
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Bonnie & Clyde
2001 A Space Odyssey
The Wild Bunch
The Manchurian Candidate
The pessimistic trend continued into the early 1970s in politics with Viet Nam & Watergate as well as at the movies:
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Five Easy Pieces
The Last Picture Show
Sure you had Disney movies and light musicals during all these years but these films represent much of the best films of the era.
Bruce became the catalyst for change. Bruce was a mechanical shark on the set of the 1975 film JAWS who didn’t work as well as desired. But he worked well in the edit bay and the $7 million film went on to make over $400 million worldwide. Sure there was blood and guts, but it had a happy ending.
The tent pole movie was born (or maybe just perfected). And once that genie was out of the bottle everybody in Hollywood was shooting for the $100 million boxoffice goal. By this time Viet Nam was over and Americans were ready to get on with life and the bicentennial celebration of the United States in 1976.
And Rocky was there toward the end of the year to give audiences something to cheer about. I do believe the one-two punch of JAWS & Rocky had a huge impact on the future of the film business. More thills per minute and a somewhat happy ending that would make a lot of money.