Thursday 30 August 2012

Movies, Monsters & Morale

"No medium has contributed more greatly than the film to the maintenance of the national morale during a period featured by revolution, riot and political turmoil in other countries."
(Will Hays, Head of the Motion Picture Producers and Distibutors Association, 1934)
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In the 1930's when America saw more civil unrest than any other era since the Civil War, Americans were searching for an escape:  they found it in the movie theatres.  Although movie attendance initially dropped in the early thirties, movie moguls did several things to fill the seats in the theatres including cutting ticket prices to 25 cents, offering free dishes to patrons, offering double billings and holding Bank Nights (the patron with the lucky number won money).  One website states that as many as 60 to 80 million people attended movies in the Dirty Thirties. 
The genre had seen the switch from the silent films to talkies in 1927, which gave the industry a big boost.  In the early thirties, horror films reigned like King Kong, Dracula and Frankenstein.  Moviegoers paid to see King Kong climb the Empire State Building to catch Fay Wray and Bela Legosi suck the necks of unsuspecting women and Frankenstein piece together a human body played by Boris Karloff.  They laughed at the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup and they chuckled at Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in the romantic comedy It Happened One Night.  Later in the decade, moviegoers were treated to the fantasy of the Wizard of Oz and the sentimentality of Gone with the Wind
When the curtain went down and the lights came up in the movie palaces, moviegoers exited the theatre and returned to a grim reality.  But for a couple of hours, Americans got a much needed respite.  And movie companies saw the ushering in of the Golden Age of Hollywood.  
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