1940’s Hollywood and a Period of Social Consciousness


1940’s  Hollywood  was undergoing a bout with subconscious guilt over the film industries depiction of racial and religious minorities in cinema. Or, was it just another avenue of profit to be explored. This was and is still subject for debate. The motion picture industry was about to enter a period that some would call courageous while others would denounce it.

By the late 1940’s  Hollywood  studios began developing a number of films that proposed to address the problems of racial justice, or injustice. With regard to accurately depicting minorities in pictures, any film studio would face almost insurmountable obstacles when trying to make an honest social statement.

In 1946, Dore Schary purchased the rights to Richard Brooks’s wartime novel The Brick Foxhole. The book dealt with the subject of homosexuality, a subject that was generally considered to be taboo and undesirable for filmmaking.

Schary changed the theme of the story to the equally undesirable subject of anti-Semitism. The resulting film was the 1947 Film Noir classic Crossfire starring the popular trio of Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Ryan. The films considerable success helped open the door for social sensitive issues in motion pictures.

Stanley Kramer followed by purchasing the rights to the play Home of the Brave, which also dealt with anti-Semitism. However, Kramer replaced the Jewish hero of the story with an African American hero. The film was cheaply made and earned a lot of money, Stanley Kramer was now a rising force in  Hollywood , and the public’s paranoid fear of the film inciting race riots never materialized.

Both Dore Schary and Stanley Kramer had come to recognize that traditional taboos against racial and religious injustice were weakening, and they had the courage to act on their realization.

However, the profitability of this new type of social film caused bottom-line hungry  Hollywood  to produce a glut of these films offering varying quality. Many contributed positively, speaking out against unresolved racial and religious dilemma’s, while others hedged on their efforts and were purely revenue motivated.

The most notable of these motion pictures were Gentleman’s Agreement, Lost Boundaries, Pinky, Intruder in the Dust, and No Way Out. Inevitably, the mass production of this type of film proved to be too much of a good thing. Public interest was quickly exhausted and the productions came to an abrupt end.

While the results of this filmmaking period did not please everyone, there is no doubt that 1940’s  Hollywood  had taken a bold step in the right direction.

Source by Carl DiNello

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