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Hollywood in the Fifties

by Sam Kashner & Jennifer MacNair

Pub Date: May 28th, 2002
ISBN: 0-393-04321-5
Publisher: Norton

Anecdotal account of the world of 1950s cinema and the forces that helped destroy the studio system and reshape Hollywood.

Journalists Kashner and MacNair depict a Hollywood struggling against the audience-draining impact of TV while balancing the demand for wholesome films with the postwar drift toward realism and sexual candor. Thorough research and lighthearted analysis of numerous personalities and trends mix with discussions of landmark films that in retrospect appear to define the decade: Sweet Smell of Success, Rebel Without a Cause, Night of the Hunter, Peyton Place. The authors track the powerful influence on Hollywood of suburbanization, the Red Scare, juvenile delinquency, and societal concerns about the disintegration of the family—in addition to exploring Hollywood’s “religious period,” which resulted in The Robe, The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, and The Greatest Story Ever Told; the advent of the influential approach to acting known as “The Method”; and the impact of directors and actors who arrived as refugees from Hitler’s Europe (Douglas Sirk) or were political or artistic rebels (Clifford Odets, Man Ray). The description of Method acting and the careers of those devoted to the technique (James Dean, Shelly Winters, Montgomery Clift) is a reminder of an era when the determination to capture reality occasionally out-manuevered Tinseltown glitz. The authors are so successful at enumerating the rising tawdriness of celebrities during this period and journalists’ inclination toward the exposé that the reader is likely to gain new respect for those individuals who survived with their reputations intact. Pages are filled with breezy but artful profiles of those survivors, and others: Rock Hudson, Robert Mitchum, Gloria Swanson, Burt Lancaster, Oscar Levant, directors Alexander Mackendrick and Nicholas Ray, screenwriter Alvah Bessie, playwright William Inge, Peyton Place author Grace Metalious, and columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons.

Enjoyable cultural history that gives a compelling sense of how ’50s Hollywood reacted to change and how, in turn, it influenced a nation of moviegoers.