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U.S. Celluloid

July 2024
1min read

Despite THE movie exhibitor of the thirties who once pleaded, “Don’t send me any more pictures that start where a guy is writing with a feather, ” American history has always been one of the themes of American movies. There are so many good plots and great characters in our past that one can easily conceive of an entertaining, if preposterous, history of the United States made up of clips from several hundred films: from Drums Along the Mohawk to Suiter’s Gold to Gone With the Wind; from Sergeant York to Little Caesar to The Grapes of Wrath to Pride of the Marines to All the President’s Men.

Less obvious is the influence of the American movie on American history, probably because that influence is so pervasive it is hard to recognize its source in the play of shadows on a screen. Still, most of us are more or less aware of how our lives were changed by movies: the undershirt, to start with the most mundane, went out of style for decades when Clark Gable took off his shirt to reveal a bare chest in It Happened One Night. We learned how a truly sophisticated man walked and talked from William Powell in The Thin Man and My Man Godfrey. We tried to emulate the charm of Carole Lombard and Cary Grant; and tried on for size the menace of Bogart, Cagney, and the rest of the Warner Mob (see page 32). We saw adolescent gripes turned into transcendental angst by James Dean; admired the forthrightness and moral integrity of characters played by Katharine Hepburn (liberal ideal) and John Wayne (conservative ideal).

The look of movies shaped our haircuts, posture, clothing, interior decoration, and plans for future travel, not to say our professions and marriages. The sound track provided useful language for doing business and making love. The content told us whom to cheer for on the battlefield, at home on the range, and in outer space. Whole generations owe some part of the measure of who they are and what they should be to the movies. Consider the phenomenon of Richard Nixon, who never grew tired of watching reruns of Patton in and out of the White House.

Matters of broad cultural history aside, the fact that movies have been the predominant form of entertainment in this century seems justification enough for the garland of Hollywood stories we offer in this issue. Five short subjects, to be exact, including cartoons and exclusive posters of the stars.

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