Hollywood and the Movies of the Fifties: The Collapse of the Studio System, the Thrill of Cinerama, and the Invasion of the Ultimate Body Snatcher—Television

Knopf. Oct. 2023. 672p. ISBN 9780307958921. $40. FILM
Prolific cinema scholar Hirsch (film, Brooklyn Coll.; A Method to Their Madness) reassesses many stereotypes about filmmaking in the 1950s, arguably the United States’ peak of social and political influence. Technological innovations such as CinemaScope and VistaVision gained traction to challenge television, Hollywood’s at-home rival. Hollywood diversified and continued to produce popular fare that tested introspective antihero vehicles. It also financed films such as Storm Warning, in which Ronald Reagan and Ginger Rogers battled the Ku Klux Klan, and Storm Center, with librarian Bette Davis fighting book banners. The book notes the aftermath of legal cases such as Olivia de Havilland’s 1944 lawsuit to limit studio contracts, which cleared the way for greater experimentation by free agent actors, and the 1948 Hollywood antitrust case, which forced studios to sell off their own theaters and start selling films on an individual basis. Hirsch shares his opinions, including that Marlon Brando was Hollywood’s greatest actor, and that Lillian Gish and Robert Mitchum gave their greatest performances in The Night of the Hunter. He proves to be knowledgeable, astute, and sometimes provocative in his assessments.
VERDICT A remarkable analysis. Recommended for knowledgeable film lovers and for those seeking suggestions of mid-century film titles.
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