The very enjoyable Tom Hanks produced series The Movies takes us back to the Golden Age of Hollywood with this episode. And all the names and the titles are familiar to film lovers. Garbo, Dietrich, Gable, Hepburn, Stewart, Grant, Hitchcock, Sturges, Hawks, DeMille, Wayne….
The names, and the films are iconic, and this dive into the early years of film are just a delight as we look at the cultural impact of cinema. It begins with the silent film and the proclaimed ‘fad’ of the talkies. There’s the birth of the movie star, the studio system, the threat of television, the introduction of the epic. Then there’s the influences of the Depression, as well as World War II, and the paranoia of McCarthyism.
We see the rise of the horror film with the Universal Monsters, the 50s became a hotbed for science fiction (good and bad). There’s discussion around those who followed right wing beliefs. Church-goers especially felt upset with what films portrayed. And they pressured the government and the studios to introduce a rating system for films. This impacted what filmmakers could show and or even imply on screen.
But those restrictions also served as the mother of invention, and film flourished around it. What flourished includes genres like the screwball comedy and the patter of films like It Happened One Night.
Once again, we are guided through the era by journalists, actors and directors that put the films in cultural context, as well as their personal effect on the viewer.
The first half of the twentieth century shows the viewer the rise of the studio, the star, the director, and the beginnings of the box office draw. The later years in film, as we move through the 40s and 50s, have facts and films I already knew about. But there were a lot of interesting facts revealed about the early days of cinema that I didn’t know. This includes the number of female writers and directors, and film creative talent of color as well. It’s also interesting to learn that female actors were paid more than their male counterparts.
The studio worked to change all that, intentionally or not, and now the fight to reclaim their rightful positions continue.
The series continues to entertain, inform, and allow the viewer to look at some titles and creators in new ways. Meanwhile, it also fans the love of film in the hearts of movie lovers. Once again, it makes one want to revisit all the films that this installment highlighted. To relive the rise of the western, genre films, rom-coms. And yes, even though they aren’t my favorite, to watch the occasional gangster film.
Next week, the series comes full circle as we explore The Sixties, which will lead us back into where the series began. It’s too bad the series didn’t broadcast in order, as this, The Golden Age, is very obviously the first episode. But film is cyclical, so it doesn’t matter where you start the series, it all comes round again.
So let’s all go to the lobby, and then off to the movies!