Honors 399 Students:
Here as promised are some ideas for your first paper--not exclusive at all, so you may have a better idea--but just to get you to thinking:
- Different approaches by different directors--Mervyn Leroy vs. F.W. Murnaw
- What Chain Gang and Last Laugh tell us about the differences of UFA and Hollywood
- Chain Gang and the idea of freedom
- Emil Jannings vs. Paul Muni
- The role of the supporting cast in the two films
- Social issues of the day and how they influenced the two films
- Pressures against telling it like it is in both films
- The cinematography in the two films
- The role of the uniform in the two films
- The highly controversial endings in both films
- The role of women in the two films
- 1920s Germany vs. 1930s USA in these two films
- German Expressionism and The Last Laugh
- The role of class in the two films
- The shadow of fascism in the two films
Monday, February 12, 2018
A chain gang refers to the practice common in the southern prison system of shackling groups of prisoners together and having them perform hard physical labor. This practice arose in the heat of the post-civil war Southern Reconstruction era, as many of the South’s prisons and much of its infrastructure was ruined from the war. Southern Prison wardens touted the practice as “killing two birds with one stone”: de-crowding the South’s prisons while also restoring its infrastructure. Improvements that chain gangs made to public roadways actually had a significant impact on rural areas as they allowed farmers more accessibility to distribute their crops to market. However, the reality of the conditions of chain gangs is why the practice ceased in 1955.
Chain gangs consisted of a group of inmates who were shackled together with heavy iron chains. The shackles would often wear down the skin of inmates and expose them to painful ulcers and dangerous infections. Chain gangs were also noticeably made up mostly by African American prisoners. Much of the criticism of the practice lies in the idea that it was used to still wield power over African Americans despite the passage of the 13th Amendment. The use of the chain gang was a fundamental vehicle of segregation in prisons. Inmates were made to wear distinctive uniforms while working in public that were meant to be identifying and humiliating. This wasn’t a practice limited to the south though, as every state except Rhode Island had experimented with chain gangs by 1923.
The practice was ceased in 1955 but was later reintroduced during the “get tough on crime” 1990s with Alabama being the first state to revive it in 1995. Examples of chain gangs have even been seen as early as 2013 as a Florida Sheriff casually referred to the practice as “not a new concept, but certainly an effective one.”
12 February 2018
Southern Prison System
The US Criminal Justice system is rooted in slavery. Before the civil war, there was essentially no prison system. After the abolition of slavery, southern law makers developed methods of mass criminalization to maintain the economic effects of slavery. The emergence of “Black Codes” allowed law enforcement to arrest and imprison African Americans for “loitering” or “breaking curfew.”
As African American incarceration grew bigger, convict-leasing became prevalent. This allowed plantation owners to place bids on prisoners (the majority of which were African American) to work their land. Plantation owners began converting their land into prisons, converting what were previously called “slave-quarters” to “prison cells.” The death rate of prisoners subjected to convict leasing spanned from 16% to 45% across the south from 1877 to 1879. It was slavery with a different name.
As the violence and brutality of convict-leasing became increasingly apparent, the chain gang became the new method of prisoner labor. Initially started in Georgia as road development project, it allowed prisoners to work off land as long as they were chained together in groups of five at the ankles. The prisoners would work, eat, and sleep together, held at gunpoint the majority of the time. If a prisoner were to fall, the whole group would suffer pain at the ankles from soars and ulcers. Influenced by Georgia, the rest of the south began to use chain gangs. Like convict-leasing, it gradually gained the same violent reputation until it was outlawed. Chain gangs were gone in every state by the 1950s, only a hundred years after the civil war.
Born in 1908, John Milton Bright grew up in Chicago and worked as a journalist for The Chicago Daily News, meeting Al Capone and witnessing gangsters murder two men right in front of him. He went on to study in New York and got involved in social activism before moving to Hollywood in 1929 to pursue a job as a writer. He and his friend Kubec Glasom wrote a novel titled Beer and Blood, influenced by their experiences in Chicago, that was bought by Darryl Zanuck who told the two to turn it into a screenplay. John Bright released the movie The Public Enemy in 1931, starring actor James Cagney, most famous for its grapefruit scene that became iconic. Public Enemy’s success established Bright as an important scriptwriter in Hollywood, leading to his writing of other movies such as Taxi! (1932) and Blonde Crazy (1931). Bright joined the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) shortly after he arrived in Hollywood, as he sought out a “left-wing movement.” Zanuck took notice and criticized Bright for brining politics into his films. In 1933, Bright and other left-wing writers formed the Screen Writers Guild (SWG), rivaled by a group called Screen Playwrights, but it became quite popular with over a thousand members after lawful protections of unionists were established. Bright also helped establish the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League (HANL) once Hitler took power in Germany. Bright continued to write for movies such as Here Comes Trouble in 1936 and Citizen Tom Paine, which he was recruited to write for by another member of the CPUSA. Unfortunately Bright got in some trouble with the Un-American Activities Committee after one of their investigations accused ten film-involved men of being communist, known as the Hollywood Ten. But Bright decided to leave the country to head to Mexico instead, where he continued writing for magazines and other media. This move blacklisted Bright, although he did come back to Hollywood but found little work. Bright died in 1989.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
Glenda Farrell was born June 30th, 1904 to Charles and Wilhelmina Farrell in Enid, OK. Since the age of seven, she was heavily involved in theater, and she was even featured in Motion Picture Magazine’s “Fame and Fortune Contest” in April 1919. Farrell became the embodiment of the bombshell blonde who starred as a chorus girl, gold digger, or prostitute. She signed with First National Pictures (which merged with Warner Bros.) in 1930. Her first major role was in the movie Little Caesar (1931), the first “talkie” gangster film. Throughout her career there, she starred in many blockbuster films such as I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), and Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936). From 1937 to 1939, she starred in the detective series Torchy Blane where she played a tough, witty reporter. In 1939, she left Warner Bros. but continued to pursue an acting career. Overall, her career lasted more than 50 years, and she appeared in over 100 films, plays, and television series. On February 8th, 1960, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as an Emmy Award for best supporting actress in the television series Ben Casey in 1963. She died May 1st, 1971 at the age of 66 in New York City from lung cancer.