Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Honors 399 - 2nd paper ideas

Here are some ideas for your second papers:

- Charlie Chaplin's independence in filmmaking
- Charlie Chaplin's critique of capitalism
- "Modern Times" and Taylorism
- "Modern Times" and the Great Depression
- Only United Artists could have produced "Modern Times"
- Charlie Chaplin's politics
- An analysis of "The Tramp"
- "Crossfire" in the noir world
- Gloria Grahame's noir life
- Anti-semitism: reality and "Crossfire"
- The race to get "Crossfire" into theaters
- The Hollywood formula and "Crossfire"
- Robert Ryan's life versus his characters
- Anti-semitism as portrayed in "Crossfire" and Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator"
- Anti-semitism versus racism as a Hollywood issue
- Hollywood's Jewish moguls and anti-semitism
- HUAC and Hollywood---Dmytryk, etc.
- How would Hollywood treat capitalism and/or anti-semitism today?
- The revolutionary spirit behind "noir"
- Charlie Chaplin: Using humor to send a message
- The role of the gamin in "Modern Times"
- Cops in Charlie Chaplin's world


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

John Cromwell

John Cromwell was a both a stage and film actor, and director born in Toledo, Ohio in 1887. Theater caught his attention and he made his Broadway debut in Little Women (1912) a few years after high school. He directed several plays and by 1920s he had become a respected Broadway director.

In the 1930s he started directing films, debuting with The Dummy (1929) an early talkie, and became really successful in part because of his ability of getting great performances out actresses. He became a highly regarded film director and actor during the Golden Age of studios, from the early days of sound to 1950s film noir. His career was cut short in June of 1950 by the Hollywood Blacklist.

Dead Reckoning (1947) was Cromwell's departure from romantic films. It was his first film with a darker tone and is now considered a film noir classic. His crime drama The Rocket (1951) was one of his last film because in June of 1950 Cromwell's own life took a dark turn when he was falsely accused of being a Communist by producer Howard Hughes. He became a victim of the Hollywood blacklist for seven years from (until 1958). He later denied the allegation, saying "I was never anything that suggested a Red and there never was the slightest evidence with which to accuse me of being one." Unlike other Hollywood directors who fled to Europe to make films, Cromwell returned to the stage, winning a Tony Award in 1952 for playing Henry Fonda's father in Point of No Return.

Cromwell devoted the rest of his career primarily to theater back where he began and wrote three plays that were all staged in New York. Cromwell married four times. His first wife was Alice Lindahl, a stage actress who died of influenza in 1918, then married stage actress Marie Goff who he divorced, then married actress Kay Johnson who he also divorced. Finally, he married actress Ruth Nelson. He and Johnson had two sons. Cromwell died at age 91 in Santa Barbara, California.

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Edward Dmytryk


Edward Dmytryk was born in British Columbia, Canada and was the son of Ukrainian immigrants. After his mother’s death in 1913, the family moved to Los Angeles, California. In 1923, at the age of 14, he ran away from home and started working as a messenger boy at the Famous Players–Lasky studios (later Paramount). Dmytryk received a scholarship to study film and after trying out an education at the California Institute of Technology, he returned to Paramount. It was there he edited his first of more than 15 films starting in 1929. During this time he also made his directorial debut with the independently made The Hawk, in 1935, and spent the next eight years directing 23 other films. Dmytryk entered what some consider a Golden Age upon leaving Paramount studios for RKO. In 1943, Dmytryk directed the some propaganda pieces (Hitler’s Children and Behind the Rising Sun) that helped get him assigned to “A” productions, beginning with the Tender Comrade (1943). This drama starred Ginger Rogers as a pregnant woman and Robert Ryan as the husband off at war. It was eventually one of the pictures that the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) later cited as evidence of Dmytryk’s communism tendencies. In 1944, Dmytryk did in fact join the American Communist Party but later claimed it was because he wanted to end world poverty. During this time, he also made many politically charged films like,  Murder, My Sweet (1944) in which he helped to create the genre later known as "film noir". He then created his arguably best work, Crossfire (1947), which was one of the first Hollywood movies to address anti-Semitism. It won him four Academy Awards. Following the release of Crossfire, HUAC summoned Dmytryk to answer charges that he was a communist. He denied his involvement and was cited for contempt of Congress and was blacklisted in 1947. He later left for England, made two films, but ultimately returned to the United States. In 1951, he served several months in prison for contempt of Congress and then made the decision to cooperate with HUAC, becoming the only one of the Hollywood Ten to do so. Dmytryk admitted that he had been a member of the American Communist Party and he gave HUAC the names of other members. He later returned to Hollywood, and despite some backlash, he was given a series of low-budget productions to direct. After catching a break and receiving an oscar nomination for the movie The Caine Mutiny featuring Humphrey Bogart, Dmytryk was once again sought after but never quite returned to the creative height he had found prior to being blacklisted. Dmytryk went on to teach filmmaking at the University of Texas and at the University of Southern California. He wrote several books including Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten, in which he wrote of his involvement in the Communist Party and in the HUAC hearings. Dmytryk died in Encino, California, on July 1st, 1999.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Gloria Grahame

Gloria Grahame began her career in acting at a young age under the tutelage of her mother, who was herself a stage actress and acting coach.  Having little interest in academics, Grahame dedicated all of her time and energy to honing her craft and even ended up dropping out before she could graduate high school.  Fortunately, this gambit paid off.  She was discovered by MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer during a stint on Broadway and offered a role in Blonde Fever, where she would make her feature film debut.

Not long after that, MGM sold her contract to RKO, where Grahame would spend most of her career before making a few films with Columbia Pictures.  Notable roles included Violet Bick in It’s a Wonderful Life, Ginny in Crossfire, and her defining turn as Debby Marsh in The Big Heat.  Usually cast in the type of the femme fatale, Grahame embodied the sensuality and fierce independence of the archetype.  Sexually uninhibited and with ulterior, oftentimes self-serving motivations, her persona captivated audiences--so much so, in fact, that she netted an Oscar win for her work in the 1952 film The Bad and the Beautiful, despite her time onscreen barely breaking nine minutes.

Though accounts vary as to the nature of Grahame’s life away from the silver screen, what is certain about her private life is that it was tumultuous.  Known to be overly critical of her own image, she underwent many plastic surgeries to change her appearance.  This had the unintended effect of altering her voice, which in turn affected the roles she was able to get later in her career and earned her the ire of some critics.  A string of abusive relationships, rumors of alcoholism, and her habit of making salacious statements with the intent to polarize also brought her personal life into the private eye. This intense scrutiny had an adverse effect on her emotional well-being and established her as a popular figure of controversy.  One scandal in particular that resulted in significant public outcry as well as led to Grahame’s divorce from her second husband Nicholas Ray was her affair with her teenage stepson Tony Ray--who would later become her fourth husband.

Toward the end of her career, Grahame shifted from film to the stage but with limited success due to her lackluster vocals.  Nonetheless, she remained persistent and continued acting, even after learning that she had stomach cancer.  She rejected the diagnosis and refused treatment, rather than abandon her passion--a decision that would prove fatal.  Her legacy, however, was cemented as a quintessential film noir actress, and she left an indelible mark on the genre by her audaciously bewitching performances.

Black Mask Magazine

In April 1920, H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan collaborated to create the Black Mask magazine. This magazine was a “pulp” magazine, which is a term originated from the type of paper to which these were printed. Pulp paper was cheap and was readily available, meaning this medium of writing was easy to release to the public in a timely manner.

Mencken, a well-known literary journalist and poet, and Nathan, a drama critic, set out to support the prestigious, though loss-making, literary magazine Smart Set. They were actually successful with another pulp called Parisienne, which was a money spinner of theirs; this was then followed by an erotic stablemate called Saucy Stories. Though they had a couple of pulps under their wing, keeping Smart Set afloat was one of their top priorities.

After some time, they found that keeping Smart Set solvent was not a sound financial investment, and soon, they scrapped the magazine and moved to the Black Mask. The Black Mask was completely a commercial venture in which the duo attempted to cater to the widest audience possible. The roots of the Black Mask were “Five magazines in one: the best stories available of adventure, the best mystery and detective stories, the best romances, the best love stories, and the best stories of the occult." 

While the early issues of this magazine were poor quality and had miniscule problems, Mencken and Nathan got their money back on their initial investment. After a successful startup, they were able to create eight more issues, in which they raised $12,500. The publishers soon bought out the magazine and moved the direction of the magazine to a more crime-focused pulp.


“Cap” Joseph Shaw was appointed the new editor of the Black Mask after existing for six years. During his writing career, he wrote editorials on controversial topics such as the jury system and gun control and believed that a good writer should create a vehicle for moral responsibility. He channeled this into his work. The Black Mask’s nature grew more violent and darker as Shaw ventured into exclusively detective fiction. By 1933, the magazine was purely crime stories and had doubled in popularity.

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