Cover image for Public enemies, public heroes : screening the gangster from Little Caesar to Touch of Evil
Title:
Public enemies, public heroes : screening the gangster from Little Caesar to Touch of Evil
Author:
Munby, Jonathan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xii, 263 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780226550312

9780226550336
Format :
Book

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Call Number
Material Type
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Status
Central Library PN1995.9.G3 M86 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

In this study of Hollywood gangster films, Jonathan Munby examines their controversial content and how it was subjected to continual moral and political censure.

Beginning in the early 1930s, these films told compelling stories about ethnic urban lower-class desires to "make it" in an America dominated by Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideals and devastated by the Great Depression. By the late 1940s, however, their focus shifted to the problems of a culture maladjusting to a new peacetime sociopolitical order governed by corporate capitalism. The gangster no longer challenged the establishment; the issue was not "making it," but simply "making do."

Combining film analysis with archival material from the Production Code Administration (Hollywood's self-censoring authority), Munby shows how the industry circumvented censure, and how its altered gangsters (influenced by European filmmakers) fueled the infamous inquisitions of Hollywood in the postwar '40s and '50s by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Ultimately, this provocative study suggests that we rethink our ideas about crime and violence in depictions of Americans fighting against the status quo.


Summary

In this study of Hollywood gangster films, Jonathan Munby examines their controversial content and how it was subjected to continual moral and political censure.

Beginning in the early 1930s, these films told compelling stories about ethnic urban lower-class desires to "make it" in an America dominated by Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideals and devastated by the Great Depression. By the late 1940s, however, their focus shifted to the problems of a culture maladjusting to a new peacetime sociopolitical order governed by corporate capitalism. The gangster no longer challenged the establishment; the issue was not "making it," but simply "making do."

Combining film analysis with archival material from the Production Code Administration (Hollywood's self-censoring authority), Munby shows how the industry circumvented censure, and how its altered gangsters (influenced by European filmmakers) fueled the infamous inquisitions of Hollywood in the postwar '40s and '50s by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Ultimately, this provocative study suggests that we rethink our ideas about crime and violence in depictions of Americans fighting against the status quo.


Reviews 4

Library Journal Review

Beginning in the early 1930s, argues Lancaster University lecturer Munby, gangster films reflected the urban masses' discontent with the Horatio Algeresque conservatism of Depression-era America. By the end of this genre's heyday, in the early 1950s, the films mirrored the changing sociopolitical order adjusting to corporatism. Munby's wide-ranging overview is most useful in examining the genre's response to the Production Code, the Legion of Decency, and the House Un-American Activities Committee as these groups threatened to muzzle dissent on the silver screen. Recommended for all film collections as a companion to Eugene Rosow's Born To Lose: The Gangster Film in America (1978. o.p.).ÄAnthony J. Adam, Prairie View A&M Univ. Lib., Houston, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

This book proves to be better than first impressions suggest--plain black cover, origins in a dissertation, on the verge of slipping into theoretical jargon. In contrast to most of its intellectual forebears--Carlos Clarens's Crime Movies (CH, Oct'80), Jon Tuska's Dark Cinema (CH, Mar'85), Eugene Rosow's Born to Lose (CH, Jul'79), to cite the best of them--it argues that "gangster" movies served as mediating agents through the crises of industrialism, urbanism, economic collapse, and warfare. Perhaps because of rising costs of artwork and hazy status of the doctrine of "fair use" of stills, Munby brings little visible evidence to his work. Nonetheless, he develops a solid thesis grounded in social history, arguing that the gangster movie's journalistic immediacy, barbed insistence that US institutions lacked the will to reform, and visible empathy for disenfranchised immigrant neighborhoods simultaneously generated an ideological kinship with the lower classes and tacit approval of the life of crime. Almost as sidebars to this story, three chapters take up the impact on the genre of censorship, WW II, and the uncertainties of the Cold War. Well served by a good index and bibliography and an appendix of Production Code film analysis documents, the volume is recommended for all film collections. T. Cripps; Morgan State University


Library Journal Review

Beginning in the early 1930s, argues Lancaster University lecturer Munby, gangster films reflected the urban masses' discontent with the Horatio Algeresque conservatism of Depression-era America. By the end of this genre's heyday, in the early 1950s, the films mirrored the changing sociopolitical order adjusting to corporatism. Munby's wide-ranging overview is most useful in examining the genre's response to the Production Code, the Legion of Decency, and the House Un-American Activities Committee as these groups threatened to muzzle dissent on the silver screen. Recommended for all film collections as a companion to Eugene Rosow's Born To Lose: The Gangster Film in America (1978. o.p.).ÄAnthony J. Adam, Prairie View A&M Univ. Lib., Houston, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

This book proves to be better than first impressions suggest--plain black cover, origins in a dissertation, on the verge of slipping into theoretical jargon. In contrast to most of its intellectual forebears--Carlos Clarens's Crime Movies (CH, Oct'80), Jon Tuska's Dark Cinema (CH, Mar'85), Eugene Rosow's Born to Lose (CH, Jul'79), to cite the best of them--it argues that "gangster" movies served as mediating agents through the crises of industrialism, urbanism, economic collapse, and warfare. Perhaps because of rising costs of artwork and hazy status of the doctrine of "fair use" of stills, Munby brings little visible evidence to his work. Nonetheless, he develops a solid thesis grounded in social history, arguing that the gangster movie's journalistic immediacy, barbed insistence that US institutions lacked the will to reform, and visible empathy for disenfranchised immigrant neighborhoods simultaneously generated an ideological kinship with the lower classes and tacit approval of the life of crime. Almost as sidebars to this story, three chapters take up the impact on the genre of censorship, WW II, and the uncertainties of the Cold War. Well served by a good index and bibliography and an appendix of Production Code film analysis documents, the volume is recommended for all film collections. T. Cripps; Morgan State University


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction
Screening Crime in the USA An Undervalued Symbiosis
1 The Gangster's Silent Backdrop Contesting Victorian Uplift and the Culture of Prohibition
2 The Enemy Goes Public Voicing the Cultural Other in the Early 1930s Talking Gangster Film
3 Manhattan Melodrama's "Art of the Weak" Tactics of Survival and Dissent in the Post-Prohibition Gangster Film
4 Ganging Up against the Gangster Censorship, the Movies, and Cultural Transformation, 1915-1935
5 Crime, Inc. Beyond the Ghetto/Beyond the Majors in the Postwar Gangster Film
6 Screening Crime the Liberal Consensus Way Postwar Transformations in the Production Code
7 The "Un-American" Film Art Robert Siodmak, Fritz Lang, and the Political Significance of Film Noir's
German Connection Epilogue From Gangster to Gangsta
Against a Certain Tendency of Film Theory and History
Appendix Production Code Administration Film Analysis Forms, 1934-1957
Bibliography
Film Index
Subject Index
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction
Screening Crime in the USA An Undervalued Symbiosis
1 The Gangster's Silent Backdrop Contesting Victorian Uplift and the Culture of Prohibition
2 The Enemy Goes Public Voicing the Cultural Other in the Early 1930s Talking Gangster Film
3 Manhattan Melodrama's "Art of the Weak" Tactics of Survival and Dissent in the Post-Prohibition Gangster Film
4 Ganging Up against the Gangster Censorship, the Movies, and Cultural Transformation, 1915-1935
5 Crime, Inc. Beyond the Ghetto/Beyond the Majors in the Postwar Gangster Film
6 Screening Crime the Liberal Consensus Way Postwar Transformations in the Production Code
7 The "Un-American" Film Art Robert Siodmak, Fritz Lang, and the Political Significance of Film Noir's
German Connection Epilogue From Gangster to Gangsta
Against a Certain Tendency of Film Theory and History
Appendix Production Code Administration Film Analysis Forms, 1934-1957
Bibliography
Film Index
Subject Index

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