In 1938, nearly 80 million movie tickets were sold per week. Roughly translated, that means 65% of the American populace saw the inside of a theatre at least once every seven days, if not more. Why, during one of the greatest financial disasters in modern memory, would anyone squander what little money they had on such a fleeting, ephemeral experience?
The answer lies in the films themselves. With the rise of the studio system, Hollywood was churning out over 500 feature films a year, and after the advent of the Hays Code, all of them were scrubbed clean of anything remotely approaching moral vicissitude, or unrelenting melancholia. The result was that at approximately $0.25 a ticket, the average citizen could escape the stark realities of the Great Depression without ever leaving their home town. Even if only for a few hours, the experience of watching a familiar cast of characters overcome enormous odds, and make good in the end ,was considered not just a comfort, but a bargain.
While a great many writers and directors chafed at restrictions brought on by the Code, the nuance and level of sophistication in films of this period remains a testament to innovation by necessity. . .and, of course, a considerable amount of talent. After all, they don’t call it the Golden Age for nothing!
The purpose of this blog is to examine Depression Era cinema (with a healthy dose of pre-code and post-war film as well), within our modern, Recession era frames of reference. Why? Mainly, because it occurs to me that in a slightly different, yet oddly parallel time, we can watch these pictures and perhaps come away with a greater understanding about ourselves, our past, and the sort of future we’re trying to re-imagine.
Just what that is, well. . .let’s find out together!
Real-life Mildred Fierce is an author of no-note, who lives and toils somewhere in the northeastern section of these United States. Miss Fierce enjoys good conversation, good liquor, and if her last name was actually “Charles,” we’d throw “crime-solving,” in for an even three. If you’d like to get in touch with Miss Fierce for professional or personal reasons, have your people call my people, send me a message here.