In the postwar 1940s, Twentieth Century-Fox emerged as a challenging studio of style and message.
Its famous producers and directors helped shape the film noir genre, challenged social mores in witty comedies, and tackled topical issues with a then-daring frankness. Along the way, Fox found room to charm us with several captivating fantasies. This 8-week series offers some of the memorable films of that decade and will discuss them in cultural context with an emphasis on the styles of the filmmakers that gave Fox its distinction. Each session runs approximately two-and-a-half (2½) hours.
Jun 19: Fallen Angel (1945)
Directed by Otto Preminger the year after Laura put him on the map and starring Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell and Alice Faye (in a rare dramatic role), this film more than holds its own as a classic noir about the power of love to redeem down-and-outer Andrews, who becomes trapped in a web of small-town murder.
Jun 26: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders and a young Natalie Wood. One of the most romantic fantasies Hollywood made, it’s charm only increases with the passage of time.
Jul 3: Kiss of Death (1947)
Directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Victor Mature, Colleen Gray and Richard Widmark in his acclaimed film debut as psychopath Tommy Udo. A great noir, Hathaway’s film about ex-con Mature attempting to stay straight in the face of danger helped define the Fox noir style.
Jul 10: Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
Directed by Elia Kazan and starring Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield and Celeste Holm. Trenchant topical filmmaking in its day, Laura Z. Hobson’s famous novel about middle-class antisemitism illustrates all that is lasting and dated in the “problem” film that Darryl Zanuck was committed to producing.
Jul 17: Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
Written and directed by Preston Sturges and starring Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, Rudy Vallée and Barbara Lawrence. Harrison’s orchestra conductor (modeled after Sir Thomas Beecham) suspects his wife Darnell of infidelity to the tune of several musical pieces he conducts. Of course, there is no proof of her unfaithfulness, but Sturges winks at us as we scratch our heads and wonder.
Jul 24: I Was a Male War Bride (1949)
Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan. The Hawksian woman always tries to fit in by proving her professionalism, by becoming “one of the boys.” Here, Hawks inverts his own principle as military man Grant tries to satisfy an arcane requirement to be married to Sheridan. Only hilarity can ensue!
Jul 31: A Letter to Three Wives (1949)
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Linda Darnell, Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas and Jeffrey Lynn. One of the great postwar social comedies shows the conflicts of suburban life, changing gender roles and career aspirations—all within a cluster of female friends who receive a letter from an absent fourth declaring that she intends to run off with one of their husbands. Literate and witty, Mankiewicz won his first pair of Oscars for writing and directing this film.
Aug 7: All About Eve (1950)
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Gary Merrill, Celeste Holm, Hugh Marlowe and Thelma Ritter. The granddaddy of all backstage theatre stories, complete with the intrigues and betrayals that follow, this film restored Davis to the top of the heap and gave her one of her iconic roles as Margo Channing. Mankiewicz repeated his Oscar-winning feat of the previous year with this classic film.
Andrew Dickos is the author of Street with No Name: A History of the Classic American Film Noir and Intrepid Laughter: Preston Sturges and the Movies. His third book, Abraham Polonsky: Interviews, came out last winter from the University Press of Mississippi.
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