●It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Director: Frank Capra
Returning to Hollywood after having produced propaganda films in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, Frank Capra joined fellow wartime filmmakers William Wyler and George Stevens and founded the independent production company Liberty Films. The first film to come out of the studio was It’s a Wonderful Life—a film that was meant to be the culmination of Capra’s career up until that point. However, the film performed poorly at the box office; perhaps the public was not in the mood for sentimentality after having experienced the harsh reality of war. Paramount Pictures ended up buying Liberty Films in 1947. Owing to a clerical error, the film was put into the public domain (*1) in the mid-70s, and subsequently became a Christmastime TV classic.
*1 The public domain consists of all the creative work to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply.
●The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948)
Director: John Huston
John Huston, who had also made propaganda films during the war, won the Academy Award for Best Director with his first postwar film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The film follows two American drifters and a grizzled prospector as they look for gold in the remote Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. It is notable for featuring no love interest and lacking a happy ending, as well as star Humphrey Bogart’s (*2) turn as a pathetic, distrusting bum. The film was also one of the first Hollywood productions to be shot on location outside of the U.S. For the adventurous Huston, artificial sets were no longer enough.
*2 Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) was an American film and stage actor who was an American cultural icon during the second half of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
●Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Director: Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder was born to a family of Polish Jews in a small town, which, at the time, was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He began working as a screenwriter after moving to Berlin but fled to France and then to the U.S. after the rise of Adolf Hitler. In 1937 he sold a screenplay to Paramount Pictures and became a Hollywood screenwriter. He made his directorial debut during the war, and became known for films that challenged the limits of the Hays Code (*3)—the film noir Double Indemnity (1944) and The Lost Weekend (1945), the first major American film to seriously examine alcoholism. Sunset Boulevard, the tale of a silent era star who is unwilling to accept that her era is gone and dreams of a comeback, is another classic film noir.
*3 The Hays Code, or the Motion Picture Production Code, was a set of moral guidelines that Hollywood self-imposed on its movies between 1934 and 1968.
●All About Eve (1950)
Director/Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Eve, a country gal who dreams of becoming a big-time actress, manuevers her way into becoming the assistant, and later understudy, of Margo, a highly regarded but aging Broadway (*4) star. Slowly, Eve reveals her ruthless ambition and willingness to step on others to get what she wants. The film is notable for tackling topics like the ageism—especially towards women—prevalent in the entertainment business, and the struggle of women to return to household roles after making munitions during the war. It’s also interesting that Sunset Boulevard—a movie about the dark side of Hollywood—and All About Eve—a movie about the dark side of Broadway—both came out the same year.
*4 Broadway refers to Broadway theater, that is, theatrical productions in professional theaters near Broadway in Manhattan, New York City.
●A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Director: Elia Kazan
Based on a play written by Tennessee Williams (*5), this film casts the original Broadway actors in three of the four main roles, despite being a Warner Brothers production—a sign that the influence of the major movie studios was waning. A Streetcar Named Desire was Marlon Brando’s (*6) breakthrough film, elevating him to a major Hollywood film star. As the title suggests, it is about four characters who allow themselves to be at the mercy of their (sexual) desires—a sign that the Hays Code’s influence was also declining.
*5 Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) was an American playwright considered among the three top playwrights of 20th century American drama.
*6 Marlon Brando (1924-2004) was an American actor and film director regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time.
●High Noon (1952)
Director: Fred Zinneman
This western is the story of a newly married town marshal on the cusp of retirement who must face a gang of killers alone. Although he approaches a series of old friends and allies, none are willing to help; his wife, a devout Quaker and pacifist, leaves him. Critics point to the story as an obvious allegory against blacklisting. In fact, screenwriter Carl Foreman was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee during filming, but declined to name any names. After he was labeled an uncooperative witness, he moved to Britain.
●Singing in the Rain (1952)
Directors: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
This musical romantic comedy is about three Hollywood stars in the late 1920s attempting to make the transition from silent films to talkies. The scene where Gene Kelly (*7) sings the titular tune in the rain is one of the most famous scenes in Hollywood history. The film is notable for depicting an actor with a grating, heavily accented voice struggling to learn to “speak properly”, as well as for addressing the limitations of microphones at the time to pick up sound unless perfectly placed. Today, lip-syncing has come into vogue as a performance art of sorts both on social media platforms like TikTok and late night TV shows in the U.S.
*7 Gene Kelly (1912-1996) was an American actor, dancer, singer, choreographer, and movie director known for his energetic dancing style.
Director/Producer: George Stevens
Before the war, George Stevens was known for directing commercial films with a light, comedic touch. During the war, Stevens was greatly affected by his experience shooting footage of D-Day and horrific scenes from the Dachau concentration camp. As a result of his experiences, his postwar films were mostly serious dramas. Like High Noon, Shane was a new kind of western that challenged genre tropes. The graphic violence and famous final scene where Shane rides off into the valley suggest that the invincible hero often portrayed in westerns was nothing but a myth.
●On the Waterfront (1954)
Director: Elia Kazan
Elia Kazan (*8) was born in Istanbul to Greek parents. After attending Yale School of Drama, he worked as an actor, later joining the Group Theatre in 1932 and co-founding the Actors Studio in 1947. Between 1934 and 1936, he was a member of the American Communist Party. During the Second Red Scare after the end of the war, Kazan was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities; Kazan eventually named eight former Group Theatre members that he said had been Communists. This move would cost Kazan many friends in the industry and cast a shadow on his work thereafter. But On the Waterfront, the story of a dockworker who comes to terms with his awakening conscience and stands up to the Mafia in court, suggests that Kazan believed that what he had done was right.
*8 Elia Kazan (1909-2003) was a Greek-American director, producer, writer, and actor known for co-founding the Actors Studio.
●Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Director: Nicholas Ray
As I covered in part one of this article, after World War II there was mass migration of middle class families out to the suburbs. This film depicts the struggles of three middle-class teenagers in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Each in his or her own way is at odds with their parents; the parents, meanwhile, having worked hard to achieve the middle-class American Dream and provide for their kids, cannot understand why their children would rebel. The film’s star, James Dean (*9), died in a car accident a month before the film’s release.
*9 James Dean (1931-1955) was an American actor remembered as a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment.
●The Searchers (1956)
Director: John Ford
John Ford, who made documentaries like The Battle of Midway for the U.S. Navy during World War II, made a series of westerns starring John Wayne (*10) during his postwar years. Set in Texas right after the Civil War, The Searchers is the tale of a racist war veteran who spends years looking for his abducted niece after his brother’s family is killed by Comanches. However, Wayne’s character is more obsessed with revenge than rescue. When he eventually encounters his niece and she tells him that she wishes to remain with the Comanches, he tries to shoot her. The evolution of westerns beyond lone hero stories and poetic justice suggests that Hollywood was maturing.
*10 John Wayne (1907-1979) was an American actor, director, and producer known for his roles in westerns.
●12 Angry Men (1957)
Director: Sidney Lumet
In 1950s Hollywood, directors like John Huston and John Ford demonstrated the power of shooting on location. In contrast, films like 12 Angry Men—a courtroom drama that is set mostly in a single location—demonstrate that all you really need is a good script. The film tells the story of a jury of 12 men as they question their own morals and values during their deliberation of a case of a 18-year-old youth accused of killing his father. The film was shot on an extremely low budget within the span of a few weeks by an independent film company—all signs that the Hollywood studio system was floundering. In 1990, Japanese playwright Mitani Koki wrote a play entitled The Gentle Twelve as an homage.
●The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Director: David Lean
This epic war film is a co-production between the U.S. and the U.K. It is the story of British POWs at a Japanese prison camp in Burma. It won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and Best Actor. The script was written by Carl Foreman (the aforementioned screenwriter of High Noon) and later Michael Wilson; both Foreman and Wilson were on the Hollywood blacklist and had fled to the U.K., and had to work in secret. Many years later, they received the Academy Award posthumously.
●Some Like it Hot (1959)
Director: Billy Wilder
This romantic comedy set during Prohibition era America is the story of two jazz musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon), who, in order to escape from mafia gangsters, decide to dress in drag in order to join an all-female band. They become obsessed with the band’s vocalist and ukulele player, played by Marilyn Monroe (*11). The film portrays cross-dressing and tackles topics like homosexuality, and was produced and ultimately released without a certificate of approval from the MPAA. The massive success of Some Like It Hot would spell the end for the Hays Code.
*11 Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) was an American actress, model, and singer who is remembered as one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s and early 1960s.
Director/Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock made masterpieces in the pre-war period, during the war, and after the war, and we will cover him in greater detail in a future article. Among his works, Psycho is arguably the most well known. It is the story of real estate secretary Marion Crane, who steals $40,000 dollars in cash in order to help her boyfriend pay off his debts; when Marion stops at a Motel en route, she is murdered by a mentally troubled man with serious mother issues. As Paramount Pictures was less than enthusiastic about making the film, Hitchcock financed it through his own production company and used his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series crew. The shower scene where Marion is murdered is one of the most famous scenes in cinema history.
●West Side Story (1961)
Director: Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins
This is a film adaptation of the Broadway musical with a story by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein (*12), and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It depicts the rivalry between two teenage street gangs—one comprised of Polish-Americans and the other by Puerto Rican-Americans. Bernstein was known for his outspoken political views and desire for social change, and had been involved in a number of left-wing causes and organizations during the war years. As a result, he was blacklisted in the early 1950s, but was taken off the list after investigations and a signed affidavit in which he fully denied any connections to Communists or sympathizers.
*12 Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an American composer, conductor, and pianist regarded as one of the most important musical and cultural personalities of the 20th century.
●The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Director: John Frankenheimer
This psychological political thriller was adapted from a 1959 novel of the same name. It is centered on a Korean War veteran and war hero; unbeknownst to those around him, the man has been brainwashed by Russian and Chinese communists and programmed as a sleeper agent. Released at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, this film captures the fear and paranoia harbored by Americans during the Cold War that their country would be undermined from within.
●To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Director: Robert Mulligan
Adapted from the classic 1960 novel by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird is the tale of a white lawyer in the South who is appointed to defend a black man accused of raping a white girl. Lee’s novel is widely read in middle schools and high schools in the U.S.; the story has been criticized for the fact that it is told through the naive eyes of a six-year-old girl—not the ideal character through which to address the complexity and nuances of the issue. Also, while many of the white characters are depicted as full human beings, the black characters only serve as victims of racial discrimination.
●Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb(1964)
Director/Producer/Screenwriter: Stanley Kubrick
This co-production between the U.K. and the U.S. is a black comedy satirizing Cold War fears and tensions of a nuclear conflict between America and the Soviet Union. It is the story of an unhinged U.S. Air Force general who orders a first-strike nuclear attack on the USSR; the U.S. president and his advisors scramble in an attempt to prevent the crew of a B-52 bomber from dropping nuclear warheads on the Soviets, but are ultimately unable to prevent an atomic holocaust. Kubrick (*13), an American, had made a name for himself as a director in the 50s, but he gradually came to dislike the Hollywood industry and moved to the U.K. in 1961. There, his first project was Lolita, a story centered on the cultural differences between “young” America and “old” Europe. Dr. Strangelove was his second.
*13 Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers in history.
●The Sound of Music (1965)
Director: Robert Wise
This classic musical takes place in Austria in the 1930s against the backdrop of the Nazi’s rise to power. It is the story of Maria, a free-spirited postulant who takes a job as a governess to the von Trapps—a large family headed by a patriarch who takes a militaristic approach to raising his children. The story and the characters are based on true events, albeit with a heavy dose of Hollywood fantasy; critics gave mixed reviews of the film upon release, saying it played down the threat of Fascism and sugar-coated the actual tale. Given the global and generation-spanning success the film has enjoyed, it’s safe to say that sometimes, audiences just want to be swept up in the illusion. In contrast to Maria’s bright and bubbly personality, the films that would come out of Hollywood in the late 60s would take a darker turn.
戦時中に『The Battle of Midway』などのドキュメンタリー映画を監督したジョン・フォードは、戦後、ジョン・ウェイン(※10)を主役とした西部劇を多く監督したことで知られています。中でも南北戦争の後のテキサス州を舞台にした『捜索者』はその最高傑作とされています。アメリカの先住民に対して強い偏見を持つ主人公は、弟の一家がコマンチ族に虐殺されると、連れ去られた姪を探す旅に出かけます。しかし男の目的は彼女を救い出すこと以上に復讐をすることでした、ようやく会えた姪が今ではコマンチ族の一員となったと知ると、男は彼女を裏切り者として殺そうと思います。西部劇という古典的ハリウッドのジャンルの作品でありながら、単純な勧善懲悪の物語でないところにハリウッドの成熟が見受けられます。
As we’ve seen in this article, the influence of the Hays Code declined rapidly in the decade that followed the end of World War II.
Initially, the U.S. government attempted to stave off the spread of Soviet Communism into Western Europe by exporting more and more Hollywood films as part of the Marshall Plan. In response, the governments of countries like the U.K., France, and Italy passed laws to limit the number of Hollywood films that could be imported.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the studio system was being dismantled, giving rise to independent film companies that explored the limits of what was allowed under the Hays Code. Foreign films that were imported in the U.S. were not bound by the Hays Code, and could thus tackle more taboo topics. With the rise of television, Hollywood was backed into a corner. In order to compete, it had to produce edgier films. Then in 1952, the United States Supreme Court ruled that movies were protected under the First Amendment. All of these factors combined brought about the phasing out of the Hays Code.
In the second half of the 1960s, changing social attitudes and values led to the Hays Code being abandoned entirely. In its place, the MPAA (the Motion Picture Association of America) implemented a new system with the following ratings:
・G: General audiences, meaning all ages admitted
・PG: Parental guidance suggested
・PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned
・R: Restricted, meaning those under 17 require an accompanying parent or guardian
・X (NC-17): No one under 17 admitted
This rating system is still used today, and the MPAA is especially strict when it comes to sexual or violent content, or the use of four-letter words.
For those interested in a closer look at this rating system, I recommend the 2006 documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, which examines the effect the system is having on American society. In the process, they uncover many contradictions and examples of double standards, such as how major studio films are treated differently from independent films, how films depicting heterosexual love are treated differently than those depicting homosexual love, and how violence is increasingly allowed but sex remains taboo. It also comes to light that included on the appeals board, alongside movie studio and distribution company executies, are two members of the clergy—one Protestant, and one Catholic—who serve as advisors.
It’s often said that Japan has been stuck in a perpetual “postwar” state, forever living in the shadow of the U.S. despite its period of rapid economic growth. But in terms of movie rating systems, it’s clear that it is the U.S. that remains stuck in a postwar mindset. The Hollywood entertainment industry—largely founded and shaped by Jewish-American immigrants—continues to be shackled by Protestant ethics (*14).
*14 A protestant is a member of any of the Christian groups that separated from the Catholic Church during the Reformation, or of any group that descended from them.
When you look at the racism and social unrest in American society today, it becomes clear that discrimination based on race remains deeply rooted in the American identity, going back to the European immigrants that came to the U.S. in the first half of the 20th century, the Native Americans during the Frontier Era, and African slaves brought against their will to America hundreds of years ago. Hollywood may have produced many classic films during this postwar era, but American society has been going around in circles and calling it progress—a cheap, B-movie trick if I ever saw one.
近年は、アメリカ国内でこのシステムに対する批判の声が増しています。このトピックに関しては2006年に発表されたドキュメンタリー映画『This Film is Not Yet Rated』がオススメです。レイティング・システムがアメリカ社会にもたらしている影響に迫ったこの作品の中では、システムの様々な矛盾やダブル・スタンダードが浮き彫りにされています。審査会は大手映画会社と独立系の映画会社の作品に対する基準が異なったり、異性愛者を描いた作品と同性愛者を描いた作品の取り扱いが違ったり、暴力シーンに対しては比較的緩いのに性的描写は厳しく取り締まっている点などが取り上げられています。驚くことに、指定に対する控訴を聞き入れる匿名の審査会には、映画製作会社や配給会社の経営者らに加え、プロテスタント系とカトリック系の聖職者もアドバイザーとして参加していることも判明します。