After the screening of “Jesse James” (1939), we will talk about the Western Genre and its world-wide influence, with special focus on Euro-Westerns and Revisionist Westerns. Any comments on this breakout session will be welcome!
Today we had a mini discussion about actors of he past who represented not only the desirable looks but also incorporated praiseworthy traditional virtues (righteousness, sense of justice, readiness to sacrifice oneself for a higher cause, empathy, protection of the weaker, mental and physical strength, excellence in skills and leadership etc.) in the American heroes they portrayed in film. One could argue that American movies did successfully carry American culture to foreign countries, and after WWII a part of this was due to “monumental” actors like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, Charlton Heston, William Holden or Henry Fonda who became the icons of “The Great American Man” that the world should (and did!) look upon. On the other hand, there existed a group of very handsome actors that embodied the male beauty ideals of their times, and who tended to be cast as rebellious but somehow sensitive and fragile personalities in their films. Their popularity often surpassed – albeit for a limited period – those of the aforementioned veteran actors, and drew a new, young audience into the cinemas. Some of them had great acting skills, but faced great hardships to get deeper roles in Hollywood. James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Marlon Brando and Tyrone Power, to name just a few. (Golden Age Hollywood actresses often represented exceptional beauty, but might never have gained recognition as “ambassadors” of American values through film.)
I was wondering in class if you could single out present day actors of the former type: The “Great American Man”, or “Great American Woman”, if you would be able to appoint one. We are so many and did not have enough time, so I would like to give you here an opportunity for additional input! (I feel that “Captain America” is rather the Marvel character who represents this ideal than the actor. I’m more looking for an actor that represents the ideal in a variety of roles, like Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington or Will Smith – you also could describe your feelings if you would believe it is one those mentioned here!) This is a question for Americans as well as foreigners who watch many American movies.
The ordinary farmer boys Jesse and Frank James turn into the country’s most notorious outlaws when ruthless railroad agents try to take away their property.
Based on real life characters, the James brothers became one of Hollywood’s idealized and glorified symbols for righteous people that were forced to get on the wrong side of the law.
Jesse James was directed by Henry King (“David and Batsheba”, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” a.o.). A very handsome Tyrone Power can be seen in the role of the main character. He is supported by legendary character actor Henry Fonda as the older brother Frank, western star Randolph Scott as Marshall Will Wright, and horror legend John Carradine as Bob Ford. Over the years this story was adapted many times for the big screen, and although recent portrayals have become more and more realistic, from this film on it stayed to be a Hollywood tradition to use some of their coolest and best looking guys for this part:
Roy Rogers (“Jesse James at Bay”, 1941), Audie Murphy (who actually played Jesse twice in “Kansas Riders”, 1950, and “A Time For Dying”, 1969!), Robert Wagner (“The True Story of Jesse James”, 1957), Ray Stricklyn (“Young Jesse James”, 1960), James Keach (“The Long Riders“, 1980), Kris Kristofferson (“The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James”, 1986), Rob Lowe (“Frank and Jesse”, 1994), Colin Farrell (“American Outlaws“, 2001), and eventually Brad Pitt (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford“, 2007).
However, despite these idealizations of the American outlaw in film, Jesse and Frank James were tough gangsters who were merely caring for themselves and their families than others who were in need. So, what do you think was the reason for changing the facts into such a positive portrayal?
During the Great Depression four poor actresses and a Broadway show unexpectedly get financial support from a young and aspiring musician. But from where did he get that much money?
Joan Blondell and Dick Powell (who were married from 1936-1944), Ruby Keeler, Warren William and a young Ginger Rogers (famous for her later partnership with Fred Astaire) are starring in this highly entertaining musical film directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Filmed on a budget of estimated 433,000 US $, the movie features four gorgeous dance sequences by legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley (1895-1974). All songs are composed by Harry Warren, who gained three Oscars and eight nominations in his career and wrote many standards like “Jeepers Creepers”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” or “Lullaby of Broadway”.
Gold Diggers of 1933 gained great commercial success, but was actually one of the first American films being altered before distribution in order to avoid state censorship. In 2003, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
In this melodrama a farmer is forced to choose between a seductive it girl from the big city and his simple and innocent country wife.
Sunrise was German filmmaker F.W. Murnau’s (“Nosferatu”; “The Last Laugh”) first of four American films before his tragic death in a car accident in 1931.
Producer William Fox (founder of Fox Film that became a part of nowadays 20th Century Fox which presently is owned by Rupert Murdoch) granted Murnau maximum artistic freedom for this film that brought his studio a lot of prestige, but poor revenues.
The film received three Oscars at the first ceremony of the Academy Awards in 1929. The categories at that time were a bit different, but would nowadays approximately equal for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Janet Gaynor as the farmer’s wife) and Best Cinematography (Charles Rosher and Karl Struss). The film furthermore received one Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction (Rochus Gliese).
Murnau: “I think films of the future will use more and more of these ‘camera angles’, or, as I prefer to call them, these ‘dramatic angles’. They help photograph thought.”
IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0018455/