Hollywood and the Movies of the Fifties, The Collapse of the Studio System, The Thrill of Cinerama, and the Invasion of the Ultimate Body Snatcher- Television – Foster Hirsch (Alfred A. Knopf) 2023

Hollywood and the Movies of the Fifties: The Collapse of the Studio System, the Thrill of Cinerama, and the Invasion of the Ultimate Body Snatcher—Television



I’ve intentionally included the long full title of Foster Hirsch’s new book on fifties Hollywood.  For its exact, humorous and joyfully assertive (minus exclamation marks) with a flair that recalls the language that once proclaimed 1950’s movie trailers in more innocent times.

You remember those beyond parody utterances.  Next week at this theatre you will experience the Collapse of…the Thrill of…and the Invasion of…  Putting trailer hyperbole to one side, Hirsch has written one of the best, most engaging and detailed accounts of this wonderful, probably best, period in American cinema.

The demise of the big studios is put on trial and found to be both resistant and open to change: Zanuck, Mayer, Cohn, Warner, Hughes etc are its outsize and outspoken characters, each receiving an astute Hirsch biopic chapter.

Cinerama, 3D and the launch of the wide screen are at last given their due.  I was as delighted as Hirsch was about these technical innovations.  His book had me watching again The Robe (1953), the first cinemascope film, and marvelling at an already sophisticated perspective and framing of actors against set design.

The Hollywood Black List story is told again with new information and scrupulous research.  These lengthy chapters, on the ghastly HUAC paranoia over communist infiltration, are an excellent, judicious and sobering read.

The fifties produced some of the greatest examples of the western, SF fantasy, biblical epic (Hurrah for treating this now generally ignored genre!) social-issue movies and the musical.  Not only are obviously great films like The Band Wagon or Night of the Hunter discussed but also the startling and tragic Klu Klux Klan drama Storm Warning (1951) and the brooding and overlooked film noir Where Danger Lives (1950).  Hirsch’s infectious enthusiasm had me watching them again.

As for individual films then On the Waterfront and High Noon are rated as the key films of the fifties.  And Marlon Brando’s performance in Waterfront as the supreme acting triumph.  No problem with that.  Only disagreement here is that Hirsch dislikes Hawks’s Rio Bravo.  “Rio Bravo deliberately has none of the urgency or lyricism of High Noon.  I suspect it is not possible to embrace both films with equal fervour.  No surprise I revere High Noon; I find Rio Bravo insufferable.”

This was the only instance of me disagreeing with Foster Hirsch.  I love both High Noon and Rio Bravo.  But I generally prefer Howard Hawks’s films over Fred Zinneman’s.  Yet I acknowledge High Noon (1952), with its political overtones, to be more of a key fifties film-marker, than Rio Bravo (1959): though the ‘laid back’ power of Rio Bravo looks forward, for me, to the movie making of the 1960’s.

What’s so enjoyable about Hollywood and the Movies of the Fifties is Foster Hirsch’s pleasingly gruff, outspoken, very warm and loving writing style.  He’s seen so much, researched everything and loves cinema with a life long passion.  Hirsch is a true film scholar.  And this book, of over 600 pages, is a great labour of love that I will constantly refer back to.  Thank you so much, Foster.

You say you are now writing a book covering Hollywood in the Sixties.  Will there also be a conflict of appreciation here as well?  That it’s impossible to equally embrace Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider? I won’t tell you my preference.  You can guess.

Alan Price©2024.