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Hollywood Movie Memories » Blog Archive » A Brief Film History Timeline – The 1940’s

A Brief Film History Timeline – The 1940’s

Part 3 – The 1940’s 

This is the third of a four-part film history timeline highlighting some selective moments from the 1920’s through the 1950’s.

The 1940’s were a decade that brought with it the paranoid fear of communism, the beginning of the end of the “studio system,” a new film genre, and the threat of television to the motion picture industry.

1940From Great Novel to Great Motion Picture – John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” has been brought to the screen with brilliance by John Ford.

Set during the Great Depression this powerful story focuses on the life and hardships faced by migrant workers in, what can only be described as a life without a future. This film would stir up a great deal of controversy with its appeal for justice and freedom from oppression.

1941A New Film Genre Thanks To A Little Black Bird – The wonderfully dark and mysterious genre of Film Noir is created with the production of “The Maltese Falcon” directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart.

This first major work of Film Noir would permanently imprint the profile of the “hard-boiled detective,” and the genre that would captivate generations of film fans for all time.

1942Popular Actress Carole Lombard Killed – American actress Carole Lombard, most noted for her roles in classic 1930’s comedies, was killed in a plane crash at the age of 33.

She will be remembered as one of the greatest stars of all time and the highest-paid actress during the late 1930’s and was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the classic comedy “My Man Godfrey.”

1943Avant Guard and Experimental – The husband and wife team of Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren have written, directed, and starred in “Meshes of the Afternoon,” a personal film that deals with devastating psychological problems and filmed much like the French surrealist films of the 1920’s.

An exercise where the camera is capable of exploring subtleties thought unimaginable for film.

Crossing the Directorial Gender Line – Pioneer film director Dorothy Arzner began work on her final film “First Comes Courage.” Arzner had been, from the late 1920’s to the late 1940’s, one of the few, and possibly the only, successful woman director.

Dorothy Arzner’s creativity led to the creation of the “boom mike” when, while directing Clara Bow in “The Wild Party,” she had a microphone attached to a fishing rod in order to record dialogue as the films characters moved freely around the set.

Arzner has helped launch the career’s of actresses Sylvia Sidney, Katherine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, and Lucille Ball and, in 1936, became the first woman to join the Director’s Guild of America.

1944The de Havilland Decision – Actress Olivia de Havilland successfully challenged the Hollywood studio system and won. Prior to this landmark labor decision, Hollywood studios would penalize actors under contract by tacking on “suspension periods” to the performers contracts thereby extending a contract without additional cost to the studio.

Actors were now free to work with any studio, on any project that suited them, and to negotiate their own fees.

Otto Preminger Directs “Laura” – Since arriving in the United States in 1936 Otto Preminger has spent his time directing both stage plays and motion pictures.

Preminger’s new project, the murder/mystery Laura, will prove to be the director’s ticket to Hollywood’s A-list. The film starred relative newcomers Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews and would go on to become one of the all time great film noir pictures.

1946The Palme d’OrThe Cannes International Film Festival is founded and will grow into the most prestigious film festival in the world. The festival will be an annual event and be held in the resort town of Cannes, in the south of France.

Originally slated to begin in 1939, plans had to be put on hold with the German invasion of Poland and the following declaration of war against Germany by France and the United Kingdom.

Returning From the War – Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn, inspired by a Time magazine article, has hired director William Wyler for his production of The Best Years of Our Lives.

The film is a tribute to veterans returning from war and the difficulities they face re-adjusting to civilian life. Director Wyler has combat experience having flown numerous missions over Europe and will settle for nothing less than an accurate depiction of combat veterans.

The Best Years of Our Lives will turn out to be the “classic coming home film.”

1947Communist Paranoia in HollywoodThe House on Un-American Activities Committee has issued their first wave of subpoenas into the investigation of Communist infiltration in Hollywood.

There will be nine days of hearings that will result in over 300 industry artists being “blacklisted” by the studios. This group will include the infamous “Hollywood Ten” who were convicted of contempt of Congress for their refusal to answer the committee’s questions. Less than ten per cent will be able to save their careers from the “Red Scare.”

1948The Paramount Decree – The Supreme Court has ruled against the “Big Five” Hollywood studios in a decision that will be known as The Paramount Decree. The ruling eliminates the practice of “block-booking,” and “blind buying.”

This practice resulted in a form of monopolization where the studios would control the production and distribution of major films with preference for showing given to their own chain of theaters. Independent theaters were forced to buy pictures for showing blindly without knowing exactly what they would get. More often than not, they would get B-pictures and shorts with the A-pictures provided for them only after the studios maximized their profits by having first showing rights.


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