The Golden Age in Hollywood began in the 1930s and lasted as late as the 1950s. It was the turning point for American cinema and changed the standard of filmmaking for years to come.
The Dark Age
The Great Depression not only describes the condition of the American economy during the late 1920s to the early 1930s, but it also reflects the American morale of the time period. Unemployment was at an all-time high, people were trying to save money from every end, and money was barely circulating through the economy. However, revolutions were taking effect to counter such poor conditions. Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt came into office and installed the New Deal. Americans gained more faith in the economy, and the cinema industry inspired even more hope. Gold was cashed in, and money became more accessible. Thus came The Golden Age of Hollywood and the aspirations of achieving the American Dream.
Ray of Spotlight
Before the rise of consumerism and popular culture in the 1930s, films were silent with a color spectrum limited to black and white. At the time, there existed only eight major film production studios: MGM was the largest and most successful, followed by 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros., RKO Radio, Columbia, Universal, and United Artists. Back then, these production houses ran the industry – actors were just used to execute what the producers wanted. Besides for MGM, these companies were suffering losses of up to $400 million. With the technological advances in sound quality and introduction of Technicolor through the 1934 hit La Cucaracha, films took on a new form and marked the beginning of The Golden Age.
During this era, the film industry expanded in number of actors, theaters, and genres. Gangster films, horror movies, musicals, western, comedies, and newspaper documentaries increased the variety of entertainment from the silent, black and white films that previously dominated. Sound, color, and the varied storylines appealed to the American audience. The films often depicted some sort of struggle and emotional trauma, which viewers could relate to as they had been through the Great Depression. Although the films showed this type of distress, they took a more positive approach, often with happy endings. This instilled hope for the American population, and they came back to the cinema always wanting more.
Three, two, one…Escape
Films during the 1930s were used as an escape from the economic turmoil of the Great Depression. Movies were a fantasy for viewers, stories with hopeful endings. The biggest hits of the era were The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, both produced in 1939. The latter of the two is the highest grossing film of The Golden Age, and both movies are still watched and appreciated today. They allowed viewers to check out from reality and enter a different world – a world that, despite all of its problems, was always content at the end.
The same production houses with the same popular actors and directors were responsible for ninety-five percent of the films made during The Golden Age. Thus, Americans identified with the heartthrobs of the time – including legends like Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and even child-actress Shirley Temple. Hollywood and its productions portrayed the American Dream, often using fancy cars or large homes. Inspired, audiences began to have faith in the money and began spending on such a lifestyle. Films essentially advertised the notion of the American Dream, and people ate it up like apple pie. At the height of Hollywood’s popularity, eighty million people went to the theater to watch at least one film per week.
Films marketed their production studios, actors, and storylines; but theaters promoted their own sales by providing bundled packages for their audiences. Viewers could indulge in a meal or watch a double feature of the film instead of just one showing. Additionally, theaters broadcasted the news and trailers for upcoming films before the show and consumers were getting more than what they paid for.
The Influences of The Golden Age
Films, actors, production firms, and the culture from The Golden Age left a lasting impact on the Hollywood industry. Over 7,500 feature films were produced during this era. This was the age of glamour and sex appeal, which lured audiences into theaters movie after movie. With the shift from black-and-white to color and from silent films to “talkies,” actors and their stories became incredibly real. Filmmaking became more of a business with more jobs. The 1934 Production Code was established which regulated the content of sex, race, and religion in films. The first animated film, Snow White, was released in 1937 and is still watched by young girls today. Moreover, the first popular culture newspaper was created, known as The Hollywood Reporter. Movies of The Golden Age reflected the emotions of the Great Depression, but instilled hope and inspiration in the American population. This boost of American morale provoked a rise in consumer culture, something that still continues today. Although the decline of the industry began in the 1940s, money was circulating, Americans were entertained, and The Golden Age was responsible.