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TitleAmerican Cinema of the 1930s: Themes and Variations (Screen Decades: American Culture American Cinema)
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Table of Contents
Timeline: The 1930s
Introduction: Movies and the 1930s
1930: Movies and Social Difference
1931: Movies and the Voice
1932: Movies and Transgression
1933: Movies and the New Deal in Entertainment
1934: Movies and the Marginalized
1935: Movies and the Resistance to Tyranny
1936: Movies and the Possibility of Transcendence
1937: Movies and New Constructions of the American Star
1938: Movies and Whistling in the Dark
1939: Movies and American Culture in the Annus Mirabilis
Select Academy Awards, 1930-1939
Works Cited and Consulted
Document Text Contents
Page 1

American Cinema of the 1930s

Page 2


Each volume in the Screen Decades: American Culture/American Cinema series

presents a group of original essays analyzing the impact of cultural issues on the cin-

ema and the impact of the cinema in American society. Because every chapter

explores a spectrum of particularly significant motion pictures and the broad range

of historical events in one year, readers will gain a continuing sense of the decade as

it came to be depicted on movie screens across the continent. The integration of his-

torical and cultural events with the sprawling progression of American cinema illu-

minates the pervasive themes and the essential movies that define an era. Our series

represents one among many possible ways of confronting the past; we hope that

these books will offer a better understanding of the connections between American

culture and film history.


Ina Rae Hark, editor, American Cinema of the 1930s: Themes and Variations

Wheeler Winston Dixon, editor, American Cinema of the 1940s: Themes and

Murray Pomerance, editor, American Cinema of the 1950s: Themes and Variations

Lester D. Friedman, editor, American Cinema of the 1970s: Themes and Variations

Stephen Prince, editor, American Cinema of the 1980s: Themes and Variations



Page 148

and ends up playing a pivotal role in getting the two reunited. On one occa-

sion, when Ellie May appears on the verge of becoming involved with Flem

Talley (Frank Melton), the judge disrupts their relationship by speaking in

two different voices and fabricating a conversation suggesting that Flem is

being hunted by a posse. Flem, overhearing what he believes to be a real

conversation, fears for his life and �ees: �The camera pans to the bushes,

revealing Judge Priest hiding alone; he has been doing blackvoice� (Rogin

171). That the judge imitates �black speech and dialect� while constructing

this fake conversation demonstrates how he is able temporarily to trans-

gress his racial identity and participate in blackness while remaining white.

The fact that the judge is so skilled at speaking in �blackvoice� that Flem

interprets his imitation as real further demonstrates the judge�s ease in

adopting a black identity.

When a man overhears Flem disrespect Ellie May in the barbershop and

proceeds to retaliate violently by knocking him out, the �lm makes its cir-

cuitous return to the courtroom. In revenge for the assault in the barber-

shop, Flem and his friends decide to retaliate against this man, which

results in Flem�s being injured. The case goes to trial and Judge Priest is set

to preside, but because of his association with those involved in the case, he

recuses himself from hearing it. However, Jerome, in his �rst case as lawyer,

defends Flem�s attacker�a man who, because of his shady past and

involvement in a previous murder, seems destined to lose.

The night before the end of the trial, the town�s minister visits Judge

Priest, who now serves as associate counsel for the defense, and proclaims

his willingness to �break a pledge of secrecy.� When the trial resumes the

next day, the minister is called to testify on behalf of the accused and pro-

vides a moving testimony regarding his character. The minister testi�es

that the man had been a prisoner-turned-soldier during the Civil War and

that he had performed many outstanding feats, including saving the lives

of those wounded in battle. Michael Rogin, in his review of this scene,

notes: �To enlist sympathy for the stranger, the Judge has arranged for the

story of his Civil War bravery to be interrupted by the sounds of �Dixie�

from outside the courtroom� (172). The minister then reveals a secret he

has kept for a long time: that the accused man is actually Ellie May�s father,

Roger Gillespie (David Landau). With this revelation, the courtroom erupts

in jubilation as those assembled celebrate Roger�s heroism during the war

and the fact that Ellie May�s father is alive, contrary to what everyone had

previously believed. The �lm ends as the courtroom attendants march in a

parade to celebrate this discovery and to pay tribute to the Confederate

war hero; the march includes other Blacks and is led by none other than


Page 149

Jeff Poindexter, who wears a raccoon coat and top hat (given to him by

Judge Priest for delivering a letter of importance) while beating a drum


The black characters’ odd enthusiasm for the Lost Cause is mirrored by

Judge Priest’s close affinity for Blacks, as illustrated through his relationship

with Jeff, his constant companion throughout the film. Jeff fans the judge


Judge Billy Priest (Will Rogers) often abdicates his position of white male authority to
side with Blacks and social outcasts in Judge Priest (John Ford, Twentieth Century Fox).
Collection Ina Rae Hark.

Page 295

W ee W illie W inkie(1937), 184
W eissm uller, Johnny, 165
W elles, Orson, xiii, 115, 210
W ellm an, W illiam , 19, 186–187, 201
W ells, H. G., 165, 210
W est, M ae, 11, 14, 18, 22, 47, 107, 113,
165, 184, 196; distinctive speech, 1,
190–191; in She Done Him W rong,
98–100, 110

W exley, John, 240
W eyl, Carl Jules, 211
W hale, Jam es, 13–14, 21, 52, 72, 78–80,
169, 171

W hat Price Hollywood?(1932), 72, 186
W hitem an, Paul, 25
W hite Sister, The(1933), 95
W hite Zom bie(1932), 73, 77
W hitney, John Hay “Jock,” 202, 205n
W hole Town’s Talking, The(1935), 140
W hoopee!(1930), 20, 27–28, 40–41,

W ild Boys of the Road (1933), 94, 111
W illiam , W arren, 109
W illiam s, Guinn, 160
W ills, Brem ber, 80
W inchell, W alter, 69
W interset(1936), 167

IN D EX 279

W ith Byrd at the South Pole(1930), 26
W izard of Oz, The(1939), 20, 24,
230–233, 239, 241–244, 251

W olf M an, The(1941), 14
W om an Rebels, A (1936), 167
W om en, The(1939), 9, 19, 230
W onder Bar(1934), 120
W ood, Grant, 93
W oods, Edw ard, 60, 63
W orld Changes, The(1933), 97, 116
W ray, Fay, 104, 105
W uthering Heights(1939), 9, 19, 230
W yler, W illiam , 19, 115, 167, 220–222
W ynn, Ed, 93
W ynyard, Diana, 96

Yellen, Jack, 116n
You Can’t Take It with You (1938), 19, 23,
214, 217–218

Young, Loretta, 97
Young, Robert, 208
Young M r. Lincoln (1939), 16, 19, 230,

Zangara, Giuseppe, 93
Zanuck, Darryl F., 6, 103, 108
Ziegfeld, Florenz, 168

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