The silver screen, a golden past: “Cinema paranoia”, Part 4 – the 40’s and 50’s

The Maltese Falcon, 1941
The Maltese Falcon, 1941 (© Wikipedia, Natl Board of Review Magazine 1941)

As the world struggled to emerge from the World War, this period of cinema history saw a splash of colourful, energetic films come out of Hollywood—especially wonderful musicals. “An American in Paris” was the first musical ever to win an Oscar, with Gene Kelly and the movies revolutionising the staging of dance. At the same time, however, Hollywood started seeing a steady decline in ticket sales. Anti-trust decrees broke the power of the big studios, while the McCarthy era and the Cold War Red Scare brought both shame and menace to Hollywood, with the blacklisting of movie-makers said to be communists and less than ethical methods to control labour unrest. No wonder then that a new genre emerged — the film noir — reflecting a darker, more pessimistic vision of the world that nevertheless resulted in great art. “Citizen Kane”, created by Orson Welles, for example, is to this day considered one of the best movies ever made.

Hollywood’s troubles gave European film-makers space to grow. These years saw the emergence of “la nouvelle vague” (the new wave) in France and neo-realism in Italy, and in England directors like David Lean created their first masterpieces. In Asia, Indian cinema moved beyond the happy splashiness of masala films to the work of Satyajit Ray, now considered one of the 20th century’s greatest directors, while Japan’s Akira Kurosawa stunned Venice, Hollywood and the world with his first great international success, “Rashomon”. The silver screen now also created a new image of male and female passion and seduction, literally embodied to this day by cinema icons like Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe.

Producer: Dheera Sujan

Broadcast: January 27, 1994

This documentary was awarded a silver medal in International Radio Programming at the New York Radio Festivals.