American Cinema: The Theme of War


Since the beginning of the Second World War, many directors had been in charge of following the phases of the conflict, but after Pearl Harbor, American cinema was practically mobilized and the war became a fundamental theme of numerous productions. The documentary that had been neglected by Hollywood and abandoned to avant-garde photographers (such as Strand in fact) and to the rebels (the March of Time newsreel , founded in 1934 by producer L. DeRochemont who also specialized in chronicles reconstructed in the studios) came back to life, had been another of the few exceptions); Flaherty returned to the US with little luck to direct The Land in 1942 (which was later refused by the commissioning ministry), Capra, Ford, the Disney operators themselves were sent to the front. Meanwhile, numerous European directors had arrived in America. If the contribution of Dutch documentarian J. Ivens to F. Capra’s Why We Fight series was rejected from production, J. Renoir, R. Clair and A. Hitchcock were more successful. Although the two Frenchmen no longer reached the artistic level of their national works, and the latter sometimes abandoned himself to a purely commercial production, they were authors of significant films between 1940 and the postwar period. Through directors of European origin (Hitchcock, R. Siodmak, C. Bernhardt) a cinema centered on violence and crime, pessimistic, cruel and polemical, was established in Hollywood. There was a gradual transition from thriller to black film, perfectly illustrated by The Maltese Falcon (1941; The Maltese Falcon) by J. Huston, a director who, using the detective line, helped to introduce a preconceived non-conformism of a more committed cinema.. Huston’s experience was variously followed by directors such as B. Wilder with Double indemnity (1944; The flame of sin), E. Dmytryk with Murder, my Sweet (1944; The shadow of the past), while W. Wellman with The Ox-Bow Incident (1943; Fatal Dawn) used the western for a theme of social violence such as lynching. Meanwhile, O. Welles had made his debut in 1941, who presented himself with Citizen Kane (Fourth Estate), a film denouncing astonishingly aggressive opposed Chaplin for Monsieur Verdoux (1947), accused of bias, immorality and anti-Americanism.


After the conflict, Hollywood reverted to the old tried-and-true strands as in Duel in the Sun (1946; Duello al sole) by K. Vidor, Gilda (1946) by Ch. Vidor or The Big Sleep (1946; The big sleep) by Hawks, from which came off some works responding to a greater social commitment such as The Lost Week-end (1945; Days lost), study on alcoholism by B. Wilder, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946; The best years of our life), made by W. Wyler on the theme of the difficult reintegration of the veteran, or protest and denunciation films such as Brute Force (1947; Brute Force), on the prison theme, by J. Dassin and the aforementioned Monsieur Verdoux by Chaplin. The same Italian neorealism, received with great interest in the United States (always careful to grasp the European proposals), influenced the directors of those years, even if in most cases we can speak of an ideal bond, rather than a clear derivation. Crossfire (1947; Hate implacable) by Dmytryk and Boomerang (1946) by E. Kazan, robust investigations shot before the arrival of Italian films, indicate that the terrain was prepared to welcome new ideas. Naked City (1948; The naked city) by Dassin, The Set-Up (1949; Tonight I Won Too) by R. Wise, Act of Violence (1949; Act of Violence) and Teresa (1951) by F. Zinnemann, The lawless (1950; Lynching) by J. Losey, The Brave Bulls (1951; Fiesta of love and blood) by R. Rossen, or the subjects of P. Chayefsky (from Marty, 1955, to The Bachelor Party, 1957; The night of the bachelor), demonstrated the commitment, not only descriptive, to approach the common facts of men with an attitude that was affected by the lesson of neorealism. However, the most complete examples of this phenomenon are few and are found only in some films with little circulation, such as The Quiet One (1948; L’escluso) by S. Meyers, On the Bowery (1956) by L. Rogosin, Salt of the Earth (1953, Challenge to Silver City) by HJ Biberman. Despite this cultural vitality, Hollywood suffered in those years a crisis of alarming proportions that led to the closure of smaller houses, while production progressively decreased. While the depression was caused by the downsizing of the star system, for decades the driving force of American cinema, certainly much was to be attributed to the drying up of scriptwriters and scriptwriters, especially since they were victims of the ideological censorship campaigns unleashed by Senator Mac Carthy. Numerous filmmakers were forced into unemployment, many emigrated, while other former rebels accepted the compromise and adapted to the new reality (in 1954, for example, Dmytryk directed The Caine mutiny, The Caine mutiny, which, under the apparent controversy, hid an unconditional surrender). Official cinema tried to stem the crisis by resorting to old themes, colossals, exploiting new techniques (cinemascope and cinerama), and launching new idols, including M. Brando, P. Newman, J. Dean, as an antidote to the crisis. Tormented, neurotic, disenchanted, talented and discontented were the film interpreters pervaded by the sense of anguish and violence of Kazan, Wyler, Huston, N. Ray. M. Monroe herself, launched as a symbol of sex, was far from the stereotypical image claimed by Hollywood and clearly showed the discomfort of playing exclusively conventional parts by overcoming the constraint with an out-of-the-box commitment. A revival of Hollywood came only when, relieved the pressure of censorship, ideas began to circulate again (1958 is Paths of Glory, Paths of Glory, by S. Kubrick, one of the best results on the subject of anti-militarism). The city, however, was no longer able to regain the autonomy and power it had before, nor was it the only known face of American cinema.

The Theme of War