50 films from the 50s: Hollywood's last stand

Course Dates: 23/09/24 - 09/12/24
Time: 12:30 - 14:30
Location: Keeley Street
The 1950s was the beginning of the end for the Hollywood studio era, a golden age in place since the 1920s. The fifties are more difficult to pin down than the 1930/40s due to explosive diversity in both subject matter and cinematic technology, the profound influence of WWII, the development of European neorealism and the first signs of the French New Wave. An emphasis on teen culture emerged, represented by the brief career of James Dean. Film stars became anti-heroes. The moguls who founded Hollywood began to disappear. The studio business model was doomed. Hollywood reacted both defensively and creatively, going for broke—and producing some of the finest and most enduring films in its history, films that transformed the culture, from Sunset Blvd. (1950) to Some Like It Hot (1959)—both by Billy Wilder. From The Asphalt Jungle (1950) to The Misfits (1961)— Marilyn Monroe’s first and final films, both directed by John Huston. From Here To Eternity (1953 Fred Zinnemann) to A Place in the Sun (1951 George Stevens, part of his American trilogy). Fifties’ films reflected a darkening America. (See related courses on Fifties Musicals, Melodrama and Film Noir).
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50 films from the 50s: Hollywood's last stand
  • Course Code: HF004
  • Dates: 23/09/24 - 09/12/24
  • Time: 12:30 - 14:30
  • Taught: Mon, Daytime
  • Duration: 12 sessions (over 12 weeks)
  • Location: Keeley Street
  • Tutor: John Wischmeyer

Course Code: HF004

Choose a start date  

Mon, day, 23 Sep - 09 Dec '24

Duration: 12 sessions (over 12 weeks)

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What is the course about?

The theme of this film studies course is the change that overtook Hollywood as film took off in a million directions, so it’s important for us to view and discuss what constitutes the ‘Best Films’ of this prolific and diverse decade. The 1950s had a superficial reputation as bland, smug, repressed and conformist, but the reality is far more complicated, and far more interesting. Beneath the supposed dullness and complacent prosperity of Eisenhower’s America was a country riven by conflict and discontent and the movies reflected that culture that produced them. Which films defined something about the era? Which films tick the box of ‘if you want to consider yourself a culturally literate cinephile, you need to see this film’. Is one film more artistically important than another? Films are a litmus test, reflecting the culture that produces and consumes them. What changed in Hollywood was the kind of stories it chose to tell and the style of filmmaking to tell them. In the transitional 1950s, genres that had been Hollywood staples began to change, evolve, or fade away. While westerns reinvented themselves, four particular genres/styles of filmmaking—film noir, original musicals, ancient-world epics, and over-the-top melodramas—neared the end of the line. This course attempts to recover the films as they were experienced in the 1950s, and now. So, it’s back to the future.

What will we cover?

- Films stars became anti-heroes.
- Brando - how the greatest American actor lost his way. He was discovered in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and rose to superstardom in On the Waterfront (1954) - both directed by Elia Kazan. Elia Kazan formed the Actors Studio to get the kind of performance necessary for contemporary American plays and films. Students included Brando, James Dean, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Montgomery Clift, Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe.
- 50s live TV drama like Playhouse 90 (CBS network), or Studio One (NBC) was like watching a stage production directed by Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer or Arthur Penn. Thus studios faced competition both from Television and Broadway.
- The traditional 7-year contract disappeared as actors gained power. Audiences decreased by 50%.
- The Paramount Decree ordered studios to sell off their theatres and cease block-booking practices so that the major studios had to compete with independent producers.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Demonstrate familiarity with some of the key historical, cultural and technological developments influencing the Hollywood film industry in the 1950s
• Demonstrate an awareness of some of the key factors that changed Hollywood in the 1950s
• Chart the career development of some of the best-known film stars of the period
• Demonstrate familiarity with a number of key fifties films.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This course is suitable for beginners, intermediate and advanced learners. No previous study is necessary but all levels will increase their knowledge and critical ability.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

Opening lecture, proper big screen screenings of films, clips, sequences and re-mixes that stimulate group discussion and debate.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

No other costs. Tutor will screen extracts of films or supply links to online viewing. Bring notepad or tablet.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

For other Film Studies courses look under History, Culture and Writing/Film Studies at www.citylit.ac.uk.

John Wischmeyer

John Wischmeyer (MA in Film Theory) set up, ran and programmed his own cinema in West London and has since taught film studies at the former Gainsborough studio, the BFI and City Lit since 1999, Hitchcock’s centenary year. John has covered a wide range film topics under the banner ‘Cinema Investigates America’ and has a particular interest in and considerable knowledge of Hitchcock, Hollywood studios, American independent cinema and film noir, film technique and style.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.