Laughing Hysterically: American Screen Comedy of the 1950s

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Columbia University Press, 1996 - Performing Arts - 282 pages
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With the likes of Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, and Frank Tashlin revelling in "monkeys, babies, beautiful blondes, money, and cruelty" in their signature films of the 1950s, this seemingly conformist period turns out to be one of the most dynamic and original eras in Hollywood history. What distinguishes these directors is their candid and amusing exploration of cultural anxieties in carnival form. Quirky yet complex films such as Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Sunset Boulevard, The Trouble with Harry, and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? released and expressed the sexual repression and frustration we commonly associate with the decade. In clear and elegant prose, Sikov argues that these comedies are examples of popular cinema's uncanny capacity for cultural criticism. Highlighting Hawks's "skewed classicism, " Wilder's "gallows humor, " Hitchcock's "subversive morbidity, " and Tashlin's "shrill CinemaScopic" fragmentation, the author discusses the raucous "rebelliousness of the films these directors made in an era of widespread conservatism. Through satire and caricature, their films focus on the general anxiety - particularly over homosexuality, female sexuality, rock and roll, and Communism - that lay below the surface of homogeneity, progress, and domesticity in the period. Illustrated with over forty film stills, Laughing Hysterically captures the clout and glamour of such '50s icons as Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, William Holden, and Jerry Lewis by insightful analysis of their influence on and expression of a burgeoning culture of consumption in the movies. The 1950s produced comedies "that looked and sounded like nothing had ever looked and sounded before." Laughing Hysterically delights readers with an exploration of this very special group of films, and in the process, accomplishes what all good criticism should do: it makes the reader want to see the movies again from a fresh perspective.

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Laughing hysterically: American screen comedy of the 1950s

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Film scholar Sikov closely analyzes a choice group of the funniest and most complex films by Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, and Frank Tashlin, including Some Like It Hot, Monkey ... Read full review

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About the author (1996)

Film critic Ed Sikov is the author of the critically acclaimed "On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilde"r and "Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers". He has taught at Columbia University, Haverford College, and Colorado College, and lives in New York.

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