Public Enemies, Public Heroes: Screening the Gangster from Little Caesar to Touch of Evil

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University of Chicago Press, Mar 15, 1999 - Performing Arts - 263 pages
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In this study of Hollywood gangster films, Jonathan Munby examines their controversial content and how it was subjected to continual moral and political censure.

Beginning in the early 1930s, these films told compelling stories about ethnic urban lower-class desires to "make it" in an America dominated by Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideals and devastated by the Great Depression. By the late 1940s, however, their focus shifted to the problems of a culture maladjusting to a new peacetime sociopolitical order governed by corporate capitalism. The gangster no longer challenged the establishment; the issue was not "making it," but simply "making do."

Combining film analysis with archival material from the Production Code Administration (Hollywood's self-censoring authority), Munby shows how the industry circumvented censure, and how its altered gangsters (influenced by European filmmakers) fueled the infamous inquisitions of Hollywood in the postwar '40s and '50s by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Ultimately, this provocative study suggests that we rethink our ideas about crime and violence in depictions of Americans fighting against the status quo.

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Public enemies, public heroes: screening the gangster from Little Caesar to Touch of Evil

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Beginning in the early 1930s, argues Lancaster University lecturer Munby, gangster films reflected the urban masses' discontent with the Horatio Algeresque conservatism of Depression-era America. By ... Read full review


The Gangsters Silent Backdrop Contesting Victorian Uplift and the Culture of Prohibition
The Enemy Goes Public Voicing the Cultural Other in the Early 1930s Talking Gangster Film
Manhattan Melodramas Art of the Weak Tactics of Survival and Dissent in the PostProhibition Gangster Film
Ganging Up against the Gangster Censorship the Movies and Cultural Transformation 19151935
Crime Inc Beyond the GhettoBeyond the Majors in the Postwar Gangster Film
Screening Crime the Liberal Consensus Way Postwar Transformations in the Production Code
The UnAmerican Film Art Robert Siodmak Fritz Lang and the Political Significance of Film Noirs German Connection
From Gangster to Gangsta Against a Certain Tendency of Film Theory and History
Film Index
Subject Index

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About the author (1999)

Jonathan Munby is senior lecturer in film studies and American studies at Lancaster University. He is the author of Public Enemies, Public Heroes: Screening the Gangster from “Little Caesar” to “Touch of Evil,” also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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