Movie genres are consolidated by Hollywood producers of the 1930s and 1940s for production planning needs. The division into well-coded movie genres allows studios above all to reach very specific target audiences. In addition, producers always try to connect well-known stars to each genre. The association between a certain gender and a certain face becomes an almost unconscious mechanism of the public. The production is organized in ramifications of genres, and each genre includes a constellation of subgenres, actors, directors and existential philosophies.
Movie genres are inherited from literary genres, tried and tested over the centuries. Every major production house specializes only in certain genres, just as certain directors like Hitchcock, for example, will become a hallmark for Thriller. In fact, it is rare outside of arthouse cinema to see directors ranging in various genres: the large expense necessary for the making of a Hollywood film creates rather rigid paths and a limited possibility of experimentation. Everyone wants to go without fail to meet the public’s approval. Stars, spectacular settings and genres are the surest way to do this. What is often lacking is the originality and discoveries of European avant-garde cinema, but there are not rare cases in which artistic flair and unconventional worldviews manage to penetrate the Studios.
The RKO was born with sound and specializes in musicals. He keeps the couple of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers under contract for a long time. The musical stems from the legacy of the magazine show, operetta and the Broadway stages. The genre consolidated in the 1930s, integrating some specific codes of comedy. They are films shot in the studio with a diffused and sparkling light, a world of golden and reassuring dreams.
Warner makes some musicals such as 42nd Street of 1933 which are a show within a show. Stories that have dancers and showmen as protagonists, their life on the stage and in the world of entertainment. RKO, on the other hand, gets closer to the territories of sophisticated comedy with the musical Top Hat of 1936, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
MGM also focuses heavily on the musical but through a sumptuous and dreamlike show that takes the audience through imaginary worlds such as Victor Fleming’s 1939 The wizard of Oz. The colors are bright and take advantage of Technicolor technology. MGM proposes a bright and colorful cinema as a means of escaping from a black and white reality.
This vision of the MGM Studio is celebrated in a scene from the Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy goes from black and white to color, from gray reality to the world of fantasy. Other famous MGM musicals in the 1940s are those of Vincent Minnelli such as The pirate, from 1947, or An American in Paris from 1950. Variety show with Fred Astaire and Syd Charisse from 1953, made by producer Arthur Freed.
The introduction of sound also gives a significant boost to the horror genre. It is the Universal studio, the one that produces the largest number of films of this genre, to realize the most important works during the 1930s. Tod Browning’s Dracula of 1931 with Bela Lugosi. James Whale’s Frankenstein, also in 1931, with Boris Karloff. The cycle continues with The Invisible Man and Frankenstein’s Wife. They are very different from the horror films of German Expressionism but draw a lot of inspiration from the films of Dreyer, Wiene or Murnau.
King Kong of 1933, invents new things in the genre and makes use of important special and visual effects. In the early 1940s, producer Val Lewton entrusted the making of several horror films to directors Jacques Tourneur and Robert Wise, who specialize in low-budget works. The limitations of resources typical of independent films provoke greater inventiveness: the horror becomes supernatural, of atmosphere, the danger is often invisible. Films like Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 Cat People have a decidedly more sophisticated language than high-budget films.
The Thirties saw the birth of the Gangster Movie. Crime and prohibition are themes of the 1920s chronicle that influence all film production of the 30s and 40s. The narrative model of these films is often the rise and fall of a gangster, who is a kind of self made man American in negative, destined for a tragic end. Major films of the genre of the 1930s are Mervyn Le Roy’s Little Caesar, William Wellman’s 1931 Public Enemy, and Howard Hawks’ 1932 Scarface. They are violent stories of misfits who turn into bosses of the underworld through a path of rise to power and violence. Through these cinematic stories the bosses of the underworld enter the collective imagination.
The gangster film changes and takes on different shades in the 40s. French critics call it Noir. In these films the protagonist and the metropolitan environment take on crepuscular qualities and the criminal bosses become melancholy losers. Cynicism, disenchantment and moral ambiguity prevent a clear distinction between good and bad. The happy ending is often absent: they are anti-heroes destined for a tragic ending.
Many noirs are based on detective novels by Raymond Chandler, Hammet, James Cain and Cornell Woolrich. The setting is urban and nocturnal. The characters are criminals, detectives and fatal and fascinating women characterized by a clear cynicism and pessimism. The most significant films are John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, in 1941, based on the novel by Hammett, and The Big Sleep, in 1946, based on a novel by Chandler. The lead actor is Humphrey Bogart in the role of the cynical and romantic detective that he will continue to play in several subsequent films.
The style of the images is built with very angled and contrasted shots, wide angles and depth of field. The atmosphere generated is that of claustrophobia and moral degradation. Many cinema workers from Europe collaborate in the making of Noir films, creating a strong expressionist influence in them. It is precisely European directors such as Fritz Lang who created the Noir masterpieces of the 1940s such as The woman in the portrait, Scarlet street and The big heat, from 1953.
The Viennese director Otto Preminger also created some of the most significant Noir: Laura from 1944, a dreamlike Noir where the boundaries between reality and fantasy blur. The theme of the mirror, of the portrait, of the double, mixed with dreams and nightmares, echoes in all these films, together with Rebecca by Alfred Hitchcock, from 1939. A world oppressed by disenchantment, cynicism and ambiguity between good and evil, populated by dangerous dark ladies. As in another great 1945 Noir, Billy Wilder’s Double indemnity, based on a Chandler novel.
At the beginning of the 1940s the war genre also became popular with films such as Archipelago in flames (Air Force) of 1943 and Obiettivo Burma, of 1945, by Raoul Walsh.
The complexity of the movie genres
The various movie genres are divided into a multiplicity of complex sub-genres, linked to the stars available, to the most current themes, to changes in society and to the appreciation of the public. It could be said that every type of star and every genre embodies an entire world, a certain way of living and dreaming, certain standards of beauty, influencing the imagination of many people.
The movie genres are built taking into account the stars, the brand of the production companies, and precise narrative universes that develop film after film, in a sort of serial narrative that tends to retain viewers in the long run, with schedules and contracts. ten years. The actors are linked to the production companies with exclusive agreements and the collaborations between Star and Studio last a very long time. Once the audience identifies a star with a certain film genre and with a certain Studio, it is difficult to find different roles, and the actors remain trapped in the cliché that is built on them.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are part of the unreal and golden universe of the musical. Humphrey Bogart, James cagney of the dark world of crime and Noir. Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn of the comedy and John Wayne of the western. The films of each single star always reproduce the same moral messages and the same vision of the world, project after project, with a series of variations that become a kind of sub-genre. The star is forever linked to his type of characters and the audience’s expectation.
In some rare cases, however, the production decides to play on a kind of surprise effect, and to have a star interpret a character that the public is not used to. The appearance of the stars as their standard characters meet expectations and help create their myth. Characters and stars who are liked by certain segments of the public well divided because everyone is the bearer of a different message in which they reflect themselves.