In the last few years, Warner Bros. released the Harry Potter films, The Hangover, and Watchman. It was interesting to look through the Warner Bros. website and see promotions for their current releases, especially when thinking about the films they released in the first years of the 1930′s. I know that’s a long time ago. But still, in the early thirties, Warner Bros. was known as the studio that put out the gritty, social consciousness films that portrayed ordinary people dealing with some hard problems. In You Must Remember This, Robert Schickel and George Perry state that people flocked to the pictures to escape the Great Depression, but with Warner Bros. films, they received an “impure escapism (pg. 65).”
For example, Three on a Match (1932) portrays cocaine addiction that tears a marriage apart and endangers a young boy. Baby Face (1933), which stars Barbara Stanwyck, tells the story of a woman who is constantly sexually harassed while working in her father’s speakeasy. She decides to use her sexuality to move to the top of the secretarial pool of a major company while she is offered money and luxury goods. Heroes for Sale (1933) follows a World War I veteran as he fights a morphine addiction, downsizing at a laundry company, workers riots, and unemployment. To see how Warner Bros. portrays teenagers during the Great Depression, check out Wild Boys of the Road (1933). When Eddie Smith’s father loses his job, he sells his beloved car and leaves home by riding the rails and seeing police raids, assault, and the inside of a courtroom.
One of the most famous examples is I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. Paul Muni stars as a World War I veteran who encounters hard times when he is sentenced to hard labor on a chain gang. Join us on Friday, November 12th at 7 pm in Meeting Room A as we watch and discuss I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang with John Raeburn as part of our Films of the Great Depression series.