Tuesday, 7 February 2023

The Rise, fall and rise of Hollywood

 1946 was a bumper year for Hollywood - demobbed soldiers were eager for films to entertain them and their dates . after the uncertain war years. That year American cinemas sold more than 4000 million tickets and produced a total box office take of just under $1700 million. That figure would not be matched until 1974 when cine

mas sold only a quarter of the number of tickets but inflation made things look better than they truly were.

Today the cinema is as vibrant as ever(financially if not creatively) but in the years immediately following 1946 movie moguls were convinced they were witnessing the death of cinema. Not only were they selling less and less tickets each year as the new medium of Television worked its way into more and more homes but the industry was altered by new laws which created distrust and paranoia in the creative camps. Between 1946 and 1948 movie attendances dropped by 16.9% but what was worse for the major American studios was the interest the government was showing in the cosy cartels that controlled Hollywood. From the mid-Thirties, the Department of Justice had been trying to break the stranglehold the major studios had over independent cinemas. The aim was to force the majors into selling off their highly lucrative cinema chains. But as the majors made most of their money from distribution they resisted. AS far back as the early Thirties the Department of Justice had brought legal cases against the major studios but these were delayed by the war. However in 1946 the Department of Justice started to strip away the powers of the major studios.

The war years had already seen Hollywood have to make major changes in the films they produced - their foreign markets, with the exception of Britain, had become out of bounds. Attempts had been made to create a larger market in South America with the Carmen Miranda films but this would never replace the loss suffered by the closing of the lucrative French, German and Italian markets. When the war ended and the markets opened back up it would seem Hollywood was once again onto a certain winner but soon the way they did business would be gone forever. Old Hollywood and the so called studio system was about to die, killed by the Department of Justice and their anti-trust laws.

When the world market opened up after the war it was only the US that had an abundance of film stock - in 1946 20 films were made in the Soviet Union, 54 in Italy and 432 in America. Films from the US dominated Europe with most of the profits coming back to the Hollywood studios. In 1948 France would rebel against the system and only allow only $3.6 million of a $14 million take to go back to America. The UK for their part would only allow £17 million to go to the US while $40 million remained tied up under foreign exchange regulations.

The next problem for Hollywood was with their labour. Post war prices meant that wage structures had to be improved. There was a major strike at Warner Brothers in 1946 and now that the unions were being closely scrutinised by the government it made the earlier practice of the studios paying off union bosses impractical. Ronnie Reagan was a union leader during this period.

The movie industry was in a state of turmoil when in the late 40's the House Un-American Activities Committee starting to take an interest in the film industry. The flimsy alliance between the US and Russia broke down after the war and there was paranoia that movies made in America, by American were spreading communist propaganda. At the infamous hearings Jack Warner, eager to explain several pro-Soviet movies made during the war, said that communist writers were poking fun at the US political system and picking on rich men. Blacklists were quickly drawn up of actors, writers and directors suspected of having communist leanings. It was revealed by the committee that Danny Kaye's real name was Daniel Kamirsky and June Havoc was actually June Hovick. This was enough to stop these two performers finding work for a long while and of course there was the jailing of the infamous Hollywood Ten

Communist paranoia entered the American psyche. John Wayne played Big Jim Mclain, an heroic investigator for the committee in 1952. And such was the paranoia felt by the studios that by the time McCarthy arrived on the scene in 1951 Hollywood was politically clean.

At the end of the 50's Television had gained a place as the entertainment of choice for the masses. However more films were made in 1950 than 1946 as a leaner and fitter Hollywood emerged.

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