restricted access Films of the Fifties
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Shull I Films of the Fifties Michael S. Shull Frederick Community College/The Washington Center ShullMS@aol.com Films of the Fifties Alan C. Fetrow. Feature Films, 1950-1959: A United States Filmography. McFarland, 1999. (718 pages; $72.50) Feature Films, 1950-1959, a Filmography ofAmerican Movies, is the third such enterprise by Alan G. Fetrow. His first two efforts, also published by McFarland, dealt with Hollywood's Sound Films, 1927-1939 (1992) and Feature Films, 1940-1949 (1994). With regards to Fetrow's earlier books, it is highly recommended by this reviewer that scholars engaged in serious research rely primarily upon the American Film Institute catalogues covering these years — despite the well-known shortcomings of its 20's volume. The AFI's exhaustive 40's catalogue (three volumes) has only recently been made available to the public in print form and has already proven to be the ultimate general reference source to consult for that decade. Fetrow's so-called "comprehensive work" (according to one of McFarland's promotional blurbs) provides data on 3,078 American films. The double-columned entries are listed alphabetically, numbered sequentially and provides the reader with basic credit information, running time, alternate titles and a brief plot description. In addition, the author lists the films' availability on video and/or laser disc—which can be a useful bit of information. Regrettably, however, the commercial sources of these copies are not included. The filmography is extensive, but certainly not exhaustive . It includes numerous international co-productions and some animated features, such as Disney's 1951 classic, Alice in Wonderland. Yet, many independent productions are not included , while a number of feature documentaries are listed— for example, This Is Russia (Universal-International, 1957). The plot descriptions, ranging from about three to nine lines, have limited usefulness and the space is about equally filled with general information and factoids (some ofwhich are rather idiosyncratic). Among the more helpful factoids are the numerous references to the movies' contemporary audience response, whether it appeared on a double billing, and notations on earlier filmed versions. The purpose and efficacy ofsome other entries seem more dubious. For example, having dismissed the need to provide any plot information on St. Louis Blues (Paramount, 1958), loosely based upon the life of W. C. Handy, the reader is informed that the Jazz/Blues legend died "shortly before the film was released." There is a separate alphabetized listing of "Award Winning and Nominated Films" and a pathetic, less than one full page in length, bibliography. These two short sections are followed by a massive 200 page name index—listed by the filmographie entries' sequential numbers. Amazingly, there is not even a rudimentary subject index. Nevertheless, Fetrow's fifties filmography will have to do, "until the right thing comes along." - "Windows of Historical Contexts" continued from page 89 Mary (1986), two Argentine films from the 1980s, also challenge the authority of received truth but focus on family situations. In Story, for instance, a history teacher engages in independent thinking as she investigates the origins ofher adopted daughter under the military regime. Lucia (Cuba, 1968), Gabriela (Brazil, 1983), and Camila (Argentina, 1984) each deal with women in history . Lucia depicts three different Lucia's at three different formative periods in Cuban history in order to mobilize women in the present, and Barbara Weinstein discusses it in terms of how women were portrayed before the women's movement. Gabriela, according to James D. Henderson, is a feminine noble savage who strikes at the elite preoccupation with progress in the positivist atmosphere of early 20th century Brazil. And Stevens shows that in Camila Maria Luisa Bemberg reworks a well known story of a priest who elopes with the daughter of a wealthy family to make the woman the seducer, bringing a feminist perspective to the struggle against patriarchal authority in 19th century Argentina. Based on a True Story is a very handy book. There is breadth in the variety of approaches to the film-history relationship sketched above and depth in the case studies of individual films. I have used it profitably as a basis for companion projects in a course on North American cinematic history, for instance. And...


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