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Dark Victory: Cancer and Popular Hollywood Film

This paper explores the cultural representations of cancer in popular Hollywood films released between 1930 and 1970. These cinematic treatments were not representative of the types of cancer that increasingly afflicted Americans, nor were filmmakers and studios concerned with realistic representations of the disease, its treatment, and its outcomes. As in the "epidemic entertainments" of the early twentieth century that portrayed diseases as cultural commodities, popular filmmakers selectively projected some cancers rather than others, favoring those that were less offensive and more photogenic. Although the characters became weak and died, they did so without gross transformations of their bodies. This paper argues that such representations nonetheless informed American attitudes about cancer and the role of medical research in overcoming the disease.

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