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Public Enemies, Public Heroes: Screening the Gangster from Little Caesar to Touch of Evil [Paperback]

Jonathan Munby
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 15, 1999 0226550338 978-0226550336
In this study of Hollywood gangster films, Jonathan Munby examines their controversial content and how it was subjected to continual moral and political censure. Beginning in the early 1930s, these films told compelling stories about ethnic urban lower-class desires to "make it" in an America dominated by Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideals and devastated by the Great Depression. By the late 1940s, however, their focus shifted to the problems of a culture maladjusting to a new peacetime sociopolitical order governed by corporate capitalism. The gangster no longer challenged the establishment; the issue was not "making it" but simply "making do" Combining film analysis with archival material from the Production Code Administration (Hollywood's self-censoring authority), Munby shows how the industry circumvented censure, and how its altered gangsters (influenced by European filmmakers) fueled the infamous inquisitions of Hollywood in the postwar '40s and '50s by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Ultimately, this provocative study suggests that we rethink our ideas about crime and violence in depictions of Americans fighting against the status quo.

Frequently Bought Together

Public Enemies, Public Heroes: Screening the Gangster from Little Caesar to Touch of Evil + American Gangster Cinema: From 'Little Caesar' to 'Pulp Fiction' + The Gangster Film Reader (Softcover)
Price for all three: $66.61

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Beginning in the early 1930s, argues Lancaster University lecturer Munby, gangster films reflected the urban masses' discontent with the Horatio Algeresque conservatism of Depression-era America. By the end of this genre's heyday, in the early 1950s, the films mirrored the changing sociopolitical order adjusting to corporatism. Munby's wide-ranging overview is most useful in examining the genre's response to the Production Code, the Legion of Decency, and the House Un-American Activities Committee as these groups threatened to muzzle dissent on the silver screen. Recommended for all film collections as a companion to Eugene Rosow's Born To Lose: The Gangster Film in America (1978. o.p.).AAnthony J. Adam, Prairie View A&M Univ. Lib., Houston, TX
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Jonathan Munby is senior lecturer in film studies and American studies at Lancaster University. He is the author of Public Enemies, Public Heroes: Screening the Gangster from 'Little Caesar' to 'Touch of Evil' also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 271 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (March 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226550338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226550336
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,458,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why do we like gangster films? May 9, 2000
By A Customer
This is a very exciting book about why many people find gangster films appealing and why at the same time lots of institutions of authority have found them to be threatening, right from the very beginning. For example, it provides a detailed background of the gangster film's origins in the early '30s, exploring matters such as the motivations for Prohibition, anti-immigration movements, and what was taken to be "proper" American speech, in order to provide a sense of the feelings of resentment these films tapped into and why their early viewers were so excited by them.
This sense of how gangster films have continually spoken for those otherwise ignored marks one of the book's most important themes. It also helps to provide an explanation of how the gangster film changed over the decades in response to attacks, both direct and indirect. The book describes and explains the gangster film's continual battles with various censors, within and without Hollywood, to show how these films continually evolved in ways that enabled them to cater again and again to those who would dissent with an oppressive status quo. Of especial interest is the chapter on German _film noir_ directors, which provides a very plausible account of why much _noir_ should be subsumed under the gangster genre. Dealing with the same issues of subversiveness and critical perspectives of existing power structures, much standard _film noir_ is more a continuation of the gangster film tradition than a break with it. Lots of other critics have noted this connection between these two types of films, but few have argued for it as forcefully, as clearly, or in as much detail as Munby.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely essential reading for film scholars January 12, 2006
By Jezebel
Munby's book examines the gangster film in relation to industrial and cultural history and particularly the forces of censorship or moralism in Hollywood. This brilliant book tackles difficult questions of cultural analysis and film history and is eloquent to boot. Stellar reading, really inspiring for film--especially gangster genre--scholars.
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