The mid-years of the twentieth century witnessed a moral panic about juvenile delinquency in the USA and the United Kingdom, and this anxiety was expressed and explored in both Hollywood and British films. This book is a transcultural reception study of key American films that commented on juvenile delinquency and youth culture, including The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle, Rebel Without a Cause, Rock Around the Clock and Jailhouse Rock. The book examines the changes made by the British Board of Film Censors, the ways in which these films were evaluated by British critics and the meanings that Hollywood stars such as Marlon Brando, James Dean and Elvis Presley generated for British film fans. By comparing British and American films featuring teenage delinquents, the book demonstrates the gradual eastward, transatlantic passage of the ‘rebel’ trope and shows how it influenced and disrupted British cinema and popular youth culture. In addition, it argues that the excessive censorship and generally poor critical reviews in the British media demonstrate the wider suspicions of foreignness, teenage consumerism and mass culture that were circulating at the time. These classic films and their iconic stars continue to generate scholarly and critical interest but no other book has re-visioned the Hollywood stardom of Marlon Brando, James Dean and Elvis Presley in Britain.
This article provides an introduction to this special section of James Baldwin Review 7 devoted to Baldwin and film. Jackson considers Baldwin’s distinct approach to film criticism by pairing him with James Agee, another writer who wrote fiction as well as nonfiction in several genres, and who produced a large body of film criticism, especially during the 1940s. While Agee, a white southerner born almost a generation before Baldwin, might seem an unlikely figure to place alongside Baldwin, the two shared a great deal in terms of temperament and vision, and their film writings reveal a great deal of consensus in their diagnoses of American pathologies. Another important context for Baldwin’s complex relationship to film is television, which became a dominant media form during the 1950s and exerted a great influence upon both the mainstream reception of the civil rights movement and Baldwin’s reception as a public intellectual from the early 1960s to the end of his life. Finally, the introduction briefly discusses the articles that constitute this special section.
A Conversation with Bill V. Mullen, the author of James Baldwin: Living in Fire
William J. Maxwell and Bill V. Mullen
William J. Maxwell, editor of James Baldwin: The FBI File (2017), interviews Bill V. Mullen on his 2019 biography, James Baldwin: Living in Fire, along the way touching on both Baldwin’s early internationalism and his relevance to the current wave of racial discord and interracial possibility in the United States.
Chapter 2 explores the British reception of Blackboard Jungle. As the first Hollywood film to use a rock ’n’ roll soundtrack and comment on juvenile delinquency in secondary moderns (the equivalent of the American high school), the censors anticipated that impressionable Teddy boys would imitate the violence perpetrated by the screen delinquents against their teachers. Thus, the censors not only deleted scenes they considered excessively violent but also worked to lessen the glamour surrounding the delinquents by removing many of their American idioms. As the chapter shows, the film’s lasting legacy was its theme song, Rock Around the Clock, which began a rock ’n’ roll craze in Britain (and globally). In its exploration of the production and exhibition history of this Hollywood film, the chapter also finds parallels in the Max Bygraves film Spare the Rod (1961), billed as the ‘British Blackboard Jungle’, to demonstrate the extent to which the censor inhibited realistic adult British cinema. In addition, Glenn Ford’s and Vic Morrow’s British stardom is reconstructed to demonstrate the deliberate merging of their on- and off-screen personas to authenticate their film characters: dedicated teacher and teenage gang leader, respectively. Hence, Ford was promoted as educated and urbane, and happily married; and Morrow, in his screen debut, as a forthright Method trained actor from New York’s Lower East Side. Morrow’s credibility was largely undermined in the British press and by many cinemagoers for his emulation of the established and highly acclaimed Marlon Brando.
Screening the Hollywood Rebels in 1950s Britain explores the relationship between classic American films about juvenile delinquency and British popular youth culture in the mid-twentieth century. The book examines the censorship, publicity and fandom surrounding such Hollywood films as The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle, Rebel Without a Cause, Rock Around the Clock and Jailhouse Rock alongside such British films as The Blue Lamp, Spare the Rod and Serious Charge. Intersecting with star studies and social and cultural history, this is the first book to re-vision the stardom surrounding three extraordinarily influential Hollywood stars: Marlon Brando, James Dean and Elvis Presley. By looking specifically at the meanings of these American stars to British fans, this analysis provides a logical and sustained narrative that explains how and why these Hollywood images fed into, and disrupted, British cultural life. Screening the Hollywood Rebels in 1950s Britain is based upon a wide range of sources including censorship records, both mainstream and trade newspapers and periodicals, archival accounts and memoirs, as well as the films themselves. The book is a timely intervention of film culture and focuses on key questions about screen violence and censorship, masculinity and transnational stardom, method acting and performance, Americanisation and popular post-war British culture. The book is essential reading for researchers, academics and students of film and social and cultural history, alongside general readers interested in the links between the media and popular youth culture in the 1950s.
Reading works on Baldwin from 2017 to 2019, the author tracks the significance of Baldwin within the Black Lives Matter movement and our growing need for police reform in conjunction with a revaluation of the lives of racial and ethnic minorities within the oppressive systemic biases of American social and political life.
Recalling the insurrectionary violence that descended upon the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, reflecting on the baser instincts left unchecked in America by an absence of common communication and a paradigmatic shift in our media apparatuses, Justin A. Joyce introduces the seventh volume of James Baldwin Review.
This review essay examines Eddie Glaude, Jr.’s new book Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own against several other recent works on Baldwin such as Bill Mullen’s James Baldwin: Living in Fire and Nicholas Buccola’s The Fire Is Upon Us.
Ealing Studios’ Dead of Night (1945) is the first important recognisably British horror film. However, to view Dead of Night as marking the ‘birth’ of British horror cinema is rather problematic, for in many respects Ealing’s film is very different from the long stream of horror films that eventually followed from the mid-1950s onwards. This 1950s wave of horror was in large part initiated by the enormous commercial success of Hammer’s SF/horror The Quatermass Experiment in 1955. In seeking to explain the transition from Dead of Night to The Quatermass Experiment, as well as the virtual absence of horror from British cinema in the intervening years, the chapter considers both the broadly social and the specifically cinematic context of each film’s production. Such an approach reveals the way in which the identity of British horror cinema was subject to constant and substantial revision during this period.
The period 1956–64 can be seen as the classic phase in British horror production, years during which a particular national horror movement emerged. The most famous (or infamous), influential and commercially successful sector of British horror at this time was that produced by the Hammer company, and this chapter will be devoted in the main to a discussion of Hammer horror. The 1956–64 period is ‘bookended’ by two important Hammer films, The Curse of Frankenstein (Hammer’s first colour horror, 1957) and The Gorgon (1964): these were, respectively, the first and last of the five Hammer films on which horror stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and principal Hammer director Terence Fisher collaborated. This fact alone marks the 1956–64 period as a distinctive stage in Hammer’s development. However, any discussion of British horror production in this period should not lose sight of the fact that while Hammer was certainly dominant, approximately two-thirds of horror did not fall under Hammer’s auspices. In addition to discussing Hammer, then, the chapter also shows that while films made by Hammer’s competitors were often working with the same issues as those addressed by Hammer, on the whole (and with a few distinguished exceptions) they lack the richness and energy of Hammer’s more successful approach.