Fairfield University presents post-World War II Europe in American Films, a series beginning January 28


Director of Fairfield University's American Studies Program, Dr. Leo O'Connor, presents "Americans in Post-WW II Europe: A Film Perspective," a four-film spring 2009 series beginning Wednesday, Jan. 28. Dr. O'Connor will introduce each film and lead a post-film discussion. All of the classic films are set in major European cities. The films will be shown in the Multimedia Room of the DiMenna-Nyselius Library on Wednesday evenings at 7:00 p.m. and Fairfield University students and the community are welcome to this free event. Light refreshments will be served.

"After World War II, American filmmakers began going to Europe to shoot their films," Dr. O'Connor said. "All but three of the films in this series were shot extensively on location and they give a vivid post-war view of Europe. It's interesting to see what these cities - Rome, Vienna and Berlin - looked like after the war."

He explained that the basis for selecting the films "was that they are among the finest examples of American cinema. Two of the films, 'Roman Holiday,' and 'An American in Paris,' are delightful entertainments, while the remaining two, 'The Third Man,' and 'The Search,' are dark and show the effects of war on the civilian population."

Dr. O'Connor noted, "American relations with Europe had been transformed by our participation in World War II. In 1940, we were an isolationist nation in which both presidential candidates, FDR and Wendell Willkie, promised we would not repeat the fiasco of World War I. After World War II, America was triumphant as an omnipresent power throughout Western Europe."

A schedule for the Wednesday series follows:

  • Jan. 28 - "Roman Holiday" (1953); Comedy, directed by William Wyler and starring Audrey Hepburn in her American film debut with Gregory Peck, received ten Academy Award nominations and a Best Actress Oscar for Hepburn.
  • Feb. 11 - "The Third Man" (1949); Film-noir, directed by Carol Reed, starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton with Alida Valli; screenplay by British novelist, Graham Greene; nominated for Best Director, Best Film Editor and won an Oscar for Best Cinematography.
  • Feb. 25 - "An American in Paris" (1951); Musical, directed by Vincent Minnelli, starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in her film debut.
  • March 11 - "The Search" (1948); Drama, directed by Fred Zinnemann, starring Montgomery Clift and the Motion Picture Academy's Juvenile Award winning, Ivan Jandl.

The story of "Roman Holiday," is reputed to be based on the actual adventure of Britain's Princess Margaret, who managed to escape her stuffy entourage during a state visit to Rome. In the film, Ann (Audrey Hepburn), Her Royal Highness of an unnamed country, conceals her identity when she encounters a down-on-his-luck American newsman (Peck). Once he knows who Ann really is and realizes he has "a big scoop," he takes her on a whirlwind, carefree tour of Rome, while his American photographer (Eddie Albert) clicks away with his camera. The shots of young Hepburn touring the Eternal City during her romantic escapade with Peck are visually exquisite.

The series continues with the British "film noir," "The Third Man" starring Joseph Cotton as Holly Martins, an American writer of popular Westerns, and Orson Welles as his mysterious childhood friend, the corrupt Harry Lime. Anna, played by Alida Valli, is the friends' love interest and Trevor Howard is the fair-minded British Major Calloway. The film is set in occupied post-war Vienna, a shadowy place underscored by the movie's haunting theme music, unforgettably played on the zither and the arresting mood created by Reed's dramatic black and white vision.

"An American in Paris" is one of the great American musicals, starring Gene Kelly who choreographed all the dance numbers. He also dances and sings to the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin. Kelly's "I Got Rhythm" in which he tap dances and teaches a group of Parisian children to sing in English captures the joyous spirit of the film. The romantic comedy tells the story of Jerry Mulligan, an ex-G.I. who stays on after the war to paint in Paris. His love interest is a French ballet dancer, Lise, played by Leslie Caron in her first film. Another highlight is Kelly and Caron's duet "Our Love is Here to Stay." the MGM film has elaborate sets and dance sequences, and some eye-catching shots of "The City of Lights.

The final film in Dr. O'Connor's series, "The Search" (1948), a black and white MGM film set in bomb-torn post-war Berlin, tells the story of Karel (Ivan Jandl), a Jewish boy from Czechoslovakia, who becomes separated from his mother (Jarmila Novotna) at Auschwitz, and is rescued by a United Nations relief organization along with other homeless children. Karel escapes from the transit camp and is found by an American soldier, Steve (Montgomery Clift), who befriends the boy and teaches him English. Despite the growing bond between Steve and Karel - the G.I. plans to adopt the boy and bring him to America - Karel still hopes to find his mother, who in turn is searching for her son.

For more information, please contact at (203) 254-4000, ext. 3021 or e-mail mwhite@mail.fairfield.edu.

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Media Contact: Joan Grant, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2950, jgrant@fairfield.edu

Posted on January 5, 2009

Vol. 41, No. 164