Fairfield University presents a free film series of Depression era escapist films



Dr. Leo F. O'Connor, director of undergraduate and graduate American studies at Fairfield University will present a free spring film series, "Hollywood and the Great Depression," beginning Wednesday, March 3 with a classic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. Dr. O'Connor will introduce each of the four representative films and lead the discussions afterwards. The films will be shown in the Multimedia Room of the DiMenna-Nyselius Library on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m. The series, a presentation of the Arts & Minds season, is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

Dr. O'Connor designed the series, he says, with the knowledge that "Hollywood provided escapism from the hard times of the 1930s." He continued, "Alternative realities offered relief to a nation in pain. And it is significant that all the films are by distinguished American directors."

The series begins on Wednesday, March 3, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in "Swing Time" (1936), which Dr. O'Connor considers the best film Astaire and Rogers ever made. Directed by George Stevens, the story is set in glamorous Manhattan at the height of The Depression. The story depicts Astaire, as Lucky, the gambling hoofer, and Rogers, as Penny, a working-class dance teacher. With music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, Astaire and Rogers sing and dance such entertaining numbers as "The Way You Look Tonight," and "A Fine Romance." This classic dance musical is guaranteed to make us believe that life can be good despite our empty pockets.

Image: Cary Grant and Katherine HepburnOn March 24, the screwball comedy "Bringing Up Baby" (1938) will be shown, with Katharine Hepburn as Susan Vance, a silly society girl from Connecticut, who has set her sights on a serious paleontologist, Dr. David Huxley, played by Cary Grant. Directed by Howard Hawks, the plot revolves around two leopards, one named "Baby," a rare dinosaur bone, a potential million-dollar research grant to a natural science museum, and the glamorous Hepburn's crazy antics to prevent the unwitting Grant from marrying the wrong woman. Hepburn's fast-paced, upper-crust dialect and her zany zest for life at the top convinces Grant that there's a lot of fun to be had outside the walls of the museum.

The series continues on April 7 with "Stagecoach" (1939), a film that, Dr. O'Connor explains, "offered urban audiences a romantic view of the Old West." Directed by John Ford, the film features John Wayne as the Ringo Kid, his first major film role. A stagecoach leaves Arizona and heads for Lordsburg, New Mexico, full of passengers, a mixture of the good, the bad and the beautiful, including a lady of ill-repute named Dallas (Claire Trevor). With playwright Ben Hecht as one of the screenwriters, and Ford's signature wide shots of the breathtaking Monument Valley landscape, "Stagecoach" offers timeless adventurous escapism from 1930s angst and an early glimpse of the emerging iconic John Wayne.

On Wednesday, April 21, the final film in Dr. O'Connor's series will be Woody Allen's comic fantasy, "The Purple Rose of Cairo" (1985). Set in New Jersey during The Depression, the film stars Mia Farrow as Cecilia, a waitress in a diner who is married to Monk (Danny Aiello), an uncaring bum who spends all her hard-earned money on liquor, gambling and women. Cecilia escapes her misery by going to the movies where she becomes besotted by a handsome screen star Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels). The film is a comic and insightful exploration of how film fantasy trumped reality back in the 1930s.

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

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

Posted on February 23, 2010

Vol. 42, No. 206