WEIRDLAND: Joel McCrea's Anniversary, Post-War Alienation

Monday, November 04, 2013

Joel McCrea's Anniversary, Post-War Alienation

Happy Anniversary, Joel McCrea! Born: Joel Albert McCrea (November 5, 1905) in South Pasadena, California - Died: October 20, 1990 in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California (USA)

Nancy Kelly and Joel McCrea in "He Married His Wife" (1940) directed by Roy Del Ruth

Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea in "Sullivan’s Travels" (1941) directed by Preston Sturges

In a sea of photographers and flashing lightbulbs, Sullivan is greeted in a Kansas City hotel. Over the loud din of the crowd (many of whom are carrying his next project's source, the book: O Brother Where Art Thou? by Sinclair Beckstein - a play on two author's names - John Steinbeck and Sinclair Lewis), the Girl tells him how happy she is and grateful that he is no longer married or obligated to his alimony-demanding ex-wife. On the commercial airliner returning to Los Angeles, Sullivan assures the Girl that his ex-wife will have to give him a divorce - and he will be set free. -Sullivan: ...Otherwise, it's bigamy, unfaithfulness, alienation of affections, corpus delecti. -The Girl: And then you'll be free. -Sullivan: And then I'll be free. But not for long, I hope.

Joel McCrea stars as an American journalist in London in 1938 who covers the war and discovers an espionage ring and assassination plot. Hitchcock outdid himself with the action-packed set pieces, using all manner of camera trickery and special effects, from a fatal fall from high atop Westminster Cathedral to mysterious goings-on at a windmill in the Netherlands to an inventively staged plane crash. McCrea's impassioned, Edward R. Murrow-esque radio monologue during the London blitz finale even impressed the opposition — Nazi Germany's Joseph Goebbels thought the film "a masterpiece of propaganda." Six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Source: www.afi.com

The Cold War was a primary influence over all aspects of American life from the end of WWII through the collapse of the Soviet Union. The cold war abroad may have been run by the military and the government but cold war ideology at home was most effectively disseminated by psychiatrists and advertisers, groups that depended for their livelihood on their ability to predict and control the actions and desires of their biggest market: housewives. Mary Beth Haralovich has insightfully traced the way advertisers trained and exploited middle-class women consumers, but less attention has been paid to the extraordinary growth and influence of the psychiatric industry during this period. In 1954 and 1955, the number one identified health problem in the United States was ‘emotional disease.’ In 1954, 150,000 adults entered mental hospitals and 700,000 mental patients received hospital care (in comparison, physical disorders accounted for only 600,000 patients). That same year, over a billion dollars was spent for the care of people diagnosed as mentally ill. In 1955, the year minor tranquillizers first became available outside of hospitals, 75 per cent of patients were being treated in hospital settings, over half a million people, compared to 150,000 in 1980. And although the wide availability of tranquillizers meant that hospital stays decreased by the late 1950s, there were still over a quarter of a million people employed in the industry, and hospitals continued into the late 1950s to report staff shortages. Over half of the patients in these hospitals were women, the majority married.

Like the advertising industry, the mental health industry depended on its ability to convince people that their happiness and well-being required the consumption of the industry’s products. Warren’s work supports Chesler’s contention throughout "Women and Madness" that women were often diagnosed as mentally ill because of their perceived ‘sex role alienation.’ Several of these expatients were rehospitalized by their husbands primarily because they had refused to function properly ‘domestically’. Indeed, the husbands who readmitted their wives ‘expressed significantly lower expectations for the total human functioning of their wives. They were willing to tolerate extremely childlike dependent behaviour in them as long as the dishes were washed.’ These studies suggest specific ways in which post-war women’s anxieties were socially constructed as ‘mental illnesses’ in a manner that served both corporate America and the cold war nuclear family ideal. -"Small Screen, Big Ideas" (2002) by Janet Thumim

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