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Sociology on Film: Postwar Hollywood's Prestige Commodity
by Chris Cagle
Rutgers University Press, 2016
Paper: 978-0-8135-7693-0 | eISBN: 978-0-8135-7696-1 | Cloth: 978-0-8135-7694-7
Library of Congress Classification PN1995.9.S62C34 2017
Dewey Decimal Classification 791.436556


After World War II, Hollywood’s “social problem films”—tackling topical issues that included racism, crime, mental illness, and drug abuse—were hits with critics and general moviegoers alike. In an era of film famed for its reliance on pop psychology, these movies were a form of popular sociology, bringing the academic discipline’s concerns to a much broader audience. 


Sociology on Film examines how the postwar “problem film” translated contemporary policy debates and intellectual discussions into cinematic form in order to become one of the preeminent genres of prestige drama. Chris Cagle chronicles how these movies were often politically fractious, the work of progressive directors and screenwriters who drew scrutiny from the House Un-American Activities Committee. Yet he also proposes that the genre helped to construct an abstract discourse of “society” that served to unify a middlebrow American audience.  


As he considers the many forms of print media that served to inspire social problem films, including journalism, realist novels, and sociological texts, Cagle also explores their distinctive cinematic aesthetics. Through a close analysis of films like Gentleman’s Agreement, The Lost Weekend, and Intruder in the Dust, he presents a compelling case that the visual style of these films was intimately connected to their more expressly political and sociological aspirations. Sociology on Film demonstrates how the social problem picture both shaped and reflected the middle-class viewer’s national self-image, making a lasting impact on Hollywood’s aesthetic direction. 


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