The Great Depression was a dark time for our country as well as for the rest of the world. Unemployment was at an all-time high and happiness was at an all-time low. It is a time that will hopefully never happen again.
During this time, movie theatres were flooded with a plethora of over-the-top musicals, screwball comedies, and romantic tales filmed in exotic locations…I mean exotic-looking Hollywood backlots. For about a quarter, the average joe could be taken away from the woes of the world and into a completely different world full of mystery and romance.
Films provided a cheap escape from the problems that plagued the nation. This is one of the reasons I love classic films so much. For just a few hours, I’m transported to different time when men still opened doors for ladies and cigarettes looked classy instead of deadly and unattractive (FYI: I’m against smoking, but they make it look so darn glamorous!) The escapism that classic films provide is one of the reasons I avoid so many newer films which seem to only depress.
Here is just of sampling of some of the best escapist films of the 1930’s
It Happened One Night (1934)
The Fred and Ginger Musicals
Gone With the Wind (1939)
42nd St. (1933)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Red Dust (1932)
I could honestly go on and on about the wonderful escapist films made in the 1930’s, but I’d also like to point out that some movies decided to tackle the Depression head on. Although there are much fewer of these somewhat realist films in existence, I think they help us remember that the 1930’s weren’t all sunshine and roses like the movies lead us to believe. They show what the Depression was like, but also provide hope. A hope that life will get better, somewhere over the rainbow.
Our Daily Bread (1934)
A group of down-on-their-luck people work together on a farm and create a thriving independent society.
Wild Boys of the Road (1933)
Feeling that they are burdens to their struggling families, two boys ride the rails in search of work. Along the way, they meet up with other poor youths and fight to make a dime.
The film that I believe combines elements of escapism and realism pretty well is Gold Diggers of 1933. The musical numbers choreographed by Busby Berkeley provide a fantastical spectacle to the eye while numbers like “Remember My Forgotten Man”, tug at the heartstrings. It shows all the stages that people went through during the Depression: trying to escape from and ignore problems, facing reality and learning how to deal, and hoping for a better future.
Escapism: Pettin’ in the Park
Realism: Remember My Forgotten Man
Hope: We’re In the Money
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip of this wonderful musical number, but you’ve probably seen it or at least heard of it.