Many movies were viewed throughout the course of our film and literature class, but one underlying theme has encompassed many of the films. That theme is the empowerment of women in their roles in society.
The first movie that demonstrated this is The Heiress, William Wyler's 1949 film version of the 1880 novel Washington Square, by Henry James. In this story, a young girl, Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) is put down and unloved by her father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson), her entire life because he blames her for her mother's death. Then she falls in love with a gold digger, Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), who had squandered his family's money. In the end of the story her father cuts her out of his will, but she still has some money from her mother's death. The gold digger still wants to be with her; but she, realizing that he has never truly loved her, refuses his love and declares her independence.
Two more movies that establish a sense of female empowerment are both the films Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard in 1938, and My Fair Lady , directed by George Cukor in 1964. In these films, both based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, a rich self-centered speech pathologist, Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison) takes a poor flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller/Audrey Hepburn) from the streets of London and teaches her how to speak like an upper-class woman. Throughout the story the pathologist treats the girl with little to no respect and so she leaves him. After she leaves him, he finally recognizes that she is a person and starts to treat her better, shifting the balance of power to her in the relationship. Whereas in the play she turns to Freddy for her future partner, in both movies, she returns, a stronger, wiser woman to a more subdued Higgins.
The next films which allowed to audience to see a woman overcome her surroundings were the 1973 cinematic versions of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House, directed by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland respectively. In the play and both movies, a woman, Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) marries a man, Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins), simply because her situation in life allows her to do little else. He becomes ill and she is forced to borrow money secretly, while forging her dead father's signature, to save her husband's life. Later in life he becomes very successful and treats her like one of his children, forcing her to beg for money. Eventually he finds out her secret and blows up on her. She ends up leaving him at the end of the play and movies.
Finally, the last movie we watched was Elia Kazan's 1951 version of Tennessee Williams' 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire. In this film, a lower-class man, Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando), and a formerly middle class woman, Stella (Kim Hunter), are married, but he does not treat her right. He is verbally and physically abusive to both her and her insane sister, Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh). He ends up raping Blanche; and his wife leaves him at the end of the movie, whereas she stays with Stanley in the play. The movie Stella overcomes the cycle of violence that had been going on between herself and her husband.
At the time period when these movies were released women were suppressed by their husbands in the home and suppressed by society in the workplace. These movies gave women the chance to see another woman overcome their situations. I believe these films and the change in society that they represented were an important component in shaping society to the way it is today.