The Golden Age of Hollywood

         “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Who does not see this quotation and quickly think back to the days of black and white movies? Who does not think of the classics like Gone with the Wind in which it appears? We live in such a media driven society that even people who have not seen the movie can recognize where it comes from. Almost all of the recognizable ‘classics’ come from a time period dubbed The Golden Age of Hollywood, which spans the years of 1930–1948. This “age” brought our world such movies as Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, and many more. While some may not realize it, the movies from this place in time have had impacts upon most of our lives in some way or another. They forever changed Hollywood and will continue their influence in society in the future.

         The Golden Age of Hollywood all came about with the beginning of a little thing we all take for granted: sound. The first film to feature spoken sound in it was 1927’s The Jazz Singer. Studios were hesitant to use this in film because of the costs of replacing all of the cameras and equipment but soon found that it would be the better investment in the end. This new advancement in the production of movies set up the Golden Age to make its debut. Another aspect of the movie business that came about in this time was the major studios. “The Big Five” as they are commonly called consisted of Warner Bros., Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Loew’s (MGM), and RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum). “The Little Three” studios consisted of Universal, Columbia, and United Artists, but they never surmounted the achievements of the others. In fact, during this period, the movie scene was a lot like the steel and oil monopolies of Rockefeller and Carnegie. These eight studios owned and essentially controlled the entire market. They realized that they could make a much better profit if they could control production, distribution, and exhibition with the movies that were made. This made little room for independent film makers in this time period. This all came to a stop in 1948 in the United States vs. Paramount case in which the studios had to give up their theatres which helped open the market for smaller producers. “Hence, 1930 and 1948 are generally considered bookends to Hollywood's Golden Age, the period when these eight companies secured 95 percent of all film rentals and close to 70 percent of all box-office receipts”(“Classical Hollywood Cinema”).

         While these sorts of controversies were there, one cannot forget the greatness that came out of it. In the thirties, such films as King Kong, Frankenstein, and 42nd Street made their premiere. The year 1939 is known as the Golden Year of movies, and many of the well known classics came out during this year. Gone with the Wind, which won the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture, is probably one of the most notable movies that came out that year along with The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory, Dodge City, Gunga Din, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. John Wayne also made his major big screen appearance in Stagecoach and soon became one of the most notable stars of the western genre alongside Clint Eastwood (“History of Film”). It did not stop with these. As the years progressed, more movies came out that became milestones in cinema history. Said to be the best movie of all time by many critics and even the American Film Institute (AFI), Citizen Kane came out in 1941. Who can forget “Rosebud” and the movie’s main focus being why this was uttered? With Orson Welles directing, this movie will always be on the top of the lists. Other movies, most notably Casablanca, came out during the forties as well. They include Double Indemnity, Meet Me in St. Louis, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Maltese Falcon, and The Philadelphia Story. These movies remain in the hearts of American movie lovers and are still implanted in today’s society. Remakes and spin-offs are still being made of movies such as King Kong, and Frankenstein, and many of the emotions that are portrayed in the movies of today.

         Although many people can be quick to name the movies of this period, the faces that made them so great are what really stick out. It is as if these people were all born to act, and act they did. When watching films from this time period, one often sees the same faces time and again. This could be because the studios controlled them, but it is also because these people held enormous talent. Some big time names of these familiar movies are Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Joan Crawford, Jimmy Cagney, Bette Davis, Spencer Tracey, Ingrid Bergman, Fred Astaire, Carole Lombard, and of course, Shirley Temple (“The Golden Age of Hollywood: 1930s-1940s”). These names appeared countless times in the credits of the major films of the Golden Age and rightly so. Unlike some of the actors today, these people dedicated their lives to the art of theater. Most started out in stage productions and moved their way up to Hollywood’s big screens. Almost any of these actors or actresses could sing and dance, and some of them were most known for it. Fred Astaire, who is probably most well known for the rotating room and coat tree scenes in Royal Wedding (1951), started out in vaudeville and Broadway and was an accomplished dancer who danced in most of the films he made. Katharine Hepburn, probably one of the most critically acclaimed actresses of her time, was also from Broadway. She also holds the record for most Oscars won (4) by a single recipient in an acting role (“Katharine Hepburn”). These are the sorts of people that portrayed the characters on screen. While acting has come a long way since then, many of the same traits that these people held are still the same ones we look for today.

         Interestingly enough, probably the most remembered aspect of this time period is not so much the movies anymore. With the older generations getting older and newer movies coming out all of the time, generations today, for the most part, no longer get the chance or the urge to watch the movies of the Golden Age. Despite this, if someone says, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” whether or not he or has seen the movie, he or she knows it is from one of the old movies of this time. Some may even know that it is from Casablanca just from television or something like it. I have come to realize that we are a nation that likes to quote anything and everything, especially movies. On AFI’s list of the most recognizable one hundred movie quotations, lines from Casablanca showed up seven times. Gone with the Wind had three appearances, The Wizard of Oz had three, and nineteen others of the time period showed up as well. That is thirty-two quotations out of the one hundred listed that came from the Golden Age of Hollywood. These quotations are often used again in different mediums or even different movies. At the end of the 1933 King Kong, when Kong has died, someone says it was the airplanes that killed him. Carl Denham replies with, “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.” In Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, the exact line is spoken at the end of the film. Jackson had so much respect and revere for the original that he wanted his to live up to the legacy it held. Famous quotations can be found everywhere from these movies in today’s society. If one looks hard enough, he or she will be able to spot them.

         The legacy of the movies and people of The Golden Age of Hollywood is timeless. To think that so many great and memorable movies came from this almost twenty year time span is amazing. While things are not run the same as they used to in those days, the essential purpose is still the same: to entertain society. It was done beautifully back then and continues to awe and amaze people today. The movie business and art of making movies would not be what it is today if the people who worked in the field all these years ago had not strived to make it the best that they could. Because of their hard work and dedication, not only do we have beautiful movies from that time period, but we can also look forward to the movie business always being there to entertain us in the future.

Works Cited

American Film Institute 30 Apr. 2008 (

“Classical Hollywood Cinema.” American Film Institute30 Apr. 2008 (

Edlin, April. “The Golden Age of Hollywood: 1930s - 1940s.” INLS 111: Information Resources and Services School of Information and Library ScienceUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 11 Dec. 2003. 30 Apr. 2008 (

“History of Film.” Wikipedia30 Apr. 2008 (

“Katharine Hepburn.” Internet Movie Database30 Apr. 2008 (

Lorrie Veach

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