As an old movie fan—and I’m sure I’m not the only one in that category who also loves the older titles we can get in the library—I’ve decided to read a book titled The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era by film historian Thomas Schatz.
One reason the book got my interest was due to a number of discussions I’ve been having with one of our patrons at the Plainfield branch. He and I recommend movies to each other on a regular basis, and in the context of those talks we’ve noted what Schatz calls a “house style” for the various studios, particularly in the “golden era” that lasted from approximately the 1920s to the 1950s. This style showed not only in the actors that were under contract with the studios (for instance, Bette Davis was with Warner Bros. for many rather tempestuous years, until she ended her contract) but, more importantly, in the kind of films they actually produced. Hence we see beginning in the early 1930s, Universal Studios made a series of horror films such as “Dracula,” starring Bela Lugosi, a whole slew of Frankenstein pictures (including the “Bride of…” which I just watched and really enjoyed) and others such as the Wolf Man and the Mummy.
This approach was very different from MGM, a studio that prided itself on its glossy, often romantic pictures that could include everything from “Grand Hotel” (1932) to the ever-popular Judy Garland vehicle “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944). As a final example, who could forget all those great crime dramas starring the ever lively Jimmy Cagney (not to mention Bogart or Edward G Robinson)? Many of those were made by Warner Bros., who specialized in hard-hitting, in-your-face stories of crime and (sometimes) redemption. A great film in that vein is 1938’s “Angels with Dirty Faces” starring Cagney, Bogart, Pat O’Brien and the amazing “Dead End Kids.”
It might seem a rather obscure point to talk about the various films made by various studios, but I bring it up because it’s another way of finding more movies of a kind you like. So, for instance, if you loved “Meet Me in St. Louis” you could go on the library catalog and, in the Keyword field, try “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer” and “musicals.” The results should be good (mine was close to 50). Or simply do “horror” and “Universal” and see what comes up.