Dr. New Deal goes to the movies: The New Deal and Hollywood, 1933--1938

Date of Completion

January 1999


American Studies|History, United States|Cinema




Between 1933 and 1938, two of America's most intense shared experiences were Roosevelt's New Deal and Hollywood's feature films. The New Deal's aim was to help maintain the existing framework of American society, and keep the nation whole during the Great Depression. The New Deal's goal was aided, in part, by consequences and effects resulting from certain Hollywood movies. This dissertation concentrates on developing a synthesis involving the New Deal and Hollywood, and on revealing the existing similarities that mark the efforts of the two to help keep the country intact. ^ The New Deal's programs and policies endeavored to preserve familiar—sometimes conflicting—American traditions and beliefs. Just as the New Deal seemed a combination of opposites, Hollywood's films endorsed a mixed message that incorporated many of these same American values and institutions; consequently, a link existed between the New Deal and certain Hollywood films. This connection was apparent in the contradictions inherent in certain cultural traditions: democracy is good, but so is the presence of a strong leader; cooperation and good-neighborliness are important, but so is self-reliance and individualism; law and order are necessary, but sometimes ineffective, consequently a decent American occasionally becomes a vigilante; Americans believe in a classless and equal opportunity society, yet live with socio-economic, racial, and sexual divisions; a woman's place is at home, yet social realities sometimes necessitate the opposite. ^ Each chapter concentrates on specific films. Chapter One examines society and Hollywood's movies in the early Depression. Chapter Two, “Democracy or Dictatorship” focuses on Gabriel Over the White House; Chapter Three, “Cooperation and Self-Reliance” on Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; Chapter Four, “Law, Order, and Vigilantism” on G-Men; Chapter Five “America, the Beautiful” on Dead End, and Chapter Six “One for the Girls at the Back of the Line” on female characters in Blonde Venus, Mr. Deeds, and Dead End. ^ By juxtaposing Hollywood films and the New Deal, and defining their parallel cooperation in terms of the American values, traditions, beliefs, and institutions both emphasized, this study contributes to the literature which encompasses the Depression and the movies made by Hollywood. ^