Overview for films in 1920s
(Digital History ID 2960)

In the late teens and '20s, as historian Lary May has demonstrated, the movies began to shed their Victorian moralism, sentimentality, and reformism and increasingly expressed new themes: glamour, sophistication, exoticism, urbanity, and sex appeal. New kinds of movie stars appeared: the mysterious sex goddess, personified by Greta Garbo; the passionate, hot-blooded Latin lover, epitomized by Rudolph Valentino; and the flapper, first brought to the screen by Colleen Moore, with her bobbed hair, skimpy skirts, and incandescent vivacity. New genres also appeared: swashbuckling adventures; sophisticated sex comedies revolving around the issue of marital fidelity; romantic dramas examining the manners and morals of the well-bred and well-to-do; and tales of "flaming youth" and the new sexual freedom.

During the 1920s, a sociologist named Herbert Blumer, interviewed students and young workers to assess the impact of movies on their lives, and concluded that the effect was to reorient their lives away from ethnic and working class communities toward a broader consumer culture. Observed one high school student: "The day-dreams instigated by the movies consist of clothes, ideas on furnishings and manners." Said an African- American student: "The movies have often made me dissatisfied with my neighborhood because when I see a movie, the beautiful castle, palace,...and beautiful house, I wish my home was something like these." Hollywood not only expressed popular values, aspirations, and fantasies, it also promoted cultural change.

Recommended Film

Our Dancing Daughters (1928)

This classic portrayal of the flapper who defies sexual convention and dances the Charleston till dawn was the film that made Joan Crawford a star. It also reveals the ambivalence that many Americans felt about the “revolution in morals and manners.” Crawford’s character’s flirting and drinking flapper masks her more conservative attitude toward love and sex.

Copyright Digital History 2021