Echoes of the Jazz Age in 1930s Sound Films
Though the Jazz Age ended with the start of the Great Depression, trends and trappings from that ebullient era carried over into 1930s movies. This is understandable given the lengthy production time of feature films. But the carryover also made artistic sense; sound technology introduced during the late 1920s now allowed filmgoers to hear the Jazz Age on screen.
Though the feature films in this short series were all released during the Depression, they showcase Jazz Age sensibilities. Three of the movies feature some of the 1920s biggest musical attractions: Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra, Paris-based American singer and dancer Josephine Baker, and African American Broadway sensations Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle. The Jazz Age’s obsession with skyscrapers and department stores, as well as its loose sexual morals, is seen in Baby Face and Employees’ Entrance, two classics made before Hollywood’s strict enforcement of the repressive Hays Code. And the era’s fascination with air travel, wild parties, and masked balls all converge in Madam Satan, a deranged, dirigible-set disaster movie by Cecil B. DeMille.
Curator of Film
Unless noted, all shown in Morley Lecture Hall and admission to each program is $10, CMA members $7.
Paul Whiteman, a hugely popular bandleader of the 1920s who was dubbed “King of Jazz” by the Caucasian media, is the ringmaster of this entertainment extravaganza boasting comedy sketches, novelty acts, an animated cartoon, a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (commissioned by Whiteman), and much more.
Two surprisingly salacious “working girl” classics from the racy Pre-Code era. In the first, ambitious NYC bartender Barbara Stanwyck sleeps her way from the basement to the penthouse. The second tells of a ruthless department store manager who exploits his female employees (Loretta Young et al.) because jobs are hard to come by during the Depression.
Paris’s American-born, Jazz Age stage sensation Josephine Baker made her sound film debut in this French drama about a laundress who becomes a musical theater star.
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille. With Kay Johnson, Reginald Denny, and Lillian Roth. To win back her straying husband, a wife dons a seductive disguise during an elaborate masquerade ball on an ill-fated zeppelin. Cecil B. DeMille’s outlandish extravaganza may be the screen’s first disaster movie.