By Prof. Dennis Broe
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Extra resources for Film Noir, American Workers, and Postwar Hollywood
The artificial distinction between “crafts” workers and “creative” workers—the names themselves implying which group was more highly valued—helped divide the Hollywood labor market. As Herb Sorrell, the leader of a group of rebellious locals who would eventually attempt to link all the workers, said, in pointing to this false dichotomy, what is a set decorator (a “crafts” worker) but “a man who studies periods of furniture, periods of architecture, knows what kinds of rugs (to place) into certain castles, what kinds of furnishings to (place) in certain kinds of homes.
Came either from the directly working-class proletarian fiction that dominated the 1930s (A. I. Bezzerides, W. R. Burnett, Albert Maltz, Daniel Mainwaring) or from its close cousin the hard-boiled detective novel (Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich). Second, veterans of the highly politicized New York stage of the 1930s brought their commitment to social themes with them to Hollywood and found the crime film a congenial place to express these themes. This group included directors Orson Welles, Jules Dassin, Nicholas Ray, Joseph Losey, and Anthony Mann and actors John Garfield and Joseph Cotton.
The Screen Actors Guild received its first contract in 1937, and by 1940 it included nearly 50 percent of all actors (May 128), though it was constantly fighting battles with the studios over contracts. The contract situation, described by anthropologist Hortense Powdermaker as “more like the medieval power relationships of lord and serf than of the employer and employee in the modern world” (Friedrich 194), was so exploitative that Olivia de Havilland won her freedom from a Warner Brothers contract because the courts ruled that the studio had violated a California law which stated that servitude for more than seven years constituted slavery (196).