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CMS 271 A: Perspectives On Film: Great Directors

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
KNE 220
Tweedie profile 21
James Tweedie

Syllabus Description:

This course will provide an introduction to classical Hollywood cinema through the work of several key filmmakers, beginning with the golden age of the studio system in the 1930s and 1940s and extending up to the New Hollywood of the 1960s. (In winter quarter a “sequel” to this course will focus on New Hollywood.) We will consider the role of directors in a mature studio system marked by an industrialized and collaborative approach to filmmaking. At once ruthlessly efficient and innovative, both liberating and stifling, the studios were responsible for some of the most ambitious and influential works of American culture in the twentieth century. Over the next eleven weeks, we’ll examine both the triumphs and the failures of that system. Directors will include Frank Capra, Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Ida Lupino, Nicholas Ray, Douglas Sirk, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, and others. In addition to the lives and work of those directors, the reading and lectures will address topics such as the economic structure of the American film industry, the history and industrial strategy of Hollywood studios, the major genres, the Production Code and censorship, the introduction of new technology into the production process, the role of stars in the film industry and film criticism, styles of acting, the art of lighting and cinematography, art direction and production design, women filmmakers in the studio era, the position of African-Americans inside and outside the Hollywood system, and the decline of the studio era.


Lectures: The lectures will provide much of the historical and conceptual background necessary for this course. They will also introduce the type of film and sequence analysis that you will be asked to perform on the exams and in your paper. You are strongly encouraged to attend all of the lectures. I will post the PowerPoint slides on the Canvas site after class (under “Files” and “Notes”) to help you review the material.

Reading: The reading will consist of essays and book excerpts available on our Canvas site as pdfs or links to material on the Internet. This reading is designed to provide background or supplementary material that we won't cover in as much depth in class. It should usually be finished before the first class meeting each week, with one exception: essays that discuss individual films, which should be watched after the film. The exams will focus in part on material contained in the reading, so it’s important to remain current on these assignments. 

Screenings: The films are the foundation of this class. We will usually screen two films per week, moving in roughly chronological order from the 1930s to the 1960s. Most of the films will be available for streaming through UW Libraries. I will post a link for each film on our Canvas site. (I will show you how this works in class.) One of the films is in the public domain and widely available for free streaming on the Internet, and I will also provide that link through Canvas. For additional basic information about the films, see

CLUE Sessions: On Monday nights from 6:30 to 8:00 in MGH 271 we will hold review/discussion sections as part of the CLUE program. These sessions will be led by one or more of our TAs. At midterm time CLUE meetings will focus on exam reviews. Those review sessions will be held at the same time on Wednesday (11/01 and 12/06) in MGH 389. Monday meetings will not take place in weeks 2, 6, and 11

Assignments: There will be two midterms held during regular class time, one on Thursday of the sixth week and one on Thursday of the eleventh week (NOT during Finals Week). Each midterm will count for 30% of the final grade. The exams will consist primarily of short answer or short essay questions focused on topics introduced in the lectures or reading and on clips from the films screened for this class. I will distribute a review sheet before each exam. There will NOT be an exam during Finals Week. A critical essay assignment (about 5 pages, double-spaced; 30% of final grade) may ask you to compare classical and contemporary Hollywood films. A more detailed explanation of the essay assignment will be distributed midway through the quarter. Although there is only one paper, you may select one of two due dates. If you submit the paper by the early due date (11/17), you will receive more extensive comments on the paper. You will not be penalized if you submit the paper on the regular due date (11/30; extended to 12/04), but you will receive limited feedback because it falls near the end of the quarter. Active participation on the online discussion board is also required; it will account for the final 10% of the overall grade. Writing three posts of approximately 100 words or more on the discussion board will count for full credit. Students are required to complete all evaluated assignments. Non-fulfillment of any written assignment listed above may result in a non-passing grade for the course.

Note on Plagiarism: Plagiarism is a serious offense. It undermines the fundamental mission of the university and sanctions are therefore severe. For information about plagiarism and academic misconduct, please see the UW Student Conduct Code: 

Disability-Related Needs: To request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact UW Disability Resources for Students (DRS).


Week 1: The Origins of Hollywood Cinema

Screening: Modern Times (United Artists; Charles Chaplin, 1936)

R 09/28: Introduction to the course; One Week (Metro; Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline, 1920)

Reading: Read or review items 1-5 (basic terms, mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing, and sound) on this site; Thomas Schatz, “Introduction: The Whole Equation of Pictures” (from The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era); Jon Lewis, “The Silent Era” (from American Film: A History).

Week 2: Directors, Genres, and Studios (1)

Screenings: Scarface (United Artists; Howard Hawks, 1932); Little Caesar (Warner Bros.; Mervyn LeRoy, 1931; Duck Soup (Paramount; Leo McCarey, 1933)

T 10/03 American cinema before Hollywood; The Great Train Robbery (Edwin S. Porter, 1903); the rise of Hollywood; Chaplin’s Tramp

R 10/05: Art direction and production design (1); the coming of sound; the gangster genre and the Great Depression; the Marx Bros. and the meaning of comedy

Reading: Jack Shadoian, “The ‘Classic’ Gangster Film” (from Dreams and Dead Ends: The American Gangster Film); Robert Warshow, “The Gangster as Tragic Hero” (from The Gangster Film Reader); “Who Controls What We See? Censorship and the Attack on Hollywood ‘Immorality’” (from Movies and American Society, ed. Steven J. Ross).

Week 3: Directors, Genres, and Studios (2)

Screenings: It Happened One Night (Columbia; Frank Capra, 1934); Stagecoach (United Artists; John Ford, 1939)

T 10/10: Capra, the Depression, and American optimism; lighting and cinematography

R 10/12: Ford, the western and the frontier myth

Reading: Elizabeth Kendall, “It Happened One Night” (from The Runaway Bride: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1930s); Chris Cagle, “Classical Hollywood, 1928-1946” (from Cinematography, ed. Patrick Keating); Richard B. Jewell, “Narrative and Style” (from The Golden Age of Cinema: Hollywood, 1929-1945).

Week 4: American Dreams

Screenings: Citizen Kane (RKO Radio Pictures; Orson Welles, 1941); Rebecca (United Artists; Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)

T 10/17: 1939; Welles and the “great American film”; authorship in Hollywood

R 10/19: Hitchcock and Selznick; a “tradition of quality”; Hollywood independents; the “race film”

Reading: Peter Bogdanovich, “Interview with Orson Welles” (from Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane: A Casebook); Leonard J. Leff, “Signing Hitchcock” and “Rebecca” (from Hitchcock and Selznick); Paula J. Massood, “African-Americans and Silent Films” (from American Film History: Selected Readings, Origins to 1960, ed. Cynthia Lucia).

Week 5: Hollywood and WWII

Screenings: Casablanca (Warner Bros.; Michael Curtiz, 1942); To Have and Have Not (Warner Bros.; Hawks, 1944)

T 10/24: Mobilizing the movie industry; refugees and immigrants in Hollywood; “play it again”: the Hollywood cliché

R 10/26: The Hawks code; Hemingway, Faulkner, and Hollywood’s writers

Reading: Noah Isenberg, “Such Much?” (from We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie); Mark Eaton, “Classical Hollywood, 1928-1946” (from Screenwriting, ed. Andrew Horton, et al).

Week 6: Premonitions and Allegories

Screenings: Double Indemnity (Paramount; Billy Wilder, 1944); High Noon (United Artists; Fred Zinnemann, 1952)

T 10/31: Film Noir; immigrants and exiles in Hollywood


Reading: James Naremore, “The History of an Idea” (from More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts); Paul Schrader, “Notes on Film Noir” (from Film Comment); Glenn Frankel, “High Noon’s Secret Backstory” (from Vanity Fair; available here

Week 7: Outside Hollywood

Screenings: The Hitch-Hiker (RKO Radio Pictures; Ida Lupino, 1953); Written on the Wind (Universal; Douglas Sirk, 1956)

T 11/07: The blacklist and Cold War Hollywood; women behind the camera

R 11/09: “Women’s pictures”; Sirk, melodrama, and auteur theory

Reading: None; start working on your paper

Week 8: Hollywood in Its Own Image

Screenings: Sunset Boulevard (Paramount; Wilder, 1950); Singin’ in the Rain (MGM-Loew’s; Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1952)

T 11/14: Movies about the movies; glamour and decay in Hollywood

R 11/16: The MGM musical and American song and dance; the producer-unit system; art direction and production design (2)

Reading: Ed Sikov, “Sunset Boulevard” (from On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder)


Week 9: Young Rebels

Screening: Rebel Without a Cause (Warner Bros.; Nicholas Ray, 1955)

T 11/21: Cinema and suburbia; young audiences and stars; film technology in the 1950s; styles of acting; guest lecture on animation


Reading: Leo Braudy, “‘No Body’s Perfect’: Method Acting and 50s Culture” (from Michigan Quarterly Review); Anne Helen Petersen, “Live Fast, Die Young, Leave a Hit: The death of James Dean and the birth of the Hollywood tragedy” (available here:

Week 10: Old Rebels and New Hollywood

Screenings: The Searchers (Warner Bros.; Ford, 1956); Vertigo (Paramount; Hitchcock, 1958)

T 11/28: Aging genres, directors, and stars; the end of the classical studio era

R 11/30: The challenge of television; extreme cinema

Reading: Kathryn Kalinak, “What Makes a Man to Wander: The Searchers” (from How the West Was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford).

PAPER DUE DATE: THURSDAY, 11/30 by 11:59 p.m. on CANVAS

Week 11: What Comes After Classical Hollywood Cinema?

Screening: Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)

T 12/05: “The New Cinema: Violence… Sex… Art”


Reading: None; review for midterm

Catalog Description: 
Introduction to authorship in the cinema. The work of a major director or directors. C LIT 270, C LIT 271, C LIT 272 are designed to be taken as a sequence, but may be taken individually.
Department Requirements Met: 
Pre-req to Declare Cinema & Media Studies Major
GE Requirements Met: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:24pm