Dissertation Index

Author: McDonnell, Cari E

Title: Genre in Context: the Musical in Classical Hollywood

Institution: The University of Texas at Austin

Begun: August 2012

Completed: August 2015


Though no single history of the Hollywood musical exists as such, a historical narrative nevertheless emerges from the extensive body of scholarly work on the genre. Most studies of the American film musical have used as texts a limited canon of films. Though these studies have illuminated many stylistic and critical constructs at work in the film musical, they have also presented an incomplete picture of the historical development of the musical in classical Hollywood. We need to contextualize our critical understanding of the American film musical by broadening the scope of films we study and by investigating the cultural and industrial circumstances in which these films were produced. The purpose of this study, then, is twofold: I offer a historical context in which to conduct critical examinations of the Hollywood film musical, and I provide examples of how this historical understanding can inform further investigations of the genre.

By far the most attention in the literature is given to MGM musicals, particularly those produced by the Freed unit in the 1940s and 1950s, with RKO’s Astaire-Rogers films in the 1930s trailing not far behind. Yet almost every other Hollywood studio, whether major, minor, or independent, made cycles of musicals during the studio era. Paramount Pictures, through its Bing Crosby and Bob Hope Road films, provides a significant contrast to the MGM Freed unit among the large studios in the prosperous 1940s, while Walt Disney Productions, through its animated musicals in the 1950s, offers a rare example among independent studios during the dismantling of the studio system. Taken together, these two case studies present a cross-section of production and reception practices through the height of the classical Hollywood era and into the immediate post-classical period. I will use these two prominent cycles of film musicals to examine the dynamic relationship that existed between the industrial and cultural conditions of the entertainment industry and the film musical\'s aesthetic style and content. This study will work alongside the existing literature to create a more complete and historically grounded understanding of the American film musical in the classical Hollywood era.

Keywords: film music, musical, genre, 1940s, 1950s, disney, bing crosby, radio, hollywood, popular music


Chapter 1: Genre and the Classical Hollywood Film Musical
A Problematic Narrative
Defining Genre: Theory and History
Defining the Film Musical as a Genre: (1) Differing Views
Defining the Film Musical as a Genre: (2) Privileging Integration
Decentering the Integrated Musical
Expanding the Canon: Singing Cowboy Films
Looking Ahead

Chapter 2: The Vaudeville Aesthetic, Star Performance, and Reflexivity in Paramount’s Road Films
Introduction: “Well, here we are, off on another Road!”
Vaudeville Roots: “I feel like I’m back in vaudeville”
Star Performance: “We run the gamut! We sing, we dance, we recite and then—you do your specialty”
Reflexivity: “You mean they missed my song?”

Chapter 3: Romantic Coupling and Representation in Paramount’s Road Films
Introduction: “They could’ve thought of another way to get us here”
Gender and Romantic Coupling: “What’s the matter, gal? Want another chorus?”
Nationalism and Exoticism: “I’m just an average, all-around, all-American boy with an excess of charm”
Camp Readings of the Road Films: “I don’t care where I’m going just as long as I’m with you”

Chapter 4: Media Conglomeration and Disney’s Animated Features in the 1950s
Disney Tunes and the Cinderella Year
Alice and Peter in TV Land
Lady and the Beauty of Cross-Promotion

Chapter 5: Musical Performance in Disney’s Animated Features in the 1950s
So This Is Not a Love Duet
You Can Fly, But You Can’t Sing
The Thingamabob That Does the Job Is the Offscreen Chorus




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