Modernising Melodrama: The Petrified Forest on American Stage and Screen (1935-1936)

Shingler, Martin (2018) Modernising Melodrama: The Petrified Forest on American Stage and Screen (1935-1936). In: Melodrama Unbound: Across History, Media, and National Cultures. Columbia University Press, New York, USA, pp. 135-150. ISBN 9780231180665

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Abstract

In January 1935, Robert E. Sherwood’s play The Petrified Forest began a lucrative six-month run at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York. Within months of it closing, the leading members of the cast reprised their roles at the Warner Bros. film studio in Los Angeles. The film version, released on the 6th February 1936 at the Radio City Music Hall in New York, corresponded closely to the stage production, and it eventually enabled millions of moviegoers around the world to see what less than 250,000 theatre-goers had seen the previous year on Broadway. Since the New York drama critics used the term ‘melodrama’ to describe both the stage-play and the film, The Petrified Forest provides contemporary scholars with an opportunity to consider the state of melodrama in the 1930s. The critical response to both stage-play and film was overwhelmingly positive. Both were deemed to be highly entertaining and were predicted to become box-office hits. Both were also judged to be intelligent, topical, allegorical, poetic, philosophical and well written, acted and produced. The play, for instance, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The reviews of the New York drama critics provide no sense that melodrama was being used as a derogatory term or that the form was considered to be outmoded or inferior. There is also no suggestion in the reviews that either the play or the film were best suited to working-class audiences with a taste for heightened emotionalism, fantastically contrived plots or sensational set pieces. Consequently, this example contradicts claims by 20th century scholars that melodrama had become a moribund and devalued form by the 1900s. On the contrary, it proves that melodrama was a vital, credible and popular dramatic form for middle-class audiences and critics, and that it continued to flourish at premier Broadway theatres and first-run cinemas in the 1930s.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: Media > Cinema and Film
Performing Arts > Drama
Divisions: Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries
Depositing User: Martin Shingler
Date Deposited: 09 May 2018 13:51
Last Modified: 09 May 2018 13:51
URI: http://sure.sunderland.ac.uk/id/eprint/9244

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