Run away to Hollywood this summer for classic postwar films

Hollywood sign

If you’re planning a trip to Los Angeles this summer, one of the best ways to experience the film capitol of the world might be attending a Hollywood film screening.

And if you’re in town at the right time, a good one to catch is “Runaway Hollywood: Global Production in the Postwar World,” a programmed series of films from the UCLA Film and Television Archive based on a book by UO assistant professor of cinema studies and film historian Daniel Steinhart. The films will be shown this summer at the Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles.

Steinhart, who got his doctorate in cinema and media studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, will be on hand July 19 and 20 to introduce films and sign copies of his book, “Runaway Hollywood: Internationalizing Postwar Production and Location Shooting.”

“It was always a dream to go back to UCLA and put together a series,” he said, “but I’m really interested in transforming my scholarship into programming to reach a wider audience.”

As the book points out, after World War II the landscape of postwar America was profoundly changing, and so was the Hollywood film industry. Antitrust laws forced studios to give up ownership of movie houses, and competition from television chipped away at revenue.

Moving production overseas to capitalize on foreign earnings, cheap labor and exotic locations was one way to cut costs. But it didn’t sit well with Hollywood unions concerned about outsourcing of employment opportunities.

They labeled this phenomena “runaway” production.

“The studios had to come up with different ways to compete,” Steinhart said. “But there were some movies where the location was just a backdrop, which caused a lot of controversy among unions because then it became so obvious that these Hollywood productions were only going abroad simply for financial reasons, and producers would often hide behind this aesthetic as a justification to shoot overseas.”

Studios had been recreating foreign settings on sound stages and backlots for decades, but in the post-war era the fact that a film was shot in a foreign market brought value to the film, Steinhart said.

“The aesthetics of shooting overseas combined with new technologies such as color and widescreen format added a new sense of realism to films,” he said.

With hundreds of movies to choose from, the criteria for putting together the film series, according to Steinhart, was not only to highlight production outsourcing but also show a range of interesting movies that had a close connection between the story and the location.

“I tried to balance a few films that are technically interesting and deserve to be seen on the big screen and some movies that are just good,” he said. “The series opens with a big crowd pleaser, ‘Roman Holiday,’ with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.”

The programmed lineup covers a variety of genres, from romance to drama to war, as well as locations around the globe, including Mexico, Japan, Europe and French Polynesia. Interestingly, several films shot in Germany and other European locales provide factual historical realism with backdrops of cities clearly still devastated by the war.

While Steinhart hopes the series will transform his scholarship into programming to reach a wider and different audience, promote discussions around issues of labor and give moviegoers an opportunity to view a pivotal time in the film industry’s history, he wants them to also enjoy the shows.

“It’s a chance to see some great movies and some historically interesting movies,” he said. “Some are well done and some that don’t get shown very often. In most cases, they are amazing movies on the big screen. Plus a lot of these are rare, 35 millimeter prints, which viewing today is a rare experience for moviegoers. So they’ll be able to see some of the epic shots in a widescreen format and in color, which makes for a really great movie experience.”

The film series opens July 19 and runs through Aug. 24.

—By Sharleen Nelson, University Communications