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Melodrama and the American Dream

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

From the end of World War II to the dawn of the 60s, Hollywood melodrama was both a celebration and a critique of the American Dream and influenced the dreams and aspirations of audiences around the world. Come and explore the films that shaped the world we live in today.


Course Details

Content of Course

This course will cover in detail the history and development of Hollywood melodrama from the end of World War II to the early years of the 1960s. It will also provide some background on the previous history of melodrama in Hollywood and some context on melodrama in other film cultures round the world. Finally, it will cast a few glances forward to the changing role of melodrama in contemporary world cinema.

Week 1 will be an introductory session, tracing the history and development of melodrama as a genre. Examples will be drawn from key films from a number of countries, with an emphasis on the growth of melodrama as Hollywood’s most commercial and popular genre. Weeks 2 to 10 will consist of nine full-length screenings of classic Hollywood films from the period of 1945 to the early 1960s. Each screening will be preceded by a short lecture presentation and followed by a group discussion. There will also be one (or at the most two) short clips from other films that are related thematically or historically to the main feature.

Week 1 – Introduction

Selected clips from Hollywood and international melodrama

Week 2 - A Brave New World

Leave Her to Heaven (John M Stahl, USA, 1945)

Week 3 – Shadows of the Past

Desert Fury (Lewis Allen, USA, 1947)

Week 4 – Ways of Escape

Madame Bovary (Vincente Minnelli, USA, 1949)

Week 5 – Big Skies, Big Dreams

Niagara (Henry Hathaway, USA, 1952)

Week 6 – A Lust for Life

Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, USA, 1954)

Week 7 – In a Material World

Slightly Scarlet (Allan Dwan, USA, 1956)

Week 8 – Where the Heart Is Not

Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, USA, 1959)

Week 9 – Make Love Not Money

Splendour in the Grass (Elia Kazan, USA, 1961)

Week 10 – Apocalypse Soon

Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock. USA, 1964)

Teaching method(s)

The emphasis of this course from the beginning will be on student participation and on interaction with both the course tutor and with other students. A short printed handout on each film will be given in the week prior to its screening, in order to help students view the film in its historical and critical context. A number of supplementary readings from on-line sources will be made available each week via email and/or the course Learn page on the COL website. Although students are not required to view any films outside class, independent viewing will be actively promoted and encouraged.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Discuss the impact of film on society;

  • Describe the role of film as a social critique;

  • Relate Hollywood films to a wider global context;

  • Outline the development of melodrama as a genre;

  • Evaluate the relevance of classic films today.


Core Readings

There is no required reading apart from weekly handouts and links to online articles. The following are highly recommended as supplementary sources:

  • Basinger, Jeanine, 1994. A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960. London: Chatto & Windus.

  • Biskind, Peter, 2001. Seeing Is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties. London: Bloomsbury.

  • Gunning, Tom, 2000. The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity. London: BFI Publishing

  • Haskell, Molly, 1987. From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies. 2nd ed. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.

  • Krutnik, Frank, 1994. In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. London & New York: Routledge.

  • Lang, Robert, 1989. American Film Melodrama: Griffith, Vidor, Minnelli. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Paglia, Camille, 1998. The Birds. London: BFI Publishing.

  • Robson, Eddie, 2005. Film Noir. London: Virgin Books


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.