Mr. Cohen                                                                                                                                                               Winter 2009


History 300/400

Reel Men: Masculinity and Film in Postwar America

Required Texts

Rotundo, E. Anthony, American Manhood (Basic Books)
Hoberman, J. The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the sixties (New Press)
Reeves, Thomas C., Twentieth Century America: a brief history (Oxford)

Required Films (on reserve)

Casablanca (Director Michael Curtiz, 1943)
Red River (Director Howard Hawks, 1948)
The Best Years of Our Lives (Director William Wyler, 1946)
Dr. Strangelove (Director Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Director Robert Altman, 1971)
Chinatown (Director Roman Polanski, 1974)
Die Hard (Director John McTiernan, 1988)
American Beauty (Director Sam Mendes, 1999)

Scripts for the above films are also on reserve.

On e-reserve

  • Robert Ray, “Casablanca” (A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980, 89-112)
  • Clum, Robert, “He’s All Man” (ix-xxxii, 109-112, 49-59, 44-47)
  • Cohan, Steven  Masked Men (22-27, 34-39, 204-220)
  • Gardiner, Judith, Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory (1-29)
  • R.W. Connell, “The Social Organization of Masculinity” (selection)
  • Sklar, Robert, “Empire to the West: Red River”
  • Kimmel, Michael, Manhood in America (selections)
  • Silverman, Kaja, Male Subjectivity at the Margins (15-16, 34-35, 52-90)
  • Wood, Robin, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (120-124, 23-41)
  • Malande, Charles, “Dr. Strangelove (1964): Nightmare Comedy and the Ideology of Liberal consensus”
  • Bingham, Dennis, Acting Male (117-135)
  • Arthur, Paul, “How the West Was Spun: Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Genre Revisionism”
  • Jeffords, Susan, Hard Bodies  (52-63)
  • Savran, David, Taking it Like a Man (3-9, 38, 197-210)
  • Traister, Bryce, “Academic Viagra: the Rise of American Masculinity Studies”

Course Requirements

History 300/400 is a discussion and not a lecture course; therefore both class attendance and participation will constitute a portion (approximately 15-20%) of your final grade. Apart from completing all assigned reading, each student is expected to view the required films at least twice; screening times are listed in the class schedule below. Each student must also participate in at least one in-class panel discussion addressing one of the “theoretical perspectives” designated in the syllabus. History 300 students must submit three 2-3-page essays, at least one on one of the first four topics and one on one of the second four. History 400 students must submit two 5-7-page essays, one on one of the first four topics and one on one of the second three. History 400 students must also submit a research prospectus of at least 10 pages and report orally on their proposal at the end of the term. (Instructions for the student panels, essays, and research prospectus may be found at the end of the syllabus). Please note that all papers should be double-spaced, spell-checked, and carefully edited, and that they should be handed in before class on their respective due-dates. Late papers will not be accepted. There will be no midterm examination, but there will be an in-class final exam the nature of which will be discussed at a later date.

Class Schedule

I) Masculine Archetypes in American Film and History

1/5    Introduction

[1/5: Screenings of Casablanca, 7 and 9 p.m. (media center 401)]

1/7   Casablanca, general discussion (Reeves, Chapter 7)

1/9   Casablanca, cont. (e-reserve: Robert Ray, “Casablanca”)

1/12 Theoretical Perspectives: Gender and Masculinity (e-reserve: Gardiner; Connell)

[1/12: Screenings of Red River, 7 and 9 p.m. (media center 401)]

1/14  Red River, general discussion (Reeves, Chapter 8)

1/16  Red River cont. (e-reserve: Sklar; Cohan, 205-220; Clum, 49-62)

1/19 NO CLASS: Martin Luther King, jr. Day

1/21 Theoretical Perspectives: American History and Masculinity (Rotundo, 1-30,  222-293)                                                                                                                                     
1/23 Theoretical Perspectives: American Masculinity—a historical typology (e-reserve: Kimmel)

II) The “Dominant Fiction” and Its Critics, 1946-1975

[1/25: Screenings of The Best Years of Our Lives, 1 and 4 p.m. (media center 401)]

1/26   The Best Years of Our Lives, general discussion (Reeves, Chapter 9)

1/28   Best Years cont. (e-reserve: Cohan, 22-27, 34-39)

1/30   Theoretical Perspectives: Masculinity and Psychoanalysis (e-reserve: Silverman; Wood, 120-124)

[2/1: Screenings of Dr. Strangelove, 1:30 and 4 p.m. (media center 401)]

2/2   Dr. Strangelove, general discussion (Reeves, Chapter 10)

2/4   Dr. Strangelove, cont.  (e-reserve: Malande)

2/6   Theoretical Perspectives: Film and History (Hoberman, xi-xvii, 1-94)

[2/8: Screenings of McCabe and Mrs. Miller, 1:30 and 4 p.m. (media center 401)]

2/9   McCabe and Mrs. Miller, general discussion (Reeves, Chapter 11)

2/11 McCabe and Mrs. Miller, cont. (recommended: Hoberman, 108-120, 153-156, 170-177, 190-206, 235-238, 247-333)

2/13 NO CLASS: Mid-term Reading Period

2/16  McCabe and Mrs. Miller, cont. (e-reserve: Wood, 23-41; Arthur)

[2/16: Screenings of Chinatown, 7 and 9:30 p.m. (media center 401)]

2/18   Chinatown, general discussion

2/20   Chinatown, cont. (recommended: Hoberman, 334-399)

2/23   E-reserve: Bingham

[2/23: Screenings of Die Hard, 7 and 9:30 p.m. (media center 401)]

III) “Real Men” Die Hard: Masculinity in the Reagan Era

2/25   Die Hard, general discussion (Reeves, Chapters 12 and 13, recommended: Hoberman, 399-409)

2/27   Die Hard, cont (e-reserve: Jeffords)

3/2   Theoretical Perspectives: Masculinity and Masochism (e-reserve: Savran)

[3/2: Screenings of American Beauty, 7 and 9:30 (media center 401)]

IV) Masculinity, Straight and Gay: the 1990s and beyond

3/4   American Beauty, general discussion (Reeves, Chapters 14 and 15)

3/6   American Beauty, cont.

3/9   Theoretical Perspectives: Gay Masculinity (Clum, ix-xxxii, 44-47)

3/11 Theoretical Perspectives: Is Studying Masculinity a Good Idea? (e-reserve: Traister)

3/13  History 400 Student Presentations/Class Review


I) Instructions

A) Sources:  Your primary sources are, of course, the films themselves, which you should plan on viewing at least twice with note-pad in hand.  You should also consult the e-reserve and background readings that relate to the particular film you’ve chosen.  Finally, you are welcome, and indeed encouraged, to consult all the resources of our library—for example, David Thompson’s The New Biographical Dictionary of Film and Bret Carroll (ed.), American Masculinities: a historical encyclopedia—in addition to what you might find on the World Wide Web.  One word of caution, however: seek secondary sources primarily for information and not opinions.  The only opinion that really counts is your own informed one; but if you feel that you must borrow that of another, cite it—and all your sources—directly and correctly. 

B) General Approach: In preparing your essays, please keep in mind the following questions:

  • Who made the film you’ve chosen to write about? That is, who directed, wrote, and produced it?
  • When did the film first appear? Which historical events and issues might have been in the minds of filmmakers and audiences at the time?

II)History 300 papers (2-3 pages): Focusing on one or more characters—male, female, or both—discuss what it means to be “masculine” in the film you’ve chosen. Does the film seem to advocate or denigrate a particular view (or views) of masculinity? Based on what standard(s)?

1. The Maltese Falcon (Due 1/9)

2. Red River (Due 1/16)

3. The Best Years of Our Lives (Due 1/28)

4. Dr. Strangelove (Due 2/4)

5. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Due 2/11)

6. Chinatown (Due 2/20)

7. Die Hard (Due 2/27)

8. American Beauty (3/6)

III) History 400 papers (5-7 pages): Write an essay in which you 1) define and explain the theoretical perspective(s) in question—gender theory, historical typologies, and psychoanalytic theory, for instance—and 2) explain how that perspective might be applied to at least one of the films we have viewed.

1. Judith Gardiner and R.W. Connell (choose at least one) on Gender and Masculinity (due 1/12)

2. Anthony Rotundo on the development of “Communal”, “Self-Made”, and “Passionate” Manhood in American history (due 1/21)

3. Michael Kimmel’s Historical Typologyof American Masculinity: the “Genteel Patriarch”, “The Heroic Artisan”, and the “Self-Made Man” (due 1/23)

4. Kaja Silverman on Masculinity and Psychoanalysis: Phallic “Law”, Castration, and the “Dominant Fiction” (note: you may discuss Silverman’s view of The Best Years of our Lives but may apply her views to other films as well; due 1/30)

5. J. Hoberman on the interrelationship between Film and American History in the 1960s (due 2/6)

6. David Savran on Masculinity and Masochism in Reagan era films (3/2)

7. Robert Clum on Gay Masculinity in American Film (3/9)

IV) Student Panels

            The eight classes designated above as “theoretical perspectives” will be led by panels of at least three students whose primary task is to invite the class to discuss 1) the theory in question; and 2) how it may or may not apply to the films we have seen. The panelists should feel free to pursue that task creatively. They may use power point, film clips, skits, puppet shows—whatever it takes to make their points and engage their classmates.

V) The Research Prospectus for History 400

            Each history 400 student must complete either a research paper or a detailed prospectus for further research using postwar American films as a primary source. You may choose to focus on a single film, actor, or director (Chinatown, John Wayne, Robert Altman), on a grouping of films (Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” films, revisionist westerns of the 1960s, war—or antiwar films—of the 1950s), or on films of a particular year or era (1968, the Kennedy era, the Reagan era). Your topic must, however, address an issue of historical interest as well as the issue of gender—be it male, female, or both. You might, for example, use the character of “Ripley” in Sigourney Weaver’s “Alien” films to examine Hollywood’s view of feminism—or of ‘female masculinity’—during the 1980s. Or you might focus on Woody Allen’s comic critique of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ in such films as Play it Again, Sam and Annie Hall. Feel free as well to address issues—black masculinity, gay masculinity, and lesbianism, for example—that the course has treated only in passing or not at all.

            Your project must, in any case, be achievable within the limits imposed by the term and the resources available in the library and on the Web, and it should include:

  • A clear and focused question of historical significance that you intend to address
  • A conceivable answer to that question—that is, a thesis, argument, or hypothesis that you intend to test or carry out
  • The primary source evidence, properly footnoted, on which you base your claims
  • An account of how your topic has been treated by other scholars, and how your approach compares to theirs
  • A bibliography of no less than twelve works, including both primary and secondary sources


1) On March 2 History 400 students will hand in a preliminary research prospectus consisting of 1) a working title; 2) a one-page description of your proposed topic; and 3) a preliminary bibliography.

2) The final research paper is due before class on March 13 (yes, that’s Friday the 13th—the day, not the film).