Films of the Great Depression depict women in many different ways, which show the variety of viewpoints of women in the time period. Women were seen as important members of society in some cases. In others, they were disrespected or seen as objects to be used. Sometimes, the women were the ones using the men. Lastly, the hopeless romantic cannot be forgotten. The various views of women during the Great Depression are shown through the films of the era.
The importance of women was appreciated most in the entertainment business. This is shown in Room Service, a Marx Brothers film. Christine, as played by Lucille Ball, is a vital part of the scam being put on by the Marx Brothers. Their goal is to secure a banker for their play before the
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However, not all women were treated equally or as important members of society. The gangster film, The Public Enemy, shows a different side of society that disrespected or used women. Tommy Powers, as played by James Cagney, lives a lucrative life with his best friend (and fellow gangster), Matt. When Tommy tires of his mistress, Kitty, he dumps her by pushing a grapefruit into her face. There is nothing respectful of the way he treats her, and he soon meets Gwen, who he pursues eagerly, although she resists his advances at first. It seems as if the gangsters were content to use women until they no longer needed them for their lifestyle. This is yet again shown when Paddy Ryan suggests that Tommy and Matt lay low to avoid the rising gang war. The boys stay in one house together, where Mamie, portrayed by Joan Blondell, takes care of them; she pursues Tommy romantically, and even gets him drunk so that he will sleep with her. However, the next morning, he doesn’t remember anything and ignores her advances once more. He simply uses her for his own safety. The gangster film brought about new ideas, including the ideas that gangs were inevitable and that there was nothing the government could do about them. The treatment of women in the gangster films represents the fears growing in the hearts of Americans – it was going to be every man for himself, and anything that jeopardized your life in any way was going to have to go.
Not all women were