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Title: The courtroom trial sequence in Hollywood cinema, 1934-1966
Author: Pilkington, Patrick
ISNI:       0000 0004 5922 0980
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2015
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This thesis examines representations of the courtroom trial in Hollywood cinema produced between 1934 and 1966. The primary method is close textual analysis, which has been neglected in previous work on trial sequences in cinema. However, I argue that a rigorous engagement with both the conventions of the courtroom trial form and individual films’ use of these conventions requires close attention to the text. The introductory chapter identifies the dominant conventions, meanings and ideology underpinning Hollywood representations of the courtroom trial by looking at the treatment of space, character, procedure and drama in a number of films produced between 1957 and 1962 that serve as a representative sample of the conventions of trial representation in Hollywood cinema. I conclude that the narrative scenario of the courtroom trial tends to dictate a set of formal strategies that respect and affirm the American adversarial trial system. However, I also use this chapter to begin mapping out the ways in which individual films are able to nuance their representation of the courtroom trial despite its multitude of fixed components. My subsequent chapters examine how different genres and modes inflect the dominant representations of the courtroom trial as I look in detail at trial sequences in, respectively, the social problem film, the woman’s melodrama and film noir. This method involves firstly engaging with existing criticism on each genre and considering how previous definitions and identified conventions, meanings and representational strategies might be said to affect that particular genre’s representations of the courtroom trial. My second chapter examines representations of the courtroom trial in the social problem film, which I argue cleaves relatively closely to the representational model outlined in my introductory chapter. However, through close readings of two case studies, Dust Be My Destiny and Pinky, I also demonstrate the differences in how both films handle the didacticism and resolution that the trial form offers the social problem film, and identify competing voices in the text that complicate what could be viewed as a solely affirmative depiction of the court system. My third chapter examines representations of the courtroom trial in woman’s melodrama, employing as primary case studies Peyton Place and Madame X. My analyses of these films demonstrate how the female-centred melodrama can, to different degrees, challenge the patriarchal structures of the court by emphasising the female protagonist’s viewpoint. My final chapter looks at courtroom trial representations in film noir. I provide close readings of trial sequences in Stranger on the Third Floor and The Lady from Shanghai. Here I argue that noir’s use of the courtroom trial exemplifies the genre’s oft-situated difference from conventional forms in Hollywood cinema of the period. Noir trials consistently challenge notions of the adversarial trial system as the correct one for seeking justice.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Arts & Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PN1993 Motion Pictures