Megan Harlan
March 15, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

American Laughter: Immigrants, Ethnicity, and 1930s Hollywood Film Comedy

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Mark Winokur
publisher
St. Martin's Press
genre
Movies
We gave it a B-

Immigrant culture is American culture, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the early history of film, which — along with other ”lower” entertainments, like vaudeville and spectator sports — was primarily invented by, and for, recent arrivals. American Laughter: Immigrants, Ethnicity, and 1930s Hollywood Film Comedy is the intriguing, controversial central point of this examination of the immigrant subtext in three types of early film comedies — those of Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, and the Thin Man series. When, for example, Mark Winokur claims that Chaplin’s tramp is really a composite of every immigrant, he makes strong, perceptive arguments, supporting them with forays into psychoanalysis and 18th-century American literary humor. Unfortunately, he does so in convoluted film-crit lingo. Too bad Winokur — who chairs the film studies program at Rhodes College in Memphis — didn’t have a wider, nonacademic readership in mind. B-

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