This sample Albert Hackett Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Albert Hackett was a dramatist and screenwriter whose career in Hollywood spanned several decades. From The Secret of Madame Blanche (1933) to Five Finger Exercise (1962), Hackett’s films exemplify both professionalism and popular appeal—hallmarks of Hollywood screen-writing at its best. While he received little recognition from the press over the years, Hackett wrote screenplays that appealed to varied audiences, some of which are renowned as American classics.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Actor and Screenwriter
Hackett began his career as an actor. Born in New York City to an acting couple, Hackett made his New York stage debut at the age of six and performed in silent films and on stage. In 1927, while acting in Denver, Hackett met fellow actress Frances Goodrich. The two turned their attention to writing and so began a long career of collaborative screen and playwriting projects. Their earliest efforts were unsuccessful, but in 1930, their play, Up Pops the Devil, opened in New York. A comedy set in a writer’s milieu in Greenwich Village, it dealt with the marital complications arising from a two-career family. Hackett and Goodrich were married on February 7, 1931, the same year in which Up Pops the Devil was filmed.
During the 1930s, America would succumb financially and emotionally to the Great Depression. The average American income plummeted by forty percent during this time. American farmers in the Great Plains and Midwest were substantially impacted by the devastating Dust Bowl. America’s political and economic structure was in a state of upheaval. Major Hollywood studios, such as M-G-M, understood that money was a scarce commodity; they also understood that film could serve as an escape for citizens who were devastated by monetary woes. From 1933-1939, M-G-M hired Hackett and Goodrich to write thirteen films, many of which were box-office successes, that provided the public with humor, thrills, and music—escapes during a tumultuous time in American life.
Hackett and Goodrich’s first assignment with M-G-M was to adapt Martin Brown’s 1923 Broadway melodrama, The Lady, the film was released in 1933 as The Secret of Madame Blanche. It was followed by two story adaptations, Penthouse (1933), a gangster tale set in high society, and Fugitive Lovers (1934), a gangster melodrama. Although these films are nearly forgotten today, when first released they were praised by critics for their amusing dialogue and excellent performances.
The Thin Man and Beyond
The Thin Man (1934) is acclaimed as Hackett and Goodrich’s first major popular and critical success. Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett and directed by W. S. Van Dyke, The Thin Man typifies the best of Hollywood in the 1930s. Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) are a wealthy, happy-go-lucky couple who stumble into a murder mystery that keeps them pleasantly engaged while offering little real anger. The film’s success resulted from a happy combination of talents, including those of the director, screenwriters, actors, and technicians. By working together, they succeeded in capturing a vision of America as it would have liked to be in 1934. The Thin Man was an immediate success and won Hackett and Goodrich an Academy Award nomination. M-G-M, foreseeing the box-office potential of a Thin Man series, engaged all the principals for two sequels.
Between the Thin Man films, M-G-M assigned Hackett and Goodrich to a variety of projects ranging from the melodramatic Chained (1934), for which they received no credit, to the lavish spectacles of the Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy operettas. Hackett and Goodrich’s first musical assignment was the first pairing of MacDonald and Eddy in the highly successful Naughty Marietta (1935). More musical assignments followed, limited to standard operettas such as Rose Marie (1936) and The Firefly (1937). Hackett and Goodrich’s job was to take well-known, but exceedingly old-fashioned stories and rewrite them in a modern idiom. In at least one case, their updating may have given them the opportunity to editorialize: some critics suggested that the new plot and dialogue for The Firefly, with its story of a Spanish dancer during the Napoleonic wars, provided a parallel to the Spanish Civil War. As a rule, however, these assignments rarely gave the screenwriters an opportunity to do more than a perfunctory linking of songs.
Hackett and Goodrich’s other M-G-M projects during this period included an ordinary comedy, Small Town Girl (1936), and a remake of their own screenplay for Penthouse, retitled Society Lawyer (1939). With an increasing lack of enthusiasm for Hollywood, Hackett and Goodrich returned to Broadway, where Hackett resumed his acting career in the long-running play, Mr. and Mrs. North (1941). In 1942, their own play, The Great Big Doorstep, opened on Broadway but closed after twenty-eight performances.
Back to Film
Hackett and Goodrich returned to Hollywood, this time to work for Paramount, and were assigned to one of that studio’s biggest and most prestigious projects. They began work on adapting Lady in the Dark, the 1941 Broadway musical hit.
World War II would dominate American life during the 1940s—Hitler, the holocaust, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor impacted the American public, as well as Hollywood, during this time. Despite the studio’s reputation for sophisticated comedy, Paramount assigned Hackett and Goodrich to The Hitler Gang (1944), a semi-documentary on Hitler’s rise to power, incorporating German footage. This project, however, was little suited for Hackett and Goodrich. The two left Paramount in 1946 for more rewarding assignments; one of these was It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), a film by Frank Capra about a man (James Stewart) who considers his life a failure until his guardian angel appears and shows him he is wrong.
As the war ended, a revival in the arts, as well as domestic job growth, would flourish in America. During this time, Hackett and Goodrich returned to M-G-M, where they reestablished their reputation as writers of trenchant comedy dialogue. Their first assignment was The Pirate (1948), an adaptation of S. N. Behrman’s 1942 play. Since The Pirate had not been a musical play, Hackett and Goodrich had the responsibility of integrating the new Cole Porter score with the film’s dialogue.
Despite the commercial and critical failure of the film, producer Arthur Freed immediately assigned Hackett and Goodrich to another musical project, Easter Parade (1948). The film was enormously successful at the box office, and the screenplay won Hackett and Goodrich a Writers Guild award.
Perfecting Several Genres
The Hacketts followed Easter Parade with another hit musical, In the Good Old Summertime (1949), and two more films which perfectly suited their talents and are among their finest work: Father of the Bride (1950) and Father’s Little Dividend (1951). Father of the Bride, a comedy based on the novel by Edward Streeter and directed by Vincente Minnelli, was greeted with delight by both the public and critics. It was nominated for Academy Awards for best picture, best screenplay, and best actor (Spencer Tracy), and was seventh on Variety’s, list of top-grossing films of 1950. Father’s Little Dividend nearly equaled the popularity of its predecessor. Hackett and Goodrich wrote both the original story and the screenplay for this film.
These two films presented Hackett and Goodrich with their last opportunity to write sophisticated domestic comedy for the screen. Routine assignments followed these successes and included such projects as Too Young to Kiss (1951) and Give a Girl a Break (1954). Hackett and Goodrich worked on the big-budget musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in 1954; it was a box-office success and earned the screenwriters another Academy Award nomination. But neither it nor The Long, Long Trailer (1954) provided characters or situations that allowed for the witty dialogue exchanges, or the acting tours de force, that had been the basis of Hackett and Goodrich’s best comedies.
After a long and respected career in Hollywood and on Broadway, the writing team finally received public recognition for a project that was one of their last efforts. The Diary of Anne Frank opened on Broadway in 1955. Adapted from the diary that a young Jewish girl kept while she and her family hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II, the play occupied most of Hackett and Goodrich’s time and attention from 1953 to 1955. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1956, while the filmed adaptation won a Writers Guild award and three Academy Awards in 1959.
Their last film for M-G-M was Gaby (1956) with Leslie Caron. This wartime melodrama was followed by a drama about marriage for 20th Century-Fox, A Certain Smile (1958). Five Finger Exercise (1962) would receive less than stellar reviews, ultimately persuading Hackett and Goodrich to leave Hollywood and return to New York. The two remained in New York until their passing: January 29, 1984 and March 16, 1995, respectively.
Works in Literary Context
A screenplay based on another source, such as a novel, play, or even another film, is not always met with critical or popular success. However, some of Hackett and Goodrich’s most renowned films were adapted from other sources, such as books and short stories. The Thin Man (1934), which is arguably their most acclaimed achievement, is based on an early detective novel by Dashiell Hammett. Hackett and Goodrich’s screenplay for It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is loosely based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern titled ”The Greatest Gift.” Other Hackett and Goodrich screenplays based on other sources include The Diary of Anne Frank (1955), The Secret of Madame Blanche (1933), Penthouse (1933), and Fugitive Lovers (1934).
The Screwball Comedy
Filmed in just two weeks and released during the Great Depression, The Thin Man includes elements of murder and mystery, missing persons and suspense. Yet fans of this award-winning film, written by Hackett and Goodrich, soon notice that any sort of suspenseful plot is secondary to its whimsical antics. Because it combines slapstick with farcical situations, The Thin Man is considered part of the screwball comedy genre. Famous film critic Roger Ebert points out that The Thin Man is essentially a ”drawing room” comedy. ”One of the movie’s charms,” notes Ebert, ”is the playfulness with which [the characters] treat each other, and life.” It is thought that the screwball comedy, among other genres, allowed for an escape from angst during the tumultuous Depression. The Thin Man, and other comedies of the time, such as It Happened One Night (1934), eased troubled spirits and helped bring comedy to the forefront of cinema.
Works in Critical Context
While Hackett and Goodrich are often remembered for writing witty and uproarious comedies during the 1930s, their interests during the 1950s would eventually turn to drama. No matter the genre or subject matter, many critics assert that the writing duo had a knack for cultivating witty dialogue that enabled both stage and screen actors alike to shine.
The Thin Man
Hackett and Goodrich received critical praise for writing the witty repartee of The Thin Man. The film’s script, most notably the comical dialogue between the leading actors, earned Hackett and Goodrich an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing. Film critic Welford Beaton compares The Thin Man to the highly acclaimed film, My Man Godfrey. He notes that both films offer interesting characters assembled in a sophisticated comedy, but makes a point of elevating the The Thin Man one step further. According to Beaton, the writing of The Thin Man is timed in such a way that it allows its audience to absorb the film’s dialogue, enabling viewers to ”finish [their] laughs before anything else is said . . . a privilege that few films accord us.” As film critic Mordaunt Hunt asserts, The Thin Man is ”an excellent combination of comedy and excitement.”
The Father of the Bride
Critics note that very few films have captured premarital angst as brilliantly as The Father of the Bride (1950). Among the best films of 1950, according to The New York Times, film critic Bosley Crowther notes how Hackett and Goodrich helped to create a film filled with ”all the satire of [a] modern tribal matrimonial rite… possessing warmth and poignancy.” Crowther notes that M-G-M released a ”honey of a picture of American family life.”
- Goodrich, David L. The Real Nick and Nora: Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Writers of Stage and Screen Classics. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 2007.
- Nichols, Bill, ed. Movies and Methods. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976.
- Knopf, Robert, ed. Theater and Film. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2005.
- Ferguson, Russell, ed. Art and Film Since 1945: Hall of Mirrors. New York: The Monacelli Press, 1996.
- Frank, Anne, Albert Hackett, and Frances Goodrich. The Diary of Anne Frank; Play and Related Readings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin College Division, 1996.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Essential Cinema. Baltimore, Md.: The John Hopkins University Press, 2004.
- McCaffrey, Donald W. ”Goodrich, Frances, and Albert Hackett.” International Dictionary of Film and Filmmakers (December 2008).
- Albert Hackett Biography (1900-1995). Accessed December 8,2008, from http://www.filmreference.com/film/82/Albert-Hackett.html.
- Frances Goodrich Biography (1890-1984). Accessed December 8, 2008, from http://www.flmreference.com/ film/93/Frances-Goodrich .html.
- The History of Film; Film History of the 1930s. Accessed December 8, 2008, from http://www.filmsite.org/30sintro.html.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.