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Wealth and/or Love: Class and Gender in the Cross-class Romance Films of the Great Depression

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 November 2012


A combination of social and cultural changes account for the popularity of, and the narrative permutations of class and gender in, the cross-class romance films of the 1930s. The analysis is based on a sample of eighty-five cross-class romance films released in the 1929–39 period. The films deal with a dilemma evident in the choice of partners: between interests of wealth and social status and the value of romantic, disinterested love, an ideal which had spread throughout the class structure. Gender distinctions are reinforced by narratives in which the wealthy male is redeemed by the poor female so that he can perform the appropriate male gender roles. When the female is wealthy, the poor male insists on her economic dependence on him. Films with gold diggers reached a peak in the early 1930s and provided imaginary solutions to social anxieties about class and gender among both women and men.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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36 We only hear about her return to the industrial town. We do not see it because Stanwyck was unavailable to film additional scenes. Jacobs states that, in most of the gold digger films in which the gold digger is triumphant, the ending is at odds with the more typical romantic or sentimental classical happy end, but her own analysis of the films shows that happy endings with gold diggers who have retained their cynicism were the exception rather than the rule. Jacobs, 52–84, 132–49.

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42 Maltby.

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