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HillbillyA Cultural History of an American Icon$
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Anthony Harkins

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195189506

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195189506.001.0001

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Hollywood's Hillbilly in Mid-Twentieth-Century America

Hollywood's Hillbilly in Mid-Twentieth-Century America

(p.141) Chapter Five. Hollywood's Hillbilly in Mid-Twentieth-Century America

Anthony Harkins (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on hillbilly depictions in motion pictures, the dominant media of the mid-century. The continual resignification of the mountaineer/hillbilly dual image from the end of World War One through the mid-1950s is traced through full-length features, animated shorts, government documentaries, and the long running Ma and Pa Kettle series. The initial focus on violence and social threat was steadily replaced by a growing emphasis on farcical comedy, particularly in the “B” level films produced by Republic Pictures. With the advent of an era of postwar prosperity, however, the vogue of mountain films faded and the hillbilly image primarily lived on only in the domesticated version the Kettles embodied. But as later films such as Deliverance (1972) would show, the early-20th-century characterization of mountain folk as depraved savages remained just under the surface of this supposedly light-hearted fare.

Keywords:   Hollywood, motion pictures, Ma and Pa Kettle, 1950s, mountaineer, comedy, animation

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