In a cinema that has presented John Wayne interpreting Genghis Khan as a medieval gunslinger, the idea that Hollywood filmmakers have historical consciousness might seem strange. However, they do and they did in fascinating ways, which are revealed by David Eldridge in this innovative and detailed analysis of the film industry's use of history. Grounded in exceptional resources and rich in close readings of the films, "Hollywood's History Films" focuses on the 1950s when Hollywood's interest in the past was at its peak. It reconstructs how filmmakers understood their treatment of the past, suggesting why many of them saw their work as superior to that of professional historians. The book embraces movies as diverse as "The Ten Commandments", "Calamity Jane" and "The House of Wax", exploring the overlapping anxieties that encouraged an unprecedented turn to history, including the Cold War's ever-present nuclear threat, McCarthyism and the industry's fears about a haemorrhaging box office. In an environment shaped by such tensions, filmmakers were not ignorant of the facts, nor simply exercising dramatic license.
David Eldridge considers researchers, advisers and outside interference from proponents of particular versions of the past and uncovers the different - and limited - ways in which producers, directors and screenwriters were exposed to historical debates and ideas. Challenging reconceptions, his book helps us to understand just how and why Hollywood blurs the boundaries between fiction and historical reality.