Cookie Consent by FreePrivacyPolicy.com
Skip to main navigation menu Skip to main content Skip to site footer

Research Articles

Vol. 1 No. 2 (2020): Soundscapes, Sonic Cultures, and American Studies

'Ta, te, ti, toe, too': The Horrors of the Harsh Female Voice in 1950s Hollywood Comedies

DOI
https://doi.org/10.47060/jaaas.v1i2.36
Submitted
April 3, 2019
Published
2020-12-30

Abstract

Hollywood comedies of the 1950s saw the decline of a specific kind of female comedian, as unruly comediennes in the screwball tradition transformed into silly sexy vixens or tamed into homely sexless housewives. There are, however, some comedies which self-reflectively negotiate this shift. In this article, I would like to suggest that the voice of the comedienne serves as a marker of distinction. My article accordingly explores two pivotal examples of such transformative processes: Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday (1950) and Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain (1952). Both heroines feature what critics have called "the horrors of the harsh female voice." Whereas Billie's voice "survives" through schooling and refinement, Jean's voice resists all training and remains shrill and rowdy, leading to the violent expulsion of her character altogether. With the transformation and eventual disappearance of these extraordinary female actresses and their roles, such voices remained silent for a long time, until loud and brassy comediennes of a new generation were allowed to reappear on the silver screen and to raise their harsh and distinctive voices once again.

References

  1. Belton, John. "Technology and Aesthetics of Film Sound." In Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 5th ed., edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, 376-84. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  2. Born Yesterday. Directed by George Cukor. Los Angeles, CA: Columbia Pictures, 1950.
  3. Brode, Douglas. The Films of the Fifties: Sunset Boulevard to On the Beach. New York: Citadel Press, 1976.
  4. Card, James. "'More Than Meets the Eye' in Singin' in the Rain and Day For Night." Literature/Film Quarterly 12, no. 2 (1984): 87-95.
  5. Chion, Michel. The Voice in Cinema. Translated by Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
  6. Chumo, Peter N., II. "Dance, Flexibility, and the Renewal of Genre in Singin' in the Rain." Cinema Journal 36, no. 1 (1996): 39-54. https://doi.org/10.2307/1225594.
  7. Cohan, Steven. Incongruous Entertainment: Camp, Cultural Value, and the MGM Musical. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.
  8. Doane, Mary. "The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space." Yale French Studies 60 (1980): 33-50. https://doi.org/10.2307/2930003.
  9. Dyer, Richard. Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2004.
  10. Dyer, Richard. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002.
  11. Feuer, Jane. The Hollywood Musical. 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.
  12. Gerstel, Judy. "Singin' in the Rain (1952)." In The A List: The National Society of Film Critics' 100 Essential Films, edited by Jay Carr, 264-67. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2002.
  13. Hail Caesar! Directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen. Universal City, CA: Universal Pictures, 2016.
  14. Harris, Daniel. Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2000.
  15. Hess, Earl J., and Pratibha A. Dabholkar. Singin' in the Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2009.
  16. Klein, Sheri. Art and Laughter. London: I. B. Tauris, 2007.
  17. Lawrence, Amy. Echo and Narcissus: Women's Voices in Classical Hollywood Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
  18. Lawrence, Amy. "Losing Her Voice: Silencing Two Daughters of Hollywood." Style 35, no. 2 (2001): 219-36.
  19. Mariani, John. "Come on with the Rain." Film Comment 14, no. 3 (1978): 7-12.
  20. Mellencamp, Patricia. "Spectacle and Spectator: Looking Through the American Musical Comedy." In Explorations in Film Theory: Selected Essays from Ciné Tracts, edited by Roon Burnett, 3-14. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.
  21. Merish, Lori. "Cuteness and Commodity Aesthetics: Tom Thumb and Shirley Temple." In Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body, edited by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, 185-203. New York: New York University Press, 1996.
  22. Nadel, Alan. Demographic Angst: Cultural Narratives and American Films of the 1950s. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2018.
  23. Roth, Martin. "Pulling the Plug on Lina Lamont: Women in Hollywood Musicals." Jump Cut 35 (1990): 59-65. https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC35folder/LinaLamont.html.
  24. Rowe, Kathleen. The Unruly Woman: Gender and Genres of Laughter. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.
  25. Silverman, Kaja. The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.
  26. Singin' in the Rain. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Beverly Hills, CA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952.
  27. Stark, James. Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.

Metrics

Metrics Loading ...