Hollywood, which has a special logic of its own, has a ready answer for one kind of criticism: If entertaining the public and breaking box-office records isn't art, what is?
Beset by choking labor costs, the critical prestige of imported films, the competition of radio and the threat of TV, and public apathy toward many of its tried & true stars, Hollywood has given more than passing thought to art and even culture during the past few years. Actually, some gains have been made in the direction of adult screen fare (Boomerang!, Treasure, of Sierra Madre, The Big Clock, The Snake Pit, Sitting Pretty).
Yet the fact remains that Hollywood's taste buds, like those of any industry, are necessarily conditioned by earnings & profits. For these, the cinemoguls insist, glamor in the well-known shapes of male & female stars is basic, fundamental, utterly essential and sometimes colossal.
Over the Top. The trouble is: sex appeal has a way of being repealed by the passing years. Joan Crawford, for instance, who is reportedly 41, has a gem-hard glamour that has worn pretty well for 20 years; now her line is a sophisticated fortyishness, and the public is not clamoring to buy.* Nor is the well-preserved charm of Claudette Colbert, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis or Marlene Dietrich causing the box-office stampedes that it could set off ten, or even five years ago.
It is the same with the male animal even with such solid 40-plus examples as Clark Gable (a big star since 1932), Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Cagney, Gary Cooper. These veterans are still expert performers, but their days as high-voltage box-office attractions are numbered.
Finding replacements for this generation of stars is, Hollywood thinks, its top-priority problem. In other days, that might have meant turning loose an army of assistant producers (and relatives) to scout the nation's soda fountains for blondes. Today's need is great enough to warrant a more elaborate approach.
Over the Land. For the big job a fumbling, talent-hunting monster has been let loose in the land. It is, of course, only a Walt Disney kind of animated monster immense, awesome, full of old air, essentially harmless and monstrously inefficient. Its eyes are rolling cameras; it has a kidney-shaped swimming pool for a mouth, talent scouts for teeth, and a broad backside armor-plated with thousand-dollar bills. The overall effect is that of a dredge.
This week the animated dredge is digging harder than at any time since 1927, when soundtracks shattered the silent movies and Hollywood had to line up a whole new team of movie stars overnight. Every day the maw takes a bite or two of common clay, lugs it off to Hollywood's casting mills. There it is sifted for the sapphires that men sometimes find in common clay.
A Floating Rose. One studio that is less desperate than most is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; that is partly because M-G-M has already turned up a jewel of great price, a true star sapphire. She is Elizabeth Taylor.