Fall 2018


Plucky Heroines and Dashing Detectives: B Movie Thrillers of the '30s and '40s (55+)

A quiet evening in August 1937. You walk to the local Rialto to catch the double bill. The main feature puts you to sleep, but the second feature, a Torchy Blane mystery, is a delight. Fast-talking, fast-moving—a murder mystery mixed with comedy. Definitely worth your 25 cents admission.

Manufactured for the bottom of double bills, B movies accounted for half of Hollywood production in the 1930s and 1940s. The most memorable were whodunits and thrillers, and we’ll view examples from the Great Depression, the Second World War and the postwar years. We’ll also watch a variety of shorter clips to explore B movie themes and styles, along with their audience expectations. Our goal will be to understand these B movies by seeing them through the eyes of audiences long past.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Vancouver 6 Perry Taylor $173.00 26 Register

What will I learn?

Week 1: 1935-1948: The Economic Imperative

We'll consider the whodunit-thriller genre as a microcosm of the B movie industry, viewing passages from three outstanding whodunit-thriller B movies.

Week 2: B-Movie Framework: Horizontal Structure and the Vaudeville Factor

We will analyze the B Movie’s distinctive cinema form and look at radio and magazine fiction’s influence on audience expectations. We'll learn about five criteria for discriminating between creative and routine B movie whodunit-thrillers.

Week 3: 1934-1942: The Charming Detective

We will explore the flourishing of the light-hearted whodunit-thriller, and the influence of the Depression. We'll view longer passages from two characteristically jaunty B movie whodunit-thrillers.

Week 4: 1942-1945: The Patriotic Detective

We'll examine wartime themes from spy-hunting to images of grief, and the growth of a darker B movie tone. We will view longer passages from two influential wartime B movie whodunit-thrillers.

Week 5: 1945-1948: The Cynical Detective

We'll consider the reaction against wartime patriotic uplift, with the emergence of social criticism and the rise of the pure B movie thriller. We will view longer passages from two postwar B movie thrillers.  

Week 6: The End

We will view a complete whodunit-thriller B movie then debate the movie’s horizontal narrative and Vaudeville factor. Finally, we will use the five criteria from Week 2 to judge the picture as a good or bad B movie, and ask, “Why bother with B movies?”

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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