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Wesleyan University

Marriage and the Movies: A History

Wesleyan University via Coursera

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From the beginning of motion picture history, marriage has been a topic for popular story-telling, but Hollywood struggled with a subject that presented problems an audience already knew and perhaps did not want to see as entertainment.

How the film-making business crafted tales that were simultaneously an "I do!" of happiness and an "I don't!" of disappointment is a fascinating reflection of America's history, changing social attitudes, shifting morals and gender roles. Hollywood found ways both to reflect reality and deflect misery as decade after decade, movies adjusted a basic formula to audience needs.

Film clips and still photographs will illustrate how films defined marriage in the movies, identified a core seven problems, and varied its three narrative components -- a couple, their problems, their situation -- from decade to decade from the silent to the modern era.


5 weeks, 10 films, 22 lectures

Lecture 1: An Overview on Marriage and the Movies
Lecture 2: Hollywood and Marriage
Lecture 3: The Silent Era
Lecture 4: The Silent Era part II
Film 1: WILD ORCHIDS (Franklin, 1929) (Warner Archive / Amazon)

Lecture 5: Defining the Marriage Movie
Film 2: MADE FOR EACH OTHER (Cromwell, 1939) (Amazon)

Lecture 6: The "I Do" and "I Don't" versions
Film 3: THE MARRYING KIND (Cukor, 1952) (Amazon)
Lecture 7: Variations and Vignettes

Lecture 8: The Couple
Lecture 9: The Couple part II
Film 4: ADAM'S RIB (Cukor, 1949) (Amazon)

Lecture 10: The Seven Recurring Problems
Lecture 11: Money and Infidelity
Film 5: BRIEF ENCOUNTER (Lean, 1945) (Amazon)
Lecture 12: The Infidelity Story Over Time

Lecture 13: In-laws/Kids and Class/Incompatibility
Lecture 14: Incompatibility continued
Film 6: VIVACIOUS LADY (Stevens, 1938) (Warner Archive / Amazon)

Lecture 15: Addiction/Murder
Film 7: SUSPICION (Hitchcock, 1941) (Amazon)

Lecture 16: The Situation
Lecture 17: WWII Marriage Movies
Film 8: SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (Cromwell, 1944) (Amazon)

Lecture 18: Post-WWII, TV
Lecture 19: Post-war continued
Lecture 20: "The Modern Era" 
Film 9: HEARTBURN (Nichols, 1986) (Amazon)

Lecture 21: State of the Marriage Movie - "Nuclear" Marriages, Social Change
Film 10: THE WAR OF THE ROSES (DeVito, 1989) (Amazon)
Lecture 22: Conclusions

Multiple-choice quizzes during/after each lecture (ungraded)
Longer cumulative multiple-choice quiz at the end (graded)
Online discussion opportunities

Taught by

Jeanine Basinger


4.3 rating, based on 7 Class Central reviews

Start your review of Marriage and the Movies: A History

  • This course was splendid! The professor submerged the student(s) into the different eras of movies, since the silent era until nowadays. The explanations she gave according of each movie and/or in relationship with what it was considered marriage and all its implications such as what it was right and wrong in it; and of course its problems in it were clear and precise. Another remarkable thing about the course is the participation of the people in the discussion forum, I really enjoyed reading and replying to all the movie lovers!
  • Phyllis Levy
    Interesting class using classic films regarding the role of marriage and love in the movies. The professor knew her subject and was a good lecturer.
  • Aana
  • Anastasia Blita
  • Susan Lehr

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