In 1933, four years after the legendary stock market crash of 1929, America was in the middle of the Great Depression. Unemployment stood at 25%. More than 5,000 banks had failed. It was the year the Dust Bowl began, the times of “The Grapes of Wrath”. An estimated two million people were homeless… migrating across the United States in search of a way to sustain themselves. Soup lines stretched around the blocks.
Contrary to the popular myth, the movies were not ‘Depression-Proof’. They suffered a steep decline along with the rest of the economy. Ticket sales had soared after the 1927 introduction of “talkies” but peaked at 90 million tickets a week in 1930. By 1933, that number had declined by more than a third, to 50 million. Combined with the rollback in ticket prices, 1933 still marks the lowest year at the box office post 1929.
But that year, the country (and the world) would be given something to get excited over at the cinema. Something the likes of which audiences had never seen.