The 1950s is seen as a time where women were encouraged to go back into the kitchen and be perfect homemakers. Where the gains women made during the war years were lost and their choices were reduced. 1950s cinema also appears to play a part in this as the decade's actresses played second fiddle to the men as either girlfriend or wifey.
Melanie Bell's thesis is that behind the facade of conformity, both British cinema and society offered a wider range of role models for women than is recognised. She examines the roles offered in five types of film moving through the decade as she goes.
Bell's at her best with the comedy-of-marriage film - resurrecting a genre that epitomises the blandness of 50s cinema and teasing out the subversive undercurrents. The man-made woman, femme fatale and female group films also reveal unexpected facets. Only the section on the prostitute in 50s cinema lets it down, getting tangled in a slew of sociology essays.
The book is rounded off with a look at three female critics of the period: Eileen Arbuthnot Robinson, Freda Bruce and Catherine de la Roche. Their work has been neglected, scattered as it is about various film and women's magazines of the period. Bell does a valuable service here in extending our knowledge of 50s critics.
Femininity in the Frame is on the whole an interesting take on a relatively uninteresting period.
Pub: I.B. Taurus
Price: £16.99 (UK), $31.00 (US)Femininity in the Frame: Available from Amazon UK