Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
Twenty Cent Movie
Carbon pencil, ink, and oil on composition board
Overall: 30 × 40 in. (76.2 × 101.6 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase
Rights and Reproductions Information
© artist or artist’s estate
Both theatrical and cinematic in its conception, the subject of Reginald Marsh’s Twenty Cent Movie was the Lyric Theatre in New York City. The movie marquee images and advertising signs in the background are based on contemporary films, actors, and actresses, with the theater’s double bill of movies joining We Live Again—an adaptation of a tragic novel by Leo Tolstoy—with an upbeat musical comedy called Moonlight and Pretzels (upper left). Here, Marsh’s meticulous replication of the signage suggests a wry commentary on the figures he depicts. The foreground scene resembles a stage set, with “real-life” stars, bit-players, and extras poised for action. The women in the painting wear cheap imitations of the latest Hollywood styles, while the man on the far right adopts the self-assured posture and flamboyant suit worn by the beloved gangsters of 1930s cinema. In an era when the movie star became the nation’s dominant icon, Marsh’s characters reflect the longings and aspirations projected from the cinematic screen. The advertising copy for upcoming attractions—“Human Emotions Stripped Bare” and “Joys of the Flesh”—suggests the possibility of intimate exchange, but Marsh’s characters are too occupied with posing to interact with their environment or each other.