Best MOVIES of the 1930s Part 2 : A Project 300 EssayAug 22, 2004 (Updated Mar 25, 2012) Write an essay on this topic.
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I’ve picked 39 (in honor of the year 1939) of my favorite Great movies of the 1930s for this Project 300 list. The list which will eventually encompass all decades until the present will chooses more than 300 great films to mark my passing of 300 reviews at Epinons. (NOTE: There is no Best Movies or 10 Best Movies of the 1930s. I’ve sent several e-mails to several people and since we got this new category started, I guess it will have to be here that this essay calls home.)
PART 2 1936 through 1939 Plus the Almosts.
28. Swing Time (1936) Director George Stevens
One of the very best Astaire-Rogers films. Fred is addicted to gambling and is engaged to marry Betty Furness (before she sold Refrigerators) until he meets Ginger Rogers. This features Astaire’s classic BoJangles production number. Great supporting cast includes Helen Broderick and Victor Moore. Classic Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields songs "A Fine Romance," "Pick Yourself Up." Oscar-winning "The Way You Look Tonight." And Waltz in Swing Time. Classy sophistication at its best.
29. Modern Times (1936) Director Charlie Chaplin
Charlie attacks the age of industrialization with sharp pokes at the inhumanity of assembly line factory work and additional satires aimed at other social ills and the day to day struggle of modern survival. Paulette Goddard is his stunning co-star who became his partner in real life. It’s still almost a silent film besides sound effects, a few lines of dialogue, a gibberish song and the song ‘SMILE” which he also wrote. It’s one of the funniest movies ever made and despite its age remains timeless and easy to like. Chaplin was sued for plagiarism by the French production company Films Sonores Tobis, who produced Rene Clair's A Nous la Liberte (1931). The conveyor belt sequences of the two films were very similar. Director Clair insisted the lawsuit be dropped because he went on record as saying he was honored to have rendered assistance to Chaplin. "God knows," Clair is reported to have said, "I have certainly borrowed enough from him." The lawsuit was dropped.
30. Dodsworth (1936) Director William Wyler
A middle aged American tycoon retires and takes a long vacation with his wife to Europe. They re-evaluate their lives as the couple discover they have different sets of values, new relationships and seem to barely know each other. Walter Huston is superb recreating his stage role. Sidney Howard adapted the Sinclair Lewis novel. The cast features: Mary Astor, Ruth Chatterton, David Niven, John Payne Maria Ouspenskaya and others. I wish I could make the movie irresistible so you would make sure you see it, it’s a gem.
31. Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936) Directory Frank Capra
Gary Cooper plays Longfellow Deeds, who has inherited 20 million dollars and decides he wants to give away his money to needy people. Jean Arthur is the hard –boiled cynical reporter who tries to figure out what this guy is all about. Capra won his second Oscar for this appealing likeable film, written by Robert Riskin (from Clarence Budington Kelland's play "Opera Hat").
32. The Awful Truth (1937) Director Leo McCarey
As their divorce becomes final, Jerry and Lucy Warriner (the first teaming of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) do their best to thwart each other’s plans for remarriage. Jerry is set to marry socialite Molly Lamont, while Lucy is betrothed to an oil-rich country bumpkin. They fight over custody of the dog (Astor of the Thin Man series, called Mr. Smith here), and then there is Lucy's flamboyant impersonation of Jerry's fan dancing "sister" at a snooty cocktail party thrown by Jerry’s prospective bride's scandalized family. The chemistry and comic timing of Grant and Dunne couldn’t be better. They are hysterical. Grant steals several scenes and the movie with the most perfect comic reactions I’ve ever witnessed on screen. A superb screw-ball comedy that remains as fresh and funny today as it was back then.
33. Grand Illusion (1937 - French) Director Jean Renoir
Renoir's classic treatise on war, focusing on French prisoners during WWI and their cultured German commandant. It’s an optimistic view of war, but an effective, timeless, powerful and unforgettable one. Memorable performances from a cast that includes Jean Gabin, Erich Von Stroheim (at his best), Pierre Fresnay, Darcel Dalio, and Julian Carette enhance the eloquent script by Renoir and Charles Spaak.
34. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Directed by Michael Curtiz
More than 2 million dollars (a kings ransom at the time) was spent on this lavish Technicolor extravaganza, which today defines the swashbuckling adventure film. Dashing Errol Flynn was at the top of his game, doing most of his own stunts while trying to win the hand of a rather cool Maid Marian (a lovely Olivia de Havilland), foiling evil Prince John (a dastardly Claude Rains), outwitting the clever Sir Guy (Basil Rathbone) and hanging out with band of Merry Men. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's score earned an Oscar, as did the art direction and editing.
35. Bringing Up Baby (1938) Director Howard Hawks
One of funniest and fastest paced screwball comedies ever made. The only one Kate Hepburn ever did. She’s wonderful as the daffy heiress with the pet leopard who chases after the nerdish Cary Grant who is also a riot. It is one ridiculous situation after another in this utterly charming winning hilarious film.
36. The Wizard of Oz (1939) Director, Victor Fleming
Dorothy, Toto, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Kansas, Tornado, Witch, Munchkins, Glenda the Good Witch, Lolipop Kids, Yellow Brick Road, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Haunted Forest, Cowardly Lion, Trees, Witch, Fire, Monkeys, Poppies, Emerald City, Wizard, Mission, Caught, Water, Rescue, No place like Home…And “you were there and so were you and you and you.” Nuff said.
37. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) Director William Dieterle
Frollo is the Chief Justice for wise old King Louis the XI who is infatuated with the gypsy girl, Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara), after seeing her in the church during Fool's Day and believing she might be a witch. So Frollow sends the hunch-backed nearly deaf bell-ringing Quasimoto to catch her. Quasimoto, with Esmeralda is captured by Phoebus, Captain of the Guards, who frees the girl. The courts sentence Quasimoto to be flogged, and the only one who will give him water while he is tied in the square is Esmeralda. Later, at a party of nobles, Esmeralda again meets both Frollo, who is bewitched by her, and Phoebus. When Phoebus is stabbed to death, Esmeralda is accused of the murder, convicted by the court and sentenced to hang. Clopin, King of the Beggars, Gringoire the Husband of Esmeralda, and Quasimoto, the bellringer, all try different ways to save her from the gallows. Charles Laughton delivers one of his most memorable performances in this definitive Hollywood version of the classic Victor Hugo novel. The huge set of Notre Dame is impressive and richly detailed. Impressive cast includes: Edmund O’brien, Cedric Hardwicke, and George Zucco.
38. The Rules of the Game (1939) Director Jean Renoir
Yet another Renoir masterpiece. It was banned by the French and pulled from distribution by the Nazis shortly after it was released. It was not restored until 1959 when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival. A group of French aristocrats gather for a weekend of self indulgent decadence on the eve of World War 2. I will say nothing more about it except that if you have not seen it, it is now time that you do so.
39. Le Jour Se Leve (1939), aka Daybreak, France, directed by Marcel Carne
Marcel Carne’s minor masterpiece asks Why is Jean Gabin holed up in a room with a gun? Has he really committed murder? Why? It starts with a police stand-off and proceeds through a series of flashbacks into a sordid love triangle that has led to murder.
The Blue Angel (1930), aka Der Blaue Engel, Germany, directed by Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg returned to Berlin to make a movie starring Emil Jannings as a repressed professor who goes to a nightclub hoping to catch his students doing something wrong. Instead he becomes infatuated with Lola, the sultry cabaret singer, played by Marlen Dietrich. He sleeps with her, loses his job, marries her and then travels with the performing troupe selling provocative pictures of his wife to tourists. Sternberg discovered Dietrich and she became an international star.
A Nous la Liberte (1931), aka Freedom for Us, France, directed by Rene Clair
Two tramps encounter factory work and automation. One becomes wealthy, the other a nature-lover. It’s a delightful fantasy made by Clair before he migrated to Hollywood. The assembly line scenes ‘inspired’ Chaplin to make Modern Times.
Frankenstein (1931) Director James Whale
Super atmospheric monster movie combining Shelley’s novel with the silent film The Golem. Collin Clive is the definitive mad scientist creating a man out of the parts of dead bodies, but Fritz his assistant inadvertently gives Dr. Victor Frankenstein a criminal brain and the man come to life is a monster (Karloff). Despite age, lack of music score it is still an fascinating entertaining at times powerful film. Long-censored footage, restored in 1987, enhances the impact of several key scenes, including the drowning of a little girl.
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) Director Mervyn Leroy
World War 1 Veteran James Allen (Paul Muni) returns home dreaming of traveling across America. He leaves a dull job, and travels though he has no money. He goes to get a burger with a tramp and he is implicated in a robbery and sentenced to hard time on a chain gang in Georgia. Eventually he escapes but is now a wanted criminal on the run. He makes his way to Chicago, finds some success in the construction industry but then there’s the girl Marie who finds out about his past… based on the autobiography of Robert E. Burns. The somewhat dated film is still memorable.
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1932) Director Fritz Lang
It wasn’t seen in the U.S. until 1943 as the edited, Last Will of Dr. Mabuse; also known as The Crimes of Dr. Mabuse. It’s one of the best ‘mad doctor’ movies ever made and this time there’s a supernatural theme. This time the criminal genius Dr. Mabuse rules the underworld from inside an insane asylum. It’s not quite as stylish as the silent Lang films. Controversial film banned by the Nazis. An entertaining classic.
The Old Dark House (1932)
Director James Whale made a funny, satire of haunted house movies. It takes a little while to get used to, and it's certainly an OLD film and quite dated. . . but stick with it. Karloff appears as a drunken, deformed, mute bearded butler as a group of travelers are stranded and seek refuge in THE OLD DARK HOUSE meeting the oddest assortment of eccentric characters you could imagine. This must have been the inspiration for Charles' Addams' cartoons (the Addams Family). James Whale directs a who's who cast in grand style. Ernest Thesiger who plays his role quite effeminately has a brother who likes to play with fire, a religious fanatic sister, a 102 year old father and more. With... Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria (Titanic) Stuart, Raymond Massey and Lillian Bond.
Shanghai Express (1932) Director Josef Von Sternberg
Marlene Dietrich was probably never more alluring than in this exotic story that takes place during a slow train ride through a civil war torn China. It’s beautifully photographed by Oscar winner Lee Garmes. Most will find it dated, but for some that will make the film even more mystical. Marlene is Shanghai Lily, Clive Brook is her old flame who she meets and kind of hooks up with again, Warner Oland is a sadistic war lord and Anna May Wong a young partisan. A gem that didn’t get on the list because I haven’t seen it in around 15 years.
Design for Living (1933) Director Ernst Lubitsch
Ben Hecht adapted Noel Coward’s racy play about two Americans sharing a flat in Paris, playwright Tom (Frederic March) and painter George (Gary Cooper, both fall for Gilda (Miriam Hopkins). She can’t make up her mind who she likes better and designs a "gentleman's agreement": She will move in as a friend and critic of their work but they won’t have sex. When Tom goes to London, will Gilda and George forget about the gentleman agreement? Quite a sexy pre-code farce you’ll find here. A few slow moments barely keeps it off the top of this list.
The Invisible Man (1933)
Somewhat dated, more than a few gaffes, and special effects you'll be able to see through (oh aren't I funny?), this one still entertains as Claude Rains becomes invisible and goes more than a little mad in the English country side. The special effects once completely dazzled it's audience which I try to imagine when I watch it and sometimes succeed. James Whale directing yet another horror classic has John Carradine and Walter Brennan in bit parts along with Gloria (Titanic) Stuart and Dwight Frye in larger ones.
She Done Him Wrong (1933) Director Lowell Sherman
Mae Wests Diamond Lil is adapted into Mae’s first starring vehicle. Dated now, but once very risqué and daring. It was a huge success and put Cary Grant on the map as a rising star. Mae is Lady Lou a New York singer and nightclub owner Lady Lou has lots of men friends but one of them is a vicious criminal who’s escaped and is on his way to his girl—who hasn’t been sitting around waiting for him. Cary Grant plays a temperance league leader named Captain Cummings.
Murders in the Zoo (1933) Director Edward Sutherland
Here's a film which was released just before the code went into full effect. It's a nasty (for it's day) low budget film. Lionel Atwill plays a very jealous , and we soon find out, quite sadistic zoo-keeper. He's throwing people to snakes, and alligators and leaves one man to die after he sows the poor chap's mouth shut. Kathleen Burke (who played the Panther Girl in Island of Lost Souls) is the wife and a very young Randolph Scott is the hero here. Try it. Directed by Edward Sutherland. Scott wouldn't become a star for several more years after a boost from Mae West in her film, Go West Young Man.
Captain Blood (1935) Director Michael Curtiz
It is England in the 17th Century an Irish physician Dr. Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) is convicted of treason for treating the wounds of a rebel. He is sentenced to death, but winds up being shipped to Port Royal were he is sold into slavery. The beautiful Arabella Bishop (Olivia De Haviland) buys him for 20 pounds. He makes friend with an ex-con, escapes on a boat that is then attacked when Spain attacks. The slaves steal the ship, Captain Blood becomes a pirate and then discovers Arabella has been captured by a rival pirate. He must rescue her and return her to Port Royal. But Port Royal is under attack by the French who is at war with England (under a new King). Does Captain Blood become a hero? Is this a Hollywood movie with Errol Flynn? It made Flynn and De Haviland international stars.
Werewolf of London (1935)
The original (more or less) and still the best though very dated Werewolf movie. Henry Hull (the finest classical actor to ever turn into a wolfman) is a botanist in Tibet and is bitten by werewolf Warner Oland. In London the doctor's fight over the rare moon flower that is the only known cure for their condition. Hull fears he'll kill his wife–the one he loves most. Still works, and the set-up is almost identical to one of the greatest guilty pleasure movies of all time: THE MANSTER (the one you can never remember the title of where eyes and then a head grows out of a poor suckers shoulder).
A Night at the Opera (1935) Director Sam Wood
The Marx Brothers begin their work at MGM in the movie Groucho thought was his best. Some of the scenes were done as stage skits for live audiences before being included in the film. Allen Jones and Kitty Carlisle play the straight romantic leads and warble some decent operetta tunes. One comic bit after another with highlights including the contract, “Party of the First Part” getting ripped to shreds, and the state room scene (you know small room w/too many people). Inventive, funny, a classic.
The Devil-Doll (1936) Director Tod Browning
The special effects are still pretty impressive in this Tod Browning directed horror classic (he would make just one more film after this). It's dated but has a few still effective scenes and is worth seeing. Lionel Barrymore escapes from Devil's Island after being unjustly sentenced. He uses a serum he's stolen from his fellow prisoner to make tiny people. He disguises himself as a nice old lady running a doll shop and sends 12 inch people out to rob and kill his crooked ex-partners. Maureen O'Sullivan plays his daughter. The best shrunken people film (yes better than Dr. Cyclops and of course Attack of the Puppet People ) ever made.
Easy Living (1937) Director Mitchel Leisen
J.B. Ball, a rich financier, gets fed up with his free-spending family. He takes his wife's just-bought (very expensive) sable coat and throws it out the window, it lands on poor hard-working girl Mary Smith. But it isn't so easy to just give away something so valuable, as he soon learns. Oh those wonderful complications…. Co-written by Preston Sturges. Starrin Ray Milland and Jean Arthur.
Lost Horizon (1937) Director Frank Capra
British diplomat Robert Conway (Ronald Coleman) and a small group of civilians crash land in the Himalayas, and are rescued by the people of the mysterious, Eden-like valley of Shangri-la. Protected by the mountains from the world outside, where the clouds of World War II are gathering, Shangri-la provides a seductive escape for the world-weary Conway. It’s a wonderful pacifist story (based on the James Hilton novel) turned into a Hollywood romantic escapism helmed by Capra who makes it all work beautifully. 20 minutes of edited footage has been restored!!!
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) Director Ben Sharpsteen
Walt Disney's groundbreaking animated feature film is the first feature length U.S. animated feature. It takes a dark horrifying fairy tale and turns it into a warm humorous family fable. The 7 dwarfs personality are memorable, the animation beautifully done, the songs catchy and fun. The witch scary and evil. A great animated classic dwarfed by a nose by Pinocchio. (punny guy).
Dead End (1937) Directory William Wyler
Lilian Hellman adapts the popular stage play by Sidney Kingsley. Gangster Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart) goes back to the East Side street where he grew up to see his mother, who denounces him as a murderer, and his childhood girlfriend who is now a streetwalker. It’s a long fateful day in the neighborhood. Effective comic relief provided by the Dead End Kids who would become the East Side Kids and then The Bowery Boys. They started with Billy Hallop, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, Gabriel Dell, Leo Gorcey etc. Dated and overly melodramatic but still very entertaining.
You Only Live Once (1937) Director Fritz Lang
The film is a downer and it’s a dated depression era tale loosely based on the Bonnie and Clyde story, but still very much worth seeing. Henry Fonda gives an impressive performance as an ex-con who wants to change. He tries to cross into Canada with his girlfriend finding fate is against him.
J'accuse! (1938) Director Abel Gance
After serving in the trenches of World War I, Jean Diaz recoils with such horror that he renounces love and personal pleasure to immerse himself in scientific research, seeking a machine to prevent war. He thinks he has succeeded, but the government subverts his discovery, and Europe slides with seeming inevitability toward World War II. In desperation, Diaz summons the ghosts of the war dead from the graves and fields of France to give silent, accusing protest. Powerful Abel Gance directed anti-war gem. Just a tad below All Quiet in my book, but a classic none-the-less.
The Lady Vanishes (1938 - British) Director Alfred Hitchcock
A delicious old fashioned mystery comedy given a Hitchcock polish. An old woman disappears during a train ride and this leads a young woman into a complicated web of intrigue. Naunton Wayne and Basic Radford play a pair of dim wits so effectively they repeated their roles in several films. The script by Frank launder and Sidney Gilliat was based on the novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White.
Gone with the Wind (1939) Director Victor Fleming
Perhaps you’ve heard of this film before, huh? It’s not the greatest movie ever made, but it effectively tells most of Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel as a huge melodramatic Hollywood soap opera. Set during the Civil War it became the most successful film of all time. It focuses on Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, (Vivian Leigh). We also meet that rogue Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard); Hattie McDaniel became the first black oscar winner. Sidney Howard who wrote the screenplay (died before winning the Oscar). Max Steiner did the unforgettable musical score. It was produced by David O. Selznick.
Destry Rides Again (1939) Director George Marshall
Max Brand’s classic story was made into movies 3 times. This was the 2nd time and it was the best. A lawless Western town is under the stranglehold of the manipulative Kent who in an outrageous move has the Sheriff killed and forces the mayor to appoint the town drunk as the new sheriff. But the drunk once served under famous lawman Tom Destry and he calls upon Tom Destry Jr. to help restore law and order to the town. The cast includes Brian Donlevy, James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich who makes a career comeback singing the memorable “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have” which was the inspiration for Madeline Kahn’s performance in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles.
Other great 1939 films included:
Wuthering Heights, Roaring Twenties, Gunga Din, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Beau Geste, Babes in Arms, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Dark Victory, Dodge City, Drums Along the Mohawk, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, Golden Boy, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Made for Each Other , Only Angels Have Wings, Ninotchka and Four Feathers all released in 1939.
Thanks for reading through these favorite films of mine from the 1930s. Let me know if I’ve forgotten one of your favorites.
Part 1 or the 1930s is here: http://www.epinions.com/content_4059996292
The 1940’s begin here: http://www.epinions.com/content_4012548228
The Great Silent Features are here: http://www.epinions.com/content_4008943748
The Great Silent Shorts are here: http://www.epinions.com/content_4007698564
Copyright© Christopher J. Jarmick 2004
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