Wednesday, April 1, 2009

1939 (The 9 Years, Part 1)

As we are now in 2009, we can expect to see a great many articles trumpeting the 70th anniversary of the fabled "Best Movie Year," 1939. This is tradition, dating back probably to every 9 year of every movie-oriented decade.

But is 1939 really the best year for movies? I don't know about that. It was undeniably magnificent, but after the watershed year 1979, I started having my doubts. In 1989, I started noticing a trend. And in 1999, I was positive I was on to something.

I have a theory: that the 9 year in every decade is the best of that period. Why? I can only surmise that filmmakers working during the decade in question want to get out their final word on the era, and thus save their best for last. But, in the end, who really knows why: maybe it's simply just chance working here. Still, it's a very definable trend.

So, now we look at the origin of this trend. I withhold from making extensive comments, because many of these titles have entered into the filmmaking canon. As filmfans, we should all know about many of these masterworks. At any rate:

70 years ago came the first of the great movie years:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (the first appearance of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as the famed Holmes and Dr. Watson)

Angels Wash Their Faces (the sequel to Angels with Dirty Faces, with the Dead End Kids and Ronald Reagan as the cop that gives 'em gas)

Another Thin Man (the second Thin Man movie, with William Powell and Myrna Loy)

At The Circus (the ninth Marx Brothers movie)

Babes in Arms (the best of the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musicals)

Beau Geste (William Wellman's Sahara adventure classic, with Gary Cooper, Robert Preston and Ray Milland)

Buck Rogers (Buster Crabbe's first outing as the science-fiction hero)

The Cat and the Canary (Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in the fifth, and funniest, of the mystery's six filmings)

Dark Victory (Bette Davis, in an Oscar-nominated performance; Humphrey Bogart co-stars)

Destry Rides Again (James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich in George Seaton's classic comedy-western)

Drums Along The Mohawk (Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert in John Ford's pre-Revolutionary-War drama)

Each Dawn I Die (landmark prison film starring James Cagney and George Raft)

The Four Feathers (UK, Zoltan Korda)

Gone With The Wind (the Civil War classic, and the most popular movie of all time, with Gable, Leigh, Howard, De Havilland, Hattie MacDaniel, and Thomas Mitchell; directed by Victor Fleming, among others)

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Robert Donat, Oscar-winner as Best Actor)

Gulliver’s Travels (Max Fleicher's adaptation of the Jonathan Swift fable; the first non-Disney feature-length animated film)

Gunga Din (US, George Stevens) (an epic masterpiece)

The Hound of the Baskervilles (the most famous of the Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Charles Laughton, unforgettable as the Hunchback; Thomas Mitchell co-stars)

Intermezzo (Ingrid Bergman, recreating her breakthrough role in Gregory Ratoff's remake of her Swedish hit, with Gone With The Wind's Ashley, Leslie Howard, as co-star)

The Little Princess (US, Walter Lang) (a vehicle for the #1 US box office star Shirley Temple)

Love Affair (Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer in Leo McCarey's Oscar-nominated romance)

Made for Each Other (James Stewart and Carole Lombard)

The Man in the Iron Mask (the first of six versions of Alexandre Dumas' literary classic, directed by James Whale)

Midnight (Mitchell Leisen-directed comedy, screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, with Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra's America-loving classic, with James Stewart, Jean Arthur, and Thomas Mitchell)

Ninotchka (Greta Garbo classic, co-written by Billy Wilder and directed by Ernst Lubischt)

Of Mice and Men (Lewis Milestone adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel, with Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney, Jr.)

The Oklahoma Kid (very rare western with James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart)

Only Angels Have Wings (action-romance with Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth and Thomas Mitchell)

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Michael Curtiz-directed historical drama with Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia De Havilland and Vincent Price)

The Rains Came (adventure-romance with Myrna Loy and Tyrone Power; Oscar-winning special effects)

The Roaring Twenties (seminal gangster picture with Cagney and Bogart)

The Rules of the Game (groundbreaking French film by Jean Renoir)

Son of Frankenstein (the third in the series, with Boris Karloff)

Stagecoach (John Ford western classic, with John Wayne; Thomas Mitchell won the Supporting Actor Oscar for it)

Stanley and Livingstone (adventure film with Spencer Tracy)

The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (biopic with Don Ameche and Henry Fonda; "Watson, come here...I need you")

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (musical biopic with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers)

Tower of London (horrific retelling of Richard III saga with Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff)

The Wizard of Oz (the most referenced movie of all time; the musical with Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Burt Lahr)

The Women (US, George Cukor) (a singular piece reflecting the power of women in Hollywood storytelling) 

Wuthering Heights (George Cukor's adaptation of Emily Bronte's romantic novel, with Lawrence Olivier and Merle Oberon)

Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford's biopic, with Henry Fonda as the USA's finest president)

The greatest movie year of all time? Maybe. The tally:

1939: 45 titles

Certainly for Thomas Mitchell it was an incredible year! He was in five of these 45 landmark movies (he ended up winning the 1939 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the colorful drunkard in John Ford's Stagecoach. And, speaking of John Ford, he directed THREE of the titles mentioned here--a real achievement. But we shall see if 1939 was the greatest year for movies. Stay tuned...I'm working up to something here. Part 2 of The 9 Years article, chronicling 1949, is next...


Samuel Wilson said...

Million Dollar Legs is actually from 1932, being tied in to the Los Angeles Olympics of that year -- but I'll give you two for the price of one: Each Dawn I Die (Cagney and George Raft in prison) and Tower of London (Rathbone as Richard III, supported by Karloff).

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Dean Treadway said...

Thanks, guys! I'll go to your site, Tennen-Parman---really appreciate the link. And, Sam, thanks so much for the catch. For some reason, the IMDB had MILLION DOLLAR LEGS come up in a search for 1939 movies. But I've added the two films you so rightfully suggested to added to the list. How could I have missed them? They're magnificent.

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auto insurance quotes said...

You might be onto something there. But I am not sure about 2009 though. That year might prove your theory wrong or force you to have a look at it again.

Max Light Rail said...

what an interesting story it is! Not all of them but I do like your post. do not give up and keep writing about the fact that it is simply to follow.