Sunday, August 30, 2009

Master List #18: The 101 Best Films of the 1930s

Even though the planet's mired in a similarly decade-defining depression, the movies of the 1930s are rooted so distantly away from the noisy present that watching them makes one obsess over how much life has seemingly since wriggled backwards or hence. They really feel not of this earth. Their striking opulence and risky experimentation; their steadfast dedication to amusement (there are more comedies, musicals, love stories, action movies, horror tales and animated works on this list than on the roster of any other decade I've examined); their directorial, craft, and acting confections--all float fathoms above the well-moneyed drabness we're seeing screened today; when you see a '30s movie, you're absolutely transported elsewhere--that is, if you give them the proper attention. (For those who may exclaim "I don't like old movies": my heart goes out to ya but a word of advise: forget about the pace of the editing, the less-"real" acting style, and the quietude and REALLY pay attention to the unusual--hell, mind-blowing--quality of these movies). To boot, they're entertaining and smart--and I'm taking it incredibly easy on the hyperbole here.

Largely message-less (and when messages were sent to audiences, they often arrived in the unlikely packaging of Duck Soup and Modern Times), these 101 movies transmit rich emotions all their own--a toasty glow and snazzy rap that's impossible to recreate. The era gave light to directorial greats like Chaplin, Hawks, Hitchcock, Ford, Whale, Curtiz, McCarey, Eisenstein, Browning, Vigo, Renoir, Lang, Wyler, Capra, Disney, Dave Fleicher, and even the infamous Leni Riefenstahl. Then, on screen, you see James Stewart, John Wayne, the Marx Brothers, Boris Karloff, Greta Garbo, Vivian Leigh, Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, W.C. Fields, Jean Harlow, Myrna Low, William Powell, James Cagney, Peter Lorre, The Little Rascals, Edward G. Robinson, Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, Popeye, King Kong, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis and...sheesh, you could go on and on. It don't matter if these movie don't make your heart palpitate like a modern Michael Bay epic: obviously, with such a glittery roll call, the 1930s ranks as very nearly the greatest decade ever for film achievement. So here, evaluated by (1) overall quality, (2) historical importance, (3) influence, and (4) personal affection, are my choices (with one-line synopses to be added later):

1) City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 31)
2) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 39)
3) Stagecoach (John Ford, 39)
4) Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 33)
5) Gone With The Wind (Victor Fleming/David O. Selznick et al., 39)
6) Vampyr (Carl Th. Dreyer, 32)
7) Twentieth Century (Howard Hawks, 34)
8) The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 35)
9) Modern Times (Charles Chaplin, 36)
10) The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, 38)
11) Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 38)
12) Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (David Hand/Walt Disney, 37)
13) 42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon, 32)
14) Queen Christina (Rouben Mamoulian, 33)
15) M (Fritz Lang, 31)
16) Alexander Nevsky (Sergei Eisenstein & Dmitri Vasilyev, 38)
17) The Music Box (James Parrott, 32)
18) L'Age D'Or (Luis Bunuel, 30)
19) The Tale of the Fox (Wladyslaw and Irene Starewicz, 30)
20) Freaks (Tod Browning, 32)
21) Frankenstein (James Whale, 31)
22) The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda, 33)
23) Zero For Conduct (Jean Vigo, 33)
24) L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 34)
25) Olympia (Leni Riefenstahl, 38)
26) Fury (Fritz Lang, 36)
27) The Old Mill (Wilfred Jackson/Walt Disney, 37)
28) It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 34)
29) Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 39)
30) The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming et al., 39)
31) Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (Howard Hawks, 31)
32) The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock, 35)
33) The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 37)
34) King Kong (Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 33)
35) It's A Gift (Norman Z. McLeod, 34)
36) Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 35)
37) The Criminal Code (Howard Hawks, 31)
38) The Rules of the Game (Jean Remoir, 39)
39) The Blue Angel (Josef von Sternberg, 30)
40) The Public Enemy (William Wellman, 31)
41) All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone, 30)
42) The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 38)
43) Nothing Sacred (William Wellman, 37)
44) A Night at the Opera (Sam Wood, 35)
45) Dinner at Eight (George Cukor, 33)
46) The Front Page (Lewis Milestone, 31)
47) Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 35)
48) The Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke, 34)
49) Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 38)
50) Gunga Din (Howard Hawks, 39)
51) Lost Horizon (Frank Capra, 37)
52) Gulliver's Travels (Dave Fleischer, 39)
53) I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy, 32)
54) Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor, 35)
55) Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, 39)
56) The Petrified Forest (Archie Mayo, 36)
57) The Old Dark House (James Whale, 32)
58) Murder (Alfred Hitchcock, 30)
59) Pygmalion (Anthony Asquith, 38)
60) Little Caesar (Mervyn Leroy, 31)
61) My Man Godfrey (Gregory LaCava, 36)
62) I Love to Singa (Tex Avery, 36)
63) Things to Come (William Cameron Menzies, 36)
64) Popeye the Sailor (Dave Fleischer, 33)
65) Babes in Arms (Busby Berkeley, 39)
66) Way Out West (James W. Horne, 37)
67) Minnie the Moocher (Dave Fleischer, 32)
68) Captain Blood (Michael Curtiz, 35)
69) A Midsummer Night's Dream (William Dieterle & Max Reinhardt, 35)
70) Boudu Saved From Drowning (Jean Renoir, 32)
71) Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (Frank Capra, 36)
72) The Most Dangerous Game (Irving Pichel & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 32)
73) Ferdinand The Bull (Walt Disney, 38)
74) Intermezzo (Gustaf Molander, 36)
75) Monkey Business (Norman Z. McLeod, 31)
76) The Band Concert (Wilfred Jackson/Walt Disney, 35)
77) Destry Rides Again (George Marshall, 39)
78) Alice in Wonderland (Mervyn LeRoy, 33)
79) Angels with Dirty Faces (Michael Curtiz, 38)
80) These Three (William Wyler, 36)
81) Dead End (William Wyler, 37)
82) Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch, 39)
83) Horse Feathers (Norman Z. McLeod, 32)
84) Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, 32)
85) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (William Dieterle, 39)
86) Goodbye Mr. Chips (Sam Wood, 39)
87) Sons of the Desert (William A. Seiter, 33)
88) Mutiny on the Bounty (Frank Lloyd, 35)
89) The Mystery of the Wax Museum (Michael Curtiz, 33)
90) Of Human Bondage (John Cromwell, 34)
91) A Tale of Two Cities (Jack Conway, 35)
92) Bored of Education (Gordon Douglas/Hal Roach, 35)
93) Dodsworth (William Wyler, 36)
94) The Bat Whispers (Roland West, 30)
95) The Green Pastures (Marc Connelly & William Keighley, 36)
96) A Day at the Races (Sam Wood, 37)
97) Man on the Flying Trapeze (Clyde Bruckman, 35)
98) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Norman Taurog, 38)
99) The Big House (George W. Hill, 30)
100) The Champ (King Vidor, 31)
101) Flowers and Trees (Walt Disney, 32)


Jose Sinclair said...

good list..

I would add The Rains Came, Oscar for special effects for 39 over Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind - terrific effects of the earthquake and flood with fleeing crowds, most expensive up to that time I believe.. also a great dramatic performance by Myrna Loy

the Jman, Worlds Best Films

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Nice lists ...
Why wasn't THE PHILADELPHIA STORY in your list. Was it an oversight or do you not like it...if you don't like it...why?

Dean Treadway said...

Well, actually, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is from 1940. But it's not on the 40s list, either. It's a movie I respect, but I don't find it (personally) particularly funny or well-filmed. I've only seen it twice, and a long time ago (on the big screen the last time). Sorry that I didn't include it, but I couldn't in good conscience. Tell me why you liked it (besides the casting, which is obviously monumental).

Sam Juliano said...

Hello Dean. Hope all is well. Your updates are missed.