The decade of the 1930s was a tough era in American History. The Great Depressed had paralyzed society, and millions of people were out of work. Still though, the movies were a great escape for people. The movies of that era kind of reflected a lot of the fantasy and escapism that the country needed. Here are my five favorite movies of that decade:
5. FREAKS (1932)
It is one of the most bizarre films I have ever seen, but I can not stop watching it. The movie was unavailable for years, but it is widely available now and shown on TCM often. Directed and produced by Tod Browning and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the cast was mostly composed of actual carnival (funfair) performers. The film was based on Tod Robbins' 1923 short story "Spurs". Director Browning took the exceptional step of casting real people with deformities as the eponymous sideshow "freaks," rather than using costumes and makeup. The film was panned when it was released in 1932, but beginning in the early 1960s, Freaks was rediscovered as a counterculture cult film, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the film was regularly shown at midnight movie screenings at several movie theaters in the United States.
4. CITY LIGHTS (1931)
Even though I have many Charlie Chaplin movies on my list of favorites, I think this silent film is actually one of the best the movie genius ever filmed. Although "talking" pictures were on the rise since 1928, City Lights was immediately popular. Today, it is thought of as one of the highest accomplishments of Chaplin's prolific career. Although classified as a comedy, City Lights has an ending widely regarded as one of the most moving in cinema history. The plot of City Lights gradually grew from this initial concept. Chaplin first thought of the film's famous final scene where the newly cured blind girl sees the Little Tramp for the first time. Chaplin wrote a highly detailed description of the scene and considered it to the the center of the entire film. Chaplin officially began pre-production of the film in May 1928 and hired Austrian art director Henry Clive to design the sets that summer. Chaplin eventually cast Clive in the role of the millionaire. Chaplin came up with the idea for the movie at the same time his mother passed away, and the viewer can see the tenderness and sadness in the movie.
3. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
It is hard to write something new about The Wizard Of Oz. What more can you write about a movie that is this beloved and this written about. The film is mostly in Technicolor, but its opening and closing sequences are in sepia-tinted black-and-white, including all of the film's credits. It was directed primarily by Victor Fleming. Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf received credit for the screenplay, but there were uncredited contributions by others. The lyrics for the songs were written by E.Y. Harburg, the music by Harold Arlen. Incidental music, based largely on the songs, was by Herbert Stothart, with borrowings from classical composers. Although the film received largely positive reviews, it was not a huge box office success on its initial release, earning only $3,017,000 on a $2,000,000 budget. The film was MGM's most expensive production up to that time, but its initial release failed to recoup the studio's investment. Subsequent re-releases made up for that, however. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It lost that award to Gone with the Wind, but won two others, including Best Original Song for "Over the Rainbow". MGM wanted Shirley Temple to be their Dorothy, but Judy Garland ended up getting the role. I can not picture the movie without her.
2. FRANKENSTEIN (1931)
There has been many movie incarnations of Mary Shelly's famous 1818 novel, but I think this early talkie with Boris Karloff as the Monster is about the best. The 1931 film from Universal Pictures directed by James Whale and adapted from the play by Peggy Webling, which in turn is based on the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley. The film stars Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles and Boris Karloff and features Dwight Frye and Edward van Sloan. The Webling play was adapted by John L. Balderston and the screenplay written by Francis Edward Faragoh and Garrett Fort with uncredited contributions from Robert Florey and John Russell. The make-up artist was the great Jack Pierce. Even though the film was made in the pre-code era before 1934, many scenes were controversial for its time. The scene in which the monster throws the little girl into the lake and accidentally drowns her has long been controversial. Upon its original 1931 release, the second part of this scene was cut by state censorship boards in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York. Those states also objected to a line they considered blasphemous, one that occurred during Frankenstein's exuberance when he first learns that his creature is alive. The original line was: "It's alive! It's alive! In the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!" Now 80 years after the movie's release, the short 71 minute movie is considered pretty tame, but it was ground breaking in 1931.
1. KING KONG (1933)
Another movie that has been remade countless times, King Kong is a Pre-Code 1933 Giant monster Adventure film directed and produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The screenplay was by Ruth Rose and James Ashmore Creelman from a story by Cooper and Edgar Wallace. It stars Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot and Robert Armstrong, and opened in New York City on March 2, 1933 to rave reviews. The film tells of a gigantic island-dwelling ape creature called Kong who dies in an attempt to possess a beautiful young woman. Kong is distinguished for its stop-motion animation by Willis O'Brien and its musical score by Max Steiner. Before King Kong hit the silver screen, a long tradition of jungle films existed, and, whether drama or documentary, such films generally adhered to a narrative pattern that followed an explorer or scientist into the jungle to test a theory only to discover some monstrous aberration in the undergrowth. In such films, scientific knowledge could be turned topsy-turvy at any time and it was this that provided the genre with its vitality, appeal, and endurance. Merian C. Cooper wanted King Kong to be more of an ape, but Willis O'Brien wanted King Kong to be more of a human being. A compromise was met with King Kong being made into an apeman. This was Brien's third time creating an apeman, as he had previously created an apeman for his short film The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy and The Lost World. The movie made actress Fay Wray a star, even though the real attraction was the ape. One of my favorite movie lines of all time in the line spoken by Robert Armstrong at the end of the film after Kong was dead. He commented "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes...it was Beauty killed the Beast."
I never realized that the 1930s were such a prolific year for movie making. A lot of tremendous movies were made, and although Gone With The Wind (1939) is one of the most popular films of all time, it has never been a favorite movie of mine. Here are some of the honorable mentions for the 1930s: The Public Enemy (1931), 42nd Street (1933), Show Boat (1936), The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939), and Of Mice And Men (1939).