December 2009


It was just pointed out to me that I have City Lights in two positions on my top 100 of the 1930s list. So I scroll down and I see that, yes, I also posted it as #74. So I go back and look at the list, and I realize that I can’t read. #74 is City Girl, not City Lights. So tomorrow I will do a write up for City Girl, post it separately to makes up for the fact that I didn’t post it where it was supposed to go, and then put it in the right post.

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Academy Award winning actress Jennifer Jones passed away today in Malibu at the age of 90.

Jones won an Oscar in 1943 for The Song of Bernadette. She was nominated four other times, for Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Duel In the Sun, Love Letters, and Since You Went Away.

I don’t really talk about Jennifer Jones a lot on this site, but she really is one of my all time favorites. She’s definitely very high on my list of actresses working in the 1940s. Portrait of Jennie is one of my all time favorite movies. It’s an incredible love story, and Jones’ performance is amazing. She plays Jennie from a child (I believe she starts the story at 10 years old) to an adult, and she’s believable at every stage of her life. She also manages to imbue the character with an otherworldly feel that’s essential to the character. Joseph Cotten was her leading man in this one, and I think he was easily her best leading man.

She also made Love Letters with Cotten. It’s a bizarre movie that’s kind of impossible to explain without ruining. But it’s really fantastic. It’s weird and twisty and just so damn good, and Jones gives another stellar performance. It’s a difficult character, with some serious emotional and psychological problems, but she also needs to be convincing in her romance with Cotten, and Jones pulls off both sides of the character perfectly.

I also love her in an underseen Lubitch film, the endlessly charming Cluny Brown.  Her performance is really essential to the film. Played by a lesser actress, the character could have easily come out as supremely annoying. But Jones makes her so funny and lovable.

Madame Bovary doesn’t get a lot of attention, but I think it’s a pretty great movie.  Her character does bad things and Jones is able to make the character sympathetic without condoning her actions. And she infuses her with an incredible amount of passion.

Jones does have a few missteps in her filmography, particularly her two remakes, A Farewell to Arms and The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Both movies are pretty terrible, pale imitations of their originals, but that’s not Jones’ fault, of course.

Really, compared to other stars of the studio era, Jones’ filmography is pretty short. In her 35 years in Hollywood, she made only 27 films (when you look at a lot of stars from the 1930 and 1940s, they’ll have 80, 90, sometimes over 100 films to their credit). But with the exception of a few films, all of her works was wonderful. Hers is definitely a case of quality over quantity, and she will definitely be missed.

By Katie Richardson

You guys get two entries since you went so long without. Yay!

60. Life Begins (James Flood, 1932)
There are some movies from the 1930s that are really fascinating looks into the way the world worked back then. Some things were just so drastically different. Life Begins is one of those film. It’s about the maternity ward of a hospital and the many women who occupy it. It’s so strange to see the way a hospital maternity ward worked at the time. But outside of being an interesting 1930s slice of life, Life Begins is a really excellent movie about, well… life. Young plays an expectant mother who’s been checked into the maternity ward knowing that once her child is born she’ll be returning to prison to finish out a manslaughter sentence.  Glenda Farrell plays another expectant mother, a carefree showgirl. This is a very emotionally charged movie about the start of a new life and all the complications that brings.

059. Scarface: The Shame of the Nation (Howard Hawks, 1932)
Howard Hawks’ violent, completely insane Scarface: The Shame of the Nation is without a doubt one of the best and most important gangster films of all time. Paul Muni give an amazing performance as Tony Camonte, the overly ambitious and kind of crazy protagonist of the film. It’s completely fearless and shameless. The supporting cast is excellent as well. George Raft (who had real-life mob ties) plays Tony’s closest confidant, the lovely and alluring Karen Morley plays his love interest, and Ann Dvorak is flat out incredible as his little sister. There is, of course, a shocking amount of incestuous subtext, which just make this movie all the more fascinating. It’s easiest the most balls-to-the-wall crazy mobster movie of the classic era.

057. Jezebel (William Wyler, 1938)
Bette Davis was never more beautiful than she was in William Wyler’s period romance Jezebel. And her performance is absolutely wonderful (she won her second Best Actress Oscar for it). She makes Julie a more arrogant, beautiful, glorious, simpering mess of a southern belle than Scarlet O’Hara could ever hope to be. William Wyler, despite coming form Europe, just got the American South. (He also directed Davis in the exquisite Southern masterpiece The Little Foxes in 1940.) It’s a shame he never directed a Faulkner adaptation. The two would have been an absolutely perfect fit. Davis is paired here with Henry Fonda, and the two are an excellent screen team. They had loads and loads of chemistry.

057. Four’s a Crowd (Michael Curtiz, 1938)
Love triangles are a pretty ordinary thing in romantic comedies. Love squares are less common. Especially love squares as completely nuts as this. Not only is it a totally crazy love square romantic comedy, but it’s also a newspaper movie, too. Be still my heart! And it even has a twist ending. That’s right, it’s a romantic comedy with a twist ending. Up until the last minute, you’re not really sure who’s going to end up with who. It really could go any way. Michael Curtiz is one of the most underappreciated directors of all time in my opinion. He gets a lot of recognition for Casablanca, but so few recognize the really solid work he did as a studio director. He could do literally every genre, and he proved with Four’s a Crowd that he could do excellent work in the screwball comedy genre.

056. The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Sidney Franklin, 1934)
Hmmm… two movies with strong incestuous undertones in one post. That’s  a little bit weird. Anyhoo, the film is based on the true love story between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  But while the romance is very important to the movie, the story is more about the growth of Elizabeth Barrett as a person, and away from her family. Producer Irving Thalberg was big on adapting stage plays to the screen, and while the camera work isn’t particularly creative (it’s often criticized as being basically a films play) the story is still told beautifully. Shearer and Charles Laughton give career best performance. Laughton plays Elizabeth’s father, who love clearly goes beyond fatherly affection. Due to the Production Code, the Hayes Office ordered a re-write of the script to tone down the incestuous subtext, but Laughton famously said, “They can’t censor the gleam in my eye.”

By Katie Richardson

065. It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934)
The first film to sweep the major awards at the Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress), It Happened One Night is the quintessential Romantic Road Screwball Comedy. Lots of subgenres there. Before Capra started making his well-known “Cpra Corn”, he made some of the best and most subversive films of the 1930s. It Happened One Night is a battle of the sexes, with Gable and Colbert squaring off, verbally sparring, and of course, falling in love. They’re a perfect match, both stubborn and strong willed. I would have loved to see Robert Montgomery in the role (it was originally offered to him, he turned it down), but Gable really is fantastic. In addition to being a wonderful battle of the sexes comedy, it’s also a great illustration of the class divide during the Great Depression.

064. Stage Door (George Stevens, 1937)
Stage Door is a collection of some of the best character actress working in the 1930s. Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers head up the cast, and both give great performances (I’d give the edge to Rogers), but really, I think the movie is all about the supporting actresses who live in the boarding house with Rogers and Hepburn. Some of them were actresses who would become much bigger stars a few years later. Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Eve Arden, Gail Patrick. Particularly noteworthy is Andrea Leeds. In a movie with big names like Roger, Hepburn, and Adolphe Menjou, it was Leeds who nabbed the Oscar nod with her devastating performance as an actress who had a brief moment of success, only to fall back hard.

063. A Farewell to Arms (Frank Borzage, 1932)
It’s kind of strange that Borzage made so many films about war. Sure, the idea of war generally work well with a lot of his themes. But he hated war so much that he usually had someone else film battle scenes in his films. Nevertheless, A Farewell to Arms, based on the Hemingway novel, it one of Borzage’s many amazing pre-code films. Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, both giving great performances,  fall in love during WWI. I’m a sucker for WWI movies (there really aren’t enough of them), especially when they’re directed by Frank Borzage and they’re about the spiritual power of love. Helen Hayes’ performance is particularly noteworthy here. I think she was one of the best actresses of the 1930s, and I wish she had spent more time in Hollywood rather than on the stage in New York. She had an extremely natural and down to earth style.

062. The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937)
Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth is probably the best example of the remarriage comedy. At the beginning of the movie, Cary Grant and Irene Dunne decide to divorce, and the rest of the movie is spent awaiting their divorce and falling back in love. I like the remarriage comedy because it so often starts at where a story would typically end. In addition to being the perfect example of this subgenre, The Awful Truth is also flat out hilarious. Cary Grant and Irene Dunner were two of the most talented comedians of the silver screen, and they worked brilliantly together. I so prefer Dunne in comedy over drama. I tend ot find her really dull in dramas, but she really comes to life in the best bubbly way possible in comedy.

061. Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon, 1933)
First of all, I love Footlight Parade for it’s amazing cast. James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Frank McHugh, Ruth Donnelly, Guy Kibbee, Claire Dodd. That’ one hell of an amazing ensemble. Cagney and Blondell are one of the all time great screen couples. They were simply made for each other. Their back and forth bantering is so perfect. Busby Berkeley choreographed many films in the 1930s (and you can always tell which ones are his), and Footlight Parade might be his most impressive effort. The musical numbers are just astounding.

By Katie Richardson

Well, not really. The virus itself is still wreaking havoc on my computer. (I have no sound, whee!) But I did defeat the thing keeping me from the site. For some reason, the virus kicked my internet security into high gear (despite the fact the the anti-virus/internet security was not actually doing anything about the virus) and it was no longer allowing me to go to mail or news sites. And for some reason, wordpress was categorized as news.

So I just said frak it and I deleted the Internet Security thingum I was using, and now I can see the site just fine. So I’ll be updating with a new entry to the Top Films of the 1930s today.

Thanks to James for posting that message for me!

Hi everybody!

Katie contacted me today and asked if I would communicate a message. She is currently experiencing a virus problem with her computer. Steps are being taken to resolve her issues and she should be back online soon.

For my part, I have not submitted a review in several weeks. I plan to change that starting this weekend.

Happy holidays,

–jw