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The 10 Best Films of the 1930s

Hollywood’s studio-system magic peaked in the glamorous 1930s, when movies were by far the nation’s most important and most loved form of entertainment. Also check out picks for the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, and the '00s.

by
Kyle Smith

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July 25, 2014 - 4:00 pm
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10. Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

The Dead Poets Society model for movies about teachers who create endless opportunity by opening up the potential of young minds can be traced to this heartfelt British boarding-school classic, whose title character was so unforgettable that Robert Donat captured the Best Actor Oscar over Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind.

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All Quiet On the Western Front
The Big Trail
The Blue Angel
The Public Enemy
Scarface
King Kong
The Thin Man
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Captain Blood
Bride of Frankenstein
A Night At the Opera
Topper
Captains Courageous
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Blockheads
Bringing Up Baby
Gone With the Wind
The Wizard of Oz
Dodge City
Only Angels Have Wings
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (23)
All Comments   (23)
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It wasn't just the stories or the actors, it was the height of real (though completely manufactured) glamor. The "studio system" is the only example of "central planning" I know of that produced very good results.

The medium itself was richer and softer as were the instruments used to produce it. Check ebay to see how much Cooke lenses of the period are going for! The images were like warm blankets to wrap the audience, not sharp edged digital/LED assaults on the senses.

We will never see the equal of motion pictures from this era again. Nor of the stars, cinematographers, photographers and other magicians who made it possible.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Also Little Miss Broadway (1938) with Shirley Temple!
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
I like also Harmony Lane (1935), with Evelyn Venable and Douglass Montgomery
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
There are many great movies from the 30's not mentioned here. Let me nominate "Ruggles of Red Gap". Hilarious and heartwarming.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fail Burton: The Scarlet Pimpernel surely belongs. Others? Not so much, except maybe Captain Blood.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
I would include two movies from 1939 on the list- Stagecoach and The Women. I am also fond of Holiday from 1938. The Women is so skillfully put together that one often miss the fact there isn't a single male in the movie( includinf the dogs and horses.)

I also agree that no list from the period can be complete without several pre-code selections. I have often wondered why modern feminists largely ignore Mae West. She was a major box office star who wrote many of her own scripts and kept control of most aspects of the productions. Her witty double entendre filled scripts helped bring about the Hays Code.

Then there is Cecil B. DeMille's The Sign of the Cross. The original cut of the film remains decadent even by today's standards. Yes, the special effects are very cheesy but the cuts to the reaction shots of the blood lust on the faces of ordinary Roman citizens as they watch Christians being killed in horrible ways remain disturbing. Sadomasochism is seldom as effectively portrayed in today's films.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Rules of the Game -- 1939 -- Jean Renoir
The Hunchback of Notre Dame -- 1939 -- William Dieterle
The Grand Illusion -- 1937 -- Jean Renoir
The Bride of Frankenstein -- 1935 -- James Whale
All Quiet on the Western Front -- 1930 -- Lewis Milestone
King Kong -- 1933 -- Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Shoedsack
Gone With the Wind -- 1939 -- Victor Fleming
The Adventures of Robin Hood -- 1938 -- Michael Curtiz
Gunga Din -- 1939 -- George Stevens
Frankenstein -- 1931 -- James Whale
Dracula -- 1931 -- Tod Browning
Stagecoach -- 1939 -- John Ford
Modern Times -- 1936 -- Charles Chaplin
City Lights -- 1931 -- Charles Chaplin
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington -- 1939 -- Frank Capra
Young Mr. Lincoln -- 1939 -- John Ford
The Informer -- 1935 -- John Ford


12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Where are the pre-code and Warner's Gangster movies?
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
What about Swing Time?
Where's Preston Sturges??
What about Shirley Temple?
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Any film list of 1930s films that does not have separate lists for the periods before and after the 1934 Production Code crackdown is worthless.

The pre-Code films, whether dramas (e.g., The Front Page, Grand Hotel), musicals (e.g., 42nd Street, Golddiggers of 1933, George White's Scandals, Murder at the Vanities), variety films (e.g., The Big Broadcast of 1932, International House), or comedies (e.g., Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, Million Dollar Legs), were racier as to situations, costumes, and dialog, smarter, funnier, and more scandalous all around than anything which followed afterwards.

12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
On pre-code films...

I saw a film from the 30's years ago on late night TV. I was stunned by one scene in particular. There was a swank party in a mansion, the kind with a marble bar curving across the background of the ballroom. At the corner of the bar sat a blonde in a sheer satiny mini-dress. Sitting down, the dress barely reached her thighs. When the scene moved to her, she stood up to talk and I'm certain she was naked underneath. I could see every detail of her. I still can't believe I saw that.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
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