Must-see movies of the 1930s and 1940s

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
1933: Opening of the film “King Kong” at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The film, shot with then-groundbreaking stop-motion animation, was widely acclaimed and the main character, a colossal gorilla, became one of the world’s most famous cinema icons.

The year 1939 alone – considered perhaps the best in the history of cinema – provides an exhaustive list of “essential” films, although the 1930s and 1940s provide an environment rich in title targets including the influence and impact have reverberated over the decades.

As Turner Classic Movies (CNN’s sister network) detailed in the documentary “1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year”, studios were going full blast before WWII came on, producing “Gone with the Wind” , “The Wizard of Oz”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “Gunga Din”, “Stagecoach”, “Wuthering Heights”, “Ninotchka”, “Dark Victory”, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” and “Destry Rides Again”. OK, and let’s not forget “Young Mr. Lincoln”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and the first of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes films.

Some of those movies made this list – how couldn’t they? – while others have been left out. It also meant giving away what might be considered a short time, among others, the films of director Alfred Hitchcock and those with Humphrey Bogart (see “The Big Sleep”, “The Maltese Falcon”, “Treasure of the Sierra Madre And “To Have and Have Not”), looking for a more varied and representative list.

There was also no room, alas, for the great universal monster movies – “Dracula”, “Frankenstein” (and his fiancée), “The Wolfman” – Charlie Chaplin and the Marx brothers, but then again, the latter group probably wouldn’t. want to be on any list that would have them as members.

Once again, in chronological order, here is a non-exhaustive list of the “essentials” from these decades.

“King-Kong” (1933)

Stop-motion animation was revolutionary back then and has held up over the decades, influencing generations of filmmakers and special effects in the process.

“It happened one night” (1934)

Frank Capra’s signature romantic comedy / road movie paired Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, setting the standard for the genre.

“The 39 Steps” (1935)

Hitchcock has often returned to this formula of an ordinary guy (Robert Donat) forced to flee, here literally handcuffed to Madeleine Carroll, with spies and dangers on every corner. The writing and twists have elevated him to the rank of the best masters of suspense.

“The Great Illusion” (1937)

Set during World War I, this great French drama from director Jean Renoir explores the futility of war and class distinctions through French officers captured by German forces.

“Lost Horizon” (1937)

Ronald Colman stumbles (or does he?) On the mythical city of Shangri-La in Frank Capra’s epic blend of fantasy, drama and romance.

“The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938)

Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland starred in other swashbucklers, but the glorious color and the perfect cast (Rathbone never won a sword fight, but looked a good loser) hit the nail on the head, just like his hero archer.

“The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

There is no place like home, and nothing like this foreground of Dorothy (Judy Garland) going from Kansas black and white to the shimmering colors of Oz.

“Gone with the Wind” (1939)

Everything in the film did not age well, but for the sheer melodrama and the awe-inspiring spectacle, there is no better than Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara, or the impact the film had on audiences. at the time.

“Wuthering Heights” (1939)

Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon were Heathcliff and Cathy in William Wyler’s lush adaptation of Emily Bronte’s novel, the standard by which all teary eyes are measured.

“Mr. Smith goes to Washington” (1939)

Capra’s moving patriotism has found the perfect vehicle in the wide-eyed Senator James Stewart, who learns a powerful lesson in the corrupt inner workings of politics without losing his heart and idealism.

“Pinocchio” (1940)

This isn’t the first of Disney’s classic animated films, but arguably the best, both in terms of the beautiful animation, the signature song “When You Wish A Star” and the journey to becoming a real boy.

“The History of Philadelphia” (1940)

Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart were the stars of director George Cukor’s elegant blend of comedy, romance and heavy drinking.

“Citizen Kane” (1941)

Orson Welles’ landmark debut as a director and star stays in the conversation as the greatest film of all time and makes any trip to Hearst Castle much more interesting.

“Casablanca” (1942)

Bogart and Ingrid Bergman will always have Paris, and moviegoers will always have this moving story of an American finally choosing duty over love in the midst of World War II. Here’s who’s watching you kids.

“Double indemnity” (1944) andLaura “(1944)

Film noir was a flourishing genre in the 1940s, and there are plenty of great examples, but none better than these two: director Billy Wilder’s thriller in which Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck find out he’s not. easy to get away with murder, especially if Edward G Robinson is on the case; and Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb and Gene Tierney in a mysterious murder with a big surprise and a haunting musical score.

“The best years of our lives” (1946)

The definitive film about soldiers returning from war, filled with touching moments.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Stewart and Capra have teamed up again on this perennial Christmas favorite, who has been emulated so often (but never so well) that he has won his wings multiple times.

“Notorious” (1946)

Another Hitchcock classic, this time with Cary Grant at his best as a good-natured spy who has the misfortune of falling in love with a woman (Bergman) recruited to infiltrate a Nazi network by marrying one of its leaders (Claude Rains ), who is also in love with her. Plus, the best ending, perhaps, of any Hitchcock movie.

“Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)

The Second Best Christmas Movie of the 1940s is still one to watch year after year, reminding us that you don’t have to be a kid (adorable Natalie Wood) to believe in Santa.

“The Heiress” (1949)

Olivia de Havilland, Ralph Richardson and Montgomery Clift were all sensational in this drama about a wise heiress, her distant and disapproving father and the suitor with dollar signs in his eyes.


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