Must-see movies of the 30s and 40s, from “King Kong” to “The Heiress”

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CNN

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”, the studios were clicking at full blast before the intervention of WWII, 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, films by director Alfred Hitchcock and those starring Humphrey Bogart (see “The Big Sleep”, “The Maltese Falcon”, “Treasure of the Sierra Madre ”and“ À 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.

Hulton Archives / Hulton Archives / Getty Images

A scene from the movie ‘King Kong’ with the giant gorilla astride a Manhattan skyscraper catching a passing plane. (Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

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

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“It happened one night”

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

Hulton Archives / Getty Images

“The 39 steps”

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.

Erich von Stroheim plays Captain von Rauffenstein in French war film
John Kobal Foundation / Moviepix / Getty Images

Erich von Stroheim plays Captain von Rauffenstein in the French war film “La Grande Illusion”. (Photo via John Kobal Foundation / Getty Images)

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.

John Howard, Jane Wyatt and Ronald Colman in
Silver Screen Collection / Moviepix / Getty Images

John Howard, Jane Wyatt and Ronald Colman in “Lost Horizon” (Photo by Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images)

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

Archives Bettmann / Bettmann / Bettmann

“The Adventures of Robin Hood”

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'
Warner House Video

‘The Wizard of Oz’

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.

MGM

“Carried away by the wind”

Everything in the movie didn’t 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.

Merle Oberon, Flora Robson and David Niven in
Donaldson Collection / Moviepix / Getty Images

Merle Oberon, Flora Robson and David Niven in “Wuthering Heights” (Photo by Donaldson Collection / Getty Images)

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.

Colombia Pictures

“Mr. Smith is going to Washington”

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.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

“Pinocchio”

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 Upon a Star” and the journey to becoming a real boy. .

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

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.

Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart in
Warner Bros.

Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca”

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.

Film noir was a booming 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 a 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 definitive film about soldiers returning from war, filled with touching moments.

'It's a wonderful life'.  (Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
Hulton Archives / Getty Images

‘It’s a wonderful life’. (Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

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.

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 bosses ( Claude Rains), who is also in love with her. Plus, the best ending, perhaps, of any Hitchcock movie.

20th Century Fox / Kobal / REX / Shutterstock

“Miracle on 34th Street”

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.

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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