Arguably the greatest decade, and for my money the most difficult to narrow down to ten films. But here it goes…
1. Horse Feathers (1932): My favorite comedy of all time. Yes there are better produced, more innovative films of the 1930s but the Marx Brothers never get old for me. They cheer me up when I’m down, they inject life in me when I need it the most. They fill me with a sense of energy, rebellion, and anarchy, I feel replenished when finishing their films. “Horse Feathers” does it for me everytime. The greatest film of the 1930s so now on to the harder ones to categorize.
2. Holiday (1938): Perhaps not the obvious choice of films that starred Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn together but this is one of the most overlooked films of the decade. Hepburn and Grant never feel more human than in this tender comedy about a man about the married but falling for his fiancees more down to earth sister. A great message about not always working for money and doing what you love. I’ve seen this film about a dozen times over the last few years and it’s more richer with each viewing.
3. Bride of Frankenstein (1935): The greatest sequel of all time? Definitely in the running. Really the first blending of horror and comedy, this film ages like a fine wine. It’s as obsessed with death as any Ingmar Bergman film. The creation scene of the bride is one of the most operatic moments in film history, and I get giddy just thinking of it.
4. Top Hat (1935): Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are at their zenith here with their most popular film and their best. Elegant, classy, and with a flare for set decor and design. Watching this you might think Astaire and Rogers beat out the despair of the Great Depression all on their own, perhaps the happiest film ever made.
5. The Rules of the Game (1939) 1939 is considered the greatest year of film in Hollywood, however the best film of that year comes from France from the great director Jean Renoir. Taking place during a weekend party at a country home, it features dramatic and comedic elements of upper and lower class lives coming together ultimately ending in tragedy. Renoir concocts a deep affection towards his characters and their semi-charmed lives which leads to a graver warning ahead that they don’t suspect. Released on the eve of Europe’s entrance into World War 2, it serves as a stark reminder that frivolity can easily lead to chaos.
6. My Man Godfrey (1936): Once upon a time there lived a screwball goddess Carol Lumbard and her perfect counterpart William Powell and together they made magic. This is one of the wittiest, wonderful romantic comedies ever made, it is hard to imagine a comedy being more perfect. Often cited as a benchmark, I would not take anything away from this wonderful film.
7. City Lights (1931): Chaplin’s masterpiece and perhaps the greatest ending to any film ever. What more can be said.
8. Bringing Up Baby (1938): The second film involving Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. This one if much more zany and madcap, Hepburn would never be with crazy again but she’s wonderful. Grant is aloof the whole time and the two make a great pair.
9. I Was Born But…(1932): Japanese film from director Yasujiro Ozu is a charming comedy set in the world of children and how they come to terms with the fact that their father isn’t as great as they think he is when they find out he’s an office drone. A hard pill to take when it comes to growing up, but the film is so charming and accessible, it’s hard to resist.
10. Only Angels Have Wings (1939): Howard Hawks’ ode to flying men who risk their lives each time they have to go up in their airplanes is just about as perfect as you can get featuring Cary Grant (third time on this list) playing the boss of an airline. It’s suspenseful, unsentimental, and real, featuring probably my most favorite death scene of anybody.
Honorable mentions: I could do a million more, but here in no particular order. Adding The Marx Brothers other films “Animal Crackers”, “Monkey Business”, “Duck Soup” and “A Night at the Opera”, also Astaire and Rogers’ “Swing Time”, Frank Capra’s “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”, “It Happened One Night”, “You Can’t Take it with you” and “Mr. Smith Goes to WAshington”. Renoir’s other masterpiece “Grand Illusion”, “The Thin Man”, W.C. Fields’ “It’s a Gift”. The original “Frankenstein”, along with “The Invisible Man” and “The Mummy”. “King Kong”, “Stagecoach”, “The Lady Vanishes”, “M”, “The Smiling Lieutenant”, “Trouble in Paradise”, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi together in “The Black Cat”, “Ninotchka”, “Gone with the Wind”, “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “Dinner at Eight”, “Night Nurse”, and so, so, so, much more. This was indeed the greatest decade!!!
One thought on “The Best Films of the 1930s”
Your lists often include so many of my favorites. This one includes Holiday, Top Hat, Bringing Up Baby, You Can’t Take it with You, The Thin Man, It’s a Gift, Stagecoach, and Ninotchka. I haven’t checked if there’s any I would add to your list, but I’m sure there aren’t many, if any. Looking forward to reading your list on the ’40s.
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