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The Underrated Thirties


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My list for 1930:

 

1. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

2. THE DIVORCEE

3. MIN AND BILL

4. THE BIG HOUSE

5. MONTE CARLO

6. NOT SO DUMB

7. MURDER!

8. PAID

9. DOUGHBOYS

10. LADIES OF LEISURE and MOROCCO (tie)

 

Honorable Mentions: MOBY DICK; JOURNEY'S END; MADAM SATAN; ANNA CHRISTIE; and THE BIG TRAIL.

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That's some pretty good choices, Top Billed. Here's my opening salvo for 1930. Only a handful of real standouts, the first five being the main ones.

 

1. The Blue Angel

2. The Unholy Three (this is the sound version)

3. Paid

4. The Big House

5. All Quiet on the Western Front

6. The Widow From Chicago

7. Little Caesar

8. The Truth About Youth

9. Animal Crackers

10. The Doorway to Hell

 

Best of the rest: The Divorcee, Another Fine Mess, Our Blushing Brides, Ladies of Leisure

 

Underrated: The Widow From Chicago

Overrated: Anna Christie

Have to see: The Blood of a Poet; Under the Roofs of Paris

 

Best actor: Lon Chaney (The Unholy Three)

Best actress: Marlene Dietrich (The Blue Angel)

Best supporting actor: Harry Earles (The Unholy Three)

Best supporting actress: Margaret Dumont (Animal Crackers)

 

Total number of films viewed: About 30 - 35

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I'm not as familiar with the early early 30s films; but here we go.

 

1930

All Quiet on the Western Front

Animal Crackers

Another Fine Mess (Laurel and Hardy)

Hog Wild (Laurel and Hardy)

Below Zero (Laurel and Hardy)

 

... Yeah, I haven't seen many films from 1930.

 

In case the thread jumps to 1931 in the next day or two, here's my list. I'm going to the beach in a few minutes, so I won't be on the message board for a little bit.

 

1931

Monkey Business

Platinum Blonde

Dracula

City Lights

 

... yeah I haven't seen many films from this year either. Wait till we get to the latter part of the decade!

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I think LITTLE CAESAR is a bit overrated, but I still should have mentioned it. I am glad you included THE DOORWAY TO HELL-- totally overlooked it and despite Lew Ayres being somewhat miscast, it's a bloody good film.

 

If Little Caesar had been released in the late 40's or 50's, it wouldn't have made my list, either. But the gangster genre (sound version, anyway) was still in its infancy in 1930, and so Little Caesar gets a bit of pioneering credit.

 

*1931* was better, though. Here's what I've picked for that year: I'm sure 1932 will continue the upward trend.

 

1. M

2. The Miracle Woman

3. The Public Enemy

4. The Public Defender

5. Five Star Final

6. The Secret Six

7. Threepenny Opera

8. The Ruling Voice

9. Night Nurse

10. Street Scene

 

Best of the rest: A Gentleman's Fate; The Criminal Code; The Front Page; Other Men's Women; Blonde Crazy; Ten Cents a Dance; Laughing Sinners; A Free Soul; countless Laurel & Hardy and Little Rascals shorts

Underrated: The Public Defender

Overrated: Mata Hari; City Lights

Have to see: All those Laurel & Hardy shorts that I haven't seen already

 

Best actor: Peter Lorre (M)

Best actress: Barbara Stanwyck (The Miracle Woman)

Best supporting actor: Clark Gable (Night Nurse)

Best supporting actress: Lotte Lenya (Threepenny Opera)

 

Total number of films (feature length) viewed: About 50 - 55

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We share a few titles for '31. I am duly impressed at your including THE MIRACLE WOMAN and so high on the list, too! It's on mine, but not ranked nearly as well. I do think it's a great example of the Stanwyck-Capra magic. I can't help but feel Jean Simmons borrowed from this when she made ELMER GANTRY, playing a similar role. David Manners, in one of his lead roles in a non-horror film, does remarkably well, too. A close friend of David's told me that THE MIRACLE WOMAN was David's favorite film-- he had a good time making it with such esteemed company!

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My list for 1931:

 

1. THE PUBLIC ENEMY

2. DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE

3. CIMARRON

4. A FREE SOUL

5. FRANKENSTEIN

6. THE CHAMP

7. STREET SCENE

8. THE MIRACLE WOMAN

9. FIVE STAR FINAL

10. THE SIN OF MADELON CLAUDET

 

Honorable Mentions: DRACULA; MONKEY BUSINESS; PLATINUM BLONDE; PRIVATE LIVES; and THE SMILING LIEUTENANT.

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We share a few titles for '31. I am duly impressed at your including THE MIRACLE WOMAN and so high on the list, too! It's on mine, but not ranked nearly as well. I do think it's a great example of the Stanwyck-Capra magic. I can't help but feel Jean Simmons borrowed from this when she made ELMER GANTRY, playing a similar role. David Manners, in one of his lead roles in a non-horror film, does remarkably well, too. A close friend of David's told me that THE MIRACLE WOMAN was David's favorite film-- he had a good time making it with such esteemed company!

 

Barbara Stanwyck is so much my favorite actress that I could almost compile a credible (to me, anyway) top 10 list from the 30's through the early 60's from just her films alone. That opening scene in The Miracle Worker gives us our first real taste of what was to come.

 

Here's my *1932* list. This was the real breakthrough year of the sound era, when the great pre-code films just came roaring downstream like a mighty river. Almost any of these could credibly be at the top of the list, even some of the "best of the rest". It's also noteworthy in that so many of the best films starred women in the leading role.

 

1. I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang

2. So Big

3. Red-Headed Woman

4. Rain

5. I Was Born, But...

6. Freaks

7. Call Her Savage

8. Red Dust

9. The Match King

10. Symphony of Six Million

 

Best of the rest: Trouble in Paradise, The Mouthpiece, Night Court, Thirteen Women, Three on a Match, Central Park, Blonde Venus, Skyscraper Souls, Hell's Highway, If I Had a Million, The Dark Horse, The Heart of New York, Pack Up Your Troubles

 

Underrated: So Big, Call Her Savage, Symphony of Six Million, Night Court

Overrated: The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Have to see: Murders in the Rue Morgue; White Zombie

 

Best actor: Paul Muni (I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang)

Best actress: Barbara Stanwyck (So Big); Jean Harlow (Red-Headed Woman, AND Red Dust)

Best supporting actor: Lyle Talbot and Humphrey Bogart (Three on a Match)

Best supporting actress: Bette Davis (So Big)

 

Total number of films viewed: About 100

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>Glad to see The Big House recognized. Truly, truly an overlooked treasure.

 

There are so many classic prison break films. But THE BIG HOUSE is the big daddy of them all. I still am fascinated by the fact that a woman wrote the script after researching conditions in a men's correctional facility.

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>That opening scene in The Miracle Worker gives us our first real taste of what was to come.

 

Yes, it does. It's one of the best parts of the movie. That, and the fiery climax scene near the end of the picture. Let's just say Stanwyck is on fire throughout.

 

As for one of her other collaborations with Capra, I don't think THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN is overrated. It's different, it's glossy, and it is going to remain a curio for film buffs. And while it's not as perfect as some of the other productions they made together-- due to the restrictions of the code and some of the editing that was done to appease the censors-- I think it should continue to be seen and discussed, because cinematically speaking there's a lot of meat there to pick off the bones.

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My list for 1932:

 

1. A FAREWELL TO ARMS

2. GRAND HOTEL

3. TROUBLE IN PARADISE

4. RED DUST

5. SCARFACE

6. I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG

7. MOVIE CRAZY

8. LOVE ME TONIGHT

9. WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD?

10. EMMA

 

Honorable Mentions: IF I HAD A MILLION; JEWEL ROBBERY; SMILIN' THROUGH; AMERICAN MADNESS; and BLONDE VENUS.

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1932 is the first year of the decade in which I can honestly say I have a favorite ten:

 

1. Vampyr

2. Trouble in Paradise

3. Freaks

4. Me and My Gal

5. Horsefeathers

6. I was Born but?

7. I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

8. Love me Tonight

9. One Hour with You

10. Red Headed Woman

 

Runner ups: Boudu saved from Drowning, What Price Hollywood

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1932 was the breakthrough year, and 1933 may be right up there with 1950 on my all-time list of greatest years for American movies. Once the Breen code took effect in mid-1934 there was a precipitous drop in quality.

 

Here's my *1933* list. Any of the first 4 could be # 1.

 

1. Bombshell (#1 U.S. comedy, just behind The Sheep Has Five Legs)

2. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

3. Heroes For Sale

4. Baby Face

5. The Story of Temple Drake

6. 42nd Street / Footlight Parade (tie)

8. The Mind Reader

9. Wild Boys of the Road

10. Lady For a Day

 

Best of the rest: Ladies They Talk About; One Man's Journey; King Kong; Girl Missing; The Prizefighter and the Lady; Employees' Entrance; Lawyer Man; The Little Giant; The Women in His Life; Lady Killer; Elmer the Great; Ever in My Heart; Hold Your Man; Gabriel Over the White House; Parole Girl

 

Underrated: One Man's Journey; Girl Missing; The Little Giant

Overrated: Duck Soup; Dancing Lady

Have to see: Zero For Conduct

 

Best actor: Rudolf Klein-Rogge (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse)

Best actress: Jean Harlow (Bombshell)

Best supporting actor: Lee Tracy (Bombshell)

Best supporting actress: Dorothy Coonan (Wild Boys of the Road)

 

Best entire supporting cast: Everyone else in Bombshell, but especially Franchot Tone, C. Aubrey Smith and Mary Forbes.

 

Best song and dance number *EVER:* Jimmy Cagney and Ruby Keeler ("Shanghai Lil" in Footlight Parade)

 

Total number of films viewed: About 90 - 100. This was certainly Hollywood's most prolific year for great pre-code films.

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Here is my list for 1933:

 

1. 42ND STREET

2. STATE FAIR

3. LITTLE WOMEN

4. THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII

5. SHE DONE HIM WRONG

6. BOMBSHELL

7. PILGRIMAGE

8. THE INVISIBLE MAN

9. THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE

10. QUEEN CHRISTINA

 

Honorable Mentions: THE MAYOR OF HELL; MORNING GLORY; PEG O' MY HEART; WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD; KING KONG and LADY FOR A DAY.

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There were still plenty of good films in 1934, but you could see the dropoff from the previous year when the Production Code was largely ignored. Only the first 2 on this list would have made the top 10 cut for 1933.

 

Best of *1934:*

 

1. La Bandera

2. Gentlemen Are Born

3. Fog Over Frisco

4. Bedside (Warren William in his most fiendish scheme ever)

5. The Thin Man

6. It's A Gift

7. L'Atalante

8. Massacre

9. No Greater Glory

10. Manhattan Melodrama

 

Best of the rest: Imitation of Life; Death on the Diamond; Hi, Nellie!; He Was Her Man; Evelyn Prentice; Born to Be Bad; Heat Lightning; The Goddess; Little Miss Marker

 

Underrated: Gentlemen Are Born; Bedside; Death on the Diamond; Hi, Nellie!

Overrated: Twentieth Century

Have to see: Our Daily Bread; Stamboul Quest

 

Best actor: Warren William (Bedside)

Best actress: Myrna Loy (The Thin Man)

Best supporting actor: Michel Simon (L'Atalante)

Best supporting actress: Fredi Washington (Imitation of Life)

 

Total number of films viewed: About 80 - 85

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It's hard to argue with your choices of Michel Simon and Fredi Washington. It's interesting that the 1934 *Imitation of Life* gives the daughter a much more positive outcome than the remake. Fredi is going to what we would now call a historically black college, and we can assume that a young woman that pretty will have plenty of admirers. Poor Susan Kohner just has to repent.

 

*Duck Soup* and *The Bitter Tea of General Yen* are both big favorites of mine, and if the latter had been a big hit, Frank Capra's career might have gone in a different direction.

 

I'm enjoying the inclusion of films unfamiliar to me. My taste is more for the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

 

I recently re-watched M, which looked as amazing as ever. Definitely one of the best films of the 30s, not just 1931.

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My list for 1934:

 

1. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT

2. THE THIN MAN

3. IMITATION OF LIFE

4. IT'S A GIFT

5. THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD

6. THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET

7. TREASURE ISLAND

8. THE RISE OF CATHERINE THE GREAT

9. CLEOPATRA

10. SADIE MCKEE and LITTLE MISS MARKER (tie)

 

Honorable Mentions: OUR DAILY BREAD; OF HUMAN BONDAGE; HIDE-OUT; THE GAY DIVORCEE; NO GREATER GLORY; and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES.

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