The 1930’s were the most explosive decade in the history of film. The popularity of movies blossomed as the first “talkies” hit the screen. I refer to this decade as “The Beginning” for lots of reasons, the most important of which is that this decade boasted the beginning of almost every movie genre alive today. Most of the movies you see today play off of a rubric that was set in the 1930’s. If you haven’t settled into a comfy chair with some of these movies, you have been missing out, not just because of their importance in the overall story of film, but because so many of them are incredibly enjoyable! This list does not include 1939, the reasons for which will become clear in upcoming posts.
A few of the remarkable things that film gave us in the 1930’s:
---Katherine Hepburn starred in her first movie, A Bill of Divorcement (1932)
---The Three Stooges, Shirley Temple, Donald Duck, and the great John Wayne all starred in their first major film
---Spencer Tracy won back to back Best Actor Academy Awards for his roles in Captains Courageous (1938) and Boys Town (1939). It would be over 50 years until that feat was repeated by Tom Hanks. (Tracy is one of the greatest actors ever to have lived, and is almost universally underappreciated)
So, without further hesitation, here’s some movies that you absolutely must see:
Little Caesar (1931) – The Beginning of Gangster Movies
Starring James Cagney in a role that would make his career, Little Caesar is the grandfather of all gangster movies. The Godfather and Goodfellas have this movie to thank for their existence.
King Kong (1933) – The Beginning of Monster Movies
You’re welcome Godzilla, and all other special-effect monster movies need to tip their hat to this groundbreaker in the genre. There were monster movies before King Kong, but none rivaled the big fella. Ranked #41 on AFI’s Top 100 Movies of the Last 100 Years
It Happened One Night (1934) - The Beginning of Romantic Comedies
Every zany romantic comedy has it’s roots in this 1934 classic. Claudette Colbert is brilliant, and Clark Gable (who I’ve never been a huge fan of), plays off of her beautifully. They are funny, clever, noble, and romantic. Everything you hope to find in a romantic comedy. Ranked #46 on AFI’s Top 100 Movies of the Last 100 Years.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) - The Beginning of Animated Features
This first full-length feature animated film started it all. Without Snow White there would be no Elsa, Simba, or Gru. Walt Disney changed the world of film, and it all started with a down on her luck teen and 7 vertically challenged miners. Ranked #34 of AFI's Top 100 Movies of the Last 100 Years.
Swing Time (1936) – The Archetype of Dance Movies
If you don’t think you enjoy dancing in movies, I dare you to watch Swing Time. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are perfect as dancing partners and romantic counterparts. Every dance movie made since has tried to capture the magic of Fred and Ginger and with the exception of Singin’ In The Rain, no one has done it. Ranked #90 in AFI’s Top 100 Movies of the Last 100 Years.
If you have some free time this weekend, grab some popcorn, a comfy chair and settle in with one of these classics, and as always feedback is welcome. Let me know if you feel that I left out a must-see movie from this time period!