The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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Rayon Vert
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#151 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Oct 12, 2018 8:36 am

domino harvey wrote:
Thu Oct 11, 2018 11:44 pm
worst Cukor movie-- I hope, I don't want to see one worse than this
Two-Faced Woman? A Life of Her Own? The Marrying Kind? The Chapman Report?... ;)

I was on the middle on Sylvia. I actually liked both Hepburn (!) and Grant's performances, but the film was really uneven.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#152 Post by domino harvey » Fri Oct 12, 2018 8:53 am

I at least like the Glynis Johns storyline in the Chapman Report, but I still knew someone would throw that one out there!

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#153 Post by Mr Sheldrake » Fri Oct 12, 2018 9:36 am

I was a reviewer for my college newspaper in 1969 and I recall naming Justine as the worst film of year, maybe even the worst film ever made as that was my hyperbolic period. I don't think it has been on dvd in the US, can't recall it popping up on TCM, but looking over the cast and having subsequently read the Quartet I'd love to give it another shot

Sylvia Scarlet is for sure a failure by conventional criteria but I've always enjoyed its peculiarities.

And then there's The Blue Bird.....

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#154 Post by domino harvey » Fri Oct 12, 2018 9:41 am

Oh man, I forgot about / had successfully blocked out Justine-- that one may indeed be worse. There was a non-anamorphic but 'Scope print DVD from somewhere that I saw years ago

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knives
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#155 Post by knives » Fri Oct 12, 2018 12:29 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Fri Oct 12, 2018 7:16 am
knives wrote:
Fri Oct 12, 2018 6:55 am
It's unfortunate it worked out they way for you. I suppose you do have to like the characters to like the movie and if you didn't persuasion can't work.
It is too bad. Though for the longest time I kept confusing this with Alice Adams and thought I'd already seen it, so I'm glad to at least be able to say I have now with more accuracy!
I still do that. That's what I get for watching about fifteen of her movies all at once.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#156 Post by Cold Bishop » Sat Oct 13, 2018 10:46 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Thu Oct 11, 2018 11:44 pm
It gives me no great pleasure to say so, but I dutifully watched Sylvia Scarlett as promised and hated it... worst Hepburn performance, obviously-- turns out contemporary critical notices were too kind if anything... I found it obnoxious, idiotic, shrill, and an insult to decent Hollywood contrivance.
Actually doesn't surprise me: I think we have two very different value systems and interests re: Hollywood classicism and the studio system. And re: film that juggle multiple tones and genres. With that said I think the above is unrecoverable: if you're not on the wavelength of Hepburn or her performance, I don't see any way the rest of the film is going to work. Personally, I've never found her more charming, effervescent and appealing than here. Although it probably helps I've never been all that keen on Katherine Hepburn the Movie Star.

(Also, Cary Grant is fantastic here, and this was pretty much the film that turned his career around and led him to stardom, about the only immediately successful facet of the film at the time)
Mr Sheldrake wrote:
Fri Oct 12, 2018 9:36 am
Sylvia Scarlet is for sure a failure by conventional criteria but I've always enjoyed its peculiarities.
I would argue, for better or worse, it's a film that's all peculiarities! The whole narrative walks a tightrope with failure, the whole story seems ready to fall into shambles at any moment. I think a lot of this is precipitated by Cukor/Hepburn's own interest in the project: it was a pet project that both felt they had to do. Yet, by most accounts, once they started, neither seemed to be able to figure out why. There's a wishy-washiness there - like the inexplicable attraction everyone feels about Sylvester reflected outward by the authors themselves - which makes the film more fascinating, not less for me. There's a spontaneity to the film that's like accidental improv, not just in performance (McCarey and La Cava already did that) but in the totality of the film. It doesn't make for a classically great film, but it makes for a genuinely strange and ambiguous work that seems completely out of step with late '30s Hollywood while containing an effervescence that could only have come from then. (The Great Garrick shares a similar energy while being much more tightly designed and layered).

While Hepburn later dismissed the film, going as far as to treat the college kids reviving the film as a sign of moral decline, Cukor's attitude was much more telling: he seemed to waver, sometime in the same interview, between calling the film a dog and possibly the greatest thing he ever did. It's truly a movie of extremes and it's a shame that its failure caused Cukor to self-admittedly play it safe the rest of his studio career, as it shows an unexplored idiosyncratic sensibility from someone who is probably only next to William Wyler as the consummate Studio Director. A true and proper film maudit.

The similarly casted Holiday is about the only Cukor I'd rank better this decade (and possibly his career)... and even then, I think it loses something in its Old Hollywood "perfection" that Sylvia seems to naturally have in spades.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#157 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Oct 13, 2018 11:48 pm

sinemadelisikiz wrote:
Mon Oct 08, 2018 7:07 pm
I'd be curious to hear more from y'all that think Le Belle Equipe is Duvivier's best (of what I've seen, that would probably be Un carnet de bal for me). Perhaps it was the victim of heightened expections, but I saw it for the first time a couple months ago, and while there was a lot to like, I found it really tonally confused. The more melodramatic elements rubbed up against the looser comedic vibe of the beginning to the point of being jarring. Knowing that Renoir wanted in on this project makes a lot of sense though.
Nobody has answered this so... The two times I've watched it now I haven't even noticed those tonal contrasts, so they definitely seem dramatic to me. Thinking back, even from the start it doesn't feel like we're in for a pure comedy, given the undercurrent of anger/social ressentiment. I don't know, in this way this wasn't different for me than a lot of 30s comdrams in that way, maybe especially French ones, or, maybe more accurately, dramas with some com in them. As to why I'd call it the best, I can't think of another one that feels so accomplished in all aspects - maybe only Pépé le Moko (which I want to revisit). Story, themes, setting, characters, actors, visuals - it's all pretty near perfect to me. (Gorgeous women too, but that's just a bonus!) In terms of Un Carnet de bal, it worked a bit like segued pieces to me, and I found them of unequal interest.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#158 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Oct 14, 2018 12:06 am

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Easy Living (Leisen 1937). Jean Arthur is terrific in this Paramount screwball with Ray Milland – she’s an ordinary working girl mistaken for the mistress of a rich financier (Edward Arnold), while he’s the latter’s son, on the outs with him and trying to make his own way. This was written by Preston Sturges, and it’s characteristically him: the social observations and satire, the mixture of slapstick and lightning-quick verbal wit, the pandemonium. It compares well to the films he himself directed and it’s got many delightful scenes.


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A Story of Floating Weeds (Ozu 1934). This is by far my favorite Ozu silent (I haven’t seen An Inn in Tokyo). The story is strong and well-rounded, and in this way, I thought, superior to some or most of his earlier output. The five main actors here are extremely good, and I find the two younger women especially compelling. A beautiful, moving film.


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It Happened One Night (Capra 1934). This is always better than I think it is and I was surprised at how I liked it even more this time than during any other previous viewing. I was just struck by how fine and enchanting every single scene is, at least right through the first half or so, in terms of writing, directing, acting. It looks terrific too (the Criterion blu really did this film a favor) and those subtle Depression backgrounds also add something. Makes me yearn for how Capra’s oeuvre might have turned out if he hadn’t become a message movie director shortly after this.


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Le Roman d’un tricheur (Guitry 1936). Didn’t like it quite as much the second time around, maybe because of its episodic nature. Still an impressive and fun film, full of invention and a lot more original and cinematic than the other films in the Eclipse set.


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Stella Dallas (Vidor 1937). I’d forgotten most of the film except that I had liked it well enough the first time. Reading domino’s write-up, I guess I agree that you don’t find yourself rooting for Stella all that much (you find yourself wincing because she’s so unselfconsciously trashy) but I couldn’t help feeling some pity towards her at the same time and sorry that society creates this cruelty. I saw this as a classic tearjerker of the “woman’s film” genre, and so accepted the many elements that domino criticized that I saw as par for the course. Within that category, I thought it a more than solid entry, really rather well made. I’d even argue it’s steadier and more consistent than Vidor’s earlier, more ambitious experiments. By this time he’s making more conventional films but at the same time you could say his voice is still being heard in terms of another critique of modern society. That said, it’s not a film I care about to a degree that it would risk making my list.


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Gold Diggers of 1933 (LeRoy 1933). I revisited the last two in this post not that long ago, for another list project, but I needed to do so again to rank them properly here. This has much of the same elements as 42nd Street, but it’s just so much better in all respects: the narrative threads are less disjointed, the script is much more engaging, and the music and spectacle isn’t only kept for the end. I like how the Depression theme is more pronounced. At the same time what starts off as a repeat backstager metamorphoses into more of a romantic comedy with a money/class issue as in screwball comedy, but a delightful one (the romance between Carol and Brad’s brother is quite sweet). (The other Berkeley WB musicals I’ve seen that follow don’t reach the same heights.)


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The Smiling Lieutenant (Lubitsch 1931). Really a musical sex farce, so that it’s at once slight and extremely pleasurable – in terms of sheer wit and fun, I think it’s the best Lubitsch musical. The material is very well written and directed, but I’m also struck at how good Chevalier is as a comic actor here, with his expressions and timing really making his scenes pop.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#159 Post by Cold Bishop » Sun Oct 14, 2018 12:36 am

I never finished - which is disappointing because, while lesser films, I think there's plenty to write about the musical numbers in Dames and Gold Diggers of 1935 and especially how creepy they are! - I wrote about the three (best) Berkely films in the Musical list:
The Berkeley Musicals are the work of the choreographer as auteur, and as such, the energy of his numbers are expended always behind the camera. No performer is ever truly allowed preference over the ensemble, dance is displaced in favor of complex drill formations, and the primary means of expression is through inventive framing, elaborate camera movements and montage...Berkeley [directed] "working-class" musicals: his settings were urban tenement buildings, often with two or three people to a room; less-than-four-star hotels in which the bellboy exchange knowing winks about what happened behind closed doors; and chief of all, sweat-soaked rehearsal spaces... [T]these musicals don't ignore the Great Depression. Rather, they create a fantasy where we watch working folk overcome it.
42nd Street
There's a very interesting progression at play in this first film. The search for the cinematic musical is plain here. Each number escalates further than the last, it "folds-out" more and more outside the realm of the stage and further into the realm of the cinematic. It's almost as if Berkeley is making a step-by-step lesson on how to film a movie musical... With each cut, each pan, Berkeley obliterates the stage. He conducts and achieves things that could never be done under the proscenium. The crowd are no longer background dancers; they transform into real people on the streets, with their own stories, like the Indian statue that comes to life... Then, as quickly as it began, it retreats. The crowd turns back to uniform dancers. The buildings float away. The two-dimensional background reappears. Like a sorcerer reversing his spell, Berkeley has everything he animated return to the artifice from whence it came.
The Gold Diggers of 1933
Hand down, no-question, the best of all the Busby Berkeley musicals. This film is simply a jewel of 1930s cinema, the buzz of 42nd Street parlayed into a command and daring that he would never achieve again... [T]he Jazz Age is over, and Old Man Depression has the last laugh. The police bust in, the set is pulled down, the money vanishes. The entire number goes bust like Black Tuesday. The image of cops ransacking the set and shutting down production bring up a flurry of images: financial collapse, bank runs, shuttered business, raids on Hoover camps... and Bonus Army camps. It's the Depression, dearie, and don't you forget it!
Footlight Parade
The Backstage Musical... is one of the most interesting of all cinematic sub-genres as they're precisely and chiefly about movie-making: Not just movie-making in general, but they're about there own creation: the self-begetting movie. We watch the film unfold as the various characters come together and create the very narrative that follows. The characters are creative people straining to use their talent and build a film, like behind the camera. The drama of the narrative is the drama of putting together a film. The final climactic denouement comes in the joy of having accomplished pure cinema... [If] Bacon and Berkeley could have made it truly about a film unit, if they could have taken its "self-begetting" scenario to its conclusion, it may have been the best film of the bunch, instead of the runner-up... With "Shanghai Lil", Busby Berkeley collides head-on with Josef von Sternberg, in this tribute/parody/imitation of the high stylist, and Shanghai Express, in particular. With it's shimmering surfaces and perverse undertones, I'd like to think the man would be proud. Granted, I still don't know whether the reveal of Ruby Keeler as Lil is either anticlimactic or a brilliant punchline.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#160 Post by knives » Mon Oct 15, 2018 7:38 pm

Deluge (dir. Feist)
For the most part this is the mediocre poorly acted film you'd expect it to be. Due to the ingredients of the disaster movie not being baked in yet, though, it has a number of story elements that rise it to a must see. The biggest example is the harshness it treats women with. They're objects who are raped with glee (and I don't mean merely suggested rape either). In fact if it weren't for the quality of the central two performances I'd wipe my hands of the film and call it endorsing the men's point of view given that even the most decent men are fairly awful. While the movie implicitly seems to say that women need a man to help out the way it lashes against the baser instinct of men is refreshing and mostly smart.

The Front Page (dir. Milestone)
I've not been keen on any of the adaptations I've seen even though the material seems ripe for a great film so I came into this with high optimism. It mostly lives up to that too with a great set of supporting players and some fun camera work. Unfortunately it has one major failure going for it in the form of Pat O'Brien who is as dull as dishwater in his attempt to play a log of wood. In the many scenes without him the movie runs like wild. It's much more dramatic feeling than the other adaptations, but that works well with the humour which comes across as an organic growth rather than genre dictation.

Wells Fargo (dir. Lloyd)
Are there any words scarier in the English language than directed by Frank Lloyd? Unfortunately this turgid ode to capitalism does not manage to meet expectations easily becoming the worst Lloyd film I've seen with not a single frame being anything more than bad. First and foremost it is shocking this is was made as late as '37 because the performances, camera movement, and lighting scream '29, maybe as late as '31 for a lower budget effort. How this is a prestige picture by a well respected directed given its sheer incompetence is beyond my intellectual abilities.

Given the film's overall incompetence I normally wouldn't bother talking about its content, but whoo boy if this film's content isn't uniquely awful. To set the stage a bit, the first scene features the ugliest Andy Devine impostor as a postmaster explaining how the US government should have monopolies and that's why we need to arrest all proponents of free trade, especially handsome Joel McCrea who gives affordable and quick work in an ethical way against the government. In light of what banking in this country has been like in the last forty years and how it was like at the time (contrasting this with Ford's depiction of banking just two years later is illuminating) this particular tactic to sell us the idea of a company is just misplaced. In this era there were a lot of great biographies of corporations mostly because of how they make the company incidental to the action. Here instead whether the romance or the move west everything is Wells and Fargo acting like good old boys just trying to make the American west the free capital paradise it should be. This is truly a wretched film and I haven't even gotten into the casual racism of the film.

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Re: The 1930s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#161 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Oct 19, 2018 11:29 pm

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Black Legion (Mayo 1937).In another hard-hitting WB social problem film, you could say in some ways this is the “mirror image” of Black Fury: Humphrey Bogart plays a nice, simple husband/factory worker who’s frustrated by a Polish-born colleague getting the position he feels is rightly his and joins up a Klu Klux Klan-like organization (inspired by real events) dedicated to getting rid of “immigrants” and keeping America for, you know, those people who aren’t immigrants! :? Bogie got noticed for his performance and the film is worth seeing because it delivers pretty brutally in both its social theme and violence. But, even though I much prefer it to Black Fury (which I thought was ho-hum), it’s not without its flaws, especially in the simplistic psychology of the characters.


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Shanghai Express (Von Sternberg 1932). Maybe my expectations were too high after the Dishonored revisit. It’s a fine, well-constructed film, with suspense and a tinge of psychological depth. But at the same time I missed the irony of its predecessor and didn’t feel Lily had quite the same magic as X-27. For better or worse, more of a very solid film in which Dietrich happens to play an important role than something expressly built around her.


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Babes in Arms (Berkeley 1939). I don’t think there’s a better Rooney-Garland musical than the debut. The music numbers aren’t extraordinary throughout, but the least of them is at least good (that first, very fine, performance, “Good Morning”, which presents the leads, really does a good job of showing off their charisma and skills) and the end definitely wows in the best Busby Berkeley tradition, with the topical political (and many MGM film) references being a lot of fun. There’s tremendous energy here, the story and comedy are strong enough, and the actors shine, especially Rooney. From today’s perspective, there’s unfortunately a blackface number, but it’s done in the context of remembering vaudeville if that can help stomach it more. And it so happens R&G are especially good as performers here; I was quite beguiled by their expressions, and the way they dance and move their bodies.


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Jamaica Inn (Hitchcock 1939). I wrote this up in the Hitchcock LP but had to see it again to rate it properly here. Always a fun and enjoyable yarn, and an underrated film. Minor in its scope but rising above its station due to the great-looking, atmospheric sets and photography, along with what Laughton does, like others here have said.

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