A poll on a movieforum which I frequent is having a poll of the best movies from the 1930's, so I made a list and thought I should post it here. The 1930's was the decade of sound and the rise of the "talkie" picture, which horrified silent movie lovers who loved the pictorial quality of film and not the aural quality. The free moveabout camera of the 20's was now locked up in soundisolated booths, unable to move around. This represented a major challenge to the directors of the era, who spent several years freeing the camera and recording sound in a more sophisticated way. OK, enought with the context. Here is my personal top ten:
10. My Man Godfrey (1935) directed by Gregory La Cava
This comedy has always struck me as very funny, as well as debating problems associated to class and capitalism. Powell creates a unique and very funny character and La Cava has a good eye for the visuals. The film does little to shy away from its genre, but creates a great energy with a great ensemble and a very funny script.
9. Bringing up Baby (1938) directed by Howard Hawks
Cary Grant has never been funnier than in this role. His comedic timing is spot-on and Hepburn is a great choice for his opinionated partner. Hawks mastered the fine art of the screwball-comedy, and it all comes into perfect fruitition in this movie. Great one-liners and bit-players (the sheriff is hilarious!) makes this movie utterly enjoyable.
8. Stagecoach (1939) directed by John Ford
Stagecoach really captures a special zeitgeist, and its adventure-like structure really appeals to the boy in me. The movie is very close to what I would call "a textbook western", and that is not meant in a negative way. The movie could be seen as simple and crude as opposed to more sophisticated western such as "The Searchers", but this I think is oversimpling things. It's important not to take "Stagecoach" too seriously, and enjoy the visuals, the excitement of the battle against the indians and the great performance of John Wayne.
7. The Mummy (1933) directed by Karl Freund
Karl Freund's "The Mummy" is in my opinion the best of the Universal Horror movies of the era. Freund's style is remarkably visual and he creates an atmosphere which Tod Browning was unable to create with his "Dracula". Freund was an expressionistic director of photography who turned to directing late in his career. Boris Karloff has never been more frightening and compelling as in this movie.
6. Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1934) directed by Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang's fable of madness and the alure of power is really worth seeing. Lang succeeds in making a horrifying portraitt of the dangers of organized crime. It's really fascinating to read this as a metaphore for the rising Nazi-movement and it is especially interesting to consider Hitler's own madness and powerlust. The movie is utterly exciting and shows Lang's great ability to make great action/thriller movies and somehow making it seem important and politically potent.
5. Le sang d'un Poete (1930) directed by Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau creates a surrealistic world recalling his childhood, and experiments with the movie as a medium. Cocteauian themes such as the parallell world which is entered through a mirror appears here for the first time. Cocteau's use of symbols, editing and false perspective fits perfectly in this compelling short movie. Three words: Poetic, beautiful and compelling
4. Vampyr (1933) directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Vampyr transports you to a dream-world of shadows, mysticism and death. It draws upon such primitive fears as watching your own funeral from your coffin. It's visual quality is really hard to put into words, but it uses some expressionistic techniques combined with Dreyer's acute sense of realism.
3. Lady Vanishes (1938) directed by Alfred Hitchcock
The Lady Vanishes is a fun and exiting movie. It's twist and turns are really worth admiring. Hitchcock takes a funny premise and turns it into an engaging story of fun and suspense. Its combination of wacky adventure dreamworld and political reality makes this ultimately interesting and very entertaining.
2. La Grande Illusion (1937) directed by Jean Renoir
Renoir really succeeds in making the perfect anti-war movie, and destroys the illusion of the importance of war. Its humanism and understanding of the human is what makes this such a great movie. The best war-movie ever made.
1. M (1933) directed by Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang's "M" starts out as a "hunt for the killer"-movie but then turns into a harrowing piece showing human madness and mans failed sense of justice. Lorre turns in his best performance ever and etches himself into our minds as the ultimate tragic figure in movie history.