Project: 1930s canon (1.0)

THE 1930s CANON 1.0
(Chronological list, constructed using the lists project threads at the Criterion Forum.)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930, Lewis Milestone)
The Blue Angel (1930, Josef von Sternberg) [cap]
Earth (1930, Alexander Dovzhenko) [cap]
L’Age D’Or (1930, Luis Buñuel)
Morocco (1930, Josef von Sternberg) [cap]
Under the Roofs of Paris (1930, René Clair) [cap]
À nous la liberté (1931, René Clair) [cap]
City Lights (1931, Charles Chaplin)
Dracula (1931, Tod Browning)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931, Rouben Mamoulian) [cap]
Frankenstein (1931, James Whale)
La Chienne (1931, Jean Renoir) [cap]
Le Million (1931, René Clair) [cap]
M (1931, Fritz Lang)
Rich and Strange (1931, Alfred Hitchcock)
The Smiling Lieutenant (1931, Ernst Lubitsch) [cap]
Tabu (1931, F.W. Murnau) [cap]
Blonde Venus (1932, Josef von Sternberg) [cap]
The Blood of a Poet (1932, Jean Cocteau) [cap]
Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932, Jean Renoir) [cap]
Doctor X (1932, Michael Curtiz) [cap]
Freaks (1932, Tod Browning)
I Was Born, But… (1932, Yasujiro Ozu) [cap]
Love Me Tonight (1932, Rouben Mamoulian) [cap]
The Most Dangerous Game (1932, Ernest B. Schoedsack & Irving Pichel) [cap]
One Hour with You (1932, Ernst Lubitsch) [cap]
Scarface (1932, Howard Hawks) [cap]
Shanghai Express (1932, Josef von Sternberg) [cap]
Trouble in Paradise (1932, Ernst Lubitsch)
Vampyr (1932, Carl Theodor Dreyer) [cap]
Design for Living (1933, Ernst Lubitsch) [cap]
Duck Soup (1933, Leo McCarey)
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933, Mervyn LeRoy & Busby Berkeley) [cap]
The Invisible Man (1933, James Whale) [cap]
King Kong (1933, Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack)
Land Without Bread (SHORT 1933, Luis Buñuel) [short discussed below]
Queen Christina (1933, Rouben Mamoulian) [cap]
She Done Him Wrong (1933, Lowell Sherman) [cap]
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933, Fritz Lang) [cap]
Zéro de conduite (1933, Jean Vigo) [cap]
The Black Cat (1934, Edgar G. Ulmer) [cap]
Happiness (1934, Aleksandr Medvedkin) [cap]
It Happened One Night (1934, Frank Capra)
L’Atalante (1934, Jean Vigo) [cap]
Man of Aran (1934, Robert J. Flaherty) [cap]
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, Alfred Hitchcock)
The Scarlet Empress (1934, Josef von Sternberg)
A Story of Floating Weeds (1934, Yasujiro Ozu) [cap]
The Thin Man (1934, W.S. Van Dyke) [cap]
Twentieth Century (1934, Howard Hawks) [cap]
Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale)
Mad Love (1935, Karl Freund) [cap]
A Night at the Opera (1935, Sam Wood)
Ruggles of Red Gap (1935, Leo McCarey) [cap]
The 39 Steps (1935, Alfred Hitchcock)
Top Hat (1935, Mark Sandrich) [cap]
Triumph of the Will (1935, Leni Riefenstahl) [cap]
The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936, Jean Renoir) [cap]
A Day in the Country (1936, Jean Renoir) [cap]
Dodsworth (1936, William Wyler)
Fury (1936, Fritz Lang) [cap]
Modern Times (1936, Charles Chaplin)
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936, Frank Capra)
My Man Godfrey (1936, Gregory La Cava) [cap]
The Only Son (1936, Yasujiro Ozu) [cap]
Osaka Elegy (1936, Kenji Mizoguchi) [cap]
Rose Hobart (SHORT 1936, Joseph Cornell) [short discussed here]
Secret Agent (1936, Alfred Hitchcock)
Sabotage (1936, Alfred Hitchcock)
Sisters of the Gion (1936, Kenji Mizoguchi)
Swing Time (1936, George Stevens)
The Awful Truth (1937, Leo McCarey)
Grand Illusion (1937, Jean Renoir)
Lost Horizon (1937, Frank Capra) [cap]
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937, Leo McCarey)
Pépé le Moko (1937, Julien Duvivier) [cap]
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937, David Hand)
Stage Door (1937, Gregory La Cava) [cap]
Young and Innocent (1937, Alfred Hitchcock)
You Only Live Once (1937, Fritz Lang) [cap]
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, Michael Curtiz & William Keighley) [cap]
Alexander Nevsky (1938, Sergei M. Eisenstein) [cap]
Bringing Up Baby (1938, Howard Hawks)
Holiday (1938, George Cukor) [cap]
La Bête Humaine (1938, Jean Renoir) [cap]
The Lady Vanishes (1938, Alfred Hitchcock)
Olympia (1938, Leni Riefenstahl) [cap]
Porky in Wackyland (SHORT 1938, Bob Clampett) [short discussed below]
Gone with the Wind (1939, Victor Fleming)
Le Jour Se Lève (1939, Marcel Carné) [cap]
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939, Frank Capra)
Ninotchka (1939, Ernst Lubitsch)
Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Howard Hawks) [cap]
The Rules of the Game (1939, Jean Renoir)
Stagecoach (1939, John Ford)
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939, Kenji Mizoguchi) [cap]
The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming)
The Women (1939, George Cukor) [cap]
Wuthering Heights (1939, William Wyler)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939, John Ford) [cap]

***

SURVEY
This fun and fascinating project, gathering and reviewing 100 films of disparate origins from the 1930s, was the second installment in this blog’s very long-term “canon project,” as I’ve termed it, which uses lists voted on by cinephiles at an internet forum to help me fill out my knowledge of the classics in American and world cinema. (You can read more about the concept and its origins here.) As it happened, this first stab at the ’30s canon — which spanned from February 7 (The Black Cat) to December 10 (Stage Door) of this year — resulted in me adding 73 feature films to this blog’s database, only 14 of which I’d previously seen, giving a perfect opportunity to familiarize myself with movies I wish I’d known by heart long ago and finally writing at length about some long-cherished items. I’ve long named the ’30s as my favorite decade of film — both the most historically interesting because of the tumult inherent to the medium and the most artistically adventurous because of the imagination that was exhibited as a result — and the numerous wonderful new discoveries I made this year have served to reinforce that feeling. What follows is an attempt to summarize the essence of what I saw in these hundred films, not just the 73 I newly reviewed but all those that we previously discussed here as well, to try and draw a few lines, compress a few ideas, understand a few trends, and hopefully induce you to see as many of the most brilliant and rewarding of these films (which, frankly, describes a whole lot of them) as possible.

PART ONE: 1930-31
Broadly speaking, early talkies (this descriptor usually covers sound films made from about 1929 to 1932) are marked by a certain creakiness, a result of the awkward change of tack forced upon actors and crews by the introduction of sound and the complete upheaval of their medium. These problems are not particularly visible on the films chosen for this list, as of course the work from this era that has endured tended to be that which innovated and pointed the way forward, being the work of true visionaries who saw inventive ways past and through these problems. You can see the roots of these accomplishments in the 1929 works of two such innovators, Ernst Lubitsch and Alfred Hitchcock, whose The Love Parade and Blackmail respectively don’t seem even to miss a beat with the so often clunkily added dimension, and this with major production problems and compromises on the latter film. Studio resources undoubtedly played some role in Love Parade‘s seamlessness, though Lubitsch’s agility — shooting two dance sequences simultaneously so the soundtrack would be synchronized — is undeniable, while in Hitchcock’s case, pure ingenuity was the great cover. There are still those who allege that Blackmail‘s silent version — shot and released at the same time — is superior to the talkie, supposedly Britain’s first and certainly its first success in the field, but looking at it today, especially if you know its history and you’ve seen other 1920s sound films such as The Broadway Melody and They Had to See Paris, one’s major response is to wonder what right it has to look and sound as amazing as it does. (That doesn’t mean Hitchcock was immune to the wilderness that trapped many of his American peers, both because of the limits of the British film industry and because of a few of his own questionable choices, straightforwardly filming a couple of stage plays that now look quite antiquated, even though his fabulous, and fabulously weird, whodunit Murder! and — included on this list — the wry comic anti-romance Rich and Strange demonstrate that his penchant to harness every tool available to craft pure cinema was never far away.)

But before taking a deep dive into the early sound films that we as modern viewers can’t quite believe are quite so early, it’s worth noting the filmmakers who — out of necessity or stubbornness — had not left silent cinema behind at the dawn of the ’30s at all, and in some cases wouldn’t for some time. Our ’30s canon list includes five films that are, for every practical purpose, silent films, though one is more “pantomime” than silent. Because these films belong to what amounts to a wholly separate medium, I’ll break chronology and cover them first. Alexander Dovzhenko’s Soviet film about collectivization, Earth, is visually beautiful, impenetrable to most audiences, and what could sound add except to make it somehow vulgar? Like so many iconic Soviet propaganda or semi-propaganda films, it inherits subtlety from its own silence. Meanwhile, sound reached Japan considerably later than many other countries, so Yasujiro Ozu’s utterly delightful comedy I Was Born, But…, about two boys’ relationship with their conformist father, is silent by necessity — and it’s a case in which this status neither enhances nor detracts from it. Its naturalism would lend itself easily to spoken dialogue, but the title cards are no distraction and one adapts quickly even amidst Ozu’s typically realistic setting.

The dreamlike and expressionistic elements of silent cinema would undoubtedly have found their greatest champion well into the 1930s in F.W. Murnau, the artist most capable of holding steadfast to the visual essence of the medium, had he not died in a car accident tragically young. The German master, whose Faust and Sunrise are still among the most overwhelming works of art on film, completed two films in the ’30s. City Girl is a flawed, compromised but finally worthy followup to Sunrise, but it somewhat understandably did not make this list; his final film Tabu, however, holds a deserved place of honor. A nearly indescribable hybrid of Robert Flaherty-like ethnofiction and the familiar hazy and drunken romance of Murnau’s other American films, the picture also stands as an early indicator of how its distributor, Paramount, would ultimately prove the most director-friendly Hollywood outlet of the Depression era, at least from all outward appearances; it boasts an uncompromised, pessimistic but obliquely beautiful finale that one is hard pressed to imagine making it to the screen just a few short years later. Seeing Tabu today, after being familiar with the progression of Murnau’s previous work, is akin to feeling as if we are losing him anew; apart from Jean Vigo, of whom more very shortly, it’s hard to name a filmmaker whose loss seems to have hurt cinema more.

Of course, when one talks of the continued threads of silent film lurking in ’30s cinema, the most inescapable name of all is Charlie Chaplin; he alone among silent filmmakers absolutely refused, until 1940, to take part in the industry’s “revolution,” surely as much out of commercial consideration — how would audiences think of a Tramp who could talk? — as out of artistic integrity, but with some share of both. City Lights, like all of Chaplin’s features, had a long gestation period and had been in production before sound even became available, but its wildly successful theatrical run must have seemed some sort of miracle in light of how quickly silent film came to be seen by the public as a quaint memory. Then again, no one who has seen City Lights — and today, it’s perhaps the most widely seen and beloved of all silent movies — would likely see fit to find its success any kind of miracle, given that it’s among the most foolproof and wistful of all great screen romances, and surely one of the most durable of comedies. Its largeness as an institution transcends even the rest of Chaplin’s work; as wonderful as Modern Times is, its greatest failing is that it cannot begin to match the elegance of its predecessor. Still, Modern Times is of course its own triumph in numerous ways, though Chaplin’s insistence on shooting it without spoken dialogue can occasionally seem arbitrary, since he fills the picture with sound effects, disembodied voices and eventually a masterful song sequence — the bittersweet conclusion of the Tramp’s entire onscreen saga. Unlike City Lights, the film also traffics in a good bit of sentimentality, always a weakness of Chaplin’s to which he surrenders here like never before; yet one comes to love the film’s two major characters, portrayed by Chaplin and his then-lover Paulette Goddard, so much that their emotional arcs do finally seem fully earned if far less organic than one might prefer. Both of Chaplin’s 1930s film are magnificent entertainment all the same, a master at the peak of his powers — assured, pleasurable, smart, and frankly, invigorating. It’s almost indisputable, though, that Chaplin himself has realized by the close of Modern Times that it will not be possible for him to make another movie like this, and not simply because of changes in the medium and the industry, also as a symptom of the way he as a director had exhausted the possibilities of silent filmed comedy.

One of the most obvious influences on Modern Times, with its clever and visually sumptuous parodies of factory work and industrial progress, was René Clair’s remarkable socialist comedy À Nous la Liberté, made in France five years before Chaplin’s film was completed. As wry and knowing as Chaplin’s treatment of the foibles of the working man were, Clair — an underrated innovator whose silent work had ranged from playful farce to ebullient avant garde — tackles the same subject in a more acerbic, pointed manner with a deliciously anarchic message, plus traces of musical comedy and a general visual chutzpah that seems remarkably forward-looking for the time. By the end of 1931, Clair had already explored the collision of silent and sound cinemas with (along with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr) one of the few 1930s films that can justifiably be called a hybrid or fusion of the two mediums, Under the Roofs of Paris. One can recognize that film’s impressive qualities, as well as those of Vampyr, without being able to fully buy into it as a narrative; despite some periodic moments of unforced beauty, from a modern perspective it’s one of the least successful films on the list, largely because its technical craftiness isn’t matched by the storytelling acumen Clair exhibits in Liberté or in his tremendous and marvelously simple semi-musical Le Million, a French comedy that feels like a Lubitsch picture, though the void left by the blatant sensuality of the earliest Lubitsch film on the list, The Smiling Lieutenant, is filled by a human if unseemly lust for money that also fills out portions of Under the Roofs of Paris, and seems to contradict the utopian message at the core of À Nous la Liberté. No one in Lubitsch ever seems to be struggling for any reason, yet somehow the audience resents his characters less than they may resent the untoward behaviors of some of Clair’s people; we’ll speculate a little on the psychology behind this in the next part of this history.

If Under the Roofs of Paris, Vampyr and — to a much lesser extent — Hitchcock’s Rich and Strange embody the last nods in sound cinema toward its increasingly unrecognizable roots, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s L’Age d’Or — a feature-length follow-up and reaction against Un Chien Andalou, perhaps the most artistically accomplished of all silent films in terms of its purity and poetry — is arguably the first work of cinema to directly rebuke sound, utilizing it mostly to deliberately distort its own fragmented story, really just an illogical, sexual, violent dream, and to tease the impulses and short-term memories of its spectators. If there’s an argument at its core, it may be simply that the addition of our ears to our eyes in the cinematic experience can do little to illuminate its imagery, if the artist does not wish it to hold such power. The Blood of a Poet, Jean Cocteau’s similar foray into the tormented mind of the artist, seems to hold a similar message, though it’s somewhat less confrontational. As in Hitchcock’s Blackmail, the soundtrack in the Buñuel film is a kind of work of art in itself, delaying and obscuring and transferring the inferred experience of the visuals to something that we can faintly sense is related but that we cannot fully rationalize. It’s as if Buñuel transforms us into Anny Ondra’s disoriented assault victim in the Hitchcock film, trudging dazed through a universe that doesn’t make sense to us, as our relationship to reality gradually slips away; nothing that we see or hear, finally, can be trusted.

L’Age d’Or is quite likely the first masterpiece of the 1930s, one that proudly harnesses the fact that its primitive mode of communication is at its beginnings. When we watch the second masterpiece of the decade, a decidedly mainstream American feature from the ordinarily low-rent Universal studio (soon to be most widely known for its horror pictures, which ranged from startling elegance to cheap exploitation), we can scarcely believe it’s as old as it is, so seldom does it show any sign of dating from the first years of widespread sound and from that age of desperation and clamor in the Hollywood film industry. All Quiet on the Western Front exists above and apart from technological advancement or even storytelling innovation; director Lewis Milestone follows his own instincts and the drift of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel to simply relate a story that unfortunately knows no age and, to date, no barrier to permanent immediacy, despite its specific setting in the trenches of Europe during World War I. Milestone’s film, an episodic narrative of a group of boys taking the harrowing first and (in most cases) final steps toward a misplaced sense of glory, is astounding in its bluntness, its potency as a screed against war, its alarmingly realistic but straightforward — unsentimental — dramatization of lives being systematically ruined. Here again, Milestone takes advantage of the increased sensory input at his disposal. Sound is a source of horror: enemies frequently cannot be seen, bombs cannot be seen approaching, all of this can only be heard, and therefore it is felt, by us, in all its sickening unpredictability. All Quiet marks one of the few times a Hollywood film used its platform to advance a coherent political argument, one that we still often find ourselves expected to defend today, despite its obviousness — that war, far from being some sort of fleeting glory for young graduates, is an abomination.

Fear was not always so close to home, though audiences that flocked to see the films of Tod Browning, Rouben Mamoulian and James Whale in the early 1930s may have disagreed; we can scarcely imagine the effectiveness of Dracula (starring Bela Lugosi and slightly predating the potential for a full music score, which gives it an eerie stillness) and Frankenstein (starring Boris Karloff and brilliantly, wittily directed by James Whale with both a thrilling sense of fun — in sharp contrast to Browning’s sleazy dread — and a gleeful taste for schlock and seemingly built-in iconography) as modern audiences, but they remain sufficiently captivating that the only obstacle to tapping into those strong responses is the films’ own cultural dominance, their imagery still as embedded in the culture as ever. Rouben Mamoulian’s tormentingly twisted Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with Fredric March hamming it splendidly in the title role, all but guarantees a more feverish reaction, though even this trades on our familiarity with our own impressions of early ’30s horror cinema, since so much of a viewer’s shock is generated from our trust that a movie of this vintage won’t really go to this or that place, do this or that thing.

Outside of America, movies don’t really get that kind of a benefit of the doubt, so neither the amorality of Jean Renoir’s La Chienne nor the quite strict moral code of Fritz Lang’s M throw us quite as much, but that doesn’t make them any less engrossing; the Lang film is of course a masterpiece, another stark use of early sound and the absence thereof, as it tracks several cases pointing to a child killer terrorizing Berlin, and the investigation and underground vigilante justice system that springs up as a result. The imagery that covers Lang’s work here — some of it obviously an outgrowth of Ufa and of the unnerving climate of Weimar Germany — is as much the stuff of nightmares as anything in Dracula, but the greatest jolt of all comes from the unapologetic compassion of the film’s ending. La Chienne provides no such respite, expected or otherwise, and in fact the extremity of its nastiness — covering the miseries of a love triangle that ensues when a mild-mannered cashier (Michel Simon) finds out he is being used by his paramour — is off-putting even today, but that’s really the director’s point, and his treatment of this ugly subject is devotedly realistic while carrying the faintest hint of grinning irony. The viewer unprepared for the film’s violence and pessimism, as well as its lead character’s cavalier consideration of his own crimes, a long way from Dostoyefsky, is experiencing something strongly comparable, presumably, to the experience of Renoir as a new voice in the 1930s.

The other director whose films truly wallow in the same sort of human decadence and misery is Josef von Sternberg, who left behind the realism of The Docks of New York to produce a series of collaborations with the unmistakable singer-actress Marlene Dietrich that are nothing short of head-spinning in their flamboyance and artifice, without the distancing homogeny of so many high-budget Hollywood productions of that time or any. In Germany the pair made The Blue Angel, which finds Dietrich tormenting Emil Jannings; back in Hollywood they began in earnest with Morocco, a film that’s a little too reliant on an absurd resistance to communication on the part of the characters potrayed by Dietrich and her latest victim, Gary Cooper. Sternberg fills both these films with lively, unforgettable imagery that seems to pop from the screen, even on a TV set; yet his, and Dietrich’s, and Renoir’s, and Michel Simon’s, best work still lay ahead. But already they had fed the dreams of millions.

***

PART TWO: 1932-34
The 1930s are the first full decade of the familiar Studio System in Hollywood — the “Golden Age” is regarded as opening its curtain on The Jazz Singer in 1927 — and by this point we see the characters of and differences between these powerful institutions falling into place. Prior to 1948, the studios wielded even more awesome influence than they do now because the assembly line was generally theirs from start to finish, before the Supreme Court forced them to divest themselves of the movie theaters they owned. Theater ownership was the primary feature that separated the so-called Big Five from the three “lesser” majors. The Five were 20th Century Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount, RKO Radio Pictures and Warner Bros.; with the exception of Fox, you can get a fair glimpse of the “house style” of each of these outlets from this list, though Paramount — which had the best directors and many of the best stars under contract — is understandably represented more than the others. MGM carried the greatest air of “legitimacy” and class, and wielded the strictest control over its artists; Warner Bros. was the most populist and gritty; while RKO, despite never forging a clear identity, seemed to have the most artistic ambition (they hadn’t been known for their musicals, but the Astaire-Rogers musicals they made are the most stylish and modern ever shot in Hollywood; they hadn’t been known for comedies, but they made Bringing Up Baby, the most manic and irresistible screwball of all; and their idea of a monster movie was, well, King Kong); and Paramount, with Ernst Lubitsch and Josef von Sternberg among its charges, reveled in the freedom and lack of strong censorship in the pre-Hays era. Paramount’s pre-Code films are those that, along with errant titles like All Quiet, give the strongest indication of how stunning a classic Hollywood without Hays might well have been.

The three smaller studios, which had no ownership of large theater chains but were far above Poverty Row status, had distinctive identities as well. Universal began the decade with considerable prestige that it rapidly lost, despite some commercial success with its horror films, and was struggling badly by the end of the ’30s, subsisting on B-grade productions. Columbia tended to be synonymous with cheap pictures until one of its staff directors, Frank Capra, came to prominence; the story of Columbia over the rest of the decade is nearly exclusively the story of Capra, and It Happened One Night is specifically the film that allowed the studio to be mentioned in the same breath with the other sub-majors. The last of these is United Artists, a collective founded by celebrities with a goal of complete artistic control. UA had a slow pace of output and always served, in modern parlance, more as a distributor than as a production company, even if technically it was both, and was the primary unit of communication with the masses for a good number of independent producers such as Samuel Goldwyn and Walter Wanger. (For example, Charlie Chaplin had his own studio and answered to no one, which is why he was able to take multiple years to make films.)

The Great Depression manifested very differently in cinema in the United States than abroad; with the encroaching dread that enveloped Europe throughout the ’30s, even the most entertaining films from that continent were imbued with foreboding and fear, whereas in the U.S. escapism and a kind of flaunting of conspicuous consumption, particularly at MGM and Paramount, were the order of the day. One might wonder if such behaviors were tone-deaf, but there seems no use denying that this particular brand of wealthy fantasy is something that nets a large audience in the leanest of times. At any rate, the pregnancy in the mood of films from the UK, France and Germany is an intriguing mirror image of the glee and hedonism of many of the best Hollywood pictures from the same span of years. It can only be described as jarring to look at Luis Buñuel’s strange, deadpan short documentary about Las Hurdes, Land Without Bread, which uses monumental misery and tragedy — some of it staged — to almost force one’s disenchantment and disinterest and need to turn away from deepest strife, or Robert Flaherty’s equally fanciful but also hardened ethnofiction Man of Aran, about the hard life of the Irish islanders, and then to look at, say, Design for Living, which agreeably reduces human problems to which man a woman should sleep with and whether she can have both. What’s even more remarkable is that Design for Living today feels like the most progressive of these three films, free of judgment and finger-wagging, whereas Buñuel and Flaherty both look irresponsible in their use of staged scenarios to moralize effectively.

None of this is to say that Hollywood ignored the plight of its customers during the worst years of the Depression. It’s everywhere, if anything. Class conflict manages to permeate Rouben Mamoulian’s ecstatic, Lubitsch-like musical comedy Love Me Tonight and indeed provides it with its climax (“the son of a gun [Maurice Chevalier] is nothing but a tailor!”) while the robbery of the rich is celebrated in Lubitsch’s stunning Trouble in Paradise, a film that — like his other pre-Hays features, including The Smiling Lieutenant and One Hour with You — flaunts its sexuality in a marvelously shameless manner that would stand out even today. Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, cited at times as the first screwball comedy but difficult to reconcile with the subgenre’s usual tone, is essentially a covert celebration of the ordinary people its two leads, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, encounter on a chaotic cross-country journey, suffused like all of Capra’s best work with a genuine affection toward and attraction to the everyday. The Warner Bros. musical Gold Diggers of 1933 (which sags a bit, aside from its excellent Busby Berkeley musical sequences) spends considerable early sceen time on the difficulties faced by young women trying to make a living as dancers, as does Stage Door (from 1937, so a few years down the line) re: actresses. But none of these films are humorless explorations of poverty, they simply face up to reality while doing their job of giving their audience what it’s perceived (correctly, for the most part) to want.

The studio system carried major virtues and distractions, obviously among them being the relative economic freedom — in the worst of times, movies were at their most profitable — that allowed a film as early as Morocco to look so much slicker than one, like Hitchcock’s Rich and Strange, made in England some years later. But bemoaning its loss, as is common and frankly tempting, ignores the individualism and beauty that was more freely in evidence in other filmmaking countries during this period. No matter how much one adores Lubitsch or James Whale or Josef von Sternberg — none of whom, remember, were born in the United States — you can knock yourself out picturing what they might have done under the same conditions as a Renoir or an Ozu. To stick to comedy for a moment, Boudu Saved from Drowning is a difficult and sometimes obnoxious film, but watching its title character completely thumb his nose at and freely rebuke the wealthy suitors who attempt to lift him up and change his life as a do-gooder tactic is a more alarming rejection of bourgeois values than one would ever see in a Hollywood picture. (Among the Hollywood comedies examined from the first half of the decade, only the early Hawks screwball Twentieth Century has a similar disregard for decorum.) Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock would soon come and make outstanding features in Hollywood, but Lang would never concoct anything as completely nuts as The Testament of Dr. Mabuse again; and Hitchcock’s many beleaguered young marrieds would never again have the vitality and lived-in realism of the central couple, Leslie Banks and Edna Best, in The Man Who Knew Too Much, the thriller that began to turn its director into an international star. (There is, incidentally, an American analogue here as well in the form of Nick and Nora (William Powell and Myrna Loy) in the first Thin Man, their banter delightful and affection unmistakable, but even in this case, there is no interest in the grit and frankness of the Hitchcock film.) And would any Hollywood studio ever encourage the honesty and ethereal beauty of coming-of-age stories as poetic as Jean Vigo’s Zero de Conduite and Yasujiro Ozu’s I Was Born, But…? The former is adolescent chaos, the latter quiet and moody, but both feel more like life than anything made in Hollywood, as does Vigo’s final film before he died of TB at age 29, L’Atalante, one of the rawest and most undiluted pieces of romance on celluloid; you can argue that American films are, for the most part, about something entirely different and equally human and honest, and you’d be largely correct, but it’s fair even now to question the value of commodifying an art form if an absence of work like this is the inevitable outgrowth.

Paramount was the studio whose output most resembled the uncompromised work of the European directors; this is borne out even by the most famous of their Marx Brothers films, Duck Soup, which is essentially an avant garde picture with big comedy stars in it. Sternberg’s Shanghai Express, another of his Marlene Dietrich vehicles, is a flawed film but one of the few to communicate the same urgency and fear as the best European thrillers of the ’30s. The fear of sexuality that would come to permeate all of the studios after the Hays Code set in isn’t even remotely in evidence in the Mae West classic She Done Him Wrong, a period piece (set in the 1890s) whose liberated attitude is akin to that of the Lubitsch pictures, but with a woman as its prime creative force.

Of course, in one respect Hollywood never had to be persuaded to take things to an uncomfortable extreme; violence on camera had been the great driving force of American filmmaking since at least The Great Train Robbery, and the absence of enforcement of the Production Code, which had been drafted in 1930, allowed for the creation of gangster films like Howard Hawks’ terrifically lurid Scarface as well as the flourishing of horror as an American genre. The horror pictures of the early part of the 1930s are almost invariably the finest ever made in the United States; the tendency of Hollywood in the early sound era to push up against its technical limitations with a sense of genuine excitement lends itself particularly well to the desires of directors like Tod Browning, James Whale, Rouben Mamoulian and Edgar G. Ulmer to entice and exercise control over their audiences. Beyond the obvious, still-impressive King Kong and aforementioned Frankenstein and Dracula, some of the great horror treasures of this era are the immortal Freaks, which presents a strong case for the lax “standards” of Hollywood pre-Hays actually allowing for more nuanced and compassionate narratives, Michael Curtiz’s two-strip Technicolor Doctor X, an extremely fun foray into production design mastery that looks like it was an absolute blast to create, the alarmingly seamless special effects exercise The Invisible Man, led by a splendidly demented Claude Rains, and the admirably convicted, tense and hopelessly vile The Most Dangerous Game, explicitly the type of unforgivingly macabre tale the Hays office meant to circumvent. I found myself less high on The Black Cat, an in-name-only Poe adaptation, but who can resist the chance to see Lugosi and Karloff share the screen?

The game was up in June 1934, when the Production Code Administration was established to police the wide distribution of films, preventing release for any studio pictures that did not comply with Hays office regulations. This not only impacted the ability to present dialogue, events and visuals that could be deemed remotely offensive, it seriously cut back on the potential stories that Hollywood films could tell — particularly because of rules like that which instructed that murderers couldn’t get away with their crimes, that consummation of adultery was completely forbidden, that all actors would be forever chaste and fully clothed. Arguments can and have been made that this strict adherence would force directors to get more creative, but there’s no question that this veered American directors and performers from a course that was becoming quite fascinating, and transformed Hollywood as a whole into what MGM, to an extent, already was: a kind of surreal ivory tower in which life and human behavior as depicted onscreen were transformed and carictured into something that barely even resembled their real-world counterparts. Hollywood would recover, great films would be made, but they would never again be the same kind of great films we had prior to 1934.

***

PART THREE: 1935-39
Horror was, rather predictably, cut at the knees by the Code, perhaps even more so than comedy; even though the damage to both genres was obvious, comedy directors could at least fake their way through with innuendo and continue to tell adult stories, though the lone Code-enforced Lubitsch film seen here, the strangely well-loved Ninotchka, certainly doesn’t give cause for optimism given its irksome bourgeois conservatism. No longer positioning itself as an entertaining voice and cathartic outlet for its audience, the Lubitsch “touch” here has mostly an alienating effect. But horror has nowhere to go at all under the Code; Mad Love, in production before the change, tries to fake it with sheer over-the-top outrageousness, and it has some scattered moments of ingenuity, but its story is so confused and dumb — seemingly by necessity, a dilution of The Hands of Orlac that forces a pat conclusion — that any pleasure one gets from it is fleeting, despite presenting Peter Lorre with his first Hollywood role. Bride of Frankenstein is the sole miracle, somehow superior to its predecessor despite the limitations, mostly because Whale precisely locates the remaining avenues he has to real, joyous perversion. It’s one of the horror films that transcends everything and just functions as grand art and entertainment, unlimited by genre convention.

Thrillers struggled to cope as well; Fritz Lang’s Fury and You Only Live Once both carry marks of compromise from Hays, but he goes farther in pushing boundaries than most of his peers, having just emigrated from Germany to flee the Nazi threat, and he wrings unexpected drama and romance and even political outrage from the convoluted, engaging stories of both films, and indicates that undiluted harshness and social criticism remains possible even under the Code. Still, compare these films to the loose, freewheeling qualities of Alfred Hitchcock’s British thrillers — collected by scholars as the Gaumont Six, or Thriller Sextet — and you’ll find dread and ambiguity unencumbered by such commercial considerations, which had the effect of fully transforming Hitchcock into the first true celebrity director of the sound era. Among these six films, only Young and Innocent seems to escape the doom of the impending war, but even it, a sort of British variant on the American travelogue in It Happened One Night except with a murder at its center, has a tension and excitement unknown in Hollywood. The 39 Steps is largely comic but places us in the shoes of someone in actual danger, and its sense of journey is like nothing else in cinematic history; while Secret Agent and the chilling Sabotage cast an eye on the messiness of war and espionage on a painfully human scale. All three films have aged impeccably and still carry the same urgency as ever, as does The Man Who Knew Too Much (based on a Bulldog Drummond story, and therefore more conventional, but still holding scattered Nazi allusions and capable of unnerving even a modern viewer), but it’s The Lady Vanishes that sets the stage for Hitchcock’s future career in multiple respects. With a different writing team than the other films, it’s a successful fusion of crowd-pleasing caper and — after a gradual transformation — a dark, violent thriller with elements of perspicacious political warning, just a year before the breakout of the war. Because it’s consistently witty and enjoyable and also genuinely capable of striking us with fear and nervousness, without copping out on either element or compromising at the finale, it conclusively demonstrates that Hitchcock was perhaps the filmmaker most capable of transcending the limits wrought upon him in his pending Hollywood career, and after a somewhat bumpy start this would prove correct.

Hitchcock had no peer in Europe or anywhere, but there were occasionally films, like Lang’s in America but especially during the poetic realism movement in France, that seemed to further the same conversation about storytelling and mood that he was initiating. Two outstanding examples were Jean Renoir’s La Bête Humaine and Julien Duvivier’s Pépé le Moko, remarkable films that — like Hitchcock’s Sabotage — forecast, with in some ways a greater seriousness and realism, the American Film Noir of the 1940s. Renoir’s atmospheric feel-bad railroad story upholds his famous proclamation that everyone has their reasons, but posits that such reasons may indeed be dreadfully self-serving and even violent, without even the mild redemption he offered his lead character in La Chienne; but Moko will probably ring truest for American viewers familiar with not only Noir but the more widely beloved likes of Casablanca, a specific film that Moko — set in Algiers and with a sense of place and stagnation similar to the Warner Bros. film — seems to proactively turn on its head, exposing the winding miserable alleyways under its sheen of foggy, dream-factory perfection. (Marcel Carné’s Le Jour Se Lève has a similar impact, but it didn’t affect me quite as deeply.)

The late ’30s, as represented on this list, are full of similar studies in contrast: the war film as interpreted in France by Jean Renoir as a pacifist-leading document of absurdity and interpersonal complexity, Grand Illusion, which evokes and builds upon the intimacy and ideological conviction of All Quiet on the Western Front without feeling nearly so (intentionally) didactic; versus the war film as interpreted in America by David O. Selznick and MGM as a simultaneous nostalgic celebration, glamorous glorification and colorful nightmare. Gone with the Wind seems to both revel in the naiveté of its characters and to softly critique it. Few films have earned a more permanent place in popular culture, and by force of will alone it deserves it, feeling today as if it’s the synthesis of everything considered possible in Hollywood in the 1930s, even as it reinterprets American tragedy on the cusp of further tragedy yet, all of it still stinging now in all its senselessness, necesitty or no; Renoir’s view of this seneslessness is if anything less judgmental than the Americans’. Any temptation, however, to draw a line from peace advocacy to sheer isolationism finds a handy challenge in Germany; after most of the filmmakers whose work concerns us had fled, Leni Riefenstahl stayed and collaborated. Triumph of the Will is the crucial filmed document of the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, while the two-part Olympia celebrates the Berlin Olympics of two years later. Triumph is an exceptionally difficult film to watch today for the same reasons that Birth of a Nation is; it has insufficient art to counterbalance one’s discomfort, whereas Olympia — despite its blatant valentine to the glories of the Aryan flesh — is as bravura and striking as ever. The vitality in both of Riefenstahl’s films is troubling because, like so many of the other films named here, they seem to dissolve the distance between us and these past historical events that have come to seem almost abstract to us. With a fascist now in the White House, the films made an especially distressing impression this year.

Hollywood would not start to directly rebuke Hitler until 1940, when two British directors would lead the artistic charge against the spread of Nazi power in Europe. One of them, Charlie Chaplin, did make gestures toward political consciousness in 1936’s Modern Times, but for the most part the Code circumvented the potential for such forceful commentary in comedy. Frank Capra works hardest to overcome this; despite the politeness of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, it does demonstrate the director’s empathy toward the poor, arguably its most commendable element; Gary Cooper is too uninspiring and lethargic to make as strong an impression as James Stewart does in the highly similar and equally idealistic, yet often scathing, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Compared to the Lubitsch and Rouben Mamoulian works earlier in the decade, though, the comedies from the last half of the ’30s that make this list are rather feeble indeed. Even the Marx Brothers lose something in A Night at the Opera, compared to their natural kinetic state; the freewheeling surrealism of Duck Soup only survives into 1935 here via the Russian surrealist satire Happiness by Aleksandr Medvedkin.

The exception is obviously the screwball comedy, a brief movement that peaked in the ’30s but lingered for a few years after, the nuts and bolts of which are contingent enough upon fantasies unaffected by the Code — so often centered on wild, unhinged behavior and goofy, mixed-up relationships — that as the decade rolls on the relevant films become loonier, more ambitious. My Man Godfrey becomes far less innocuous than its script suggests thanks to the complete work of art that is Carole Lombard’s performance, so massively demanding and strange she makes the leading man, William Powell (so much more at home in a very different kind of movie), look like he’s glued to a highway facing oncoming cars. Bringing Up Baby, though unrelated, synthesizes the inspired looseness of that performance into an entire innuendo-filled film, a live action cartoon that only seems more surreal and beautiful as one grows more familiar with its mechanics, though my kingdom for another experience like the first time I saw it. And The Awful Truth is an outlier in the sense that, in the midst of a delightful comedy-of-remarriage plot, it manages to incorporate some of the most erotic non-Lubitsch moments in classic Hollywood, mostly thanks to Irene Dunne, who — with Lombard and Hepburn — demonstrates that the individualism freely afforded the actresses, if not always the female characters, in these films has given them a permanence that domestic comedies of the era would otherwise have lacked entirely. (See Woman of the Year, a very funny movie, for an indication of just how much Hollywood writers and producers did not wish women to have careers and lives of their own; the women in these screwball comedies may be falling over themselves in pursuit of men, but at least they are true forces that resist any kind of outside control and are never shamed for doing so.)

The Depression rears its head in various narratives of working class people making good — Ruggles of Red Gap, My Man Godfrey, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town — but these have nothing on the socialist parables and sharp cultural critiques of Renoir, in 1936’s The Crime of Monsieur Lange, which excuses a murder on grounds of its providing the possibility of a utopian share-and-share-alike collective on the part of the employees of a publishing company (a message perhaps even more radical than the cheerfully anti-work À Nous la Liberté some years earlier), and 1939’s The Rules of the Game, which retains a charge even if Renoir can’t quite hate the people he’s targeting. Oddly, the one Hollywood comedy we examined here that did seem to share something like the humanity and warmth of Renoir was one in which nearly all the characters are wealthy: George Cukor’s film of the Philip Barry play Holiday, which celebrates eccentricity and what now feels like real love — familial and romantic — in a way rare in Hollywood productions then or now. (There are shades of this in another Capra film not part of this project, You Can’t Take It with You, but Holiday is more resistant to taking its kooky occupants over the top, and thus it has aged better, certainly with a more generous amount of agency for its characters.) It can’t be stressed enough, at any rate, that a key feature of the comedies that make this list is that they are actually funny — and funny in a way that doesn’t limit the audience to those whose sense of humor has failed to advance since the third grade. When I grew up comedy was my favorite genre, but the comedies I loved then failed to grow up with me (aside, perversely, from the cartoons), and that goes doubly for the ones that made their way to the local multiplex. If we want to talk about longing for the past, I have to admit that the general caliber and unforced liveliness and humor of even the Hays-compromised comedies here really makes me wonder.

And what of more serious films for adults? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; I’ve never fully warmed to William Wyler’s Wuthering Heights despite growing affection for the director, cinematographer and parts of the cast, though it has its eye-poppingly gorgeous moments. I was extremely excited to see Howard Hawks’ celebrated Only Angels Have Wings, about a dangerous commercial air freight company’s messy day-to-day existence but failed to find it as resonant as I hoped despite its admirable toughness. George Cukor’s MGM curio The Women, notable for its complete absence of onscreen males, comes off as priggish and class-conscious, especially in light of movies like Stage Door that more compassionately investigate the lives of struggling women, and feels like what would happen to All About Eve if Joseph Mankiewicz hated his characters as much as he seemed to hate the women in his real life. Make Way for Tomorrow, a film Leo McCarey directed the same year he won an Oscar for The Awful Truth, was the inspiration for Ozu’s magnificent Tokyo Story and is frequently viewed as one of the saddest movies ever made. It does indeed have moments of palpable emotional pain, especially the sequence in which the aging couple at the film’s center — about to be sent to separate retirement homes by their children — reenact their own honeymoon in New York, and the aching final shot, which carries a feeling of bleak, solemn finality calling back to the earlier Paramount film Morocco. (Has any logo come to signify a loss of breath more than that mountain springing up at the end of movies like these and Vertigo?) It certainly has the feel of a movie that couldn’t be made by a studio at any subsequent time.

The same could be said, getting back to Wyler, of Dodsworth, one of the greatest films on this or any list of classics. Like Holiday, it’s a human drama about the very wealthy, but their wealth becomes incidental as the human problem of a crumbling marriage — explored and illuminated with stunning sympathy and realism — is built to invade and make a mess of our hearts, thanks as much to the impeccable performance of Walter Huston as a retired auto magnate taking a retirement cruise with his wife as to any help provided by the filmmakers and story. Huston knows this character down to his soul, and luckily for us, Wyler is right there with him. Every progressive change, conversation, character transition in the film has an air of truth that we tend to associate more with European or Asian cinema from this time (additionally, the transformation of an acerbic Sinclar Lewis novel to something with more humane dramatics specifically calls to mind the conflict that seems to drive Renoir’s treatment of The Rules of the Game), though Wyler’s strong feeling for family life would come through with equal brilliance and emotion in The Best Years of Our Lives a decade hence. When all is said and done, this could be the film that best represents Hollywood in the ’30s, even after the Hays interference, for me; I have a hard time naming more than a handful of other movies that moves me at such a base level. This has been true since I was around 23, and that such is even possible to a young audience member seems to disrupt so much conventional wisdom about “old art” and how we relate to it. You have to make your way to Japan to find other films on this list that cut so deeply; four remarkable examples are here: Ozu’s sober confused-parentage drama A Story of Floating Weeds and three stunning documents by Kenji Mizoguchi of women struggling with societal expectation: the unsatisfying but still painful Osaka Elgy, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum and the masterpiece Sisters of the Gion. These are of course directors whose cumulative bodies of work deserve more attention and examination than I can offer here, and I am anxious to continue that quest.

As I noted last year during the silent canon project, there are fundamental flaws in the technique I’m using during this very slapdash chronological leap through movie history, namely that many important films and entire genres are insufficiently examined. I realize this, and I want to stress that we’ll come back to the ’30s again and will go deeper, but for now I’d like to mention some specific areas in which I still feel pathetically uninformed. The Hollywood musical hit its first peak in the ’30s, and while we only looked at four American musicals for this project, the pair of magical Astaire-Rogers features (Swing Time and the hilarious Top Hat) that did make it really tell you plenty about the caliber of artistry in the field at the time, but I regret there was no chance to delve into the famous MGM musicals of the same timeframe (Warners did get a mention earlier with Gold Diggers of 1933) outside of The Wizard of Oz, an incomparable and inescapable film that’s really a genre unto itself but is of course unceasingly delightful in every way, and probably the only film on this list that I would argue is perfect. Oz also serves as one of only two forays here into live action fantasy, along with Frank Capra’s unorthodox and fascinatingly passionate Lost Horizon, which carries a yearning for peace not incomparable to Renoir’s, though it could only have existed in Hollywood. Going further into the genre films, the action-adventure and the western were sorely undervalued here, especially because The Adventures of Robin Hood is not in my view an especially grand example of the former, not compared to silents like The Thief of Bagdad and The Black Pirate anyway, and while Stagecoach is a splendid and endlessly revealing monument to a turning point in film history, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg for both John Ford (we did also watch Young Mr. Lincoln, agreeable schmaltz but not a revelation) and for westerns in general in the ’30s.

Three other subjects that I hope to take on separately at a later date: propaganda, which will become even more relevant in the ’40s but is present here via Dovzhenko, Riefenstahl, and Eisenstein’s terrific Alexander Nevsky; surrealism, which apart from Buñuel finds us through the unorthodox sources of Joseph Cornell’s privately conceived cut-and-paste film Rose Hobart and Bob Clampett’s outstandingly unfettered short cartoon Porky in Wackyland, one of the first masterworks by one of the greatest cartoon directors of all. Speaking of which, animation is a subject of particular interest to me and American cartoons were at their peak in the 1930s; I can and will write all day long about it, but only covered here were the aforementioned errant Looney Tune and of course Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs… but then again, at the end of the day do you really need much besides Snow White to prove a more general point about animation in the ’30s, or for that matter about cinema in the ’30s? I certainly don’t. I enjoyed the hell out of this project, and I needed it this year, so thanks from the living to the dead for everything they did for us.

***

NOTES ON AVAILABILITY (FEATURES)
This is here in case you have any interest in following along with this project in any capacity yourself.

With the exception of Olympia, of which more below, I had little trouble getting ahold of any of the feature films included in this canon project. My typical sources are Netflix (streaming and DVD), Filmstruck, Amazon Prime video, and various libraries, but for the purposes of this guide I’m going to assume one’s pathway to a given film is just via iTunes, Amazon video, Youtube/Google Video and Vudu. Therefore, the following films are not available to rent online at those usual places:

Morocco and Blonde Venus are both available individually as part of Universal’s MOD program but are more cheaply included in Universal’s two-disc “franchise” set Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection, which has been discontinued but is still at Amazon and Ebay for next to nothing at this writing.
À Nous la Liberté, Le Million, Boudu Saved from Drowning, I Was Born, But…, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Zero de Conduite, Man of Aran, The Man Who Knew Too Much, A Story of Floating Weeds, The 39 Steps, The Only Son, Osaka Elegy, Sabotage, Sisters of the Gion, Pépé le Moko, Young and Innocent, Alexander Nevsky and La Bête Humaine are on Filmstruck as part of the Criterion Channel and I cannot recommend a subscription to both highly enough.
Rich and Strange is around and about all sorts of places, but to see a print that won’t make you want to claw your eyes out I advise you to seek out Lionsgate’s Hitchcock Early Years box.
– If you don’t subscribe to Netflix’s DVD by mail service and no libraries near you hold them, the easiest, cheapest way to see The Smiling Lieutenant and One Hour with You (even though Universal offers them via MOD) is by getting Criterion’s terrific boxed set Eclipse Series 8: Lubitsch Musicals, which has two other films (including the Best Picture-nominated The Love Parade) and is generally superb.
Tabu is on Filmstruck at this writing, though not as part of their permanent collection; Kino’s DVD and Blu are in print as of 2017.
The Blood of a Poet shows up on streaming subscripton services at times but not reliably, and the Criterion boxed set that held it is out of print, but Amazon does offer an imported region-free edition somewhat affordably. (I can’t speak to its quality as I checked the film out from a university library.)
Love Me Tonight is in print from Universal’s MOD service; Kino’s pressed disc is out of print except as part of a box, though Netflix still had it last I checked.
Shanghai Express is also offered as an MOD from Universal and I was unable to find any other way of getting it.
Trouble in Paradise and The Scarlet Empress are in print on disc from Criterion; I got them from Netflix and then bought them and I can almost guarantee you’ll want to do the same, unless you’re some weirdo who hates life. Design for Living and Make Way for Tomorrow are also Criterion disc exclusives at the moment, not rentable online anywhere.
Happiness is out on DVD from Icarus Films, packaged with The Last Bolshevik. Again, for the moment, this is offered by Netflix via mail.
The Crime of Monsieur Lange briefly showed up on Filmstruck and has recently had a restored theatrical run, but the only way I can see to actually watch it right now is by picking up the shitty PD disc offered by Amazon. Hopefully this situation changes soon, as I want a copy of this pretty badly myself; to date the film has never received a satisfactory home media release.
Dodsworth is on Filmstruck right this minute but not as part of their permanent collection. HBO and MGM released it on DVD in 1998 and 2001 respectively but both discs are out of print and they’re not cheap. Surely some third party picks this up before long, as it truly fits the profile of a neglected masterpiece.
Wuthering Heights is in essentially the same situation as Dodsworth, except that Warner’s DVD of Heights is apparently still in print. Both films are from the Samuel Goldwyn library, and there have been rumors for a number of years about Criterion or some other third party having big plans for those titles.
– You can buy a digital copy of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs right now, you just can’t rent it, or you can pick up the latest iteration of the DVD and Blu, in print since early 2016 but probably not forever.
You Only Live Once was just this year rereleased on DVD and Blu by the boutique label ClassicFlix. It’s worth buying.
– The hardest time I had tracking a film for this project was with both parts of Riefenstahl’s Olympia; happily, it’s not only included on Criterion’s gigantic new boxed set of Olympic films, it’s also now available to rent on iTunes!

NOTES ON AVAILABILITY (SHORTS)
There were only three shorts on this list, so this is a bit simpler than in our Silent Canon project.
Porky in Wackyland was compiled on Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 2; all six Golden Collections are now readily available in a very affordable boxed set. More recently, the cartoon was included with the rest of the black and white Porkys on Warner Archive’s MOD title Porky Pig 101.
Rose Hobart is on Youtube and the NFPF’s website, but if you’d like a disc source, it’s included on Treasures from American Film Archives, which most good university libraries should have, though it’s out of print.
Land Without Bread was recently reissued on DVD by Transfilm with a good number of extras; there are various online sources, most of them lower quality.

***

APPENDIX: BY COUNTRY

U.S.: All Quiet on the Western Front; Morocco; City Lights; Dracula; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Frankenstein; The Smiling Lieutenant; Tabu; Blonde Venus; Doctor X; Freaks; Love Me Tonight; The Most Dangerous Game; One Hour with You; Scarface; Shanghai Express; Trouble in Paradise; Design for Living; Duck Soup; Gold Diggers of 1933; The Invisible Man; King Kong; Queen Christina; She Done Him Wrong; The Black Cat; It Happened One Night; The Scarlet Empress; The Thin Man; Twentieth Century; Bride of Frankenstein; Mad Love; A Night at the Opera; Ruggles of Red Gap; Top Hat; Dodsworth; Fury; Modern Times; Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; My Man Godfrey; Rose Hobart; Swing Time; The Awful Truth; Lost Horizon; Make Way for Tomorrow; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Stage Door; You Only Live Once; The Adventures of Robin Hood; Bringing Up Baby; Holiday; Porky in Wackyland; Gone with the Wind; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Ninotchka; Only Angels Have Wings; Stagecoach; The Wizard of Oz; The Women; Wuthering Heights; Young Mr. Lincoln
Germany: The Blue Angel; M; Vampyr; The Testament of Dr. Mabuse; Triumph of the Will; Olympia
USSR: Earth; Happiness; Alexander Nevsky
France: L’Age d’Or; Under the Roofs of Paris; À Nous la Liberté; La Chienne; Le Million; The Blood of a Poet; Boudu Saved from Drowning; Zero de Conduite; L’Atalante; The Crime of Monsieur Lange; A Day in the Country; Grand Illusion; Pépé le Moko; La Bête Humaine; Le Jour Se Lève; The Rules of the Game
United Kingdom: Rich and Strange; Man of Aran; The Man Who Knew Too Much; The 39 Steps; Secret Agent; Sabotage; Young and Innocent; The Lady Vanishes
Japan: I Was Born, But…; The Only Son; Osaka Elegy; Sisters of the Gion; A Story of Floating Weeds; The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum
Spain: Land Without Bread

APPENDIX: U.S. BY STUDIO

20th Century Fox: Young Mr. Lincoln
MGM: Freaks; Queen Christina; The Thin Man; A Night at the Opera; Mad Love; Fury; The Wizard of Oz; Gone with the Wind; Ninotchka; The Women
Paramount: Morocco; Tabu; The Smiling Lieutenant; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Trouble in Paradise; Love Me Tonight; Shanghai Express; Blonde Venus; One Hour with You; Duck Soup; She Done Him Wrong; Design for Living; The Scarlet Empress; Ruggles of Red Gap; Make Way for Tomorrow
RKO: The Most Dangerous Game; King Kong; Top Hat; Swing Time; Stage Door; Bringing Up Baby
Warner Bros.: Doctor X; Gold Diggers of 1933; The Adventures of Robin Hood; Porky in Wackyland
Columbia: It Happened One Night; Twentieth Century; Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; The Awful Truth; Lost Horizon; Holiday; Only Angels Have Wings; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
United Artists: City Lights; Scarface; Modern Times; Dodsworth; You Only Live Once; Stagecoach; Wuthering Heights
Universal: All Quiet on the Western Front; Dracula; Frankenstein; The Invisible Man; The Black Cat; Bride of Frankenstein; My Man Godfrey

***

APPENDIX: SIGNIFICANT GAPS
Nobody’s perfect, and these are some of the films (among many others) that will need to be addressed in future versions of this project.

Au bonheur des dames (1930, Julien Duvivier)
La Petite Lise (1930, Jean Grémillon)
People on Sunday (1930, Robert Siodmak & Edgar G. Ulmer)
Salt for Svanetia (1930, Mikhail Kalatozov)
The Congress Dances (1931, Erik Charell)
Limite (1931, Mario Peixoto)
Little Caesar (1931, Mervyn LeRoy)
Monkey Business (1931, Norman Z. McLeod)
The Public Enemy (1931, William A. Wellman)
The 3 Penny Opera (1931, Georg Wilhelm Pabst)
Horse Feathers (1932, Norman Z. McLeod)
I by Day, You by Night (1932, Ludwig Berger)
The Red Head (1932, Julien Duvivier)
Apart from You (1933, Mikio Naruse)
The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933, Frank Capra)
The Deserter (1933, Vsevolod Pudovkin)
Dinner at Eight (1933, George Cukor)
42nd Street (1933, Lloyd Bacon)
Japanese Girls at the Harbor (1933, Hiroshi Shimizu)
Liebeli (1933, Max Ophuls)
Life Begins Tomorrow (1933, Werner Hochbaum)
Sons of the Desert (1933, William A. Seiter)
The Gay Divorcee (1934, Mark Sandrich)
The Goddess (1934, Yonggang Wu)
It’s a Gift (1934, Norman Z. McLeod)
La signora di tutti (1934, Max Ophuls)
Maskerade (1934, Willi Frost)
Rapt (1934, Dimitri Kirsanoff)
David Copperfield (1935, George Cukor)
The Devil Is a Woman (1935, Josef von Sternberg)
An Inn in Tokyo (1935, Yasujiro Ozu)
The Little Colonel (1935, David Butler)
The Million Ryo Pot (1935, Sadao Yamanaka)
The Student of Prague (1935, Arthur Robison)
Toni (1935, Jean Renoir)
After the Thin Man (1936, W.S. Van Dyke)
Camille (1936, George Cukor)
Fährmann Maria (1936, Frank Wisbar)
Morning’s Tree-Lined Street (1936, Mikio Naruse)
Mr. Thank You (1936, Hiroshi Shimizu)
A Day at the Races (1937, Sam Wood)
Bizarre, Bizarre (1937, Marcel Carné)
The Edge of the World (1937, Michael Powell)
Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937, Sadao Yamanaka)
Lady Killer (1937, Jean Grémillon)
Topper (1937, Norman Z. McLeod)
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938, Michael Curtiz)
Port of Shadows (1938, Marcel Carné)
Beau Geste (1939, William A. Wellman)
Babes in Arms (1939, Busby Berkeley)
Destry Rides Again (1939, George Marshall)
Gunga Din (1939, George Stevens)
History Is Made at Night (1939, Frank Borzage)
Love Affair (1939, Leo McCarey)
Midnight (1939, Mitchell Leisen)
The Roaring Twenties (1939, Raoul Walsh)

***

APPENDIX: LUMINARIES (1930-39)
The 1930s filmographies of every filmmaker or actor — as far as I could find — with two or more credits on this list. Not everyone important is represented here but it’s hopefully handy for adding context. Films included in this version of the canon are underlined. These filmographies only include features and (generally) credited work.

Robert Armstrong (actor, 1890-1973): Be Yourself!; Dumbbells in Ermine; Danger Lights; Big Money; Paid (1930); Iron Man; Ex-Bad Boy; The Tip-Off; Suicide Fleet (1931); Panama Flo; The Lost Squadron; Radio Patrol; Is My Face Red?; The Most Dangerous Game; Hold ‘Em Jail; The Penguin Pool Murder (1932); The Billion Dollar Scandal; King Kong; Fast Workers; I Love That Man; Blind Adventure; Above the Clouds; The Son of Kong (1933); Palooka; Search for Beauty; She Made Her Bad; Manhattan Love Song; The Hell Cat; Kansas City Princess; Flirting with Danger (1934); The Mystery Man; Gigolette; Sweet Music; ‘G’ Men; Little Big Shot; Remember Last Night? (1935); Dangerous Waters; The Ex-Mrs. Bradford; Public Enemy’s Wife; All-American Chump; Without Orders (1936); Nobody’s Baby; Three Legionnaires; It Can’t Last Forever; The Girl Said No; She Loved a Fireman (1937); The Night Hawk; There Goes My Heart (1938); The Flying Irishman; Man of Conquest; Unmarried; Winter Carnival; Flight at Midnight; Call a Messenger (1939).

Jean Arthur (actor, 1900-1991): Street of Chance; Young Eagles; Paramount on Parade; The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu; Danger Lights; The Silver Horde (1930); The Gang Buster; The Virtuous Husband; The Lawyer’s Secret; Ex-Bad Boy (1931); The Past of Mary Holmes; Get That Venus (1933); Whirlpool; Most Precious Things in Life; The Defense Rests (1934); The Whole Town’s Talking; Party Wire; Public Hero Number 1; Diamond Jim; The Public Menace; If You Could Only Cook (1935); Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; The Ex-Mrs. Bradford; Adventure in Manhattan; The Plainsman; More Than a Secretary (1936); History Is Made at Night; Easy Living (1937); You Can’t Take It with You (1938); Only Angels Have Wings; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).

Frank Astaire (actor, 1899-1987): Dancing Lady; Flying Down to Rio (1933); The Gay Divorcee (1934); Roberta; Top Hat (1935); Follow the Fleet; Swing Time (1936); Shall We Dance; A Damsel in Distress (1937); Carefree (1938); The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939).

Lew Ayres (actor, 1908-1996): All Quiet on the Western Front; Common Clay; The Doorway to Hell; East Is West (1930); Many a Slip; Iron Man; Up for Murder; The Spirit of Notre Dame; Heaven on Earth (1931); The Impatient Maiden; The Cohens and Kellys in Hollywood; Night World; Okay America! (1932); State Fair; Don’t Bet on Love; My Weakness (1933); Cross Country Cruise; Let’s Be Ritzy; She Learned About Sailors; Servants’ Entrance (1934); The Lottery Lover; Spring Tonic; Silk Hat Kid (1935); The Leathernecks Have Landed; Panic on the Air; Shakedown; Lady Be Careful; Murder with Pictures (1936); The Crime Nobody Saw; The Last Train from Madrid; Hold ‘Em Navy (1937); Scandal Street; King of the Newsboys; Holiday; Rich Man, Poor Girl; Young Dr. Kildare; Spring Madness (1938); The Ice Follies of 1939; Broadway Serenade; Calling Dr. Kildare; These Glamour Girls; The Secret of Dr. Kildare; Remember? (1939).

Leslie Banks (actor, 1890-1952): The Most Dangerous Game (1932); Strange Evidence; I Am Suzanne! (1933); The Fire Raisers; Strike!; The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934); Sanders of the River; The Murder Party; Transatlantic Tunnel (1935); Debt of Honour; The Show Goes On (1936); Wings of the Morning; Fire Over England; Troopship (1937); Jamaica Inn; The Arsenal Stadium Mystery; Sons of the Sea (1939).

Jules Berry (actor, 1883-1951): Mon coeur et ses millions (1931); Quick; King of Hotels (1932); Un petit trou pas cher; Arlette et ses papas; Une femme chipée (1934); Jeunes filles à marier; Et moi, j’te dis qu’elle t’a fait de l’oeil; Touche-à-Tout; Baccara (1935); The Crime of Monsieur Lange; Une poule sur un mur; Disk 413; Les loups entre eux; Rigolboche; 27 rue de la Paix; Le mort en fuite; Adventure in Paris; Monsieur Personne (1936); Traffic in Souls; A Man to Kill; La Bête aux sept manteaux; Champs-Elysees; Arsene Lupin, Detective; Le club des aristocrates; Les rois du sport; L’habit vert; A Picnic on the Grass; Balthazar (1937); Les deux combinards; The West; My Father and My Daddy; Hercule; The Woman Thief; Clodoche; L’avion de minuit; Café de Paris; Carrefour; Accord final; The Woman of Monte Carlo (1938); Eusèbe député; Derrière la façade; Cas de conscience; Son oncle de Normandie; Le Jour se Leve; La famille Duraton (1939).

Mary Boland (actor, 1882-1965): Secrets of a Secretary; Personal Maid (1931); The Night of June 13; Evenings for Sale; If I Had a Million (1932); Mama Loves Papa; Three Cornered Moon; The Solitaire Man (1933); Four Frightened People; Six of a Kind; Melody in Spring; Stingaree; Here Comes the Groom; Down to Their Last Yacht; The Pursuit of Happiness (1934); Ruggles of Red Gap; People Will Talk; Two for Tonight; The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935); Early to Bed; A Son Comes Home; Wives Never Know; College Holiday (1936); Marry the Girl; Danger – Love at Work; There Goes the Groom; Mama Runs Wild (1937); Little Tough Guys in Society; Artists and Models Abroad (1938); Boy Trouble; The Magnificent Fraud; Night Work; The Women (1939).

Alice Brady (actor, 1892-1939): When Ladies Meet; Broadway to Hollywood; Beauty for Sale; Stage Mother; Should Ladies Behave (1933); Miss Fane’s Baby is Stolen; The Gay Divorcee (1934); Gold Diggers of 1935; Let ‘Em Have It; Lady Tubbs; Metropolitan (1935); The Harvester; My Man Godfrey; Go West Young Man; Mind Your Own Business; Three Smart Girls (1936); Mama Steps Out; Call It a Day; Mr. Dodd Takes the Air; One Hundred Men and a Girl; Merry-Go-Round of 1938; In Old Chicago (1937); Goodbye Broadway; Joy of Living (1938); Zenobia; Young Mr. Lincoln (1939).

Tod Browning (director, 1880-1962): Outside the Law; (1930); Dracula; Iron Man (1931); Freaks (1932); Fast Workers (1933); Mark of the Vampire (1935); The Devil-Doll (1936); Miracles for Sale (1939).

Luis Buñuel (director, 1900-1983): L’Age d’Or (1930); [Land without Bread (short, 1933)]. (Two other films as co-director.)

Bruce Cabot (actor, 1904-1972): The Roadhouse Murder (1932); Lucky Devils; The Great Jasper; King Kong; Disgraced; Flying Devils; Midshipman Jack; Ann Vickers; Shadows of Sing Sing (1933); Finishing School; Murder on the Blackboard; His Greatest Gamble; Their Big Moment; Redhead; Men of the Night; Night Alarm (1934); Without Children; Let ‘Em Have It; Show Them No Mercy! (1935); Don’t Gamble with Love; Robin Hood of El Dorado; The 3 Wise Guys; Fury; The Last of the Mohicans; Don’t Turn ‘Em Loose; The Big Game; Legion of Terror; Sinner Take All (1936); Bad Guy; Love Takes Flight; The Bad Man of Brimstone (1937); Sinners in Paradise; Smashing the Rackets; 10th Ave Kid (1938); Homicide Bureau; Mystery of the White Room; Dodge City; Mickey the Kid; The Torso Murder Mystery; My Son Is Guilty (1939).

Frank Capra (director, 1897-1991): Ladies of Leisure; Rain or Shine (1930); Dirigible; The Miracle Woman; Platinum Blonde (1931); Forbidden; American Madness; The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932); Lady for a Day (1933); It Happened One Night; Broadway Bill (1934); Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936); Lost Horizon (1937); You Can’t Take It with You (1938); Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).

Madeleine Carroll (actor, 1906-1987): The W Plan; L’instinct; Young Woodley; French Leave; Escape!; School for Scandal; Kissing Cup’s Race (1930); Madame Guillotine; Fascination; The Written Law (1931); Sleeping Car; I Was a Spy (1933); The World Moves On (1934); Loves of a Dictator; The 39 Steps (1935); Secret Agent; The Case Against Mrs. Ames; The General Died at Dawn; Lloyd’s of London (1936); On the Avenue; It’s All Yours; The Prisoner of Zenda (1937); Blockade (1938); Cafe Society; Honeymoon in Bali (1939).

Charles Chaplin (director/actor, 1889-1977): City Lights (1931); Modern Times (1936).

Maurice Chevalier (actor, 1888-1972): Paramount on Parade; The Big Pond; Playboy of Paris (1930); The Smiling Lieutenant (1931); One Hour with You; Love Me Tonight (1932); A Bedtime Story; The Way to Love (1933); The Merry Widow (1934); Folies Bergère de Paris (1935); The Beloved Vagabond; With a Smile (1936); The Man of the Hour (1937); Break the News (1938); Personal Column (1939).

René Clair (director, 1898-1981): Under the Roofs of Paris (1930); Le Million; À Nous la Liberté (1931); July 14 (1933); The Last Billionaire (1934); The Ghost Goes West (1935); Break the News (1938).

Colin Clive (actor, 1900-1937): Journey’s End (1930); Frankenstein; The Stronger Sex (1931); Lily Christine (1932); Christopher Strong; Looking Forward (1933); The Key; One More River; Jane Eyre (1934); Clive of India; The Right to Live; Bride of Frankenstein; The Girl from 10th Avenue; Mad Love; The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo; The Widow from Monte Carlo (1935); History is Made at Night; The Woman I Love (1937).

Claudette Colbert (actor, 1903-1996): Young Man of Manhattan; The Big Pond; Manslaughter; L’énigmatique Monsieur Parkes (1930); Honor Among Lovers; The Smiling Lieutenant; Secrets of a Secretary; His Woman (1931); The Wiser Sex; The Misleading Lady; The Man from Yesterday; The Phantom President; The Sign of the Cross (1932); Tonight Is Ours; I Cover the Waterfront; Three Cornered Moon; Torch Singer (1933); Four Frightened People; It Happened One Night; Imitation of Life; Cleopatra (1934); The Gilded Lily; Private Worlds; She Married Her Boss; The Bride Comes Home (1935); Under Two Flags (1936); Maid of Salem; I Met Him in Paris; Tovarich (1937); Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife; Zaza (1938); Midnight; It’s a Wonderful World; Drums Along the Mohawk (1939).

Walter Connolly (actor, 1887-1940): Washington Merry-Go-Round; Man Against Woman; No More Orchids; The Bitter Tea of General Yen; Plainsclothes Man (1932); Paddy the Next Big Thing; Lady for a Day; Man’s Castle; Master of Men; East of Fifth Avenue (1933); It Happened One Night; Once to Every Woman; Twentieth Century; Whom the Gods Destroy; Servants’ Entrance; Lady by Choice; The Captain Hates the Sea; Broadway Bill; Father Brown, Detective (1934); So Red the Rose; She Couldn’t Take It; One-Way Ticket; White Lies (1935); Soak the Rich; The Music Goes ‘Round; The King Steps Out; Libeled Lady (1936); The Good Earth; Nancy Steele Is Missing!; Let’s Get Married; The League of Frightened Men; Nothing Sacred; First Lady (1937); Penitentiary; Start Cheering; Four’s a Crowd; Too Hot to Handle; The Girl Downstairs (1938); The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Bridal Suite; Good Girls Go to Paris; Coast Guard; 5th Ave Girl; Those High Gray Walls; The Great Victor Herbert (1939).

Gary Cooper (actor, 1901-1961): Seven Days Leave; Only the Brave; Paramount on Parade; The Texan; A Man from Wyoming; The Spoilers; Morocco (1930); Fighting Caravans; City Streets; I Take This Woman; His Woman (1931); Devil and the Deep; If I Had a Million; A Farewell to Arms (1932); Today We Live; One Sunday Afternoon; Design for Living; Alice in Wonderland (1933); Operator 13; Now and Forever (1934); The Lives of a Bengal Lancer; The Wedding Night; Peter Ibbetson (1935); Desire; Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; The General Died at Dawn; The Plainsman (1936); Souls at Sea (1937); Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife; The Adventures of Marco Polo; The Cowboy and the Lady (1938); Beau Geste; The Real Glory (1939).

George Cukor (director, 1899-1983): Grumpy; The Virtuous Sin; The Royal Family of Broadway (1930); Tarnished Lady; Girls About Town (1931); What Price Hollywood?; A Bill of Divorcement; Rockabye (1932); Our Betters; Dinner at Eight; Little Women (1933); David Copperfield; Sylvia Scarlett (1935); Romeo and Juliet; Camille (1936); Holiday; Zaza (1938); The Women (1939). (Note: Cukor also did uncredited work on Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, responsible for a good deal of the former’s most iconic imagery; and he was the original director of Lubitsch’s One Hour with You before being fired from the project.)

Michael Curtiz (director, 1888-1962): Mammy; Under a Texas Moon; The Matrimonial Bed; Bright Lights; River’s End; A Soldier’s Plaything (1930); Dämon des Meeres; God’s Gift to Women; The Mad Genius (1931); The Woman from Monte Carlo; Alias the Doctor; The Strange Love of Molly Louvain; Doctor X; The Cabin in the Cotton; 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932); Mystery of the Wax Museum; The Keyhole; Private Detective 62; Goodbye Again; The Kennel Murder Case; Female (1933); Mandalay; Jimmy the Gent; The Key; British Agent (1934); Black Fury; The Case of the Curious Bride; Front Page Woman; Little Big Shot; Captain Blood (1935); The Walking Dead; The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936); Stolen Holiday; Mountain Justice; Kid Galahad; The Perfect Specimen (1937); Gold Is Where You Find It; The Adventures of Robin Hood; Four’s a Crowd; Four Daughters; Angels with Dirty Faces (1938); Dodge City; Daughters Courageous; The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex; Four Wives (1939).

Marcel Dalio (actor, 1899-1983): Olive passager clandestin (1931); The Night at the Hotel (1932); Turandot, princesse de Chine; Return to Paradise (1935); Quand minuit sonnera; The Life and Loves of Beethoven (1936); Pépé le Moko; Traffic in Souls; A Man to Kill; Marthe Richard; The Pearls of the Crown; Grand Illusion; Sarati the Terrible; The Kiss of Fire; Miarka (1937); Les pirates du rail; Hatred; Chéri-Bibi; Sirocco; The Curtain Rises; Conflit (1938); Pasha’s Wives; Midnight Tradition; The Rules of the Game; Sacred Woods (1939).

Olivia de Havilland (actor, 1916-): Alibi Ike; The Irish in Us; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Captain Blood (1935); Anthony Adverse; The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936); Call It a Day; It’s Love I’m After; The Great Garrick (1937); Gold Is Where You Find It; The Adventures of Robin Hood; Four’s a Crowd; Hard to Get (1938); Wings of the Navy; Dodge City; The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex; Raffles; Gone with the Wind (1939).

Marlene Dietrich (actor, 1901-1992): Dangers of the Engagement; The Blue Angel; Morocco (1930); Dishonored (1931); Shanghai Express; Blonde Venus (1932); The Song of Songs (1933); The Scarlet Empress (1934); The Devil Is a Woman (1935); Desire; The Garden of Allah; I Loved a Soldier (1936); Knight Without Armor; Angel (1937); Destry Rides Again (1939).

Victor Fleming (director, 1889-1949): Common Clay; Renegades (1930); Around the World with Douglas Fairbanks (1931); The Wet Parade; Red Dust (1932); The White Sister; Bombshell (1933); Treasure Island (1934); Reckless; The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935); Captains Courageous (1937); Test Pilot (1938); The Wizard of Oz; Gone with the Wind (1939).

Henry Fonda (actor, 1905-1982): The Farmer Takes a Wife; Way Down East; I Dream Too Much (1935); The Trail of the Lonesome Pine; The Moon’s Our Home; Spendthrift (1936); Wings of the Morning; You Only Live Once; Slim; That Certain Woman (1937); I Met My Love Again; Jezebel; Blockade; Spawn of the North; The Mad Miss Manton (1938); Jesse James; Let Us Live; The Story of Alexander Graham Bell; Young Mr. Lincoln; Drums Along the Mohawk (1939).

John Ford (director, 1894-1973): Men Without Women; Born Reckless; Up the River (1930); Seas Beneath; The Brat; Arrowsmith (1931); Air Mail; Flesh (1932); Pilgrimage; Doctor Bull (1933); The Lost Patrol; The World Moves On; Judge Priest (1934); The Whole Town’s Talking; The Informer; Steamboat Round the Bend (1935); The Prisoner of Shark Island; Mary of Scotland; The Plough and the Stars (1936); Wee Willie Winkie; The Hurricane (1937); Four Men and a Prayer; Submarine Patrol (1938); Stagecoach; Young Mr. Lincoln; Drums Along the Mohawk (1939).

Dwight Frye (actor, 1899-1943): The Doorway to Hell; Man to Man (1930); Dracula; The Maltese Falcon; Frankenstein (1931); Attorney for the Defense; By Whose Hand?; The Western Code; A Strange Adventure (1932); The Vampire Bat; The Circus Queen Murder (1933); Bride of Frankenstein; Atlantic Adventure; The Crime of Doctor Crespi (1935); Florida Special; Alibi for Murder; Beware of Ladies (1936); The Man Who Found Himself; Something to Sing About; The Shadow (1937); Who Killed Gail Preston?; Invisible Enemy; Fast Company; The Night Hawk; Adventure in Sahara (1938).

Jean Gabin (actor, 1904-1976): Chacun sa chance (1930); Méphisto; The Darling of Paris; Tout ça ne vaut pas l’amour; Gloria; Pour un soir..! (1931); Lilac; Les gaîtés de l’escadron; La foule hurle; La belle marinière; Coeurs joyeux (1932); L’étoile de Valencia; Adieu les beaux jours; High and Low; Le tunnel (1933); Maria Chapdelaine; Zouzou (1934); Behold the Man; La bandera; Variétés (1935); They Were Five; The Lower Depths (1936); Pépé le Moko; Grand Illusion; The Messenger; Lady Killer (1937); Port of Shadows; La Bête humaine (1938); Coral Reefs; Le Jour se Leve (1939).

Clark Gable (actor, 1901-1960): The Painted Desert; The Easiest Way; Dance, Fools, Dance; The Finger Points; The Secret 6; Laughing Sinners; A Free Soul; Night Nurse; Sporting Blood; Susan Lenox; Hell Divers; Possessed (1931); Polly of the Circus; Strange Interlude; Red Dust; No Man of Her Own (1932); The White Sister; Hold Your Man; Night Flight; Dancing Lady (1933); It Happened One Night; Men in White; Manhattan Melodrama; Chained; Forsaking All Others (1934); After Office Hours; China Seas; Call of the Wild; Mutiny on the Bounty (1935); Wife vs. Secretary; San Francisco; Cain and Mabel; Love on the Run (1936); Parnell; Saratoga (1937); Test Pilot; Too Hot to Handle (1938); Idiot’s Delight; Gone with the Wind (1939).

Greta Garbo (actor, 1905-1990): Anna Christie; Romance (1930); Inspiration; Susan Lenox; Mata Hari (1931); Grand Hotel; As You Desire Me (1932); Queen Christina (1933); The Painted Veil (1934); Anna Karenina (1935); Camille (1936); Conquest (1937); Ninotchka (1939).

Paulette Goddard (actor, 1910-1990): The Girl Habit (1931); Modern Times (1936); The Young in Heart; Dramatic School (1938); The Women; The Cat and the Canary (1939).

Cary Grant (actor, 1904-1986): This Is the Night; Sinners in the Sun; Merrily We Go to Hell; Devil and the Deep; Blonde Venus; Hot Saturday; Madame Butterfly (1932); She Done Him Wrong; The Woman Accused; The Eagle and the Hawk; Gambling Ship; I’m No Angel; Alice in Wonderland (1933); Thirty Day Princess; Born to Be Bad; Kiss and Make-Up; Ladies Should Listen (1934); Enter Madame!; Wings in the Dark; The Last Outpost; Sylvia Scarlett (1935); Big Brown Eyes; Suzy; The Amazing Adventure; Wedding Present (1936); When You’re in Love; Topper; The Toast of New York; The Awful Truth (1937); Bringing Up Baby; Holiday (1938); Gunga Din; Only Angels Have Wings; In Name Only (1939).

Porter Hall (actor, 1888-1953): The Thin Man; Murder in the Private Car (1934); The Case of the Lucky Legs (1935); The Petrified Forest; The Story of Louis Pasteur; Too Many Parents; Snowed Under; The Princess Comes Across; And Sudden Death; Satan Met a Lady; The General Died at Dawn; The Plainsman; Let’s Make a Million (1936); Bulldog Drummond Escapes; King of Gamblers; Make Way for Tomorrow; Hotel Haywire; Wild Money; Souls at Sea; This Way Please; True Confession; Wells Fargo (1937); Scandal Street; Dangerous to Know; Bulldog Drummond’s Peril; Stolen Heaven; Prison Farm; Men with Wings; King of Alcatraz; The Arkansas Traveler; Tom Sawyer, Detective (1938); Grand Jury Secrets; They Shall Have Music; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).

Margaret Hamilton (actor, 1902-1985): Another Language (1933); Hat, Coat, and Glove; There’s Always Tomorrow; By Your Leave; Broadway Bill (1934); The Farmer Takes a Wife; Way Down East (1935); Chatterbox; These Three; The Moon’s Our Home; The Witness Chair; Laughing at Trouble (1936); You Only Live Once; When’s Your Birthday?; Good Old Soak; Mountain Justice; I’ll Take Romance; Nothing Sacred (1937); The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; A Slight Case of Murder; Mother Carey’s Chickens; Four’s a Crowd; Breaking the Ice; Stablemates (1938); The Wizard of Oz; Angels Wash Their Faces; Babes in Arms; Main Street Lawyer (1939).

Howard Hawks (director, 1896-1977): The Dawn Patrol (1930); The Criminal Code (1931); Scarface; The Crowd Roars; Tiger Shark (1932); Today We Live (1933); Twentieth Century (1934); Barbary Coast (1935); Ceiling Zero; The Road to Glory; Come and Get It (1936); Bringing Up Baby (1938); Only Angels Have Wings (1939).

Katharine Hepburn (actor, 1907-2003): A Bill of Divorcement (1932); Christopher Strong; Morning Glory; Little Women (1933); Spitfire; The Little Minister (1934); Break of Hearts; Alice Adams; Sylvia Scarlett (1935); Mary of Scotland; A Woman Rebels (1936); Quality Street; Stage Door (1937); Bringing Up Baby; Holiday (1938).

Alfred Hitchcock (director, 1899-1980): Juno and the Paycock; Murder! (1930); The Skin Game; Rich and Strange (1931); Number Seventeen (1932); Waltzes from Vienna; The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934); The 39 Steps (1935); Secret Agent; Sabotage (1936); Young and Innocent (1937); The Lady Vanishes (1938); Jamaica Inn (1939).

Miriam Hopkins (actor, 1902-1972): Fast and Loose (1930); The Smiling Lieutenant; 24 Hours; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931); Two Kinds of Women; Dancers in the Dark; World and the Flesh; Trouble in Paradise (1932); The Story of Temple Drake; The Stranger’s Return; Design for Living (1933); All of Me; She Loves Me Not; The Richest Girl in the World (1934); Becky Sharp; Barbary Coast; Splendor (1935); These Three; Men Are Not Gods (1936); The Woman I Love; Woman Chases Man; Wise Girl (1937); The Old Maid (1939).

Edward Everett Horton (actor, 1886-1970): Take the Heir; Wide Open; Holiday; Once a Gentleman; Reaching for the Moon (1930); Kiss Me Again; Lonely Wives; The Front Page; 6 Cylinder Love; Smart Woman; The Age for Love (1931); -But the Flesh Is Weak; Roar of the Dragon; Trouble in Paradise (1932); The Woman in Command; A Bedtime Story; It’s a Boy; The Way to Love; Design for Living; Alice in Wonderland (1933); Easy to Love; The Poor Rich; Success at Any Price; Uncertain Lady; Sing and Like It; Smarty; Kiss and Make-Up; Ladies Should Listen; The Merry Widow; The Gay Divorcee (1934); Biography of a Bachelor Girl; The Night Is Young; All the King’s Horses; The Devil Is a Woman; $10 Raise; In Caliente; Going Highbrow; Top Hat; The Private Secretary; Little Big Shot; His Night Out; Your Uncle Dudley (1935); Her Master’s Voice; The Singing Kid; Nobody’s Fool; Hearts Divided; The Man in the Mirror; Let’s Make a Million (1936); Lost Horizon; The King and the Chorus Girl; Oh, Doctor; Shall We Dance; Wild Money; Danger – Love at Work; Angel; The Perfect Specimen; The Great Garrick; Hitting a New High (1937); Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife; College Swing; Holiday; Little Tough Guys in Society (1938); Paris Honeymoon; The Amazing Mr. Forrest; That’s Right – You’re Wrong (1939).

Sam Jaffe (actor, 1891-1984): The Scarlet Empress; We Live Again (1934); Lost Horizon (1937); Gunga Din (1939).

Boris Karloff (actor, 1887-1969): The Bad One; The Sea Bat; The Utah Kid (1930); The Criminal Code; King of the Wild; Cracked Nuts; Young Donovan’s Kid; The Public Defender; Five Star Final; I Like Your Nerve; Graft; The Guilty Generation; Frankenstein; Tonight or Never (1931); Behind the Mask; The Cohens and Kellys in Hollywood; Scarface; The Miracle Man; Night World; The Old Dark House; The Mask of Fu Manchu; The Mummy (1932); The Ghoul (1933); The Lost Patrol; The House of Rothschild; The Black Cat; Gift of Gab (1934); Bride of Frankenstein; The Raven; The Black Room (1935); The Invisible Ray; The Walking Dead; Juggernaut; The Man Who Lived Again; Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936); Night Key; West of Shanghai (1937); The Invisible Menace; Mr. Wong, Detective (1938); Devil’s Island; Son of Frankenstein; The Mystery of Mr. Wong; Mr. Wong in Chinatown; The Man They Could Not Hang; Tower of London (1939).

Gregory La Cava (director, 1892-1952): Laugh and Get Rich; Smart Woman (1931); Symphony of Six Million; The Age of Consent; The Half Naked Truth (1932); Gabriel Over the White House; Bed of Roses; Gallant Lady (1933); The Affairs of Cellini; What Every Woman Knows (1934); Private Worlds; She Married Her Boss (1935); My Man Godfrey (1936); Stage Door (1937); 5th Ave Girl (1939).

Fritz Lang (director, 1890-1976): M (1931); The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933); Liliom (1934); Fury (1936); You Only Live Once (1937); You and Me (1938).

René Lefèvre (actor, 1898-1991): Rapacité; The Stream; The Road to Paradise; Les deux mondes (1930); Mon ami Victor; Le Million; Jean de la Lune; Moon Over Morocco; On opère sans douleur (1931); Un chien qui rapporte; Seul; Monsieur, Madame et Bibi; Orange Blossom; Sa meilleure cliente; L’âne de Buridan (1932); Paprika (1933); An Ideal Woman; Les deux canards; L’amour en cage (1934); Les époux scandaleux; Vogue, mon coeur (1935); The Crime of Monsieur Lange; Le coup de trois (1936); Trois… six… neuf; Mes tantes et moi; Le choc en retour; Lady Killer (1937); Nuits de princes; La piste du sud; Sommes-nous défendus? (1938); Place de la Concorde; Feux de joie; Petite peste (1939).

Carole Lombard (actor, 1908-1942): The Arizona Kid; Safety in Numbers; Fast and Loose (1930); It Pays to Advertise; Man of the World; Ladies’ Man; Up Pops the Devil; I Take This Woman (1931); No One Man; Sinners in the Sun; Virtue; No More Orchids; No Man of Her Own (1932); From Hell to Heaven; Supernatural; The Eagle and the Hawk; Brief Moment; White Woman (1933); Bolero; We’re Not Dressing; Twentieth Century; Now and Forever; Lady by Choice; The Gay Bride (1934); Rumba; Hands Across the Table (1935); Love Before Breakfast; The Princess Comes Across; My Man Godfrey (1936); Swing High, Swing Low; Nothing Sacred; True Confession (1937); Fools for Scandal (1938); Made for Each Other; In Name Only (1939).

Peter Lorre (actor, 1904-1964): The White Devil (1930); M; Bombs Over Monte Carlo; Die Koffer des Herrn O.F.; A Man’s a Man (1931); Fünf von der Jazzband; Schuß im Morgengrauen; Dope; Stupéfiants; F.P.1 Doesn’t Answer (1932); Was Frauen träumen; Les requins du pétrole; Unsichtbare Gegner; High and Low (1933); The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934); Mad Love; Crime and Punishment (1935); Secret Agent; Crack-Up (1936); Nancy Steele Is Missing!; Think Fast, Mr. Moto; Lancer Spy; Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937); Mr. Moto’s Gamble; Mr. Moto Takes a Chance; I’ll Give a Million; Mysterious Mr. Moto (1938); Mr. Moto’s Last Warning; Mr. Moto in Danger Island; Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation (1939).

Myrna Loy (actor, 1905-1993): Cameo Kirby; Isle of Escape; Under a Texas Moon; Cock o’ the Walk; Bride of the Regiment; The Last of the Duanes; The Jazz Cinderella; The Bad Man; Renegades; The Truth About Youth; Rogue of the Rio Grande; The Devil to Pay! (1930); The Naughty Flirt; Body and Soul; A Connecticut Yankee; Hush Money; Rebound; Transatlantic; Skyline; Consolation Marriage; Arrowsmith (1931); Emma; Vanity Fair; The Wet Parade; The Woman in Room 13; New Morals for Old; Love Me Tonight; Thirteen Women; The Mask of Fu Manchu; The Animal Kingdom (1932); Topaze; The Barbarian; When Ladies Meet; Penthouse; Night Flight; The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933); Men in White; Manhattan Melodrama; The Thin Man; Stamboul Quest; Evelyn Prentice; Broadway Bill (1934); Wings in the Dark; Whipshaw (1935); Wife vs. Secretary; Petticoat Fever; The Great Ziegfeld; To Mary – With Love; Libeled Lady; After the Thin Man (1936); Parnell; Double Wedding (1937); Man-Proof; Test Pilot; Too Hot to Handle (1938); Lucky Night; The Rains Came; Another Thin Man (1939).

Ernst Lubitsch (director, 1892-1947): Monte Carlo (1930); The Smiling Lieutenant (1931); Broken Lullaby; One Hour with You; Trouble in Paradise (1932); Design for Living (1933); The Merry Widow (1934); Angel (1937); Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938); Ninotchka (1939).

Bela Lugosi (actor, 1882-1956): Such Men Are Dangerous; Wild Company; Renegades; Oh, for a Man! (1930); Dracula; The Black Camel; Broadminded (1931); Murders in the Rue Morgue; White Zombie; Chandu the Magician; Island of Lost Souls; The Death Kiss (1932); The Whispering Shadow; Night of Terror; International House (1933); The Black Cat; Gift of Gab; The Return of Chandu; The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934); The Best Man Wins; Mark of the Vampire; The Raven; Chandu on the Magic Island; Murder by Television; Phantom Ship (1935); The Invisible Ray; Postal Inspector; Shadow of Chinatown (1936); SOS Coast Guard (1937); Son of Frankenstein; The Gorilla; The Phantom Creeps; The Human Monster; Ninotchka (1939).

Paul Lukas (actor, 1894-1971): Behind the Make-Up; Slightly Scarlet; Young Eagles; The Benson Murder Case; The Devil’s Holiday; Grumpy; Anybody’s Woman; The Right to Love (1930); Unfaithful; City Streets; The Vice Squad; Women Love Once; Beloved Bachelor; Working Girls; Strictly Dishonorable (1931); No One Man; Tomorrow and Tomorrow; Thunder Below; Downstairs; A Passport to Hell; Rockabye (1932); Grand Slam; The Kiss Before the Mirror; Secret of the Blue Room; Sing Sinner Sing; Captured!; Little Women; By Candlelight (1933); The Countess of Monte Cristo; Glamour; Affairs of a Gentleman; I Give My Love; The Fountain; Gift of Gab; Father Brown, Detective (1934); The Casino Murder Case; Age of Indiscretion; The Three Musketeers; I Found Stella Parish (1935); Dodsworth; Ladies in Love (1936); Espionage; Dangerous Secrets; Mutiny on the Elsinore; Dinner at the Ritz (1937); The Lady Vanishes (1938); Confessions of a Nazi Spy; Captain Fury (1939).

Jeanette MacDonald (actor, 1903-1965): The Vagabond King; Let’s Go Native; Monte Carlo; The Lottery Bride; Oh, for a Man! (1930); Don’t Bet on Women; Annabelle’s Affairs (1931); One Hour with You; Love Me Tonight (1932); The Cat and the Fiddle; The Merry Widow (1934); Naughty Marietta (1935); Rose-Marie; San Francisco (1936); Maytime; The Firefly (1937); The Girl of the Golden West; Sweethearts (1938); Broadway Serenade (1939).

Rouben Mamoulian (director, 1897-1987): City Streets; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931); Love Me Tonight (1932); The Song of Songs; Queen Christina (1933); We Live Again (1934); Becky Sharp (1935); The Gay Desperado (1936); High, Wide and Handsome (1937); Golden Boy (1939).

Fredric March (actor, 1897-1975): Sarah and Son; Paramount on Parade; Ladies Love Brutes; True to the Navy; Manslaughter; Laughter; The Royal Family of Broadway (1930); Honor Among Lovers; Night Angel; My Sin; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931); Strangers in Love; Merrily We Go to Hell; Smilin’ Through; The Sign of the Cross (1932); Tonight Is Ours; The Eagle and the Hawk; Design for Living (1933); All of Me; Good Dame; Death Takes a Holiday; The Affairs of Cellini; The Barretts of Wimpole Street; We Live Again (1934); Les Misérables; Anna Karenina; The Dark Angel (1935); The Road to Glory; Mary of Scotland; Anthony Adverse (1936); A Star Is Born; Nothing Sacred (1937); The Buccaneer; There Goes My Heart; Trade Winds (1938).

Percy Marmont (actor, 1883-1977): The Squeaker; Cross Roads (1930); The Loves of Ariane; The Written Law; East of Shanghai (1931); The Silver Greyhound; Blind Spot; Say It with Music (1932); Her Imaginary Lover (1933); The White Lilac; Vanity (1935); Secret Agent; The Captain’s Table; David Livingstone (1936); Action for Slander; Young and Innocent (1937).

Herbert Marshall (actor, 1890-1966): Murder! (1930); Secrets of a Secretary; Bachelor’s Folly; Michael and Mary (1931); Faithful Hearts; Blonde Venus; Trouble in Paradise; Evenings for Sale (1932); I Was a Spy; The Solitaire Man (1933); Four Frightened People; Riptide; Outcast Lady; The Painted Veil (1934); The Good Fairy; The Flame Within; Accent on Youth; The Dark Angel; If You Could Only Cook (1935); The Lady Consents; Till We Meet Again; Forgotten Faces; Girls’ Dormitory; A Woman Rebels; Make Way for a Lady (1936); Angel; Breakfast for Two (1937); Mad About Music; Woman Against Woman; Always Goodbye; Zaza (1938).

Groucho Marx (actor, 1890-1977) / Harpo Marx (actor, 1888-1964) / Chico Marx (actor, 1887-1961): Animal Crackers (1930); Monkey Business (1931); Horse Feathers (1932); Duck Soup (1933); A Night at the Opera (1935); A Day at the Races (1937); Room Service (1938); At the Circus (1939).

Leo McCarey (director, 1898-1969): Wild Company; Let’s Go Native; Part Time Wife (1930); Indiscreet (1931); The Kid from Spain (1932); Duck Soup (1933); Six of a Kind; Belle of the Nineties (1934); Ruggles of Red Gap (1935); The Milky Way (1936); Make Way for Tomorrow; The Awful Truth (1937); Love Affair (1939).

Adolphe Menjou (actor, 1890-1963): Soyons gais; Mon gosse de père; Amor audaz; L’énigmatique Monsieur Parkes; Morocco; New Moon (1930); The Easiest Way; Men Call It Love; The Front Page; The Great Lover; The Parisian; Friends and Lovers (1931); Forbidden; Prestige; Wives Beware; Bachelor’s Affairs; Blame the Woman; The Night Club Lady; A Farewell to Arms (1932); The Circus Queen Murder; Morning Glory; The Worst Woman in Paris?; Convention City (1933); Easy to Love; Journal of a Crime; The Trumpet Blows; Little Miss Marker; The Great Flirtation; The Human Side; The Mighty Barnum (1934); Gold Diggers of 1935; Broadway Gondolier (1935); The Milky Way; Sing, Baby, Sing; Wives Never Know; One in a Million (1936); A Star Is Born; Café Metropole; One Hundred Men and a Girl; Stage Door (1937); The Goldwyn Follies; Letter of Introduction; Thanks for Everything (1938); King of the Turf; Golden Boy; The Housekeeper’s Daughter; That’s Right – You’re Wrong (1939).

Thomas Mitchell (actor, 1892-1962): Craig’s Wife; Adventure in Manhattan; Theodora Goes Wild (1936); Man of the People; When You’re in Love; Lost Horizon; I Promise to Pay; Make Way for Tomorrow; The Hurricane (1937); Love, Honor and Behave; Trade Winds (1938); Stagecoach; Only Angels Have Wings; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Gone with the Wind; The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).

Kenji Mizoguchi (director, 1898-1956): Fujiwara Yoshie no furusato; Tôjin Okichi (1930); Shikamo karera wa yuku (1931); Toki no ujigami; The Dawn of Mongolia (1932); Taki no shiraito; Gion matsuri (1933); Jinpu-ren; Aizô tôge (1934); The Downfall; Maria no Oyuki; Poppy (1935); Osaka Elegy; Sisters of the Gion (1936); The Straits of Love and Hate (1937); Roei no uta; Aa kokyo (1938); The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939).

Gaston Modot (actor, 1887-1970): Phantome des Glücks; Der Erzieher meiner Tochter; Freiheit in Fesseln; Under the Roofs of Paris; L’Age d’Or; Conte cruel (1930); Autour d’une enquête; L’opéra de quat’sous; L’ensorcellement de Séville (1931); Under the Leather Helmet; Fantômas; Coup de feu à l’aube (1932); The 1002nd Night; Colomba; Plein aux as; Quelqu’un a tué… (1933); Crainquebille; L’auberge du Petit-Dragon; Les chaînes (1934); Le billet de mille; Le clown Bux; Le mystère Imberger; La bandera; Lucrezia Borgia (1935); Les gaîtés de la finance (1936); Pépé le Moko; Traffic in Souls; Les réprouvés; Street of Shadows; Grand Illusion (1937); The Time of the Cherries; La Marseillaise; Ceux de demain; Sirocco (1938); Coral Reefs; La fin du jour; The Rules of the Game (1939).

Victor Moore (actor, 1876-1962): Dangerous Nan McGrew; Heads Up (1930); Romance in the Rain; Gift of Gab (1934); Swing Time; Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936); We’re on the Jury; Make Way for Tomorrow; Meet the Missus; The Life of the Party; She’s Got Everything (1937); Radio City Revels; This Marriage Business (1938).

David Niven (actor, 1910-1983): Without Regret; A Feather in Her Hat; Splendor (1935); Rose-Marie; Palm Springs; Dodsworth; Thank You, Jeeves!; The Charge of the Light Brigade; Beloved Enemy (1936); We Have Our Moments; The Prisoner of Zenda; Dinner at the Ritz (1937); Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife; Four Men and a Prayer; Three Blind Mice; The Dawn Patrol (1938); Wuthering Heights; Bachelor Mother; The Real Glory; Eternally Yours; Raffles (1939).

Yasujirô Ozu (director, 1903-1963): Kekkongaku nyûmon; Walk Cheerfully; I Flunked, But…; That Night’s Wife; The Luck Which Touched the Leg; Ojôsan (1930); The Lady and the Beard; The Sorrow of the Beautiful Woman; Tokyo Chorus (1931); Spring Comes from the Ladies; I Was Born, But…; Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth; Until the Day We Meet Again (1932); Woman of Tokyp; Dragnet Girl; Dekigokoro (1933); A Mother Should Be Loved; A Story of Floating Weeds (1934); Tokyo yoitoko; Hakoiri musume; An Inn in Tokyo (1935); Daigaku yoitoko; The Only Son (1936); What Did the Lady Forget? (1937).

Nova Pilbeam (actor, 1919-2015): Little Friend; The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934); Nine Days a Queen (1936); Young and Innocent (1937); Cheer Boys Cheer (1939).

William Powell (actor, 1892-1984): Behind the Make-Up; Street of Chance; The Benson Murder Case; Paramount on Parade; Shadow of the Law; For the Defense (1930); Man of the World; Ladies’ Man; The Road to Singapore (1931); High Pressure; Jewel Robbery; One Way Passage; Lawyer Man (1932); Private Detective 62; Double Harness; The Kennel Murder Case (1933); Fashions of 1934; Manhattan Melodrama; The Thin Man; The Key; Evelyn Prentice (1934); Star of Midnight; Reckless; Escapade; Rendezvous (1935); The Great Ziegfeld; The Ex-Mrs. Bradford; My Man Godfrey; Libeled Lady; After the Thin Man (1936); The Last of Mrs. Cheyney; The Emperor’s Candlesticks; Double Wedding (1937); The Baroness and the Butler (1938); Another Thin Man (1939).

Basil Radford (actor, 1897-1952): Seven Days Leave (1930); Leave It to Smith (1933); A Southern Maid (1934); Foreign Affaires (1935); Broken Blossoms; Dishonour Bright (1936); When Thief Meets Thief; Young and Innocent; Captain’s Orders (1937); Convict 99; The Lady Vanishes; Climbing High (1938); Let’s Be Famous; Jamaica Inn; Among Human Wolves (1939).

Claude Rains (actor, 1889-1967): The Invisible Man (1933); Crime Without Passion; The Man Who Reclaimed His Head (1934); The Mystery of Edwin Drood; The Clairvoyant; The Last Outpost (1935); Hearts Divided; Anthony Adverse (1936); Stolen Holiday; The Prince and the Pauper; They Won’t Forget (1937); White Banners; Gold Is Where You Find It; The Adventures of Robin Hood; Four Daughters (1938); They Made Me a Criminal; Juarez; Daughters Courageous; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Four Wives (1939).

Jean Renoir (director, 1894-1979): Baby’s Laxative; La Chienne (1931); Night at the Crossroads; Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932); Chotard and Company (1933); Madame Bovary (1934); Toni (1935); The Crime of Monsieur Lange; The Lower Depths; A Day in the Country (1936); Grand Illusion (1937); La Marseillaise; La Bête humaine (1938); The Rules of the Game (1939).

Leni Riefenstahl (director, 1902-2003): The Blue Light (1932); Victory of the Faith (1933); Triumph of the Will (1935); Olympia Part One: Festival of the Nations; Olympia Part Two: Festival of Beauty (1938).

Ginger Rogers (actor, 1911-1995): Young Man of Manhattan; The Sap from Syracuse; Queen High; Follow the Leader (1930); Honor Among Lovers; The Tip-Off; Suicide Fleet (1931); Carnival Boat; The Tenderfoot; The Thirteenth Guest; Hat Check Girl; You Said a Mouthful (1932); 42nd Street; Broadway Bad; Gold Diggers of 1933; Professional Sweetheart; Don’t Bet on Love; A Shriek in the Night; Rafter Romance; Chance at Heaven; Sitting Pretty; Flying Down to Rio (1933); Upper World; Twenty Million Sweethearts; Finishing School; Change of Heart; The Gay Divorcee (1934); Romance in Manhattan; Roberta; Star of Midnight; Top Hat; In Person (1935); Follow the Fleet; Swing Time (1936); Shall We Dance; Stage Door (1937); Vivacious Lady; Having Wonderful Time; Carefree (1938); The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle; Bachelor Mother; 5th Ave Girl (1939).

Charlie Ruggles (actor, 1886-1970): Roadhouse Nights; Young Man of Manhattan; Queen High; Her Wedding Night; Charley’s Aunt (1930); Honor Among Lovers; The Smiling Lieutenant; The Girl Habit; Beloved Bachelor; Husband’s Holiday (1931); This Reckless Age; One Hour with You; This Is the Night; Love Me Tonight; 70,000 Witnesses; The Night of June 13; Trouble in Paradise; Evenings for Sale; If I Had a Million; Madame Butterfly (1932); Murders in the Zoo; Terror Aboard; Melody Cruise; Mama Loves Papa; Goodbye Love; Girl Without a Room; Alice in Wonderland (1933); Six of a Kind; Melody in Spring; Murder in the Private Car; Friends of Mr. Sweeney; The Pursuit of Happiness (1934); Ruggles of Red Gap; People Will Talk; No More Ladies; The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935); Anything Goes; Early to Bed; Hearts Divided; Wives Never Know; Mind Your Own Business (1936); Turn Off the Moon; Exclusive (1937); Bringing Up Baby; Breaking the Ice; Service de Luxe; His Exciting Night (1938); Boy Trouble; Sudden Money; Invitation to Happiness; Night Work; Balalaika (1939).

Ernest B. Schoedsack (director, 1893-1979): Rango (1931); The Most Dangerous Game (1932); King Kong; Blind Adventure; The Son of Kong (1933); Long Lost Father (1934); The Last Days of Pompeii (1935); Trouble in Morocco; Outlaws of the Orient (1937).

David O. Selznick (producer, 1902-1965): Street of Chance (1930); The Lost Squadron; Girl Crazy; Young Bride; Symphony of Six Million; The Roadhouse Murder; State’s Attorney; Westward Passage; Is My Face Red?; What Price Hollywood?; Roar of the Dragon; Beyond the Rockies; Bird of Paradise; The Age of Consent; The Most Dangerous Game; Thirteen Women; Hold ‘Em Jail; Hell’s Highway; A Bill of Divorcement; The Phantom of Crestwood; Little Orphan Annie; The Sport Parade; The Conquerors; Rockabye; Renegades of the West; Men of America; Secrets of the French Police; The Penguin Pool Murder; The Half Naked Truth; The Animal Kingdom (1932); No Other Woman; The Past of Mary Holmes; The Cheyenne Kid; Lucky Devils; Topaze; The Great Jasper; Our Betters; King Kong; Christopher Strong; Scarlet River; Sweepings; Cross Fire; Dinner at Eight; Night Flight; Meet the Baron; Dancing Lady (1933); Viva Villa!; Manhattan Melodrama (1934); David Copperfield; Vanessa, Her Love Story; Reckless; Anna Karenina; A Tale of Two Cities (1935); Little Lord Fauntleroy; The Garden of Allah (1936); A Star Is Born; The Prisoner of Zenda; Nothing Sacred (1937); The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; The Young in Heart (1938); Made for Each Other; Intermezzo; Gone with the Wind (1939).

Sylvia Sidney (actor, 1910-1999): City Streets; Confessions of a Co-Ed; An American Tragedy; Street Scene; Ladies of the Big House (1931); The Miracle Man; Merrily We Go to Hell; Madame Butterfly (1932); Pick-up; Jennie Gerhardt (1933); Good Dame; Thirty Day Princess; Behold My Wife! (1934); Accent on Youth; Mary Burns, Fugitive (1935); The Trail of the Lonesome Pine; Fury; Sabotage (1936); You Only Live Once; Dead End (1937); You and Me (1938); …One Third of a Nation… (1939).

Michel Simon (actor, 1895-1975): Illegitimate Child (1930); Jean de la Lune; Baby’s Laxative; La Chienne (1931); Baleydier; Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932); High and Low (1933); Léopold le bien-aimé; Miquette et sa mère; Ladies Lake; L’Atalante; Le bonheur (1934); Adémaï au moyen âge; Amants et voleurs; Le bébé de l’escadron (1935); Under Western Eyes; Moutonnet; Les jumeaux de Brighton; Jeunes filles de Paris; Le mort en fuite; Faisons un rêve… (1936); Le choc en retour; Boulot aviateur; La bataille silencieuse; Drôle de drame; The Kiss of Fire (1937); Mirages; Boys’ School; Port of Shadows; Les nouveaux riches; Belle étoile; The Stream; Mother Love; Le règne de l’esprit malin (1938); Cocoanut; Eusèbe député; Derrière la façade; La fin du jour; Le dernier tournant; Fric-Frac; Circonstances atténuantes; Cavalcade of Love (1939).

C. Aubrey Smith (actor, 1863-1948): Such Is the Law; The Perfect Alibi (1930); The Bachelor Father; Contraband Love; Daybreak; Never the Twain Shall Meet; Just a Gigolo; The Man in Possession; Son of India; Guilty Hands; The Phantom of Paris; Surrender (1931); Polly of the Circus; Tarzan the Ape Man; -But the Flesh Is Weak; Love Me Tonight; Trouble in Paradise; No More Orchids; They Just Had to Get Married (1932); The Monkey’s Paw; Luxury Liner; Secrets; The Barbarian; Adorable; Morning Glory; Curtain at Eight; Bombshell; Queen Christina (1933); Caravan; Gambling Lady; The House of Rothschild; The Scarlet Empress; One More River; Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back; Cleopatra; We Live Again; The Firebird (1934); The Lives of a Bengal Lancer; Clive of India; The Gilded Lily; The Right to Live; The Florentine Dagger; Jalna; China Seas; The Crusades; Transatlantic Tunnel (1935); Little Lord Fauntleroy; Romeo and Juliet; The Garden of Allah; Lloyd’s of London (1936); Wee Willie Winkie; The Prisoner of Zenda; The Hurricane; Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937); Four Men and a Prayer; Kidnapped; Queen of Destiny (1938); East Side of Heaven; The Four Feathers; The Sun Never Sets; Five Came Back; The Under-Pup; Eternally Yours; Another Thin Man; Balalaika (1939).

Josef von Sternberg (director, 1894-1969): The Blue Angel; Morocco (1930); Dishonored; An American Tragedy (1931); Shanghai Express; Blonde Venus (1932); The Scarlet Empress (1934); The Devil Is a Woman; Crime and Punishment (1935); The King Steps Out (1936); Sergeant Madden (1939).

Yôko Umemura (actor, 1903-1944): Umon torimonochô – Samban tegara; Zoku ôoka seidan mazohe daiichi; Tôjin Okichi (1930); Zuku ôoka seidan mazo kaiketsu-hen; Shikamo karera wa yuku (1931); Shanghai (1932); Maria no Oyuki; Ojô Okichi; Poppy; Megumi no kenka (1935); Osaka Elegy; Sisters of the Gion; Akanishi Kakita (1936); Yoshida Palace (1937); Kaibyô gojûsan-tsugi; Oshare kyôjo; Kaibyô nazo no shamisen (1938); The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939).

Edward Van Sloan (actor, 1882-1964): Dracula; Frankenstein (1931); Behind the Mask; Play Girl; Man Wanted; The Last Mile; The Death Kiss; The Mummy (1932); The Billion Dollar Scandal; Infernal Machine; The Working Man; Trick for Trick; It’s Great to Be Alive; Deluge; Murder on the Campus; Goodbye Love (1933); The Crosby Case; The Life of Vergie Winters; I’ll Fix It; Mills of the Gods (1934); Grand Old Girl; A Shot in the Dark; The Woman in Red; Air Hawks; The Last Days of Pompeii; Three Kids and a Queen (1935); Road Gang; Dracula’s Daughter; Sins of Man (1936); Danger on the Air; Storm Over Bengal (1938); The Phantom Creeps (1939).

Jean Vigo (director, 1905-1934): Zero de Conduite (1933); L’Atalante (1934).

James Whale (director, 1889-1957): Journey’s End (1930); Waterloo Bridge; Frankenstein (1931); The Impatient Maiden; The Old Dark House (1932); The Kiss Before the Mirror; The Invisible Man; By Candlelight (1933); One More River (1934); Bride of Frankenstein; Remember Last Night? (1935); Show Boat (1936); The Road Back; The Great Garrick (1937); Sinners in Paradise; Wives Under Suspicion; Port of Seven Seas (1938); The Man in the Iron Mask (1939).

Fay Wray (actor, 1907-2004): Behind the Make-Up; Paramount on Parade; The Texan; The Border Legion; The Sea God; The Honeymoon; Captain Thunder (1930); Dirigible; The Conquering Horde; Not Exactly Gentlemen; The Finger Points; The Lawyer’s Secret; The Unholy Garden (1931); Stowaway; Doctor X; The Most Dangerous Game (1932); The Vampire Bat; Mystery of the Wax Museum; King Kong; Below the Sea; Ann Carver’s Profession; The Woman I Stole; Shanghai Madness; The Big Brain; One Sunday Afternoon; The Bowery; Master of Men (1933); Madame Spy; The Countess of Monte Crisco; Once to Every Woman; Viva Villa!; Black Moon; The Affairs of Cellini; The Richest Girl in the World; Cheating Cheaters; Woman in the Dark; Mills of the Gods (1934); The Clairvoyant; Alias Bulldog Drummond; Come Out of the Pantry; White Lies (1935); When Knights Were Bold; Roaming Lady; They Met in a Taxi (1936); It Happened in Hollywood; Murder in Greenwich Village (1937); The Jury’s Secret; Smashing the Spy Ring (1938); Navy Secrets (1939).

William Wyler (director, 1902-1981): The Storm (1930); A House Divided (1931); Tom Brown of Culver (1932); Her First Mate; Counsellor-at-Law (1933); Glamour (1934); The Good Fairy; The Gay Deception (1935); These Three; Dodsworth; Come and Get It (1936); Dead End (1937); Jezebel (1938); Wuthering Heights (1939).

Isuzu Yamada (actor, 1917-2012): Tsurugi wo koete (1930); Junkyo kesshi nihon nijuroku seijin; Adauchi senshu (1931); Byakuya no Kyoen; The Greatest Man in the World; Yamiuchi tosei (1932); Shinju fujin; Kôya no hate: zenpen; Bangaku no issho; Konjiki yasha; Kôya no hate – Kanketsu-hen (1933); Budo taikan; Furyû katsujinken; Tange Sazen: Kengeki no maki; Ureshii musume; Chûshingura – Ninjô-hen; Fukushû-hen; Aizô tôge; Kensetsu no hitobito (1934); The Downfall; Oroku-gushi; Maria no Oyuki; Ojô Okichi (1935); Osaka Elegy; Shijû-hachi-nin me; Sisters of the Gion (1936); Yoshida Palace (1937); Tsuruhachi Tsurujirô (1938); Shinpen Tange Sazen: Hayate-hen; Chushingura (Zen); Chushingura (Go); Higuchi Ichiyo; Kenka tobi – Kôhen; Kenka tobi: Zenpen; Sono zen’ya; Shinpen Tange Sazen: Sekigan no maki (1939).

***

For the rest of December I will be playing catchup with some new films and running quickly through all of the movies that have made Sight & Sound’s critically voted top ten lists, which appear once per decade since the ’50s; this only constitutes seven films I’ve never seen, plus two more I haven’t yet reviewed here, so it will not be a long-term project. After that, I will begin the 1940s canon (and resume the Best Picture Oscar nominees project) in January. I hope you’ve enjoyed this exercise and reading my interpretation of what I learned, and I’ll see you soon. Again, I can’t thank you enough for reading all this.

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November 2017 movie capsules

22 movies seen in November. Counts:
– 16 new to the database (previously unseen). New total: 2,254.
– 6 revisits, including two (Some Like It Hot and The Scarlet Empress) already reviewed here. Thrilled to tell you that, after telling everyone for months to watch the latter, I don’t feel I overhyped it at all.
– 3 new full reviews, two of them (Ninotchka and Sabotage) partial rewrites of pre-SOC pieces, one (Young and Innocent) all-new.
– 17 new capsules, on the roll call below the housekeeping.
– You’ll be pleased to know I don’t have any long-ass editorial for you this month. I’m not quite finished with the 1930s canon; got four movies to go (if you’re curious they are: Mad Love, Blonde Venus, Morocco and Stage Door, and I’m looking forward to all of them). Just ran out of time, plus I had to get two of them mailed in. (Consumer advisory: a used, factory-pressed copy of Universal’s Marlene Dietrich box costs less than getting Blonde Venus on its own as a DVDR. Makes no sense, but there you go.) The delay shouldn’t have any real effect on anything, as December was always going to be dedicated to catching up on contemporary stuff and a quick mini-project I’ll explain in a couple of weeks. I don’t think the summary post for the 1930s project will be quite as involved as the one from the silent era, though I won’t know for sure till I start actually writing it!
– The roll through all the Best Picture nominees will resume in January along with the 1940s canon, for which I’m operating from a much shorter list so it should only take through July or so, but you know me.
– Our two Hitchcock essays this month complete the year-long sub-project of writing up the Gaumont Six, or Thriller Sextent. It also takes us further into a nice large collection of long reviews of the films of my favorite director, and the source of this blog’s title. Hitchcock movies you can read about here, in chronological order: The Pleasure Garden (1925), The Lodger (1926), Downhill (1927), Blackmail (1929), Murder! (1930), Rich and Strange (1932), Waltzes from Vienna (1933), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Secret Agent (1936), Sabotage (1936), Young and Innocent (1937), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Rebecca (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), Suspicion (1941), Saboteur (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960).
– Coming very soon: Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much (’56), The Wrong Man, The Birds, Marnie. Others later. The only ones I don’t expect I’ll be able to write up at length are The Farmer’s Wife, Champagne, Juno and the Paycock, The Skin Game and Number Seventeen, though I could change my mind on you.

***

Project breakdowns:
1930s canon: 16 films (12 new). Taking on these specific lists was such a great idea. Fell in love with The Most Dangerous Game, Pepe Le Moko, Doctor X (huge surprise, Maltin gave this two stars!), One Hour with You, Holiday (yes, I dug a Cukor film!), The Blood of a Poet and Tabu. Renewed affections for Sabotage and Young and Innocent. Found it in my heart to appreciate Twentieth Century. Felt validated on Ninotchka, which is highly overrated and not worthy of Lubitsch’s best work, despite the brilliant Garbo performance at its center. Was somewhat disappointed with She Done Him Wrong, Queen Christina and Le Jour Se Leve but still enjoyed them; enjoyed Shanghai Express a good deal less but did admire it somewhat. Highly disappointed with Ruggles of Red Gap, having wanted to see it for years and years, but it’s still all right and also has a great performance in it, Laughton’s. The only relative dud was The Women, and even it isn’t outright bad, though if I hadn’t seen Holiday immediately afterward I’d tell you I think Cukor had no clue how to film comedy. (He was, in fact, fired from One Hour with You for this reason.) I tried to rush through this, since I meant to dedicate November to completing it, but I was having too much damn fun. Remaining: 4 films (4 new).
– Through the four-disc DVD set Treasures from American Film Archives, which contains a wonderful cross section of shorts and features preserved by the skin of their teeth and which I recommend unreservedly, I watched Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart, one of three shorts on the ’30s canon project. Sorry to say that while I appreciate the ironic cut-and-paste style, which is very modern and amusingly obsessive in a manner almost suggestive of Youtube, I find the film repetitive and tedious, which is a problem I often run into with avant garde films unfortunately. I of course don’t deny its importance as a piece of independent, surrealist art.
Best Picture Oscar nominees: 5 films (4 new). On hold this month, but still managed to watch four titles that overlapped with the above: Shanghai Express, She Done Him Wrong, One Hour with You, Ruggles of Red Gap and the previously seen Ninotchka. Remaining: 162 films (130 new).
2010s catchup: I watched In a World…, which I didn’t care for, because Netflix sent it in the mail before I quarantined myself from all non-1930s content.
New movies: Went to see Murder on the Orient Express with some friends; I liked it about as much as I expected, but the point was really sociailizing for that one.
Other: Finished my Treasures from American Film Archives box, the last disc of which contained the 1916 version of Snow White, the one Walt Disney saw that legendarily inspired him to later make his own take on the story. It’s less creaky than you might expect, and quite enchanting in parts.

Capsules follow!

In a World… (2013, Lake Bell)
Charming but excessively familiar romantic comedy with writer-director-star Bell as a voiceover artist whose accidental venture into trailer work leads to a sea change and a rift with her father, legendary for his trailer narrations. What might be a clever glimpse into a typically unheralded branch of the film industry is instead a clone of a million other movies, with all the meet-cutes and labored “snappy” dialogue thereby implied. The cast is willing and able, and Bell deserves credit for not staging her very conventional script at all conventionally, but it’s a pity that the film ignores the opportunity to explore its premise in a more cinematic manner.

The Most Dangerous Game (1932, Ernest B. Schoedsack & Irving Pichel) [hr]
At breakneck speed, this demented adaptation of Richard Connell’s classic short story — about an isolated maniac who hunts humans for sport — constructs and revels in an absolute nightmare with impressive focus and completeness in just 63 minutes. Joel McCrea and Fay Wray make an irresistible team, the ever-versatile Leslie Banks perfect as their adversary Count Zaroff, so expert at making his psychotic, bloodthirsty machinations sound like gentlemen’s sport. For all its melodramatic flair, this is a film that really does communicate an actual sense of danger and fear, and its wild directorial decisions make it the most engagingly bonkers ’30s horror this side of Rouben Mamoulian.

Snow White (1916, J. Searle Dawley) [r]
Not quite restored due to a few climactic scenes missing, this is the version of the Grimm tale that Walt Disney is said to have seen as a teenager and that he remembered when he began work on his first feature; you can draw a line from many of the dramatic beats and tropes of his masterpiece back to this film and presumably the 1912 play that inspired it. Despite the usual static camera, the early Paramount production boasts solid production values and rather good performances, especially by lovely Marguerite Clark in the title role, and some wonderful animal action. This story has been filmed so many times that it can be hard for any less iconic interpretation to stand out, but for historical significance alone this is worth seeing, and its bare, homespun nature is quite engaging.

Pépé le Moko (1937, Julien Duvivier) [hr]
Pépé le Moko is a bastard, a nihilistic flipside of Rick from Casablanca hiding out from constant police attention in the labyrinthine Casbah of French-occupied Algiers; Jean Gabin opens the film fully in ownership of the role, robbing and dealing and womanizing, but he quickly begins to lose control and it becomes clear that despite not yet being arrested, he is already caged. The sophisticated, tormentingly believable world swallowing him, adolescent and fearless in its maxed-out alertness and emotional energy suggest Renoir at his best, but with such a strong suggestion of New Wave and film noir you feel as if you can draw a map from every subsequent film you love about a lost soul with a criminal heart right back to it.

Twentieth Century (1934, Howard Hawks) [r]
(Revisit; major upgrade.) Stagier than Hawks’ other work, and certainly more than screwball comedies should be, but John Barrymore and Carole Lombard illustrate — as counterparts All About Eve and Bullets Over Broadway later would — the idea of theater people being thoroughly invaded and redefined by their occupation. The physicality of all of the actors here is something to behold, but Lombard’s control is sublime even when the character or the material is beneath her, and it usually is. The over-the-top goofiness of Barrymore is a lot to take, but admirable in its extremity; the major drawback is that the film’s sheer loudness — and its theatrical tendency to rely on transformations and character beats unseen to us — overwhelms what’s often an extremely clever and witty script.

Shanghai Express (1932, Josef von Sternberg) [r]
Fitfully engaging romantic melodrama aboard a train in which the sparks never quite fly, perhaps because Marlene Dietrich’s chemistry with her costar Clive Brook is mostly nonexistent, or at least it’s a very one-sided relationship in which she does all of the work. They are former lovers, she now an infamous courtesan, he a decorated military hero, and their renewed affections are tested when the train they’re on careens into the middle of a hostage situation during the Chinese Civil War. There’s intrigue, there’s a bit of action, there’s a dynamic, unforgettable and all too brief performance by Anna May Wong, but it all seems familiar and rote despite its very 1930s air of scrappy urgency.

Doctor X (1932, Michael Curtiz) [hr]
One of the most unfettered and delightful of the 1930s horror pictures. Theoretically a museum piece thanks to its use of typically hideous two-strip Technicolor, it actually harnesses every criticism you might throw at it — leading man Lee Tracy’s incongruous affability, Fay Wray’s constant screaming and sexy outfits, and of course the unabashed, illogical silliness of the bizarre, sick plot (a scientist takes his coworkers on a retreat to find out which of them is a notorious serial killer) — and fuses it all with genuinely brilliant direction and photography, makeup and set designs. It’s all weird, engaging, and frequently hilarious — true pre-Code bliss.

She Done Him Wrong (1933, Lowell Sherman) [r]
Mae West’s dynamic, unforgettable breakthrough performance — in a film based on her own 1928 play Diamond Lil — is accompanied by the star-making turn of one Cary Grant, but West dominates everything else that’s laid in front of us, hackneyed story included, during this brief crime-ridden comedy about the downfall of a corrupt barroom in 1890s New York and the many liaisons and conquests of West’s Lady Lou, from the dance hall to the prison cells. All of the best moments here hinge completely on the suggestive jokes West delivers; Grant, for all his handsomeness, makes no comparable impression here. The plot is rote and obvious, but Paramount recognizes why you’re here; even in comparison to other pre-Code Hollywood material, this is surprisingly amoral and sexy.

The Women (1939, George Cukor)
With its all-star all-female cast, its silly air of MGM prestige, and its priggish, conservative messaging about love and marriage, this is a feminist victory only on a superficial level, since — as the tagline puts it — “it’s all about men.” The movie unabashedly reveres money and glamour and while there’s a certain camp appeal to all that, it wholly drowns out the humane and appealing story at the center (about Norma Shearer’s marital woes), and Cukor has no idea how to deal with the comic aspects of the script.

One Hour with You (1932, Ernst Lubitsch) [hr]
The final Paramount Lubitsch-Chevalier musical is as delectable as the rest, a remake of Lubitsch’s silent comedy The Marriage Circle that improves upon it immeasurably, mostly by making both the lead characters less innocent, and being less pathological about the destruction of their relationship. The film’s liberated attitude toward infidelity is charming because it feels hard-won and (somewhat) realistic, with Lubitsch’s usual ebullience, charm, great jokes and general naughtiness.

Holiday (1938, George Cukor) [hr]
Erudite but warm comedy about an outsider (Cary Grant) infringing upon the day-to-day decadence of a house full of dysfunctional rich folks led by black sheep Katharine Hepburn, whose sister he’s about to marry. The relationship between the three siblings has a lived-in honesty, likely inherited from Philip Barry’s play, that rings out and grabs you along with the scattered moments of atypically unguarded emotion that peek through, especially in Hepburn’s performance. The characters’ affluence is finally irrelevant because the film as a whole is such a strong and surprisingly brutal attack on bourgeois ideals of work ethic and social standing, and it’s also on the very short list of Hollywood movies that seem to actually “get” real-world romantic love, even as it only portrays it on the sidelines.

The Blood of a Poet (1932, Jean Cocteau) [hr]
Not dissimilar in intimacy and impact to L’Age d’Or, released by the same producer in the same year, but Cocteau — whose first feature this was — is a bit too much of a wordsmith, and too gregarious, to really fall down a rabbit hole of completely uncompromised, or confrontational, surrealism. Instead, this witty and unnerving work covers an artist’s ambivalent relationship with his own creation — ranging from lust to apprehension to disgust — and jumps off from there to a series of bizarre setpieces interrogating inspiration, art, poetry, youth, and cinema. It also has a relatively coherent message to impart, which is something many surrealists would probably rebuke, but it helps make the film feel human and clever while maintaining its darkened, disorienting edge.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017, Kenneth Branagh)
Slightly less compelling than the Sidney Lumet film, which was also an outlier among mainstream Hollywood hits of the time, though Branagh’s Hercule Poirot is marginally superior to Albert Finney’s. The romantic back story given to Poirot is incredibly dumb, as is the inflated climax. The rest is what you’d expect, and your warmth toward it will probably go back to your feelings about Agatha Christie — which isn’t a terrible thing, and was also true of the 1974 version.

Tabu (1931, F.W. Murnau) [hr]
Made in semi-collaboration with Robert Flaherty, Murnau’s triumphant last film — possibly his most poetic and elegant apart from Sunrise — is an “ethnofiction” setting a sort of dreamlike variant on Romeo and Juliet among the occupants of the South Pacific island of Bora Bora. The intensity of their love is put to the test when the young girl Reri is marked as a chosen one who must be untouched to appease the gods. Their escape, romantic and impassioned and urgent, and its many complications become our harrowing, finally bleak story about a cruel world determined to crush the abhorrent youth and lust of its central couple. By the conclusion, Murnau has fully secured his title as cinema’s greatest lyricist of images.

Queen Christina (1933, Rouben Mamoulian) [r]
Pre-code costume drama and showcase for Greta Garbo’s formidable androgynous image is more artistically pedestrian than Mamoulian’s other works of the period, despite the resources at his disposal under MGM. It is hugely entertaining hokum, at least if you can look past the total mess it makes of a fascinating individual, the Queen of Sweden who reigned from 1632 (at age six) to 1654. Her ambiguous sexuality is very fitting for Garbo as an actress, but the script spins this into Hollywood goo that has the inaccessible monarch turning to putty at the hands of an envoy and makes her sophistication and eccentricity into a big joke. There isn’t much separating this from other MGM fantasies of wealth, and it looks trite compared to the likes of The Scarlet Empress and The Private Life of Henry VIII.

Le Jour se Lève (1939, Marcel Carné) [r]
Marcel Carné’s landmark of France’s poetic-realism cinema announces itself at the outset as the story of a murderer (Jean Gabin, who else?) sitting in a room and contemplating the chain of events that led to his crime. The context we receive is almost disappointing in its straightforwardness, though there is occasion for a bizarre, flamboyant performance by Jules Berry (the two men are juggling the same two women, and neither shows human regard for their lovers even though it’s clear we’re meant to see Gabin as the less flawed, more kindhearted character) who breaks through the convention a bit.

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935, Leo McCarey) [r]
The classic 1930s rags-to-riches comedy formula gets one of its most refined workouts here, one that’s more wry than funny (its more cathartic moments suggest a class-reversal of Boudu Saved from Drowning), in a film about a British manservant gambled away to a couple of ragtag new-money Americans during a drunken game of cards. As the disputed Ruggles, Laughton’s facial expressions and restraint throughout the first act are marvelous, but the screenplay by Walter DeLeon and Harlan Thompson forces his transition too quickly and, while it has some fun with the weird contrast of a butler having more regard for social mores and classes than his down-to-earth boss, its situations never attain the kind of levity you hope for in a film like this.

***

Additional Letterboxd notes on: Ninotchka / Sabotage / Young and Innocent

Young and Innocent (1937, Alfred Hitchcock)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Up to this point in Alfred Hitchcock’s Gaumont “thriller sextet” cycle, spanning from 1934 to ’38, the films have grown progressively darker in both story and tone, seemingly synchronized to the deteriorating political situation in Europe. Conventional wisdom is that Young and Innocent, by far the warmest and nearly the wittiest of the six films, coasts on lightness and charm in a way that the rest of Hitchcock’s 1930s thrillers do not; the storyline alone, despite the grim event (a woman is strangled with the belt from a raincoat, her body found on the beach) that sets it into motion, fully illustrates its brisk, freewheeling nature in stark contrast to the dread and misery of Secret Agent and Sabotage. It’s about a freshfaced young man attempting to prove his innocence of a murder with no help from incompetent lawyers and cops but plenty from a constable’s daughter, whose affection for him increases as their adventures across the countryside grow wilder and more purposeful.

Indeed, this is the film that most visibly harnesses Hitchcock’s uncanny ability to capture the occupants of rural England with good humor but without condescension, and it can be seen freely as a comedy, albeit a comedy (like North by Northwest) that’s positively filled with high-stakes thriller setpieces. It does not convey the weight of darkness, nor the corruptibility, of the later, similar Hitchcock exploration of family life Shadow of a Doubt, but it shows the same basic affection for, and painful acceptance of, humankind as that film and his black comic masterpiece The Trouble with Harry. What these and most other Hitchcock films — or, more often, just moments in his films — that touch on everyday family life and the lives of the working classes suggest is the same populism that lit such a fire under Frank Capra and lent such joy to his narratives. In quite many ways, Young and Innocent is a sort of British variant upon Capra’s It Happened One Night, not only because it revolves around a male-female not-yet-couple on the run but also because it so lovingly explores the people and places on their periphery as they travel. So much of the value of these two films comes from the odd little moments on the sidelines, in this case for instance the boy at the petrol station who has to stand on a stoop to do his job; or the pig farmer with a cart full of pigs who’s commandeered to give a ride to a couple of police officers, with no intention of making them comfortable; or a bespectacled young boy very into his Latin lessons; or a china mender with tattered clothes helping to track down a man who “blinks”; or even a cruddy public defender with no clear interest in his client’s case who can’t keep track of names, events, paperwork, spectacles. These are moments that feel snatched from lived experience, but they’re also caricatured and funny without being reflective of stereotypes so much as a general appreciation for the weirdness and endless human intrigue of day-to-day life. It’s all such great fun, and the constantly evolving story is just as effortlessly fun, and enjoyably tense to boot.

All that said, it seems to me that declaring Young and Innocent to be a breezy work of pure escapism does it a disservice, as does the widespread belief that it’s a sort of kiddie variant on The 39 Steps, much as it may share that film’s basic structure of a wrongly accused party giving chase across a wide geographical expanse. Donald Spoto spoke of the foreboding illustrated by the encroachment of tree limbs all around our characters, a bit of poetry suggestive of Vertigo; that energy extends to a couple of shadowy sets Hitchcock built — an abandoned mill, a collapsed mine — and the paranoia and accusation on various adults’ faces when they run across our hero and heroine. But more to the point, and less abstract, is the film’s profound sophistication as a character study and as an exploration of a relationship; though it can’t be considered a masterpiece on the same level as The 39 Steps, in these specific senses it actually betters than film and demonstrates that, by the time of this final collaboration, Hitchcock and screenwriter Charles Bennett had honed their craft completely and were now capable of bringing us characters that felt real, knowable, and fully formed without the mystery and harrowing moral emptiness of Sabotage.

Erica and Robert, the girl and boy wonderfully played by Nova Pilbeam and Derrick De Marney respectively, are not really kids, not quite adults, but as they get swept up in something so much larger than them, our sense of being taken along with them is completely convincing because the performances are understated and nuanced, and because Bennett has — with the help of two other writers adapting a novel by Josephine Tey — so effectively defined them as naive, kind-hearted and relatable. This is clearest when one compares them to Hannay and Pamela in The 39 Steps. Donat’s Hannay was an everyman but he was suave, handsome, extremely gifted at gaining control of a situation; and Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) was the typical thriller foil, initially reluctant and wisecracking, eventually fully enraptured with her accidental partner in crime. The development of Erica in particular is vastly more organic; she’s a well-controlled, caring, ambitious late teen who’s serving as a de facto head of household over her brothers in the unexplained absence of their mother. Her compassion gets her caught up in what initially seems an ill-advised mixup with Robert, who was arrested for the murder of the woman in the sea (he had worked with her, a famous actress, previously in his capacity as a writer of stories and scripts) and has since escaped. De Marney, for his part, is a very good-looking actor who nevertheless doesn’t look like a glamorous movie star (the same goes for Pilbeam, really as attractive as Carroll but not at all interested in communicating the same specific kind of artificial Hollywood-like sensuality) and Robert’s wits match his appearance. He’s clever, but slightly bumbling and gracelessly direct in a way Hannay never was. The development of the pair’s relationship — they never become a couple, though they stand on the precipice at the film’s conclusion — is also much less of a cinematic conceit than the blossoming romance in The 39 Steps. For one thing, Robert repeatedly gives Erica an out — telling her she’s already done enough to help him and can call it a day — and his gratefulness and eventual affection for her feel actually believable in a manner that film partnerships, especially of this era, seldom do. As in The 39 Steps, the couple never kiss or have a “moment” — first of all, these films are too breathless for that, but also, the subtlety of the characters’ romance renders it more striking, and earthier.

Erica is driven by a determination to prove her new friend’s innocence — once she spends enough time with him to come to believe in it herself, after an initial Great Expectations-like reluctant offering of food and cash while he’s hiding out — but there’s more to it than that. We know her to be thoroughly steeped, and happily so, in life with her father and brothers, and the coworkers of her father whom — it’s strongly suggested — helped very much to raise her. (The script makes an interesting point of implying that Erica sees these men as her equals, not her superiors, when she refers to one cop who taught her drive not as her dad’s friend but as her friend.) Gradually, though, Robert comes to represent a new world, the same world that the forest, the cottage and Prince Charming represent in a certain notable film released a few months later; in other words, Young and Innocent is less about dramatizing the clearing of a wrongfully accused man’s name than about a girl’s induction into adulthood. Early on we watch her easy rapport with, and command of, her brothers at the dinner table, and one marvelous later sequence mirrors that after she and Robert have been caught together and she’s forced to contend with a staged return to normalcy, with everything suddenly seeming to her very small and awkward, all played impeccably on Pilbeam’s face. (She is brilliant throughout the film, as in her more limited role in The Man Who Knew Too Much, and it’s little wonder that Hitchcock and David O. Selznick both tried to talk her into moving to Hollywood at various times.) We’re made to understand that her move away from her roots toward this independent discovery, of justice or romantic love or just a life outside, is an important evolutionary step in her life, a push outward that had to happen, regardless of whether this eventful week was the specific catalyst. At the finale, nonetheless, Erica is able to introduce Robert to her father without shame and without a sense of betrayal to either of them — she is able to keep both men in her life, and there’s something inordinately touching, not to mention atypically optimistic for Hitchcock, about that.

She’s the protagonist of the film through and through, as Sylvia Sidney’s Mrs. Verloc is the protagonist of Sabotage despite its story hinging upon her husband’s activities; but Robert’s dual redemption narratives, one buried and one obvious, are also sorely important and intriguing. It’s never stated outright that he’d engaged at some point in an affair with the dead actress Christine; he denies it more than once, but we’re certainly made to wonder who her ex-husband is referring to in the first scene when he’s yelling at Christine about having “boys” come around. Speaking of said ex-husband, it’s a fundamental flaw in the narrative that he isn’t the very first suspect investigated by Scotland Yard when Christine’s body is found, especially since he remains in the area and is clearly terrified of being discovered. (And conversely, it’s probably a testament to Hitchcock’s brilliance as a storyteller that most of us won’t think to question this until we’ve seen the movie half a dozen times.) He has a twitch that is unceremoniously put on display in that first scene and becomes a major plot point later; the same, more plausibly, for Erica’s instinct to help people, elements that indicate that Hitchcock and the screenwriters knew that their story would feel right, emotionally, even if it had logical impurities.

Over and above all this, the big story of Young and Innocent — when compared, in a technical sense, to the films Hitchcock was making just three years earlier — is that it shows us a fully matured and absolutely confident director hitting the height of his powers, just two years before he would leave for Hollywood. That so many of this film’s scenes are remarkable in a way impossible to replicate in still photos — made artful specifically through movement — is indicative of his increasing deftness with the camera. The suspense setpieces are expertly mounted, and better melded than ever with the story and with the comedic elements of the film; as in all of the Gaumont Six, there are almost too many wonderfully strange and fascinating sequences to count effectively, set at times against some of the most beautiful location work the director had employed up to this point. In contrast to The 39 Steps, you really are out in the world this time, and you can feel it. In and outdoors, bravura moments pass by almost unceremoniously: a car sinks into a mine, a Blind Man’s Buff game at a child’s nervous birthday party becomes a minefield for our heroes, a messy bar fight is occasion for a perfect sight gag, and eventually, we get the most astounding shot of Hitchcock’s British career, which he would nearly replicate in Hollywood in Notorious — his camera, in one of several magnificent crane shots he and Bernard Knowles execute in the film, travels from a wide shot of a rather drab but well-populated party at a place generically known as Grand Hotel (to which Erica, Robert and their new accomplice Old Will have traced the probable murderer) to a slow zoom into the blackfaced “jazz” band on stage, to the suspicious-looking drummer, to his body, to his face, to his eyes, to finally his twitch.

You tend to wonder at this point what might have happened if Hitchcock had stayed in England, had continued to work with Charles Bennett, Bernard Knowles, et al. Would we have been blessed with another dozen or two dozen movies like this, thrillers that knock you out with their speed, realism, excitement while still remaining as varied in structure and tone as this and Sabotage? As varied in emotional depth as this and The 39 Steps, for all their similarities? The thriller sextet stands apart from the rest of Hitchcock’s filmography, and certainly from the American work that was enabled to exist by it; they are sharp films, full of secrets, made bolder by their ostensible scrappiness and modesty. But moments like that Grand Hotel crane shot, as well as the murder in Sabotage, the farm scene in The 39 Steps, and a great deal of the content of what would be the last and most popular film (and nearly the most extraordinary) in the series, The Lady Vanishes, indicate conclusively that Hitchcock was too great a talent, and still a growing and developing one at that, to remain ensconced in something so modest as the British film industry, no matter how much affection he might have had for it. In 1937, there was so much to the legend that still lay ahead, so many myths to be made, but surveying everything the great man ever directed, you cannot help but occasionally feel your heart being pulled toward that eerie morning on the beach with the seagulls cawing up above, and toward that perpetually discombobulated old car being driven by Nova Pilbeam, heading off into some other abyss of validation and love, so long ago but feeling so impeccably present whenever we choose to have it acted out for us once again.

Sabotage (1936, Alfred Hitchcock)

!!! A+ FILM !!!

The fourth film in Alfred Hitchcock’s so-called “thriller sextet,” the six fast-moving, reputation-making suspense pictures he made for the Gaumont studio in the middle to late 1930s, is unquestionably the darkest of all, and the most quintessentially British. It depicts a London already teeming with chaos and on the precipice — though Hitchcock couldn’t possibly know how correct this was — of some kind of doom. Taken from Joseph Conrad’s ruthless and difficult 1907 novel The Secret Agent (which, confusingly, shares its title with Hitchcock’s previous film, actually based on some of Somerset Maugham’s personal experiences), it tells the story of a mild-mannered terrorist hiding in plain sight as the proprietor of a small movie house. He is Mr. Verloc, played by the superficially sinister but kindly Austrian actor Oskar Homolka, and there is so much more to him — and to the film — besides what we initially suspect. Despite Hitchcock’s usual tactic of stripping and simplifying his source material, this is one of the most novelistic films he ever made, with nearly every scene rife with remarkable detail to generate sufficient lingering consternation for a full week’s worth of nightmares.

Sabotage is a dark, draining film because of its surrender to chaos. Well before his more studied American era, he presents an unforgiving, shadowy world with few elaborate effects and comparatively little stunt editing to distract us from the sheer horror, a horror generated wholly by people and their misplaced motives. Apart from Vertigo and perhaps Shadow of a Doubt, it’s probably his most unsettling creation — even when compared to the often arresting bleakness glimpsed in other films of the Sextet, particularly Secret Agent, it stands out for its unsentimental realism and its reluctance to temper its despair with humor (in fact, in one sequence, its direct rebuttal to such practices).

Homolka’s Verloc is, like John Gielgud in Hitchcock’s previous film, a reluctant killer, whose secret life in a spy ring bent on the destruction of London has origins never made totally clear to us, which is all the better for the sense of mystery and inevitability it adds to the story. (The great weakness of Conrad’s novel is frankly its tendency to over-explain.) The cinema, called the Bijou and situated on a phony London street you’d swear wasn’t a constructed set (it was built in the middle of an empty field, exposed to the elements, but artificial all the same) for how beautifully it evokes the bustling, unforgiving London later visible in Frenzy, serves as a front and occasionally as the group’s meeting place. Verloc is unaware that one of the employees of the greengrocer next door is a government official with his eyes peeled.

But there’s a personal element: Verloc and his wife Winnie, a sweet and tough Sylvia Sidney, and her younger brother Stevie, both unaware of Mr. Verloc’s secret life, live together above the theater. After a blackout orchestrated by Verloc fails to generate much fear in the city and after many of his associates bow out for fear of their activities being detected, the uneasy situation culminates in Stevie being unknowingly tasked with the delivery of a bomb (hidden next to a couple of film cans in a bit of cruel, self-referential irony) all the way across town in precious little time. Hitchcock establishes the boy’s clumsiness from his first frame on the screen, and his awkward fumbling in crowds leads to his brutal death, still stuck on a bus, an accidental suicide bomber.

When the news finally floods back to Winnie, she is beyond shaken, stumbling into the theater in which the Silly Symphony cartoon Who Killed Cock Robin? is playing, distant from the proceedings as awareness sinks in, laughing hysterically, her mind reeling with grief and revelation. When one bird in the cartoon violently kills another, she is sent over the edge. This is the picture of the impact of war and its disregard for life upon innocence, upon common sense, upon real people. Her trauma becomes ours. At the dinner table — in a truly remarkable series of shots and cuts — Verloc vainly attempts to justify the accident; he has the audacity to try and comfort her by assuring her that they could “have a kid” of their own. Several point-of-view shots find her taking an almost robotic revenge (when someone later asks her what happened, she is nonchalant and broken: “He killed Stevie”). In one psychologically monstrous shot, she is followed by a stationary camera after his death, stumbling back toward a chair to cope with her new madness, with the bottom portion of his corpse still in the foreground. The evidence of her own guilt is destroyed when the building goes down in a fire and she, the one survivor of the three residents, leaves with the “grocer”…. but as in Blackmail, she will always remember where instincts led her, and the complete justification of it will not provide any comfort, perversely because she is alone in her anguish; no one knows, except the very nice cop who seems like something of a cipher. In this context the chilling final frames of both Blackmail and John Boorman’s Deliverance — the surfacing body bringing a nightmare back into daylight — feel almost merciful.

The motivation for this film’s unforgiving nature is obvious given the time and place of its production release — 1936 Britain — but Hitchcock’s impassioned, complex glare into the eyes of the enemy retains its resonance today precisely because it was so vital in its period. Staring into the abyss, what Hitchcock and his audience see is not a simplistic, elementary version of what we call evil; there are no clear-cut morals here, or at least not enough for them for us to thoroughly rebuke Verloc until his absence of shame (as Leonard Leff put it) becomes known to us. Hitchcock himself later doubted the necessity of the picture’s harsh impact, as did many moviegoers, particularly in the scene involving the death of the young Stevie. But without the boy’s death, Sabotage would lose its soul. It is only through such radical loss that the message, and the unspeakably moving experience of being so completely in the shoes and the heart of a woman who must take revenge, can be delivered. (The film’s American title, The Woman Alone, eloquently evokes one of the director’s most consistent themes and conflicts.)

But if the message seems mixed, that’s because of the intricacies of the people and their story. Most curious is the nature of Verloc’s relationship with his wife, much younger than him and hardly affectionate. Whole avenues of speculation and enigma are opened up; why does her brother live with them? Why does he have a different accent? And why does the couple’s relationship seem so cordial, and cold? They never call one another by their names, and there’s an oppressive formality to their interactions. Winnie comments upon how unfailingly kind her husband is almost with a sense of exasperation. So many questions persist. This movie — full of cinematic references, making full use of its setting — brings us a glimpse at the pregnancy of every moment, of the mysteries and secrets in this tiny world in which people make their time (as claustrophobic as Blackmail, despite again all of London at its disposal), and it’s so crucially an urban middle class setting and an impressionistic portrait of what seems like a real and tragic human story. The people and places are so evocative, the story is almost simply an excuse for us to be engrossed within them.

To be fair, nothing works without Hitchcock’s powerful flair with the camera; his photography is more a fly on the wall here than usual, capturing the delicate, at times beautifully ugly intensity of individual moments — an uncomfortable meeting between Verloc and an informer in front of an aquarium, and in particular the infamously terrifying Disney sequence, which Pauline Kael correctly argued as one of the most upsetting and brilliant scenes in Hitchcock. (Sabotage contains many moments that would belong in any list of the director’s signature moments if it were better known.) It seems as though he lives inside this film and has examined every possible connotation for his characters; that’s always true to an extent, but it’s a skill not used in service of so achingly real and tragic a story since Blackmail.

Perhaps Hitchcock’s foremost fascination in Sabotage, as in Secret Agent and destined to recur many times hence, is the inevitable clash between duty and everyday life, a clash which in this case becomes deadly — Verloc’s indecision balancing his impulse against loss of human life and his need for money, to say nothing of his disgust at the seamy London in which he’s engulfed, epitomized by a chilling scene involving a bird shop owner, actually a bomb maker, played by William Dewhurst, whose grown daughter looks on at him with open contempt, another broken home left unexplained to us but with its dynamic nevertheless painfully clear. The theme manifests as well in Winnie’s tormented moments forcing her essentially to choose between her dear brother and her husband, to say nothing of Stevie’s easily-distracted tendencies that lead to the massacre of numerous people (and at least one dog) on a bus.

It’s often stated that the major flaw of Sabotage, assuming one does not adopt the silly fiction that Stevie’s death is superfluous, is the character of Sgt. Spencer, the Scotland Yard investigator posing as a greengrocer (not insignificantly, Hitchcock’s father’s occupation), and consequently the performance of John Loder in that role — initially intended for Robert Donat. Loder is a clean-cut heroic “perfect” type who seems like a compromise and does perform the part more blandly than Donat would’ve, as Hitchcock would argue. Yet the performance’s relative anonymity — compared to Sidney and Homolka, both of whom are outstanding — strikes this viewer as to some extent quite appropriate. Loder can’t fully be blamed in the first place; Homolka, playing a rough draft of Claude Rains’ unforgettable Sebastian in Notorious, is given so much to work with — Verloc is intimidating by his sheer form but is a mouse when confronted by secretive associates, married to a much younger woman with whom he seems to share little if any affection, and he lives with her teenage brother, for whom he seems to hold a certain amount of quiet disdain. In the end, perhaps the point is that a simplistic hero with seemingly little inner life can do nothing to stop a complicated villain.

As a result, Sgt. Spencer — for all his derring-do and his impressive ability to ingratiate himself with Winnie and Stevie if not Mr. Verloc — accomplishes basically nothing in his attempts to put a wringer in the terrorist’s plans. He joins the film’s list of cinematic meta-references. It almost feels like a deliberate invasion of Hollywood stereotype in a story that is all too real. This is supported by the centering of the action around the theater. Two conclusions, then: 1) Because the “hero” is so idealized, he is a cardboard do-gooder who makes attempt after attempt to “save the day,” and even seems to think he has done something at the close of the film by just contributing half-hearted consolation to a widow, when a busload of people including at least one young boy are dead and the movie theater is engulfed in fire. 2) If he were a more realistic or interesting character, the movie would make far less sense; perversely, by enhancing the character, it would be taking the easy way out because it would support the notion that for the “woman alone,” there is always some hunk nearby to take care of everything.

And despite the fact that the director moved his operations to the U.S. just four years after making Sabotage, there is a possibility of some anti-Hollywood commentary in the piece, with what might be construed as (at the height of the Depression, with war in Europe three years away) the Dream Factory’s ignorance of and distance from the real world. Escape from reality can be sweet and welcome, but simple dreams personified — like the next-door nice guy in the movie — are more hollow than we want to imagine, and become just another part of the swirling nightmare. This is more eloquently, subtly stated here than in Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo, which uses all this as its thesis.

Beyond that, the same idea of Hollywood “romantic heroism” and its lack of contact with reality is repeated more explicitly in the thematically similar Shadow of a Doubt (almost immediately after meeting Teresa Wright, a detective tells her he is in love with her, a notion she finds rather laughable) and, later, in both The Birds and Marnie. It’s probably not a coincidence that these four movies that comment directly on a certain emptiness of fantasy are among the director’s darkest works.

Sabotage is too involving and realistic — so much so that it’s frightening, because it can’t be trusted to comfort us — to wrap things up tidily. Winnie walks away with Sgt. Spencer into the throngs of people in London, but her emotional state is left unresolved. She is reeling as the film fades suddenly, and there is no sense of relief or closure whatsoever, especially with the knowledge that Verloc’s death will not mark the end of the deadly plans he was carrying out; there’s a kind of fatalism in a Scotland Yard official’s early comment that those actually responsible for terrorism in London are permanently out of the reach of law enforcement. We’re also left struggling on a smaller scale with the ambiguity of Sabotage‘s messages, with the relative calm and kindly nature of its villain and the arrogance of its hero, the leading lady’s status as a murderer and the dead child’s deeply ironic sealing of his own fate. The bleakness of it all haunts permanently, because in contrast to the usual Hitchcock tale, it’s all too believable.

The following year, Hitchcock would attempt to integrate the lessons he learned in Sabotage, as well as some traces of its unrelenting blackness and its fixation upon ordinary people, into a more crowd-pleasing narrative without such broad political implications. Like the rest of the Sextet, this juxtaposition speaks to the versatility of both the director himself and to his chief collaborator during this time, Charles Bennett, who scripted all but one of the films in the series. Indeed, across the annals of Hitchcock’s filmography, this is one of the least “fun” of his works, but it’s also among the most fascinating, and the invitation it extends to a brief, nasty bird’s eye view of a decrepit city in an ominous time that could finally be most any terrible city at any terrible time instills a kind of dread and fear that the director would seldom attempt to match.

***

[Expansion and cleanup of a review of the film from 2004 as well as an additional essay about John Loder’s character from 2006.]

Ninotchka (1939, Ernst Lubitsch)

RECOMMENDED

I revisited this in the hopes that, after becoming a huge fan of Lubitsch’s earlier films, I would better understand its reputation; unfortunately, despite some scattered laughs and — near the end — a few genuinely affecting moments of strong characterization, undoubtedly a result of Billy Wilder’s contributions to the script, I continued to find it a thin, bad-faith justification for the director’s (and perhaps the screenwriters’) own internalized misogyny. You get a sense in many of his films (even better ones than this, like The Love Parade) that Lubitsch knows his attitude toward women is wrong and unhealthy, but he typically contorts himself to find a way to make it seem cute; in this case, as well as in the later Heaven Can Wait, he mostly fails, with the added insult here of wasting an excellent, iconic performance and padding out the running time with a weak plot comprised of much oddly dull business about aristocratic jewels. I have little to add to what I wrote in 2007, and I can’t help feeling I was better at passionately articulating my frustration with it when I was younger than I would be now, so I present it below, albeit slightly cleaned up, and I do apologize for some of the rambling that happens, though I can’t see where any of it is inaccurate.

***

Guys, if you don’t remember anything else about life, keep this in mind: If you ever meet a strong woman, a woman with power and individualism, a woman who has the audacity to dress in business wear and act like she knows what she’s talking about, a woman who’s an authority figure, a woman who might actually be in a position of superiority to you, a woman who is who she wants to be, a woman who loves her work and does it well, a woman who might get pleasure on her own terms, a woman who is a complete person, it is your mission to flirt and mock and degrade her until you manage to deconstruct her and turn her into the beautiful, cooing, long-haired, powerless, selfless, wide-eyed babe of your dreams. (Don’t forget that once you’ve seduced her, she’s in this relationship for your sake, not hers; she might give a blowjob daily but if she happens to come, it’s mere coincidence because female pleasure is just… well, immoral.) Make sure if you discover a movie about this situation that you praise it as if it is Great Comedy instead of an ancient artifact of a shitty attitude that is still widespread.

Actually, I liked Ninocthka, the Ernst Lubitsch classic partially scripted by the great Billy Wilder. It’s a very funny movie with a stunningly brilliant lead performance by Greta Garbo. But its unadulterated sexism still made me gag. The movie is commonly criticized for its rather lazy social commentary, but all the jokes about Bolshevism and Karl Marx were much more appealing to me than what ends up happening to the title character. (There’s a “Heil, Hitler!” joke that is just wonderful, proving that dated humor isn’t necessarily a bad thing.) Garbo shows up in the film — in a hilarious entrance — as a tough, smart, scary, possibly bisexual Soviet ambassador to clear the waters after a few Russian lunkheads fuck up a French business arrangement. (Garbo’s character could easily have been equally commanding but less androgynous in form… but that would have made the initial premise far less interesting, and considerably less erotic.)

Up to this point in the film I was with it; it was abrasive, witty, varied, and I was laughing a hell of a lot. But when Ninotchka meets up with “aw, shucks” wisecracker Melvyn Douglas, she instantly begins a long and painful transition to Marilyn Monroe. This subversion of indviduality in favor of a status quo is what I find sexist, and — along with the shrill nagging and screaming of the female characters who populate, for instance, Martin Scorsese’s work — it’s the reductive stereotype Hollywood loves best. This is offensive when directed toward men or women, but it’s almost always targeted toward the latter, in the 1930s and now. I think My Fair Lady is one of the most infuriating major movies in existence; I think it’s more likely to send someone over the edge of sanity than any action or horror film. And it’s not just because the songs are awful, Audrey Hepburn is miscast, and George Cukor’s direction is clunky beyond words, it’s in large part because George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” is tripe that people shouldn’t have to read in high school, and that should not be celebrated with a musical on Broadway or in the movies.

The hatred extends in Ninotchka to sexuality; the true “objectifying” of women occurs less in pornography than in mainstream media, in the suggestion that there is only one way to be attractive, sexy, desirable, fulfilled. Probably this idea has done almost as much damage to people as belief in the supernatural. And here we have Garbo, one of the greatest icons of the screen, giving a phenomenal performance in unconventional guise, attitude, voice; she is mysterious, unusual, uncompromising in avoidance of conventional “femininity”, and frankly — not that it’s any big deal but it is a movie — sexy. But of course that’s the point when, by the script’s terms, she is cold as ice; only when she takes off her hat and mannish suit can she truly be a Woman, when she laughs with her mate and alters her life’s direction to coincide with his, basically laying down all of her traits — body and mind in equal proportion — because the guy with the cockeyed smile and unfunny jokes has made her his. Ain’t love grand.

The best scene in the movie is an example of how it should have worked: Douglas spends ten minutes in a restaurant trying to make Garbo laugh amid her rants about the “working people”; he fails so miserably that finally she laughs, but only at his expense, so that his “triumph” is in fact a complete bitter failure. A movie about a woman whose lack of compromise in her self-respect and individualiy who leaves a bunch of drooling simpleheaded men reeling in her wake sounds like a pretty solid idea to me. And she’d have a job! And her ultimate goal wouldn’t be to live in a kitchen! Maybe she could even be the one with some kind of sexual hunger? Instead, for some unstated reason — I suspect just because he’s a cad who won’t stop following her, which is the Hollywood definition of how men should demonstrate desire — she’s suddenly smitten with the man, forgiving of all of his ideological opposition to her, completely and mysteriously beholden to his “charms.”

[2017 note: Actually, I strongly suspect that one of the buried implications here is that Ninotchka is seduced mostly by the beauty and glamour of venturing for the first time outside of the world she knows; Garbo’s performance captures this feeling of ebullience then deflation beautifully. To really probe at this would require the film to be more serious and sincere about politics than I feel it is; the world it posits is one strictly of extremes, of either drab and invasive communism or a jolly, carefree, colorful free market devoid of consequence. Perhaps some deep reading of the film could uncover a coherent philosophy behind such silliness, but I’m not capable. Interestingly, there is a brief and valuable sequence late in the film about Ninocthka’s life after her return to Russia that captures a complexity in her longing and briefly takes her values seriously while carefully examining how they have been challenged — but the film’s reluctance to actually investigate or resolve this is a microcosm of its larger problems with the character, who’s essentially ridiculed for having convictions and an inner life.]

People might tell you that most or all old movies are just as casually sexist as this one; this sort of wisdom is generally spread by those who have seen about three pre-1970 films, maybe fewer. His Girl Friday is the complete antithesis of Ninotchka in its attitude toward women, and it was made the very next year. Rebecca is not only anti-misogynist in tone, it’s basically about the fight — and victory — over charm-poison sexism, mocking the ideal of the knight in shining armor with shady asshole Maxim De Winter; Suspicion same thing, this time even more directly attacking the standard of the “awkward”, “homely” bespectacled girl (Joan Fontaine) “transformed” to a beauty queen by her con artist darling Cary Grant. For chrissake, Gone with the Wind has some of the most multilayered, strongly written female characters in screen history to this day, and it ends with a woman who declares (so arrogantly!) that she doesn’t need a man to live her life. Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby revolves around individualistic, relentlessly unconventional Katharine Hepburn lusting after a man. I could go on.

And then there’s Billy Wilder, whose The Apartment is a vindictive assault against disrespect toward women, whose Some Like It Hot is the all-time definitive movie about androgyny and the ultimate meaninglessness of gender boundaries. Did Wilder really progress so far in just twenty years? Or did the times just change? Either way, Ninotchka remains a delightfully fun movie, but one thwarted by its ancient ideas and one that in the end can’t really be more than a pleasantry.

***

[As noted at the top, slightly reformatted version of a review from 2007.]

October 2017 movie capsules

22 movies seen in October. Counts:
– 19 new to the database / previously unseen. New total: 2,239.
– 3 revisits, one of them (Double Indemnity) already reviewed here in the past.
– 2 new full reviews, for I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and the fabulous Dodsworth. I’d written about both many years ago at other venues but chose to keep very little of my previous work for these revisions.
– 16 (really 17, as one is for a two-part film) new capsules, provided a few spaces down.
– The Harvey Weinstein story broke this month, preceded by some comparatively obscure scandals in the film writing world and followed by an opening of the floodgates, with Kevin Spacey the tip of a very large iceberg. Movies are a solace and a comfort for me, not just watching them but also reading and writing about and studying them. I doubt I need to explain that mindset to you if you’re reading this. I maintain this blog for fun, and there is no other motivation for it apart from the relief it provides me from the news, from evils and concerns that, while hardly new, seem increasingly inescapable to me as I age. For that reason I don’t really long to come here and talk about the state of the world, and misogyny, and rape, and sexual assault, and workplace abuse, and the toxic hatefulness and abusiveness of seemingly the vast majority of powerful men, or perhaps men as a whole. (I don’t qualify that with “perhaps” out of defensiveness but out of concern at the pass it gives to shitty people — the notion that their biology dictates their behavior, that they “can’t help it.” And I have absolutely no doubt that economic exploitation of workers, including artists, plays a major role in the size and scope of this specific phenomenon.) But I feel a responsibility, even if only to myself and my own conscience, to acknowledge somewhere — and it may as well be here — that I know I can’t talk about Hollywood or even world cinema, contemporary and otherwise, in a vacuum. Movies themselves are not made in a vacuum, or at least good ones aren’t. Still I’m going to be honest: it’s a pain in the ass that the conversation is now irrevocably in this place where I cannot discuss film with others and also feasibly ignore the ugliness at the core of the system that crafts so much art that means the world to me, however commodified it is. And I just want to say that my frustration with this is not frustration with the victims of these men or the victims of sexual assault in general. My frustration is with the men and the creators themselves; it is their fault that so many movies, books, recordings, etc. are cursed with a permanent asterisk. It is not the fault of those who have spoken out, who are brave and admirable beyond measure.
– I don’t entirely believe in “separating the art from the artist.” I don’t believe it’s possible, and I don’t fully understand why it’s something you’d want to do; for anyone who’s serious about studying past work, an important figure’s biography can be a vital tool, a prism through which we can examine and evaluate the work whether we choose to interpret it as fundamentally an extension of who they are or not. That includes if they were awful people, by either our standards or the standards of their time. I certainly realize it’s more difficult to do that when you’re living in the same time as the artist in question, when there are questions of actual consumer support potentially coming into play. I do believe that celebrating someone’s work is not the same as celebrating them as a human, in much the same way I don’t believe a film is praiseworthy because it was made by a nice or good person; however, in times like now when wounds are newly exposed and emotions are running high with good reason, I can understand being troubled by such an assertion. My advocacy, at any rate, is of the scavenging of art from the artist; it may provide a fascinating window into a troubled soul — though honestly this is less true of even the most auteurist-friendly filmmaker, since cinema is inherently so much more collaborative than any other art form — but its final utility and place in the world is what it can come to mean for those of us who experience it. One reason I subscribe to this is that I think it’s dangerous to imply that only the “Bad Men” — only the untalented or immoral ones, only the ones who blatantly skeeve us out — are capable of sexual crimes; frankly, it should not surprise us that a criminal who hurt people did good things, or was able to convince others he was a good person. Statistically, it can’t possibly only be Bad Men doing this; to me, disowning the art of everyone we know to have committed these and other transgressions — apart from requiring us to dispense with so much that is culturally vital, which I personally just can’t get behind — further sets up the opportunity for men to hide behind a culturally beloved status, for outsiders to continue to console themselves that none of the Good, Decent Men inflict pain on others. Basically I don’t feel comfortable tying my own likes and interests to a vetting of the people involved; if they’ve performed serious misdeeds, I don’t believe they should work again. If they continue to work because the system is fucked and make another movie I like, I’m going to be honest about that, because reviewing movies is what I do here. Perhaps that’s a form of compartmentalization that’s unhealthy, but it’s the way I would prefer to run things here.
– That said, I have nothing but sympathy for anyone who — now, or later, or ever — cannot “see past” an artist’s personal life, behavior, and cruelty or criminal actions against others. I just want to be upfront about the fact that this blog may deal with it in a way you find disagreeable.
– My procedure has always been, and will continue to be, to speak to the personalities of filmmakers and performers strictly when I feel it’s relevant to a film’s content; Roman Polanski’s crimes, for instance, won’t necessarily come up in a review of Chinatown, but they will in a review of Tess; Elia Kazan’s status as a dirty rat is impossible to avoid in an analysis of On the Waterfront — it’s less pressing when you’re dealing with Splendor in the Grass. You may feel that continuing to review films that involve, or are largely the work of, accused or convicted predators or even just known assholes is an act of complicity. I don’t really have an answer for that, the same way I don’t have an answer for anyone who wants to know why I think John Lennon frequently behaved in a way that was vile to both men and women in his life and still find him an endlessly fascinating, complex subject, some of whose words and actions I find quite sympathetic. The same with James Brown and Spencer Tracy and Michael Jackson and Walt Disney (political, not personal issues there) and on and on and on, and I agree that it’s hypocritical and, again, I don’t have an answer except that it’s a fact of how I am — probably a testament to how much these kinds of art matter to me — and I suppose embracing hypocrisy is some part of growing up. Frankly I just don’t want to live in a world without a whole lot — I mean, a whole lot — of art that is in some way problematic in its origin, not because it is problematic, I wish it wasn’t, but because it is so much more.
– The list of what Glenn Kenny has called “bad actors” in Hollywood is endless, and it’s endless in other industries, and I think it’s a testament to capitalism, power, misogyny, culture at large more than a testament to the quality of the art that may happen to grow out of it; let’s not forget that any given television series of film also involves the hard work of any number of people who are not predators, who are in fact hard-working artists and technicians whose contributions are seldom destined to receive the kind of acknowledgement and reward they deserve.
– Lastly, I have to admit that in my teens and early to mid-twenties, when I was gradually turning into the sort of person who would ultimately run this ridiculous fucking blog, I acted shamefully about this specific subject in regard to favorite artists, especially directors, who had accusations made against them. I was aggressively defensive of the character of these men, exclusively because I loved their work; I had no deep reason beyond that — I found sexual violence itself no less reprehensible — except that because they had created things that were beloved to me, I didn’t think they could possibly be capable of anything evil. I made excuses for them and argued with people about it. I was an asshole and I am deeply sorry about it, and this is specifically the fallacy I refer to above that worries me: that which dictates that our faves are the good ones, allowing storied careers to blind us via the illusion that one’s work dictates who they are. It doesn’t, and I hope I’ve made clear that one’s likes and dislikes don’t either; you will continue to read praise of the work of many bad people, or people who’ve done bad things, here… and if this disclaimer is unsatisfactory, I completely understand and I apologize.

***

Project breakdowns:
1930s canon: 8 films (7 new). I wanted to get a lot more done with this, but I’m still going to try to finish up in November; it’ll be interesting to see if I manage it. Knocked out Under the Roofs of Paris, Man of Aran, La Chienne, Lost Horizon, both parts of Riefenstahl’s Olympia, You Only Live Once and the aforementioned revisit Dodsworth. Remaining: 21 films (17 new); my fate is riding with all the holidays I get this month and the fact that most of these are short.
Best Picture Oscar nominees: 9 films (7 new), including two overlap with the ’30s canon (Dodsworth and Lost Horizon). I cleaned out the rest of what was on Netflix and Filmstruck, plus some DVDs that showed up in the mailbox. We saw The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!, Secrets and Lies, Babel, Atonement, Captain Blood, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and the revisited I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. This project will be suspended in November and will resume in December. Remaining: 168 films (135 new).
2010s catchup: Managed to find time for the Nick Cave movie One More Time with Feeling, while a Netflix expiration sent me barreling to my favorite recent movie in a long time, the truly delightful We Are the Best!.
New movies: The Lost City of Z and (overlapped) One More Time with Feeling, and speaking of delightful, caught Get Out, and if that bit of horror wasn’t enough…
Other: …we decided to watch The Others on Halloween night. Also in this category was the Treasures from American Film Archives feature The Chechahcos. I am determined to finish that set in the next week.

Capsules follow!

***

Under the Roofs of Paris (1930, René Clair) [r]
Engaging but underwhelming silent-sound hybrid has René Clair experimenting with narrative, slipping periodically into pantomime, but the occasionally lyrical comedy about missing keys, suspicious bags and love triangles suffers from too many characters and too much plot at the expense of the ebullient, slightly melancholy feeling he conjures up in the opening and closing shots. As early talkies go it’s technically impressive and certainly vibrant, but I miss the sheer elegance of Clair’s later work as well as the surrealism of his silent shorts.

The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966, Norman Jewison) [NO]
Painfully unfunny farce has fewer jokes that land than Powell & Pressburger’s similarly plotted 49th Parallel, which wasn’t a comedy. A Russian submarine lands in an idyllic oceanside community, causing very stereotyped and hacky small-town humor and much weak loudness and chaos under the Stanley Kramer-Blake Edwards theory that filling the frame with celebrities and weakly drawn characters and artificial zaniness somehow equates to high comedy. Jewison has no clue how to stage this, and it goes on forever.

Man of Aran (1934, Robert J. Flaherty) [r]
This landmark ethnofiction about hunter-gatherer inhabitants of the titular islands off the Irish coast is uncomfortable to watch knowing that so much of it is staged; Flaherty seems to quickly lose interest in a study of his subjects’ lifestyle and instead decides, somewhat incomprehensibly, that the whole movie is now about sharks and shark hunting. That said, it is visually sumptuous — nearly every shot has an almost painterly quality — and its lack of direct “acting,” as well as the unorthodox editing technique, allows it to become entertainingly abstract.

Get Out (2017, Jordan Peele) [hr]
Disarmingly witty horror film stars Daniel Kaluuya as a dude meeting the girlfriend’s parents for the first time, his nervousness compounded because they don’t yet know he’s black. Breezy and fun and tense enough that it wouldn’t necessarily need to be an interrogation of race relations, but the uneasy feeling you get from the outset is unmistakably realistic. The unnervingly minimal, Kubrickian production design renders human fears in full color, but all the while it’s the outwardly nice people too tone-deaf to realize they’re doing anything wrong who are the real threat, which in 2017 was very timely.

Secrets & Lies (1996, Mike Leigh) [r]
In this largely improvised, intimate and emotionally intense drama, a woman in London seeks out her birth family and becomes embroiled in the life of her frenetic, hypersensitive birth mother, whose family’s entire existence is ridden with uncomfortable secrets and old resentments. As usual Leigh’s actors get across some incredible depth in their characters, building to small moments and a low-key finale that are indescribably moving, but there are still limitations to Leigh’s methodology; you can’t always escape the feeling that you are watching a community theater rehearsal.

La Chienne (1931, Jean Renoir) [hr]
Renoir’s second sound film advertises its absence of a moral or point at the outset and proceeds to toss us headfirst into a bleak story of deception and vile behavior within a working-class love triangle in Paris involving an amateur painter (Michel Simon, stunting his usual persona) and a prostitute and pimp who mistake him for rich and see him as their way out. Might be the most honest narrative film ever made; it has the air of real tragedy, real life, happening to real people and demonstrates little life, poetry or irony in the cruel world we occupy. It’ll ruin your day, but it’s terribly engrossing.

Babel (2006, Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Another overlong González Iñárritu festival of everything-is-(tenuously)-connected bleakness, this time with bonus chronological cheating. Vaguely, it’s an indictment of American exceptionalism: a random, stupid act of violence against a tourist inflicts far-reaching and grim consequences as far away as Japan, sort of. Relies heavily on ludicrous worst-case scenarios and much senseless behavior on the part of its thin characters. Three of the four stories are compelling if wholly unfinished, but all of the smash cuts and cross cutting in the world can’t give them the rhythm, purpose or completeness they seek.

The Chechahcos (1924, Lewis H. Moomaw) [r]
A facile melodrama with some of the most spectacular location photography seen up to this point in a feature film, still staggering to look at even now, this is one of the first independent films of its scale to be produced during the studio era, largely created and performed by nonprofessionals in Alaska. All things considered, it’s something of a miracle, as is its survival, and it compensates for its humdrum mother-and-child separation plotline with the sights and sounds and extremity of northwestern North America, the magnificence of which would be impossible to approach on any soundstage.

Lost Horizon (1937, Frank Capra) [hr]
One of the most dreamlike Hollywood films, and among the most incisively political despite its fantastic elements. The plot is lifted from James Hilton’s novel that created the concept of Shangri-La, which in the descriptions passed through Robert Riskin’s screenplay sounds like a supernatural socialist paradise. The film’s strangeness and oddly ecstatic fervor are immediately engaging, largely thanks to the normally staid Ronald Colman’s unmistakable sincerity. Despite the flaws and mangled status, this is a deservedly legendary curiosity that gives a number of clues about the way Capra looked at people.

Olympia Part One: Festival of the Nations (1938, Leni Riefenstahl) [hr]
Olympia Part Two: Festival of Beauty (1938, Leni Riefenstahl) [hr]
Riefenstahl’s eclectic document of the 1936 Olympics is so exciting you can’t help wishing that she (or maybe a director with similar talents and less, uh… concerning political associations) was there to film every sporting event you’ve ever had to sit through. Its shimmering cinematography, remarkably fluid and kinetic editing, and almost drunkenly beautiful awe at the wonders of the human body can’t be diluted by the years; and even though these events are now 81 years in the past, you’re at the edge of your seat through most of both films. Triumph of the Will shouldn’t be in the same sentence.

One More Time with Feeling (2016, Andrew Dominik) [r]
Emotionally fraught documentary about the creation of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ sobering 2016 album Skeleton Tree, the songs on which Cave had mostly written before his 15 year-old son’s tragic, sudden death. Dominik’s film shows how Cave carefully returned to work after this loss; without becoming exploitative or intrusive, it gives insight into how one (specifically an artist) copes with this level of grief. It also provides an intimate look at the making of a fine record, deepening one’s appreciation of the songs and how they changed after what Cave, understandably cryptic, calls “the event.”

Atonement (2007, Joe Wright)
Formally interesting, dramatically inert adaptation of a celebrated Ian McEwan novel that clumsily drums up silly English Patient-style romantic melodrama from a false rape accusation made by a child. It’s all very stuffy and kind of troubling, and the structure, which clearly means to impress in its audacity, has the ring of desperation, and it’s finally just another gooey vehicle for Keira Knightley and James McAvoy to give the exact same performances they always give.

We Are the Best! (2013, Lukas Moodysson) [hr]
Hilarious, palpably autobiographical (on the part of source material author Coco Moodysson) slice-of-life odyssey of two punk rock-addicted adolescent girls recruiting a third, a more conventional “good kid” from a religious household, for an amateur punk band and sing about how much they hate sports, during the early winter of 1982 in Stockholm. If Frank Borzage had lived to capture the experience of being a sullen, alienated teenager finding solace in headphones, it might have felt like this, so vivid and distinctive are its characters and their relationship. It’s the rare film that you wish could go on longer.

The Lost City of Z (2016, James Grey)
The distinctly James Franco-like Charlie Hunnam headlines this bleak adventure story based on the life of explorer Perry Fawcett; Robert Pattinson, looking strangely like John Lennon, is excellent as long-suffering fellow traveler Henry Costin. There are stretches when this is arresting, especially during the second trip to the Amazon that culminates in a battle of wills between Fawcett and James Murray, but the usual slick biopic trappings take over instead. There’s nothing really wrong with this film, but there isn’t much that’s memorable about it either.

Captain Blood (1935, Michael Curtiz) [r]
Well-directed, action-packed Warner Bros. vehicle for Errol Flynn wherein his charm and confidence cover up a bit for his thin capabilities as an actor. He portrays a wronged physician who turns to a life of piracy after being sold into slavery due to a misunderstanding — yeah, it’s that kind of movie, and it doesn’t attain additional credibility from its absurd love story involving pretty rich girl Olivia de Havilland, but it’s all a lot of fun, especially lively compared to the far stiffer adventure movies MGM was making around this time.

You Only Live Once (1937, Fritz Lang) [hr]
Lang’s second American film shares a cynical tone with its predecessor Fury, but finds time as well for a hard-earned romanticism that’s genuinely surprising given the source. Henry Fonda, monumental, stars as a hardened inmate finally set loose whose sole source of optimism is his relationship to his doggedly faithful wife (Sylvia Sidney). As in Fury, the story and its troubled hero back themselves into a seemingly inescapable moral corner, but what sticks most of all is how this gets across like few other films the pure recklessness of love at its headiest, most ill-advised, and most important.

The Others (2001, Alejandro Amenábar)
Politest, prettiest horror movie I have seen.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011, Stephen Daldry)
Easy to harp on the complete absence of flavor or style in this pedestrian awards-bait; equally easy to scoff at the cutesy hyper-sincerity and contrivance of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel. And there’s something faintly exploitative about the heavy use of 9/11 imagery to tell the story of a boy searching NYC for the lock to match a key he finds in his late father’s closet… but Tom Hanks is effortlessly charming as the boy’s dad, Thomas Horn credible enough as the protagonist Oskar, and the whole thing is entertaining even if maudlin and artless, and not nearly as bad as was reported at the time of its release.

***

[Additional thoughts on: Double Indemnity / I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang / Dodsworth]

Post #600: FAQ / the worst films / complete index

It’s already been nearly two and a half years since our last milestone post, which closely coincided with a radical change in the rate of posting here and with the beginnings of the canon project that’s mostly overtaken the narrative at this point. These changes had two interesting impacts: fewer long reviews being posted, and yet conversely, far more films being reviewed, with the result that in going back over this blog’s nearly six-year history, there’s quite a lot to index. The links at the top of this screen, of course, take you to a complete index of short capsules for every film I’m aware that I’ve seen, but that goes back eons and serves a different purpose, really, than our day to day business — more reference than readability. What we have here is a complete listing of every feature film I have reviewed formally here or informally at Letterboxd since December 2011, which also means every film I have seen since that date. The films are gathered in rough chronological order, by year and then by director. (I debated listing them by precise release date but decided this would make the list far more difficult to update in a few years.)

This is a good time for a short FAQ about my general procedures here, how things have changed since the blog’s inception, etc. so here we go. (FAQ is a bit of a misnomer, because traffic’s not exactly booming, but these are the questions I speculate you may have if you happen upon this site.

There used to be a lot more long, essay-length reviews being posted here; in fact, for the first three years it was three per week without fail. Now it’s more like, to paraphrase Annie Hall, two or three times a month. Why is that?
I was still in my twenties when I started Slices of Cake and had very ambitious plans to write an essay on each film with a place in the unofficial “canon,” so to speak, and many without one, using various polls and lists as my starting point. As time went on, the joy I found in analyzing and breaking down perceived classics started to fade, especially when it led to me spending a lot of time writing about movies I didn’t really care about, which is not something I’m keen on doing for free. However, I’m kind of stubborn about my personal projects and I let the original concept go on longer than it should have. This is an example of the conflict between my love of writing and my love of lists and organization — even when I didn’t enjoy writing long pieces about, say, Tootsie, I loved the fact that I could say I’d written about every film in the AFI 100, and it was a bit hard for me to give up that distinction and similar ones. In the end I switched to a system of drafting rough, somewhat informal short pieces for each film I watch at Letterboxd, and posting a full-length review only when I felt I had enough to say to warrant one. (Generally, if I type two full paragraphs at Letterboxd and feel I can keep going, I switch to a full essay here.) I had already been logging everything I watched over there, and this just helped me integrate that site into my day-to-day habits for maintaining SOC.

How do you choose what films receive full reviews?
From 2012 to early 2015, the vast majority of movies I watched were reviewed in full. But starting in February 2015, the pace slackened considerably as described above. For the most part I shy away from writing at great length about movies I’ve just seen for the first time ever; the only exceptions are if I consider something a masterpiece out of the gate (recent examples would be The Scarlet Empress and Sisters of the Gion) or if I find that a film triggered so many thoughts that I need the space to sprawl around and explore it. That doesn’t necessarily mean I liked it. Contemporary examples are Blue Valentine, which I hated; The One I Love, which I liked; and Wiener-Dog, which I absolutely adored. Eventually my intent is for any film I love to be fully reviewed in this space, some more than once. Right now, because I was doing things differently early on, you may find in the index below a strange imbalance whereby films I champion — say, We Are the Best! or Moonlight or The Heiress or Finding Nemo — have not been examined beyond short capsules at LB, but you can click through to reviews of The Quiet Man and the Lord of the Rings movies and other films that don’t seem to merit such deep analysis, at least not from these quarters. Over time this will change. There are many examples of films for which I posted complete reviews at the time but wouldn’t now; some of these are nevertheless pieces of writing I’m happy with, but many are not. Another reason some films that weren’t a great use of my time once received long reviews is because I made some missteps in terms of the viewing projects I was taking on. More on that in a moment.

What is Letterboxd and why/how do you use it?
Letterboxd is a wonderful social network dedicated to movie watching and reviewing that wasn’t available to me when I started this blog; if it had been, there’s a not-insignificant chance I would have made it my primary outlet for film reviewing. What I like about it: its visual appeal, its ease of use, its many helpful tools, its readability, and its social aspect, which is so much more appealing in many ways than the comparatively quarantined culture of this weblog. I began logging and writing up all films I saw there at the beginning of 2013 when I received an invite (registrations became fully open soon after that); this, incidentally, is why the first year’s worth of reviews here are the only ones that do not have LB capsules linked. I also imported the full list of films I had previously seen, although to date I have not added any pre-2013 reviews or capsules to the site and don’t expect I will. Up to the point when I changed the format here at SOC, I used my immediate Letterboxd responses as a “first draft” for the reviews I would later post here, which proved a handy alternative to extensive note-taking. (It also helps me keep a “bigger picture” in mind when I write; if I take detailed notes I tend to get constantly sidetracked by nuances.) Now, Letterboxd is really my main venue for film writing, with certain more polished thoughts making their way here.

The only drawback to using LB is the possibility of internet non-permanence; whereas I have full control of what you see at this blog (apart from the ads, which disappear if you log in), Letterboxd is of course a third party. However, I back up my work there regularly and could always switch to some alternative method of posting that material if necessary. But I would greatly miss the interactions with friends and other film lovers there, and I don’t have much confidence in my ability to engage people in quite the same way here.

Some of the old posts look different from the new posts.
That’s not a question, but anyway, yeah. When I started I was pretty ambitious, as we’ve seen, and was determined to make this blog extremely visually striking. One of my pet peeves with a lot of professional movie reviewers (which I am not, and I want you to know I have no illusions otherwise) is that they may as well be writing about novels much of the time, and I think it’s important to communicate the visual properties of cinema, which are the majority of its appeal. One way I thought I could reinforce that was with multiple illustrations in each post. As time went by and internet trends changed I came to feel that this made the posts look cluttered. Additionally, I did not want to rely on what stills I could dig up on the web and wanted to be able to choose the screenshots myself, which for a good while was the most time-consuming and annoying part of maintaining all this. So I simplified for a time to just putting a one-sheet at the top of the post, then to a representative still. These are also now stored on WordPress’ server, so they show up as icons and thumbnail images when blog posts are linked. I’m in the process of switching all of the old posts to this format; however, it’s rather a long project and there’s not really a timeframe on it, just something I work on when it strikes me. (Don’t tell anyone but I am also making minor edits and alterations to the reviews themselves. I can’t change the fact that me writing an essay about The Lion in Winter is a dumb idea, but maybe I can make that Million Dollar Baby review a little less cringey.) So for the time being, certain posts are better looking than others, and that’s life isn’t it.

You also may notice that the blog entries are supposed to have hyperlinked cross references. In other words, if a review makes reference to another film I’ve reviewed in full, there should be a link to the relevant post. This is true of all of my new posts and I’m adding the feature to the old ones as I move through and revise them.

Is all of the stuff you write here brand new and totally original and fresh and unknown to the world outside?
Alas, no! One of the original goals of this blog was to streamline and organize my messy archive of movie review posts from my old personal blog. Any time a review I post here is a revision of something older, it’s noted at the bottom in a different font. As years pass, this is becoming less and less common, both because I’ve mostly cleaned out my archive and because it’s now rare for me to read something I wrote that long ago that I still think is good enough to share.

Why do you post a dry rundown each month of how many movies you’ve watched and what they were?
Mostly for my own benefit (which is also the reason for everything else here, quite honestly); I enjoy tracking my progress this way. It’s a good way to keep a rundown of how the projects I’m working on are going. And for the hypothetical reader who follows this blog and uses the Movie Guide but doesn’t read my constant Letterboxd updates, it’s a good way to see what’s been newly added. The monthly capsules are generally edited versions of the LB posts, though there are occasionally exceptions. I try to keep the entries in the Movie Guide very short and simple, so they are generally less conversational and detailed.

About that Movie Guide…
It’s the centerpiece of this site, but I haven’t really addressed it here today. Any questions you have about it should be answered here.

Why did the lists projects you were working on change and what can we expect in the future?
Because I’m an idiot.

But the longer answer is, I first took on some sort of “movie canon” project back in 2006 and swiped a list of lists off various places on the internet, vaguely intending to run down the list in order. It started with the AFI 100, then went to the IMDB Top 250, then I forget what next (most nightmarishly, one item was a complete list of domestic top-grossing titles; I don’t know that there’s enough alcohol in the world to make me actually do that). For some bizarre reason, whether a misplaced commitment to my own past ideas for how to spend time or whatever else, in 2011 when I was preparing SOC I elected to use the same list of source canons from which to draw material / movies. The AFI list was relatively easy and handy since I had already written at least a little about most of the films on it. The IMDB list became a slog for lots of reasons and eventually I had to agree with some observers that attempting to tackle it here was misguided and pointless. More and more I realized I wasn’t actually doing what I’d built the blog to do, and decided to scrap everything and start over with what actually interested me; while I will still be exploring certain published and even populist lists, I’ve switched instead to a chronological listing of cinephile-beloved titles I’ve wanted to see for years, using the polls regularly voted on by users at the Criterion Forum, a fine resource.

In my defense, the goal had at one time been for the Movie Guide to cover every kind of popular and famous film, and maybe eventually it will have a lot of that, but since I’m the only one really paying attention to all this, I’m going to stick to the movies I have genuine curiosity to see. Among other things, it stops me from pissing people off quite as much because I just don’t like… let’s just say, a lot of what is beloved of most of my peers, movie-wise. It’s not deliberate contrarianism, but I’m skeptical it does anyone any good for me to talk about that stuff anymore.

(None of this affects my Oscars project. Despite the fact that you could argue this too sends me down avenues that are less than fascinating, I think seeing the winners and nominees does serve a certain interesting purpose, both as a damning of this weird avenue of consolidated, commodified movie culture and as a way of seeing films I love that I never would have expected to, like Tender Mercies.)

As for future projects, I will continue moving through the decade canons, hopefully at a rate of one per year. The interludes I’ve scheduled — the Sight & Sound and They Shoot Pictures lists — will inject a bit of variety without altering my course. I do have one rather large project that may interrupt the pace temporarily, but I’m not ready to talk about that yet, mostly because it may change or be delayed; it’s a slightly counterintuitive choice but one I’ve decided will serve an important purpose here.

Speaking of projects, you’ve never properly explained the “2010s catchup.”
It’s a private list because it’s fluid and my priorities, plus the films’ availability, constantly change. Once again I’ve plundered the Criterion Forum, whose user swo17 regularly catalogs and organizes the other users’ favorite films of each year, and have used that along with Metacritic as a basis for deciding what new films to seek out, since the number of releases is truly overwhelming and — while my heart lies firmly in the past — I don’t want to entirely lose touch with modern cinema. Much as I loathe Hollywood blockbusters, I’m quite out of touch when it comes to arthouse as well, as I don’t seem to care much for the stylistic or story choices being made by a lot of younger directors, but just as an illustration of how much more choice we have now (at home, not, for heaven’s sake, at the theater, at least not if you don’t live in a major city), I’ve still seen more than eighty films in the current decade that I thought at least brushed greatness. My intention is to continue to keep up and then concentrate for a few months on seeing as many of the major works from the current decade as possible in 2019, so that I can throw together a list of my top films from 2010 to now, because that could be fun.

Enough of this shit. What are the worst movies you’ve ever seen in your life, ever?
I’m glad you asked because I have prepared just such a list for the occasion, going temporarily against my resolution not to expound so much on the negative. What’s interesting is I found that the films I hate the most can be placed in one of a few categories: painfully unfunny comedies, shining examples of egomania at work, wrongheaded didactics, maudlin shit designed to make kids covertly accept their own slow biological demise at the hands of capitalism, awful movies (usually painfully unfunny comedies) my dad rented, awful movies I rented because they had dogs in them, sheer boring incompetence, or just personally offensive stuff; based on how I impulsively ranked this, I seem to be especially bothered by remakes of or sequels to films I love. Please note that this list includes six Academy Award winners for Best Picture. Also please give a hand to the MVPs, two-time listees Gus van Sant and Brad Silberling; and shouts out to Amy Heckerling, Carol Reed and Robert Zemeckis for having made some of my most beloved films of all time as well as some of my absolute bottom-of-the-barrel nightmare movies.

1. JFK (1991, Oliver Stone)
2. Scarface (1983, Brian De Palma)
3. Psycho (1998, Gus van Sant)
4. Crash (2004, Paul Haggis)
5. City of Angels (1998, Brad Silberling)
6. 2010 (1984, Peter Hyams)
7. Casper (1995, Brad Silbering)
8. All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989, Don Bluth)
9. Super Size Me (2004, Morgan Spurlock)
10. The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine (1990, Renny Harlin)
11. The Danish Girl (2015, Tom Hooper)
12. Oliver! (1968, Carol Reed)
13. Problem Child 2 (1991, Brian Levant)
14. Captain Ron (1992, Thom Eberhardt)
15. Dennis the Menace (1993, Nick Castle)
16. Bingo (1991, Matthew Robbins)
17. My Fair Lady (1964, George Cukor)
18. Forrest Gump (1994, Robert Zemeckis)
19. Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984, Peter Webb)
20. Gigi (1958, Vincente Minnelli)
21. Look Who’s Talking Too (1990, Amy Heckerling)
22. My Science Project (1985, Jonathan R. Betuel)
23. Armageddon (1998, Michael Bay)
24. Gladiator (2000, Ridley Scott)
25. Elephant (2003, Gus van Sant)

If you require justification for any of these, you have my permission to read the corresponding Movie Guide entry and then file a complaint with Central Services.

***

Two notes about the index, which I’ve tried to make as comprehensive, illuminating and easy to browse as possible. You’ll notice that there’s a considerable dropoff in the number of films covered after the 1930s, and then a huge uptick in the 2010s; that’s because the ’20s and ’30s are the canon projects I’ve completed thus far, and because as noted above, I’ve tried to devote myself to monitoring new movies when I can. In 2013 I even managed to see all of the Best Picture nominees theatrically, a fun stunt that I wouldn’t do again.

Secondly, there will be — increasingly, and probably by post #700 — a need for a shorts index. When shorts come up, as many of them did in the silent era canon and as many will again in future projects, I formally review them in my monthly posts even though I don’t log them on LB and don’t include them in the Movie Guide. TV shows, music videos, etc. probably won’t ever be covered here (I review them as well as, once in a while, DVD releases at my personal blog; if something seems especially relevant to our purposes here I’ll mention it in a monthly roundup), but shorts are a true, vital and underreported segment of actual cinema; the founding segment, in fact. For now, almost all of the shorts I’ve reviewed were covered and indexed in the Silent Era Canon writeup; World of Tomorrow, for the 2010s canon, and The Red Balloon, for the Best Screenplay project, are the biggest exceptions. Before long I wager there will be enough to justify a full linked list in this space.

At any rate, here goes. Note that there are six films reviewed in 2011 at my personal blog that I include with the full reviews; I may or may not eventually move those over here.

***

1913
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Ingeborg Holm (Victor Sjöström)

1914
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Cabiria (Giovanni Pastrone)

1915
FULL REVIEWS:
The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Cheat (Cecil B. DeMille)
Regeneration (Raoul Walsh)

1916
FULL REVIEWS:
Intolerance (D.W. Griffith)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Hell’s Hinges (Charles Swickard)

1917
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Bucking Broadway (John Ford)

1919
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Broken Blossoms (D.W. Griffith)

(cap)

1920
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Golem (Carl Boese & Paul Wegener)
The Parson’s Widow (Carl Theodor Dreyer)
Way Down East (D.W. Griffith)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene)

1921
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Kid (Charles Chaplin)
Destiny (Fritz Lang)
The Phantom Carriage (Victor Sjöström)
The Ace of Hearts (Wallace Worsley)

1922
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Häxan (Benjamin Christensen)
Nanook of the North (Robert J. Flaherty)
The Toll of the Sea (Chester M. Franklin) [revisited]
Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (Fritz Lang)
Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau) [revisited (theatrical)]
Foolish Wives (Erich von Stroheim)

1923
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
A Woman of Paris (Charles Chaplin)
Our Hospitality (Buster Keaton & John G. Blystone)
Safety Last! (Fred C. Newmeyer & Sam Taylor)

1924
FULL REVIEWS:
The Last Laugh (F.W. Murnau) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Michael (Carl Theodor Dreyer)
The Iron Horse (John Ford)
Sherlock, Jr. (Buster Keaton)
The Navigator (Buster Keaton & Donald Crisp)
Die Nibelungen [both parts] (Fritz Lang)
The Marriage Circle (Ernst Lubitsch)
The Chechahcos (Lewis Moomaw)
He Who Gets Slapped (Victor Sjöström)
Greed (Erich von Stroheim)
The Thief of Bagdad (Raoul Walsh)

1925
FULL REVIEWS:
The Gold Rush (Charles Chaplin) [+ cap]
Strike (Sergei M. Eisenstein) [+ cap]
The Pleasure Garden (Alfred Hitchcock)
Seven Chances (Buster Keaton) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Lazybones (Frank Borzage)
Battleship Potemkin (Sergei M. Eisenstein)
The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julian)
Joyless Street (G.W. Pabst)
The Big Parade (King Vidor)

1926
FULL REVIEWS:
The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap / revisited (Criterion)]
The General (Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman) [+ cap]
Faust (F.W. Murnau) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Flesh and the Devil (Clarence Brown)
A Page of Madness (Teinosuke Kinugasa)
The Black Pirate (Albert Parker)
Mother (Vsevolod Pudovkin)

1927
FULL REVIEWS:
7th Heaven (Frank Borzage) [+ cap / revisited]
The Unknown (Tod Browning) [+ cap / revisited]
The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland) [+ cap]
Downhill (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
Metropolis (Fritz Lang) [+ cap / revisited (longer cut)]
Two Arabian Knights (Lewis Milestone) [+ cap]
Sunrise (F.W. Murnau) [+ cap / revisited (Czech version) / revisited]
Underworld (Josef von Sternberg) [+ cap]
Wings (William A. Wellman)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
It (Clarence G. Badger)
Napoleon (Abel Gance)
The Love of Jeanne Ney (G.W. Pabst)
The End of St. Petersburg (Vsevolod Pudovkin)
Bed and Sofa (Abram Room)
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Walter Ruttmann)

1928
FULL REVIEWS:
Street Angel (Frank Borzage) [+ cap / revisited]
The Circus (Charles Chaplin) [+ cap]
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer) [+ cap]
The Wind (Victor Sjöström) [+ cap]
The Last Command (Josef von Sternberg) [+ cap]
The Crowd (King Vidor) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Laugh, Clown, Laugh (Herbert Brenon)
In Old Arizona (Irving Cummings)
October (Sergei M. Eisenstein & Grigori Aleksandrov)
A Girl in Every Port (Howard Hawks)
Steamboat Bill, Jr (Buster Keaton & Charles Reisner)
Spies (Fritz Lang)
The Man Who Laughs (Paul Leni)
The Docks of New York (Josef von Sternberg)
The Wedding March (Erich von Stroheim)
Beggars of Life (William A. Wellman)

1929
FULL REVIEWS:
Blackmail (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
Pandora’s Box (G.W. Pabst) [+ cap]
Diary of a Lost Girl (G.W. Pabst) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Lucky Star (Frank Borzage)
They Had to See Paris (Frank Borzage)
The River (Frank Borzage)
Arsenal (Aleksandr Dovzhenko)
The Old and the New (Sergei M. Eisenstein & Grigori Aleksandrov)
Disraeli (Alfred E. Green)
The Divine Lady (Frank Lloyd)
Eternal Love (Ernst Lubitsch)
The Love Parade (Ernst Lubitsch)
Queen Kelly (Erich von Stroheim)
Coquette (Sam Taylor)
Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov)

1930
FULL REVIEWS:
L’Age d’Or (Luis Buñuel) [+ cap]
The Dawn Patrol (Howard Hawks) [+ cap]
The Big House (George W. Hill) [+ cap]
Min and Bill (George W. Hill) [+ cap]
Murder! (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap / revisited]
All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone)
City Girl (F.W. Murnau) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Song o’ My Heart (Frank Borzage)
Liliom (Frank Borzage)
Under the Roofs of Paris (René Clair)
Earth (Aleksandr Dovzhenko)
The Divorcee (Robert Z. Leonard)
The Blue Angel (Josef von Sternberg)

1931
FULL REVIEWS:
Bad Girl (Frank Borzage) [+ cap / revisited]
Dracula (Tod Browning) [+ cap]
City Lights (Charles Chaplin)
Rich and Strange (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
M (Fritz Lang) [+ cap]
Cimarron (Wesley Ruggles)
Skippy (Norman Taurog) [+ cap]
The Champ (King Vidor) [+ cap]
Frankenstein (James Whale)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
A Free Soul (Clarence Brown)
Le Million (René Clair)
À Nous la Liberté (René Clair)
The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch)
La Chienne (Jean Renoir)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Rouben Mamoulian)
Portrait of a Young Man in Three Movements (Henwar Rodakiewicz)
The Sin of Madelon Claudet (Edgar Selwyn)

1932
FULL REVIEWS:
Freaks (Tod Browning) [+ cap]
One Way Passage (Tay Garnett) [+ cap]
Grand Hotel (Edmund Goulding)
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy) [+ cap]
Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
After Tomorrow (Frank Borzage)
Young America (Frank Borzage)
Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer)
Scarface (Howard Hawks)
Love Me Tonight (Rouben Mamoulian)
I Was Born, But… (Yasujiro Ozu)
Boudu Saved from Drowning (Jean Renoir)

1933
FULL REVIEWS:
King Kong (Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack)
Little Women (George Cukor) [+ cap]
The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda) [+ cap]
Cavalcade (Frank Lloyd)
Duck Soup (Leo McCarey)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang)
Gold Diggers of 1933 (Mervyn LeRoy & Busby Berkeley)
Design for Living (Ernst Lubitsch)
Morning Glory (Lowell Sherman)
Zero de Conduite (Jean Vigo)
The Invisible Man (James Whale)

1934
FULL REVIEWS:
It Happened One Night (Frank Capra) [+ cap]
Waltzes from Vienna (Alfred Hitchcock)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
The Scarlet Empress (Josef von Sternberg) [+ cap]
Manhattan Melodrama (W.S. Van Dyke) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Man of Aran (Robert Flaherty)
A Story of Floating Weeds (Yasujiro Ozu)
The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer)
The Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke)
L’Atalante (Jean Vigo)

1935
FULL REVIEWS:
The Informer (John Ford) [+ cap]
The Scoundrel (Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur) [+ cap]
The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
Mutiny on the Bounty (Frank Lloyd)
Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale) [+ cap]
A Night at the Opera (Sam Wood) [+ cap / revisited]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Dangerous (Alfred E. Green)
Happiness (Aleksandr Medvedkin)
Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl)
Top Hat (Mark Sandrich)

1936
FULL REVIEWS:
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Frank Capra) [+ cap]
Modern Times (Charles Chaplin) [+ cap / revisited]
The Story of Louis Pasteur (William Dieterle) [+ cap]
Secret Agent (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
The Great Ziegfeld (Robert Z. Leonard)
Sisters of the Gion (Kenji Mizoguchi) [+ cap]
Swing Time (George Stevens) [+ cap]
Dodsworth (William Wyler) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Come and Get It (Howard Hawks & William Wyler)
My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava)
Fury (Fritz Lang)
Anthony Adverse (Mervyn LeRoy)
Osaka Elegy (Kenji Mizoguchi)
The Only Son (Yasujiro Ozu)
The Crime of Monsieur Lange (Jean Renoir)
A Day in the Country (Jean Renoir)
San Francisco (W.S. Van Dyke)

1937
FULL REVIEWS:
The Life of Emile Zola (William Dieterle)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (David Hand) [+ cap]
The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey) [+ cap / revisited]
Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey) [+ cap]
Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir) [+ cap]
A Star Is Born (William A. Wellman) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Lost Horizon (Frank Capra)
Captains Courageous (Victor Fleming)
The Good Earth (Sidney Franklin)
In Old Chicago (Henry King)
Nothing Sacred (William A. Wellman)

1938
FULL REVIEWS:
Pygmalion (Anthony Asquith & Leslie Howard) [+ cap]
You Can’t Take It with You (Frank Capra)
Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks) [+ cap / revisited]
The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Kentucky (David Butler)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz & William Keighley)
Alexander Nevsky (Sergei M. Eisenstein)
La Bête Humaine (Jean Renoir)
Olympia (Leni Riefenstahl)
Boys Town (Norman Taurog)
Jezebel (William Wyler)

1939
FULL REVIEWS:
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra)
The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming) [+ cap]
Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming) [+ cap]
Stagecoach (John Ford) [+ cap / revisited]
The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir) [+ cap]
Wuthering Heights (William Wyler) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford)
Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks)
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Kenji Mizoguchi)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Sam Wood)

1940
FULL REVIEWS:
The Great Dictator (Charles Chaplin) [+ cap]
The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor)
The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford)
Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
Arise, My Love (Mitchell Leisen) [+ cap]
The Great McGinty (Preston Sturges) [+ cap]
Fantasia (various directors) [+ cap / revisited]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Gaslight (Thorold Dickinson)
The Long Voyage Home (John Ford)
Kitty Foyle (Sam Wood)
The Westerner (William Wyler)

1941
FULL REVIEWS:
How Green Was My Valley (John Ford)
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (Alexander Hall) [+ cap]
Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
The Maltese Falcon (John Huston) [+ cap]
49th Parallel (Michael Powell) [+ cap]
Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges)
Citizen Kane (Orson Welles) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Crook’s Tour (John Baxter)
The Great Lie (Edmund Goulding)
Sergeant York (Howard Hawks)
Johnny Eager (Mervyn LeRoy)

1942
FULL REVIEWS:
Yankee Doodle Dandy (Michael Curtiz) [+ cap]
Casablanca (Michael Curtiz)
Saboteur (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
Woman of the Year (George Stevens) [+ cap]
Mrs. Miniver (William Wyler) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Bambi (David Hand)
The Talk of the Town (George Stevens)

1943
FULL REVIEWS:
Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
Princess O’Rourke (Norman Krasna) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Human Comedy (Clarence Brown)
The Song of Bernadette (Henry King)
Watch on the Rhine (Herman Shumlin)
The More the Merrier (George Stevens)
For Whom the Bell Tolls (Sam Wood)

1944
FULL REVIEWS:
Marie-Louise (Leopold Lindtberg) [+ cap]
Going My Way (Leo McCarey)
Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
National Velvet (Clarence Brown)
Gaslight (George Cukor)
Wilson (Henry King)
None But the Lonely Heart (Clifford Odets)
Henry V (Laurence Olivier)
The Volunteer (Michael Powell)

1945
FULL REVIEWS:
The Seventh Veil (Compton Bennett) [+ cap]
Dead of Night (Cavalcanti/Charles Crichton/Basil Dearden/Robert Hamer)
The House on 92nd Street (Henry Hathaway) [+ cap]
Vacation from Marriage (Alexander Korda) [+ cap]
The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Elia Kazan)

1946
FULL REVIEWS:
It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra)
Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
Great Expectations (David Lean) [+ cap]
The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Razor’s Edge (Edmund Goulding)
To Each His Own (Mitchell Leisen)

1947
FULL REVIEWS:
Gentleman’s Agreement (Elia Kazan)
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (Irving Reis) [+ cap]
Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
A Double Life (George Cukor)
The Farmer’s Daughter (H.C. Potter)

1948
FULL REVIEWS:
Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica) [+ cap]
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston) [+ cap]
Hamlet (Laurence Olivier)
The Search (Fred Zinnemann) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Key Largo (John Huston)
the snake pit (Anatole Litvak)
Johnny Belinda (Jean Negulesco)

1949
FULL REVIEWS:
Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer) [+ cap]
A Letter to Three Wives (Joseph L. Mankewicz) [+ cap]
The Third Man (Carol Reed) [+ cap]
All the King’s Men (Robert Rossen)
Battleground (William A. Wellman) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Twelve O’Clock High (Henry King)
The Stratton Story (Sam Wood)
The Heiress (William Wyler) [revisited]

1950
FULL REVIEWS:
Seven Days to Noon (John & Roy Boulting) [+ cap]
Panic in the Streets (Elia Kazan) [+ cap / revisited]
Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa) [+ cap]
All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Born Yesterday (George Cukor)
Cyrano de Bergerac (Michael Gordon)
Harvey (Henry Koster)

1951
FULL REVIEWS:
The Lavender Hill Mob (Charles Crichton) [+ cap]
Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
The African Queen (John Huston) [+ cap]
A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan) [+ cap]
An American in Paris (Vincente Minnelli)
The River (Jean Renoir)
A Place in the Sun (George Stevens) [+ cap]

1952
FULL REVIEWS:
The Greatest Show on Earth (Cecil B. DeMille)
Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly)
The Quiet Man (John Ford) [+ cap]
Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa) [+ cap]
The Bad and the Beautiful (Vincente Minnelli) [+ cap]
High Noon (Fred Zinnemann)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Viva Zapata! (Elia Kazan)
Come Back, Little Sheba (Daniel Mann)

1953
FULL REVIEWS:
The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot) [+ cap]
Shane (George Stevens)
Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder) [+ cap]
Roman Holiday (William Wyler) [+ cap]
From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Fear and Desire (Stanley Kubrick)
Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu)
Titanic (Jean Negulesco)

1954
FULL REVIEWS:
Dial M for Murder (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock)
On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan)
Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa) [+ cap]
The Country Girl (George Seaton) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Broken Lance (Edward Dmytryk)
The Barefoot Contessa (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

1955
FULL REVIEWS:
Diabolique (Henri-Georges Clouzot) [+ cap]
Marty (Delbert Mann)
Dementia (John Parker) [+ cap / revisited]
Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray) [+ cap]
Love Me or Leave Me (Charles Vidor) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Interrupted Melody (Curtis Bernhardt)
Mister Roberts (John Ford & Mervyn LeRoy)
East of Eden (Elia Kazan)
The Rose Tattoo (Daniel Mann)

1956
FULL REVIEWS:
Around the World in Eighty Days (Michael Anderson)
Patterns (Fielder Cook)
The Searchers (John Ford)
Giant (George Stevens) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The King and I (Walter Lang)
Anastasia (Anatole Litvak)
Lust for Life (Vincente Minnelli)
The Brave One (Irving Rapper)
Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk)

1957
FULL REVIEWS:
Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman) [+ cap]
Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick) [+ cap]
The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean)
12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet) [+ cap]
Designing Woman (Vincente Minnelli) [+ cap]
Witness for the Prosecution (Billy Wilder) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman)
The Three Faces of Eve (Nunnally Johnson)
Throne of Blood (Akira Kurosawa)
Sayonara (Joshua Logan)

1958
FULL REVIEWS:
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
The Defiant Ones (Stanley Kramer) [+ cap]
Gigi (Vincente Minnelli)
Touch of Evil (Orson Welles) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Separate Tables (Delbert Mann)
I Want to Live! (Robert Wise)
The Big Country (William Wyler)

1959
FULL REVIEWS:
Shadows (John Cassavetes)
Room at the Top (Jack Clayton) [+ cap]
Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon) [+ cap]
North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock)
Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger) [+ cap]
The 400 Blows (François Truffaut) [+ cap]
Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder)
Ben-Hur (William Wyler)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Diary of Anne Frank (George Stevens)
The Nun’s Story (Fred Zinnemann)

1960
FULL REVIEWS:
Elmer Gantry (Richard Brooks) [+ cap]
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock) [+ cap]
Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick) [+ cap]
Shoot the Piano Player (François Truffaut) [+ cap / revisited]
The Apartment (Billy Wilder)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Two Women (Vittorio De Sica)
BUtterfield 8 (Daniel Mann)

1961
FULL REVIEWS:
Divorce Italian Style (Pietro Germi) [+ cap]
Splendor in the Grass (Elia Kazan) [+ cap]
Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa) [+ cap]
West Side Story (Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Misfits (John Huston)
Judgment at Nuremberg (Stanley Kramer)
The Hustler (Robert Rossen)

1962
FULL REVIEWS:
The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer) [+ cap]
How the West Was Won (Henry Hathaway/John Ford/George Marshall) [+ cap]
Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan)
The Trial (Orson Welles)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich)
The Longest Day (Ken Annakin/Andrew Marton/Bernhard Wicki)
Sweet Bird of Youth (Richard Brooks)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford)
The Miracle Worker (Arthur Penn)
Dr. No (Terence Young)

1963
FULL REVIEWS:
The Sword in the Stone (Wolfgang Reitherman)
Tom Jones (Tony Richardson)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The V.I.P.s (Anthony Asquith)
(Federico Fellini)
Lilies of the Field (Ralph Nelson)
Hud (Martin Ritt)
The Great Escape (John Sturges)

1964
FULL REVIEWS:
The T.A.M.I. Show (Steve Binder)
My Fair Lady (George Cukor)
Point of Order (Emile de Antonio)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick)
A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester) [+ cap]
Father Goose (Ralph Nelson) [+ cap]
Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Zorba the Greek (Michael Cacoyannis)
Topkapi (Jules Dassin)
Becket (Peter Glenville)
The Night of the Iguana (John Huston)
A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone)

1965
FULL REVIEWS:
Doctor Zhivago (David Lean) [+ cap]
Help! (Richard Lester)
Darling (John Schlesinger) [+ cap / revisited]
The Sound of Music (Robert Wise)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
A Thousand Clowns (Fred Coe)
A Patch of Blue (Guy Green)
For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone)
Cat Ballou (Elliot Silverstein)

1966
FULL REVIEWS:
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone) [+ cap]
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols) [+ cap]
A Man for All Seasons (Fred Zinnemann)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Persona (Ingmar Bergman)
The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (Norman Jewison)
A Man and a Woman (Claude Lelouch)
The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo)
The Fortune Cookie (Billy Wilder)

1967
FULL REVIEWS:
The Producers (Mel Brooks) [+ cap]
In the Heat of the Night (Norman Jewison)
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Stanley Kramer) [+ cap]
The Graduate (Mike Nichols)
Bonnie and Clude (Arthur Penn)
The Fearless Vampire Killers (Roman Polanski) [+ cap]
Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert)
Casino Royale (Val Guest/Ken Hughes/John Huston/Joseph McGrath/Robert Parrish)

1968
FULL REVIEWS:
Yellow Submarine (George Dunning) [+ cap]
The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey) [+ cap]
2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick) [+ cap]
Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone) [+ cap]
Oliver! (Carol Reed)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Subject Was Roses (Ulu Grosbard)
Charly (Ralph Nelson)
Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski)
Head (Bob Rafelson)
Funny Girl (William Wyler)

1969
FULL REVIEWS:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill) [+ cap]
Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper) [+ cap]
The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah) [+ cap]
Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
True Grit (Henry Hathaway)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Ronald Neame)
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (Sydney Pollack)
Women in Love (Ken Russell)
Cactus Flower (Gene Saks)

1970
FULL REVIEWS:
MASH (Robert Altman)
Patton (Franklin J. Schaffner)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky)
Ryan’s Daughter (David Lean)
Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson)
Airport (George Seaton)

1971
FULL REVIEWS:
The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich) [+ cap / revisited]
The French Connection (William Friedkin) [+ cap]
The Hospital (Arthur Hiller) [+ cap]
A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman)
A Safe Place (Henry Jaglom)
Drive, He Said (Jack Nicholson)
Klute (Alan J. Pakula)

1972
FULL REVIEWS:
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola)
Cabaret (Bob Fosse) [+ cap]
The Candidate (Michael Ritchie) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman)
Butterflies Are Free (Milton Katselas)
The King of Marvin Gardens (Bob Rafelson)

1973
FULL REVIEWS:
Paper Moon (Peter Bogdanovich) [+ cap]
The Exorcist (William Friedkin) [+ cap]
The Sting (George Roy Hill)
American Graffiti (George Lucas)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Save the Tiger (John G. Avildsen)
The Paper Chase (James Bridges)
A Touch of Class (Melvin Frank)
Papillon (Franklin J. Schaffner)

1974
FULL REVIEWS:
The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola) [+ cap]
The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola)
Chinatown (Roman Polanski) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Murder on the Orient Express (Sidney Lumet)
Harry and Tonto (Paul Mazursky)
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Martin Scorsese)

1975
FULL REVIEWS:
Nashville (Robert Altman)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Forman)
Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick) [+ cap]
Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet) [+ cap]
Jaws (Steven Spielberg) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Shampoo (Hal Ashby)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones)
The Sunshine Boys (Herbert Ross)

1976
FULL REVIEWS:
Rocky (John G. Avildsen)
Network (Sidney Lumet) [+ cap / revisited]
All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula) [+ cap / revisited]
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)

1977
FULL REVIEWS:
Annie Hall (Woody Allen) [+ cap]
Star Wars (George Lucas)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg) [+ cap]
Julia (Fred Zinnemann) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Message (Moustapha Akkad)
The Goodbye Girl (Herbert Ross)

1978
FULL REVIEWS:
Coming Home (Hal Ashby) [+ cap]
The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino)
Midnight Express (Alan Parker) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Heaven Can Wait (Warren Beatty & Buck Henry)
California Suite (Herbert Ross)

1979
FULL REVIEWS:
Being There (Hal Ashby)
Kramer vs. Kramer (Robert Benton)
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)
Tess (Roman Polanski)
Alien (Ridley Scott) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
All That Jazz (Bob Fosse)
Life of Brian (Terry Jones)
The Man You Loved to Hate (Patrick Montgomery)
Norma Rae (Martin Ritt)
Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky)
Breaking Away (Peter Yates)

1980
FULL REVIEWS:
Melvin and Howard (Jonathan Demme) [+ cap / revisited]
The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner) [+ cap]
The Shining (Stanley Kubrick) [+ cap]
The Elephant Man (David Lynch) [+ cap]
Ordinary People (Robert Redford)
Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Coal Miner’s Daughter (Michael Apted)

1981
FULL REVIEWS:
Reds (Warren Beatty) [+ cap]
Chariots of Fire (Hugh Hudson)
Das Boot (Wolfgang Petersen) [+ cap]
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Arthur (Steve Gordon)
On Golden Pond (Mark Rydell)

1982
FULL REVIEWS:
Gandhi (Richard Attenborough)
Sophie’s Choice (Alan J. Pakula) [+ cap]
Tootsie (Sydney Pollack) [+ cap]
Blade Runner (Ridley Scott) [+ cap]
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Fanny & Alexander (Ingmar Bergman)
The Thing (John Carpenter)
Missing (Costa-Gavras)
An Officer and a Gentleman (Taylor Hackford)
The Verdict (Sidney Lumet)
The Year of Living Dangerously (Peter Weir)

1983
FULL REVIEWS:
Tender Mercies (Bruce Beresford) [+ cap]
Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Scarface (Brian De Palma)
Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand)

1984
FULL REVIEWS:
Amadeus (Milos Forman) [+ cap]
Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone) [+ cap]
Purple Rain (Albert Magnoli)
Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Places in the Heart (Robert Benton)
The Terminator (James Cameron)
The Killing Fields (Roland Joffé)
A Passage to India (David Lean)
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki)

1985
FULL REVIEWS:
Witness (Peter Weir) [+ cap]
Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Kiss of the Spider Woman (Hector Babenco)
Cocoon (Ron Howard)
Prizzi’s Honor (John Huston)
A Room with a View (James Ivory)
Ran (Akira Kurosawa)
The Trip to Bountiful (Peter Masterson)

1986
FULL REVIEWS:
Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen) [+ cap]
Aliens (James Cameron) [+ cap]
Platoon (Oliver Stone)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Children of a Lesser God (Randa Haines)
Castle in the Sky (Hayao Miyazaki)
Stand by Me (Rob Reiner)
The Color of Money (Martin Scorsese)

1987
FULL REVIEWS:
Bagdad Cafe (Percy Adlon) [+ cap]
Babette’s Feast (Gabriel Axel) [+ cap]
The Last Emperor (Bernardo Bertolucci)
Broadcast News (James L. Brooks) [+ cap]
Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Untouchables (Brian De Palma)
Moonstruck (Norman Jewison)
The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner)
Wall Street (Oliver Stone)

1988
FULL REVIEWS:
Rain Man (Barry Levinson)
Die Hard (John McTiernan) [+ cap]
Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton)
Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears)
The Accused (Jonathan Kaplan)
The Accidental Tourist (Lawrence Kasdan)
My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki)
Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata)

1989
FULL REVIEWS:
Driving Miss Daisy (Bruce Beresford) [+ cap]
Meet the Feebles (Peter Jackson) [+ cap]
Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee) [+ cap]
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Steven Spielberg)
Born on the Fourth of July (Oliver Stone) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
My Left Foot (Jim Sheridan)
Dead Poets Society (Peter Weir)
Back to the Future Part II (Robert Zemeckis)
Glory (Edward Zwick)

1990
FULL REVIEWS:
Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner) [+ cap]
Misery (Rob Reiner) [+ cap]
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Reversal of Fortune (Barbet Schroeder)
Ghost (Jerry Zucker)

1991
FULL REVIEWS:
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron) [+ cap]
The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme) [+ cap / revisited]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Fisher King (Terry Gilliam)
Picture This (George Hickenlooper)
Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott)
Beauty and the Beast (Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise)
City Slickers (Ron Underwood)

1992
FULL REVIEWS:
Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood) [+ cap]
A Midnight Clear (Keith Gordon)
The Crying Game (Neil Jordan) [+ cap]
Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Scent of a Woman (Martin Brest)
Howards End (James Ivory)
My Cousin Vinny (Jonathan Lynn)

1993
FULL REVIEWS:
The Piano (Jane Campion) [+ cap / revisited]
The Snapper (Stephen Frears) [+ cap]
Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg)
The Thief and the Cobbler (Richard Williams) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Fugitive (Andrew Davis)
Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme)
Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis)
In the Name of the Father (Jim Sheridan)
Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg)

1994
FULL REVIEWS:
Bullets Over Broadway (Woody Allen) [+ cap]
The Lion King (Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff) [+ cap]
Léon (1994, Luc Besson) [+ cap]
Ed Wood (Tim Burton) [+ cap]
The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont) [+ cap]
Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson) [+ cap]
Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino) [+ cap]
Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Blue Sky (Tony Richardson)

1995
FULL REVIEWS:
Se7en (David Fincher) [+ cap]
Braveheart (Mel Gibson) [+ cap]
Toy Story (John Lasseter) [+ cap]
Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater) [+ cap]
The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Mighty Aphrodite (Woody Allen)
Leaving Las Vegas (Mike Figgis)
Twelve Monkeys (Terry Gilliam)
La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz)
Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee)
Heat (Michael Mann)
Babe (Chris Noonan)
Dead Man Walking (Tim Robbins)
Casino (Martin Scorsese)

1996
FULL REVIEWS:
Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson) [+ cap]
Trainspotting (Danny Boyle) [+ cap]
Fargo (Joel Coen) [+ cap]
Mother Night (Keith Gordon)
Beavis and Butt-head Do America (Mike Judge) [+ cap]
The English Patient (Anthony Minghella) [+ cap]
Sling Blade (Billy Bob Thornton) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Jerry Maguire (Cameron Crowe)
The Craft (Andrew Fleming)
Shine (Scott Hicks)
Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh)
Eskiya (Yavuz Turgul)

1997
FULL REVIEWS:
Life Is Beautiful (Roberto Benigni) [+ cap]
Titanic (James Cameron) [+ cap]
L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson) [+ cap]
Wild Man Blues (Barbara Kopple) [+ cap]
Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
As Good as It Gets (James L. Brooks)
Children of Heaven (Majid Majidi)
Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki)
Affliction (Paul Schrader)
Good Will Hunting (Gus van Sant)

1998
FULL REVIEWS:
Gods and Monsters (Bill Condon)
American History X (Tony Kaye) [+ cap]
Shakespeare in Love (John Madden) [+ cap]
Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen)
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Guy Ritchie)
The Truman Show (Peter Weir)

1999
FULL REVIEWS:
The Green Mile (Frank Darabont) [+ cap]
Fight Club (David Fincher) [+ cap]
Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick)
American Beauty (Sam Mendes) [+ cap]
The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan) [+ cap]
The Matrix (Lana & Lilly Wachowski) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar)
The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola) [+ revisited]
The Cider House Rules (Lasse Hallström)
Girl, Interrupted (James Mangold)
The Insider (Michael Mann)
Election (Alexander Payne)
Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce)

2000
FULL REVIEWS:
Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky) [+ cap]
Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe) [+ cap]
Songcatcher (Maggie Greenwald) [+ cap] {NOTE: Letterboxd has the wrong release year at this writing}
Memento (Christopher Nolan) [+ cap]
Snatch (Guy Ritchie)
Gladiator (Ridley Scott) [+ cap]
Traffic (Steven Soderbergh) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Amores perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Pollock (Ed Harris)
Snatch (Guy Ritchie)
Erin Brockovich (Steven Soderbergh)
In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai)

2001
FULL REVIEWS:
A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard) [+ cap]
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson)
Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) [+ cap]
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki) [+ cap]
Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Gosford Park (Robert Altman)
The Man Who Wasn’t There (Joel Coen)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Chris Columbus)
Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter)
Iris (Richard Eyre)
Monster’s Ball (Marc Forster)
Training Day (Antoine Fuqua)
Lagaan (Ashutosh Gowariker)
Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly)

2002
FULL REVIEWS:
Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar) [+ cap]
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson) [+ cap]
Adaptation (Spike Jonze) [+ cap]
Chicago (Rob Marshall) [+ cap]
City of God (Fernando Meirelles) [+ cap]
The Pianist (Roman Polanski) [+ cap]
Secretary (Steven Shainberg)
Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Chris Columbus)
The Hours (Stephen Daldry)
Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau & Alan Mak)

2003
FULL REVIEWS:
Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola) [+ cap]
My Architect (Nathaniel Kahn) [+ cap]
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson) [+ cap]
Oldboy (Park Chan-wook) [+ cap]
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino) [+ cap]
Dogville (Lars von Trier) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho)
Mystic River (Clint Eastwood)
Monster (Patty Jenkins)
The Saddest Music in the World (Guy Maddin)
Cold Mountain (Anthony Minghella)
Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski)

2004
FULL REVIEWS:
Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood) [+ cap]
Hotel Rwanda (Terry George) [+ cap]
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry) [+ cap]
Crash (Paul Haggis) [+ cap]
Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel) [+ cap]
Before Sunset (Richard Linklater) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuarón)
Ray (Taylor Hackford)
Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki)
Sideways (Alexander Payne)
The Aviator (Martin Scorsese)

2005
FULL REVIEWS:
Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee) [+ cap]
The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles) [+ cap]
Capote (Bennett Miller) [+ cap]
Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan) [+ cap]
Sin City (Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Syriana (Stephen Gaghan)
Walk the Line (James Mangold)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Mike Newell)
V for Vendetta (James McTeigue)

2006
FULL REVIEWS:
Scoop (Woody Allen) [+ cap]
Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris) [+ cap]
The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) [+ cap]
Jesus Camp (Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady)
Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell)
Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (Stanley Nelson) [+ cap]
The Prestige (Christopher Nolan) [+ cap]
The Departed (Martin Scorsese) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Casino Royale (Martin Campbell)
Dreamgirls (Bill Condon)
Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro)
The Queen (Stephen Frears)
Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
The Last King of Scotland (Kevin Macdonald)
Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt)

2007
FULL REVIEWS:
There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson) [+ cap]
No Country for Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen) [+ cap / revisited]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Control (Anton Corbijn)
La Vie en Rose (Olivier Dahan)
Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy)
The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass)
Like Stars on Earth (Aamir Khan)
Into the Wild (Sean Penn)
Juno (Jason Reitman)
Atonement (Joe Wright)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (David Yates)

2008
FULL REVIEWS:
Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen) [+ cap]
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle)
Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher)
Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard)
The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan) [+ cap]
WALL-E (Andrew Stanton) [+ cap]
Milk (Gus Van Sant) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Reader (Stephen Daldry)
Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood)
Ip Man (Wilson Yip)

2009
FULL REVIEWS:
Whatever Works (Woody Allen)
A Serious Man (Joel & Ethan Coen)
White Material (Claire Denis)
Up (Pete Docter) [+ cap]
Moon (Duncan Jones)
Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé)
Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)
The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh)
Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz)
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino) [+ cap]
Antichrist (Lars von Trier)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold)
The Secret in Their Eyes (Juan José Campanella)
Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper)
Precious (Lee Daniels)
Mary and Max (Adam Elliot)
About Elly (Asghar Farhadi)
Hachi (Lasse Hallström)
The Blind Side (John Lee Hancock)
3 Idiots (Rajkumar Hirani)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (David Yates)

2010
FULL REVIEWS:
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen)
Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky)
Carlos (Olivier Assayas)
Submarine (Richard Ayoade) [+ cap]
Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy)
Greenberg (Noah Baumbach) [+ cap]
127 Hours (Danny Boyle)
The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko)
The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet)
Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance) [+ cap]
True Grit (Joel & Ethan Coen)
Somewhere (Sofia Coppola)
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson)
The Social Network (David Fincher)
Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields (Kerthy Fix & Gail O’Hara)
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog) [+ cap]
The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper)
Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
Another Year (Mike Leigh)
Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg) [+ cap]
Beginners (Mike Mills) [+ cap]
Inception (Christopher Nolan)
The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)
Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
Mysteries of Lisbon (Raúl Ruiz)
Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese)
Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich) [+ cap]
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Kaboom (Gregg Araki)
The American (Anton Corbijn)
The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira)
Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino)
Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzmán)
Restrepo (Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington)
My Joy (Sergey Loznitsa)
Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell)
Four Lions (Chris Morris)
Tabloid (Errol Morris)
Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek)
The Fighter (David O. Russell)
How to Train Your Dragon (Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois)
The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (Andrei Ujica)
Incendies (Denis Villeneuve)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (David Yates)

2011
FULL REVIEWS:
Super 8 (J.J. Abrams)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson)
The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar)
House of Pleasures (Bertrand Bonello) [+ cap]
Another Earth (Mike Cahill) [+ cap]
Footnote (Joseph Cedar)
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Attack the Block (Joe Cornish) [+ cap]
A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)
The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies) [+ cap]
A Separation (Asghar Farhadi) [+ cap]
Bridesmaids (Paul Feig)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
Killer Joe (William Friedkin) [+ cap]
The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius) [+ cap]
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki)
Alps (Yorgos Lanthimos) [+ cap]
Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan) [+ cap]
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols) [+ cap]
The Descendants (Alexander Payne) [+ cap]
Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn)
Young Adult (Jason Reitman) [+ cap]
Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
Contagion (Steven Soderbergh) [+ cap]
Dark Horse (Todd Solondz) [+ cap]
Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman) [+ cap]
The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr) [+ cap]
Melancholia (Lars von Trier)
Rango (Gore Verbinski)
Hanna (Joe Wright) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold)
Margin Call (J.C. Chandor)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
The Day He Arrives (Hong Sang-soo)
I Wish (Hirokazu Koreeda)
Bernie (Richard Linklater)
The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd)
Warrior (Gavin O’Connor)
This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi)
The Help (Tate Taylor)
Faust (Alexander Sokurov)
The Intouchables (Eric Toledano & Olivier Nakache)
Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier)
Pina (Wim Wenders)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (David Yates)

2012
FULL REVIEWS:
Argo (Ben Affleck) [+ cap]
To Rome with Love (Woody Allen)
The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson) [+ cap]
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson) [+ cap]
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach) [+ cap / revisited]
Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow) [+ cap]
Frankenweenie (Tim Burton)
Holy Motors (Leos Carax) [+ cap]
Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel) [+ cap]
The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard) [+ cap]
Tabu (Miguel Gomes) [+ cap]
Amour (Michael Haneke) [+ cap]
Looper (Rian Johnson)
Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami) [+ cap]
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine) [+ cap]
Life of Pi (Ang Lee) [+ cap]
To the Wonder (Terrence Malick) [+ cap]
Skyfall (Sam Mendes)
The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan) [+ cap]
The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer) [+ cap / revisited]
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley) [+ cap]
Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell) [+ cap]
Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh) [+ cap]
Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)
Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland) [+ cap / revisited]
Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino) [+ cap]
Cloud Atlas (Lana Wachowski/Lilly Wachowski/Tom Tykwer) [+ cap]
Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon) [+ cap]
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin) [+ cap]
Flight (Robert Zemeckis)
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Comedy (Rick Alverson)
Brave (Brenda Chapman & Mark Andrews)
Blancanieves (Pablo Berger)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)
Museum Hours (Jem Cohen)
Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg)
Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik)
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt)
Les Misérables (Tom Hooper)
Arbitrage (Nicholas Jarecki)
No (Pablo Larraín)
A Hijacking (Tobias Lindholm)
In the Fog (Sergey Loznitsa)
Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu)
Mud (Jeff Nichols)
Barbara (Christian Petzold)
Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas)
The Hunger Games (Gary Ross)
The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg)
Sightseers (Ben Wheatley)
The Avengers (Joss Whedon)
Anna Karenina (Joe Wright)
Compliance (Craig Zobel)

2013
FULL REVIEWS:
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen) [+ cap]
Upstream Color (Shane Carruth) [+ cap]
All Is Lost (J.C. Chandor) [+ cap]
Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen) [+ cap]
The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola) [+ cap]
Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite) [+ cap]
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón) [+ cap]
Philomena (Stephen Frears) [+ cap]
Captain Phillips (Paul Greengrass) [+ cap / revisited]
Enough Said (Nicole Holofcener) [+ cap]
Rush (Ron Howard) [+ cap]
Her (Spike Jonze) [+ cap]
Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche) [+ cap]
Gloria (Sebastián Lelio) [+ cap]
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater) [+ cap]
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen) [+ cap]
Nebraska (Alexander Payne) [+ cap / revisited]
The Spectacular Now (James Ponsoldt) [+ cap]
American Hustle (David O. Russell) [+ cap]
Monsters University (Dan Scanlon) [+ cap]
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese) [+ cap]
Nymphomaniac: Vol. I (Lars von Trier) [+ cap]
Nymphomaniac: Vol. II (Lars von Trier) [+ cap]
Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée) [+ cap]
The Conjuring (James Wan) [+ cap]
The World’s End (Edgar Wright) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
The Double (Richard Ayoade)
Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho)
Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski)
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani)
Bastards (Claire Denis)
Norte, the End of History (Lav Diaz)
Camille Claudel 1915 (Bruno Dumont)
The Past (Asghar Farhadi)
Jealousy (Philippe Garrel)
Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie)
Exhibition (Joanna Hogg)
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke)
Like Father, Like Son (Hirokazu Koreeda)
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (David Lowery)
We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson)
Child’s Pose (Călin Peter Netzer)
Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski)
Only God Forgives (Nicholas Winding Refn)
Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier)
Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh)
Behind the Candelabra (Steven Soderbergh)
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata)
Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-liang)
Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve)
The Grandmaster (Wong Kar-wai)

2014
FULL REVIEWS:
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson) [+ cap]
Gone Girl (David Fincher) [+ cap]
Boyhood (Richard Linklater) [+ cap / revisited]
The One I Love (Charlie McDowell) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen)
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)
While We’re Young (Noah Baumbach)
Lucy (Luc Besson)
A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor)
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn)
Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
Mommy (Xavier Dolan)
Selma (Ava DuVernay)
Virunga (Orlando von Einsiedel)
Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)
Still Alice (Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland)
Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)
Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)
The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh)
The Theory of Everything (James Marsh)
Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)
It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)
Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)
The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer)
Phoenix (Christian Petzold)
Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad)
Beyond the Lights (Gina Prince-Bythewood)
Life of Riley (Alain Resnais)
Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako)
The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland)
Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón)
The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum)
What We Do in the Shadows (Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement)
The Guest (Adam Wingard)
Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

2015
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Room (Lenny Abrahamson)
The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams)
Irrational Man (Woody Allen)
Mistress America (Noah Baumbach)
Shaun the Sheep Movie (Mark Burton)
Inside Out (Pete Docter)
The Witch (Robert Eggers)
Spy (Paul Feig)
The Revenant (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
45 Years (Andrew Haigh)
Carol (Todd Haynes)
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller)
The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer)
The Danish Girl (Tom Hooper)
Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs)
Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson)
The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)
The Big Short (Adam McKay)
Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier)
The Martian (Ridley Scott)
Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg)
Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)

2016
FULL REVIEWS:
Wiener-Dog (Todd Solondz) [+ cap]
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
Hail, Caesar! (Joel & Ethan Coen)
The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig)
Lion (Garth Davis)
One More Time with Feeling (Andrew Dominik)
The Lost City of Z (James Gray)
Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years (Ron Howard)
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)
Deadpool (Tim Miller)
Zootopia (Rich Moore & Byron Howard)
Moana (John Musker & Ron Clements)
I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)
Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton)
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
Fences (Denzel Washington)

2017
LETTERBOXD CAPSULES:
Get Out (Jordan Peele)

***

COMPLETED PROJECT PAGES
Best Picture Oscar winners
Best Director Oscar winners
AFI 100 Movies
Best Screenplay Oscar winners
Best Actor Oscar winners
IMDB Top 250
Best Actress Oscar winners
Silent era canon 1.0 [were I to pick one entry as my favorite piece of writing I’ve posted here, I think it would be this one]
Best Supporting Actor Oscar winners
Best Supporting Actress Oscar winners

MILESTONES
Post #100: shots list
Post #200: directors list
Post #300: title sequences list
Post #400: endings list
Post #500: scenes list

META-POSTS
Introductions & explanations (now outdated)
format change (explains thought process behind the slowdown of regular full-length reviews)
announcement of canon projects (also a regular monthly post)

REGULAR MONTHLY POSTS
These won’t have much continued utility since most of their content is integrated into the Movie Guide, but I do sometimes editorialize a bit and review some non-feature content, so they’re worth collecting here.
2012-15 capsule dump: part 1 / part 2
2015: February/March/April/May/June/July/August/September/October/November/December
2016: January/February/March/April/May/June/July/August/September/October/November/December
2017: January/February/March/April/May/June/July/August/September

OTHER
For the first two years, I managed to see enough films theatrically to make a crude first-draft top ten. I’ve since dropped this idea, don’t go to the movies much anymore (too frustrating), and have no intention of trying again.
Best of 2012
Best of 2013

600 posts and almost six years in — I’m still here, and I intend to stay here, and we’re gonna have a real good time together.

Dodsworth (1936, William Wyler)

!!! A+ FILM !!!

A woman discusses with her illicit lover the contents of a letter sent by her husband, who’s staying in their home overseas. She complains that the conversation has left her cold, ruined her evening, that the letter brings too many things to light that she’d prefer to forget. Her suave new man strides to her, reaches over and lights a match, setting the letter ablaze in a not-so-subtly erotic gesture. She lets it go and it drifts into the wind past them, unnoticed, gracefully spinning through the air until it settles on the ground in a final balletic plunge. It’s just a quick scene, almost nothing is made of it, except that the very inclusion of such a detail, growing out of a quick maneuver of hands, suggests that small moments like this mean everything in the story being told, and it proves to be so.

Dodsworth is the sort of movie that closes the gap between the past and present. Among even the most universally beloved of classic films, few can be named that retain so much of their vitality and feel as present as though they were shot last year. Part of this agelessness springs from simplicity: it’s a movie about people, specifically a married couple whose relationship is tested during a long planned-for vacation abroad. Yes, these are people of considerable means — he a retired automobile tycoon, she an heiress — but this gap too is one that the film means to shrink or even ignore, since the bare essence of their emotional inner lives is its concern, and therefore ours. Regardless of background or outlook, people and their fickle, worn-down hearts are the one thing whose relevance can most assuredly remain eternal. Dodsworth takes its settings, characters and basic themes from a Sinclair Lewis novel meant to satirize bourgeois values, and this subversive essence does rear its head here and there (if you want to see what a straight adaptation of the idea might have looked like, get thee to Hitchcock’s Rich and Strange), but director William Wyler — seldom mentioned as a Hollywood humanist alongside Capra and Borzage, but maybe he should be — could no more reduce his tragic marrieds to stereotype or scorn than Jean Renoir could do the same with the hopeless idiots populating Rules of the Game.

The unhappy couple’s attempt at a long second honeymoon is approached with affable enough enthusiasm by post-midlife crisis former workaholic Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) but it’s clear that the prime mover of the trip is his often outwardly insecure, shallow wife (Ruth Chatterton), openly terrified of aging and obsessed with the appearance of high society, running against her husband’s vision of the two of them as “hicks.” As soon as they hit the cruise ship, she begins to stray and initiate a test of his faith, determination, love, his need to understand and take care of her. It sounds simplistic, a tale told a thousand times, and even unbalanced and unfair, but the intricacies in the story grow with every minute as triangles develop and disintegrate, emotions ebb and flow, and wounds grow deeper. All the while, we are given a depressing but painfully real glimpse at an extended relationship that has grown inoperable, all the tangled webs of emotions and dread and buried happiness and unspoken secrets.

One-sided though it may sound, all of this — aside from the healthy amount provided by the great Lewis, screenwriter Sidney Howard and director Wyler — is detectable in the face, personality, voice, full expression of Huston, who gives what must count as one of the great movie performances of all time. Like Jimmy Stewart, Huston acts with every bone in his body, every trace of a movement, every expression on his face, every tinge of hope and doubt in his voice. Huston performed the role of Dodsworth on stage for years, and yet the movie reveals things that could never have been visible in a play: His eyes, every physical nuance he adds to every line, it all seems to serve an ideal of acting that becomes so complete, almost eerily real. He comes across so much as a person — and hardly a perfect one; he, too, begins to stray, and we’re given to understand that for all his faithfulness, he was somewhat neglectful of his wife’s needs when she was making a home for him — that his command and identification with the viewer are absolute.

It’s much easier to miss the intelligence and depth of Chatterton in her much more thankless role, but repeat viewings clarify that Mrs. Dodsworth too is a strongly defined character; watch how Wyler — who coaxed a more sympathetic performance out of Chatterton than she initially wanted to give — focuses on her pain and her obvious need to break out of the societal roles that have been set for her. She can be faulted as a one-dimensionally bitchy and shrill character whose attitude stretches credibility; but over time one becomes aware that she too is intelligently observed, particularly if you’ve known someone (of any gender, mind) like her… someone clinging to a phony illusion of permanent youth, or just someone whose attachment to status leaves every kind of true, lasting love behind. In most of the couple’s arguments, while one is naturally drawn to Huston’s clearheaded responsibility and open kindness, we can feel ourselves sympathizing with both of them, even as Sam’s plight will become ever more painfully familiar to anyone who has ever dealt with a partner’s infidelity. Part of the film’s point, in contrast to the novel’s, is the universal truth that even a narcissist deserves love — and we watch as her own penchant for criticism and complaining rub off on and transform her husband into a doddering old fool. We watch as he gives her one second chance after another, watch the nighttime quarrels horrific in their carefully observed honesty, and we understand his love, and his faith, because we understand how he is both attuned to the nuances of her character and blind to the detrimental effect she has on him. And we are particularly heartbroken by the rebuttal she receives when she attempts to marry a younger man with a title (rejected with the devastating words of his mother, played unforgettably by Maria Ouspenskaya); we may even feel slight regret for the way Dodsworth must finally leave her behind, but we also know that — like so many relationships that run their course, or that may not really have had one in the first place — it is time.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect such a relatively moody (if hardly humorless) drama as Dodsworth to find a way to draw cheers, but Mary Astor’s performance as fellow cruise ship passenger Edith Cortright generates every feeling of real human closeness and warmth absent from the central marriage; her easy camaraderie with Sam blossoms out of her being written as a three-dimensional person with a palpable past, future and energy that are not reliant on any man’s placement in her life. She’s a complete person, and Sam’s easiness around her is obvious and telling. There are two remarkable outlying moments in Astor’s performance: once when her compassion for the Dodsworths leads her to try and persuade Fran not to cheat on Sam, to no avail; and later, when her own emotions and her slowly brewing love for Sam lead her to deliver a passionate speech to try and convince him to stay with her, to convince him essentially of something he already knows (his sense of duty and commitment start to get the better of him, here). Her observations of Sam’s character in this moment are so cutting and such a wizened, believable testament of genuine affection that to hear such things expressed, without fear and in a state of true connection and comfort, would be enough to cause a viewer to tear up even if there was not the suggestion of a new love backing it. Rarely has such an undiluted moment of kindness, however desperate, found such direct expression in a Hollywood film.

That realism is one of the great strong points of Dodsworth, certainly in terms of character development and the frequently shattering dialogue, makes Wyler’s highly stylized and frantic direction — heavy but not reliant on impressive long shots covering entire rooms — all the more intriguing; it’s not at all confined to stage origins or to “photographs of people talking.” During one of the arguments, his camera moves back and forth as Mrs. Dodsworth speaks in a bruising confessional scene that foretells the final monologues in Paris, Texas. He and cinematographer Rudolph Maté (Carl Theodor Dreyer’s right-hand man in a past life) also explore interestingly artificial compositions and work to make them seem logical, as in several moments when he very pointedly places three characters in a literal triangle. Wyler would later further the idea of shooting romantic films like The Best Years of Our Lives and Wuthering Heights as if they were suspense thrillers, with a chilling concentration on the odd menace in the inanimate as well as innovative use of deep focus. The juxtaposition simply adds to the poignance and the feeling of emotional outpouring by the time the movie leaves us.

Movies this “adult,” low-key and intelligent are rare in the mainstream today, as nearly every review of Dodsworth ever written has pointed out, but one important fact missing from that statement is that movies this “adult” were just as rare in 1930s Hollywood. Across the studio films of this period, there are few occasions in which we watch a husband make idle chatter with his wife while he takes off his pants, or that really convey the feeling of wandering through months of one’s life completely alone, or that allow us to see entire years’ worth of feelings and resentments change, lift or revise themselves with small, silent movements in actors’ bodies and eyes. The film’s heartfelt exploration of a fraying marriage is not “fun” in any conventional sense, and it makes no concessions to comfort or to any sense of glamour, despite being focused almost exclusively on very rich people, as if to reassure the Depression-era audience that those with the ability to loaf comfortably suffered equally from interpersonal unhappiness. Strangely, however, it is almost cathartic in its sheer pleasure and triumph, and in the sense it communicates that even in the drab world that belongs to both the film and to us, love actually can make its way out into the open somehow, and can save a lonely life for good.

[Expanded from a review originally posted in 2007.]

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932, Mervyn LeRoy)

!!! A+ FILM !!!

If ever a single film encapsulated how much has changed artistically and commercially in Hollywood since the 1930s, it must be Mervyn LeRoy’s startling Warner Bros. drama I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. The film is not only remarkable for how undiminished and hard-hitting it remains in its immediacy and scathing social consciousness — even good, elemental creations like Paramount’s Underworld and MGM’s The Big House feel comparatively staid — but in the devastating and indisputable case it accidentally makes that America’s most popular and visible artform was once capable of politically charged, rousing communication that has since been shut out of the realm of possibility. The studio films of today have never felt more hopelessly neutered than they do when confronted with a brash force of nature like this. Warner Bros., of course, was widely seen as the primary habitat of earnest, gritty Hollywood populism, and while its ability to probe and shock, to present the Depression-era world of its audience with relative honesty, would be cut at the knees by the Hays code within two years, Chain Gang exists along with the likes of Five Star Final and Employees Entrance as living evidence of an anti-authority, anti-institutional stance that struck a chord then and seems unheard-of now. Can you imagine the response of the Fox News chuds to a film in which a prisoner on a chain gang is the hero, the guards and cops and state prison infracture itself the unequivocal enemies?

The film loosely retells the true story of writer and WWI veteran Robert Burns (renamed James Allen for the film), fashioning itself as a kind of Les Miserables narrative with the prison authorities and the scourge of corrupt chain gang bosses and legal officials standing in for an absent Jalvert. James is wrongfully accused of a robbery — he takes money out of a cash register, but only at gunpoint, while he’s waiting for a promised free hamburger! — and sentenced to ten years on a chain gang in the Deep South. When he can take no more, he manages a daring escape and carves out a life for himself as an engineer and community pillar in Chicago; when he’s recaptured it becomes politically and socially expedient for him to serve further limited time in exchange for a pardon, but he is again swindled and must find his way back out. Like the book, the unflinching film was nearly revolutionary in its exposure of the inexcusable conditions and abuse in such prison environments, and helped initiate a sea change in the American attitude toward prisoners and the criminal justice system, and specifically — though the film doesn’t directly address this — the inherently evil for-profit prison infrastructure, referred to here as “the Prison Commission.” (Burns was subject to penal labor, or convict leasing, from which can be drawn a direct line to today’s private prisons.)

Prison narratives today, even when critical, are comparatively glib; without resorting to Gothic overexaggeration, director LeRoy and screenwriters Howard Green and Brown Holmes present a nightmare world that feels honest and lived-in, and the film’s steadfast suspicion of authority and anti-police, pro-prisoner, even pro-sex work message may owe a great deal to the Depression and the attendant sympathy toward those suffering the desperations of poverty, but have a bold righteousness one can’t help but find refreshing in modern context. (On top of everything that takes place behind bars and in chains, the film features a nonjudgmental, realistic, empathetic scene involving its hero being provided time by a prostitute that would be virtually unimaginable now — for all the social progress we’ve obviously made since 1932, it’s alarming in the best way to see a woman in this profession treated nochalantly as a human being without shaming her or her client.)

Paul Muni worked closely with Burns in crafting his performance; he could be a bit of a ham at times but this is the ideal role for him, just the right balance of articulate angst that leads him on a personal journey after the war in the first place (he doesn’t want to be tied to an office job anymore and wants to do things he actually cares about; when explaining this in a single monologue, the script achieves in a couple of pages what it takes the entirety of Edmond Goulding’s The Razor’s Edge to utterly fail to get across) and everyman bafflement at the plight he’s ultimately handed. More than anything else, his grit and honesty lend credibility to the film’s realism and narrative sweep; we identify deeply with him as the story seems repeatedly to escape his grasp. He thinks on his feet, but never in a way that beggars belief; good and bad fortune are things he seems to stumble into, as they are for most of us. The robbery-raid that lands him in jail is harrowing in its sickening, confusing quickness, an early indicator of the movie’s relentless pacing that takes us to hell and back and to hell again across many sad and wasted years in a matter of an hour and a half, and from that moment on if not earlier, his shock and determination, fear and resignation become ours. For that reason the film is almost overwhelmingly exciting and breathlessly suspenseful, which makes its most horrific moments, the finale in particular, that much stronger; it is a thriller that denies us the relief of escapism.

If I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang has a weak point, it’s in its most Hugo-like sequence, the midsection when Allen changes his name, falls backward into a marriage with a blackmailer and gets a well-paying job as a foreman for a construction company. It doesn’t lack credibility — the events in the film are remarkably similar to those that actually befell Burns, although he became a magazine editor rather than an engineer — except for the characterization of his landlord and eventual wife Marie, whose entrapment of him and apparent role in his capture require her to be too much of a cardboard cutout, whose motives for courting, marrying and finally punishing him are difficult to comprehend outside of misguided suspicion of the mythical female “gold digger.” (Glenda Farrell does have a lot of fun with the part; the film in general is full of small but striking roles for women, somewhat impressively for a 1930s prison movie.) The only other serious flaw is one of missed opportunity; LeRoy briefly touches on the camaraderie felt between white and black prisoners on the chain gang; one scene (memorably parodied by Woody Allen in Take the Money and Run) has the men all singing Negro spirituals together, while the key sequence of Allen’s first escape requires the participation — willing but skeptical, quite understandably so — of a black prisoner strikingly portrayed by character actor Everett Brown, unfortunately uncredited. The scene shows them communicating as equals across racial lines, an almost nonexistent sight in Hollywood movies of this period, with their common status as prisoners clearly evening out the sociological, institutional gaps separating them, a dynamic it would have been fascinating to see further investigated. (Again, a lesser filmmaker, Stanley Kramer, would make a clumsier job of expressing this kind of conflict and change in a feature-length film, The Defiant Ones, than LeRoy does in just a few minutes.)

Like all of the best pre-Code features, Chain Gang inadvertently exposes the inefficiencies not just of Hollywood filmmaking today but of the Hays Code period that began depressingly soon after its release, which certainly circumvented many American films’ attempts at undiluted social relevance for the next two decades. The ending illustrates LeRoy and the writers’ refusal to comfort or forgive their audience, and there would probably not be another studio picture with quite so uncompromisingly bleak a closing moment until roundabout Vertigo. With the chilling closing dialogue — “How do you live?” “I steal!” — and the terrifying image of Muni’s dimly lit, wide-eyed face being swallowed by the darkness illustrating the bleak, insurmountable cycle of the criminal life, the film suggests that neither Allen’s period redefining himself in Chicago nor even his status as a fugitive and escapee changes the bare fact of existence for any prisoner, which is that once you are “inside,” you truly are there for life. It would be impossible to completely crawl out from underneath the brutality we witness. It’s doubly impossible for Allen not to remain a prisoner, even in supposed “freedom.” The living nightmare depicted herein of individuality taken away, of servitude to either systematic oppression or just to fear, makes as strong a case as any film could for the cruelty and ineffectiveness of the system that — don’t kid yourself — we still live under today. Moreover, I submit that this emotional essence of the film would be unchanged if the hero were shown to be guilty. Unless you are sporting a “blue lives matter” bumper sticker, it must surely concern you that we as citizens all live permanently under the system of dumb luck, even if some of us are safer than others: dumb luck that they haven’t caught you yet and decided that you’re next. I hope for your sake that they never do.

September 2017 movie capsules

16 movies watched in September. Counts:
– 10 new to the database / previously unseen. New total: 2,220.
– 6 revisits, including two (Safety Last!, seen via the Criterion DVD with Amber, and The Toll of the Sea, on the Treasures from American Film Archives disc) already capsuled here, and I elected not to expand those into full reviews for now though I intend to do so someday — the same goes for San Francisco, newly capsuled in this space. However, I did write up two old favorites and reposted an old review from my former setup.
– 3 new-to-this-blog full reviews, two of them new altogether. The semi-rerun is Great Expectations, the David Lean version; I was surprised my 2008 essay required no doctoring or revision. Freaks and Secret Agent are all-new reviews, and in fact my inaugural attempt at writing a full piece on the latter, one of the few Hitchcock features I had only seen one time previously. (Been holding out hope for a better DVD edition all these years; it’s the only one of the Gaumont Six without a decent edition on the market.)
– 11 new or revised capsules, all below!
– The latest distractions from my regular duties are the new Warner Archive Porky Pig 101 five-disc set, the first chronological compilation of Looney Tunes pretty much ever, which I segued into right after completing a journey through the UPA Jolly Frolics and Hubley discs I picked up last year; and a renewed obsession with MST3K, nearly all episodes of which are now available on disc. The Porky set, though, will coincide nicely with the ’30s canon since Porky in Wackyland makes an appearance there.

Project breakdowns:
1930s canon: 6 films (4 new). I’m still discombobulated from August and utterly failed to catch up. I’m tentatively trying to still make November the end date for this project, but there’s probably a 50/50 chance I’ll have to delay till the following month. This won’t be the end of the world; I’m following this with a very short one-month interlude project before moving on to the ’40s. At any rate, we did knock out two biggies in the form of the aforementioned Freaks and Secret Agent, plus Medvedkin’s Happiness, Renoir’s La Bete Humaine, Clair’s Le Million and Ozu’s The Only Son; Filmstruck has been such a boon to this project. Remaining, in addition to three shorts that need addressing: 28 films (23 new).
Best Picture Oscar nominees: 5 films (3 new). Dropped the ball badly on this one, but I’m less broken up about it since it’s so long-term. Revisited Great Expectations and San Francisco (which I got to show to my mom, who’d never seen it), then tackled The Longest Day, The Talk of the Town and my favorite (and most long overdue) new discovery of the month, Bergman’s magnificent Cries and Whispers. Remaining: 176 films (141 new).
2010s catchup: Finally a productive month for this, on the other hand, largely because Netflix pulled two movies I’d been trying to make time to watch for a couple of years, which forced my hand. Those were The Double and The Duke of Burgundy, both good and mildly disappointing, and also The Tale of the Princess Kaguya came in the mail; I liked it as much as I ever like the Ghibli stuff.
– I have vacation time in October, and while I’ll be spending some of it seeing family and traveling and trying to get my music blog scheduling problem under control, there should be a lot of downtime as well, and I look forward to maybe doubling down on the ’30s stuff.

On to the capsules… (I know the San Francisco capsule is kinda bullshit, but it does sum it up! And I always liked it, though it used to be one word shorter.)

Happiness (1935, Aleksandr Medvedkin) [r]
Visually majestic sort-of-comedy about a peasant’s search for contentment shot in the lubok style is very different from most of the Soviet propaganda that survives in the cultural memory; its wit and eye-popping moments of freeform avant garde expression will make it irresistible to anyone enamored of silent and early sound film techniques. With a character named Loser, a “horse-wife” and a walking house, this demonstrates an off-kilter Russian humor that’s not exactly Buster Keaton but isn’t a great distance from Buñuel either.

La Bête Humaine (1938, Jean Renoir) [hr]
Troubling, extremely absorbing proto-noir, based on an Émile Zola novel, about the lives of a vengeful, jealous station manager and a mentally ill and lovesick train conductor colliding with sickening inevitability. As usual, Renoir’s feel for people and location is infallible — you feel the soot and the energy of the trains running all throughout, and deeply understand how their mechanical reliability runs against the wildcard of human emotions — and it’s intriguing to see those inclinations applied to a rather nasty and nihilistic thriller with no real heroes, and many breaches of trust with one another and with the audience.

San Francisco (1936, W.S. Van Dyke) [hr]
(Revisit; no change.) Holy shit!

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013, Isao Takahata) [r]
Lovingly presented folktale, overcoming Studio Ghibli’s usual arbitrary plotting with a sense of ancient lore and a touchingly compassionate center, with a wonderfully distinctive, minimalist watercolor design. It explores the life of a girl with supernatural origins who is discovered in the forest by a bamboo cutter, who then seeks out a title for her; easy, unforced humor and class commentary arises from his, his wife’s and eventually an entire world’s difficulty with comprehending that material desire isn’t the essence of her dreams. A much more humane and multifaceted film than Grave of the Fireflies, though there’s still some emotional distance.

The Longest Day (1962, Ken Annakin/Andrew Marton/Bernhard Wicki) [r]
Star-studded, meticulously detailed account of the D-Day invasion from nearly all possible angles deserves credit for not being a bravura cheerleading of wartime violence, and for building to an anticlimax. Despite several harrowing setpieces, there’s a lot of arrhythmic editing and a decent amount of the dialogue is poorly written and read, a weird clash of old-Hollywood sensibilities with the film’s gritty ambitions. These problems fade somewhat as the excitement of the impending action mounts, and the battles themselves demonstrate outstanding camerawork and gargantuan-scale blocking whose logitisics are difficult to even fathom.

Le Million (1931, René Clair) [hr]
Clair’s delightful musical comedy is more charming than funny, but almost Lubitschian in its sheer buoyancy. René Lefèvre stars as a philanderer who robs from Peter to pay Paul and has a Paris full of creditors and a handful of women coming home to roost all at once, when the news comes that he and his friend have won the lottery. A madly convoluted chase follows as he seeks to recover the missing coat that houses his ticket, and there’s no point trying to explain the rest. The song sequences are lovely, the whole film ceaselessly inventive and alive; Clair communicates the sheer joy of unburdened youth like few other directors.

The Double (2013, Richard Ayoade) [r]
Gorgeous-looking, witty and well-acted nightmare from writer-director Ayoade is reminiscent of Welles’ The Trial in its tirelessly inventive inscrutability, taking a Dostoyevsky novella for inspiration. Jesse Eisenberg gets thrown into a cornucopia of hopelessly thankless, hellish work and Manic Pixie Dream Girls, his bleak existence upended all the more when his uber-Alpha doppelgänger shows up. The level of visual detail here, and the fun Ayoade has dooming his protagonist, forgives some of the half-baked avenues the story takes. Wallace Shawn is hilarious as the boss in the boy’s unfathomably depressing office.

Cries and Whispers (1972, Ingmar Bergman) [hr]
Stunning psychodrama, one of the best of Bergman’s color films, functions as a meditation on death and grief as much as an oppressive fever dream. Sven Nykvist’s camera and Marik Vos-Lundh’s eye-popping set design brilliantly, almost garishly reflect the intensity of feeling among three sisters and a maid (Kari Sylwan) holed up in a mansion as one of them (Harriet Andersson) wastes away from illness, watched over with obligatory compassion while relationships fray. Bergman delves into these disparate personalities and shows himself and his cast unafraid of the rawest and most unfiltered kind of emotion.

The Only Son (1936, Yasujiro Ozu) [hr]
The outwardly straightforward story of a boy whose mother makes sacrifices to ensure his education, but who grows up in fear of disappointing her, balloons out to become a challenge to the personal philosophies and convictions of anyone watching. The film is free of easy answers, and as ever, Ozu’s beautifully still moments are steeped in their place and time — here contemporary as of the film’s release — but seem to sing out with both universal emotion and the specific tics of their characters and performances. The entire cast proves adept at exploring the unsaid, even as their polite smiles and bows only subside a handful of times.

The Duke of Burgundy (2014, Peter Strickland) [r]
Formally astounding drama set in a mysterious, insular world populated solely by entomologists and sex-bed manufacturers revolves around a lesbian couple in a master-slave relationship and (hilariously) the master’s frustration with the extremely specific, ultimately exhausting requirements of her partner. Strickland allows an emotional center to shine through all the wicked cleverness — with flights of dreamlike fancy and a well-placed Brakhage homage — but while the film’s nonchalant attitude toward both kink and its all-female cast is praiseworthy, it slips out of our lives without a sense of real resolution or satisfaction.

The Talk of the Town (1942, George Stevens)
Wildly uneven, plotty “comedy” about a wrongly jailed anarchist hiding in the attic of an ex who happens to have a potential Supreme Court justice staying as a tenant. Stevens is uncomfortable with his characters’ interactions, filling the frame with off-putting closeups and unintentionally funny emotional flourishes while fumbling his attempts at slapstick. The script’s busy wordiness indicates its authors thought they were really on a roll, and you truly feel sorry for them. Cary Grant and Jean Arthur are wonderful but they’re drowned out entirely by Ronald Colman, hamming it up as the highbrow lawyer whose beard is treated like the Monolith from 2001.

***

Additional Letterboxd notes on: Great Expectations / The Toll of the Sea / Freaks / Secret Agent