Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Great Year for Movies - 1939

Scarecrow: I haven't got a brain...only straw.
Dorothy: How can you talk if you haven't got a brain?
Scarecrow: I don't know, but some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don't they?
Dorothy: Yes, I guess you're right.

                                                                       --- The Wizard of Oz

If you stop to think about it, the movies that came out in 1939 were released 75 years ago.  Many of them have been forgotten, some justly, some unjustly.  And some of them are among the all time classics in movie history.

In honor of their 75th anniversary I am going to be recommending my five top rated films from 1939, along with the ones from the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list that received three stars from me.

Why am I doing this category?  Why this year?  It is because I consider 1939 to be the best year for movies in all of cinema history.  1994 would be second, in case you are curious.  I discussed that year here.  By the way, 1954 and 1974 are also standouts. 

I won’t be reviewing them now, but so that these good films at least get some notice, here are other 1939 movies that I would recommend:  The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, Dark Victory, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Young Mr. Lincoln, and Of Mice and Men

Here are the 1939 movies I have seen that I would not recommend: Destry Rides Again, Gunga Din, and Babes in Arms.  All are 2.5 star movies, which means they were okay, but not good enough to recommend.

There are some notable 1939 movies that I have not seen.  If you have a particular favorite among them, please let me know:  The Four Feathers, The Women, Son of Frankenstein, Gulliver’s Travels, The Roaring Twenties, Buck Rogers, The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, Beau Geste, Drums Along the Mohawk, and Midnight.  I have not seen Love Affair yet, but since it is a Best Picture nominee I will watch it eventually.  I am pretty sure I have seen both The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but I am not positive.

As I post the reviews, I will come back and add links here for those posts:

1.  Mr.Smith Goes to Washington – (posted May 6, 2012)

Gone with the Wind
Only Angels Have Wings
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum

On to the reviews…


  1. I'll second Dark Victory. I'm planning on watching Goodbye Mr. Chips tomorrow, as it happens, so we'll see if I agree with you there.

    I liked Babes in Arms less than you, Gunga Din a little more than you, and Destry Rides Again about the same.

    1. It's funny on Gunga Din. Of the two of us I would think that I'm a little less bothered by political incorrectness in old movies. In the case of this film, though, it bugged me that Gunga Din's highest possible recognition (to him) was to wear the British uniform - the nation that had invaded his country.

    2. Just for fun, I went to check my Letterboxd scores for these films:
      Gunga Din--3 stars
      Destry Rides Again--2 stars
      Babes in Arms--1 1/2 stars

      Not bad, when done from memory.

      You're right about the politicically incorrect nature of Gunga Din, which is why it didn't rate higher than 3 stars from me. I like the "boy's own adventure" feel of it, though.

  2. haha, I am perfectly in line with Steve here. Dark Victory is really good and the reason it is not on the List is likely because 39 was such a crowded year. Babes in Arms scrapes the bottom and took up a vulable slot here. It would struggle to get a single star from me. On the other hand I think I would rate Gunga Din a bit higher.
    I recently saw The Roaring Twenties and while a movie starring Bogie and Cagney would never be bad it is not a top-rater for 39.
    You know how I feel about Mr. Smith goes to Washington...

    1. Thanks for the info on The Roaring Twenties. Please see my reply to Steve above regarding Gunga Din.

    2. If you like animation, the drawing style of Gulliver's Travels is unique and beautiful. It's well worth a look though not up with the greats. I loved The Mikado and so will any G&S fan.

    3. @marie_dressler - thanks for the tips. I've actually never seen The Mikado. I've only seen the pieces of it that were in Topsy Turvy.

  3. I have seen The Women, and I love it! A cast of only women with cracking one-liners. Rosalind Russell is fabulous. I would heartily recommend it.

  4. There's definitely a case to be made that 1939 was a great year for cinema! I still have a lot to see from that year. My current top 5:
    1. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming)
    2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra)
    3. Gone With The Wind (Victor Fleming)
    4. Stagecoach (John Ford)
    5. Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch)

    Do you not consider Gone with the Wind a 1939 film?

    1. After I review a film I add a link in this parent post to it. I have not reviewed Gone with the Wind yet (plus several others). I don't consider it one of the top 5 films of 1939, though, for reasons I will discuss when I review it.