Movie Classics Turning 80 This Years
If you ask film historians and critics for the best year in movie history, a large majority of them would probably tell you 1939. So many films which rank among the greatest ever made saw their debut in this year. All of those films will be reaching the eight decade milestone this year and still hold cultural or artistic relevance to this day, so let us look at some great movie classic which will be reaching 80 this year.
Wizard of Oz: One of the landmark films in American history and a rite of passage for so many. A storm hits the small farm of Dorothy Gale and somehow sends the young woman from the black-and-white world she knows to the vibrant and fantastical Land of Oz. Dorothy needs a way to escape this realm to go back home and her only hope is in the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. Along the way she is joined by her memorable and beloved companions: the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Her journey is plagued by the terrifying Wicked Witch of the West and her army of Flying Monkeys. Over the decades the Wizard of Oz has permeated American culture and was even among the inaugural class of films inducted into the National Film Registry in 1989. Even today new generations make a point of watching the Wizard of Oz and enjoy it just as much as all those before them.
Stagecoach: The director/actor duo of John Ford and John Wayne made countless classic films together like; the Searchers or the Man who Shot Liberty Valance, and it all started here. A coach from Tonto, Arizona is bound for New Mexico through treacherous territory filled. Travelling on this coach are; a prostitute, an alcoholic doctor, a whiskey salesman, a military officer and his pregnant wife. Along the way the man guarding the coach captures the infamous outlaw, the Ringo Kidd, adding a murderous criminal to the motley assortment of passengers. Whether they like it or not these characters have to put aside any differences they may have in order to stay alive against an unforgiving terrain and the growing threat of the Apaches. To this day Stagecoach is considered a landmark picture of the western genre though it was almost lost to time when the original negatives of the film were destroyed. Luckily, John Wayne himself owned a copy and allowed a new negative to be copied from it and audiences today can still enjoy this classic.
Another Thin Man: The sharp-tongued mystery-solving socialites Nick and Nora Charles, return for the third movie in the Thin Man series, only this time they are not alone. Nick, Nora, and their dog Asta head to the country home of Colonel MacFay the overseer of Nora’s finances, and they are bringing their newest addition Nick Jr with them. MacFay is paranoid that an employee is out to kill him, and perhaps his paranoia is justified because the Colonel is murdered while the Charles’ are there. While everyone naturally suspects the shady employee, Nick naturally sees the clues leading towards someone else. While adding a baby to the mix brought a layer of domestication to Nick and Nora which hurt their dynamic a bit, William Powell and Myrna Loy are still as sharp and entertaining as always as the fan-favorite sleuths.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: One of the ultimate films of the little guy standing up to fight the system which still resonates with modern audiences. Starring the one and only Jimmy Stewart as Jefferson Smith, a likable leader of the Boy Rangers who is thrust into the role of senator thanks to a corrupt political system in his state. Smith is sent to solely be a simpleminded patsy for the Washington elites to manipulate, especially Senator Joseph Paine played by Claude Raines. For a while the good-natured scout leader is ground down by the political machine and mocked by the media, but ultimately Smith is a man of conviction and with the support of the people in his state he fights back. In the famous climax, Jefferson Smith holds a filibuster on the Senate floor to stop Paine’s machinations, though his battle may be in vain he continues on to the point of collapse. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington made enemies in all the right place receiving backlash from both Washington insiders as well as Nazi Germany upon its release.
Wuthering Heights: In 1939 MGM undertook the unenviable task of condensing Emily Bronte’s 1847 classic novel for the big screen. Starring acting legend Sir Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, it tells the story of a traveler who finds refuge from an unforgiving snowstorm at Wuthering Heights an estate run by the aloof Heathcliff. But the traveler is frightened when he sees the ghost of a woman named Cathy who is calling for Heathcliff. The next morning discovers what he saw was the ghost of Heathcliff’s great love, which kicks off a series of flashbacks. Over the course of four decades we see the love between Heathcliff and Cathy which never flourished as it should as circumstances and other people kept these two soulmates apart. In the end Cathy dies in his arms, and Heathcliff is left to live in Wuthering Heights alone for the rest of his days.
The Roaring Twenties: Throughout the era of the Warner Bros. gangster movies, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart were constantly turned to in order to play mobsters, killers, and overall miscreants. As this era came to a close, director Raoul Walsh, put the two actors together for one last gangster flick which would rank among the best films the two of them did in their legendary careers. As an audience we follow three men who sought refuge in the same foxhole during the First World War; Eddie Bartlett, George Hally, and Lloyd Hart. Following the war, they find that Prohibition is ravaging the nation which presents them a business opportunity. Using their respective careers, the trio organize a successful bootlegging operation. As often happens in gangster movies however, their success leads to divisiveness and eventually their respective downfalls.
Gone With the Wind: One of the great epics of American cinema focuses on the trials and tribulations of a woman set against the backdrop of the Civil War. In her most iconic performance, Vivien Leigh plays Scarlett O’Hara the daughter of the prominent family who runs the plantation of Tara. Through her eyes we see the history of the South unfold through the 1860’s from the pre-war years through the Civil War and reconstruction. With this hectic backdrop firmly in place we follow Scarlett through her various romances, most famously with Rhett Butler, and struggles to keep her family and her home intact against all odds. Just like Wizard of Oz, this film has become one of the great iconic movies in American culture. Even those who have never seen Gone With the Wind recognize many of the classic scenes and lines. The movie was both a critical and commercial smash hit upon its release, and cleaned house on Oscar night including wins for Best Picture and a historic Best Supporting Actress win for Hattie McDaniel.
Le Jour se Le’ve (Daybreak): A factory worker named Francois has just gunned down a man named Valentin in cold blood. Following his crime, the killer barricades himself in his apartment while the authorities have him surrounded and he awaits his inevitable fate. While locked away Francois reflects on the chain of events which led to him becoming a murderer. We as the audience learn to sympathize with the blue collar Francois after we see he had fallen in love with a woman with whom he shared a name with. Unfortunately she is bound into a manipulative relationship with Valentin, despite her feelings for Francois. Once we learn the heartbreaking story we along with Francois are trapped in the apartment with only one way out. For many years Le Jour se Le’ve was thought to be lost, luckily a print was discovered in the 1950’s and is has been held as a French classic ever since.
Dark Victory: Starring screen legend, Bette Davis, Dark Victory follows New York socialite Judy Traherne as she faces the possibility that her days are coming to an end. From the start Traherne is not a particularly likable character for the audiences; she has enough money to outweigh any cares so she spends her days in a life of leisure, or she would were it not for the constant horrible headaches she gets. It is discovered by Dr. Frederick Steele, that she has a tumor and though he tried to remove it, he could not and now the socialite only has months to live. Steele decides the best course of action is to hide the fact the surgery was unsuccessful and spare her the grief, though the two become romantically involved and Judy discovers the truth. Naturally feeling betrayed, she breaks things off with the doctor and reverts back to her hedonistic lifestyle, until she comes to the realization that she can keep living like this or face her tumor head-on.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips: For over fifty years, Mr. Charles Edwards Chipping AKA Mr. Chips has been the most respected educator at the British boy’s school Brookfield, but as all good things his tenure must come to an end. He reflects on his long career, and we as the audience watch as he evolves from the butt of all the student’ jokes into being respected if not feared disciplinarian. It is not until he meets, the tenacious Kathy that his life is truly fulfilled. Though she passes away early in the marriage, Kathy inspires Chipping to live a life which wins the admiration of his students and colleagues. He endures the ticking of time and even serves as headmaster during the First World War, because of so many of the educators going off to fight. At the end of it all Mr. Chips truly realizes how rich and rewarding it has been all along. While many great talents were involved in the making of this movie, the heartfelt performances from both Ronald Donat and Greer Garson has made Goodbye, Mr. Chips one of the most beloved movies in British cinema.
Hunchback of Notre Dame: Victor Hugo’s famed French novel has been adapted many times to film over the years, and most agree this 1939 version starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara is the definitive take on the tale. During the Festival of Fools, Quasimodo, the hunchbacked ringer of the bells at Notre Dame meets the beautiful gypsy woman, Esmerelda. Though they get off on the wrong foot, she shows him kindness when he is sentenced to be flogged in the city center. Chief Justice Jean Frollo develops lustful feelings for Esmerelda and when she does not reciprocate, she has her framed for murdering the man she is in love with, Captain Phoebus. She is sentenced to death, but Quasimodo rescues her and retreats to the famed cathedral to make his stand. Though the ending is happy for Esmerelda and her fellow gypsies, Quasimodo is left to linger around the gargoyles of Notre Dame. A truly thrilling epic take on Victor Hugo’s tale the Hunchback of Notre Dame maintains a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
La Regle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game): Famed French director Jean Renoir was at the top of his game when he made one of the most expensive films in French history up to that point. Robert the Margquis de la Chesnaye and his wife Christine, both head away to their rural vacation home in an attempt to rebuild their marriage. Though for a bit of fun they both invite their respective adulterous lovers as well as their friend Octave to join them as well. What follows is a series of betrayals and jealousy as the men all make advances on Christine behind the back of Robert. Sadly the Rules of the Game snapped his streak of hits and the studio cut the film to shreds. Following the release of this edited version, the wartime French government banned it altogether. Luckily in the 1956 Venice Film Festival a restored version of the movie was shown for an adoring audience and has since developed a reputation as one of the most influential films ever made.