1933 in Movies

Movie reviews for movies released theatrically in 1933.

1. Duck Soup, directed by Leo McCarey (7/10*)

I saw this movie well over a decade ago and don’t remember it at all. This rating is likely unfair. I just remember preferring Chaplin.

2. The Invisible Man, directed by James Whale (6/10)

I think the vast majority of my problems stem from the source material (though I haven’t read the book since I was a kid, and maybe the movie takes freedoms, I don’t remember). The effects are spectacular for the time. I certainly have trouble understanding how everything in person’s body could be see-through because of a drug. But the bigger concern is walking around nude: wouldn’t he die of exposure? So yeah, maybe I’m too harsh on the film when I should just be mad at Wells going soft.

2. King Kong, directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack (6/10)

This is an iconic film and I guess that’s why so many people rate it so highly. But frankly it has dated really poorly and the effects, though relatively ground-breaking, interest me far less than the more subtle effects in other movies from the period. This established the general format for the blockbuster of ‘go big or go home’ and I’m not sure that’s worth celebrating.

4. Baby Face, directed by Alfred E. Green (6/10)

The fact that this is one of the movies that helped bring in the Production Code is just further proof of how prudish America was. I mean, this is a tame, tame film. I get it, it’s not tame (for a film) for 1933. And, if you think about the hysteria over something like Lady Chatterly’s Lover, not that long before, I guess it makes sense. But still, if you watch this hoping for some real boundary-pushing…well, you won’t find it. (Everything in this film is implied.)

Stanwyck does indeed fuck her way to the top. And she does it rather easily (the male characters are all rather pathetic). But it’s not as though she ever actually gets what she wants. So though some people might feel that this film is amoral, it’s not. (And, interestingly, you can count it among the Hollywood films that attempted to slander Nietzsche.) Everything about it is pretty rote. Stanwyck has been better – and, frankly, she’s had better roles to play. And everyone else feels like a caricature.

But this is early ’30s Hollywood so my standards shouldn’t be too high.

5. Queen Christina, directed by Rouben Mamoulian (5/10)

What we have here is a nearly completely fictional, and very Hollywood version of the reign of Queen Christina of Sweden. I suspect the real story is far more interesting. Instead we get the usual Hollywood sexism, of how a proud woman is really just waiting for a man to sweep her off her feet. There are all sorts of accents, from blatant American to haughty faux-British American (and at one time I swear Garbo is trying to sound Spanish). The sets are good for the time. The costumes are probably great. I would have much preferred an attempt to tell the real story.

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