1939 in Movies

Movie reviews for movies released theatrically in 1939.


1. Stagecoach, directed by John Ford (10/10)

This film established the Western as a legitimate Hollywood genre and as a place where characters could actually exist outside of archetypes (sometimes), making it, along with film noir, really the only safe place for decent story-telling in Hollywood prior to the death of the Production Code.


2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, directed by Frank Capra (9/10*)

I watched this before I got my hate-on for Capra, so I can’t tell you whether or not this rating is reflective as how I would view this as full-blown adult, rather than a teen discovering old movies for the first time.


3. Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler (7/10)

Watched a teen who had never been successfully in love. Don’t know how unfair this is.


4. Destry Rides Again, directed by George Marshall (7/10)

I did not write down my thoughts. I apologize.


5. Drums Along the Mohawk, directed by John Ford (7/10)

Watched this well over a decade ago. Cannot comment.


6. The Wizard of Oz, directed by Victor Fleming (6/10)

Iconic, yes. Great? I haven’t seen it as a full-blown adult. But I saw it many times when I was a child and teen. I don’t know that I could watch it again for that reason. But I feel like maybe I should, just to see if there is something there. I want to read the novel now, actually, but that has more to do with Wicked than with this movie.


7. Gunga Din, directed by George Stevens (6/10)

This is definitely not my kind of film. It has its entertaining moments, but for the most part it’s typically ridiculous. At least they filmed on (a) location. That’s something. I think it’s important, because it clearly helped establish some action / adventure conventions (I have a hard time imagining Raiders without this movie) but on it’s own it’s not interesting enough.


8. Jesse James, directed by Henry King, Irving Cummings (6/10)

In Jesse James, Henry Fonda is almost not good. Which is nuts for him. But the whole movie portrays the James brothers and Younger brothers as forced into thievery and murder. They’re the heroes. It’s stupid. It’s well made for its time, but that’s just not how you portray outlaws in the old west. I know, I know. Back in the day, they didn’t care about that kind of thing, they wanted likable heroes, but it still bothers me. Anyway, only worthwhile if you like the original kind of western (and not one of the best of those).


9. Gone with the Wind, directed by Victor Fleming (5/10*)

This is unfair. Certainly this is at least one of the best produced movies of its era, if nothing else. I guess I should re-watch it.


10. Dark Victory, directed by Edmund Goulding (5/10)

I didn’t write down my thoughts at the time. I think I wanted to like this more than I did. The plot is out-there for Hollywood, the execution, not so much.


11. Goodbye Mr. Chips, directed by Sam Wood (5/10)

I have little time for the over-done sentiment of so many Hollywood movies. It pains me the attention something like this receives when there are movies out there that are neglected because they are not likable enough for the viewer who just wants Entertainment.


12. Ninotchka, directed by Ernst Lubitsch (5/10)

Times have changed. Sometimes movies made in the ’30s still make sense to 21st century eyes, often they don’t. Here we have a bizarre little romance where a woman is (as usual) behaving unwomanly (for Hollywood) and needs to be saved by a man. There are lots of mild “witty” jokes about the Russians thrown in, which supposedly makes this more bearable than other movies of its type. The male lead is impossibly English (in the way that certain Americans used to act, if you know what I mean) despite playing a Frenchman. So, incidentally, is the Russian aristocrat. But we get the same old Hollywood message: career oriented women don’t know what they want until they meet the right man to show them. Wonderful.


12. Son of Frankenstein, directed by Rowland V. Lee (5/10)

This looks to be the first stunt-casted sequel: they hire famous people and try to resurrect the franchise. But that being said: the sets are insane and its reasonably entertaining.

13. The Women, directed by George Cukor (4/10)

There’s really nothing here for a modern audience: a bunch of ’30s stereotypes gossiping for two hours. Why exactly is this anything anyone not from late ’30s USA should watch? (And though I was tempted to praise Cukor for some of his camera work I caught some of his sneaky fake long-takes, so that went out the window too).

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