Best films of 1930s

Book Moda, fascinated by those films a bit ruined that gave life to the history of cinema, draws up a list of 12 best films of the thirties.

#12 – Mr Smith goes to Washington (1939)


Directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart in the role of Jefferson Smith, the film is about a group of financiers and politicians who elect the honest and naïve Jefferson Smith as Senator of the state of Washington, hoping to have him in their pocket. The group of climbers, in fact, is pushing for the construction of a dam that would allow them to fill up their wallet but the young Jefferson , instead, presents a bill proposing a national Boy Scout camp on the banks of the river where the dam should be built. Accused of dishonesty by the group of “fake supporters”, Jefferson tried to defend himself and unmask the real dishonest making a speech 23 hours long until he falls to the ground, exhausted by fatigue and disgust. It will be Senator Paine, his proudest accuser, to deny himself and proclaim the dignity of the honest and young senator. Jefferson Smith then wins his fight against injustice.

#11 – M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (1931)


Inspired by the crimes committed by Fritz Haarmann and Peter Kürten in the Germany of the twenties, the German film directed by Fritz Lang, shows the terror of the population of a German city at the mercy of a maniac, already guilty of killing eight girls. After several police raids in neighborhoods frequented by the underworld, the criminal associations of the city decide to find the “Monster” using the street beggars as spies. Although using different techniques and ways, both the police and the criminals arrive almost simultaneously to discover the identity of the criminal but the underworld seeks out him a short time before, thanks to a beggar who recognizes the whistle and trace the letter “M” with chalk on the jacket of the murderer. The latter, a certain Hans Beckert, hides himself in an office building where he is captured shortly before the police and prosecuted. During the trial, the killer is going to be sentenced to death when the police arrived saying to have discovered the hideout thanks to the confession of a criminal. Monster is then brought to justice and the heads of ordinary crime are arrested.

#10 – Of mice and men (1939)


Adapted from the novel by John Steinbeck, “Of Mice and Men,” directed by Lewis Milestone, the film tells the story of two young Americans, cousins, one quick and with a normal build and another that looks like a giant with an extraordinary force, but suffered from a slight mental retardation. The two guys work in a farm but the less smart character of the second leads him to combine a lot of troubles and for this reason had to deal with the arrogant son of the owner. The giant, won by him, however, grabs his hand and squeezes it in his hands till he smash it. But the troubles did not end there: in fact, during a village festival the master of the farm decided to leave his wife home, of which he is very jealous, but the woman, to defeat boredom, came down in the stables where they had locked up the retarded boy to avoid further problems. She invites him to caress her, but the giant unconsciously strangles her. Discovered the fact, the boss wants to lynch the unconscious murderess but a pistol shot fired by the cousin take him away from execution.

#9 – It happened one night (1934)


Directed by Frank Capra, the story is about the spoiled heiress Ellie Andrews who runs away from his father’s yacht and travels from Miami to New York to marry her beloved aviator King Westley (not approved by the father who believes he is only a social climber). In order not to be found by the men set on her by her father, Ellie decides to travel in a Greyhound bus on which she meets the journalist Peter Warne who, recognizing her, decides to accompany her in exchange for an exclusive scoop. But between the two it grows a strong feeling, day after day, including hitchhiking, bus, motel where they sleep separated by a blanket hanging on a rope and all the charm that a road trip can offer to a girl used to live in a gold cage. Ellie confesses her love for Peter but it does not seem to be loved back and, infact, Peter disappears. The sad heiress is then forced to call her father who finally accepts her marriage to the airman, as long as she comes home. Peter, in meantime, was out looking for money and once back where he left her, he didn’t find her thinking to have been exploited and cheated. The history between the heiress and the journalist seems over until the father of Ellie meets Peter and, recognizing the sincerity and love for his daughter, urges the girl not to make the mistake of marry the aviator. Ellie at the time of the “yes” with Westley, leaves him and reaches the beloved Peter.

#8 – Dracula (1931)


The film directed by Tod Browning and Karl Freund is the adaptation of the play in 1927 based on the novel by Bram Stoker in 1897. This horror movie is the story of Renfield, an English estate agent who is sent to Transylvania to end the deal of the sale of Carfax abbey that belongs to Count Dracula. The Count subjugates Renfield thanks to his mental powers and forces him to serve him but all this leads the poor Renfield to madness. Back in London Renfield is then locked up in a mental hospital, while the Count seduces Mina, the young wife of Jonathan Harker, Renfield’s colleague. After the vampire has seduced the friend of Mina, Lucy, Harker decides to defeat the Count piercing his heart with a stake with the help of Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

#7 – Frankenstein (1931)


From the novel by Mary Shelley and its stage adaptation by Peggy Webling in 1927, the futuristic film is directed by James Whale and it tells the story of Dr. Frankenstein who, with the help of his hunchback servant named Fritz, wants to give life to a creature consisting of remains of human corpses recovered from cemeteries. Despite the concern of his girlfriend Elizabeth asking for help to his friend Victor Moritz and the former teacher, Dr. Waldman, hoping to get him back to reason, Frankenstein brings to life his creature using the electricity of a storm’s lightning. The brain stolen to be inserted in the creature turned out to be the one of a murderous criminal, infact,  the monster is indeed very aggressive and is then locked in a room. Fritz, however, continues to tease him until the monster kills him. At this point, after drugging him asleep, Elizabeth and Waldman decided to destroy the monster. But fate is reversed and the monster strangles Waldman and escapes from the lab sowing panic throughout the village. When the monster comes to the marriage between Elizabeth and Frankenstein, the doctor decides to destroy the monster inciting an angry crowd of people (the monster had previously drowned accidentally a child of the country). The creature captures the doctor and took him to an abandoned windmill, shortly after the whole population reaches them and set fire to the mill. So the monster dies, engulfed in flames.

#6 – The Wizard of Oz (1939)


From the director Victor Fleming that in the same year was signing “Gone with the Wind”, the famous film is inspired by “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, the first of fourteen Oz books by L. Frank Baum. The story tells the adventures of Dorothy and her little dog Totò who are transported, through a cyclone, in a fantasy world where they spend their time with a lion, a scarecrow and a little ironman. In this surreal reality Dorothy defeat the evil witch and will be aware of the truth about the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy discovers, however, that it was all a dream and the little girl, looking for happiness, will understand that happiness is in the backyard of her house. In the film, Judy

Garland, who plays Dorothy, sings the famous song Over the rainbow in one of the best musicals in the history of cinema.

#5 – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)


Directed by David Hand, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is the first feature film in cel animation in the cinema’s history and produced by Walt Disney Productions. The story is based on the homonymous tale by the Grimm’s brothers and tells the story of Snow White, the daughter of a king who marries a woman cruel and very vain who wants to stay at all costs the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Snow White grows and her stepmother notices that the girl is becoming more beautiful than she is and sends a huntsman to kill her. But the good hunter does not find the courage and kill a deer carrying the animal’s heart to the stepmother as an evidence. The smart queen realizes that the heart is not human and begins to search Snow White who, in the meantime, run away in the woods. Snow White takes refuge in the house of the seven dwarfs and begins to live with these seven cute characters. But the queen finds Snow White and, disguised as an old witch, convinces her to eat one of her apples, poisoned previously. At the first bite Snow White falls down apparently dead. The dwarves then kill the witch and build a crystal coffin for the beautiful Snow White. The tale ends with the arrival of the Prince Charming who, giving Snow White the kiss of true love, is arousing from her deep sleep: so everyone lived happily ever after.

#4 – King Kong (1933)


Produced and directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, the film tells the story of Carl Denham, an adventurous documentary producer who, along with the young New Yorker Ann, leaves for Skull Island, a tropical island inhabited by a giant gorilla, King Kong. The legendary animal falls in love with Ann, but is trapped by Denham and brought to New York. Despite chains, King Kong manages to get away and seek his beloved Ann. The sad fate of the giant will finish on the top of the Empire State Building where he has fled with the woman and where he died strafed by fighter planes.

#3 – Gone with the wind (1939)


Directed by Victor Fleming, the film is based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell, who won the Pulitzer prize in 1937. One of the most famous films in the world that tells the story of Scarlet O’Hara, the daughter of a wealthy landowner of Tara, always in love with Ashley who will shortly get married with Scarlet’s cousin, Melanie Hamilton. For despite Scarlet decides to accept the offer of marriage to a suitor who dies shortly after of rubella during the Civil War. War, taxes and conflicts lead the O’Hara family in ruins. Scarlet then reaches Melania to Atlanta and began to look after her and wounded soldiers, then back to Tara where poverty reigns— and takes care of the property and the family forcing everyone to work  hard in order to pursue the activity. But all their work is not enough, and Scarlet decides to visit in prison the rich adventurer Rhett Butler, in love with her, but who can not financially help her. Scarlet needs to find another solution: marry Frank Kennedy, her sister’s boyfriend, who had opened a shop and a sawmill then putting aside a certain fortune. Scarlet remains a widow  once again and Butler return to the fray with her and finally managed to fulfill his dream and marry her. But their marriage is not happy because of the love of the woman for Ashley, the death of their daughter Bonnie following a riding accident and finally the disappearance of Melanie. At this point, after a declaration of love by Ashley for his dead wife, Scarlet realizes that she had never really loved him and returns to Rhett but it was too late to save their relationship. Rhett, in fact, leave the house with a promise of divorce. And the desperate Scarlet says:Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow is another day!”.

#2 – Der blaue Engel (1930)


Directed by Josef von Sternberg and based on the novel by Heinrich Mann, Professor Unrat, the film tells the story of Professor Immanuel Rath who discovered that during his lesson and in the hands of his pupils a postcard with the beautiful Lola Lola, provocative singer who performs in local of the city: “Der Blaue Engel”. The professor decides to go there and as soon as he enter his pupils   hides away. Immanuel meets Lola and falls in love with her, passing a pleasant night in her company. The life of the professor changes in a second, and after having ridiculed in front of his pupils and the school principal, he decided to leave the school and marry Lola following his wife in her tour. Tired of this life but unable to leave because of lack of money, he becomes the clown of the company up to humbling himself in a show in front of his fellow citizens once the tour returns to the city where it all began. Here the professor/clown finds his wife secluded with another artist, Mazeppe, and tries to strangle her but was stopped and immobilized with a straitjacket. Once free, the professor runs back to his old school where he died grasped to the chair in his class.

#1 – Modern Times (1936)


Directed, produced and starring Charles Chaplin, the film tells the story of Charlot who works in a factory with inhuman paces and repetitive gestures, a work that leads him to be recovered in a mental hospital. Out from the clinic he is involved in a union demonstration and arrested by the police that mistakenly believed he is the leader of the protesters. Once Charlot is out of prison he starts working for a shipyard but he loose the job quite soon. Wandering jobless Charlot meets a brat who was trying to steal a loaf of bread from a bakery van. Charlot tries to take the blame (hoping to go back to prison and have no more problems in the street) but the two are loaded into the van and taken to the police center. On the way Charlot falls in love with her and when the vehicle overturned, the two escape and take refuge in a shopping mall. The next morning Charlot was found asleep under the table clothes and for this reason he has to serve ten days in jail. The brat is waiting for him at the exit and she brings him in the house she has just obtained. The next day Charlot discovers that his factory has reopened so he rushes to the gates, he obtain the job again but the story repeats itself: workers strike, the factory closed and Charlot in prison. The brat is waiting once again at the exit and this time she brings him to the restaurant where she has since found work as a dancer and where Charlot is hired as a waiter. Here it seems everything is going right until the youth assistance officers arrive to shut the brat in an Institute but Charlot saves her once again.