The Classic Movie Blog Association turns ten years old this year. In celebration of this anniversary, our groups latest blogathon is one which celebrates films, or particular years in film history, which are also celebrating a significant anniversary in 2019. Be sure to drop by the CMBA site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
I’ve decided to celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the year 1939. Why the focus on this year and not another you may well ask? I picked this year because it is such a remarkable and impressive year for film. 1939 is a year considered by many film fans and film critics to be “Hollywood’s greatest year”, this is due to the large amount of magnificent films released in America that year, many of which have gone on to become some of the most beloved, impressive and acclaimed classics of all time.
Left to right: The Wizard Of Oz, Gone With The Wind and Only Angels Have Wings. Screenshots by me.
I don’t know about other film fans, but I know that I for one return again and again to so many of the films from 1939. There’s just something about these films which makes them special. Think also of all the beloved film characters this year’s films provided us with – Sherlock Holmes, Dorothy Gale, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, The Wicked Witch Of The West, Rhett Butler, Scarlett O’Hara, Mamie, Melanie Wilkes,Cathy and Heathcliff,Judith Traherne etc. While it’s certainly true that every year and decade in film history contains some real gems and classics, 1939 in particular saw the release of such a staggering amount of high quality films which have ended up becoming classics.
To have had these films appear sprinkled throughout one or two decades would have been incredible enough, but the fact that all of these films came out in one year is truly mind blowing. If 1939 had only been the year of say Gone With The Wind(one of the all time great epics), The Wizard Of Oz, Stagecoach, or Only Angels Have Wings, then I have no doubt that it would have most certainly have gone down as a great film year, but this year had all of those films and so many more besides.
Just a few of the remarkable films released during this year include: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington( a film which remains incredibly relevant and affecting, given how many governments/politicians around the world are self serving or corrupt and don’t seem to be on the side of the ordinary people at all); Wuthering Heights(moody and moving in equal measure); Goodbye Mr. Chips(one of the saddest and most poignant films ever made); The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle, Golden Boy, The Women(this hilarious film sees some of the best actresses of the day fight it out on screen); Dark Victory, Ninotchka, Of Mice And Men, The Saint Strikes Back(the first time that George Sanders played the role of Simon Templar)Dodge City, The Hound Of The Baskervilles.
1939 also saw many excellent films released outside of Hollywood. The brilliant French Noir Le Jour Se Leve, the powerful Japanese drama The Story Of The Last Chrysanthemums, the French satire The Rules Of The Game, and the early Powell and Pressburger spy drama The Spy In Black, are just four of the classics made outside of America during this significant year.
1939 also saw Technicolor used to its most stunning and impressive effect in many films, including The Wizard Of Oz, Dodge City, Gone With The Wind, Drums Along The Mohawk. There had been some lovely and impressive looking colour films around since the Silent film era, but nothing that compared to the spectacular use of colour seen in many of the films released in 1939. I think that films featuring Technicolor, outside of the Powell and Pressburger 1940’s films, have never before or since looked as stunning and striking as these 1939 Technicolor films do.
1939 was also a very good year for actors. Many of the films in this year featured very strong roles for women and had very female centric stories. Many of the 1939 films provided actresses with some of the best screen roles they would ever have.
Some fellow British ladies would find that this year would end up changing their fortunes for the better. Vivien Leigh moved from being an up and coming British stage and screen actress, to become an acclaimed international star following her work in Gone With The Wind.Greer Garson enchanted audiences in her screen debut in Goodbye Mr. Chips, and she quickly went on to become one of the most popular actresses of the entire classic film era.
The American actress Jean Arthur would star in Only Angels Have Wings and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,two films which would help cement her screen persona of tough, sassy and fiercely loyal female sidekick.
It wasn’t just the ladies who were enjoying great acting success in this year either. James Stewart proved he could do much more than comedy and sweet romantic roles, thanks to his excellent dramatic performance in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Jean Gabin and Robert Donat all delivered some of the best performances of their entire careers in this year. Cary Grant would also prove that he could do more than comedy, with his great performance as the cynical, tough and complicated pilot, Geoff Carter, in Howard Hawk’s Only Angels Have Wings. A young chap called John Wayne would find that his performance in Stagecoach would end up becoming his breakthrough role, and over the next few years he would go on to become one of the most famous and iconic actors in the world.
1939 was also a glorious year for film composers and their scores. A few of my favourites from this year are Max Steiner’s sweeping score for Gone With The Wind; Eric Korngold’s rousing theme to Elizabeth And Essex; Alfred Newman’s beautiful and moving score for Wuthering Heights; Alfred Newman’s score for The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. The music and songs in The Wizard Of Oz also have a very special place in my heart.
It seems to me that every aspect of filmmaking was the very best that it possibly could be during this year. From acting and cinematography, to costumes, music, scripts and direction. This year highlights the quality and magic of the classic film era for me.
We are sadly living in an era now where western film audiences seem to be being bombarded by nothing but an endless stream of remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels. We’ve got an overwhelming amount of CGI filled superhero films and computer animated films out there too. It seems that if you want originality, quality, good human drama and characterisation, then you need to be checking out Foreign Language films, Indie films, or turning to television to find what you seek.
Watching classic era films reminds us that there once was a time when there were seemingly endless amounts of fresh and original film ideas, and that there was a strong focus on the characters and actors in order to tell the story, rather than letting special effects dominate proceedings and overwhelming every other aspect of the film. These classic films, especially many of those from 1939, serve to show the current generation the quality that filmmakers can achieve if they put their minds to it. There’s a reason these classic era films have stood the test of time and stand head and shoulders above so many other films.
I hope that you will all join me in raising a glass in honour of this very special year in film history. The greatest year in film history? While I find it hard to narrow so much great cinema down to one single year and call that year the best ever,I would however have to say that I think 1939 has more claim than most to hold that particular title. It truly was a golden year for film.
I’d also like to raise a glass to the CMBA in honour of its own special anniversary. I’m still so touched to have been accepted as a member of this group and to have found myself amongst some truly great classic film bloggers. This group is so supportive and encouraging, and I think my fellow CMBA bloggers are all doing a wonderful job of spreading the word about classic films far and wide. Happy 10th Anniversary to this wonderful group. Special thanks to Rick at Classic Film And TV Cafe who founded our group.
I’d love to hear what you think of 1939. Share your thoughts on this great year below.