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DISCLAIMER: All film criticism is extremely subjective and there is no such thing as the definitive list of the Greatest (English-language) Films. Great Films can't be measured scientifically because greatness is extremely subjective. Just because we like a film doesn't mean that you will like it as well. Please feel free to leave us a comment with the films that you think are the greatest which we have not included on our list.

 

Not only was 1936 a big year for movies but it was also a big year for  Fred Astaire and Ginger RogersWilliam Powell and Myrna Loy. It also marks the last appearance of The Little Tramp.  Here is a mini snapshot of the film industry.

 

Making Their Film Debuts:

Lloyd Bridges – Freshman Love; Anthony Quinn – The Milky Way

 

Top-grossing Films

RankTitleStudioActors
1.San FranciscoMGMClark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald
2.The Great ZiegfeldMGMWilliam Powell, Myrna Loy and Luise Rainer
3.Modern TimesUnited ArtistsCharlie Chaplin
4.These ThreeUnited ArtistsMiriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon
5.CamilleMGMGreta Garbo
6.Three Smart GirlsUniversalDeanna Durbin
7.Poor Little Rich Girl20th Century FoxShirley Temple
8.Libeled LadyMGMJean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy
9.The Charge of the Light BrigadeWarner Bros.Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland
10.Wife vs. SecretaryMGMClark Gable, Jean Harlow and Myrna Loy
11.My Man GodfreyUniversalWilliam Powell and Carole Lombard
12.DodsworthUnited ArtistsWalter Huston and Ruth Chatterton
13.Romeo and JulietMGMNorma Shearer and Leslie Howard
14.Dimples20th Century FoxShirley Temple
15.Klondike AnnieParamountMae West
16.Follow the FleetRKOFred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
17.The Story of Louis PasteurWarner Bros.Paul Muni
18.Anthony AdverseWarner Bros.Fredric March and Olivia de Havilland
19.Go West, Young ManParamountMae West
20.SuzyMGMJean Harlow, Franchot Tone and Cary Grant

 

Academy Awards

First year for “Supporting” Oscars

Best Picture: The Great Ziegfeld – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Best Actor: Paul Muni – The Story of Louis Pasteur
Best Actress: Luise Rainer – The Great Ziegfeld
Best Supporting Actor: Walter Brennan – Come and Get It
Best Supporting Actress: Gale Sondergaard – Anthony Adverse

 

Among Those Who Died In 1936:

 John Gilbert, Irving Thalberg, Henry B. Walthall, and Harry T. Morey

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The Greatest Films of 1936

***POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT FOR ALL***

 

Anthony AdverseAnthony Adverse  

D: Mervyn LeRoy

An intriguing, blockbuster film based on Hervey Allen’s bestseller novel. A naive but ambitious youth Anthony Adverse (Fredric March) travels through early 19th century America, Europe, and Africa (during the time of Napoleon), and matures to manhood and personal/financial success from his globe-trotting experiences. A grand scale film, with 98 speaking parts, thousands of Warner Bros. extras, and over 130 different sets. Notable as the first film to be honored with the newly-created Best Supporting Actress Academy Award (awarded to Gale Sondergaard).

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Camille"

© 1936 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Camille 

D: George Cukor

The film version of Alexander Dumas’ novel, this is the definitive version, with Greta Garbo’s greatest performance in one of the best romantic films of all time. In 1840s Paris, Marguerite, “lady of the camellias” (Greta Garbo), a lovely Parisian courtesan (prostitute) is a kept woman of wealthy Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell). She falls in love with Armand Duval (Robert Taylor), a young innocent French nobleman, but then sacrifices herself for him when his father Monsieur Duval (Lionel Barrymore) asks her to give him up. With a classic, tear-jerking death scene conclusion when she suffers from terminal TB (consumption) and Armand expresses his love for her as she dies in his arms.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Dodsworth"

© − All right reserved.

Dodsworth

D: William Wyler

Based upon the Sinclair Lewis novel. A self-made millionaire American auto tycoon Samuel Dodsworth (Walter Huston) goes from the Midwest town of Zenith on a retirement trip to Europe with his frivolous, vain and shallow wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), who is afraid of growing old. During the sailing, Fran shows her real colors by accepting the advances of Lothario Englishman Capt. Lockert (David Niven). In Europe, their lives and relationship are changed when they realizes they have grown apart. She is entranced with the cosmopolitan lifestyle and has romantic flings with three Europeans (including Arnold Iselin (Paul Lukas)), announcing that she wants a divorce to marry an impoverished Austrian nobleman, Kurt von Obersdorf (Gregory Gaye). Sam meets and find peace, solace and love with a beautiful, expatriate American divorcee Edith Cortright (Mary Astor) and by film’s end, leaves his self-absorbed, unapologetic wife to be with her in Naples. A mature and intelligent adult drama.

 

Follow the FleetFollow the Fleet

D: Mark Sandrich

This is a delightful yet predictable RKO film about a double-romance – a delightful song/dance classic and the fifth of ten Astaire/Rogers films. It begins when song-and-dance-man, Bake Baker (Fred Astaire) enlists in the Navy after being rejected by his ex-dance partner, Sherry Martin (Ginger Rogers) who he wished to marry two years earlier. Bake and naval sailor buddy Bilge Smith (Randolph Scott), who are on leave in San Francisco, romances Sherry and her sister Connie (Harriet Hilliard, later Harriet Nelson), when they meet in the Paradise Club dance hall. The estranged couple reconcile, and help to solve the romantic difficulties between Bilge and marriage-minded Connie. With an Irving Berlin score, including “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket,” “We Saw the Sea,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” and “Let Yourself Go.”

 

Poster for the movie "Fury"

© 1936 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Fury  

D: Fritz Lang

The first American film by Fritz Lang, a realistic study of mob rule, injustice and revenge. A precursor to the film noir classics of the 40s and 50s. Set during the Depression era, Joe Wilson (Spencer Tracy) is about to marry fiancée Katherine Grant (Sylvia Sidney) when he is arrested by Deputy Meyers (Walter Brennan) on suspicion of kidnapping. He is innocent, although apprehended for having in his possession a $5 bill from the ransom money. Wilson is jailed in the small Midwestern town of Strand, where a brutal, hysterical lynch mob attacks the jail and sets it on fire, with Wilson inside and screaming for his life. Katherine faints, unaware that Wilson escapes death and is determined to avenge his wrong with a frame-up. Wilson’s two brothers spread the idea that the lynch mob should be tried for first-degree murder – and 22 townsfolk are indicted as defendants. Meanwhile, the actual criminal kidnappers are caught, implying that Wilson was innocent all along. The case is tried by D.A. Adams (Walter Abel). In the trial, a newsreel proves that all of them were complicit and guilty of the crime – after they had given perjured testimony. One problem remained – Wilson’s body was not recovered after the fire. Was he really dead? Katherine learns (and keeps it secret) that Wilson is still alive (and in hiding watches the torment of the would-be vigilante murderers), although she still provided false testimony. When the embittered and vengeful Wilson realizes that his frame-up has gone far enough, and that he has become a vindictive, one-man ‘lynch mob’ himself, he strides into the courtroom and confesses.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

The General Died at Dawn The General Died at Dawn

D: Lewis Milestone

An exotic adventure/melodramatic film set in the East in the 1920s, adapted from Clifford Odets’ first screenplay. An American soldier of fortune O’Hara (Gary Cooper) smuggles gold across China to Shanghai to help finance arms purchases for a peasant uprising against a savage warlord General Yang (Akim Tamiroff). The cunning and evil Yang, who is interested in controlling all the northern provinces of China, attempts to have him assassinated, and when that fails, lures him onto a train en-route to Shanghai. He is set up for an ambush and abduction when he falls in love with the daughter of one of Yang’s agents, the beautiful spy Judy Perrie (Madeleine Carroll).

 

Poster for the movie "The Great Ziegfeld"

© − All right reserved.

The Great Ziegfeld

D: Robert Z. Leonard

With lavish and grand dance production numbers, a Best Picture winner. The big-budget story is the fictionalized musical biography of the career of the flamboyant show business impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (William Powell), including his relationships with wives, Anna Held (Best Actress-winning Luise Rainer) and Billie Burke (Myrna Loy) and co-workers. The film shows his rise from a sideshow barker to his world-famous New York “Follies.” Filled with memorable cameos of the stars who actually appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies (Fanny Brice, Ray Bolger, Ann Pennington, Harriet Hoctor, and others.) With huge sets, especially for “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody,” and other memorable songs including “Look For the Silver Lining,” “If You Knew Susie,” “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” and “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Libeled Lady"

© 1936 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Libeled Lady

D: Jack Conway

One of the best classic screwball comedies of the 1930s. With a clever, fast-paced script, and another comic pairing of Powell/Loy from The Thin Man series. The newspaper of managing editor Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) prints a libelous, false story about wealthy heiress Connie Allenbury’s (Myrna Loy) affair with another woman’s husband. She sues the paper for $5 million, just as Haggerty is preparing to marry fiancée Gladys Benton (Jean Harlow), one of his employees. The wedding is postponed. The scheming editor hires ex-employee Bill Chandler (William Powell) to marry (in name only) Gladys, so he can be free to seduce Connie, rap her and prove the truth of the adultery story so the lawsuit could be dropped. But of course, the perfect plan fails when Chandler falls in love and marries Connie.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Modern Times"

© 1936 United Artists − All right reserved.

Modern Times

D: Charles Chaplin 

One of the last great “silent” comedy masterpieces, with music, sound effects, and very limited   dialogue/singing, and the last screen appearance of Charlie Chaplin’s memorable character, The Little Tramp. The film is about the dehumanizing and frustrating effects of the machine age – even in the 1930s. A factory worker (Charles Chaplin) goes berserk and suffered a nervous breakdown, induced from the effects of working at a machine. He also suffers the effects of a labor strike, a jail sentence, and other problems of his modern age. Unemployed, he joins up with and falls in love with a young orphaned girl, the Gamine (Paulette Goddard, Chaplin’s real-life wife).

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Mr Deeds Goes To Town

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

D: Frank Capra

A charming comedy classic based on “Opera Hat” (Clarence Budington Kelland’s Saturday Evening Post story). It contrasted small-town “little people” (populist) values with those of the cynical big city. An unassuming, eccentric small-town New Englander from Mandrake Falls, Vermont, a common-sensical greeting-card poet and tuba player, Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), inherits a fortune of $20 million from his late uncle Martin Semple. The hick hayseed is brought to New York City by one of his relative’s lawyers. He moves into an enormous mansion, but the guileless good-hearted Deeds quickly finds that his world had been shaken in the heartless metropolis. He is immediately targeted by opportunistic city slickers – and so he attempts to give all his fortune away by buying farmland, and giving plots (and a horse) to struggling farmers and needier unemployed people. A cynical and hardened news-reporter Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur) poses as a ‘damsel in distress’ to get his attention, exploits the situation and follows his story, and tries to figure out how he could be so generous. She has all the latest tabloid scoops when they became friends, and ends up falling in love with him. Deeds (who was also falling in love with Babe) is unaware of the press coverage.

He is accused by his relatives who could not understand his generosity of being simple-minded, and they try to commit him on insanity charges. Because of his harebrained scheme, Deeds is taken to court by sleazy lawyers for a competency hearing – and possibly to separate him from his money. In the hilarious hearing, witnesses testify about Deeds’ unusual and peculiar behavior – two Faulkner sisters from Mandrake Falls, Amy and Jane (Margaret McWade and Margaret Seddon), claimed that Deeds was often “pixilated” (drunk?), and doodling German psychologist Dr. Emile Von Hallor (Gustav von Seyffertitz) states that Deeds is manic-depressive. Eventually, love interest Babe comes to Deeds’ defense, stirring Deeds to take the stand and defend himself. He argues that he was no crazier than any of the others in the courtroom, and that there is nothing wrong with his philanthropic wishes. The judge rules that Deeds is indeed sane, and he is triumphantly carried out by the crowd.

 

Poster for the movie "My Man Godfrey"

© 1936 Universal Pictures − All right reserved.

My Man Godfrey

D: Gregory La Cava

One of the first and best of the screwball comedies, a very zany, humorous classic, and biting satire about the idle rich. A group of extremely wealthy Park Avenue socialites hold a scavenger hunt, and one of the participants, ditzy blonde heiress Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) finds a “forgotten man” at the dump for her list of odd items. The down-and-out, unemployed, and homeless bum Godfrey Parke (William Powell) is in fact a blue-blood who had a run of romantic bad luck. Back at the party in the hotel, the noble common man speaks to the crowd about the insensitivity of their quest. The flighty Irene give him a job as the family butler and brings him home. In the wealthy, snobbish Bullock household run by nutty father Alexander (Eugene Pallette), Godfrey attempts to set things straight, teach the family a few lessons, and ultimately marry Irene.

 Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Petrified Forest"

© 1936 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.

The Petrified Forest

D: Archie Mayo

A screen adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood’s play, with Bogart reprising his stage role, and typecasting him as a gangster for the rest of his career. Vicious killer gangster Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart, in his first major, star-making movie role), flees from the authorities with his gang, and holds out with a group of hostages at an Arizona desert roadside service station cafe, the Black Mesa Bar B-Q. Hostages included an idealistic, but disillusioned writer Alan Squier (Leslie Howard) and the diner owner’s daughter/waitress Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis), an aspiring poet who dreams of a better life and fall in love with him.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Romeo and Juliet"

© 1936 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Romeo and Juliet

D: George Cukor

One of the best filmed versions of Shakespeare’s tragedy/romance play, a grand MGM production by the studio’s production chief Irving Thalberg. The star-crossed lovers from feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets, are 13-year old Juliet (Norma Shearer, 31 years old, and Thalberg’s wife) and the teenage Romeo (Leslie Howard, 49 years old). John Barrymore portrays the colorful character of Mercutio.  

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Rose-MarieRose-Marie

D: W.S. Van Dyke

An engaging musical, adapted from the Rudolf Friml-Herbert Stothart stage production, and the most famous of the movie operettas pairing the famous singing duo Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. Opera star and singer Marie de Flor (Jeanette MacDonald) tours in Canada while she also appeals for the release of her brother John Flower (James Stewart) from prison. There, she meets Canadian Mountie Sgt. Bruce (Nelson Eddy) who is tracking Flower and in pursuit high in the rugged mountainous woods of the Canadian Rockies, after her ne’er-do-well brother escapes from prison and kills another Mountie. In the wilderness, Sgt. Bruce assists her when she is left alone in the woods, and they fall in love, reunited together in the finale. Included their famous love duet song “Indian Love Call.”

 

SabotageSabotage (UK)

D: Alfred Hitchcock

AKA as A Woman Alone, and an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. The film’s tagline described the mystery thriller’s plot simply: “…A Bomb Plot …A Killing …Justice.” Foreign terrorist Mr. Carl Verloc (Oskar Homolka) is married to young American Mrs. Verloc (Sylvia Sydney, or Sidney) – both are the struggling owners of a London BIJOU cinema-theater. Verloc uses his occupation in the movie theater as a front for his subversive activities. The saboteur is paid to be part of a plot to set off a bomb (hidden in a canary cage) in the Piccadilly Circus station – “the center of the world.” He is investigated by undercover Scotland Yard Detective Sergeant Ted Spencer (John Loder). Unfortunately, the bomb kills Mrs. Verloc’s unwitting younger brother Stevie (Desmond Tester) because he was unexpectedly delayed on a bus delivering the dangerous package with the bomb. Afterwards, the terrorists destroy the theater to cover up their nefarious deeds. In a memorable, mostly silent scene at a dinner table, she finds retribution and revenge by stabbing her husband in the stomach with a carving knife, and escapes having to confess to the crime because the theater (and all evidence) is burned down.

 

Poster for the movie "San Francisco"

© 1936 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

San Francisco

D: W.S. Van Dyke

An MGM lavish, big-star production and period drama, most noted for its spectacular special effects. It was the first big budget disaster film. Set on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast in 1906, Paradise Saloon owner Blackie Norton (Clark Gable) fall in love with one of his recently-hired singers, beautiful Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald). She is also in great demand by operators of the city’s opera house and wealthy Nob Hill socialite Jack Burley (Jack Holt), and a rivalry develops for Mary’s attention. Father Mullin (Spencer Tracy) of St. Anne’s Mission is one of Blackie’s boyhood friends who has followed a different path in life. The film ends with the famous 20-minute earthquake sequence.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

The Story of Louis PasteurThe Story of Louis Pasteur

D: William Dieterle

One of the best screen biographical dramas of the period, starring Paul Muni – noted for his many performances in serious film biographies. A strong character study and historical portrayal of the famous 19th century French scientist and founder of bacteriology Louis Pasteur (Oscar-winning Paul Muni). He dedicates his life to developing the revolutionary, lifesaving anthrax vaccine and the toxin/antitoxin to cure rabies (hydrophobia), defying and challenging disbelieving doctors, conventional wisdom, ridicule, and skeptical Medical Academy colleagues.

 

Poster for the movie "Swing Time"

© 1936 RKO Radio Pictures − All right reserved.

Swing Time

D: George Stevens

A film classic made during the height of the Depression Era, with dancing/acting/singing from the greatest dancing couple ever, Astaire and Rogers. A young professional dancer and groom-to-be John “Lucky” Garnett (Fred Astaire) is engaged to his long-time girlfriend back home Margaret Watson (Betty Furness). He comes to New York to dance and earn $25,000 to prove that he can support his fiancée, but is sidetracked when he falls in love with beautiful dance academy instructor Penelope “Penny” Carrol (Ginger Rogers). A classic scene is the one in which Penny teaches Lucky to dance. Thereafter, he doe everything he can to avoid earning the money. Includes the classic “Bojangles of Harlem”, plus “The Way You Look Tonight,” “A Fine Romance,” “Pick Yourself Up,” and “Never Gonna Dance.”

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Three Smart Girls"

© 1936 Universal Pictures − All right reserved.

Three Smart Girls

D: Henry Koster

14-year-old soprano singer Penny Craig (teenaged Deanna Durbin in her feature film debut) plays one of three daughters (“smart girls”) in this musical comedy. Followed by the popular sequel Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939). By film’s end, Penny and her sisters, Joan (Nan Grey) and Kay (Barbara Read), are matchmakers and plot to reconcile, rekindle the romance, and reunite their father Judson (Charles Winninger) with their mother Dorothy (Nella Walker) before he marries a new love, gold-digger Donna Lyons (Binnie Barnes), who is assisted by her scheming mother Mrs. Lyons (Alice Brady). Songs to help the parents fall in love again included: “Someone to Care For Me,” and “My Heart is Singing.”

 

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