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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 1939 the biggest year for movies (so many great movies) but it was also a big year for the birth of future actors and directors and the deaths of some truly great talent. Here is a snap shot of the American film industry.

Making Their Film Debuts:

Dirk Bogarde – Come on George!; Richard Conte – Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence; Anne Gwynne – Unexpected Father; Veronica Lake – Sorority House; Marcello Mastroianni – Marionette

 

Among Those Born In 1939:

Sal Mineo, actor (died 1976); Michael Cimino, director; producer; screenwriter (died 2016); Samantha Eggar, English actress; Francis Ford Coppola, director; producer; screenwriter; Paul Sorvino, actor; Paul Gleason, actor (died 2006); Harvey Keitel, actor; James Fox, English actor; Paul Winfield, actor (died 2004); Ian McKellen, English actor; Michael J. Pollard, actor; Terence Stamp, English actor; Peter Bogdanovich, director; producer; screenwriter; France Nuyen, French actress; Wes Craven, director; producer; screenwriter (died 2015); George Hamilton, actor; John Badham, director;  Joel Schumacher, director; producer; screenwriter; Elizabeth Ashley, actress; Lily Tomlin, actress; comedian; producer; Frankie Avalon, singer and actor; Paul Hogan, Australian comedian and actor; Tony Roberts, actor; F. Murray Abraham, actor; John Cleese, English actor, comedian and producer: Jane Alexander, actress;  Yaphet Kotto, American actor; and Allen Garfield, actor

  

Top-grossing Films

Rank Title Studio Actors Gross
1. Gone with the Wind MGM/Selznick Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen $198,676,459
2. Jesse James 20th Century Fox Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda $9,460,000
3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Columbia James Stewart, Jean Arthur and Claude Rains $9,600,000
4. The Rains Came 20th Century Fox Myrna Loy, Tyrone Power and George Brent $9,400,000
5. Babes in Arms MGM Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney $9,240,000
6. Dodge City Warner Bros. Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Bruce Cabot $6,750,000
7. Goodbye, Mr. Chips MGM/Denham Robert Donat and Greer Garson $3,252,000
8. The Wizard of Oz MGM Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton $38,757,196
9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame RKO Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara $3,155,000
10. Gunga Din RKO Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks Jr $2,807,000
11. Ninotchka MGM Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas $2,279,000
12. The Women MGM Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and Joan Fontaine $2,270,000
13. Drums Along the Mohawk 20th Century Fox Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda $2,000,000
14. Stanley and Livingstone 20th Century Fox Spencer Tracy $8,000,000
15. Union Pacific Paramount Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea $5,550,000
16. Another Thin Man MGM William Powell and Myrna Loy $6,090,000
17. The Old Maid Warner Bros. Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins $6,660,000
18. Hollywood Cavalcade 20th Century Fox Alice Faye and Don Ameche $4,000,000
19. Destry Rides Again Universal Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart $2,900,000
20. Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever MGM Mickey Rooney and Lewis Stone $6,240,000
21. Gulliver’s Travels Paramount voices of Sam Parker and Pinto Colvig $3,270,000

 

Academy Awards

The year 1939 was one in which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated ten films for Best Picture:

    Dark Victory

    Gone with the Wind

    Goodbye, Mr. Chips

    Love Affair

    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

    Ninotchka

    Of Mice and Men

    Stagecoach

    The Wizard of Oz

    Wuthering Heights

 

These films came from a wide variety of film genres and sources for their stories and settings, including: historical fiction (Gone with the Wind), contemporary affairs (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Of Mice and Men), love stories, classic novels (Wuthering Heights), fantasies/musicals, (The Wizard of Oz), tragic plays (Dark Victory), westerns (Stagecoach), and comedies (Ninotchka).

Each of the five nominees for Best Director of 1939 went on to become a legendary film director with multiple acclaimed films to his credit: Frank Capra, Victor Fleming, John Ford, Sam Wood, and William Wyler.

Best Picture: Gone with the Wind – David O. Selznick; Selznick International, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Best Director: Victor Fleming – Gone with the Wind
Best Actor: Robert Donat – Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Best Actress: Vivien LeighGone with the Wind
Best Supporting Actor: Thomas Mitchell – Stagecoach
Best Supporting Actress: Hattie McDanielGone with the Wind

 

Among Those Who Died In 1939:

  • Helen Ware, 61, American actress, Morning Glory, Abraham Lincoln;
  • Ann Murdock, 48, American actress, Outcast, Please Help Emily;
  • Owen Moore, 54, Irish actor, A Star is Born, She Done Him Wrong, The Red Mill, Cinderella;
  • Sidney Howard, 48, American writer, Gone with the Wind, Dodsworth, Arrowsmith, A Lady to Love;
  • Carl Laemmle, 72, German producer, Frankenstein, Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera;
  • Ford Sterling, 55, American actor, Tango Tangles, The Show-Off, Between Showers;
  • Zane Grey, 67, American writer, Fighting Caravans, Riders of the Purple Sage, Western Union, Born to the West;
  • Alice Brady, 46, American actress, My Man Godfrey, Young Mr. Lincoln, The Gay Divorcee, In Old Chicago;
  • George Nicholls, Jr., 42, American director, Anne of Green Gables, Man of Conquest; 
  • Douglas Fairbanks, 56, American actor, The Thief of Bagdad, The Black Pirate, Robin Hood, Mr. Robinson Crusoe

The Greatest Films of 1939

 

***POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT FOR ALL***

 

Poster for the movie "Babes In Arms"

© − All right reserved.

Babes in Arms

D: Busby Berkeley

Famed surrealist choreographer Busby Berkeley’s directorial effort was the first pairing of stars Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in a “let’s put on a show musical,” the third film in which they were in together. It was also the legendary Arthur Freed’s first movie as a producer for MGM. Two talented yet struggling young artists (singers and musicians) in their town of Seaport, Long Island, Mickey Moran (Mickey Rooney) and pretty singer/girlfriend Patsy Barton (Judy Garland), both children of ex-vaudevillians, team up to put on a grand show. They wish to raise money for their ailing parents in hard-times who want to revive their entertainment careers and not lose their homes. The two were opposed by the busybody head of the welfare board Martha Steele (Margaret Hamilton), who believed the youngsters should be in a “work” school instead, and by ex-child movie star Rosalie Essex (known as Baby Rosalie) (June Preisser) who competes with them for her own comeback. She proposes to financially support Mickey’s musical project, but only if she takes Patsy’s lead role (as performer and girlfriend!). The film features a lot of singing, dancing, and comedy impersonations (Rooney mimicks both Clark Gable and Lionel Barrymore). Includes the title song “Babes in Arms,” and “Good Morning,” “God’s Country,” “Broadway Rhythm,” “I Cried For You,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” and “You Are My Lucky Star.”

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Beau Geste"

© 1939 Paramount Pictures − All right reserved.

Beau Geste 

D: William A. Wellman

A stirring adventure tale, and the best of three oft-made screen versions (also 1926 and 1966), from Paramount. The brothers Geste, including Michael “Beau” Geste (Gary Cooper), John (Ray Milland), and Digby (Robert Preston) serve in the Foreign Legion together, and must persevere against Arab attacks and their tyrant Sgt. Markoff (Brian Donlevy). The film begins with the unforgettable opening sequence of the desert sand dunes and Fort Zinderneuf with dead soldiers propped up against the parapets, lending an air of mystery and drama to the story. The story, in flashback, centers around “Beau,” who confesses to the theft of a fake jewel, “the Blue Water” sapphire, to save the honor of the brothers’ impoverished Aunt, Lady Patricia Brandon (Heather Thatcher). He leaves and joins the Foreign Legion, and is later joined by his brothers, who fight long enough to save and clear the family name. The film’s final line is spoken by Lady Patricia after she learns that a devoted “Beau” had acted gallantly years earlier, by sparing her humiliation over the jewel’s sale: “Beau Geste? Gallant gesture. We didn’t name him wrongly, did we?”

 Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Dark Victory"

© 1939 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.

Dark Victory

D: Edmund Goulding

A melodramatic tearjerker with Bette Davis in one of her most powerful and memorable roles. One of four films that Davis made in 1939, including The Old Maid, Juarez, and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. A high-living, flighty Long Island socialite/heiress Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) lives a carefree hedonistic life (with horse-riding), along with playboy Alec Hamin (Ronald Reagan). When her eyesight starts to dim, she is diagnosed as having a brain tumor (“prognosis negative”). After a seemingly successful operation by her neuro-surgeon, Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent), she falls in love with him and finds happiness, only to discover that she actually has only one more year to live. First resorting to more meaningless parties, rejection of the doctor, and despair, she then finds true meaning and happiness in her life. She adds great substance to her final days in Vermont and dies with resigned dignity (in a climactic stair-climbing scene with Max Steiner’s swelling score), with the support of her best friend and loyal secretary Ann King (Geraldine Fitzgerald).

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Destry Rides Again"

© 1939 Universal Pictures − All right reserved.

Destry Rides Again

D: George Marshall

A popular and marvelous Western comedy spoof/farce from Universal Pictures – a satirical parody of the classic Western with its stereotypical elements – a lawless Western town with a saloon and a sheriff, peppered with three saloon/musical numbers! The western is set in the Last Chance Saloon in the wild Western town of Bottleneck. The town’s bar-room is corrupt and out of control, run by unscrupulous saloon owner Kent (Brian Donlevy), who features in his wild saloon the lusty, sexy dance-hall singer Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich, reprising her sexy role from The Blue Angel (1930)). The son of a famous brave lawman, laconic, peace-loving Tom Destry (James Stewart) is summoned to the town to tame it – but he is a milk-drinking, soft-spoken, mild-mannered, gun-less sheriff. Despite his shortcomings, Destry is able to keep the peace, in between his attempts to resist the charms of Frenchy. Destry shoots Kent, but heroine Frenchy collapses and dies in his arms, mortally wounded in the back from Kent’s bullet. Before dying, she lets him know that she loves him, gasping: “Would you kiss me goodbye?” Memorable for Frenchy’s rendition of “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have” and for the roughest female cat fight – a bar-room brawl – in film history (a marathon wrestling match pitting Frenchy against Mrs. Callahan (Una Merkel)).

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Drums Along The Mohawk"

© − All right reserved.

Drums Along the Mohawk

D: John Ford

An action-adventure epic-historical drama set in the pre-Revolutionary War era, highlighting the harshness of survival and savage Indian attacks in the Mohawk Valley wilderness of upstate colonial New York. This was John Ford’s sole film set in colonial America. Settlers Lana “Magdelana” Martin (Claudette Colbert), a young, frightened cultured bride from an Eastern city, joins her loving husband Gil Martin (Henry Fonda) to live on the frontier. The newlywed watches and assists her husband and other neighbors, including feisty frontier matriarch Sarah McKlennar (Edna May Oliver), in the struggle against marauding Indians, and grows to learn a new way of life. In one scene, Sarah refuses to leave her bed during an Indian attack. With exciting battle scenes and a last-minute fort rescue preventing an Indian massacre. In the stirring finale, Gil – after having been given permission to leave by his beautiful wife Lana: “I’m not afraid, I want you to go” – outruns three Indians in hot pursuit while racing for help (with just a hand axe) to save the besieged fort. The drama ends with Gil’s reunion with his exhausted but relieved wife.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Four Feathers"

© 1939 London Film Productions − All right reserved.

The Four Feathers (UK)

D: Zoltan Korda

A classic adventure story, in striking Technicolor. In the year 1898, a young British army officer Harry Faversham (John Clements) from a family with a strong military tradition, remains at home as a dangerous British military expedition/campaign leaves for the Sudan. He resigns his commission, disappointing his family, friends, and sweetheart Ethne Burroughs (June Duprez). Disgracefully, he receives four white feathers from three officers of his regiment: Capt. John Durrance (Ralph Richardson), Lt. Tom Willoughby (Jack Allen), and Peter Burroughs (Donald Gray), and one feather from his fiancee Ethne. The feathers are regarded as symbols of cowardice and shame. To redeem his name and prove his courage, he travels to distant Egypt and ultimately to the Sudan, disguises himself as a mute, dark-skinned native warrior, courageously fights alone for his country, and rescues his army comrades in the Sudan. One by one, he surreptitiously returns the feathers to the presenters.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Gone with the Wind"

© 1939 Selznick International Pictures − All right reserved.

Gone With the Wind

D: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, and Sam Wood

From Margaret Mitchell’s great 1936 novel about the Civil War, David O. Selznick’s majestic production with enduring appeal and technical achievements (three-strip Technicolor), with a record 13 Academy Award nominations and the winner of eight competitive Oscars (with an Honorary Ward and special recognition for William Cameron Menzies’ production design and use of color). With a terrific, lyrical musical score by one of the greatest film composers of all time, Max Steiner. With a production cost of over $4 million – it was the longest and most expensive Hollywood sound film of the time. It also remains the domestic box-office champ with a gross of $1.64 billion (adjusted for inflation). Made with many screenwriters and directors contributing. One of the greatest films ever made, a landmark epic film and Best Picture. It is a stunning, panoramic Civil War story of the transforming lives of leading families as the Southern aristocracy crumbles and the South is defeated. From the stories of the lives of a number of memorable characters including a pampered, spoiled, headstrong beautiful young Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara (Best Actress-winning Vivien Leigh) from the beloved Tara plantation, a dashing and cavalier war profiteer named Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), loyal black slave Mammy (Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner Hattie McDaniel, the first given to an African-American), Scarlett’s saintly cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), and the ineffectual character of Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), the story is told through great spectacle, romance, despair, conflict and travail.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"

© 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British Studios − All right reserved.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (UK)

D: Sam Wood

A sentimental romantic drama based upon the 1934 James Hilton novel. The tale is a portrait of caring, well-meaning, but shy and proper Latin schoolmaster Mr. Chipping (“Chips”) (Best Actor-winning Robert Donat) at an English boys school, Brookfield School, in the late 1800s who devotes his life to his students. On a vacation, he finds romance with outgoing and lively Katherine Ellis (Greer Garson), his future wife, and she transforms his life. With her gentle and kind love and humanity, she is one of the few individuals who truly understands him, and helps him to overcome his shyness and rigidity. Although she tragically passes away during childbirth, her lessons endure and he becomes a dedicated teacher and popular institution at the school until his retirement and death in his eighties.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 Poster for the movie "Gunga Din"

© − All right reserved.

Gunga Din

D: George Stevens

RKO’s classic, rousing action-adventure buddy film, partly based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem of the same name. With a script adapted by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, who based the relationships of the film’s characters on their 1928 hit play The Front Page. One of the uncredited, contributing story writers was novelist William Faulkner. A film with spectacle, action, and battle scenes, and comic touches as well. In 19th century colonial India, three frontier veteran comrades-in-arms, British Sergeants in the Queen’s Indian Regiment, Cutter (Cary Grant), MacChesney (Victor McLaglen) and Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) and a loyal native water carrier with soldierly ambitions Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe) put down an uprising and rebellion by a savage fanatical religious cult, the Thugs, devotees of the goddess Kali.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

The Hunchback of Notre DameThe Hunchback of Notre Dame

D: William Dieterle

Probably the best film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic tale of a tragic love story set in 15th century medieval Paris. A hideously-deformed, grotesque, outcast hunchback Quasimodo (Charles Laughton) lives as the bell-ringer in the towers of Notre Dame’s Cathedral. The hunchback is scorned by an angry mob one day, but is shown pity and kindness by a beautiful Gypsy dancer girl, Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara). He develops a tragic fondness for the girl, and rescues her from being hanged in the public square for being a witch by a sadistic bishop. Quasimodo takes her back into the bell tower and claims sanctuary.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Love Affair"

© 1939 RKO Radio Pictures − All right reserved.

Love Affair D: Leo McCarey

A romantic comedy/drama, remade years later (by the same director) with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr as An Affair to Remember (1957). This was Leo McCarey’s first version of the ‘weepie’ tale. Not to be confused with Columbia’s Love Affair (1932) with Humphrey Bogart. A traveling couple, playboy artist Michael Marnet (Charles Boyer) and nightclub singer Terry McKay (Irene Dunne), each engaged to others who were wealthier, meet on board a transatlantic voyage and begin a shipboard romance. They vow to rendezvous again six months later on their return to the US atop the Empire State Building, to test their love. On the way to the meeting, Terry has an automobile accident and is reluctant to reveal her paralysis. She misses their meeting, and he assumes that she has married in the meantime. They are reunited again by chance at film’s end.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

© 1939 Columbia Pictures − All right reserved.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

D: Frank Capra

One of Frank Capra’s time-honored, enduring classic political comedy/dramas about the triumph of the ordinary man over the corrupt political elite, restoring faith in democracy. Sidney Buchman based his script upon Lewis R. Foster’s novel “The Gentleman from Montana.” Idealistic, naive Boy Rangers leader Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is drafted to the Senate in Washington by his state’s governor Hubert “Happy” Hopper (Guy Kibbee), appointed as a freshman/junior Senator to complete the remaining term of dead US Senator Sam Foley. The corrupt “political machine,” led by his state’s senior Senator Joseph “Joe” Paine (Claude Rains) (a friend of Smith’s late father), and mastermind corrupt political boss, Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), believe Smith would easily be a controllable rubber-stamp. But when Jefferson discovers the land-scam plans of his supporters, he becomes stubbornly determined to not forsake his dreams and to do what’s right against the corrupt, greedy forces running his state. With the support of his cynical secretary Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), he delivers a powerful, rousing and passionate filibuster on the Senate floor in the final climactic moments.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Ninotchka"

© 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Ninotchka

D: Ernst Lubitsch

A very enjoyable romantic comedy directed with a light touch and sophistication by Ernst Lubitsch, most known for being advertised as the one in which “Garbo Laughs.” With a great script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Remade the next year as Comrade X (1940), featuring Hedy Lamarr and Clark Gable, and later as Iron Petticoat (1956) starring Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope. A stern, austere, icy-cold Soviet commissar Lena Yakushova “Ninotchka” (cool and beautiful Greta Garbo in her first major comedy) is sent to Paris to check up on and chastise three over-indulgent fellow comrades: Michael Iranoff (Sig Ruman), Buljanoff (Felix Bressart), and Kopalski (Alexander Granach). They were easily seduced by Western capitalism in Paris, and failed to negotiate the sale of former Russian Grand Duchess Swana’s (Ina Claire) imperial jewels, in exchange for tractors. She is met by a suave, Parisian playboy Count Leon D’Algout (Melvyn Douglas), the Duchess’ lover who eventually seduces and charms the rigid, no-nonsense Russian, and she falls victim to the same traps – capitalism and romance in the City of Light.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Of Mice and Men

D: Lewis Milestone

An excellent film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Depression-era classic novel, a bittersweet, tragic story of two ranch hands-drifters traveling together in California’s Salinas Valley. Two migrant field workers, Lennie Small (Lon Chaney, Jr.) – a large, physically-strong but dim-witted (potentially dangerous) individual with a great passion for soft furry things (“Tell me about the rabbits, George”), and George Milton (Burgess Meredith), Lenny’s guardian and protector, only fantasize that they want to live peacefully on their own small ranch. But Lenny’s innocence, feeble-mindedness, his clumsy misuse of his physical strength, and finally a brutal set of circumstances end their comforting dream, after they began working for harsh and crusty ranch owner Whit (Noah Beery Jr.), the ranch foreman Slim (Charles Bickford), Whit’s cruel, pugnacious and bullying foreman son Curley (veteran cowboy star Bob Steele), and Curley’s promiscuous bored wife Mae (Betty Field).

 

Poster for the movie "Only Angels Have Wings"

© − All right reserved.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939), 121 minutes, D: Howard Hawks

A classic Howard Hawks adventure film and character study, with a great cast and sharp script-writing. Cargo pilots who hazardously fly air freight and mail over the rugged and dangerous Andes Mountains for the small Barranca Airways company in South America are led by chief pilot Geoff Carter (Cary Grant). Stranded showgirl and cabaret singer Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) sets tensions on edge with her affection for him. Trans-Andes air courier director Carter hires another pilot Bat McPherson (silent film star Richard Barthelmess in a comeback role, although it was his last), still feeling shunned and guilt-ridden by a fatal accidental crash years earlier and attempting to prove himself (he believes he was responsible for the death of Kid Dabb’s brother, for jumping out of a plane and leaving his co-pilot/mechanic to die). He is accompanied by sexy wife Judy (Rita Hayworth), embittered Carter’s ex-girlfriend who attempts to seduce him. One of the older pilots, Carter’s close friend, the near-blind Kid Dabb (Thomas Mitchell) volunteers to co-pilot a dangerous mission in the fog-shrouded Andes and dies in the final scene.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Roaring Twenties"

© 1939 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.

The Roaring Twenties

D: Raoul Walsh

A brisk, semi-documentary film adaptation from journalist Mark Hellinger’s realistic story about 1920s gangsterism and Prohibition days, from the tough-guy studio of the 1930s – Warner Bros. Three WWI dough boys return from the battlefields, Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney), Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn) and George Hally (Humphrey Bogart). Eddie, one of the returning veterans, a former taxicab-garage mechanic, can’t find work. New York speakeasy gal (nightclub hostess) Panama Smith (Gladys George) (based upon Texas Guinan) suggests he turn to bootlegging, and he soon flourishes in the business in a partnership with Hart and Hally, until rival gangs (and George Hally as a top racketeer after the crash) and the law compete against his enterprise. Wartime buddy Lloyd Hart has now become a crusading city district attorney, married to Eddie’s ex-girlfriend and love Jean Sherman (Priscilla Lane), while Hally has become a ruthless and murderous crime boss. Hally found himself under attack by prosecutor Hart, while down and out Eddie returns to the taxicab business. When it fails, he attempts to spare the lives of Jean (Eddie is still in love with her) and her husband from sinister kingpin mobster Hally. With an extremely memorable final scene, in which there is a violent confrontation between the two gangsters – Hally and Eddie. Halley is shot down by Eddie, who is also lethally wounded. He dies in the cold on the snowy steps of a church. Panama provides his epitaph to a policeman: “He used to be a big shot.”

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Stagecoach"

© 1939 Walter Wanger Productions − All right reserved.

Stagecoach

D: John Ford

A classic Western from John Ford filmed in the majestic Monument Valley of the Southwest, considered a landmark quintessential film, elevating westerns to a serious genre. Passengers traveling on a stagecoach together to Lordsburg through dangerous and hostile Apache Indian land are each representative character types. They included a saloon dance-hall girl – a shunned prostitute Dallas (Claire Trevor), a drunken Dr. Josiah Boone (Thomas Mitchell), a pregnant woman Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) on her way to meet her husband, a shady Southern gambler Hatfield (John Carradine), a whiskey salesman Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek), and a banker Henry Gatewood (Berton Churchill) with a mysterious satchel who is accompanied by his wife (Brenda Fowler). Along the way, the driver Buck Rickabaugh (Andy Devine) and his “shotgun” assistant Sheriff Curley Wilcox (George Bancroft) stop to arrest escaped prisoner outlaw, the Ringo Kid (John Wayne in his first major role, the role that made him commercially famous), who is seeking revenge for the deaths of his brother and father, with three men in Lordsburg. As The Kid is being taken back to jail by the Sheriff, in the face of a savage Indian attack, he defends the passengers’ safety with his heroic self-sacrifice and courage.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Wizard of Oz"

© 1939 Loew’s Incorporated − All right reserved.

The Wizard of  Oz

D: Victor Fleming

One of the most popular films of all time, and everyone’s cherished favorite movie. With many songs from Harold Arlen (music) and Edgar “Yip” Harburg (lyrics), including the well-known theme song “(Somewhere) Over the Rainbow.” All of its fanciful images (the Yellow Brick Road, the Kansas twister), characters (e.g., Auntie Em, Toto, Dorothy, the Wicked Witch, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, the Wizard), dialogue (e.g., “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” or the film’s final line: “There’s no place like home”), and music (“Over the Rainbow”) have become indelibly remembered.

Kansas farm girl Dorothy (Judy Garland in a star-making performance) (Kansas sequences were in sepia-tone) dreams of a better place, runs away, and is transported with her beloved dog Toto in a twister “beyond the rainbow” to the magical fantasy land of Oz (Oz sequences were in Technicolor). There she meets delightfully colorful characters including the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton, also the nasty Miss Gulch in the Kansas scenes), and is dubbed the hero of Munchkin Land for vanquishing the witch. She is joined by three companions – the Scarecrow/Hunk (Ray Bolger), the Tin Man/Hickory (Jack Haley), and the Cowardly Lion/Zeke (Bert Lahr), and watched over by good witch Glinda (Billie Burke). With her companions, she set off on the yellow brick road to seek help from the Wizard (Frank Morgan, also a phony fortune teller in Kansas) in order to get home, and to grant their wishes. The Wizard teachers them that all of their desires are already within their grasp, after they subdued the Witch. In the land of Oz, after facing many challenges and defeating the Wicked Witch, Dorothy awakens and discovers that things weren’t always better somewhere else (“There’s no place like home”) – she find herself in her bedroom home, back from her fantastical dream.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Women"

© 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

The Women

D: George Cukor

Based Clare Boothe’s (Luce) play, with an all-woman, all-star cast of more than 125 strong-minded women, . A satirical comedy/drama full of biting and snappy wit, fast dialogue, and superb performances from a great cast. The complex story line about matrimony and the struggles between men and women is full of twists and diversions, almost unimportant. One of the socialite women Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) learns that her husband is having an affair with an perfume sales clerk Chrystal Allen (Joan Crawford). She seeks a quickie divorce with a six-week stay in Reno, where she ultimately learns that her husband Stephen isn’t that fond of Chrystal, and so she plots to get him back. The cast of women engage in cat-fighting and bitching, vicious gossip and cattiness, husband-stealing, and back-stabbing, while the film provide insight into female bonding and the role of women in 1930’s society.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Wuthering Heights"

© 1939 Samuel Goldwyn Company − All right reserved.

Wuthering Heights (1939), 104 minutes, D: William Wyler

One of the greatest romantic love stories ever filmed (with beautiful Oscar-winning black and white cinematography by Gregg Toland), from Emily Bronte’s tragic 1847 Victorian novel, about a pair of eternal lovers. Abandoned orphan Gypsy boy Heathcliff (Rex Downing as child, Laurence Olivier as adult) is taken in by a well-to-do 19th century English family, the Earnshaws (Cecil Kellaway as the father) on the isolated moors. He becomes their stable boy and falls in love with the family’s spoiled young daughter Catherine Earnshaw (Sarita Wooten as child), his childhood friend. The beautiful manor-born Cathy (Merle Oberon as adult) is desperately in love with Heathcliff (they were playmates together, and obviously soul-mates), but because of his low birth, she begins seeing a wealthy neighbor’s son. Heathcliff leaves during a jealous misunderstanding and with driving ambition later returns moderately wealthy, discovering that she has married rich Edgar Linton (David Niven), in spite of her passionate love for him. In revenge, he spitefully marries Edgar’s naive sister Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and then neglects her. The long-suppressed passionate feelings that Heathcliff and Cathy have for each other continue to torment them and embitter them as haunted, star-crossed lovers. They pledge to be together for eternity as Cathy dies on her death-bed, and he continues to mourn her passing.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie ""Young Mr. Lincoln

© − All right reserved.

Young Mr. Lincoln

D: John Ford

A remarkably realistic period piece and historical drama, from Lamar Trotti’s original story. It is a recreation and character study of the early years of Abraham Lincoln (Henry Fonda), the 16th President of the US, beginning around the time of the Whig convention of 1832. A rough-hewn, shy, Kentucky log cabin-born young Abe experiences the loss of his first love Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore), and then struggles to make it as a country backwoods lawyer. The new state capital of Springfield, Illinois is also the location of the new law office of the prominent young lawyer, who was recently elected to the state’s legislature. His folktale attributes are emphasized at Independence Day celebrations: with log-splitting, and pie-eating judging, etc. During the tug-of-war contest, Scrub White (Fred Kohler, Jr.) and John Palmer Cass (Ward Bond) pester young Sarah Clay (Arleen Whelan) – her husband Matt Clay (Richard Cromwell) and her brother-in-law Adam Clay (Eddie Quillan) intervene and the bullies soon stop. But later that night, drunken bully White confronts the two brothers Matt and Adam. During their brawl, White draws his gun and it fires. Cass appears from the darkness, and claims White is dead on the ground – not from a single gunshot, but from a knife that Cass had pulled from his heart. Cass claims that he saw the killing in the “moon-bright” light. Lincoln becomes involved in the defense of the two farmers accused of murder. Mrs. Abigail Clay (Alice Brady) saw the struggle, but won’t talk about it, even when her two boys are arrested for manslaughter. Both are determined to take the blame, trying to spare each other from hanging. Lincoln is able to convince an angry lynch mob to disperse from the jail. He argues that he needs this first case as an up-and-coming lawyer. During the trial, the case is prosecuted by John Felder (Donald Meek). Lincoln argues that the defendants acted in self-defense when they saw White with a gun. Cass ultimately testifies that he saw Matt kill White – at nighttime in the moonlight when he was about 100 yards away. As Cass is leaving the witness stand area, Lincoln asked Cass what he had against Scrub White. Lincoln produces a Farmer’s Almanac, proving on page 12 that Cass’ story is a lie. The almanac states that the moon had set 40 minutes before White was killed, making it pitch-black at the time of the murder. Lincoln coerces a confession from Cass that he had lied – Cass admits that he had killed White with Matt’s dropped knife (when he came upon the scene and saw that White was unhurt): “I didn’t mean to kill him!” Cass was trying to frame one of the Clays. Matt and Adam are released from jail.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

1939 was an extraordinary year for films and it was hard to narrow down the list. Did one of your favorites make our list?

 

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