Greatest Films of the 1930s
Greatest Films of the 1930s

Greatest Films of the 1930s
1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933 | 1934 | 1935 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1939


Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description
L'Atalante (1934, Fr.)

L'Atalante (1934, Fr.), 89 minutes, D: Jean Vigo

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), 110 minutes, D: Sidney Franklin
A prestige piece of work adapted from a stage play, beautifully produced by MGM. An historical, emotional, heart-felt tale of Victorian literary poets Robert Browning (Fredric March) and Elizabeth Barrett (Norma Shearer) who fall in love with each other in 19th century England. Her jealous and over-protective father Edward (Charles Laughton) vigilantly watches over the couple. With her newly-found vitality and happiness, the invalid, bed-ridden poet breaks away from her domineering father's dictatorial stranglehold.

The Black Cat (1934)

The Black Cat (1934), 65 minutes, D: Edgar G. Ulmer
A cultish, horror film masterpiece, teaming two masters of the horror genre together. Dr. Vitus Verdegast (Bela Lugosi) seeks revenge against devil-cult worshipping Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff). With spooky, moody cinematography and bizarre Expressionistic sets.

Cleopatra (1934)

Cleopatra (1934), 102 minutes, D: Cecil B. DeMille
DeMille's extravagant production of the spectacular historical epic of the Egyptian Queen of the Nile. Seductive, mysterious, and voluptuous Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) flirts openly with Roman lovers. After the death of Julius Caesar (Warren William), she focuses her attention on Marc Antony (Henry Wilcoxon).

The Gay Divorcee (1934)

The Gay Divorcee (1934), 107 minutes, D: Mark Sandrich
Notable for being the first teaming of Astaire and Rogers in a starring role. In a Brighton seaside hotel, dancer Guy Holden (Fred Astaire) is mistaken by Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers) as the writer/correspondent Rodolfo Tonetti (Erik Rhodes) who is part of her lawyer's fictitious set-up to prove infidelity in her divorce suit. Holden becomes interested in and infatuated by her, but mopes around love-sick after being rejected in this amusing case of mistaken identity. He pursues her nevertheless, romances and finally wins her when she agrees to marry him. Includes great music and dancing with Cole Porter's "Night and Day," Oscar-winning "The Continental" (the first time an Academy Award was given for Best Song), and "A Needle in a Haystack."

The Goddess (1934, China) (aka Shen nu)

The Goddess (1934, China) (aka Shen nu), 73 minutes, D: Yonggang Wu

Imitation of Life (1934)

Imitation of Life (1934), 106 minutes, D: John M. Stahl
The film adaptation of Fannie Hurst's melodramatic novel. A sentimental soap opera about an ambitious widow/working girl Beatrice Pullman (Claudette Colbert), her daughter Jessie (Rochelle Hudson at age 18), her black housekeeper/maid Delilah Johnson (Louise Beavers), and her maid's daughter Peola (Fredi Washington at age 19) whose light complexion enables her to pass for white. Beatrice goes into a successful pancake restaurant business with Delilah. The film deals with disappointments in personal relationships and questions of identity and racial confusion.

It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night (1934), 105 minutes, D: Frank Capra
A major Academy Award winning blockbuster film, a delightful, sparkling romantic comedy. A spoiled young heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) runs away from her disapproving millionaire father Alexander (Walter Connolly). She disguises herself for her travels to her boyfriend King Westley (Jameson Thomas), taking a cross-country bus trip from Florida to New York. On the bus, she runs into a recently-fired, out-of-work, no-nonsense newspaper reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who agrees to help her when she loses all her money. He plays along in order to get the exclusive story so he can get his job back. By film's end, they fall in love, almost against their wills. The film includes a number of memorable scenes, include the "Walls of Jericho" sequence and their hitch-hiking scene together.

It's A Gift (1934)

It's A Gift (1934), 68 minutes, D: Norman McLeod
A classic comedy from W. C. Fields, one of his best. A small-town grocery clerk, long-suffering Harold Bissonette (W. C. Fields) is beset by harrassments from his children, his nagging wife Amelia (Kathleen Howard), and customers. He packs his family and belongings into their car for a trip out West to California to his "orange grove." Includes classic slapstick scenes and routines, including the ruination of his store by a blind detective, and the back porch swing scene where he attempts to get some sleep.

Judge Priest (1934)

Judge Priest (1934), 80 minutes, D: John Ford

The Lost Patrol (1934)

The Lost Patrol (1934), 74 minutes, D: John Ford
During World War I, a small band of British cavalrymen are lost, cut off, and under siege in the hot Mesopotamian desert by Arab fanatics. They are doomed and suffering, struggling to survive against harsh odds in the waterless desert. One by one, the Arab enemy (hardly ever seen) mercilessly kills off the British soldiers with sniper fire until only their leader, the resolute Sergeant (Victor McLaglen), is left.

Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

Manhattan Melodrama (1934), 93 minutes, D: W.S. Van Dyke II
Two New York City boyhood friends, Blackie Gallagher (Mickey Rooney as boy, Clark Gable as adult) and Jim Wade (Jimmy Butler as boy, William Powell as adult) are raised as orphans together, and grow up to choose opposite sides of the law - Gallagher becomes a slick gangster and racketeer, and Wade a noble and aggressive District Attorney. They both fall in love with the same charming woman Eleanor (Myrna Loy) who is caught between opposing forces. Their paths cross later in a murder trial. Notable for the first film teaming Powell and Loy (who later would become famous with The Thin Man series) and for being the film that bank robber John Dillinger watched (for its similarity to his own life), prior to being killed outside Chicago's Biograph Theatre by the FBI in 1934.

The Merry Widow (1934)

The Merry Widow (1934), 99 minutes, D: Ernst Lubitsch
A lavish, unique, stylistic musical, a remake of the 1925 silent film. It is director Lubitsch's parody version of Franz Lehar's operetta, set during the time of the downfall of the Hapsburg Empire. Womanizing Prince Danilo (Maurice Chevalier) from the small Ruritanian country of Marshovia, is forced by King Achmed (George Barbier) to go to Paris to romance, marry, and bring back home one of the country's rich widows, Sonia (Jeanette MacDonald), to keep the wealth in the kingdom and prevent economic collapse. After a few plot twists and mistaken identities, all ends happily.

Of Human Bondage (1934)

Of Human Bondage (1934), 83 minutes, D: John Cromwell
The first and best film version of Somerset Maugham's tragic, classic literary novel. The story of the emotional "human bondage" of a sensitive, but lame (club-footed) young Englishman medical student Philip Carey (Leslie Howard) who becomes compulsively infatuated and victimized by a blonde vulgar, trampy, selfish waitress/barmaid Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis). The earliest critically-acclaimed role of Bette Davis, a turning point in her career, but Davis failed to win the Best Actress Academy Award in 1934.

One Night of Love (1934)

One Night of Love (1934), 84 minutes, D: Victor Schertzinger
An American girl on a trip to Italy, aspiring soprano opera singer Mary Barrett (Grace Moore, an actual opera star of the 1930s) hopes to achieve stardom in Europe. She falls in love with her demanding singing teacher Giulio Monteverdi (Tullio Carminati), and then almost gives up her career for Bill Houston (Lyle Talbot). But she triumphs at the New York Metropolitan Opera House. With a delightful musical score (which won Best Musical Score, the first time this Academy Award Oscar was given).

The Scarlet Empress (1934)

The Scarlet Empress (1934)
, 110 minutes, D: Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg's startling, dark, visually opulent, hauntingly expressionistic, and mostly fictional biopic of German-born Princess Sophia Frederica (Dietrich). The young, naive, tremulous bride-to-be is brought on a seven-week journey to Russia for an arranged marriage to Grand Duke Peter (Jaffe), son of Empress Elizabeth (Dresser). Sophia's domineering, mother-in-law, who renames her Catherine, hopes to improve the royal blood line, but she is revulsed by her bumbling, idiotic, and childlike husband-to-be, and instead becomes romantically involved with opportunistic womanizer Count Alexei (Lodge). Eventually, she engineers a coup d'etat with the aid of the military, kills Peter III, and becomes Catherine the Great, Tsarina of Russia. This semi-erotic tale of 18th century Russia was one of the most daring films of the Hays Production Code era, featuring, among other things, immorality, nudity and open sexual decadence. The film also features extravagant sets and von Sternberg's trademark stylization, as well as great performances. For a six-year period, Dietrich was svengali von Sternberg's favorite leading lady - this was their sixth film together (and last great collaboration).
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934, UK)

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934, UK), 85 minutes, D: Harold Young
One of the greatest adventure swashbucklers ever made. Sir Percy Blakeney (Leslie Howard) poses as a mild-mannered English aristocrat, but in reality, this is a disguise for his activities as The Scarlet Pimpernel. He is a dashing, mysterious hero who rescues innocent but condemned French noblemen who face the guillotine, during France's 18th century Reign of Terror. The Pimpernel's trademark is to leave behind a small red flower - a pimpernel. Blakeney loses the respect of his wife Lady Marguerite (Merle Oberon), who falls in love with the romantic, charming hero. However, in league with the devious Chauvelin (Raymond Massey), she sets a trap for the Pimpernel in return for the lives of her arrested friends, and is astounded to learn that the Pimpernel is her own husband.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Tarzan and His Mate (1934), 93 minutes, D: Cedric Gibbons, Jack Conway
The second MGM/Weismuller Tarzan film, and probably the best of the series, the sequel to Tarzan the Ape Man. Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) has left civilization and joined Tarzan (Johnny Weismuller) in the jungle treetops. Her ex-fiancee Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton) has returned to Africa with greedy ivory hunter/poacher Martin Arlington (Paul Cavanagh) to search for the hidden elephant burial grounds and to bring Jane back. Tarzan is tricked into leading them to the burial grounds. With great action sequences and a climactic rescue. A sexy adult version, with Jane swimming nude and wearing revealing animal-skin outfits.

The Thin Man (1934)

The Thin Man (1934), 93 minutes, D: W.S. Van Dyke
Based on the Dashiell Hammett detective story. The first (and considered the best) in the entertaining series of six films, the debut of the charismatic, beloved team of Powell/Loy as the suave, sophisticated, happy, and fun-loving detective couple. Retired police detective Nick (William Powell) and wealthy wife Nora Charles (Myrna Loy), with the help of their dog Asta, are asked to investigate the disappearance/murder of Dorothy Wynant's (Maureen O'Sullivan) missing father, screwball inventor Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis). With witty dialogue, clever bantering between the two, wisecracks, sophisticated humor, romance, and an intriguing plot.

Viva Villa! (1934)

Viva Villa! (1934), 115 minutes, D: Jack Conway, Howard Hawks (uncredited)
The action-packed, loosely-historical account of Mexico's legendary bandit/hero. Pancho Villa (Wallace Beery) begins as a bandit leader in the Mexican hills who steals from the rich and assists the poor. He later battles with the Federales in the revolutionary struggle for the Mexican Republic. After his victory, he reverts to banditry, but then returns again in triumph to declare himself President of the country, after which he soon retires to his ranch. With additional characters including an aristocratic woman Teresa (Fay Wray) who falls in love with him, and an American journalist Johnny Sykes (Stuart Erwin) who helps create the Villa legend. Probably Wallace Beery's best screen performance ever.

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