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

Alice Adams (1935), 99 minutes, D: George Stevens
A social drama adapted from Booth Tarkington's novel. A likeable, small-town teenager Alice Adams (Katharine Hepburn) is from a middle-class background, but frustrated because she desperately wishes to be accepted by her upper-class peers. She is embarrassed by her family's social status and her father's lack of ambition, so she convinces her friends that she is from a wealthy family. At a high-society party, she meets a wealthy, handsome young man Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray) and tells him fanciful tales of her family's fortunes. She invites him into her home and in the memorable scene at the disastrous dinner table, everything goes wrong as it is painfully obvious what her social circumstances really are.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935), 77 minutes, D: James Whale
A frightening, but campy, classic horror film, a sequel that betters the original. A masterpiece from Universal horror director James Whale. The delightfully evil but weird scientist Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) compels and convinces Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) to artificially make a female companion/mate (Elsa Lanchester) to placate the lonely Monster (Boris Karloff), who has been terrorizing the countryside. The humorous creation/"birth" scene of the Bride is an unforgettable classic.

Captain Blood (1935), 119 minutes, D: Michael Curtiz
A classic adventure film swashbuckler, Errol Flynn's first starring role. A young 17th century Irish physician/surgeon Dr. Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) is wrongly condemned by a judge for participating in the Monmouth uprising and aiding the rebels by treating their wounds. He is sold into plantation slavery in the Caribbean (Jamaica). He is purchased by the beautiful niece Arabella Bishop (Olivia de Havilland) of a brutal plantation owner, but escapes his unfair sentence and becomes a leader of a band of fearsome Caribbean pirates. He launches his own battle against Col. Bishop, the colonial governor of Jamaica (Lionel Atwill) in a number of stirring action sequences including sea battles and bombardments and a fencing duel with rival villainous pirate Capt. Levasseur (Basil Rathbone). He also charmingly romances Arabella (in the first of many romantic pairings with de Havilland).

Dangerous (1935), 78 minutes, D: Alfred E. Green
An idealistic, aspiring, handsome architect Don Bellows (Franchot Tone) attempts to rehabilitate and save an alcoholic former great star Joyce Heath (Bette Davis) from despair. He sponsors her comeback in a stage play. In the process, he loses his heart to her romantically, despite the presence of her husband Gordon (John Eldredge). Notable for Bette Davis winning her first Best Actress Academy Award, possibly because she didn't win for Of Human Bondage a year earlier.

David Copperfield (1935, UK), 133 minutes, D: George Cukor
A film adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel, the first and possibly the best of all film versions of Dickens' works. It is the story of young David Copperfield's (Freddie Bartholomew/Frank Lawton) growth to manhood in 19th century England. He lives an idyllic life at first with his recently widowed mother (Elizabeth Allan) and his nurse until his mother marries the despicable and mean Mr. Murdstone (Basil Rathbone). When she dies while he is away at boarding school, the orphaned David is forced to return home and go to work in his stepfather's sweat-shop warehouse under grim child labor conditions. He runs away to Dover to his eccentric Aunt Betsey (Edna May Oliver) and eventually survives all his trials to become an author, who eventually marries his childhood sweetheart Agnes (Madge Evans). With unforgettably colorful secondary characterizations, especially the impoverished but philosophical Micawber (W. C. Fields) and villainous Uriah Heep (Roland Young).

The Informer (1935), 91 minutes, D: John Ford
A profound study of life in 1922 Ireland, during the time of the violent Sinn Fein civil rebellion. Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen), a big, slow-minded, hard-drinking Irish Dubliner, commits the ultimate traitorous act by revealing the identity and betraying his IRA leader and friend Frankie McPhillip (Wallace Ford) in order to collect a twenty pound reward from the British. He is regretful, devastated and tormented by his decision and his conscience, and is the object of revenge by the IRA. One of John Ford's greatest films.

Les Misérables (1935), 108 minutes, D: Richard Boleslawski
The best of the many film adaptations of Victor Hugo's novel of 19th century France. This is the classic story of good and evil in an unforgiving and unrelenting legal system. Jean Valjean (Fredric March), who has stolen a loaf of bread to survive, is captured and given 10 years of hard labor. He escapes prison and rebuilds his life, becoming mayor of the town where a truly frightening Javert (Charles Laughton) is chief of police. Valjean is identified as a wanted criminal, and then tormented by the unimpassioned, obsessed, and single-minded Javert, who will not let the past be forgotten. Not to be confused with the French 1934 version.

The Littlest Rebel (1935), 70 minutes, D: David Butler
One of famous child star Shirley Temple's most well-known pictures. Set in the South during the Civil War, young Virginia Houston Cary (Shirley Temple) is the daughter of a Confederate soldier Capt. Herbert Cary (John Boles). She saves her father from being executed as a Confederate spy by charming President Lincoln (Frank McGlynn Sr.), sharing an apple with him. Notable for its tap-dancing duet "Polly Wolly Doodle" by Shirley Temple and Uncle Billy (Bill "Bojangles" Robinson).

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), 109 minutes, D: Henry Hathaway
An escapist, rousing classic adventure film, a tale of the British Empire at the time of its vast colonial holdings. Set on India's remote rugged Northwest frontier, seasoned, fearless British Bengal lancers Lt. Alan McGregor (Gary Cooper) and Lt. John Forsythe (Franchot Tone) fight rebels and look after the naive, raw, untested recruit Lt. Donald Stone (Richard Cromwell), son of a stern, high-ranking commanding official Col. Stone (Guy Standing). The two soldiers attempt to rescue the poor soldier after he is captured by a warring chieftain Mohammed Khan (Douglas Dumbrille), and are captured and tortured themselves. With an exciting conclusion in which Lt. Stone redeems himself.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), 132 minutes, D: Max Reinhardt, William Dieterle
A fanciful film version of William Shakespeare's play, with lavish sets, costumes, choreography, and a tremendous all-star cast. It is the story of mythical and mischievous forest creatures (fairies and artisans) who plan to put on a play for the amusement of the royal court at a royal wedding. Instead, the tale becomes one of a battle between the King Oberon (Victor Jory) and Queen Titania (Anita Louise) of the fairies and the misadventures of two couples who are confused and bedazzled. Unforgettable performances by James Cagney as Bottom and Mickey Rooney as Puck.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), 133 minutes, D: Frank Lloyd
A classic adventure, Best Picture-winning film based upon Nordhoff and Hall's account of the hardships aboard an 18th century British man-of-war, the H.M.S. Bounty, on a naval sea expedition in 1789 in the South Pacific in search of breadfruit. Heartless, ruthless, and sadistic Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) subjects the crew to suffering and degradation, provoking first officer Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) to lead them into a mutiny on its return, setting Bligh adrift on the high seas. This is the best of all film accounts.

Naughty Marietta (1935), 106 minutes, D: W.S. Van Dyke II
The very first film teaming of the famous romantic and singing duo Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. Based upon Victor Herbert's 1910 operetta, set in 18th century France, an orphaned French Princess Marie de Namours de la Bonfain ("Marietta Franini") (Jeanette MacDonald), refusing an arranged marriage to a Spanish man she doesn't love, escapes to colonial America (Louisiana) and is rescued and falls in love with Indian scout Capt. Richard Warrington (Nelson Eddy). With songs including "The Italian Street Song," "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp," "I'm Falling in Love," and "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life."

A Night at the Opera (1935), 92 minutes, D: Sam Wood
The first of five Marx Brothers films at MGM, a Marx Brothers comedy classic, one of their biggest hits, with famous routines and non-stop one-liners. Groucho plays crafty promoter Otis B. Driftwood who woos millionaire dowager Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) and cons her into supporting an opera company with an investment of $200,000, so she can become a high-society member. With Fiorello (Chico) and Tomasso (Harpo), they all but destroy and then eventually save an operatic production. Memorable scenes include the crowded stateroom scene and the climax during the opening night performance of the grand opera.

Peter Ibbetson (1935), 88 minutes, D: Henry Hathaway

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), 76 minutes, D: Leo McCarey
The Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young), an English nobleman, loses his valet butler Marmaduke Ruggles (Charles Laughton) to a wealthy, visiting American ranching couple Effie (Mary Boland) and Egbert Floud (Charles Ruggles) during a poker game. Accompanying his rough-and-ready, uncouth new employer from Paris back to his new home in the Wild Western town of Red Gap, Washington in 1908, the stiff, upper-lipped Ruggles has trouble, at first, adjusting to this informal, rowdy frontier town. He is able to break his indentured bonds of servitude and romances and marries Mrs. Judson (ZaSu Pitts).

The Scoundrel (1935), 76 minutes, D: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur
A manipulative and ruthless New York publisher/writer Anthony Mallare (Noel Coward in his first starring film role) survives by using everyone he comes into contact with. When he perishes on a Bermuda-bound airplane flight, his ghostly spirit is allowed to return to the world to atone for his actions, if he can find anyone who mourned his passing. Won an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story. The film debut of Burgess Meredith as a minor uncredited character.

A Tale of Two Cities (1935), 120 minutes, D: Jack Conway
An MGM film adaptation of Charles Dickens' monumental classic novel of the French Revolution. Sydney Carton (Ronald Colman), an aimless London lawyer, finds his purpose in aiding beleaguered victims of the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution. He sacrifices his own life to save another man Charles Darnay (Donald Woods) from the guillotine and for the love of the woman Lucie Manette/Darnay (Elizabeth Allan) that they both love.

The 39 Steps (1935, UK), 87 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock
One of the all-time great thrillers, Hitchcock's first great masterpiece. In London, a visiting/vacationing Canadian rancher Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) attends a Palladium vaudeville act. When a shot rings out, he ends up in the company of a frightened woman, a female British agent Miss Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim). He is given a map of Scotland and told about an international spy ring (with vital national security secrets) run by a man missing part of one finger. Sheltering her for the night, she is murdered, and he finds himself as an innocent man who must avoid police authorities (who suspect him of the murder) and avoid pursuit by spies (who want to silence him). He takes on her mission, and following the only clues he has, ends up in Scotland. On the way, he is handcuffed by the spies to a strange woman Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), who at first hates him believing he is a criminal, but ends up in love with him and helping him solve the case.

Top Hat (1935), 101 minutes, D: Mark Sandrich
The fourth film teaming the dancing pair Astaire/Rogers, possibly their best work. American dancer Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) pursues the romantic love of his life Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) from London, England to Venice, Italy, but in a complicated and comical case of mistaken identity, she thinks he's married to her best friend Madge Hardwick (Helen Broderick). Memorable Irving Berlin songs/dances include: "Isn't This a Lovely Day (To Be Caught in the Rain)," "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," "Piccolino," and "Cheek to Cheek."

Triumph of the Will (1935, Germ.) (aka Triumph Des Willens), 114 minutes, D: Leni Riefenstahl

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