The B+ Movie Guide: The New List (Part V)
I gave Colin a giant list of 500 movies, and he finished it. Of course I’m gonna come up with another list.
This one is for everyone, though. Not specifically for Colin. This is raw material for everybody, should they choose, to go out and see more movies. Not all of them are essential. Most of them are just awesome. I told Colin that once he finished this list, I’d give him another one that was more fun than work. Geared toward cool stuff that he’d enjoy.
I went through and found 1,000 more movies that I think either need to be seen (leftover “essential” films) or are just really great and would be enjoyed by most who see them. Here they are:
Astaire and Rogers. Not their best, but I’ll take an okay Fred and Ginger movie over most others. Ralph Bellamy has problems with Ginger, so he takes her to Fred Astaire, his friend and therapist. And he tries to hypnotize her to make her fall in love with Ralph Bellamy, and of course the whole thing has comically unintended consequences. Like I said, not one of their best movies, but I’ll take what I can get for Fred and Ginger.
Four Me and a Prayer (1938)
You can always spot a John Ford. He takes a plot and makes it more watchable because he always puts in that family aspect to it. This one, quite literally, is about a family. Four brothers come home from war after their father is dishonorably discharged. They have a nice dinner with him, and then he goes into his study — and then they find him dead. Only they suspect murder. And all four (David Niven, George Sanders, Richard Greene and William Henry — the last one played Gilbert in The Thin Man) go out to find answers. So the brothers are going all around Europe to find evidence of who murdered their father. And they get embroiled in all sorts of stuff. It’s really good. You can see how this would have been done later, and even now, but then you have the John Ford touch to it, which really makes it more interesting than any other version.
Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn. Interesting movie. I don’t remember it, but in my mind, it feels like the whole thing takes place in a single house the whole time. The idea is that he falls in love with this woman, but then also has this plan to go away on holiday during all of his 20s and 30s and come back to settle down and start working at 40. The idea being that people waste their youth working and then they’re too old to really live once they stop. So they try to convince him to not do this and marry the woman, meanwhile Hepburn is the eccentric sister, who — well, you know where it goes.
Bette Davis won her second Oscar for this. Fay Bainter won too. It’s a pure melodrama. Essentially Bette’s version of Scarlett O’Hara. She’s a headstrong southern belle who is engaged to Henry Fonda. She decides to wear a red dress to a party, even though the custom is to wear white. Because of this, she is shunned by everyone. Fonda breaks off the engagement. And I think there’s a duel in there somewhere. It’s a two-halves kind of a movie. The first half is all of this, and the second half is her later, never having married, with Fonda back in town with his northern wife. The way Bette gets her redemption in this movie is so hilariously melodramatic. It’s good, though.
Of Human Hearts (1938)
This movie is basically a father-son relationship. Between Walter Huston and Jimmy Stewart. Which should have sold you right there. Hint: they fight a lot. And it puts a strain on Ma (played by Beulah Bondi, who, in my mind, should have won for the part. She lost to Fay Bainter, who, in my mind, could have rightly won for lead that same year, having been nominated for both). Also has your requisite cast of character actors: Charles Coburn (the BEST), John Carradine (as Lincoln), and Gene Lockhart.
Test Pilot (1938)
Clark Gable and Myrna Loy. He’s a daring pilot and she tries to get him to stop before he kills himself. He’s gotta realize that he loves Myrna more than he loves his planes. Oh, and Spencer Tracy’s in there too, trying to bang her while Clark’s away. Lotta plane action in this one.
Too Hot to Handle (1938)
Doesn’t this just sound like the name of a screwball comedy? It’s not. More of a romantic comedy than anything. Clark Gable and Myrna Loy. Gable is an unscrupulous reporter, trying to one up Walter Pidgeon, his competitor. Myrna Loy is a spunky pilot who is brought in to aid in one of the false stories being told. And Gable then starts lying to Myrna in order to get her to go out with him. It’s good. And Buster Keaton contributed to some of the gags in this movie. This was during his alcoholic days.
Vivacious Lady (1938)
Screwball. You really can never turn down a good screwball comedy. Possibly my favorite of the late 30s. Jimmy Stewart and Ginger Rogers. Directed by George Stevens. Who probably has about twelve great movies on his resume. (Just looked quickly — I can actually get to about twelve. And I mean great. Not just good. Which is crazy, considering his total only being around 25.) Basically, he’s a professor who marries a showgirl. But he can’t quite tell his parents about it. So he brings her home, and… well, hilarity ensues. Hysterical movie. Truly hysterical.
White Banners (1938)
Loved this movie. This is the movie I felt Fay Bainter could have (though not necessarily should have) won for in 1938. Claude Rains is a science teacher who takes young Jackie Cooper under his wing. Meanwhile, Fay Bainter is a homeless woman the family hires as their maid. And a lot of the movie has to do with Rains teaching Cooper how to be a good kid and not get in trouble, while also helping him develop an interest in science. And then we also find out as the film goes on that Bainter is also secretly Cooper’s mother, who left him when he was born (I think it was one of those classic — gave up the baby because she was unmarried scenarios you see in the 30s). Really solid 30s drama.
You and Me (1938)
I enjoyed the shit out of this movie. Directed by Fritz Lang, of all people. Starring Sylvia Sidney and George Raft. Basically, a store owner hires ex-cons to give them second chances. And unfortunately, one of them decides to get his pals and rob the joint. The great thing about this movie (because ultimately it’s more of a romance and a comedy than anything) is that the climax of the film is a math lesson. I’m not even kidding. The climax of this movie involves a chalkboard and math. Which is just hilarious to me.
Another Thin Man (1939)
Thin Man movie. Nuff said.
Babes in Arms (1939)
Mickey Rooney’s first Oscar nomination. It’s him and Judy Garland as a couple of kids who want to put on a show. Mickey Rooney has an incredible sequence where he knocks out impersonations of other actors left and right. And he also does blackface, which I’m pretty sure was required of everyone who did musicals in the 30s and 40s. It’s one of those purely entertaining movies. Rooney really just knocks it out of the park. And it was directed by Busby Berkeley. So there’s that.
Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)
The title is vague, I know. This is one of those movies that they mention a lot in film history books. One of the early “pro-war, fuck the Nazis” films. Edward G. Robinson is a crusading fed trying to take them down. And George Sanders plays a Nazi. This is one of those “right up Colin’s alley” kind of movies.
Dark Victory (1939)
Nominated Best Picture in 1939. I feel like everyone should see all of those. This is a Bette Davis melodrama, but is also interesting because it’s one of the few straight dramatic roles of Humphrey Bogart. The plot is Bette Davis as a woman who finds out she has a brain tumor and is dying. So she has to decide how she’s gonna die. And Bogart plays essentially the concerned love interest role. And that alone is worth seeing. Plus, as far as Bette Davis melodramas go, I actually like this one. I can watch this and consider it really good. Other ones I think are too heavy-handed or boring or focus too much on her character (kind of like Jezebel, in a way. But there are much worse ones not on this list). This one I think is just a good movie.
Destry Rides Again (1939)
Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. And it’s a western. Yup. Really good, too. For most people, Jimmy Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, and western — that’s all you need to see it. It’s too interesting a combination to not. I do really recommend this one, though.
Dodge City (1939)
Ah, Dodge. Errol Flynn, color — this is western filmmaking. Flynn and de Havilland, the idealized version of the western — great barfight sequence, great commentary with horses and trains at the beginning. Good stuff all around. This is one of those essential western movies. If you’re doing westerns, you need to do this one.
Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
A western that I loved because it’s one of the few that made me go, “Holy shit, look at the color in this one.” This movie is gorgeous. And I saw it before the restoration they did in the past few years. This movie looks good. Basically it’s Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert trying to have a farm and not get involved in war and fighting. But the Revolutionary War is happening. John Ford directed this. It’s okay, as far as plots go. But the color of this movie — I only watched it once, and I still think of it and go, “My god, did that look good.”
Each Dawn I Die (1939)
Prison movie. James Cagney. A reporter who is framed for murder and thrown in prison. And it’s about him becoming hardened by prison life, while also trying to stay out of trouble and find out who framed him. Meanwhile, George Raft, a real criminal, becomes his friend. And he agrees to escape and help Cagney figure out who framed him. Terrific movie. Really terrific movie. Prison movies are always interesting.
It’s a Wonderful World (1939)
Another great screwball comedy. Jimmy Stewart and Claudette Colbert. Jimmy Stewart is a lawyer whose client is wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. And Stewart ends up in jail for a year, too. Only, along the way, he finds a piece of evidence that can exonerate the client and himself. So he escapes police custody. And runs into Claudette Colbert. And she thinks he’s a hardened criminal, and decides to help him out anyway. And of course hilarity ensues. Really funny movie.
Jesse James (1939)
The story of Jesse James. In Technicolor. Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, John Caradine, Jane Darwell as Ma! Henry Hull practically steals the movie as the newspaper editor whose editorials are about taking everyone out back and shooting them like dogs. It’s funny how they basically made The Assassination of Jesse James at least five or six times over the course of film history. This is probably the earliest. It’s great. It looks good, and if you’re a fan of the western, you should see it.
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