The B+ Movie Guide: The New List (Part VI)
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:
Love Affair (1939)
Love Affair is also An Affair to Remember. They’re the same movie, essentially. This one is Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. They meet on a boat and fall in love. They plan to meet at the Empire State Building in a year. Only something goes horribly wrong. It’s a really great romance. Nominated for Best Picture this year, and I feel like every nominee from 1939 should be seen.
Made for Each Other (1939)
Another great screwball comedy. Jimmy Stewart again. This one with Carole Lombard. He marries her after one day. And the rest of the movie is about their turbulent first year of marriage. Screwball comedy, can never go wrong.
Of Mice and Men (1939)
You know the story. Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. Lewis Milestone directs. Best Picture nominee this year. Probably the weakest of the ten, but also still a great movie.
The Oklahoma Kid (1939)
James Cagney western. This is the one they name dropped in Goodfellas right before Spider gets shot in the foot. The one Robert De Niro calls Shane. Bogart plays the villain in this movie. Cagney and Bogie western. You’re welcome.
On Borrowed Time (1939)
This movie fascinated me when I heard about it. One of those movies that just kind of exists that no one really remembers but whose subject matter is so interesting that it stands apart from almost everything else. Lionel Barrymore and his grandson are close as can be. One day, Death comes to take Barrymore. But through some weird string of luck, Death gets stuck in the apple tree in their garden, and can’t get down unless they let him down. And because of that, no one can die anywhere, unless they get near the tree. They play a lot of it for comedy, but there’s also drama here. And the ending is — let’s just say the ending is not what you’d expect out of a 30s movie. You watch that, even now, and go, “Holy shit.”
The Rains Came (1939)
Tyrone Power and Myrna Loy. Mostly it’s the effects that I like. The entire place gets flooded, so people are riding boats to other people’s houses, and the entire bottom levels of the houses are underwater. This one is all about the special effects for me. And Myrna Loy. It’s a good movie, but it’s really about the art direction for this one for me. I really liked that aspect quite a bit.
The Rules of the Game (1939)
This is a movie a lot of people would consider essential. And since it didn’t end up on that list, I have to put it here. See it, don’t see it, whatever you want. I, personally, still have not seen this movie yet. I will. I just haven’t. So I can’t call it essential without having seen it and can’t talk it up either. But since a lot of people consider it essential for “film” people, I should at least give you the option of having it on the list.
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)
Fred and Ginger again. This one is a straight drama for them. More biopic than anything. Dancing is there, but mostly it’s a drama. And they do a good job. It’s a really great movie and perhaps their most underrated film of all. I like this better than at least three of their full-on dancing movies.
The Women (1939)
All women. That’s pretty much the draw here. It’s a movie about women, starring the biggest actresses in town. Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine. Directed by George Cukor. If you like old movies, you know about this one.
Wuthering Heights (1939)
This is Olivier’s first real acting job in America. Also William Wyler, and a classic story. Kathy and Heathcliff. The one thing that stands out about this movie is how well it’s directed. Wyler shot the shit out of this movie. It looks incredible. This was the Golden Year for cinema, and this was one of the Best Picture nominees. I feel like all ten should be seen by everyone, just to show how fucking great the year was. You legit had at least 9 out of 10 great Best Picture nominees.
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
John Ford, and Henry Fonda as Lincoln. Just do it. You know it’s gonna be great. It is great. You don’t need anything more than Ford and Fonda.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
All This, and Heaven Too (1940)
There’s a particular genre during this era that I call the “Bette Davis Melodrama.” It’s a melodrama built around her and her persona. Usually she plays a raging bitch. And she was great at it. Strong woman, is the preferred term for it. But things weren’t as complex in 1940 as they are now. And typically, I don’t love a lot of them, particularly the ones that were heavily embraced by the Academy. I like the ones where she plays a more tragic and likable figure. Like this one. This one is a frame story (melodramas and noirs share a lot of narrative traits), where she’s a new teacher at a school, and all the kids are whispering about her story (because she’s infamous, you see). And she goes, “All right, fine. I’ll tell you the story.” And here’s what it is:
She becomes governess to the child of Charles Boyer and Barbara O’Neil (who played Scarlett O’Hara’s mother, for those keeping score). And she is really good at it, and fits in nicely with the family. Only Boyer and O’Neil have a cold marriage, and he starts taking a liking to Davis. And O’Neil starts showing more signs of a mental breakdown, and the marriage becomes completely over. Only they can’t really divorce. And it ends with a murder, and the whole thing is about if Bette did it or not. You know. It’s melodrama. But it’s good melodrama. I actually like this one quite a bit. It’s well-acted, and you actually like the characters. Trust me. I only give endorsements to worthwhile melodramas.
Angels Over Broadway (1940)
This one’s interesting. It’s kind of a noir, but not really, because it doesn’t end badly. Douglas Fairbanks is a con man. And he’s looking for someone to con. And finds John Qualen, who just embezzled a lot of money to maintain his wife’s lifestyle and is ready to kill himself. He enlists Rita Hayworth to trick Qualen into joining a rigged poker game. Meanwhile, Thomas Mitchell is a down on his luck writer, who finds out Qualen is gonna kill himself and decides to try to write a story for him that has a happier ending. And he convinces the others to help Qualen instead of con him. And it turns into a really nice little story. It’s a very unique little movie. Definitely worth seeing because of that.
Boom Town (1940)
Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert, Hedy Lamarr. Tracy and Gable are two friends who become competing oil tycoons who are in love with the same woman. The key to picking movies of this era is either a top notch writer and/or director or an abundance of stars in the same project. This is the latter.
Christmas in July (1940)
What I said about the previous entry — this is the other. This is Preston Sturges. This one is really short, but also really great. Dick Powell is a regular guy who puts in for a Maxwell House contest to come up with the next slogan for the coffee. The prize is $25,000. His coworkers decide to have fun with him and draft a fake telegram that says he won. And we see the repercussions of that. It’s a comedy. It plays kind of like a Capra movie, in a way. It’s really good. I really enjoyed this one. You can trust a Sturges movie.
City for Conquest (1940)
Noir/drama. James Cagney. He’s a truck driver who decides to go into boxing. And he becomes successful. Only his girl leaves him for another man, and it makes him bitter. And one day, he gets blinded by his opponent during a fight. It’s — really good. Highly recommended.
Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940)
Memorable title. Now wait until I tell you what it’s about. Edward G. Robinson plays the guy who came up with a cure for syphilis. Which should intrigue you is that this came out in 1940, during a time of the production code. Handling a topic like syphilis is not exactly something that happened every day back then. Not to mention — it’s really good. These doctor movies are all really engaging.
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Hitchcock. He came out with this and Rebecca in the same year and took the US by storm. This one is much more of a Hitchcock kind of plot. Joel McCrea is put on assignment to cover a bunch of political conference stuff. And he sees a diplomat assassinated in front of the steps of a conference. So he follows the assassin in a getaway car and uncovers a whole sinister plot that’s about to happen to drag everyone into war. It’s a really engaging movie. Not quite as perfect as later Hitchcock, but really good. You know you’re in good hands.
The Ghost Breakers (1940)
A horror comedy. A pretty good one, at that. Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. Anthony Quinn plays twins. She inherits a castle and a bunch of shady characters start showing up to either threaten her or warn her not to go there. He’s a radio man who happens to piss off a gangster who wants to kill him. They manage to comedically cross paths and end up on a ship to Cuba where the castle is. It’s well done. It’s funny. I’m not wholly familiar with Bob Hope movies, but this is generally considered one of his best.
The Great McGinty (1940)
Preston Sturges. He won an Oscar for this. The first Original Screenplay Oscar. It’s about the rise and fall of a crooked politician. It’s basically All the King’s Men but in reverse. A guy who starts crooked and then endangers it all by becoming honest. It’s Sturges. You know it’s good.
– – – – – – – – – –