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Mike’s Top Ten of 1935

There’s a marked overall increase in quality in 1935. I attribute it to Hollywood finally finding its footing in the Production Code era, finally figuring out how to perfect the motion picture and now getting the assembly line up and running. And they’re just cranking out product.

There’s not a whole lot to say about this except it’s got a cool set of choices with genres ranging all over the place. Romance, comedy (slapstick and screwball), horror, drama, musical.

There’s a couple of real hidden gems in this year, one in particular I think people should check out.

Mike’s Top Ten of 1935

Alice Adams

Bride of Frankenstein

Hands Across the Table

The Informer

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Les Misérables

Mutiny on the Bounty

A Night at the Opera

Ruggles of Red Gap

Top Hat

11-20: The 39 Steps, The Call of the Wild, Captain Blood, The Gilded Lily, The Good Fairy, The Little Colonel, Magnificent Obsession, She Married Her Boss, Triumph of the Will, The Whole Town’s Talking

Tier two: Annie Oakley, Barbary Coast, Becky Sharp, China Seas, G Men, If Only You Could Cook, Peter Ibbetson, Roberta, Steamboat Round the Bend, Whipsaw

– – – – – – – – – –

1. Top Hat

“Heaven, I’m in heaven,
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing, cheek to cheek”

This movie is responsible for one of the greatest songs ever written. And the movie itself is also incredible. This will be a recurring theme of the 30s — you can’t go wrong with Fred and Ginger. This might be my overall favorite of the films they made together. Not necessarily their best, since they made a couple that could be considered their best, but it might be the one I like best. We’ll see. 1936 still has to happen.

Fred’s a dancer in London for a show. While practicing in his hotel room, he annoys Ginger, who is in the room below his. She comes up to complain and he becomes smitten and starts following her everywhere. She thinks he’s the guy putting on the show, married to her friend, rather than the guy in the show, so naturally she can’t believe he’s acting this way and dislikes him. And comedy and dancing ensue until everything works out all right in the end.

This movie is notorious for the infamous “feathers” dance, where Ginger insisted upon wearing a gorgeous dress for the “Cheek to Cheek” dance (which you can see in the photo above) and it shed feathers so badly Fred was horrified and thought it looked like someone was murdering a chicken. He then nicknamed Ginger “Feathers” after that, which is pretty great.

2. The Informer

“Mrs. McPhillip… ’twas I… informed on Frankie.”

John Ford, baby. Talk about a master of environment. Usually that environment is the community. Here it’s the atmosphere. He creates this foggy, closed-off environment that feels like it’s closing in around our main character, which is exactly the point of the story. It appropriately earned him his first Best Director Oscar.

Victor McLaglen plays an Irishman who’s been kicked out of the IRA for not following orders. His prostitute girlfriend wants to go to America. It costs ten pounds to do so. Meanwhile, an IRA friend of his is on the run for police and there’s a twenty pound bounty on the man’s head. McLaglen runs into him as he sneaks home to see his mother and sister and decides to turn the man in for the bounty, thinking it’ll get him and his girlfriend to America. The British police go to the man’s house and kill him, and McLaglen is given his pieces of silver. And through the rest of the night, McLaglen is wracked with guilt as everyone in town starts to figure out he was the one who gave the guy up.

Victor McLaglen gives perhaps the performance of his career, which also earned him an Oscar beside John Ford. The great story about that is about the day before they shot a big scene near the end of the film where McLaglen is interrogated by the IRA members. It’s this big dramatic scene that requires McLaglen to do a lot of emotional stuff. Arguably the scene that won him the Oscar. Ford tells McLaglen he won’t need him the next day, saying they’ll shoot some extra stuff and he could come back in two days and do his part. So McLaglen goes out and gets piss drunk that night. Meanwhile Ford, knowing that would be the case, brings McLaglen to set early the next morning to shoot the interrogation scene. So McLaglen is hungover, feeling like shit, tired. Which was perfect for what the character was going through.

3. Mutiny on the Bounty

“When you’re back in England with the fleet again, you’ll hear the hue and cry against me. From now on they’ll spell mutiny with my name.”

A classic. Everyone knows this story. They remade it on film at least three times. There are three major versions. You get Charles Laughton, Trevor Howard and Anthony Hopkins as Captain Bligh and Clark Gable, Marlon Brando and Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian. All solid versions. This one is still best, though, 80 years on. It’s so good.

The generally accepted narrative of the story is that Captain Bligh is this cruel monster of a man who is overly harsh on all his men. There’s a great moment where one of the men, receiving punishment for some offense, dies while receiving his lashes, and Bligh still makes Christian proceed with the punishment. That’s why Christian is always played by a major actor the people like. He’s thought of as the man who had to mutiny in order to save his men from cruel treatment by his captain. But now I think people are starting to see a different version of the story, where these younger, inexperienced men got tempted by the freedom of Tahiti, weren’t totally used to a life at sea, and couldn’t handle the rigors of being on a ship. That, coupled with Christian’s resent of Bligh, led to him leading a mutiny, which the men figured would allow them to go back to Tahiti and live easy lives. Which might actually be more interesting.

There’s definitely a revisionist version of this to be made, where Bligh is the one who, yes, while hard to deal with and probably a bit overly officious, is actually fucked over by these entitled young men who thought it would all be easy for them and can’t handle the fact that they actually have to put in real work. (You know… like millennials.)

No matter how you slice it, the fact that Bligh, after being tossed off his ship, managed to navigate himself to safety with his remaining men is truly an impressive feat. And then he went back to work and was involved in the Rum Rebellion, which was the only successful armed takeover of the government in Australian history. Oh, and all the men who mutinied? They returned to Tahiti and pretty much all of them were murdered by the locals. Only two actually got to live much longer after it all went down.

But yeah, this movie’s a classic and is great. But since we all basically know the story, I figure telling you cool side stories was a good way to fill out the space. How’d I do?

4. Bride of Frankenstein

“To a new world of gods and monsters!”

Definitely a more interesting film than the original. And yes, also a point of reference for Young Frankenstein as well. One of the famous scenes from this one is when the Monster encounters the blind man who teaches him the word “Friend.”

What this film does more so than the original — which was heavily based on the Mary Shelley novel — is make the Monster completely sympathetic. In the first one, he’s still a monster and somewhat sympathetic, but here he’s practically the hero of the film.

The other thing it does, which is completely due to James Whale inserting a huge influence on the writing and the tone of it all, is deal with themes like sexuality. The Dr. Pretorius character is about as homosexual as a character could get on the screen in this era. It’s actually quite explicit, which is like ambrosia to me, since I love when people slip in things that would never get past the sensors yet somehow did.

The film’s also campy as hell in portions, which makes it so much fun to watch. So you get both the fun perspective and you can look at it from a completely thematic perspective in how it uses particular imagery and themes while also being a horror film and utilizing all of those conventions.

Another cool thing this movie does — the frame story features Elsa Lanchester as Mary Shelley, having written her book about Frankenstein, now has more of the story to tell. And then at the end of the film, she shows up as the Bride of the Monster, which is pretty awesome.

5. Ruggles of Red Gap

“It’s a mess isn’t it?”
“It’s wonderful.”
“Well, I don’t see anything wonderful about it.”
“You don’t?”
“No.”
“You don’t? My father was a gentleman’s gentleman… and his father before him. And from that heritage of service miraculously there comes a man. A person of importance, however small. A man whose decisions and whose future are in his own hands.”
“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?”

Charles Laughton absolutely killing it again. The man was one of our finest actors and it feels like not many people remember him as such now since we’re so far removed from his era. But shit, man, between Captain Bligh and this — this might even be the better performance.

Laughton is a proper English butler, whose master loses him in a card game with some nouveau riche Americans. So Laughton now has to move in with his new employers… in Washington. So here’s this proper English butler out west, with people sitting in saloons drinking whiskey and eating steak and beans. Everyone thinks he’s hot shit, since they think he’s some sort of retired army man or something, given his manners. And the film is sort of about the culture shock, and the comedy that ensues from that, but ultimately it’s about Laughton coming into his own and learning how to live his own life, without being defined by his employment. The most beautiful moment of the film (pictured above), is when everyone in a bar is talking about the Gettysburg Address, and Laughton stands up and recites it in front of the entire place. It’s one of the most captivating moments I’ve ever seen in a movie.

This is one of the best hidden gems of the 1930s, and more people need to know this exists. This is one of those movies that makes me very happy.

6. Alice Adams

“A penny for your thoughts. No. A poor little dead rose for your thoughts, Alice Adams.”

There are a couple of rules I’ve developed over the course of watching as many movies as I have, and one of them is: you can never go wrong with George Stevens. The man just made great films. If you see him behind a film, it’s worth seeing. You know you’re getting quality. This movie may not seem like much when you go into it, but this is one of those surprisingly charming films you’ll quickly find yourself falling in love with.

Katharine Hepburn is the daughter of a lower middle-class man who works in a factory. He’s an invalid and can’t work anymore, yet has been kept on salary by the factory owner. Her brother is a gambler who can’t keep a job and is much more comfortable hanging out with the black kitchen staff, shooting dice rather than meeting people who can get him work. While at a dance, she meets Fred MacMurray, a wealthy man. And like Cinderella, he falls for her. She invites him to her house for a dinner. She tries to make sure everything goes perfect, which naturally leads to everything going comedically wrong.

It’s one of those movies that you think is gonna go further than it does. It’s actually almost a two-act play. The scene at the dance and the scene at the house. But it works. Hepburn is charming as hell and they get a lot of good comedy out of the craziness of the dinner scene. It almost turns into a screwball comedy at one point, even though at its heart its just a romance.

Also, fun fact: the novel this was based on was written by Booth Tarkington, who wrote The Magnificent Ambersons both won the Pulitzer).

7. A Night at the Opera

“It is my imagination, or is it getting crowded in here?”

Those Marx brothers again. What more needs to be said about them? They made great comedies. Even now they’re still laugh out loud funny. This and Duck Soup are probably their two best films. The stateroom scene (pictured above) is one of the classics of all time in comedy.

8. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. It was made a bunch of times on screen, and this one still might be the best, purely because of the fun visual tricks they used. It’s quite impressive for 1935. Hal Mohr won Best Cinematography for this (and when you see it, you’ll understand why), making history as the first write-in candidate to win an Oscar. (Meaning he wasn’t nominated, and enough people wrote him in as their vote that he actually won over the people on the ballot, which is crazy to imagine.)

James Cagney plays Bottom, and gets to be turned into a donkey. And you have Olivia de Havilland playing Hermia. I always say whenever I talk about this movie — Olivia de Havilland plays this entire movie as if she just got done having some really great sex off-camera right before every take. Also you get Dick Powell here as Lysander, and a lot of great character actors like Frank McHugh and Joe E. Brown. Oh, and Mickey Rooney as Puck.

9. Hands Across the Table

“You can’t blame me for wanting the things I do. Every woman wants them. Only I say I do.”

It’s a Carole Lombard screwball comedy. Always a good idea. And it’s her and Fred MacMurray, a pairing that worked so well they made three more films together within the next year.

She’s a manicurist who wants to marry rich. He’s the son of a rich family… bankrupted in the Depression. She thinks she’s got a winner, not knowing his family’s current situation. She eventually finds out that not only is he poor, he’s engaged to be married to an heiress. So basically they’re in the same situation — trying to mooch off someone with money. He gets drunk and misses a boat he was supposed to be on. So, having to lay low and having no place to stay, he stays with Lombard. Naturally, romance (and comedy) ensue.

Lombard is so incredible on screen and MacMurray actually manages to hold his own, despite not quite being known for his comedy chops. A real joy of a film.

10. Les Misérables

“Remember to love each other, always. There’s scarcely anything else in life but that.”

One of the classic novels of all time turned into a really solid film. The musical is, of course, king, but as far as the film versions go, this one’s perfectly worthwhile. There are huge differences here from the novel, but the kind you’d expect out of a film of the 30s. Fredric March is Valjean and Charles Laughton (there’s Charlie again) as Javert. Really well done, despite being kind of a Cliff Notes version of the story.

– – – – – – – – – –

11-20:

The 39 Steps — Hitchcock, man. The beginning of his classic narrative: innocent man on the run with a beautiful woman. The man just made great films.

The Call of the Wild — Love this movie. Clark Gable is a gold prospector looking for an Alaskan gold mine. He goes on his adventure with Loretta Young and Jack Oakie. This is probably my #11 for this year. So much fun.

Captain Blood — Errol Flynn in swashbuckler mode. With Olivia de Havilland. Not quite Adventures of Robin Hood, but damn good.

The Gilded Lily — Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray are friends. He’s in love with her, but she isn’t with him. She meets Ray Milland and falls for him, not knowing he’s engaged. A love triangle ensues.

The Good Fairy — This is a weird movie I really enjoyed. Margaret Sullavan plays a girl who is seemingly supposed to be like 16, but she’s 26. She becomes an usher in a movie theater and ends up deciding to be someone who does good deeds for other people. Naturally this leads to way more complications than she intended. It’s fun.

The Little Colonel — Shirley Temple in what might be her best movie. This movie gave us the famous staircase dance between Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, which was the first interracial dance in Hollywood history, and also has a brief Technicolor sequence at the end, which is the first time she appeared in color on screen.

Magnificent Obsession — Another 30s melodrama that was remade into a classic by Douglas Sirk. This one isn’t quite good as Stahl’s Imitation of Life before this, but it’s still quite good.

She Married Her Boss — “She” is Claudette Colbert and “Her Boss” is Melvyn Douglas. The idea is that she’s a secretary in love with her boss and finally manages to make him realize it. They’re married and she soon realizes taking care of him at the office is a lot different than doing it at home. A fun romance.

Triumph of the Will — Say what you will about the Nazis, but damn if they didn’t know how to make themselves look good on the screen.

The Whole Town’s Talking — Comedy/crime film where Edward G. Robinson as a regular man who bears a striking resemblance to an evil killer. The killer realizes this and takes full advantage of the situation. Robinson plays both parts, getting to play the gangster character he became known for alongside the meek, put-upon nice guy. And you get Jean Arthur as his love interest. Oh, and did I mention? John Ford directed this movie.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tier two:

  • Annie Oakley
  • Barbary Coast
  • Becky Sharp
  • China Seas
  • G Men
  • If You Could Only Cook
  • Peter Ibbetson
  • Roberta
  • Steamboat Round the Bend
  • Whipsaw

Becky Sharp is the first full Technicolor feature film. Roberta is another Astaire/Rogers film, though they’re the side characters to the main romance, which is much less interesting. Annie Oakley is a fun biopic and a George Stevens film. Barbary Coast is a Howard Hawks film written by Hecht and MacArthur and starring Edward G. Robinson. G Men is about the early FBI agents, starring James Cagney. Steamboat Round the Bend is about an actual steamboat race and is a John Ford film. China Seas is Clark Gable as a sea captain, Jean Harlow as his lover, Rosalind Russell as his ex and Wallace Beery as a pirate. Whipsaw is Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy; he’s a government agent and she’s a thief. If You Could Only Cook is a fun comedy with Jean Arthur convincing Herbert Marshall, a bored executive, to pretend to be her husband so she can get a job as a cook for a family who will only hire both a cook and butler as a pair. So he goes home and learns how to be a butler from his own butler while also working this job and falling in love with Arthur. Lots of fun.

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