Release Date: December 9th, 1934 (London premiere) Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock Written by: Charles Bennett, D. B. Wyndham-Lewis, Edwin Greenwood, A.R. Rawlinson Music by: Arthur Benjamin Cast: Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Nova Pilbeam, Frank Vosper
Gaumont British Picture Corporation, 75 Minutes
“Tell her they may soon be leaving us. Leaving us for a long, long journey. How is it that Shakespeare says? “From which no traveler returns.” Great poet.” – Abbott
Alfred Hitchock made a film in the 1950s that shared this same title. However, that one is not a remake of this one and both are very different stories. However, the title applies well to both.
This was made while Hitchcock was still primarily working in the United Kingdom before he blew up and moved his life to the glamorous, magical land of Hollywood.
The story does have similar beats to the other one, as it features a family man learning some secrets he shouldn’t have and to keep him quiet, the bad guys kidnap his kid. Apart from that, though, this is a unique tale.
The main baddie in this is played by Peter Lorre just a few years after his legendary performance in Fritz Lang’s M and before he, like Hitchcock, made his way to America to ply his trade and reach iconic status.
I like Lorre in this, a lot. It’s not too dissimilar from his other villainous characters but there’s just something extra weasel-y about him here. As should be expected, he knocks his performance out of the park.
I think that Lorre steals the show but the two leads, Leslie Banks and Edna Best are both on their A-game, as well. However, the entire cast is really good and I think it shows how well Hitchcock was able to direct his cast, even in his earliest movies.
My only real complaint about the film is that the sound editing was poor and choppy. However, that has more to do with this being made in 1934 and having to deal with those limitations than it does the craftsmanship of Hitchcock or his crew.
1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much isn’t on the same level as its later namesake. However, it’s still a good Hitchcock suspense movie with good performances and a nice pace.
Rating: 7/10 Pairs well with: other Alfred Hitchcock film’s from his earlier days while he was still working primarily in the UK.
Release Date: December 15th, 1939 (Atlanta premiere) Directed by: Victor Fleming Written by: Sidney Howard Based on:Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell Music by: Max Steiner Cast: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, George Reeves, Hattie McDaniel, Oscar Polk, Butterfly McQueen
“No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.” – Rhett Butler
Gone With the Wind is considered one of the all-time greatest motion pictures ever made. However, everyone should already know that.
It also came under fire last year when it was announced that it would be featured on HBO Max. Why did it come under fire? Well, because people these days are offended by the art people made generations ago. In regards to this film, it had to due with racial stereotypes and how the black characters were used. I wrote about this retro-censorship crap back in July, though. That article can be found here, so I won’t harp on it too much again while reviewing this classic.
When it comes to this film, it is as good as people have made it out to be for over 80 years. In fact, it may be even better.
Sure, it’s a long, slow, very drawn out story but it covers a lot of ground and it certainly has a lot to say.
Women, historically, have loved the film because of its romantic side and how it doesn’t follow the beats of a stereotypical “happily ever after” story, which was definitely rare for its time.
Men seem to love it because of the war related parts of the film. Mainly, this picture focuses on a few key characters but it really showcases what life was like for those on the losing side of the American Civil War. Regardless of what the war was or was about, the message here is eternal, as it really gives the viewer a true understanding of the actual devastation of war, specifically after the fighting is over.
Beyond the great story, the movie has stunning and legendary performances throughout and it may be the best acted film up to its release. Clark Gable is an absolute man’s man and Vivien Leigh was absolutely incredible. The range of these two just in this film is fantastic and impressive.
The film is also superbly directed by Victor Fleming, who pulled these performances out of his cast while also displaying his phenomenal level of cinematic craftsmanship. Some of the shots in this are breathtaking and still hold up marvelously, all these years later. A lot of credit also has to go to the cinematographer, Ernest Haller.
Going back to Fleming, though, it’s hard to believe that he released both The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind in the same year! That has to be the greatest single year of work by any director. Sadly, though, he only made five more films after this and died ten years later.
It’s hard to really put into words how majestic and epic this film is. It really should be seen by all lovers of film. I can get why it might not appeal to many in the 2020s and because it’s so damn long but it’s hard to really experience the best that the art of motion pictures has to offer if you haven’t seen this.
It deserves its status and from a visual and storytelling standpoint, it still has a lot to teach future filmmakers and lovers of the artistic medium.
Release Date: December 21st, 1937 (Los Angeles premiere) Directed by: David Hand (supervising), William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen Written by: Ted Sears, Richard Creedon, Otto Englander, Dick Rickard, Earl Hurd, Merrill De Maris, Dorothy Ann Blank, Webb Smith Based on:Snow White by The Brothers Grimm Music by: Frank Churchill, Paul Smith, Leigh Harline Cast: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Harry Stockwell, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Scotty Mattraw, Billy Gilbert, Eddie Collins, Moroni Olsen, Stuart Buchanan
Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 83 Minutes
“I’m awfully sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. But you don’t know what I’ve been through. And all because I was afraid. I’m so ashamed of the fuss I made.” – Snow White
I’ve owned all of the original Disney animated films on DVD for years. I’ve always been a big fan of the classic hand-drawn 2D animation style and I’ve never really gotten into the Pixar CGI stuff. In fact, one of the first things I wanted to be, as a kid, was a Disney animator.
I also figured that reviewing all of these films is long overdue, as I’ve already written nearly 2000 film reviews on this site since its launch in late November of 2016. So why not start at the beginning with Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature film?
That being said, I’ll probably do one of these per week until I get through the thirty or so that existed before CGI took over and killed the style that made Disney a massive company.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs wasn’t just Disney’s first animated motion picture, it was also the first one that I saw in the theater. I saw this on the big screen around 1983 or so, when I was four years-old. That experience always stuck with me and it helped fashion a lifelong love of Disney’s classic animation style.
This isn’t my favorite of these movies but it’ll always be special because it was my introduction to them.
I feel like everyone on Earth has seen this film but, as I’m learning as time goes on, the younger generation doesn’t have the attention span to indulge in anything old. To them, classic Disney is Toy Story 2 and films like these are relics that are probably seen as racist or offensive because everything is racist and offensive now.
For Disney’s first big feature, this is really well done. It has some issues with smoothness and how the characters move and flow but it is better than what was the norm in 1937. Also, Disney’s skill would improve with each movie until they really hit their stride around 1950.
I’ve always liked this story, even if it’s overly simplistic and plays more like a series of musical sequences tied together with a paper thin plot but honestly, that’s most musicals. And while I’m not particularly a fan of the musical genre, it has always worked for me in Disney’s animated films. Here, it’s no different and it was cool revisiting this simply because I forgot some of these songs.
This is a fairy-tale and you have to suspend disbelief but on that same token, this isn’t a film that really asks too much from its audience. It’s clear that the film was made in an effort to let its audience kick back and enjoy the feature without having to use a lot of processing power. In that regard, it works.
Granted, if you’re an overactive thinker like myself, there are a lot of questions you might have. Especially, now that you’ve reached adulthood and have a hard time taking things at face value.
For instance, the ending is kind of odd if you want to nitpick it apart. Actually, it’s slightly disturbing.
To give a brief rundown: the girl gets poisoned to death. Then the Dwarfs won’t bury her, so they just keep her corpse around the house as they build an opulent, intricate, gold and glass coffin to display her dead body in like a jewelry counter at Piercing Pagoda. Then a prince hears about this and sets off on a journey to kiss this corpse and bring it back to life like a zombie. I’m assuming all that didn’t happen within an afternoon and would also have to assume that Snow White got pretty rank.
See, there I go overthinking it like an overthinking adult.
The ending actually is fine but it’s pretty dark for a kids’ movie. But that’s also kind of cool, as it’s obvious that people in 1930s America didn’t coddle their damn kids into being complete weaklings. I’m glad that things were still that way when I was a kid in the ’80s: going to the movies at five to watch Gremlins.
Anyway, despite my weird tangent about the ending, this film just tells its story, throws in some tunes and gets it all over with in just 83 minutes. I wish more movies were only 83 minutes.
Rating: 8/10 Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.
Release Date: July 16th, 1931 (New York City premiere) Directed by: William A. Wellman Written by: Oliver H.P. Garrett, Charles Kenyon Based on:Night Nurse by Dora Macy Music by: Leo F. Forbstein Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Joan Blondell, Clark Gable
Warner Bros., 72 Minutes
“The successful nurse is one who keeps her mouth shut.” – Dr. Milton A. Ranger
I wanted to watch and review Night Nurse during Noirvember. Not because it is really film-noir but because it is one of many films that laid the groundwork for the cinematic style. Plus, it stars a very young Barbara Stanwyck, who would go on to become one of noir’s greatest femme fatales, thirteen years later in Double Indemnity.
This is a pre-Code film, which means that it didn’t have its hands tied by the political forces that would come to censor Hollywood for decades. Because of that, this feels grittier and more genuine than the glossed over, wholesome, pristine looking, classic Hollywood feel that would come to stifle the art of filmmaking for a very long time.
I wouldn’t quite call this film exploitation but just from the fact that it features scenes with Stanwyck in her lingerie and in bed, automatically gives it an edginess that you don’t normally find in old movies.
The story is about a young nurse who starts taking care of some kids at a private residence, only to discover that someone is trying to slowly kill them. The plot makes me wonder if M. Night Shyamalan borrowed the idea for the Mischa Barton character in The Sixth Sense.
The film has mystery, twists and turns and it really is a crime story at its core. Basically, it has a lot of the elements that would go on to define the film-noir genre a decade later.
This is also a comedy, however, but not an outright comedy. It’s just a good mixture of humor and drama to give a pretty balanced picture that doesn’t get lost in its dark subject matter. It gives it a strange tone to a degree but this came out in a time where sound in film had only existed for a handful of years and filmmakers were still experimenting with the medium in a fairly primitive way, especially in regards to narrative style and pacing.
Now that does not make this a bad picture, in fact, it’s entertaining, moves pretty swiftly for a film of its time and it is certainly better than the norm in 1931.
Stanwyck’s performance is superb and it is also cool seeing Clark Gable in the movie, just before he became a Hollywood megastar.
There are other pre-Code films that Barbara Stanwyck was in. Based off of this one, I’ll probably check out some of the others in the near future.
Rating: 6.75/10 Pairs well with: other early Barbara Stanwyck films, as well as other pre-Code dramas.
Release Date: April 28th, 1933 Directed by: Dave Fleischer Music by: various, Armida Cast: Armida
Fleischer Studios, 2 Minutes
Experimental films from early film history are always interesting to watch, at least for me.
The Peanut Vendor is a two minute animation test, mixed and synced up to music.
I think that its synced pretty well for the time and the animation of the monkey man’s lips are done rather well.
The monkey peanut vendor sings and dances to a song about peanuts. The movement is good but the character is fairly creepy, as he has really long arms and a detachable tail that he uses to dry his butt like a bathroom towel.
I was lured into checking this out due to seeing GIFs of it in various places recently. Without context, those GIFs are the things of nightmares. Hell, with context, it’s still creepy.
However, it’s intended to be a strange but lighthearted number and I think it succeeds at that.
Granted, even in 1933, I bet there were some people that ended up getting terrifying Slenderman dreams and maybe this is where that iconic boogeyman came from.
Rating: 6/10 Pairs well with: other experimental short films of the era and earlier.
Release Date: May 10th, 1938 (New York City premiere) Directed by: Lewis Seiler Written by: Crane Wilbur, Vincent Sherman Music by: Max Steiner Cast: The Dead End Kids, Humphrey Bogart, Gale Page, George Offerman Jr., Weldon Heyburn, Cy Kendall
Warner Bros., 86 Minutes
“Those guards you fired were valuable men. Whatta you want to replace them with? A crew of schoolteachers?” – Morgan, “Maybe you got things just a little twisted, Morgan. This is a school you’re running and not a prison. You’re dealing with kids, not hardened criminals!” – Mark Braden
I never really watched any of the Dead End Kids movies but my mum always liked them. I was aware of who they were but they just seemed like an older, unfunny Little Rascals to me.
However, while trying to clear out my queue on FilmStruck before it closed down, I was hitting all the Humphrey Bogart movies I could, so that brought me to this.
I actually liked this picture and not just because it features Bogart in a prominent role.
The Dead End Kids aren’t as kiddish and comedic as the Little Rascals or other similar groups. It’s certainly a familiar shtick but the tone of this film is mostly serious and has a much harder edge than I expected. In fact, the kids are straight up juvenile criminals and you even believe them to have killed a man, until it’s revealed by dialogue later that the guy they bludgeoned nearly to death, survived the attack.
Anyway, this sends them all to juvenile detention for two years but luckily for them, it is at the beginning of Bogart’s tenure, where he is a stand up guy that is actually trying to reform these boys and not set them up for failure and a life of crime.
The film examines the criminal justice system pretty good for its day. And really, the story is relevant today, as criminal rehabilitation is still a joke.
I liked the message of the movie and what it was trying to convey and I thought that it played out nice on screen. Bogart’s Mark Braden did everything he could to help the kids, even if his actions at the end of the film were a bit criminal too.
The kids weren’t too annoying, Bogart was superb and I thought that his leading lady, Gale Page, was also quite good and pretty lovable.
Rating: 7.25/10 Pairs well with: other Dead End Kids movies, as well as other Bogart crime pictures.
Release Date: December 26th, 1936 Directed by: John Ford Written by: Dudley Nichols, Sean O’Casey Music by: Roy Webb Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster, Barry Fitzgerald
RKO Radio Pictures, 72 Minutes
“The spring of 1916 found a divided Ireland, torn by conflicting Loyalties. Thousands of her sons were at the front fighting the cause of England in the World War. Other thousands remained home planning another fight—a fight, under the flag of the Plough and the Stars, to free their country so that Ireland could take its place among the nations of the world.” – Opening credits prologue
John Ford is considered one of the top directors of his era. Before watching this, I had only ever seen his westerns. So I figured I’d venture out and see some of his other work. And since this had Barbara Stanwyck in it, I gave it a go.
This didn’t really do much for me though. And that’s not to take anything away from the picture, as the acting, especially from Stanwyck was damn good. However, it just seemed to move really slow and only really grabbed me in two scenes.
The first was in the beginning when Stanwyck’s Nora was confronted about not giving letters to her husband in regards to his military career. The second was the finale that saw some action but only enough to wake me up from my slumber for a few seconds.
I found it odd that this was a film that took place in Ireland and dealt specifically with Irish issues but the main cast was mostly American and didn’t even attempt Irish accents. So when real Irish people came into scenes with their authentic accents, it got really weird.
Also, the script wasn’t well written and seemed to be rushed through. That could be due to the short running time and maybe this adaptation of a play, wasn’t seamlessly adapted.
Out of the Ford pictures I have seen, this is the worst and the dullest.
But Stanwyck was actually dynamite and at least gave this dud some life.
Rating: 5.25/10 Pairs well with:Four Men and a Prayer, So Big and Woman In Red.
Also known as: Adventures of David Gray (alternate original title), Castle of Doom (US dubbed version), Not Against the Flesh (US), The Strange Adventure of David Gray (Brazil English title), The Vampire (US copyright title) Release Date: May 6th, 1932 (Germany) Directed by: Carl Theodore Dreyer Written by: Christen Jul, Carl Theodore Dreyer Based on:In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu Music by: Wolfgang Zeller Cast: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz, Henriette Gerard
Carl Theodore Dreyer-Filmproduktion, Tobis-Filmkunst, Vereinigte Star-Film GmbH, 73 Minutes
“Why does the doctor always come at night?” – Gisèle
Just as Nosferatu was the quintessential vampire movie of the silent German Expressionist era, Vampyr is probably the quintessential vampire movie of German Expressionism once it moved into sound.
This film has aged incredibly well for what it is. It is still quite terrifying, at its core, and it has an ambiance that is chilling and rich with dark folklore.
It’s unsettling as it rolls on and the plot develops. It’s well written and strange, as it doesn’t necessarily follow the typical vampire fiction template. It feels as if it were ripped from old folk tales, as opposed to taking its cues from Bram Stoker’s Dracula like nearly all vampire fiction.
I thought the performances were very dramatic and very reminiscent of the silent era but they were all pretty good. This feels like a stage show put to celluloid, as things feel very confined like the walls are always closing in. I’m not sure if that was the intent of the filmmakers but the scale of the film works to serve the main character’s story, as he keeps falling deeper and deeper into the darkness.
While German Expressionism isn’t really associated with films after the silent era, the style is alive and well here or at least the spirit of it is, as it has evolved. But this does, in my opinion, fit well with the more famous silent horror films that Germany was pumping out in the 1920s.
Vampyr is definitely worth your time if you like films like the original Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Rating: 8.25/10 Pairs well with:Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Golem and the Swedish film The Phantom Carriage.
Release Date: January 17th, 1937 (New York City premiere) Directed by: Archie Mayo, Michael Curtiz (uncredited) Written by: Robert Lord, Abem Finkel, William Wister Haines Music by: W. Franke Harling, Howard Jackson, Bernhard Kaun Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Dick Foran, Erin O’Brien-Moore, Ann Sheridan
Warner Bros., 83 Minutes
“So, you’re afraid! Maybe they better change the name of your outfit from the Black Legion to the Yellow Legion.” – Ed Jackson
I was talking about Humphrey Bogart, my favorite actor, with a friend of mine when he asked, “Did you see that one where he was in the KKK?” I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I looked it up and found this film, which Bogart did really early in his career, before reaching superstardom. Also, it’s not the actual KKK but it is a group based on them called “the Black Legion”.
This film is rather short but it’s definitely got a lot packed into a small package. It’s a true thriller and very noir-esque before film-noir was a thing.
The gist of the story surrounds a hard working man that is looked over for a promotion that he was pretty sure he was going to get. It weighs heavily on him and eventually, some bad seeds take advantage of that and influence him into joining their cause. That cause, sees them dressing up in black hoods, similar to the KKK’s white hoods, where they go out at night in an effort to chase off the foreigners who are coming in and taking their jobs. So the Klan (or “Black Legion”) in this isn’t so much racist, as they are xenophobic.
In his heart, Bogart’s Frank Taylor was opposed to the madness he found himself entangled in but he was already in over his head and couldn’t leave the group for fear of what they might do to him and his family. It all comes crashing down when Frank murders his best friend that was trying his damnedest to save him. Regretful and remorseful, will Frank work to bring down the Black Legion or is the fear of his family’s safety too great?
The film is intense and it moves swiftly. It was hard for me to turn away from it and the acting of Bogart, as well as his best bud, Dick Foran, was superb and kept me glued to the screen.
While this isn’t Bogart or Foran’s best picture or performance, it really goes to show that both men were definitely capable of something greater. Luckily, for us, both men would have busy careers, especially in the noir style of the ’40s and ’50s.
Black Legion is certainly worth a watch. While most movie sites don’t list this as a thriller, it definitely is… and a pretty effective one from start to finish.
Rating: 7.75/10 Pairs well with: other Bogart films before he became a big star: High Sierra, They Drive by Night and Crime School.
Also known as: The Masses (working title) Release Date: February 5th, 1936 (Rivoli Theatre, New York City premiere) Directed by: Charlie Chaplin Written by: Charlie Chaplin Music by: Charlie Chaplin Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford, Chester Conklin
United Artists, 87 Minutes
“[from the Telescreen in the restroom to the factory worker] Hey! Quit stalling, get back to work! Go on!” – President of the Electro Steel Corp.
I’m going to start this by saying that Modern Times is one of my two favorite Charlie Chaplin films. The other is City Lights and it’s hard to put one of these over the other. But this may have a bit of an edge, as I think the factory worker sequences are Chaplin’s best.
This film covers a lot of ground, narratively speaking, for something that’s less than 90 minutes. But in the time that this came out, it’s much longer than most of the Chaplin films before it.
It starts with the Tramp character working in a factory, as the film rolls on, we see him start to break down and eventually go a bit crazy. He’s institutionalized, gets cured and then hits the streets trying to rebuild his life. Along the way, he meets Paulette Goodard’s Ellen, a bit of a troublemaker but her shenanigans are because she’s trying to feed her hungry siblings.
A romance develops and the chemistry between Chaplin and Goddard is pretty natural but maybe we were seeing them actually fall in love, as the two were married for a few years after this picture.
Chaplin really does give one of his best performances here and the stunts were some of the most creative and impressive. While it seems to be going for more of a straight comedy route with the gags than trying to wow us with Chaplin’s resilient physicality, it doesn’t feel like that stuff is lacking. And his routines here are still impressive.
For instance, the balcony roller skating scene is more nerve wracking than physically impressive. But stuff like this isn’t less effective or more effective than Chaplin’s more physical slapstick. I guess that he proved that he didn’t need to beat himself up to still get audiences to love him. Plus, by 1936, that stuff may have been taking a real toll on his body.
Modern Times is a sweet movie that features one of the most beloved film characters of all-time. What’s not to love? This is one of Chaplin’s greatest films and for good reason.
Rating: 10/10 Pairs well with: Chaplin’s greatest works: City Lights, The Great Dictator and A King In New York.