‘1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year’

Posted by · 11:44 pm · July 2nd, 2009

Greta Garbo in NinotchkaTCM is showcasing the great productions of 1939 tonight, kicking it off a few hours ago with “The Wizard of Oz,” which followed a two-hour doc on the film.

I wish I had gotten this post up earlier so as to give you the heads up, because I just clicked through the DVR and came across the documentary “1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year,” which was presented as a world premiere amid the network’s night-long salute to the 70th anniversary of what is still considered in most circles to be the finest 12 months of cinematic output on these shores.

You know the films: “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Stagecoach,” “Ninotchka,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” “Gunga Din,” “Juarez,” “Wuthering Heights,” etc.  I really don’t think there’s ever been a more impressive line-up, and only 1999 has ever come close.  And what a year THAT was.

The film was directed by Constantine Nasr and narrated by Kenneth Branagh, featuring talking head interviews with Leonard Maltin, Thomas Schatz, F.X. Feeney and Aubrey Solomon, among others.  Clark Gable and Greta Garbo are presented as the faces of an industry really beginning to boom, while Louis Mayer is featured as the lion of his time.  Many of the films are broken down briefly from an artistic standpoint, but mostly for their place in movie history.

For those on the west coast, there’s still time to catch some of these films or set the ole’ DVR.  “Ninotcka” is on now, followed by “Babes in Arms,” “Idiot’s Delight” and “The Little Princess,” among others.  It’s a shame the big titles couldn’t be featured, but I guess the idea was to spotlight some of the less obvious titles.

And if you get a chance to check out the doc, do so.  It’s a nice primer on a great year in Hollywood’s history.

What was your favorite 1939 film?  I have to go with the obvious, personally:




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12 responses so far

  • 1 7-03-2009 at 12:35 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Two excellent years, to be sure. 1999, in fact, was what first broke me into great cinema.

    Another one I would group into the “Best Years Ever for Film” discussions is 1976. That year we got such amazing domestic product as Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Rocky, Eraserhead, Carrie, Bound for Glory, The Shootist, Marathon Man, The Bad News Bears, and Network.

  • 2 7-03-2009 at 1:39 am

    BurmaShave said...

    Don’t forget ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS.

  • 3 7-03-2009 at 4:23 am

    Bastian @ Work said...

    My most-watched ’39-piece is “Goodbye Mr. Chips”. It was definitely the greatest year for Hollywood films

    B U T

    personally i prefer 2006 as the besteverbestbest. never ever did i stumble from one great film experience to the next.

  • 4 7-03-2009 at 5:09 am

    Nudgoo said...

    I’m quite fond of 1993, but yes, 1939 was tres good.

  • 5 7-03-2009 at 6:08 am

    Dominik said...

    I´m totally crazy about those fabulous old b/w-movies! Too bad I live in germany and can´t check out TCM-program.
    Those Greta Garbo-pic reminds me, how iconic those old hollywood stars have been in those times…

  • 6 7-03-2009 at 7:58 am

    Kyle Leaman said...

    I can hear the critics from 1939, “Why can’t Hollywood do anything original? Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights, Of Mice & Men, all adaptations from novels”

  • 7 7-03-2009 at 9:30 am

    Craig said...

    Don’t forget 1962 . . . . Lawrence of Arabia, Jules and Jim, The Manchurian Candidate, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lolita, Days of Wine and Roses, Dr. No, Long Day’s Journey into Night, The Miracle Worker, The Lonliness of the Long Distant Runner, L’Eclisse, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, My Life to Live, The Longest Day, Cape Fear, Ride the High Country, etc.

  • 8 7-03-2009 at 10:48 am

    Kyle Leaman said...

    For my money, even though its rather unorthodox, it doesn’t get better than 2003. The Return of the King, Finding Nemo, Lost in Translation, Mystic River, A Mighty Wind, Elephant, X2, Master & Commander, In America, Bad Santa, 28 Days Later, Monster, House of Sand and Fog, Cooler, Dirty Pretty Things, City of God. Its the best mix of blockbuster action to small drama. The Run of 2002-2004 is unrivaled in cinema history, IMO

  • 9 7-03-2009 at 11:02 am

    Kyle Leaman said...

    Also for 2003 that I left out: Capturing the Friedmans, Stevie, Spellbound, Pieces of April, Matchstick Men, Touching the Void, Thirteen.

  • 10 7-03-2009 at 7:36 pm

    Bing147 said...

    Ya, its a good year. But its very overrated. The year after it, 1940, is actually better and there are a number of other years, 1962, 1994, 1972, 1958, that I’d place right there with it or maybe even above it.

  • 11 7-03-2009 at 8:02 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***Don’t forget 1962 . . . . Lawrence of Arabia, Jules and Jim, The Manchurian Candidate, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lolita, Days of Wine and Roses, Dr. No, Long Day’s Journey into Night, The Miracle Worker, The Lonliness of the Long Distant Runner, L’Eclisse, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, My Life to Live, The Longest Day, Cape Fear, Ride the High Country, etc.***

    … Winter Light, Ivan’s Childhood.

    ***Also for 2003 that I left out: Capturing the Friedmans, Stevie, Spellbound, Pieces of April, Matchstick Men, Touching the Void, Thirteen.***

    … The Triplets of Belleville, 21 Grams.

    ***What was your favorite 1939 film?***

    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington!

  • 12 7-04-2009 at 1:04 am

    Bing147 said...

    Oh, as for my favorite of 1939, easily give me the Rules of the Game.