Is it just me that is mad at the Oscars this year? Am I being unreasonable towards this ageless event? But you would think that after the show announced the exciting prospect of the upcoming 290,000 square foot Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, due to open in L.A. in 2016, that they’d pick as their theme this year not the dusty and tired ode to “Heroes” but that amazing movie making year “1939.” It’s 75 years since 1939 was about and so it’s fairly safe to say that many of the films made then are celebrating their 75th year right now. No doubt the studios are gearing up for special Blu-ray DVD releases as I write, so why oh, why did they honor only one film from that year, “The Wizard of Oz” and ignore the others? Answers on a postcard, pleaseeeee! 1939 was the year Hollywood finally got everything right, where it finally clicked into place with all the departments it takes to run the show.
Lighting, camera work, scripts, subject matter, production, directing and actors all gelled as none had done before. And the list of films from this golden 12 month period are immense and still stand the test of time and still get quoted. In fact three of them are in the Top 30 American Film Institute's Top 100 list; Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (26); The Wizard of Oz (10) and Gone With The Wind (6). Other examples from that year include John Ford’s Stagecoach (the film that made John Wayne); Goodbye Mr. Chips (a poignant story of recall); Wuthering Heights (Laurence Olivier’s dark, dramatic debut in America); Dark Victory (a heartbreaker about illness); Ninotchka (in which the normally sultry Garbo, LAUGHS); Destry Rides Again (one of the greatest Westerns ever); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (with Charles Laughton’s gruesome but touching performance); The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone’s first outing as the sleuth); Son of Frankenstein (with haunting portrayals by Karloff and Lugosi and a set design of Expressionistic brilliance); Tower of London (a bizarre and thuggish picture of 15th century England) and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (a regal costume drama with Bette Davis and Errol Flynn).
There are more films and I apologize to them for not being able to fit them in but they know they belong to an exclusive group. 1939 wasn’t just an amazing year for films, it was also the year pivotal in bringing in the 1940s, arguably the greatest decade of filmmaking. For me, there isn’t one genre that I grow tired of from these ten glorious years, be it romances, tearjerkers, musicals, Westerns, period dramas, horror, Sci-Fi, crime and comedies. My mind boggles at the thought that a year on from 1939, Hollywood let loose on the world Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and Hitchcock’s Rebecca. We should be so grateful. Hooray for Old Hollywood and let us not forget it like the new Hollywood shamefully did last weekend.