Seventy-five years ago, Scarlett O’Hara vowed never to go hungry again, Dorothy and Toto followed the Yellow Brick Road, Garbo laughed (onscreen) and Mr. Smith went to Washington. This is the diamond anniversary of what many consider to be Hollywood’s greatest year: 1939. Just a casual glance at the Class of 1939 yearbook can’t help but evoke the classic fogie lament: They really don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”
Produced under the auspices of the Hollywood studio system, the films of 1939 are an embarrassment of riches, a lightning in a bottle confluence of prestige projects that afforded legendary actors indelible roles that they made iconic.
Just a casual glance at the Class of 1939 finds among its ranks some of the most beloved and enduring films of all time. The year’s valedictorians are “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz, both of which rank among the top 10 in the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest films.
Both, too, are enshrined in the National Film Registry, along with an unprecedented 16 other of their 1939 classmates deemed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films.”
These include: “Destry Rides Again”; “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”; “Ninotcka”; “Stagecoach”; “The Women” and “Wuthering Heights.”
It was the height of Hollywood’s Golden Age, truly a bygone era. Movies were the entertainment option of choice, twice a week, for an estimated 70 million people. To be sure, they weren’t all classics. “At the Circus,” to name one, was a far cry from the Marx Brothers’ best.
We are half way through 2014, and Hollywood will have to rally pretty hard to have any kind of a shot at “greatest year” contention. But thanks to home video, Netflix, Amazon and the like, thus far disappointed moviegoers can put together an impressive festival of 1939 alternatives.
Instead of “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” watch “Destry Rides Again”
Instead of “Maleficent” (or "Legend of Oz: Dorothy's Return" watch “The Wizard of Oz.”
Instead of “The Other Woman” watch “The Women.”
Instead of “300: Rise of an Empire” watch “Gunga Din”
Instead of “Muppets Most Wanted” watch “Babes in Arms”
Instead of “A Haunted House 2” watch Bob Hope in “The Cat and the Canary”
Instead of “I, Frankenstein,” watch “Son of Frankenstein” with Karloff and Lugosi
Instead of “The Nut Job” watch the Fleischers’ “Gulliver’s Travels”
Instead of “Endless Love” watch “Love Affair” (the inspiration for “An Affair to Remember” and “Sleepless in Seattle”)
Instead of “Blended” watch….anything. Anything would be preferable to “Blended.”