best film: Love Me Tonight by Mamoulian. It’s a storytelling innovator for sure (introducing singing in the middle of a scene—not just “performance” musical like The Jazz Singer) and first musical masterpiece. But, it’s no stodgy “first” film that’s appreciated by scholars for simply for being the pioneering film– the first to make an attempt at a new mode/genre. It’s well-executed, smart, directed with pace and solid affection towards the audience. It’s extremely accessible film,too with a winning performance by Maurice Chevalier.
most underrated: Island of Lost Souls from Erie Kenton. It sits at #1524 on the TSPDT expanded consensus list and I’d easily find a spot for it in my top 1000.
- There are three features that probably make this a top 5 of the year quality film. The performance are great- both Laughton in lead and a few key scenes by Legosi (mostly vocal work because there’s no mistaking that voice)—excellent. The narrative, plucked from the novel by HG Wells- it’s remarkable— and we have the photography by Karl Strauss. Strauss was the DP for Sunrise
- Haunting tale and character. Laughton’s arrogance is perfect for this character with the god complex. He wants someone to see his brilliance which also makes part of the narrative credible. I think it has influence on many films including Jurassic Park with the Richard Attenborough character in all white
- Jungle foliage abound makes for a very nice mise-en-scene—you can almost feel the sweat
- Reoccuring use of stunningly photographed close-ups at several key points. Showing the abominations of surgery on the animals, hands, and faces. There’s a few of Legosi and one of Laughton looking directly into the camera
- Film was banned in the UK
- From Universal—very chilling- which an artistically rich period for that studio
- “house of pain” and “the law” became terms in the public lexicon because of the film and book. Again, this is superior film narrative
- A devastating close up montage of monsters walking up to the camera in the climax
- Pitch perfect “don’t look back” finale with island on fire.
- Must-See film- top 5 of the year quality
most overrated: I Was Born, But… from Ozu. I admire the film- but Ozu’s big stylistic breakthrough is the following year in A Story of Floating Weeds. This one here in 1933 is incorrectly cited often (in the TSPDT consensus top 500) as one of Ozu’s best and one of 1933’s best.
- Not sure of the influence level (no idea if Ozu could have or did see these) but has something in common with for sure with Buster Keaton’s work in the 1920’s and the Little Rascals or “Our Gang” shorts—use of deadpan by the child actors (amazing work) and certainly the youngsters running around and getting into trouble from the shorts
- trademark matching sweaters and hats from the two boys helps that comedy
- Playful and light—especially for first hour of 90 minute running time
- Parallels the lives of adults and kids just like 1931’s Tokyo Chorus– first archiveable film. Ozu is great at giving you equal perspectives. The low sitting camera height, which he’d become known for, is apparently here capturing kids in the full frame and just waists of adults—long before Spielberg in E.T.
- Maybe 10 tracking shots showing kids in a row at school and another one of adults in a row at work
- Lots of great comic gags and kids with their deadpan and often the two move in unison
- 60 minutes in the film takes a turn as they become disillusioned by seeing their father playing up the role of comedian in front of his boss- being a prankster. It’s a great blend of broad comedy and the realism and family drama
- Touching line from father as the boys sleep “don’t become miserable apple polishers like me boys”- cuts through you
- Often called the Japanese 400 blows (17 years before of course)– but this is a comparison of subject matter (youth stirring up trouble)- not cinema style
gem I want to spotlight: The Mummy by Karl Freund. Is one but there are plenty to choose from. You can watch Cukor’s first A Star Is Born (if you want to study them all) in What Price Hollywood? Or catch Howard Hawks’ brilliant Scarface—both to see it with the De Palma remake from 1983 or count the “X’s” on the dead in the mise-en-scene like Scorsese’s The Departed.
- Freund, the director here, was a top-tier DP during the era- he shot many of Murnau’s films. He shot Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. An Austrian cinematographer
- There was a real exploration of King Tut that made this story relevant at the time
- Big follow up to universal and Karloff’s Frankenstein in 1931
- There are narrative shortcomings—“here (eager young explorer)—stay here and watch this casket we just found while we go outside and discuss this possible curse”
- Karloff’s screen presence and otherworldyness should not be discounted as a gimmick- he’s a great watch
- The story is the Dracula story—Edward Van Sloan plays the exact same character- Van Helsing in Dracula and here he’s Doctor Muller—he’s better here
- The rest of the cast after Karloff is not amazing—lots of pauses and staleness
- Great flashback origin montage sequence.
- Overall fascinating narrative
- My favorite shot is a dazzling close-up of Karloff with artificial eyes. Superb look and makeup—they go back to the same shot often
trends and notables: It is a weak year on top (M from 1931 would be the runaway#1 film here) but again we have really solid film like The Mummy that can’t find a spot in the top 10. Love Me Tonight is an important film for the advancement of sound and the musical genre. We have the last archiveable film from von Stroheim as a director (he’d act for decades more). We have Dreyer’s first film since The Passion of Joan of Arc. This is four years removed- and he wouldn’t make another film until 1943. Long before Kubrick or Tarkovsky—it was an event when Dreyer released a film. We should pause for the run Universal’s genre film (The Mummy and Island of Lost Souls) and note Grand Hotel as a film that helps set the ensemble film archetype. You also really have to applaud von Sternberg and Lubitsch on their run. They’re two of several that have multiple archiveable films in 1932. This is Lubitsch’s fifth archiveable film in six years and for von Sternberg it is seven in six years. This is the first archiveable film for Ophuls and George Cukor (two actually- A Bill of Divorcement and What Price Hollywood?). It is fitting that Katharine Hepburn’s first archiveable film is with Cukor (A Bill of Divorcement). Other great actors with their first archiveable film in 1932 include Cary Grant (as the bait for Dietrich in Blonde Venus), Paul Muni (a huge year, in both Scarface and I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang) and Charles Laughton (a whopping three archiveable films including Island of Lost Souls, If I Had a Million, and The Old Dark House)
best performance male: It is a three horse race here in this category with Paul Muni, Charles Laughton and Maurice Chevalier all doing impeccable work in 1932.
best performance female: Both Miriam Hopkins in Trouble in Paradise and Jeanette MacDonald in Love Me Tonight deserve mention here in this category for their work.
- Love Me Tonight
- Trouble in Paradise
- Island of Lost Souls
- I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang
- Shanghai Express
- Grand Hotel
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Bill Of Divorcement- Cukor|
|A Farewell To Arms- Borzage||HR|
|Blonde Venus- von Sternberg||R|
|Boudu Saved From Drowning– Renoir||HR|
|Grand Hotel- Goulding||HR|
|Horse Feathers– McLeod||R/HR|
|I Was Born, But…- Ozu||R/HR|
|If I Had a Million|
|I’m a Fugitive From a Chain Gang- LeRoy||HR|
|Island of Lost Souls– Kenton||MS|
|Love Me Tonight- Mamoulian||MP|
|One Hour With You- Lubitsch||R|
|Queen Kelly- von Stroheim||R|
|Red Dust- Fleming||R|
|Shanghai Express- von Sternberg||HR|
|The Beast of the City– Brabin||R|
|The Most Dangerous Game- Pichel, Schoedsack||R|
|The Mummy– Freund||R|
|The Old Dark House- Whale||R|
|Trouble In Paradise- Lubitsch||MS|
|What Price Hollywood? – Cukor||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives