best film: King Kong. It is a weaker year at the top- I’ll get to it in the overrated section but there is no masterpiece in 1933. Still, King Kong is not a film to be missed—essential and entertaining.
most underrated: Footlight Parade is the most underrated film of 1933. It can’t find a spot in the top 2000 according to the TSPDT consensus. I’ll get to it more it more in the trends section below but it is one of a trio of films from 1933 that Busby Berkeley had his hands on. Both of the others (42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 33’ are on the TSPDT consensus top 2000 list- there’s no reason this one shouldn’t be on as well.
most overrated: Unfortunately there is plenty to choose from. Duck Soup, King Kong and Zero for Conduct are in the TSPDT top 250- that’s masterpiece territory, and in reality– they’re not on that level. I love the film, but with Duck Soup highest on the TSPDT list- and the weakest of the three on mine, it is the most overrated. It doesn’t give me any great pleasure to say it—there are just far superior films out there.
- Rat-a-tat zaniness – bat$hit crazy for its entire 69-minute running time. Unlike lesser Marx Brothers films there’s no pretense made here about a straight story or love story- every sketch is fire, going for broke for laughs and acidic political flame-throwing (the sheer anarchy of it all- and the comparisons, 31 years before, to Kubrick’s Strangelove)
- Breaking into song, the careful and uproarious repetition of gags
- Margaret Dumont is the perfect foil and sparring partner for Groucho
- It’s impossible to pick the best sketch, the mirror sketch is brilliant, the one where Harpo meets a girl on a horse then they cut to her shoes, his shoes and the horses shoes—haha, the “To War” song sequence may top it though – the extras, the banjo, ingenious and wild—the inspiration for living for Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters
- An unmitigated triumph of joke-writing and comedic performances
- Harpo chasing women, putting his leg in others hands, cutting cigars and hot dogs, haha
- Post-World War I nihilism. “run out and buy some trenches”, gas attack jokes, cutting the tops off the ridiculously designed helmets.
- The right choice for the playful wipe edits for McCarey
- A Highly-Recommend Must-See film—there’s a distinction here between the best work of the Marx Brothers (who were brilliant in front of the camera) and say Buster Keaton who was a genius in front of and, yes, more importantly, behind the camera. I do believe that Leo McCarey is the best director the Marx Brothers ever worked with and it is probably no coincidence this is the best movie they made—but I never leave Duck Soup (and I’ve seen it 10 times) impressed with McCarey or, if I’m watching it in 1933 dying to see what he does next.
gem I want to spotlight: Little Women from George Cukor
- With Greta Gerwig’s superb recent version- this is a fun one to go back to and revisit
- It is the Katharine Hepburn show from the very beginning- her name is above the title which is striking and she’s is getting the bulk attention from Cukor’s camera in every big emotional scene. This may sound like criticism but it only if it doesn’t work—and Hepburn is phenomenal here.
- She has Jo’s energy, spark and brings her athleticism to the role. She’s a tomboy who sounds “Christopher Columbus” and “I like good strong words that mean something”. It’s a tour-de-force—when Beth is sick we get a close-up of Hepburn. One of the two best shots in the film is the family in the deep background and Hepburn in the foreground.
- Cukor does solid work arranging the four sisters in the frame. One in particular is a very nice shot of the mother with her back to the camera and the four girls arranged in from—a story of femininity and coming of age with obvious strong source material
- Cukor was known not only a frequent collaborator of Hepburn’s, but as a women’s director (sometimes meant as an insult)—but I don’t see it as one. The performances are uniformly good.
trends and notables: Depression-era escapism is in full effect here with 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 33’, and Footlight Parade– light musicals that make you forget about your troubles. In a similar vein- both King Kong and Duck Soup would make the high water-mark for adventure and laughs for many critics for years to come. You have Lang, Borzage and Vigo (with a short) but this is really a down year for auteur-driven cinema. If you look at the top 10 you have three musicals from Warner Brothers in the top 10 and legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley is the greatest artist working on those films. In fact, he’s the overall big cinematic story in 1933—certainly a mark against the auteur theory (or at least the director as auteur). It is Jean Vigo’s first archiveable film with Zero for Conduct (with the jaw-dropping sequence/scene of the year with the slow-motion pillow fight below) but a quiet year here for important directors with archiveable debuts as well. The actors would fare better- plenty of firsts. Spencer Tracy would make his first archiveable films in 1933 with Man’s Castle and The Power and The Glory. He’d go on to be one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the era and win two Academy Awards in the 1930’s. Barbara Stanwyck has two archiveable films in her first big year- General Yen and Baby Face. John Wayne and Walter Brennan would show up in Baby Face as well- their first archiveable films (Brennan also in Invisible Man). Ward Bond makes his first of many archiveable films—imagine how many years of experience Bond, Wayne and Brennan would bring to the table in say Rio Bravo decades later.
best performance male: It’s a pretty lackluster year all-around for performances so it makes it pretty easy for me to pick Groucho Marx for his performance in Duck Soup. Chico and Harpo are hilarious and talented but clearly Groucho is the straw that stirs the drink and his performance as Rufus T. Firefly would go down in cinema history as one of the great comedic performances
best performance female: I hate reaching beyond the masterpieces and must-see films to acknowledge a performance but I’ll make an exception in this case for Hepburn’s combined effort Little Women (that performance being the catalyst) and Morning Glory.
- King Kong
- Zero for Conduct
- Duck Soup
- The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
- 42nd Street
- Footlight Parade
- Little Women
- Gold Diggers of 33’
- Man’s Castle
- The Invisible Man
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|42nd Street- Bacon||HR|
|Baby Face- Green||R|
|Cavalcade- Frank Lloyd||R|
|Design For Living- Lubitsch||R|
|Dinner at Eight- Cukor||R|
|Don Quixote- Pabst|
|Duck Soup– McCarey||HR/MS|
|Footlight Parade- Bacon||HR|
|Gold Diggers of 33′- Leroy||HR|
|I’m No Angel- Ruggles||R|
|King Kong – Cooper, Schoedsack||MS|
|Lady For a Day- Capra||R|
|Little Women– Cukor||HR|
|Man’s Castle– Borzage||HR|
|Morning Glory- Sherman||R|
|Night Flight – C. Brown||R|
|She Done Him Wrong- Sherman||R|
|The Bitter Tea of General Yen– Capra||R|
|The Invisible Man– Whale||R/HR|
|The Power and the Glory-Howard||R|
|The Private Life of Henry VIII- Korda||R|
|The Testament of Dr. Mabuse– Lang||HR|
|The World Changes- LeRoy||R|
|Wild Boys of the Road- Wellman||R|
|Zero For Conduct- Vigo||MS|
*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