best film:  Le Grande Illusion from Renoir

  • It is an intelligent prison film and drama—the most common words used by critics heaping praise on it are “humanist”, ”anti-war” and “graceful”. Graceful is the only one that refers to style- putting it candidly it’s a masterpiece because of Renoir’s tracking shots
  • I’m stealing from Ebert here- he says “the camera doesn’t point or intrude—it glides” https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-grand-illusion-1937
  • Behind the intelligence in the narrative, the great acting by Gabin, Dalio and von Stroheim, there is some great parallel editing, especially in the beginning, mirroring the mise-en-scene of the French with the German (poster slogans, posters of women) to show how alike they are
  • A brilliant shot framed in window and then Renoir pulls back to resume action- this is certainly a Renoir stylistic trademark

Renoir was known for his gliding camera- and rightly so- but images like this require an eye for the frame as well

A brilliant shot framed in window and then Renoir pulls back to resume action- this is certainly a Renoir stylistic trademark

most underrated:   Captains Courageous from Victor Fleming

It combines some strong Kipling, some of the best of Spencer Tracy (for which he would win an Oscar) surrounded by an incredible ensemble including Mickey Rooney, Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, Freddie Bartholomew, John Carradine- and of course the young Freddie Bartholomew at lead. I think this pretty easily falls into the top 1000 films of all-time— and the TSPDT consensus can’t find room for it in the top 2000.

most overrated:  Make Way for Tomorrow by Leo McCarey. The TSPDT consensus has it at #297- which again- is masterpiece territory and this film simply isn’t that. It is moving, and emotional, but far from being cinematically impressive—it doesn’t compare artistically with the best films of 1937.

 

gem I want to spotlight:  Dead End from Wyler

  • The film is an early one for Bogart, and he’s good in it, but it is a top 10 of the year quality film based on the strength of Wyler’s direction
  • It’s so weird to see Bogart get third billing- he’s behind Sylvia Sidney and Joel McCrea here
  • Gregg Toland work as DP- he’s just sensational- not enough is made of his work with Wyler- this is his 2nd of 6 Oscar noms- he died way too young at age 44
  • Bogey is playing his typical 1930’s era heavy before High Sierra and Maltese Falcon really which changed all that
  • Depression era strikes and people hard on their luck
  • Narrative issues with the sometimes incessant dead end kids
  • 6-8 amazing mise-en-scene showpiece shots—real depth of field artistic beauty and deep focus work
  • The film turns nasty in the finale with the shooting
  • The three leads are very good
  • “Baby Face” Martin is Bogey’s name- clearly a riff on Nelson
  • Bogart is superb- he’s great in a scene where he’s crushed inside by both his mother and his old girl not being what he had hoped for or remembered- these are strong scenes
  • Of course Ward Bond plays the doorman and is great with his 5 lines
  • The opening is very strong- it starts with an establishing shot of the city and then we get long dueling establishing shots that morph into miniatures showing a slum set against a nice mansion set against a larger city- it really tells a silent story that is very strong off the bad— a few of the 6-8 great segments I mention above that have Wyler’s trademark all over it are poor kids playing in the foreground with the mansion in the background

6-8 amazing mise-en-scene showpiece shots—real depth of field artistic beauty and deep focus work

Gregg Toland work as DP- he’s just sensational- not enough is made of his work with Wyler- this is his 2nd of 6 Oscar noms- he died way too young at age 44

The film is an early one for Bogart, and he’s good in it, but it is a top 10 of the year quality film based on the strength of Wyler’s direction

trends and notables:

  • Renoir is the best director on the planet at this point—I think you could make an argument for Chaplin putting together two masterpieces in his last two efforts (1931 and 1936), Lang (another fine showing in 1937), and maybe von Sternberg still—but this is Renoir’s fourth must-see or masterpiece since the beginning of the decade. His movement of the camera here is as good as cinema has seen at this point
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is both a magnificent film and an animation landmark. Disney would do better (Pinocchio surpasses it just a few years later) but still- certainly one of the big noteworthy cinematic events in 1937.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is both a magnificent film and an animation landmark

  • Between Wyler’s deep focus photography work here in 1937 and Mizoguchi the year before- it is clear that there is never just one film to credit for a movement or style (like Citizen Kane—and I’m not taking anything away from that all-time top 10 masterpiece)
  • What’s sort of interesting is to see how long (not so much the years but the amount of films) it took both Hitchcock and Ford to develop into top all-time directors. They’ve both been working more than a decade at this point and don’t have a masterpiece under their belt yet. It isn’t just the decade of time- I mean at this point, in this era they’ve made plenty of films. They are still working here and doing solid work but hadn’t fully become the great 20thcentury artists they eventually would.
  • Unless I’m missing some this is a weaker year for archiveable debuts for directors and stars— the big one is the young Judy Garland at age 15 in Broadway Melody of 1938 (in 1937 of course)- we’re two years away from Garland’s big year in The Wizard of Oz.

with all due respect to Renoir’s masterpiece, the greatest shot in 1937 is from Lang’s You Only Live Once

whether in Germany or in Hollywood- Fritz Lang is one of the greatest auteurs of the 1930’s

a jaw-dropper here- Lang’s work is a precursor to every lovers on the run film from Bonnie and Clyde to Gun Crazy to Badlands

best performance male:   I don’t think you can leave out any of the big trio in La Grande Illusion. Jean Gabin, Marcel Dalio and Erich von Stroheim all impress in front of the camera. Henry Fonda has to be mentioned for his work in Lang’s utterly depressing Bonnie and Clyde pre-curser You Only Live Once. I have to stray off my top 10 of the year but 1937 is really where Cary Grant becomes the unbelievably talented comedian Cary Grant—and not just the handsome face (he essentially plays playboys and arm candy to female leads prior to this)– in The Awful Truth.

 

best performance female:  Barbara Stanwyck gives the best female performance of the year in Stella Dallas. The shot of her outside of the window is one of her great moments on screen. Sylvia Sidney has a big year with two top 10 films included Dead End– but she’s here because of her work alongside Fonda in You Only Live Once

Stanwyck takes your heart away here in the King Vidor melodrama Stella Dallas

 

top 10

  1. Le Grande Illusion
  2. You Only Live Once
  3. Stella Dallas
  4. Captains Courageous
  5. Lost Horizon
  6. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  7. Pépé le Moko
  8. Dead End
  9. The Hurricane
  10. Young and Innocent

Hitchcock’s floating crane shot here in Young and Innocent is an astonishing rough draft for his big stairwell crane shot in Notorious

a extraordinary composition in Capra’s Lost Horizon

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Day At the Races – S. Wood R
A Star Is Born – Wellman R
Broadway Melody of 1938 – Del Ruth R
Captains Courageous- Fleming HR/MS
Dead End – Wyler HR
King Solomon’s Mines- Stevenson, Barkus R
La Grande Illusion – Renoir MP
The Life of Emile Zola- Dieterle
Lost Horizon- Capra HR/MS
Make Way For Tomorrow – McCarey R/HR
Night Must Fall- Thorpe R
Nothing Sacred– Wellman R
Pépé le Moko- Duvivier HR
Shall We Dance- Sandrich R
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Hand HR
Stage Door- La Cava R
Stella Dallas- Vidor HR/MS
The Awful Truth – McCarey HR
The Good Earth- Franklin R
The Hurricane- Ford HR
The Prisoner of Zenda- Cromwell R
They Won’t Forget- Leroy R
Topper – McLeod R
Wee Willie Winkie- Ford R
You Only Live Once- Lang MS
Young and Innocent- Hitchcock HR

 

 

*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