best film:  The Blue Angel from von Sternberg. Von Sternberg is as married to mise-en-scene as Renoir or Ophuls is to camera movement or Eisenstein is to montage and editing. The Blue Angel has a simple (yet tragically haunting) narrative but the busy mise-en-scene—using set pieces to divide and design the frame– is really unparalleled. This is von Sternberg’s greatest achievement.

von Sternberg is as married to mise-en-scene as Renoir or Ophuls is to camera movement or Eisenstein is to montage and editing

most underrated:   There are three options here. Both of von Sternberg’s 1930’s masterpieces fall outside of the TSPDT top 500 and that’s shameful—incorrect— also, Hitchcock’s Murder! needs to be rediscovered at this point as well.

  • It’s hard to believe that this is Hitchcock’s tenth feature- a crime drama set in a theater (something he’d do again often in 39 steps, Stage Freight)—it’s one of the best films of 1930 and one of the best films of Hitchcock’s English period in the 30’s
  • First talking role, and a strong one, for Herbert Marhsall (The Little Foxes, The Letter)
  • The film starts with an absolute bang. The first 10 minutes of the film are on their way to being a masterpiece, we have an opening tracking shot of people coming out of windows after hearing screaming, we have the crime scene shown in prolonged actor hold, almost like a freeze frame, we have an experimental scene/shot of the camera following a woman walking back and forth as she’s making tea and a tracking shot dollying out of a prison via the bars…

from Hitchcock’s Murder! An avant-garde stylistic tour-de-force in the first 10 minutes– here we have the crime scene shown in prolonged actor hold, almost like a freeze frame

  • …and then the movie slows to a stylistic crawl and turns into a who-done-it and sort of a 12 Angry Men combination
  • There’s a flaw here with the church bells from the clock ringing while they show the clock at like 611
  • Heavy on guilt and wrongfully accused- Hitchcock auteuristic trademarks
  • How do you show a guilty man without words? Yes, acting is key but that’s not it- Hitchcock shoots the impossible to shoot
  • Big set piece finale which is another Hitchcock trademark—this one is a circus with a high trapeze
  • Great scene and editing foreshadows noose hanging
  • Highly recommend- top 10 of the ear quality but we really have two films- the avant-garde first 10 minutes are well on their way to being an all-timer and then we have a simple recommend movie for the remainder


most overrated:  Bunuel’s L’Age d’Or is #140 on the TSPDT consensus list and the #1 film for 1930. I’m a big admirer of Bunuel’s work- but not this one particularly- it is well outside of my top 500. However, I’ve only seen it once and look forward to the rewatch—I hope I’m wrong.

gem I want to spotlight:  Hell’s Angels from Howard Hughes.  The production of the film is more famous now than the actual film (brilliantly captured in Scorsese’s The Aviator).  Howard Hughes was probably the most famous man in the world (along with Chaplin and Babe Ruth maybe) the record expense budget, the endless reshooting, etc—but what gets lost is that it’s a very good film and several of the sequences are incredibly beautiful. The action sequences in general are superb but the duel sequence, in particular, is one of the best of 1930.

the gorgeous duel in Hell’s Angels– the production and Howard Hughes are what people remember most about the film now– which is a bit of a shame given the quality of the film and a shot like this here

trends and notables:  1930 is absolutely dominated by Joseph von Sternberg (and his muse Marlene Dietrich) as his two films that are #1 and #2 of the year here in 1930.  Maybe someone can correct me but I don’t remember a year when a director was competing against himself with the two best films of the year. He would probably be second only to Renoir in terms of great auteurs of the 1930’s. This is really the end of the silent era. As mentioned Hell’s Angels was reshot with sound—only Chaplin would carry the banner forward really into 1931 with City Lights and beyond (baffling to think of Modern Times coming out another 6 years later in 1936—shows just how much clout and power Chaplin had). We have the first Marx Brothers archiveable film in 1930 (no coincidence it is when sound is basically completely out and Keaton gone). Overall it is another weak year as the stock market crash and advent/adjustment to sound takes its toll. Overall, we’d still only have 11 archiveable films – the next year- 1931- we’d be at 26 and remain at 20+ archiveable films from now on.

1930 has more than one brilliant final sequence/scene- as good as this is from All Quiet on the Western Front— it can’t touch the shot/sequence below from von Sternberg’s Morocco

the best single image from Rene Clair’s Under the Roofs of Paris- a great cinematic painting

one of cinema’s great endings– Dietrich has become enslaved– and a perfect frame from von Sternberg– not dissimilar to The Searchers final shot actually

best performance male:  It is Emil Jannings by a landslide in The Blue Angel. I’d listen to arguments for The Last Laugh– but I’d give the edge to Jannings’ work here as his all-time best performance. I could change my mind with another viewing but I’m not ready to give Gary Cooper a mention here yet. For decades Cooper is given many of the best roles- and there simply aren’t many times where he makes the most of them (High Noon the obvious exception).

best performance female: Marlene Dietrich blows everybody else away in 1930- she’s the easy choice and her work in both The Blue Angel and Morocco are more than worthy of singling out.  Both films are about an unhealthy obsession and sexual desire (my god are they fantastically similar). In Morocco she plays the victim, and in The Blue Angel it is Jannings who is destroyed by his lust for Dietrich.


top 10

  1. The Blue Angel
  2. Morocco
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front
  4. Murder!
  5. Hell’s Angels
  6. Under the Roofs of Paris
  7. L’Age d’Or
  8. City Girl
  9. Animal Crackers
  10. The Big House


Archives, Directors, and Grades

All Quiet on the Western Front- Milestone MS
Animal Crackers- Heerman R
Anna Christie- C. Brown,
City Girl- Murnau R
Hell’s Angels- H. Hughes HR
L’Age d’Or- Bunuel HR
Morocco- von Sternberg MP
Murder! – Hitchcock HR
The Big House-  George W. Hill R
The Blue Angel- von Sternberg MP
Under the Roofs of Paris- Clair 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