best film: The Scarlet Empress from von Sternberg. Along with The Blue Angel and Morocco– this gives von Sternberg three masterpieces in five years.
most underrated: A Story of Floating Weeds from Ozu
- It’s far from his first film, and he’s had stronger narratives/characters before and more laughs before- but for me this is the beginning of Ozu as a high-level auteur with his use of editing—specifically cutaways to nature, trains, flags, clothes on laundry, etc—also known to cinema and Ozu-admirers as “pillow shots”
- Woven cloth background for his credit titles- uses throughout career
- Unlike most of his work prior this is a larger ensemble- you’re 3-4 minutes and there’s not forced attachment to any one character (or more appropriately you are connected to 5-6)—lots of cutaways to the town scenery
- Backstage drama- lots of prep montages for a theater show
- Slice of life drama—really it’s melodrama
- Ozu is clearly in love with these characters and it’s very infectious
- There’s a rhythm in the editing of the father and son fishing- quite beautiful
- Tracking shot, later than usual for him to introduce it, of the crowd at the show
- A story of a visiting acting trope and the town and people on both sides
- It’s a comedy—charming—it rains during the show and the trope puts out pots and pans—montage of rain is really well done
- Soapy in some narrative spots—the plot takes over in the ladder third and Ozu forgets the cutaways for the most part— which is a shame because there are spots of brilliance here and it’s a true breakthrough (for me and Ozu)- shots of a bicycle (like 5 times), laundry blowing, clocks, it’s rhythmic, formally perfect and quite beautiful
- Nostalgic in tone
- Open ending—final train shot cutaway
most overrated: It’s A Gift – the W.C. Fields vehicle. It is a fine little film- but not worthy of the top 1000 which is where the TSPDT consensus has it at #832.
gem I want to spotlight: The Black Cat from Ulmer
- Great film for multiple reasons: Yes, we have Bela Legosi and Boris Karloff going head to head but to the more seasoned admirer of cinema we have Ulmer’s expressionist work with shadows and set design
- Universal vehicle after Dracula and Frankenstein
- The Edgar Allen Poe story has nothing to do with the film
- Legosi’s mannerisms are very strong—it’s a performances that walks the line of effective over-the-top-ness and campy—I think it’s the former
- Ulmer shows what he’d do 11 years later in Detour/noir- we have constant rain and shadows here
- The Karloff cult here in Austria hints at Nazism
- Great use of lighting- the bed Karloff gets up in—lots of wonderful shadow work
- All atmosphere- the narrative isn’t brilliant- we have some bad pauses and an overall weak cast outside of the two dynamic leads—Ulmer makes up for it with ominous house and architecture
- It’s pretty cool to see the two leads together like this- even if it’s not Pacino and De Niro in Heat or Stewart and Wayne in Liberty Valance (or really Fonda and Wayne in Fort Apache)
- Tremendous set piece—the spiral staircase in the basement
- There’s a good tracking shot right after through the basement as well
- An awful wide edit to signify day change half way through
- The musical cues are not always on and solid
- Occult, uniform and symbolism
trends and notables:
- 1934 is the birth of screwball comedy- both It Happened One Night from Capra and Twentieth Century from Haws. Rapid-fire dialogue, brisk editing, creatively dancing around the stricter Hays’ code 1934 censors with innuendo
- The both the summit of his career and the tragic death of Jean Vigo – auteur of L’Atalante passes away at age 29 with just one feature film
- I mention it above but Ozu finding his signature pillow shot editing style is key—one of cinema’s greatest single artists sort of finding his rhythm feels like a landmark
- Busby Berkeley (archiveable debut as director with Dames) graduates from choreographer (with three top 10 films in 1933) to co-director – a great stretch run for him
- Our first Fred Astaire (his first) and Ginger Rogers (she’s been in some of these Berkeley archiveable films) in The Gay Divorcee
- Edgar G. Ulmer’s archiveable debut with The Black Cat
- You can’t make a film apparently without either William Powell or Dick Powell (unlike the Barrymores – who are also everywhere- these two aren’t related)- six combined archiveable films in 1933 and 1934 for the Powell’s
- Solid year for director and Hollywood journeyman W.S. Van Dyke with two top 10 films (Thin Man and Manhattan Melodrama)
best performance male: Clark Gable gives the best male performance of the year in It Happened One Night. He’s mesmerizing on screen and the perfect vehicle for the sharp dialogue and swift pace. Michel Simon, in support in L’Atalante, steals every scene he’s in. And Boris Karloff deserves recognition (he’ll get it here and not for the Frankenstein films or Hawks’ collaborations). He’s strong in two top 10 films: The Black Cat and The Lost Patrol.
best performance female: Claudette Colbert is every bit Gable’s equal in It Happened One Night and has no peer as far as female performances in 1934. Dietrich is imminently watchable and is lucky enough to be working with von Sternberg again in The Scarlett Empress and Dita Parlo is quite spectacular in L’Atalante.
- The Scarlet Empress
- It Happened One Night
- A Story of Floating Weeds
- The Thin Man
- The Black Cat
- Manhattan Melodrama
- The Lost Patrol
- Twentieth Century
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Story of Floating Weeds– Ozu||MS|
|Dames – Berkeley, Enright||HR/MS|
|Imitation of Life- Stahl||R|
|It Happened One Night- Capra||MS/MP|
|It’s a Gift- Fields- McLeod||R|
|Judge Priest– Ford||R/HR|
|Manhattan Melodrama- Van Dyke||HR|
|Of Human Bondage- Cromwell||R|
|Our Daily Bread- K. Vidor||R|
|The Black Cat– Ulmer||HR|
|The Gay Divorcee- Sandrich|
|The Lost Patrol- Ford||R/HR|
|The Merry Widow- Lubitsch||R|
|The Scarlet Empress- von Sternberg||MP|
|The Scarlet Pimpernel- Harold Young||R|
|The Thin Man- Van Dyke||HR|
|Treasure Island- Fleming||R|
|Twentieth Century- Hawks||R/HR|
|Viva Villa!- Conway||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
Hey drake. You say that the thin man is engrossing.
Please can you give me a list a lot of movies that can be considered amongst the most incredibly engrossing and entertaining black and white films ever made.
If possible I wouldn’t mind a few coloured films recommendations too.
All readers of the blog can give their suggestions.
I too am looking for entertaining B and W film recommendations. Sunset Blvd is great. I would really like some recommendations too.
I’m sorry i can’t help you @Azman, i haven’t seen the thin man, so i don’t know similar movies, i just answerso that your comment is not lost and someone else can help you.
@Oz Sunset Boulevard is very entertaining.
@Aldo, it does not have to be similar to thin man. I am looking for suggestions for entertaining (fun to watch enjoyable) black and white films.
I really don’t think I can help you anyway I have hardly seen many movies from the 30s and 40s.
Double Indemnity, Bringing up baby, the Philadelphia Story you have probably already seen them, i’m sorry, they are the entertaining ones that i remember, of the few that i have seen
What about the 50s and 60s??
This page is quite different from how i remembered it, although what would be the position of L’Atalante in your top, an estimate in what range would you put it? (1-100, 101-200) Shouldn’t it continue to be the most overrated?, since according to TSPDT it is movie # 18
I also noticed that you dropped It Happened One Night
@Aldo- well I would think It’s a Gift is at least 1000 slots higher than it should be. Surely that is far greater than the difference between the consensus and I on L’Atalante at this point
Does Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times and Clark Gable in It Happened One Night make your top 10 male performances of the 1930s?
Have you seen Hitchcock’s original The Man Who Knew Too Much?
Hitch himself has said that he was more impressed with the 1956 James Stewart version.
I only have seen the 1934 version with Peter Lorre once but am thinking of revisting sometime
@James Trapp- I have. I didn’t think it was bad at all- probably should see it again and archive it- but at the time I didn’t see the point in having both films in the archives with the 1956 version being superior.