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
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
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.
- 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.
best performance male: I don’t think you can leave out any of the big trio in La Grande Illusion. Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay 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
- Le Grande Illusion
- You Only Live Once
- Stella Dallas
- Captains Courageous
- Lost Horizon
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
- Pépé le Moko
- Dead End
- The Hurricane
- Young and Innocent
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
Mostly, I agree with you Drake but this time I’m gonna have to strongly disagree with you. I was trying to avoid ‘make way for tomorrow’ since you only have it as a recommended. Its a masterpiece. There’s a reason critics love it so much.
Roger Ebert :”It’s said this film inspired Yasujiro Ozu’s “Toyko Story,” the only film that ever made my students cry. This one might do the same. Entertainment is about the way things should be. Art is about the way they are.”
Orson Welles: “[Make way for tomorrow is the saddest movie ever made”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=At9IuaKcO78
Ken Hanke:” All of this leads to an ending that is not just the most moving thing McCarey ever fashioned, but may just be the moving thing anyone ever committed to film.”
Chris Long: “The most convincing love story ever put on screen”
I consider this part of a black-and-white aging tetra-logy along with Ikiru, Tokyo Story and Umberto D
“I want to thank you for the Oscar but you gave it to me for the wrong picture”- Leo McCarey when he won his Oscar for the AWful Truth for best director
@Azman — thanks for the comment here. So– I will actually be going back shortly and watching or rewatching all available Leo McCarey movies. I have a few ways that I select what I watch next and one of them is going to TSPDT and picking a random film, director, etc— well McCarey recently came up so after I finish Resnais I’ll be trying to watch of his old works including “Make Way For Tomorrow”
Great?. Let me know about you thoughts after rewatching the film !.
Since everything is closed right now and i am self isolating and I have nothing to do all day at home, I was planning on watching a long film. I see that you recommend Heat very highly. I’ll watch it but hopefully it is good since it’s very long.
@Azman– will do. Yeah- I haven’t been the to theater in awhile already and now it’s closed so I too am locked indoors watching as much as I can (juggling work and kids as well). Heat is —- ahhh– so brilliant. Look forward to hearing what you think.
You seem to watch a lot of old movies! What theatre do you go to that releases all these old movies? The only old movie that released near me in cineplex was jaws (loved it in cinemas) and 2001:A space odyssey(best movie experience of my life). Do you prefer watching movies at home or in theaters?tbh watching it at home has many positives. Like watching in the comfort and silence of your home food. I’m also a huge soccer fan. I never miss a game. But because all sports and cinemas are closed, I have no choice but to watch stupid shows on netflix.
@ Azman… I got to the theater about 75-100 times a year- so 1.5-2 times per week normally. How about you? Most of the old movies I see are home on HBO, Netflix, Amazon, Criterion, etc… I’ve seen a few old ones here and there in theater but it’s tough here. I like both- theater and home. Theater big screen and sound can’t be beat— but I am a person who enjoys being home, pausing movies, and I like to take notes.
I dont go to the theatre that often. I may even prefer watching movies at home!(though I obviously like the cinema too). As you mentioned at home you can watch and take notes. Also, you can sit closer and listen to the dialogue better. You are comfortable in your sofa and you can eat what you want. For dramatic movies like Tokyo Story, I may prefer watching the movie at home. For visual, epic, grand stories like 2001, I may prefer the theatre
Speaking of heat, what makes it so “brilliant”? What is so strong about it? The story? The acting? The direction? You mention that its told in an operatic go fo broke style. What does that even mean?
@Azman– I don’t want to spoil anything but Yes, Yes and Yes to the story, acting, and direction. The operatic style is that everything is heightened, big mood (set by Mann’s brand of visuals), big set pieces, big drama, big action…
There is one word missing in the best female performance section.Sylvia Sidney was in You Only Live Once not you only live.”once”is missing
@Anderson – thanks. fixed
Great page, i had the pleasure of seeing this page before you updated it, here are some questions, Did you see Make Way For Tomorrow again before updating the page or did you not have a chance? if that is still overrated
What made you drop Grant from the top spot?
@Aldo- yeah- I’ve been able to catch many 1937 movies since I did this page originally in 2017 so there is quite a bit of movement. I’ll put in the hyperlinks for those here now. I have seen Make Way for Tomorrow and The Awful Truth pretty recently
You said on your Gabin page that there are long sequences with Dalio and von Stroheim in Grand Illusion- that led me to believe that you maybe switched Dalio for Fresnay, because there are no very long sequences with him, also Fresnay gives a much better performance (3rd best in my opinion). Is that miss on my end, or I just haven’t seen what makes Dalio’s performance worthy of such high praise?
@RujK- probably a good catch here. I may have switched the two. Thank you