The Films of 1939

Beau Geste Movie PosterGone With the Wind Movie PosterHunchback of Notre Dame Movie Poster

With awards season upon us, it’s usually this time of year that old Academy Award winning favorites are televised in advance of this year’s Oscar ceremony (thanks Turner Classic Movies!).  I’ve never really been a fan of the awards presentations, and most of my favorite films were never nominated anyway, but it is nice to turn on a channel like TCM and watch an old classic again.  I look at this year’s list of Best Picture nominees and wonder if decades from now American Hustle, Gravity or The Wolf of Wall Street could ever be as revered among movie fans as Casablanca, On the Waterfront, The Godfather or Rocky.

Each decade of the last century has produced its timeless classics of cinema, but lately I’ve been reading about how 1939 is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest year for films.  Looking over the list of releases that year it’s a solid lineup, all of them classics to this day:

Gone With the Wind
The Wizard of Oz
Stagecoach
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Love Affair
Of Mice and Men
Gunga Din
Ninotchka
The Women
Stanley and Livingstone
Destry Rides Again
Beau Geste
Babes in Arms
Gulliver’s Travels
Jesse James
The Roaring Twenties
Wuthering Heights
Young Mr. Lincoln

Whether 1939 was actually the greatest year for films is an argument that I’m personally hesitant to make since 1940 had it’s own list of classics that year including The Grapes of Wrath, The Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday.

But when a lineup includes films like the epic Gone With the Wind, incredible performances in Wuthering Heights and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and a perennial family favorite like The Wizard of Oz, there’s no denying there was something special about the films of 1939.  And to commemorate the 75th anniversary of that celebrated year of moviemaking, Fante’s Inferno will revisit some of the classic films released that year in a four-part retrospective that will be posted in conjunction with the quarters in which they were released.

Part one of our retrospective will begin with several notable films released between January and March of 1939: John Ford’s classic Western Stagecoach starring John Wayne; George Stevens’ Gunga Din starring Cary Grant; and Leo McCarey’s twice remade Love Affair starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer.

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