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1939: Hollywood's Golden Year
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The Wizard of Oz

1939: Hollywood's Golden Year - Fridays in July


Often heralded as the "The Greatest Year in Movies," 1939 saw an incredible lineup of timeless film masterpieces along with a bumper crop of expertly made entertainments. Audiences embraced this bounty of movie treasures by showing up at the nation's theaters in droves. According to the L.A. Times, 365 films were released during the year and moviegoers were buying tickets at the rate of 80 million a week!

TCM salutes this incredible cinematic year with a showcase of more than 40 movies including the crown jewel of 1939 and the year's Best Picture Oscar winner, Gone With the Wind, David O. Selznick's spectacular epic of the Civil War starring Clark Gable and Oscar winner Vivien Leigh. Also screening is the year's other marvel, MGM's fantastic musical adventure The Wizard of Oz, with Judy Garland in a truly iconic performance.

Included in the tribute are two screenings of the 2009 documentary 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year, a review of the period's classics directed by Constantine Nasr, narrated by Kenneth Branagh and distributed by TCM and Warner Home Video.

Our acknowledgement of this amazing year also includes such dramas as Goodbye, Mr. Chips, with a touching performance by Robert Donat as a gentle schoolteacher, which earned him the Best Actor Oscar despite formidable competition; Young Mr. Lincoln, a study of the early life of Abraham Lincoln as played by Henry Fonda; and Only Angels Have Wings, director Howard Hawks' salute to pilots everywhere in the story of an airline head (Cary Grant) who is devoted to delivering the mail despite all hazards.

Other indelible dramas include The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a dramatization of the Victor Hugo novel with Charles Laughton in an unforgettable performance as the hunchback Quasimodo; and The Roaring Twenties, an epic crime film from director Raoul Walsh starring James Cagney as a gangster whose rise and fall are tied to Prohibition and bootlegging, with Humphrey Bogart in a supporting role as his ruthless right-hand man.

Bette Davis gets a drama category of her own with three of her films that were released in 1939. She won a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Dark Victory, directed by Edmund Goulding, in which she plays a socialite who discovers that she is dying of a brain tumor. In The Old Maid, again under the direction of Goulding, Davis plays the title character - a Civil War-era woman who has a baby out of wedlock. And in Juarez, directed by William Dieterle, Davis is cast as the wife of Maximilian I (Brian Aherne), the monarch of the Second Mexican Empire, during his 1863 political struggle with Benito Juárez (Paul Muni).

In the comedy/drama category are Love Affair, an often-remade story of shipboard romance with Charles Boyer and Oscar nominee Irene Dunne; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which brought James Stewart an Oscar nomination for his role as a newly appointed U.S. Senator fighting corruption in Washington; and Idiot's Delight, Robert E. Sherwood's screen adaptation of his play about a group of disparate travelers (including Clark Gable and Norma Shearer) who are thrown together at an Alpine hotel at the start of World War II.

Among the outright comedies is Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka, which brought an Oscar nomination to Greta Garbo for her portrayal of a strict Soviet envoy whose resistance to the West is worn down by the charms of Paris and a count played by Melvyn Douglas. The Women is George Cukor's classic film version of the Clare Booth Luce stage comedy about catty women, with a dream cast headed by Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell. It's a Wonderful World, a screwball comedy directed by W.S. Van Dyke, stars James Stewart as a detective who is suspected of being an accessory to murder and, in an effort to avoid capture, kidnaps a poetess (Claudette Colbert).

Adventure films in our collection include The Four Feathers, a much-filmed story based on the novel by A.E.W. Mason and considered to have been given its best screen treatment in the 1939 British version directed by Zoltan Korda. Set during the wars in Africa under the reign of Queen Victoria, the story concerns a young British officer (John Clements) who must redeem himself after being accused of cowardice.

The Little Princess, another adventure set during the Victorian era, is based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett and marked Shirley Temple's last major hit as a child star. She plays a girl whose life in London is disrupted when her father (Ian Hunter) is called to fight in the Second Boer War. Gunga Din, set in colonial British India and inspired by the Rudyard Kipling poem, is directed by George Stevens and features a cast that includes Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as British soldiers battling a murderous cult.

by Roger Fristoe
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