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1939: Hollywood's Golden Year
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1939, Hollywood's Golden Year -
Saturdays in July

It was a significant year in world history, with Hitler invading Poland, the Great Depression at last lifting and Franklin D. Roosevelt, halfway through his presidency, reaching new heights of popularity. And, because of the number of outstanding films produced that year - more than any before or since, most would agree - 1939 has become known as Hollywood's Golden Year.

Among the reasons that have been advanced for this phenomenon are the full flowering of the studio system and an influx of outstanding cinematic talents from Europe. Whatever the cause, the embarrassment of movie riches in 1939 can be gauged by the fact that, although 10 films were Oscar®-nominated as Best Picture, among the missing were such gems as Gunga Din, Only Angels Have Wings, The Roaring Twenties, The Old Maid, The Women, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Golden Boy.

Several of 1939's Best Picture nominees claimed a spot among the all-time best in their respective genres. David O. Selznick's Civil War epic Gone With the Wind, even in such an amazing year, towered above its competition to win the Best Picture Oscar®, in addition to a record-setting seven other competitive awards and two special Oscars®. Along with its artistic excellence, the film version of Margaret Mitchell's story of the Old South broke box-office records and became a touchstone of American culture.

The musical fantasy The Wizard of Oz, a close contender for best-loved movie of all time, has captivated generations of moviegoers with its delightful story, peerless cast and the poignancy of a young Judy Garland singing her unforgettable "Over the Rainbow." Stagecoach, John Ford's groundbreaking Western, brought grandeur and character development as well as action to a favorite film form and made a star of John Wayne.

The sparkling comedy Ninotchka, with its famous "Garbo laughs!" slogan, features a scintillating performance from the Swedish star usually associated with melancholy, and polished direction by Ernst Lubitsch. Frank Capra's political comedy Mr. Smith Goes to Washington gave James Stewart one of his most intense and effective roles.

Love Affair, Leo McCarey's sophisticated romance starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer as star-crossed shipboard lovers provokes laughter and tears. The film has inspired two remakes but remains the definitive version.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte's dramatic story of a doomed love affair in pre-Victorian England, was given typically fastidious treatment by director William Wyler and created a new matinee idol in Laurence Olivier as the brooding Heathcliff.

by Roger Fristoe

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