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The Best Discoveries of 2018: The 1920s and 1930s

Updated: Dec 15, 2018

Early cinema has always been a mostly unexplored land mass for me, but I'm working on it. Thanks to a couple of friends who've made some excellent recommendations, I'm discovering some real gems.


Although this post is titled The Best of 2018: The 1920s and 1930s, two of the films I most enjoyed predate the 1920s. I'm learning how to understand and appreciate silent cinema and hope that next year's list will be twice as long. If you've been reluctant to discover silent films, just jump in and try to leave any preconceived notions of the silents behind and enjoy. I had no idea you could even make something as spectacular as Cabiria in 1914. It's one of those films you'll want to see again because of its grandeur and also to learn how they did it.

I'll be the first to admit that I'd put off seeing Nanook of the North (1922) for years, thinking it would be hopelessly primitive and boring. I was so wrong... The film is absolutely fascinating, riveting and so compelling it seemed to end just as it was beginning. The building of the igloo is one of the most fascinating scenes I saw in any movie this year. A must-watch.

I really haven't seen enough yet to know, but it seems there's such a vast richness in the films from 1930s that few other decades (I'd say perhaps only the 1970s) can match it. Not only are filmmakers getting a firmer handle on sound, they're also making the transition from pre-Code to the enforced restrictions from the 1934 Production Code. You've also got fascinating performances such as Barbara Stanwyck's incredible role as Stella Dallas (1937), Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century (above, 1934), and many, many others.

You've also got a richness in variety: crime (G-Men, above), newspaper stories (Five Star Final), fantasy (Lost Horizon), literary adaptations (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and heavenly dancing (Top Hat).

One of two films every FilmStruck subscriber was scrambling to watch before the streaming service ended last month was History is Made at Night (1937), a fantastic love triangle story starring Jean Arthur, Charles Boyer, and Colin Clive. (You can still find it on YouTube.)

The other? Possibly the worst mother/daughter-in-law relationship ever in The Silver Cord (1933) with a mother (Laura Hope Crews) clinging so tightly to her son (Joel McCrea) that there's no room for his wife (Irene Dunne). I guarantee you'll find at least one person in this film you'd like to slap.

Those are just a few of the highlights of the films I saw from the 1920s (and earlier) and 1930s. Here are a few more:

1920s (or earlier)

The Lost World (1925)

Broken Blossoms (1919)

Cabiria (1914)

Ace of Hearts (1921)

The Pagan (1929)

Nanook of the North (1922)

The Last Laugh (1924)


History is Made at Night (1937)

Stella Dallas (1937)

Baby Face (1933)

Twentieth Century (1934)

Top Hat (1935)

Ninotchka (1939)

The Only Son (1936)

Five Star Final (1931)

G-Men (1935)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

Lost Horizon (1937)

The Silver Cord (1933)

See anything from these years? Let me know in the comments below.

Next time: the 1940s

Photos: Thunder Bay Museum, DVD Beaver

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