The year could have easily gone to one of the most iconic of all monster movies, a film that’s a culmination of sorts for the Universal horror genre by daring to subvert its bold subtextual material under the censor’s noses. The year could have also gone to Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich’s seventh and final collaboration together, which isn’t as subtle as Bride in its attempt to portray a feverishly charged love triangle. But 1935 also happened to be the year that Alfred Hitchcock took full form with The 39 Steps. Hitchcock had already made a number of remarkable thrillers up to that point, but nothing as perfectly honed as this chase around rural Scotland that’s about as “Hitchcockian” a movie as you can get. From the beautiful locales and expressionistic sets shot in detailed precision, to the fleshed out supporting characters that are as complex as the two leads, the movie’s a textbook example about how to film suspense the right way. What’s incredible is that when you boil down to it, The 39 Steps is still exhilarating and entertaining today. Because no matter how analytical one can get, the movies are first and foremost… movies. And quite the movie this one is.
1. The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock)
2. Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale)
3. The Devil is a Woman (Joseph von Sternberg)
4. Toni (Jean Renoir)
5. Alice Adams (George Stevens)
6. Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey) and A Night at the Opera (Sam Wood)
7. The Informer (John Ford)
8. Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl)
9. Top Hat (Mark Sandrich)
10. Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor)
Toni is a small masterpiece by Renoir that’s all the more endearing because of it, not to mention another film that captures the quaint and quiet beauty of the countryside. Alice Adams is a lesser known Katharine Hepburn title that painfully tugs at your heartstrings the way her eyes swell up and her voice shakes in her normally sturdy exterior. Then there’s Hepburn again in Sylvia Scarlett and all its peculiarities that seem admirable today but disastrous when the film was first released. And if you haven’t watched Ruggles of Red Gap, then you need to watch Ruggles of Red Gap, a light comedy that’s refreshingly different by proving that middle-aged actors could make for perfect screwball leads just as much as a Cary Grant or Carole Lombard.
And speaking of Lombard, films that missed the cut include her rags to riches then back to rags again comedy Hands Across the Table. Gary Cooper and Ann Harding’s love literally glistened in Peter Ibbetson. Sacha Guitry had the Lubitsch-like Bonne Chance! And John Ford’s Steamboat Round the Bend and The Whole Town’s Talking completed his rather prolific year, which might as well could be a discussion about his whole career while we’re at it (seriously, the man had over 100 movies to his name. Over 100 movies!)
Something I’d like to note. It’s strange to place a musical like Top Hat right next to Triumph of the Will. But as horrific as Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film is, there’s no denying its brilliance in manipulation and its groundbreaking methods of composition and editing that have become templates for documentary filmmaking ever since. The same could also be said of her next film, Olympia, three years later. Truly surreal works of art… surreal in that one doesn’t know just where to place them exactly. So at number eight Triumph goes.
It’ll be spotty from here on onward but if I could get at least two posts a month then I’ll consider my blogging project a very VERY slow success. So next time expect the year 2014. Seems just like yesterday, doesn’t it?