1939 – The Best Year in Movie History
Ever since the advent of film in the late 1890s and talkies, with The Jazz Singer, in 1927, movie-going audiences have been blessed with one amazing film after another. Certain films and certain years have played a part in drawing movie-goers to the cinema for well over a century. We have decided to take a look at each year since talkies became part of the movie-going experience to see if we could determine which year was the best ever.
We will admit, there are some very solid years that produced a number of great films, which made this a tough task. But we think we have it all figured out. So, the following are the eight films that made 1939 the best year in movie history.
8. Goodbye, Mr. Chips directed by Sam Wood
Goodbye, Mr. Chips was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1939, including Best Picture, and it won Best Actor for Robert Donat. The movie had Donat playing Mr. Chippering, a retired schoolteacher who, because of a cold, misses the first day assembly for the first time in 58 years. That day he falls asleep and dreams about his entire teaching career. The film also stars Greer Garson, John Mills, and Paul Henreid.
7. The Rules of the Game directed by Jean Renoir
Hailed as one of the greatest films in cinema history, Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game is a satirical dramedy French film which he also starred in. The film follows a group of upper-class French society, along with their servants, right before World War II breaks out. French cinema was booming in 1938 as was the career of Renoir and The Rules of the Game was the culmination of his popularity.
6. Wuthering Heights directed by William Wyler
William Wyler’s 1939 film is part ghost story, part love story, and full of melodrama. The movie is based on the 1847 Emily Brontë novel of the same name and tells the story of Lockwood, a traveler who finds himself at the estate of Wuthering Heights. Staying in the bridal chamber, he wakes to a cold draft and when he moves to close the window, he feels a cold hand clamp down and hears a woman calling to Heathcliff (the owner of the estate) from outside. It is a tragic story that was one of the best in 1939.
5. Ninotchka directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Ninotchka is the very first comedy in the career of screen legend Greta Garbo, one in which she received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination. Prolific writer/director Billy Wilder had a hand in writing the script for the film, which is one reason why it has been regarded so highly. Garbo plays a Russian envoy sent to Paris to ensure the sale of Russian jewelry from the Russian Revolution of 1917. The film also stars Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire, and Bela Lugosi.
4. Stagecoach directed by John Ford
Stagecoach is the 1939 John Ford epic western that put John Wayne on the map. The story follows a group of passengers on a stagecoach as it travels through dangerous Apache territory. It was the first of 14 films Ford directed Wayne and one of the most important in the Western genre. Alone with Wayne, the film also starred Claire Trevor, Jon Carradine, and Andy Devine.
3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington directed by Frank Capra
With Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, it was the second time that legendary director Frank Capra would have James Stewart as his leading man. The third time was in a little movie you may have heard of – It’s a Wonderful Life. But in this 1939 classic, Stewart plays Mr. Smith, a man appointed to the U.S. Senate who finds himself fighting the corrupt political system.
2. The Wizard of Oz directed by Victor Fleming
Although made in 1939, The Wizard of Oz is often considered to be the greatest musical ever made, taking home the Academy Award for Best Original Song (“Over the Rainbow”) and Best Original Score. The film stars an amazing cast led by Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke, and Margaret Hamilton.
1. Gone with the Wind directed by Victor Fleming
When it comes to films made in 1939, there isn’t any better than Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind (sorry, Wizard of Oz). The movie, based on the 1936 Margaret Mitchell novel of the same name, Gone with the Wind stars legends Clarke Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, and Leslie Howard. The film is set in the South and tells the epic story of love and loss during the American Civil War.