For unknown reasons, some years just happened to feature more great movies than others. From time to time, we’ll feature the films of a particularly outstanding year as a Great American Thing. We’re starting with 1939, which some consider the best year ever in movies. Once you look at the films released that year, you may find yourself in agreement. Some of the best, in alphabetical order:
Beau Geste – Gary Cooper in the French Foreign Legion. With Ray Milland, Robert Preston, and Susan Hayward.
Destry Rides Again – A Western, directed by George Marshall and starring Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich.
Gone With the Wind – Winner of the Academy Award, from amongst all these films, for Best Picture. See Great American Things, April 28, 2009.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips – A British film, directed by Sam Wood and starring Greer Garson and Robert Donat as Mr. Chips.
Gunga Din – Cary Grant fighting for the Empire in Colonial British India. With Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Joan Fontaine, and Sam Jaffee as the title character.
Hound of the Baskervilles – One of two films in 1939 (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was the other) pairing Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.
Hunchback of Notre Dame – The best of many versions of this story. With Charles Laughton as Quasimodo and Maureen O’Hara as Esmerelda.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – One of Frank Capra’s common man rises to heroic status films, starring Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur. Nominated for eleven Academy Awards.
Ninotchka – Greta Garbo laughs! A great comedy, co-written by a young Billy Wilder and directed by Ernest Lubitsch.
Of Mice and Men – The Steinbeck classic brought to life by William Wyler. Aaron Copland composed the score. Nominated for four Academy Awards.
Stagecoach – Another John Ford western, featuring Claire Trevor and starring John Wayne in his breakout role.
Wizard of Oz – Judy Garland takes us down the yellow brick road, and ultimately somewhere over the rainbow. Only a modest hit upon its release, you can understand why when you see its competition here. Won three Academy Awards.
Young Mr. Lincoln – Directed by John Ford, starring Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln.