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A Penultimate Year For Movies
by Jon Schuller

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I enjoy writing about anniversaries for movie years. One of the biggest years for great movies in history was 1939. That year saw so many films that became instant classics and are still being watched and discussed 79 years later. But, what about the year before that, 1938, 80 years ago? Did it premier great pictures too? It did and you'll be pleasantly surprised, as I was, to see and recognize the titles, the actors and actresses who brought them to life.

Movies began talking in October, 1927 with Al Jolson as The Jazz Singer. Many of the stars who made the Silent Era so successful were still making films 11 years later; Charlie Chaplin, of course, being the most prominent. In 1936 he made Modern Times, another completely silent classic. By 1940, with The Great Dictator, he'd gone over to sound. Harold Lloyd, too, the famous silent star, started making sound movies by 1934. But, overall, audiences not only wanted to see great pictures, they wanted to hear the dialogue and not have to read it.

There were adventure films, comedies, musicals, westerns, mysteries, crime and dramas in 1938. Many of movies' greats made their debuts that
year. Many stars from the theatre, vaudeville and radio were making their livings in Hollywood by then. Wonderful movies and their famous British stars were on display across American screens. Robert Donat, Lawrence Olivier, Claude Rains, Lesley Howard and Vivien Leigh thrilled American audiences week after week. Famous film pairs, like Laurel & Hardy, Flynn & DeHavilland and Gable & Loy and a trio called Marx - fill up movie houses regularly. Peter Lorre (from Hungary) and Boris Karloff (from England) both portray Asian detectives in Mr. Moto's Gamble and Mr. Wong, Detective. The Hollywood film factories work around the clock, turning out movies almost weekly. Movie serials are at new heights of popularity, with stars like Buster Crabbe, as Flash Gordon, and Ralph Byrd, as Dick Tracy, bringing back fans for the "Next Exciting Chapter." Cartoons have become bigger, longer and more popular by 1938, with Walt Disney and Warner Brothers turning out the most.

The Academy Awards the following year presented The Best Picture to You Can't Take it With You and the Best Director to Frank Capra for the same film. Spencer Tracy was the Best Actor
for Boys Town and Bette Davis wins Best Actress for Jezebel, which looked suspiciously like Gone with the Wind (MGM), only a year earlier from Warner Brothers.

Here's just a portion of the many marvelous movies brought to the big screen in 1938:
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Alexander's Ragtime Band
Angels with Dirty Faces
Bringing up Baby
The Dawn Patrol
The Girl of the Golden West
Love Finds Andy Hardy
In Old Chicago
Room Service
Test Pilot
They Drive by Night
A Yank at Oxford and
Young Dr. Kildare

We see in 1938, just like in so many other movie years, the variety of subjects, stories, locations and characters that make its films unique and, for many of them, classics of cinema. Alexander's Ragtime Band made the most money, but The Adventures of Robin Hood was also widely popular. Of course, for some movie lovers, some of the films in 1938 will look dated and old-fashioned. I accept that but don't agree. The wonderful thing is that a large variety can appeal to everyone, regardless of taste or enjoyment. In any case, 1938 may be overshadowed by 1939 but the films it produced are in a class all their own.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

How To Capture a Famous Year on Film

40 Is So Young

I Can Feel It. Can You?

Life Seems to Imitate Art

One Is All It Usually Takes Redux

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 29 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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