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Tuesday 17th Oct 2017

I guess it is a good thing I am not a basketball watcher. And, also that it was too much this winter to travel to NYC yesterday when Strat-O-Matic celebrated its 50th birthday, and Bloomberg unveiled their updated sports software.

The last couple weeks of each year, after the Super Bowl, and before Spring Training, I’ve had a couple of weekends without sports commitments. Not that I don't have plenty of pre-season preparation and writing to keep me busy, and normally, I do indeed perform that task with the MLB or NFL flickering in the background.

Well, it is not secret how much I love old movies, and this month on Turner Classic Movies, in preparation for the upcoming Oscars, TCM is presenting their 16th "31 Days of Oscar," which means all Academy Award nominated films every day till Oscar day.

So, as part of the festivities, yesterday featured all movies from 1939, the year considered the greatest ever for Hollywood cinema. What that means is that in a row, they cable channel showed the following films (with my short thoughts included).

  • Dark Victory: great tear jerker and Bette Davis vehicle that embraces life in a lovely bittersweet way.
  • Of Mice and Men: Lenny (Burgess Meredith, later the Penguin on TV Batman) and his mentally challenged friend George (Lon Chaney, Jr.) teach us about acceptance and kindness and humanity in Lewis Milestone's wonderful adaptation of Steinbeck.
  • Ninotchka: Ernst Lubitsch and Greta Garbo team up to show us that discipline is OK, but so is embracing the joys of life. Maybe if they showed this film regularly around the world, the exciting changes in the Middle East would have happened even sooner.
  • Wuthering Heights: Maybe the best adaptation of a Victorian novel--though David Lean turned in some pretty good contenders--Laurence Olivier defines the moody Heathcliff and Merle Oberon his Cathy in William Wyler's gem.
  • Stagecoach: Iconic for Johns Ford and Wayne, iconic for the Monument Valley, and iconic for westerns, the genre that changed with this film.
  • Mr Smith Goes to Washington: James Stewart and Jean Arthur in Frank Capra's innocent and cynical view of democracy, this is another film that if the world does not watch regularly, maybe at least politicians would.
  • Wizard of Oz: Directed by Victor Fleming, perhaps the most original and witty piece of film ever produced.
  • Gone With the Wind: Amazingly also directed by Victor Fleming (meaning he had the equivalent of two .400 seasons in a row) the treatment of Martha Mitchell's novel is sometimes tough to watch because in some ways it is so dated. However, like reading Huck Finn, it is a good reminder lest we forget what all men are created equal really means. Despite, it is still a brilliantly and breathtakingly executed soap opera of the highest order.
  • Goodbye Mr. Chips: Robert Donat and Greer Garson (who gives me wobbly knees) in a simple story of life and love (and education) as life on this odd planet became so much more perplexing and complicated.

Kind of an orgy, although I do wish the film that is one of my all time favorites, Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game, could also be included. For, the film's message of humanity--on the eve of Hitler's attempt to dominate--fit in so well with the other movies on this list when it speaks of society and strata therein. This film was actually destroyed by the Nazis during the occupation, and had to be rebuilt from bits and pieces of the best existing prints after World War II, when the movie was voted among the ten greatest films ever made in the 50's.

Baseball is great, but this was not a bad way to spend a luxurious Saturday. And, if you don't know some of these films, do see them. They are all terrific works of art.




0 #4 Lawr Michaels 2011-02-13 20:30
actually, aside from the great victor fleming trivia, the 1939 guy who rocks the most is thomas mitchell, who was in mr smith, the hunchback, stagecoach, gone with the wind, and one more from '39 not mentioned, only angels have wings.

plus, each role was chunky in each movie. he must have been a busy man that year.
0 #3 Ryan Carey 2011-02-13 17:42
Yep - TCM was on in my house all day yesterday. I am a classic film buff myself. 1939 was a brilliant year. Not convinced - here are some more great 1939 films that didn't win awards but are still classics in their own rights:

- Gunga Din
- Young Mr. Lincoln
- Golden Boy
- Hunchback of Notre Dame
- Juarez
- Intermezzo
- Destry Rides Again
- Jesse James
- Drums Along the Mowhawk (John Ford)

Also 1939 is remembered for the beginning of the great Sherlock Holmes film series with Basil Rathbone. The Hounds of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes were filmed in 1939.

And since you mentioned Huck Finn - it should be noted that Mickey Rooney starred in a film version of the novel in, you guessed it 1939.
0 #2 Mike Ladd 2011-02-13 12:57
whoops - I see they did show it. Somehow missed it in the initial read.
0 #1 Mike Ladd 2011-02-13 12:56
and they didn't even show that little civil war film that won the oscar. Maybe they were just featuring the also-rans.

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