Saturday, September 24, 2016

1933: Top 10 List and Year in Review

For those unfamiliar with my Top 10 Movie Project, the idea came about a couple years ago as a means to catch up on classic cinema on a year by year basis. Each year I pick 20-30 films, including the major ones that are available and other films that pique my interest. At the end of the year, I do an annual wrapup, with reviews of each of the films I watched, come up with a top 10 list and my own version of the Oscars. Then I move on to the next year. I started with 1927, so this will be the 7th year I've completed.

Capsule reviews of each of the films I saw for 1933 can be found here.

1933 proved to be an interesting year because the Hays Code had yet to be enforced, meaning there were some daring roles for women where they completely upended traditional sexual dynamics, such as Design for Living, Baby Face, She Done Him Wrong, and Female (until the ending). The Hays Code would come along the next year and heavily censor films over the next decade based on both sexual and political content. It was in effect until 1968, but stopped being heavily enforced in the late 1940s.

A year earlier, the Quigley Publishing company began compiling lists of the top 10 box office stars in Hollywood based on the polling of theater owners. This sets the stage for one of my favorite old Hollywood stories. Marie Dressler, a popular actress in the silent era, was so close to committing suicide that she was in a diner one night planning how she would do it. By a wonderful twist of fate, director Allan Dwan happened to be in that same diner and recognized her. He immediately cast her in his next film. That was in 1928 and after several years of great success, Dressler had become the biggest box office star in Hollywood, winning the Quigley poll in its first two years of existence. It's a fantastic comeback story and Dressler deserved it as she was a wonderful actress.

The return of John Gilbert is another interesting story from the year. Gilbert was a silent film star and his films with Greta Garbo made them the most popular romantic screen duo of their era. His career floundered with the onset of talkes and the reasons are controversial. Conventional wisdom for a while stipulated that his voice was too high pitched for the sound era, especially for someone who was supposed to be a romantic lead. That theory is strongly contradicted by many film buffs, including a passionate Leonard Maltin, who argue Gilbert's decline had more to do with studio politics. Having seen his reunion with Garbo in this year's Queen Christina, the latter opinion seems most definitely correct as his voice sounds perfect for a male romantic lead.

Some of my favorite directors that have been a staple of this project since the very beginning return this year with more great entries. The great Ernst Lubitsch makes his 6th appearance on my top 10 lists with Design for Living, while Fritz Lang makes his 4th appearance (and 2nd #1) with the wonderful Testament of Dr. Mabuse. The master of romantic melodrama Frank Borzage and future legend Frank Capra (still one year removed from his first notable classic) also make their 4th appearances. It was a pretty good year for films overall, but Hollywood still has not caught up to the quality of the late silent era.

Below is my top 10 list, in reverse order. Instead of including stills like I did in previous years, I've included Youtube links to the trailers of these films. When a trailer wasn't available, I included individual scenes.

10. King Kong (Merian C. Cooper, Ernest P. Shoedsack)

The original hasn't aged well, but still remains a compelling story.

9. Lady For a Day (Frank Capra)

May Robson's Apple Annie is an incredibly endearing character.

8. Counsellor at Law (William Wyler)

John Barrymore in another great character performance.

7. Queen Cristina (Rouben Mamoulian)

Garbo lights up the screen as the legendary Swedish queen.

6. A Man's Castle (Frank Borzage)

Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young in a compelling romance.

5. Little Women (George Cukor)

Katharine Hepburn leads a great ensemble cast in this exquisite adaptation.
4. The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda)

Charles Laughton in an unforgettable performance as the famous king.

3. Design For Living (Ernst Lubitsch)

Miriam Hopkins, Fredric March, and Gary Cooper in a complicated relationship.

2. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey)

Political satire brings out the best in the Marx Bros.

1. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang)

Mabuse's rein of terror continues in this brilliantly suspenseful thriller.

Awards (winners noted with an *)


Frank Borzage, A Man's Castle
George Cukor, Little Women
Alexander Korda, The Private Life of Henry VIII
*Fritz Lang, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
Ernst Lubitsch, Design for Living

Lead Actor

John Barrymore, Counsellor at Law
*Charles Laughton, The Private Life of Henry VIII
Fredric March, Design for Living
Spencer Tracy, A Man's Castle
Otto Wernicke, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

Lead Actress

Greta Garbo, Queen Christina
Katharine Hepburn, Morning Glory
Miriam Hopkins, Design for Living
May Robson, Lady for a Day
*Mae West, She Done Him Wrong

Supporting Actor

Wallace Beery, Dinner at Eight
Oscar Beregi, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
Gustav Diessl, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
*Edward Everett Horton, Design for Living
Rudolf Klein-Rogge, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

Supporting Actress

Binnie Barnes, The Private Life of Henry VIII
*Marie Dressler, Dinner at Eight
Glenda Farrell, Lady for a Day
Jean Harlow, Dinner at Eight
Elsa Lanchester, The Private Life of Henry VIII

Original Screenplay

*Duck Soup (Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby)
King Kong (James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose)
Lady for a Day (Robert Riskin, Damon Runyan)
The Private Life of Henry VIII (Lajos Biro, Arthur Wimperis)
Queen Christina (H.M. Harwood, Salka Viertel)

Adapted Screenplay

Counsellor at Law (Elmer Rice)
*Design for Living (Ben Hecht)
Little Women (Sarah Y. Mason, Victor Heerman)
A Man's Castle (Jo Swerling)
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, Thea Von Harbou)


Counsellor at Law
Design for Living
The Private Life of Henry VIII
*The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
Queen Christina


The Bitter Tea of General Yen
King Kong
A Man's Castle
The Private Life of Henry VIII
*The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

Art Direction

King Kong
A Man's Castle
The Private Life of Henry VIII
Queen Christina
*The Testament of Dr. Mabuse


Footlight Parade
Little Women
*The Private Life of Henry VIII
Queen Christina

Visual Effects

The Invisible Man
*King Kong
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

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