…that I finally get to watch TCM’s original documentary, Hollywood’s Greatest Year: 1939!! The special is just now1939coming on TCM so for those who do not have TCM or have not gotten to watch it either, here it is a running recap.

From films such as Gone with the Wind to Wizard of Oz to Wuthering Heights, 1939 is arguably the greatest year in cinematic history.

The documentary opens up with vintage footage from the Oscars ceremony from that year. It then discusss how efficient Hollywood was back then. Studios could churn out a 100 films if needed and they really connected with the audiences of the day. The documentary then discussed the various movie studios and their respective 1939 films.

MGM Studios and Louis B Mayer were the big winners in 1939. The studio owned such stars as Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, and Myrna Loy.

But MGM’s brightest star during this time was Mickey Rooney. Babes in Arms was his feature film in 1939, which also starred Judy Garland. Mickey had starred in several Andy Hardy films by 1939 and was hugely popular. Many female stars, such as Lana Turner, first starred as one of Andy Hardy’s lady loves before going to bigger fame later.

Judy Garland was one of MGM’s home-grown talents and she won the role of Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, even though Shirley Temple was also considered for the role. One of MGM’s first forays into technicolor, Wizard was a huge success and gains new fans everyday.

Wizard catapulted Judy into even bigger fame and before the year was up, she had been cast in another one of Mickey’s movies, Babes in Arms. This is one of my first-watched and favorite musicals.

Another movie studio mentioned is Warner Bros. WB featured films that had more tommy-guns than satin and lace. Their bread and butter was crime and drama. Its gritty stars James Cagney, Humprey Bogart, and Bette Davis all made great dramas during this time. Errol Flynn was also a major star that brought class and strength to the western genre in Dodge City.

Bette Davis truly had a banner year in 1939. She starred in Dark Victory, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Juarez, and The Old Maid . As the documentary stated, most actors would be happy with these films during their entire career, but Davis accomplished all of these films in just one year. Davis was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for Dark Victory but lost out to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind.

Universal Pictures needed a great film to help themselves right their ship. They chose to go the route of the monster movie and produced Son of Frankenstein.

Frank Capra made his mark in 1939 by directing the great drama Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Jimmy Stewart gives one of his greatest performances in this movie about a naive senator who makes a difference in government. This movie did draw controversy for its political tones, but Capra refused to shelve it. This one is a must-see for sure.

Howard Hawks, who like Capra worked for Columbia Pictures, worked twice with Cary Grant in 1939. He directed Only Angels Have Wings for Columbia. For RKO Pictures, Hawks also worked on Gunga Din, which is considered to be one of the best action films of the year. Gunga Din stars Grant and Douglas Fairbanks and was one of the most expensive films RKO ever made.

20th Century Fox Studios was only four years old in 1939 but already had stars like Henry Fonda. The studio owner focused on getting and keeping director John Ford. Ford was instrumental in making the great western Stagecoach starring John Wayne as Ringo Kid. Ford had to fight to cast Wayne, who was a newcomer to Hollywood at this time. Of course we all know that Wayne went on to create many other great westerns throughout his career.

Wuthering Heights was one of 1939’s more ambitious films. Many said that the story of doomed lovers was unfilmable.

Perhaps the best known film of 1939, Gone with the Wind certainly became producer David O. Selznick’s legacy. It is said that Selznick liked to make the big decisions himself, but when it came to GWTW he knew that casting Rhett Butler was out of his hands. He had to rely on MGM’s consent to loan out Clark Gable for the role. Selznick took a gamble in casting a relative unknown in Vivien Leigh. But that risk paid off in huge dividends.

GWTW truly challenged the ideas of studio budget, size, running time, and censorship. Also, unlike other films of the time, women were really the focus even though it can also be considered a war film.

The momentum of the studios came to halt after Pearl Harbor when studio were forced to sell off their theater chains. Television then came to more available and 1939 was one of the last big producing years for these studios.

With all types of genres covered, stars that were already big box-office draws to unknowns that made their mark immediately onscreen, and films that appealed to all human emotions, 1939 was truly the apex of cinema history.

For more in 1939, visit TCM and check out http://www.tcm.com/thismonth/article/?cid=240778&mainArticleId=238944.

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