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THE GOLDEN AGE OF AMERICAN TALKIES: 1930

by Peter Bogdanovich
November 21, 2010 1:29 AM
2 Comments
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The Blue Angel (Josef von Sternberg)
The Dawn Patrol (Howard Hawks)
Monte Carlo (Ernst Lubitsch)
Morocco (Josef von Sternberg)
Not So Dumb (King Vidor)
Liliom (Frank Borzage)
Part Time Wife (Leo McCarey)
Murder! (Alfred Hitchcock)
The Royal Family of Broadway (George Cukor)
Laughter (Harry D’Arrast)
All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone)
Juno and the Paycock (Alfred Hitchcock)
Abraham Lincoln (D.W. Griffith)
Rain or Shine (Frank Capra)
The Big Trail (Raoul Walsh)
Up the River (John Ford)
Madam Satan (Cecil B. DeMille)
Let’s Go Native (Leo McCarey)
The Virtuous Sin (George Cukor)
Men Without Women (John Ford)


The Blue Angel is a sensation in Europe, featuring the great German star Emil Jannings in his first talkie, but what everyone is raving about is the newcomer who steals the picture, a German actress-singer named Marlene Dietrich. All over Europe, the film plays in its German-language version. Paramount, which has the U.S. rights, decides to shoot another Sternberg-Dietrich picture in English and release it before the English-language version of The Blue Angel (shot concurrently). The result is another resonant hit, Morocco, starring Gary Cooper. By any measure, it was Dietrich’s (and Sternberg’s) year.

And Howard Hawks has his first breakout picture, The Dawn Patrol, with silent star Richard Barthelmess, the first real Hawks film about professionals, a World War I flying story, which is such a smash that WB remakes it eight years later with all of Hawks’ flying footage and Errol Flynn. And it’s a hit again but not nearly as good. Lubitsch makes another musical (Monte Carlo) just about as terrific as last year’s, with Jeanette Macdonald and British music hall star, Jack Buchanan. Hitchcock does a suspense piece (Murder!), Borzage does a tragic love story (Liliom), Griffith does Abraham Lincoln with Walter Huston as his first talkie, McCarey does his first real McCarey comedy (Part Time Wife), Cukor does a sophisticated NY stage comedy (The Royal Family of Broadway), and all’s right with the world. Cukor also has a second one, in his romance-drama mode (The Virtuous Sin) and directs the dialog for the most prestigious (if hardly the best) film of the year (All Quiet on the Western Front), while Hitchcock also shoots a famous play, Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock.

Vidor does a semi-screwball with a daffy Marion Davies (Not So Dumb), Harry D’Arrast comes to the forefront with the ultra-sophisticated Laughter, his best film, and McCarey has a second release, a musical farce (Let’s Go Native). Ford continues his bread-and-butter work (Men Without Women and Up the River, the latter being Spencer Tracy’s first feature and Humphrey Bogart’s third), while Raoul Walsh has a huge flop with the vastly underrated The Big Trail, the first starring role for unknown John Wayne, who would come to be thought of in a decade as Ford’s star. Capra makes a likeable lightweight comedy (Rise and Shine), and DeMille makes a heavyweight melodrama with his typically over-the-top wow finish (Madam Satan).

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2 Comments

  • M.T. Fisher | November 29, 2010 3:55 AMReply

    MAKSQUIBS, Griffith's ABRAHAM LINCOLN is one that people like to chastise, yet if they look at it with an clear eye, it's a wonderful film, and Huston is superb. It has things dealing with the sixteenth president that are factual, yet other filmmakers chose to leave out. A beautiful, charming film that needs to be viewed over and over.

  • MAKSQUIBS | November 22, 2010 5:58 AMReply

    No matter how important their directors, it's pretty hard to get behind films as stiff as Griffith's ABRAHAM LINCOLN or de Mille's MADAME SATAN.

    (What a shame that Griffith's last film (THE STRUGGLE//'31) has such a miserable reputation. It's a tremendous rebound after ABRAHAM LINCOLN, quite remarkable if you can get past the stagy performance from its leading man.) Maybe we'll see it on your next list.

    Two films that should be on here are George Hill's THE BIG HOUSE and MIN AND BILL. A fine, if forgotten director, he was married to the great screenplay writer Frances Marion at the time and somehow they got these tough, and toughly sentimental, films made @ M-G-M. The location work and sets on MIN AND BILL- to say nothing of Marie Dressler's perfrormance - are too good to miss. (Don't be fooled by the opening reel of comic business. The touch of genius that Dressler displayed in ANNA CHRISTIE and DINNER AT EIGHT gets plenty of screen time.)

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