Hollywood’s Greatest Year: My ten favorite movies of 1939

2019 is almost over and what better way to finish it off than with a top ten list of my favorite Hollywood films of… 1939? Seems about right! It’s been 80 years since Hollywood’s Greatest Year, so I wanted to do something about it this year. Like always, personal list, subjective choices, will leave some out, blah blah blah. Here we go!


10. The Women (dir. George Cukor) – A groundbreaking hit featuring an all-female cast (including the animals!), The Women’s iconic status is deserved, though here on The Garden, I’ve discussed my love-hate relationship with it.


9. Midnight (dir. Mitchell Leisen) – A typical screwball comedy, funny and witty, with the added bonus of having one of John Barrymore’s greatest performances. The cherry on top is Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett’s script saga, which is always a great piece of trivia to read about – look it up!

maxresdefault.jpg8. Gone with the Wind (dir. Victor Fleming) – One of the most iconic films in cinema history and easily the right choice for Best Picture at the 12th Academy Awards. There really isn’t a whole lot left to say about it.


7. Destry Rides Again (dir. George Marshall) – The second best western of 1939, Destry Rides Again is the fun one. Marlene Dietrich has arguably never been more enjoyable, Jimmy Stewart gives a solid performance as the titular Destry and the two of them make a thouroughly magnetic pair.


Only Angels Have Wings 4.jpg6. Golden Boy (dir. Rouben Mamoulian) – The big weepie of 1939 along with Love Affair, this was William Holden’s breakthrough role and it started a lifelong friendship between him and Barbara Stanwyck, who, like always, is fantastic. Lee J. Cobb, however, stands out as Holden’s loving father.

5. Only Angels Have Wings (dir. Howard Hawks) – An utterly enjoyable multi-genre soap-opera type, Only Angels Have Wings is one of Hawks’ overlooked gems and it really shouldn’t be. 1939’s most all-round complete film.


4. The Wizard of Oz (dir. Victor Fleming) – Fleming was certainly busy in 1939 (Cukor’s uncredited direction in GWTW aside) and to have THE two most iconic and beloved films of that year under your belt is quite a feat. One suspects this would be number 1 on most people’s lists of 1939 and with good reason. There is not a single frame of it that isn’t wonderful and it is surely one of the best arguments for why cinema is the greatest thing there has ever been.

image-w856.jpg3. Stagecoach (dir. John Ford) – John Ford and John Wayne’s first big collaboration, Stagecoach still stands as one of Hollywood’s greatest westerns and has maybe the best assortment of peculiar characters in any film of 1939 – needless to say, its character study does not go unnoticed.

mr-smith-goes-to-washington-watching-recommendation-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600-1084x610.jpg2. Mr Smith Goes to Washington (dir. Frank Capra) – A timeless classic that only gets more poignant as the years go by, perhaps depressingly so. Jimmy Stewart’s performance is magnificent and, like Ford/Wayne, the Capra/Stewart team was a force of nature.




1. Ninotchka (dir. Ernst Lubitsch) – Ah, Ninotchka. Garbo’s greatest performance and probably the funniest movie of 1939. Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett’s screenplay as well as Ernst Lubitsch’s direction are a wonderful thing to behold and as I mentioned in a previous COMEDY GOLD, 1939 may have been Gone With the Wind’s year, but Ninotchka takes top spot here at The Old Hollywood Garden.

Happy New Year, everyone!



HechtA rare bonafide superstar in the screenwriting world, Ben Hecht was, as film historians have asserted, the embodiment of Hollywood. His perserverance, sharp wit and cynicism was the stuff showbiz was made of and his enviable flair for plot and dialogue – just TRY to keep up with His Girl Friday (1940, dir. Howard Hawks) – made him one of the most successful writers of his time.

Born in 1893 in New York City, he and his family moved to Wisconsin when he was a child and in 1919 he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a reporter and war correspondent for the Daily Journal and later the Chicago Daily News. In 1921, he wrote his first novel, Erik Dorn, followed by his first full-length play, The Egotist, and in 1923, he started his own newspaper, the Chicago Literary Times. Around this time, he met Charles MacArthur, then also a reporter, and the two moved to New York where they wrote the hugely successful play The Front Page, later adapted several times, to both film and radio. In 1926, screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz invited Hecht to go to Hollywood, which he did, and in 1927 he won the very first Oscar for Screenplay at the first Academy Awards, for Underworld (dir. Josef von Sternberg) and in 1935, he won his second one with The Scoundrel, which he also co-directed with Charles MacArthur. Throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s, he wrote a number of screenplays, including Scarface (1932, dir. Howard Hawks), Design for Living (1933, dir. Ernst Lubitsch), Twentieth Century (1934, dir. Howard Hawks), adapted from his and MacArthur’s play, Nothing Sacred (1937, dir. William A. Wellman), Wuthering Heights (1939, dir. William Wyler), Gunga Din (1939, dir. George Stevens), His Girl Friday, Notorious (1946, dir. Alfred Hitchcock), Kiss of Death (1947. dir. Henry Hathaway), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950, dir. Otto Preminger), among many others, some of them uncredited.

One of the greatest wits and most prolific storycrafters of the 20th Century, Ben Hecht died in 1964 at the age of 71. Nineteen years later, he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

COMEDY GOLD #20: George meets Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

sem nome.png

Well, here it is, the 20th and last ever COMEDY GOLD (booo!). Like DOUBLE BILL last year, I thought I’d end this series of posts on a positive note. And what better way to do that than with the most uplifting movie of all time? That’s right, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, dir. Frank Capra) is the last featured movie on COMEDY GOLD, and Clarence (Henry Travers) gets the spotlight.

In this scene, Clarence has just been rescued by George Bailey (James Stewart in an Oscar-nominated performance) after deliberately jumping in the river in order to save George himself – we all know the story by now, right? As Clarence explains who he is and why he did what he did – he’s an angel trying to get his wings -, the reactions of both George and the tollhouse keeper (Tom Fadden) are priceless, especially considering how non-chalant Clarence is about the whole ordeal. Towards the end of the scene, Clarence has granted George his wish of never having been born, and the movie takes an even darker turn, but for a while there, it goes from drama to comedy to drama again in such a seemingly natural way, while also establishing Clarence and George’s relationship, creating a sort of banter between them in the process. This moment showcases It’s a Wonderful Life’s ability to balance drama, comedy and fantasy better than arguably any other in the film, while delivering its now iconic message. As per usual, you will read this on every film blog out there throughout December, but… it truly is the ultimate Christmas film (sorry, Die Harders).