1932 Ten Best Movies

scarface2Consider this:  Less than a half-decade earlier, the greatest course-change in film history (silent to sound) had caused moviemakers to re-think everything they knew about what they did. Careers ended, new ones began from scratch, technologies had to be invented. And by the way, the world was mired in a financial Depression.

Yet somehow 1932 was a great year in film. A few giants got their careers in gear, including Renoir and Ozu. Josef von Sternberg was in full stride with Marlene Dietrich, and Ernst Lubitsch was at a pinnacle. Hollywood films grappled with social issues and exploded in horror.

It takes some kind of film to knock out Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise, but I have to go with Scarface (shot in 1930, but unreleased until ’32). The perfection of TiP is just slightly nipped by Scarface‘s rippling, urgent dynamism — and maybe by its American-ness, too. More notes below, but here’s ten best:

1. Scarface (Howard Hawks)

2. Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch)

3. Boudu Saved from Drowning (Jean Renoir)

4. Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg)

5. I Was Born, But… (Yasujiro Ozu)

6. Freaks (Tod Browning)

7. Love Me Tonight (Rouben Mamoulian)

8. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy)

9. Me and My Gal (Raoul Walsh)

10. The Mummy (Karl Freund)/The Old Dark House (James Whale)

Freaks is rough and strange, but there’s nothing else quite like it; I write at length about it here. (Quickie Amazon Editorial Reviews: Love Me Tonight here, Chain Gang here.) If you’ve never seen Me and My Gal, you’ve been missing sheer pleasure. And I’m cheating with the tie of the Universal horror pictures, but I couldn’t choose between the poetry of The Mummy and the luscious camp hilarity of Whale’s film. The missing horror from this year is Vampyr, which for some reason I have never quite been able to click with. I’m also regretting Borzage’s A Farewell to Arms, a beautiful film ill-served for years by lousy public-domain prints, and Capra’s American Madness, which, with I Am a Fugitive, is a strong example of the social-issue Hollywood picture of the era.

Next week: 1980. All work and no play….


2 Responses

  1. Thanks for recognizing Freaks. It so often is either overlooked or lumped in as a lesser Frankenstein/Dracula type film. It is so much more.

  2. Great unique list! Watching Farewell to arms right now first the first time, good but I’m notvsure it would very top 10 of year. but I agree on Scarface, Grand Hotel, Trouble in Paradise (NY #1), and the unique ness of Freaks

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