1934 Ten Best Movies

Dito Parlo in L'Atalante

Dita Parlo in L'Atalante

Josef von Sternberg went apotheosis on his torrid collaboration with Marlene Dietrich in 1934, resulting in movie-unlike-any-other-except-ones-you’ve-dreamed masterpiece The Scarlet Empress. Mad history mixed up with emotional autobiography, the movie goes a long way toward suggesting that whatever Svengali power the director might have held over his pupil was now something of a turned table. Their next one, The Devil is a Woman, would admit it outright.

That great movie is merely the #2 for 1934. I posted something longish about my top film yesterday: Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante, a marvel. Some nice titles in the rest of the movie year, but nothing comes close to these two. The ten best movies of 1934:

1. L’Atalante (Jean Vigo)

2. The Scarlet Empress (Josef von Sternberg)

3. It Happened One Night (Frank Capra)

4. It’s a Gift (Norman Taurog)

5. The Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke)

6. Little Man, What Now? (Frank Borzage)

7. The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock)

8. Twentieth Century (Howard Hawks)

9. The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer)

10. Man of Aran (Robert Flaherty) and The Phantom Light (Michael Powell)

Cheat at #10: both movies set on islands; one grand nonfiction poetry, the other a serio-comic goof by a soon-to-be-great filmmaker. It Happened and Thin Man are both long-accepted classics that also happen to be pretty terrific pieces of moviemaking, and It’s a Gift may not be a terrific piece of moviemaking, but it surely is one of the funniest of W.C. Fields’ vehicles, thus one of the funniest things ever made. And I could watch The Black Cat ’til the cows come home: Karloff and Lugosi and Edgar Ulmer making like a low-budget Murnau. Missing: Judge Priest, which I haven’t seen in ages, but probably it goes on the list when I revisit.

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