1937: 4 movies

(Last updated 14 November 2013)

Stage Door 
Directed by Gregory La Cava
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Written by Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller
Cinematography by Robert De Grasse
Editing by William Hamilton
Art Direction by Van Nest Polglase
Costumes by Muriel King
Sound recording by John L. Cass
Starring Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers

   Kate kills it! She gives what may be the first killer example of modern cinematic acting. The script itself kills with the best feminist ideals since the movies of Alice Guy. 1937 presented a fork in the road in the progression of cinema. It seems most movie companies were under the impression that movies were a substitution for staging a live-play. There were scores of movies made around this year that did little else than plop a camera in front of actors (often miscast) as they read an established script for the stage. Stage Door works because it takes a step back and shows not only the play but the struggle to make one. The scenes in the boarding house for actresses are brilliant. We see the comraderie, the back-stabbing banter, the dirty looks, and the toying with dim boys. The chemistry is so great that it's easy to believe the place is actually lived in. The dialogue among the women is written in a beautifully chaotic way, and the focus on so many different characters is refreshing! As is the complete focus on feminine experience! Ginger Rogers is pretty amazing as well, especially in her drunk scene! Andrea Leeds may not be up to the caliber of her colleague's talents but their fire, and that of the writing and directing, more than makes up for her miss. Additionally, it's intriguing to see how much movies had changed in the 59 years since Muybridge's horse movie, since the movie seems to be talking as much about the desperation to get on stage as it does about getting onto the screen, if not moreso. Cinema wasn't just about capturing unique sights anymore, it had become an industry, a mecca, and this is one of the first and best movies to reflect on that.

Dead End
Directed by William Wyler
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn and Merritt Hulburd
Written by Lillian Hellman
Cinematography by Gregg Toland
Editing by Daniel Mandell
Art Direction by Richard Day
Set decoration by Julia Heron
Starring Sylvia Sidney, Humphrey Bogart,
Joel McCrea, Allen Jenkins,
Ward Bond, Billy Halop,
Bobby Jordan, and Leo Gorcey.

   Dead End is one of the stand-outs from this year even though it struggles with some of that same pull to be a live-play, something no movie can ever be. It succeeds because it is conscious of that struggle, and it finds a way out. By focusing on a fabulously diverse set, the faces of the actors, and a multiplicity of shadowy angles, we leave the realm of the stage and feel our eyes meld with the camera's.
   And what a set is here! Skyscrapers, apartment buildings, shops, penthouses, slums, loading docks, and the bay are all here! The acting as well is stellar, including: Humphrey Bogart, Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea, and the young men who came to be known as "the Dead End Kids". In quality, Dead End improves on the formula used in 1931's Street Scene and updates some aspects like sound, lighting, and editing. It also loses a bit of the extraneous melodrama while still retaining a very realistic urgency, thanks to the masterly screenplay. In sum, it's a finely wrought mass of desperation, orbiting themes of class struggle, love, and crime.

Educated Fish
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Produced by Max Fleischer
Music by Sammy Timberg
Animated by Hicks Lokey and Myron Waldman

   On the story-level, it's a cute animated take on the Prodigal Son story. On the cinematic level, it's a fantastically conceived and detailed moving picture show. The animation team has created a lovely undersea town which although tranquil is only slightly removed from the dangers of the fishers overhead. In showing the contrast between safety and peril, and the little fish that moves between them, the little fish's frenzied speed bring the lesson home for us with a great deal of fantastical entertainment.

An Optical Poem
Produced by Oskar Fischinger

   Dots and lines move around in different settings, all fitting the mood and instrumentation of Liszt's Second Hungarian Rhapsody. Fun and soothing colors and shapes. The best part is probably when the circles seem to emerge from our side of the screen into the frame, going deep, and creating a space, half-real and half-abstract.

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