10 Best Movies of 1931

by SKG-2 | created - 12 Jun 2011 | updated - 06 Sep 2011 | Public

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1. City Lights (1931)

G | 87 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  

With the aid of a wealthy erratic tippler, a dewy-eyed tramp who has fallen in love with a sightless flower girl accumulates money to be able to help her medically.

Director: Charles Chaplin | Stars: Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers

Votes: 130,924 | Gross: $0.02M

One of the eternal debates among film buffs is, "Chaplin or Keaton?" Fans of Keaton would often point to Chaplin's sentimentality as a weakness, and certainly, this film is on the sentimental side. But I would argue it's honest sentiment, with one of Chaplin's best, and most bittersweet, endings ever put on film. It also happens to contain some of Chaplin's funniest sequences, particularly the boxing match. Of all of Chaplin's features, this is probably my favorite.

2. À Nous la Liberté (1931)

Approved | 97 min | Comedy, Musical

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

Seeking better life, two convicts escape from prison.

Director: René Clair | Stars: Raymond Cordy, Henri Marchand, Rolla France, Paul Ollivier

Votes: 3,429

Rene Clair defly combines hilarious comedy with a trenchant look at factory working conditions, all within the context of a musical. <b>Le Million</b>, which he made the same year, was another attempt at combining comedy, social commentary, and music, but this film, I think, is much better.

3. Little Caesar (1931)

Not Rated | 79 min | Action, Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

A small-time criminal moves to a big city to seek bigger fortune.

Director: Mervyn LeRoy | Stars: Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell, William Collier Jr.

Votes: 9,904

Beating <b>Public Enemy</b>, which made James Cagney a star, to theaters by a few months, this film, although not the first gangster film ever made, was the one that introduced a new cycle of gangster films in the sound era. It also holds up surprisingly well, despite some slow spots in direction, thanks to a razor-sharp performance by Edward G. Robinson in the title role.

4. The Miracle Woman (1931)

Passed | 90 min | Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

After an unappreciated minister dies, his daughter loses her faith in God, prompting her to open a phony temple with a con man. Can the love of a blind aviator restore her faith and happiness?

Director: Frank Capra | Stars: Barbara Stanwyck, David Manners, Sam Hardy, Beryl Mercer

Votes: 1,516

Although Frank Capra made his name with movies like <b>Mr. Smith Goes to Washington</b> and <b>It's a Wonderful Life</b>, his early sound movies were often more hard-edged and less sentimental, such as this film, the second he made with Barbara Stanwyck. She plays a preacher's daughter who flees the church and teams up with a con artist professing miracle cures. Though the ending is a little too uplifting to be entirely believable, it does take a surprisingly direct look at the idea of faith, and Stanwyck of course is terrific.

5. Monkey Business (1931)

Not Rated | 77 min | Comedy, Musical

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

On a transatlantic crossing, The Marx Brothers get up to their usual antics and manage to annoy just about everyone on board the ship.

Director: Norman Z. McLeod | Stars: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, The Marx Brothers, Chico Marx

Votes: 9,872

If you ask most Marx Brothers fans their favorite Marx Brothers movie, <b>Duck Soup</b> or <b>A Night at the Opera</b> would probably be the top choices. This film, the third sound feature they made at Paramount and the first not based on a play but written directly for the screen, is mine. Groucho, Chico and Harpo aren't required to play anybody but themselves, and are all the better (and funnier) for it, with such classic gags as the Punch and Judy show Harpo infiltrates, the three of them plus Zeppo trying to sneak off the boat they've stowed away upon by pretending to be Maurice Chevalier, and Groucho's great last line, "I'm looking for a needle in a haystack." The plot is servicable enough and Thelma Todd makes a great romantic foil to Groucho.

6. Frankenstein (1931)

Not Rated | 70 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.

Director: James Whale | Stars: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff, John Boles

Votes: 54,599 | Gross: $12.00M

Though the follow-up, <b>Bride of Frankenstein</b>, is better, this is still a fine introduction to the early classics of monster films, with an unforgettable performance by Boris Karloff as the monster.

7. Night Nurse (1931)

Not Rated | 72 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

A nurse enlists the help of a petty criminal to foil a sinister plot to murder two children.

Director: William A. Wellman | Stars: Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Joan Blondell, Clark Gable

Votes: 2,578

Has there ever been an actress more perfectly matched to the period they became a star in than Barbara Stanwyck and the 1930's (and the early 40's)? She's as glamourous and sexy as the pin-up stars of the period, but she also retains a grittiness that makes her a natural for movies like this pre-Code drama from William Wellman. As the title character, who must protect two children from a thuggish chaffeur (Clark Gable) intent on starving them to death, Stanwyck shows not only the toughness (especially when she stands up to Gable) and street-smarts (her dealings with the bootlegger (Ben Lyon) she befriends), but also a natural vulnerability without ever getting too sentimental.

8. Bad Girl (1931)

Not Rated | 90 min | Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

A man and woman, skeptical about romance, nonetheless fall in love and are wed, but their lack of confidence in the opposite sex haunts their marriage.

Director: Frank Borzage | Stars: James Dunn, Sally Eilers, Minna Gombell, Frank Austin

Votes: 825

Don't let the title or the cover fool you; this is actually a realistic (for its time) slice-of-life drama about a young couple struggling to make it in the city. Included on the Frank Borzage/F.W. Murnau box set, this is one of Borzage's more underrated films, I think.

9. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Not Rated | 98 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

Dr. Jekyll faces horrible consequences when he lets his dark side run wild with a potion that transforms him into the animalistic Mr. Hyde.

Director: Rouben Mamoulian | Stars: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart, Holmes Herbert

Votes: 10,608

One of the great debates among classic film buffs is whether this or the 1941 version starring Spencer Tracy is the best version of this story (interestingly enough, the silent version with John Barrymore never seems to come up, but never mind). The 1941 version has its good points, particularly a terrific performance by Ingrid Bergman as Ivy, the "prostitute" who attracts Mr. Hyde (eclipsing Miriam Hopkins' work here), but on the whole, the 1931 version comes off as more consistent, and while you wouldn't guess Frederic March could be so terrifying, he's thoroughly convincing here.

10. Smart Money (1931)

81 min | Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

Immigrant Greek barber has uncommon skills in playing poker and soon rises in the seedy world of illegal gambling, but pretty blondes remain his Achilles' heel.

Director: Alfred E. Green | Stars: Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Evalyn Knapp, Ralf Harolde

Votes: 1,371

Although this is billed as an "Edward G. Robinson/James Cagney film" on the cover (the only time these titans and longtime friends ever appeared in a movie together), this is really Robinson's film (Cagney has a supporting role as Robinson's friend), and as usual, he holds the screen as a barber turned gambler with a weakness for blondes.