Nice "sampler" package of Hollywood treats from an important period in time
I really enjoyed this "sampler" of Hollywood's greatest hits of 1939 - a year which (as the title implies) many consider to be Hollywood's greatest. Somewhat thin and rushed in its overall feel, one nevertheless can't deny that this documentary makes a sincere effort to open the eyes of today's movie lovers to a bygone era of Hollywood greatness.
The deficiency of this documentary can best be explained very simply: Not enough time! That is to say, the subject matter is really too vast to be condensed neatly into a 75-minute documentary with any expectation that it will reveal enough facts, figures, anecdotes, history and lore of late-30's Hollywood to even begin to satisfy the more serious film buff. So in effect, the documentary comes across more as a compilation of trailers and previews of all those great films of 1939, rather than any sort of serious history lesson.
The viewer nevertheless does get a sense of the historical "place" of 1939 Hollywood: it is made apparent that the preceding 8 or 9 years of hard economic times, i.e. The Great Depression, culminated in an end-of-decade perfect storm of masterful film productions. Whether this is cause and effect or something else entirely, is left up to the viewer to decide. Also, one can see that 1939 was a transitional year on a global scale, what with war clouds looming on the horizon, which indubitably cast long shadows into the movie studios of the time. Further, there were some interesting comments about the manner by which major Hollywood studios controlled not only production of their films, but distribution as well (in the form of wholly-owned theater chains), leading to members of U.S. Congress leveling charges of monopoly tactics.
I wish there would have been a lot more to this documentary, but I also wonder, how much could they really do with 75 minutes? At what point did they decide to "draw the line," and leave much of the historical context on the cutting room floor, and simply concentrate more on showcasing the finished product - i.e. the films themselves? I think in that regard they did the right thing. As I noted above, the subject matter is too vast for a 75-minute documentary.
As a movie lover, and as someone who enjoys exploring movies from the bygone era of Hollywood, I commend this documentary for allowing me to see some of my favorites - Ninotchka, Gone With The Wind, Gunga Din, Stagecoach, etc. - in a new light. In addition, I thank this work for showing some snippets of movies that I have not yet seen, but really must check out: Midnight, Dodge City, The Women, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, etc. If nothing else, I would highly recommend this documentary to anyone interested in getting some "movie night" ideas. Hopefully there is a video store near you that carries many of these movie titles from 1939, "Hollywood's Greatest Year."
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