Nostalgia For 1930s Films

While it’s common for fans to collect memorabilia from the 1940s onward, many film buffs don’t see back as far as the 1930s. After all, a couple of generations have gone by since then. But 1930s film actually started a lot more trends than we think it did.

For one thing, film buffs associate hard-boiled detective film noir with the 1940s, but surprisingly the first three Thin Man films came out in 1934, 1936, and 1939. Charlie Chan and Ellery Queen also got their start in this decade.

How about Universal horror classics? The Frankenstein films got their start, introducing Gothic horror to American film audiences in the 1930s with Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) (and that wild beehive hairdo), and Son of Frankenstein (1939). The year 1931 also saw the debut of Dracula with the one and only Bela Lugosi doing his first turn behind the cape. And what science fiction fan can forget the serials Flash Gordon (1936) and Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938)? Sci-fi buffs are well advised to watch the original Star Wars trilogy back-to-back with Flash Gordon; see how much was borrowed.

Now for the comedy of the 1930s: Both the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy made their first screen appearances in the 1930s. That includes the first eight films in the Marx Brothers’ canon and the bulk of their work. Modern audiences often don’t make the connection between common sight gags we see in today’s cartoons and the zany gags first invented ad lib by Harpo Marx. Laurel and Hardy had their more cerebral, sophisticated brand of humor slowly take off.

Now for some surprises: Would your average film fan think Scarface was originally done with Al Pacino in 1983? Try 1932 with Paul Muni (and Boris Karloff in a cameo) in the starring role about a Cuban gangster largely based on the life of Al Capone. The 1983 one was a remake.

Let us not forget Alfred Hitchcock, who was just digging into the medium and feeling his oats. He made no less than thirteen films during the 1930s, including widely loved classics such as The 39 Steps, The Man Who Knew Too Much (remade later with Doris Day and James Stewart), and Secret Agent.

The fun part of revisiting the 1930s in film is realizing just how little has changed since then. While films were being made before this, many of the biggest and most successful genres were born and codified in the 1930s, including space-opera, “big monster” horror films, “who-done-its,” and even farce comedy. Thankfully there are still people out there who love and remember the 30s and all that those years brought to our film culture. For more information, visit your local nostalgia shop or site.

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