1939 is widely regarded as being Hollywood’s greatest year. It was the year that gave us Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz and those two movies alone would have been enough for it to be remembered as being a good year for movies. But 1939 was the year other classics such as Stagecoach, Dark Victory, The Women, Ninotchka, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington all hit the silver screen for the first time. However, it was no coincidence that all these amazing films just happened to be released in 1939. A number of economical, political, legal, and historical factors all came into play to help create that perfect storm of cinematic excellence.
In Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939, the new book by Mark A. Viera, Viera explains the factors that helped make 1939 Hollywood’s finest year and highlights fifty of the year’s best films. Of course you can expect to find the really big hits like Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz featured in this book, but there are also several films that are often overlooked when discussing the movies of 1939 such as Bachelor Mother, In Name Only, Five Came Back, and They Made Me a Criminal.
Rather than approach each film with a critical perspective, Viera discusses the films in Majestic Hollywood very matter-of-factly with details about the production of each movie, quotes from people who worked on the movies, and comments from critics. In the introduction, Viera explains, “I did not see it as my job to critique them, deconstruct them, or warn you that they are ‘dated.’ My job is to transport you to a special time and place, where artists who were making big films for the end of a tumultuous decade ended with an array of cinematic art. Majestic Hollywood celebrates that art.” This is exactly what Viera accomplishes in this book.
Majestic Hollywood is arranged chronologically and when you look at it that way, it reminds you of just how impressive that year really was. Not a month went by in 1939 without at least one indelible classic film being released. It’s easy to remember that Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory, and Love Affair all came out in the same year, but did you realize all three of those were released in the same month?
If you’re looking for a gift for a classic movie fan, I highly recommend Majestic Hollywood. The combination of widely recognized titles with lesser known gems make it a great book for both long-time classic movie fans and people who are just starting to explore film history.
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.