The Golden Year: 5 Classic Films from 1939 [Blu-ray]

This release includes five classic films from the year 1939: Dark Victory, Dodge City, Gone with the Wind, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Ninotchka.
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Overview

Synopsis

Ninotchka
"Garbo Laughs!" declared the ads for Ninotchka. In the face of dwindling foreign revenues, MGM decided to put Greta Garbo, a bigger draw in Europe than the US, in a box-office-savvy comedy, engaging the services of master farceur Ernst Lubitsch to direct. The film opens in Paris during the aftermath of the Russian revolution. A trio of Russian delegates (Sig Rumann, Felix Bressart, and Alexander Granach) are sent to Paris to sell the Imperial Jewels for ready cash. Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire), who once owned the jewels, sends her boyfriend Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas) to retrieve the diamonds, and he turns the trio into full-fledged capitalists, wining and dining them all through Paris. Moscow then dispatches the humorless, doggedly loyal Comrade Ninotchka (Garbo) to retrieve both the prodigal Soviets and the gems. When Leon turns his charm on Ninotchka, she regards him coldly, informing him that love is merely a "chemical reaction." Even his kisses fail to weaken her resolve. Leon finally wins her over by taking an accidental fall in a restaurant, whereupon Ninotchka laughs for the first time in her life. She goes on a shopping spree and gets drunk, while Leon begins falling in love with her in earnest. As a bonus to the frothy script, by Billy Wilder and others, and its surefire star power, Ninotchka features what is perhaps Bela Lugosi's most likeable and relaxed performance. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Gone With the Wind
Gone With the Wind boils down to a story about a spoiled Southern girl's hopeless love for a married man. Producer David O. Selznick managed to expand this concept, and Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel, into nearly four hours' worth of screen time, on a then-astronomical 3.7-million-dollar budget, creating what would become one of the most beloved movies of all time. Gone With the Wind opens in April of 1861, at the palatial Southern estate of Tara, where Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) hears that her casual beau Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) plans to marry "mealy mouthed" Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland). Despite warnings from her father (Thomas Mitchell) and her faithful servant Mammy (Hattie McDaniel), Scarlett intends to throw herself at Ashley at an upcoming barbecue at Twelve Oaks. Alone with Ashley, she goes into a fit of histrionics, all of which is witnessed by roguish Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), the black sheep of a wealthy Charleston family, who is instantly fascinated by the feisty, thoroughly self-centered Scarlett: "We're bad lots, both of us." The movie's famous action continues from the burning of Atlanta (actually the destruction of a huge wall left over from King Kong) through the now-classic closing line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Holding its own against stiff competition (many consider 1939 to be the greatest year of the classical Hollywood studios), Gone With the Wind won ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Vivien Leigh), and Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to win an Oscar). The film grossed nearly 192 million dollars, assuring that, just as he predicted, Selznick's epitaph would be "The Man Who Made Gone With the Wind." ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Dodge City
This landmark western -- which, along with Stagecoach, has often been credited with revitalizing what had become a stagnant genre -- stars Errol Flynn as Wade Hatton, a cattle man who arrives in the frontier community of Dodge City, which is overrun by footloose cowboys and outlaws. When Hatton helps Dodge City lawmen capture a gang of cattle rustlers led by Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot), he's asked to help guide a wagon train into town with his friends Rusty Hart (Alan Hale, Sr.) and Tex Baird (Guinn Williams). En route, an impulsive young cowpoke named Lee Irving (William Lundigan) needlessly fires off his pistol, sparking a cattle stampede that leads to his death. When Hatton and his men arrive in Dodge, they discover Surrett is once again at large, and his gang has taken over the city. Appointed the city's new sheriff, Hatton is determined to clean up the town and put the outlaws out of business. In his rare moments off duty, Hatton tries to win the affections of Abbie Irving (Olivia de Havilland), but she believes that Hatton is responsible for the death of her brother Lee; Hatton's habit of flirting with dance hall girl Ruby Gilman (Ann Sheridan) does nothing to improve her opinion of him. A solid box office hit, Dodge City was the first of a series of westerns for swashbuckling star Flynn; his next oater, Virginia City, followed in 1940. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Few will argue with the contention that RKO Radio's 1939 adaptation of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the best of the many screen versions of the Hugo classic. We say this even allowing for certain liberties taken with the source material-liberties calculated by scenarists Sonya Levien and Bruno Frank to draw parallels between 15th century Paris and 20th century Europe. Thus, Claude Frollo (Cedric Hardwicke), the villain of the piece, is no longer merely a religious hypocrite unable to control his own carnal desires. Instead, Frollo is a bush-league Hitler, warning that the invention of the printing press is dangerous in that it will encourage the rabble to think for themselves, and plotting the persecution and destruction of the "undesirable" gypsies. In the same vein, Gringoire the Poet (Edmond O'Brien in his film debut) has been transformed into an agit-prop "Group Theatre" activist, bent on bringing the unvarnished truth to the ignorant Parisians. Many of Hugo's subplots have been dispensed with, the better to concentrate on the grotesquely deformed Quasimodo (Charles Laughton), bell-ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral, and his puppylike loyalty towards imperiled gypsy dancer Esmerelda (Maureen O'Hara, in her first American film appearance). The schism between the haves and have-nots in the walled city of Paris is illustrated in broad, visually dynamic strokes by director William Dieterle. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Dark Victory
Bette Davis earned an Oscar nomination for her role in this classic four-hanky tearjerker. Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) is a very wealthy Long Island heiress whose life is a constant whirl of cocktails, parties, and wild living. Despite her hedonistic lifestyle, Judith derives little pleasure from life except for her horses, cared for by stable master Michael O'Leary (Humphrey Bogart). When Judith begins suffering from headaches and dizzy spells, Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent) gives her the bad news: she has a brain tumor that could threaten her life if not treated immediately. Judith consents to surgery, and Frederick informs her that the operation was a success. A grateful Judith quickly falls in love with Frederick, and they plan to marry. However, the tumor returns, and when Judith discovers that she has only a few months to live, she calls off the wedding, convinced that Frederick is marrying her only as an act of pity for a dying woman. A major success and perennial favorite, Dark Victory was later remade as Stolen Hours with Susan Hayward and as a TV movie starring Elizabeth Montgomery. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Greta Garbo
    Greta Garbo - Ninotchka
  • Melvyn Douglas
    Melvyn Douglas - Count Leon Dalga
  • Bela Lugosi
    Bela Lugosi - Commissar Razinin
  • Sig Rumann
    Sig Rumann - Michael Iranoff
  • Felix Bressart
    Felix Bressart - Buljanoff
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