09 October 2008

12 Movies From the Last Depression to Help You Through the Next Depression


Is another Great Depression just around the corner? Or is prosperity? Who cares? If the bottom totally falls out of the U.S. economy maybe will see some of the same kind of great cinema that both mirrored and helped America through the last such crisis.

As the Depression took a toll on the US through much of the 1930's Hollywood was Johnny-on-the-spot with a passel of films reflecting the crisis. These same movies often eased the cares of struggling Americans. Here's a sampling of that wonderful fare.

1. My Man Godfrey (1936). The ultimate Great Depression screwball comedy stars William Powell and Carole Lombard. Powell is Godfrey "rescued" from a hobo village to serve as butler in Lombard's wealthy but wacky family. A bit of social commentary gets mixed in with the laughs.
2. Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933). The ultimate Great Depression musical. This Busby Berkeley choreographed film play up the forgotten man theme adding great songs and comedy in the bargain. A stellar cast is led by Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell. Thrill to the strains of Ginger Rogers singing "We're in the Money" in pig latin.
3. Grapes of Wrath (1940). No laughs or songs here. This John Ford classic is a superb film adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel about Okies escaping the Dust Bowl for what they hope will be a new and improved life in California. Henry Fonda is Tom Joad. His closing speech is one of cinema's great moments.
4. Sullivan's Travels (1941). Preston Stuges wrote and directed this hilarious spoof of Hollywood. It also takes a look at the depression. Joel McCrea stars as a famous film director who wants to see how the other half lives. He befriends the lovely Veronica Lake. The two take to the rails where lessons are learned and laughs abound.
5. I Am A Fugitive Form A Chain Gang (1932). Mervin LeRoy directed this scathing look at a Southern state's prison system. Paul Muni is the escapee. While the film focuses on a morally corrupt criminal justice system it is also a powerful look at the depression. As effective today as it was upon its release. Based on a true story.
6. Wild Boys of the Road (1933). One of the classic pre code message films. Here the focus is on the how the depression ripped families asunder. Youngsters leave home to be less a burden on the family and perhaps help support them. William Wellman did was masterful directing a cast of relative unknowns. Why don't they make more movies like this today?
7. Stella Dallas (1937). The quintessential tear jerker stars Barbara Stanwyck as the title character. Stella is a single mom who sacrifices everything for her daughter in already tough times.
8. Rafter Romance (1933). Ginger Rogers and Norman Foster play roommates -- but its not how you think. They share a bed but not at the same time. One works a night shift the other the day. The story is predictable but fun.
9. Modern Times (1936). What's a little economic down turn without The Little Tramp? The inimitable Charlie Chaplin wrote, directed and starred opposite Paulette Goddard in his last silent feature (there's sound but no yakking). The two find love amid poverty, homelessness, prison, and tedious jobs. Their dreams, love and pluck see them through.
10. Easy Living (1937). Preston Stuges wrote, Mithcell Leisen directed, Jean Arthur, Ray Milland and Edward Arnold star. Joblessness, high finance and sudden wealth are all explored. Laughs are provided and romance wins out. Not only a diverting little comedy but some keen commentary as well.
11. Possessed (1931). It stars Joan Crawford and Clark Gable early in their careers when they were particularly attractive Crawford is from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks and is determined to join Gable on the other side. She quickly manages that feat but complications ensue.
12. Heroes For Sale (1933). Another powerful Wellman film. Heroes looks at the effects of the Depression on one man in particular and thousands in general. One of the most underrated films of all time.

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