Wednesday, February 27, 2013


The notion that 1939 was the greatest of all movie years has been around for so long that it's pretty much an accepted fact these days. A while ago, as I was roaming the blogosphere, I happened upon a post by Peter Bogdanovich on his Indiewire blog (appropriately called Blogdanovich) titled "The Greatest Year?"  I read on, having always respected what Mr. B has to say about films and filmmaking. He not only possesses an encyclopedic knowledge and intimate understanding of the subject, but has also made some classics of his own that I much admire - The Last Picture Show (1971), What's Up, Doc? (1972) and Paper Moon (1973).

With "The Greatest Year?" Bogdanovich looked back on one of his 1972 columns for Esquire magazine. In that article he'd selected and reviewed a great movie year of the past to illustrate his contention that films of the early '70s weren't measuring up. He zeroed in on 1939 in particular because in addition to the fact that it had been a banner year for movies, it was also the year he was born (as were Francis Coppola and William Friedkin, two other major filmmakers of the time). Not long after Bogdanovich's column appeared in Esquire, he recalled, a lengthier, more elaborate piece on the films of 1939 appeared in Life magazine written by film critic Richard Schickel. Schickel once and for all declared '39 to be the great year. The rest, as we know, is history.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

CMBA Blogathon: Nightmare Alley (1947)

Woodcut print by Guy Budziak
Coney Island's first so-called "freak show" opened in 1880, but the heyday of its sideshow attractions began nearly 25 years later when Samuel W. Gumpertz opened "Lilliputia" at Dreamland, one of the site's three major amusement parks. Wildly popular with tourists, "Lilliputia" was a miniature city scaled to accommodate its 300 midget and dwarf residents. When Dreamland burned in 1911, Gumpertz built the Dreamland Circus Sideshow and traveled the world constantly seeking "freaks" (usually those with congenital anomalies) and people from exotic lands (Filipino blowgun shooters, actual "wild men" from Borneo, Ubangi women with plated lips) for his shows. In no time Gumpertz would have competition from The World Circus Freak Show, Wonderland Circus Sideshow and other copy-cat venues large and small.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

31 Days of Oscar: The Rains Came (1939)

There is no mistaking that drama on a grand scale is about to take place even before the first scene of The Rains Came (1939) begins. Alfred Newman's commanding score pounds, the title sequence rolls over the dark image of a rain drenched ancient city, and as each hand-lettered title appears it is soon washed from the screen as if swept away in a downpour.