10. 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' (1937)
Disney's musicalized version of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale is a heady mixture of goofus comedy (the dwarfs' incessant bumbling), suspense (the evil queen's machinations), romance (the prince and Snow White's cuddly moments together) and tunes ('Whistle While You Work,' 'Some Day My Prince Will Come,' 'Heigh-Ho'). In the long and storied history of Disney, few films had more naysayers that had to gulp their words than this one. Recognizing the movie's instant significance and growing worldwide acclaim, AMPAS gave Walt an honorary Oscar in 1939. Factoid: MGM dancer Marge Champion was the real-life model for Snow White and spent grueling hours posing for Disney animators.

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9. 'Of Mice and Men' (1939)
John Steinbeck's greatest novel is brilliantly adapted to the screen with Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. in the leads as George and Lennie, two California migrant ranch hands (the brains and the brawn, respectively) trying to stay alive during the Depression while avoiding a bullying foreman who has it in for Lennie. Chaney particularly registers as the mentally retarded gentle giant who just wants to raise rabbits; a portrayal a world away from his better known Wolf Man and Mummy roles. "Dean of American composers" Aaron Copland provides the evocative score.

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8. 'Duck Soup' (1933)
It's the Paramount-era Marx Brothers at their craziest before they hiked it across town to MGM and came under the ameliorating influence of studio wunderkind Irving Thalberg. Groucho's "Rufus T. Firefly," prime minister of fictional Freedonia, in this inspired insanity that was "discovered" in the '70s by college kids who interpreted all the antic mayhem as a premeditated antiwar satire. (Groucho declares war on neighboring Sylvania for a perceived slight. Think Iraq with a laugh track.) Includes the classic "mirror sequence" and Margaret Dumont in strict perseverance mode as Groucho's long-suffering straightwoman.

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7. 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939)
In an era of flip-flopping politicians who seem to act solely in service of political expediency, it's only in the annals of history (and movies) that we find leadership that really measures up. And no one's done it better on the big screen than Jimmy Stewart as junior Senator Jefferson Smith; a trusting soul who travels to D.C. only to see his idealistic hopes crushed by the graft of special interest money men. Smith's one-man filibuster ranks among Frank Capra's most stirring movie moments. Won the Oscar for Best Original Story.

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6. 'The Public Enemy' (1931)
Among Warner Bros. Studios' deep roster of '30s tough guys, none was more iconic than James Cagney. Here he plays Prohibition-era hoodlum Tom Powers, who works his way up the mobster ranks in Chicago and makes plenty of "hey-hey" before the chickens come home to roost (including giving his girlfriend, played by Mae Clark, a breakfast grapefruit in the kisser). The ending, with a mummified Tom "dropped off" and propped up against his front door while his adoring mother cluelessly plumps bed pillows in anticipation of his arrival home from the hospital still sends shivers.

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5. 'Bride of Frankenstein ' (1935)
The monster's back ... and this time he's got a girl. Boris Karloff reprises his most famous role as Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory creation with Elsa Lanchester matching him shriek for grunt as his "manufactured" bride. Director James Whale deftly juxtaposes whimsy with horror and pathos, and the movie is immeasurably aided by composer Fran Waxman's moody leitmotifs, as well as John Mescall's cinematography, which makes effective use of what he termed "Rembrandt lighting." Not until "The Godfather: Part II" 40 years later would audiences witness something like this: a sequel that was an improvement on a classic original.

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4. 'It Happened One Night' (1934)
Claudette Colbert stars in this, the grandpappy of all rom-com road movies, as a pampered rich girl who skips out on her controlling father and meets "everyman" newspaper reporter Clark Gable on the open road during the height of the Depression. The film was the first to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director -- Frank Capra, Actor, Actress and Screenplay). If that's not enough, sales of undershirts plummeted across the U.S. when Gable stripped off his shirt to reveal nothing but buff pecs.

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3. 'City Lights' (1931)
Charlie Chaplin in full "Little Tramp" regalia falls in love with a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) selling flowers on the street who mistakes him for a millionaire. Undeterred, the tramp manages to pay for an operation that restores sight to the girl. The last scene, with Chaplin hopeful, embarrassed and yearning looking at the girl (now crestfallen) as she takes the measure of the man who she thought was her knight errant is, well, devastating. Probably the greatest silent film (outside of some Keystone, Essanay and Mutual comedy two-reelers) that Chaplin ever made.

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2. 'The Wizard of Oz' (1939)
More than a musical or even a movie, 'Oz' has become a rite of passage; a cherished icon of the very best of our pop-cultural patrimony. The cast (Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Frank Morgan and Margaret Hamilton) are so spot-on that each became forever associated with their individual characters (much to the chagrin of some, like Lahr). No matter, the movie is pure joy from the first sepia-toned Kansas scenes and the burst of Technicolor when Judy opens the farmhouse door onto the menagerie that is Oz to her final teary goodbye to her companions. Winner of the Best Song Oscar ('Over the Rainbow') which, over the years, became inextricably linked with the Garland mythos.

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1. 'Gone With the Wind' (1939)
Author Margaret Mitchell's classic romantic page-turner of the Civil War became the most entertaining soap opera ever to hit the big screen. Featuring largely unknown English actress Vivian Leigh in the universally coveted role of coltish heroine Scarlett O'Hara and Clark Gable -- everyone's unanimous choice -- as Rhett Butler, the movie still stands as one of the greatest achievements of storytelling on film. From the first strains of Max Steiner's soaring score to Rhett's "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" exit, the film pulsates with iconic scenes and lines. Ten Oscars include Best Picture, Director (Victor Fleming), Actress (Leigh), Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel, the first black actor to ever receive a statuette) and Screenplay.

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Morris Dickstein on '30s Movies: Screwball Brilliance and What Happened in 1939