CATEGORIES Columns, Cinematical


We're back in our time machine with the broken dial, and this time we land in 1933.

What Was the Story?

The much-maligned Herbert Hoover left office, replaced by the much-loved Franklin D. Roosevelt, and although the Great Depression was still in full swing, he seemed to give the people a measure of hope. That, plus the movies, which were still the cheapest entertainment in town. Ticket prices were, on average, about 23 cents each, and you also got a cartoon, a newsreel and a comedy short. This was probably cheaper for the first drive-in theater, which opened that year in Camden, New Jersey.

Construction on the Golden Gate Bridge began, and "The Lone Ranger" debuted on radio. If you really paid attention to the news, you might have heard about a guy called Adolf Hitler, who was rising through the ranks in Germany, or a guy named Gandhi, who went on a hunger strike to protest the treatment of the lower class. And, thank heaven, prohibition was repealed.

People were reading murder mysteries that year, and new books by Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen were published. Some of the year's top hit songs came from the movies, most notably Busby Berkeley's best three films and Fred and Ginger's first film together.

Why Was 1933 Significant?

The silent era, though it ended only a couple of years earlier, seemed like a thing of the distant past. Most of the technical problems around sound had been conquered and movies were now all-talking and all-singing (at least in Hollywood). This year even featured the first full-length orchestral score composed for a movie: Max Steiner's 'King Kong.' And, if you were into seeing European films, you could even glimpse an early nude scene by Hedy Lamarr (then known as Hedy Kiesler), in 'Ecstasy.'

The focus was squarely on entertainment, and most of the year's top movies were comedies or thrillers, with the occasional Garbo romance thrown in (although there were enough tasteful viewers around to make 'Little Women' a hit as well). However, the Academy managed to ignore all this and single out one very serious, upright movie for its Best Picture award. 'Cavalcade' may sound like fun, but it was based on a Noel Coward play and unfortunately had only the best intentions. Despite this, it was a superior year, with an excellent batch of high-quality studio product.

People Born in 1933: John Boorman, Kim Novak, Michael Caine, Frank Gorshin, Jayne Mansfield, Joan Collins, Gene Wilder, Danny Aiello, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, Julie Newmar, Roman Polanski, Tim Conway

Acting Debut: Fred Astaire in 'Flying Down to Rio,' Errol Flynn in 'In the Wake of the Bounty'

Top Grossing Films: 'Cavalcade,' 'Design for Living,' 'Dinner at Eight,' '42nd Street,' 'Gold Diggers of 1933,' 'Hold Your Man,' 'I'm No Angel,' 'King Kong,' 'Little Women,' 'Queen Christina,' 'She Done Him Wrong,' 'State Fair'

Top Movie Stars: Marie Dressler, Will Rogers, Janet Gaynor, Eddie Cantor, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Mae West, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford

New York Times' Ten Best List: 'Cavalcade,' 'Reunion in Vienna,' 'Morgenrot,' 'State Fair,' 'Dinner at Eight,' 'Berkeley Square,' 'The Private Lie of Henry VIII,' 'Little Women,' 'The Invisible Man,' 'His Double Life'

National Board of Review's Ten Best Films: 'Topaze,' 'Berkeley Square,' 'Cavalcade,' 'Little Women,' 'Mama Loves Papa,' 'The Pied Piper,' 'She Done Him Wrong,' 'State Fair,' 'Three Cornered Moon,' 'Zoo in Budapest'

Oscar Winner, Best Picture: 'Cavalcade'

Oscar Winner, Best Director: Frank Lloyd, 'Cavalcade'

Oscar Winner, Best Actor: Charles Laughton, 'The Private Life of Henry VIII'

Oscar Winner, Best Actress: Katharine Hepburn, 'Morning Glory'

Oscar Winner, Best Supporting Actor: n/a

Oscar Winner, Best Supporting Actress: n/a

Oscar Winner, Foreign Language Film: n/a

My Ten Favorites: 'Zero for Conduct,' 'Duck Soup,' 'The Testament of Dr. Mabuse,' 'King Kong,' 'Baby Face,' 'Queen Christina,' 'Footlight Parade,' '42nd Street,' 'The Invisible Man,' 'Hallelujah I'm a Bum'

Cult Favorites: 'Damaged Lives,' 'Duck Soup,' 'Ecstasy,' 'King Kong'

Horror Films: 'The Ghoul,' 'The Invisible Man,' 'King Kong,' 'Mystery of the Wax Museum,' 'Son of Kong,' 'The Testament of Dr. Mabuse,' 'The Vampire Bat'

Sci-Fi Films: 'The Invisible Man'

Westerns: 'Riders of Destiny,' 'Sagebrush Trail'

Worst Film of the Year(?): 'Narcotic'