1930’s

[7] A London man gives refuge to a female spy, but after she’s knifed in the back he’s accused of her murder. The only way to clear his name is to piece together the clues she left behind and prevent top secret information from being smuggled out of the country. The 39 Steps is an taut espionage-thriller from Alfred Hitchcock that exemplifies the director’s fascination …

[6] A persistent newspaper reporter (Lee Tracy) sneaks into a clifftop mansion where a scientist (Lionel Atwill) is conducting experiments to determine which of his college associates may be the nefarious ‘Moon Killer’. The cast of Doctor X, which includes King Kong‘s Fay Wray as Atwill’s daughter and love interest to Tracy, give predictably theatrical performances, but Tracy wields a brand of subtle humor that …

[7] Ruth Chatterton is our title character, a bootlegging madam in 1906 San Francisco. The big earthquake claims the lives of her father and fiancée, and she ends up giving birth in a Chinatown basement. When poverty gives her no option, she gives up her baby for adoption. She straightens up and returns years later to reclaim him, only to find he no longer remembers …

[5] Jean Harlow and William Powell star in this romantic comedy about a Broadway singer who impulsively marries a wealthy playboy (Franchot Tone) before realizing her true love is really her long-time agent (Powell). Powell’s droll, sardonic humor fits Reckless nicely, but Harlow isn’t quite charismatic enough to make her part work. It doesn’t help that her character is a singer and a dancer — …

[6] Robert Williams stars as a scrappy newspaper reporter who falls in love with a socialite (rising star Jean Harlow) who drags him kicking and screaming into hoity-toity upper-class society. But after numerous dinners and parties, awkward relationships with ‘the help,’ and one too many comparisons to a bird in a gilded cage, Williams begins to wonder if his marriage is worth the upheaval in …

[6] Walter Huston headlines this Howard Hawks prison drama about a district attorney who becomes warden of a facility where he’s responsible for half the men’s sentences. Co-starring is fresh-faced Phillips Holmes as a twenty-year old who accidentally kills a man during a bar brawl. Huston sympathizes with the young man, but sends him to prison for a ten year sentence. Once he’s warden six …

[5] Katharine Hepburn won the first of her record four Oscars for this film about a naïve, aspiring actress who ingratiates herself into the Broadway social circle. She isn’t taken seriously at first. In fact, she’s pitied. But a childish sense of self-confidence helps her endure until the opportunity arises to show the theater world what she’s got. The story of Morning Glory is a …

[4] Errol Flynn stars as a surgeon who takes the fall for an older colleague who accidentally loses a patient under the knife. As fate would have it, he then falls in love with the deceased patient’s daughter (Anita Louise), but when she learns he’s the one blamed for her mother’s death, he flees in self-imposed exile. Searching for new meaning to his life, he …

[4] James Cagney stars as a racecar driver who sacrifices his relationship with Ann Dvorak to help his kid brother (Eric Linden) follow in his skid marks. But when Dvorak gets even by encouraging a girlfriend (Joan Blondell) to take the brother’s eye off the game, the plan backfires. Linden and Blondell really fall in love, and after a tragedy on the race track, Cagney’s …

[6] George Cukor directs Katharine Hepburn as Jo March in one of the earliest screen adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, a chronicle of the lives and loves of four sisters growing up in New England during the Civil War. There’s intrinsic nostalgia and sentimentality to the storytelling, but Cukor never lets the film become maudlin. That’s largely owed to Hepburn’s contribution. The then-controversial …

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