Cinema was a medium uniquely poised to capture the dynamism of a decade like the 1930s. It allowed people an opportunity alternately to escape and to engage with a world turned upside down. The film industry in the 1930s produced a catalogue of masterpieces still studied for their sensitivity to the most fundamental issues of the medium. These clips are iconic of both this sensitivity as well as the culture of the era.


Duck Soup (1935). Iconic of the precarious position of identity in the thirties, the Marx brothers mirror movement, reminding us that the lessons learned from silent film are some of the best the medium has to offer and that best do it justice.


It's A Wonderful Life (1948). Looking back at the thirties, Capra teaches America how and what to remember: the individual as hero, the importance of community and kindness, and a forgiving, even appreciative attitude toward the imperfections that mark not only humans, but even angels. Capra explores the complexity of the era through George's struggle throughout the movie, to accept the legacy of a compassionate and personal social responsibility handed down by his father.


Little Caesar (1930). This film, starring Edward G. Robinson, was one of the first gangster films of the 1930s. Robinson is a small-time hood and merciless killer. He rises to power at the top of the mob in the underworld. The movie is a fast-moving crime story with myriad scenes of violence.


Citizen Kane (1941). Orson Welles both starred in and directed this film. The story is supposedly based on the life of William Randolph Hearst. The film traces the newspaper tycoon from his simple beginnings on a rollercoaster ride through to a sad and bitter end.


The Thin Man (1934). A number of 1930s films tried to make room at the table for everyone. The Thin Man brought together a detective with a lawyer, a professor, a hitman, and a socialite to solve the mystery of the murdered engineer. Everyone's financial interest is at stake, as this whodunnit tries to find the symbolic scapegoat for a society turned upside down.


Stagecoach (1939). The classic Western Stagecoach also presented a levelled, claustrophobic social structure, seating a desperate prostitute and a Virginia lady across from one another. But John Wayne's rough-and-tumble heroism and youthful good looks recall old cultural solutions to address new problems.


Wizard of Oz (1939). Dorothy's displacement from reality into the magical world of Oz duplicates the constantly shifting process of permanent relationships in regards to home, family, and property during the 1930s. The tornado blows recognizable icons of permanence -- property, picket fences, cows, and family figures -- past Dorothy's house in a constant parade representing the transitory nature of the 1930s.


Echoing the complete upheaval of the thirties, Capra inverts and flattens the social structure of power in his screwball comedy It Happened One Night (1934).


Stella Dallas (1937). Stephen Dallas loses his fortune and so leaves his beloved to begin a new life in a small New England town. He soon falls in love with the equally poor Stella Martin and procedes to regain his fortune working as an ad. man. Eventually, Stephen leaves Stella and returns to his old lover. Stella renounces her social status and makes the ultimate motherly sacrifice by sending Laurel to live with her father and his lover.


The Black Cat (1934). Perhaps the real horror was the bringing together of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Honeymooning in Budapest, the Allison's meet Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi). When their bus runs off the road, Werdegast takes the Allisons to nearby Hjalmar Poelzig's(Karloff)mansion. Unfortunately, Poelzig turns out to be a Satanic Priest who hopes to make Mrs. Allison the next bride of Satan.


I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932) Mervyn LeRoy's disturbing indictment of the penal system in which an innocent World War I veteran is convicted of a crime and forced to spend time on the brutal chain gang. In this scene, James Allen (Paul Muni) enters a pawn shop and attempts to pawn his Croix de Guerre medal.


Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) Mervyn LeRoy's musical comedy about a Broadway show based on the Great Depression. In this scene, the producer explains the concept to his prospective performers.
       

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