The decade of the 1930s in film involved many significant films. 1939 was one of the biggest years (and still is one of the greatest years) in Hollywood.
Many full-length films were produced during the decade of the 1930s. The 1930s were a decade of political turmoil and economic problems; the great depression had affected the entire world, and Europe was dealing with both the fallout of World War I and the economic hardships of the time, both of which resulted in the rise of fascist political movements. The uncertainty of the era resulted in widespread popularity of fantastical, escapist fare. Swashbuckling adventures and the safe scares of the Universal Horror films were highly successful during this period.
The studio system was at its highest with studios having great control over a film’s creative decision. This included the creation of the Hay’s Code, which was the first large scale attempt at organized censorship of Hollywood films.
This was also a decade in which many memorable stars made their careers and saw their earliest starring roles.
1930 also marks the beginning of what is considered to be the ‘golden age’ of Hollywood, a period which lasted through at least the 1940s.
- Remakes: Following the switch to talking movies c. 1926/1927, many classic films were remade in the 1930s (and later), including Alice In Wonderland (1933), Cleopatra (1934), and The Prisoner of Zenda (1937).
- Monsters: Among the numerous remakes and new films were the monster movies, with a wide spectrum of stereotypical monsters. Given that many of these films were produced by Universal, they are regarded as part of the ‘Universal Horror’ genre. The first of these films debuted in 1931, and consisted of Dracula, Frankenstein, plus Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, then a 1932 trio with The Mummy, Vampyr, and White Zombie, followed by a 1933 trio of King Kong, The Invisible Man, and Mystery of the Wax Museum. In 1935 appeared Werewolf of London and The Raven leading to 1939’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
- Sequels/spin-offs: Within 5 years of sound-films, sequel films and spin-off plots appeared, with The Son of Kong (same year, 1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Dracula’s Daughter (1936), etc.
- Stars: The 1930s saw the rise of some of the best known performers in acting and film history. A number of actors launched their careers in the 1930s, while others from the previous decade continued to be well regarded. The aforementioned Dracula and Frankenstein films both launched the careers of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, respectively. The two men would spend much of the decade starring in Universal Horror films. Actor Errol Flynn, best known for his role as Robin Hood, saw his first starring role in Captain Blood. The Marx Brothers, making their debut at the end of the silent era, rose to fame in the 1930s. Other stars of this era included Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, and child star Shirley Temple.
- The Hays Code and the end of the Pre-Code era’: In response to a number of scandals in the 1920s, the studios adopted a series of guidelines known as the “Hays Code”, after its creator Will H. Hays. Hays was the head of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association, which would later be renamed as the Motion Picture Association of America in 1945. Starting in 1927, Hays began compiling a list of topics which he thought Hollywood should avoid. The code was revealed and implemented in 1930, but it was not until 1934, with the establishment of the Production Code Administration, that it was significantly enforced. Due to this delay in enforcement capability, the Pre-Code era of Hollywood is technically considered to last until 1934, despite the code itself being unveiled in 1930.
The specific date in which the Pre-Code era ends could be considered July 1, 1934. According to an amendment made on June 13, 1934, all films released after July 1 of that year had to receive a PCA certificate of approval.
After this, the code was stringently enforced, though various forbidden subjects became less taboo and thus regulations regarding them were gradually relaxed. The code would remain in effect until 1968, when it was abandoned entirely. It was then replaced by the familiar letter rating system.
- Gone with the Wind (1939)
- Son of Frankenstein (1939)
- Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938)
- The Girl Was Young / Young and Innocent (1938)
- The Lady Vanishes (1938)
- Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
- Flash Gordon (1936)
- Modern Times (1936)
- Sabotage / The Woman Alone (1936)
- Secret Agent (1936)
- The 39 Steps (1935)
- Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
- The Invisible Man (1933)
- King Kong (1933)
- The Son of Kong (1933)
- The Mummy (1932)
- Number Seventeen (1932)
- City Lights (1931)
- Dracula (1931)
- Dracula [Spanish Version] (1931)
- Frankenstein (1931)
- M (1931)
- Juno and the Paycock (1930)
First Published: Apr 13, 2012 – Last Updated: May 7, 2014
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