The Hollywood Studio which brought you one of the first Classic films in the era of talking pictures, All Quiet on the Western Front, couldn’t boast of producing many classics in the 1930s and 40s.
It was a factory. It had a product. And it made enough money to survive.
Hi everyone. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here to briefly survey the films of one of the oldest studios in Hollywood, Universal Pictures.
First let’s look at the year 1939, reputed to be one of the stellar years in Hollywood film production. Although Universal released 49 films that year, only ONE can rank among the classics — Destry Rides Again.
The story, from a novel by Max Brand had been filmed before, in 1932, with Western star Tom Mix. But this version, with a new adaptation, a great song by Frederick Hollander and Frank Loesser, and stars, Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart (there they are above), lit up the screen.
Dietrich plays ‘Frenchie,’ a saloon singer who falls in love with new-sheriff-in-town ‘Tom’ Destry Jr. (Stewart), who in turn mixes high ideals and ace sharpshooting to liberate a Western town in the clutches of venal local boss, Brian Donlevy. Take another look at this gem.
(Another reason to do so is that one of our favorite supporting actors, Mischa Auer, appears in Destry Rides Again. Check him out in a much later movie, Orson Welles 1955 drama Mr. Arkadin, a favorite of Frank’s. Auer plays a down-on-his-luck professor reduced to operating literally a flea circus in a European side show. A pithy, unforgettable performance.)
No one disputes that throughout the decade Universal had produced some dynamite horror films including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy— setting the bar for all horror films to come. But, in our opinion, only Destry Rides Again and 1935’s My Man Godfrey hold up today as Universal’s contribution to true classics from the 30s.
My Man Godfrey, director Gregory La Cava’s romantic comedy, features exceptionally strong performances from Carole Lombard as a socialite who hires a Great Depression-era derelict, played by William Powell, as her butler. (As it happens, our man Mischa Auer is also in this cast, more reason to take another look.)
By the way, Universal, always one to capitalise on known material, made Destry Rides Again again, and again. In 1950 as Frenchie with Shelly Winters. And in 1954 as Destry with Audie Murphy.
And for those who love gossip: Stewart and Dietrich had a brief affair during filming and rumors abounded for years that Dietrich had an abortion at Stewart’s insistence. But others claim it was Marlene herself who spread the rumors cause she was miffed that HE ended the affair before SHE was ready to.