If I had my druthers—and a month’s vacation—I would camp out at Film Forum in Manhattan beginning Friday for Bruce Goldstein’s mind-boggling salute to the movie year of 1933, which he calls Hollywood’s Naughtiest, Bawdiest Year. (If you don’t get the reference, brush up on your movie musicals!) Typical of Bruce’s savvy programming, this tribute goes beyond the obvious feature films to include cartoons, newsreels, short subjects, trailers, and even a live staged reading of the notorious “lost” pre-Code movie Convention City. And at a time when 35mm film is an endangered species, Film Forum is screening most of its titles in that format. Almost a third of the prints will come from the Library of Congress, with others borrowed from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Museum of Modern Art, Harvard Film Archive, and the British Film Institute, as well as Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. Animation director and historian Greg Ford served as cartoon consultant to the series.
Most people don’t remember, if they ever knew, that the top box-office stars that year were an unlikely duo: Marie Dressler and Will Rogers. But they weren’t the only reason people scraped up nickels and dimes to go to the movies, at the height of the Great Depression.
In Film Forum’s press release, Goldstein expounds, “1933 was the year when the sound film came of age and the end of the ‘Pre-Code’ era—before the strict enforcement of Hollywood's self-censoring Production Code. It was the year Mae West saved Paramount from bankruptcy; the year King Kong debuted at Radio City Music Hall; the year Astaire & Rogers first teamed up; the year Katharine Hepburn won her first of four Oscars; the year of 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade, Busby Berkeley's greatest musicals; the year of The Three Little Pigs and 'Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?'; the year of Popeye the Sailor's movie debut; and it was the year of the raciest Pre-Code pictures, including The Story of Temple Drake, with Miriam Hopkins, and Baby Face, with Barbara Stanwyck.
“In three consecutive days, King Kong, which might be considered the first modern blockbuster, opened at Radio City Music Hall and its sister Rockefeller Center theater, the RKO Roxy [March 3]; Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated as 32nd president of the U.S. [March 4]; and the Bank Holiday was declared [March 5].”
The press release adds, “1933 was also a seminal year in world events, as the stage was set for WWII with FDR's inauguration and Hitler's rise to power. It was the first year of the New Deal, the burning of the German Reichstag, Gandhi's hunger strikes, and the repeal of Prohibition. The year began with the worst days of the Depression and ended on a more optimistic note as the New Deal kicked in – both moods were reflected in the year's movies.
“1933 was also the year Mount Rushmore was dedicated; the first drive-in theater opened (near Camden, New Jersey); the first All-Star baseball game was played; movies were introduced at Radio City Music Hall (starting with Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen); the Lone Ranger made his debut on radio; Newsweek published its first issue; FM radio was patented; Einstein arrived in the U.S. as a refugee; Wiley Post became the first person to fly solo around the world; and the first Krispy Kreme donut shop opened.”
Other highlights of the festival include:
• VALENTINE'S DAY (February 14): romantic comedy and drama starring the era's most popular sex symbol, Jean Harlow: Bombshell, co-starring Lee Tracy, and Hold Your Man, co-starring Clark Gable.
• SUSAN B. ANTHONY'S BIRTHDAY (February 15): two independent women: Barbara Stanwyck fighting her way to the top of the business world in the luridly fun Baby Face (presented in its uncensored pre-release version) and Katharine Hepburn as an aviatrix in Christopher Strong (directed by Dorothy Arzner, the only active female director in the 1930s).
• PRESIDENT'S DAY (February 18): Gabriel Over The White House, a visionary look at a "Super-President" played by Walter Huston (produced by William Randolph Hearst), plus cartoon Betty Boop For President.
• KING KONG'S 80th BIRTHDAY (March 3): King Kong presented on the 80th anniversary of its premiere at Radio City Music Hall and the RKO Roxy.
• FDR INAUGURATION DAY (March 4): William Wellman's Wild Boys Of The Road, one of Hollywood's most vivid depictions of the Depression, shown with a Hearst Metrotone newsreel of FDR's inauguration, on the 80th anniversary of that event.
• OSCAR WEEKEND (Feb 22-24, coinciding with this year's Academy Awards): Morning Glory (Best Actress, Katharine Hepburn), The Private Life Of Henry VIII (Best Actor, Charles Laughton), Cavalcade (Best Picture of the Year), and other 1933 Oscar winners.
Non-Hollywood movies in the festival include Fritz Lang's The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse (his last German film); Max Ophüls's Liebelei; Jean Vigo's Zero For Conduct; the avant-garde, gay-themed Lot in Sodom (filmed in Rochester, New York); Gustav Machatý's Ecstasy, with teenager Hedy Kiesler (who later became Hollywood's Lamarr) romping naked through the woods and featuring the screen's very first orgasm scene; and a special screening (co-presented by Japan Foundation) of Ozu's Passing Fancy— winner of the Kinema Junpo "Best One" award, Japan's Best Picture Oscar equivalent—with live narration by authentic Japanese benshi Ichiro Kataoka.
For a look at the complete schedule, click HERE.