1931by marie_D | created - 13 Oct 2012 | updated - 04 Feb 2015 | Public
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1. City Lights (1931)
G | 87 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
With the aid of a wealthy erratic tippler, a dewy-eyed tramp who has fallen in love with a sightless flower girl accumulates money to be able to help her medically.
Votes: 157,039 | Gross: $0.02M
A comic fairy tale about a little tramp's devotion to a blind flower seller. My heart belongs to Buster Keaton but even I must acknowledge that no one anywhere ever equaled this. It is exquisite.
2. M (1931)
Not Rated | 99 min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller
When the police in a German city are unable to catch a child-murderer, other criminals join in the manhunt.
Votes: 135,119 | Gross: $0.03M
Police and criminals unknowingly make common cause in tracking down a child serial killer (Peter Lorre). This was voted the best German film ever by German film historians in the 1990's as per the fantastic commentary on the Criterion DVD. I've seen this one many times and always get something new out of it. Lorre was beyond magnificent in his film debut. What a tragedy that he succumbed to addiction later on.
3. La Chienne (1931)
Not Rated | 95 min | Crime, Drama
A woman and her pimp exploit a painter for money.
A mildmannered henpecked cashier (Michel Simon) falls head over heels for a woman he rescues on the street. She and her pimp find that that his paintings have a market and cash in.
The film is introduced by puppets in a Punch & Judy show. One says the story is a morality play, a second says it is a comedy of manners, the third that it is about ordinary people and has no point. In fact, it is all three but I found it predominantly to be a pitch black comedy. Simon is wonderful and the direction, of course is superb. I love the way Renoir plays with art dealers and the way he uses music.
I'm always hoping to discover something new to add to my non-existent Top 100 and I'm happy to say I did today! Highly recommended.
Fritz Lang remade this film as Scarlet Street in 1945 with Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea. Much as I love that version, I prefer this one.
4. Frankenstein (1931)
Passed | 70 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi
An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.
I've seen this one many times before. Each time I am moved all over again by Boris Karloff's timeless performance as the monster. It is amazing that Universal considered for even one second giving the part to Lugosi. Then, too, the images are just wonderful. Some of the performances are over the top but they seem to fit right into the Gothic story. For a movie that is so easily parodied, this plays it surprisingly straight.
5. Marius (1931)
Not Rated | 130 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Marius is faced with a choice whether to fulfill his passion by sailing the seas or stay and marry the woman he loves.
Fanny loves Marius (Pierre Fresnay). Marius loves Fanny but dreams of the sea. Caesar (Raimu) loves them both. This is a richly human film, filled with marvelous character parts and emotion. The dialogue is wonderful without being too stagy.
Favorite exchange: Wealthy widower who wants to marry young girl - "I have plenty of money." Girl's mother - "Nightgowns have no pockets."
This is the first of three films collectively known as the "Marseilles Trilogy" or the "Fanny Trilogy" based on plays by Marcel Pagnol, who also wrote the source material for Jean de Florette, The Baker's Wife, and other films.
6. Le Million (1931)
Not Rated | 81 min | Musical, Comedy
An impoverished painter and his rival engage in a race across Paris to recover a jacket concealing a winning lottery ticket.
Another musical souffle from Rene Clair. A penniless young Parisian artist's creditors are all breathing down his neck when he wins a million in the lottery. Only problem is the ticket is in the pocket of his jacket, which he gave to his girlfriend to mend, and his girlfriend gave the jacket to a bum, and the bum sold the jacket and ... you get the picture. I find these things totally enchanting.
7. Comradeship (1931)
Not Rated | 93 min | Drama
Plea against war and for friendship between peoples, through the story of French miners rescued by German colleagues after a firedamp explosion.
A large seam of coal runs under the border between France and Germany. When over 600 miners are trapped by fire and cave-ins on the French side, German miners spontaneously come to their rescue.
This is a picture about the brotherhood of workers. As such I expected it to be heavy on the message. This movie would have been excellent without any message. It is very suspenseful, the script is first-rate, and the special effects down in the mine are incredible. The ensemble cast speaks both French and German and is excellent. Quite an achievement considering the year it was made.
8. The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
Passed | 93 min | Comedy, Romance, Musical
An amorous lieutenant is forced to marry a socially awkward princess, though he tries to keep his violin-playing girlfriend on the side.
A bon vivant Viennese Lieutenant (Maurice Chevalier) starts a new romance with a violinist (Claudette Colbert). The affair ends all too quickly when a princess (Miriam Hopkins) believes a wink aimed at the violinist was meant for her. This musical comedy is pure naughty fun simply dripping with the Lubitsch touch.
9. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Not Rated | 98 min | Horror, Sci-Fi
Dr. Jekyll faces horrible consequences when he lets his dark side run wild with a potion that transforms him into the animalistic Mr. Hyde.
A physician's experiments to isolate the "noble" and "impulsive" parts of human nature go horribly wrong. I must read the book because I really could not figure out what possible constructive purpose this effort was designed to achieve. What I got out of the movie was that it allowed the otherwise saintly Jekyll to act on his sexual desires when he was not allowed to marry - though of course that goes wrong too. The camera work and special effects were ahead of their time. I thought Fredric March was wonderful as Hyde but maybe a bit theatrical as Jekyll. Miriam Hopkins was very good as poor Ivy save for her execrable Cockney accent. With Rose Hobart as Jekyll's fiancee.
10. The 3 Penny Opera (1931)
Not Rated | 112 min | Comedy, Drama, Musical
In London at the turn of the century, the bandit Mack the Knife marries Polly without the knowledge of her father, Peachum, the 'king of the beggars'.
Oh, I loved this version of the Brecht/Weill operetta. It just drips Weimar decadence and forboding. The acting is fantastic and the production is so stylish the frames could leap out from a German expressionist painting. Highly recommended.
11. Waterloo Bridge (1931)
81 min | Drama, Romance
A prostitute's self-loathing makes her reluctant to marry an idealistic soldier during World War I.
An out-of-work American chorus girl (Mae Clarke) makes ends meet by picking up doughboys on Waterloo Bridge. She runs into a naive American soldier during an air raid and he starts making wedding plans. With a young and glowing Bette Davis in a tiny part as the soldier's sister.
1931 has been the year of Mae Clark who has done well in a wide range of roles - the fiance in Frankenstein, Jimmy Cagney's rather straight-laced moll in The Public Enemy and as a sensitive but street-wise woman in this one. I enjoyed Whale's restrained handling of the melodrama. I could have lived without the ending. I didn't know they would have to resort to that in the pre-Code days.
12. The Front Page (1931)
TV-PG | 101 min | Comedy
An investigative reporter sees an opportunity for the story of a lifetime when an accused murderer escapes hanging.
Rapid fire newspaper comedy about an editor (Adolph Menjou) with ice in his veins who continuously bamboozles his star reporter (Pat O'Brien) into giving up his wedding plans to cover a high-profile hanging. This was remade with a sex change as His Girl Friday in 1940 with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell and again in 1974 with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. The screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur just pops. The delivery in this version is fine. I liked Edward Everett Horton as a germophobic reporter. The print I watched on Netflix streaming left a lot to be desired but I enjoyed it anyway.
13. Bad Girl (1931)
Passed | 90 min | Drama, Romance
A man and woman, skeptical about romance, nonetheless fall in love and are wed, but their lack of confidence in the opposite sex haunts their marriage.
Dorothy (Sally Eilers) thinks all men are after one thing. Eddie (James Dunn) has never been able to whisper sweet nothings and is saving up to open his own radio business. They get together when he is the one guy who doesn't flirt with her. This is a moving film about well-intentioned ordinary people trying to make a go of married life while operating out of mistrust and often working at cross purposes. I liked it a lot. Eilers is beautiful but not much of an actress. I thought James Dunn was wonderful as the husband who expresses his love through action rather than words.
The title is misleading. There are a couple of shots of Eilers in lingerie and the couple do get married after they stay out late (or rather in at the boy's apartment) but the girl is certainly not "fast". Rather the opposite I would say.
Bad Girl won Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Writing (Adaptation). It was also nominated for Best Picture.
14. Tokyo Chorus (1931)
90 min | Comedy, Drama
A married Tokyo man faces unemployment after standing up for an older colleague.
This silent comedy directed by Yasujiro Ozu looks at the ups and downs of a middle class Japanese family during the Depression. The film ranges from slapstick to true poignancy and everything in between as it captures the experience of children and parents as they face challenges together. There is a moment when the family has reached its lowest ebb and the parents are playing a pat-a-cake game with the children. The husband and wife simply look at each other without saying a word or emoting very much. You can see all the genius that Ozu would develop in that one moment. Highly recommended.
15. Dracula (1931)
Passed | 75 min | Fantasy, Horror
The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina.
By all rights this movie just shouldn't be a classic. The acting is over the top when it isn't wooden and the effects are laughable (I am especially fond of the armadillos in Dracula's castle and the rubber bats). It isn't even scary. So why is it so darned entertaining??? Beats me. Every time I watch it I enjoy it all over again.
16. Drácula (1931)
Unrated | 104 min | Fantasy, Horror
Centuries-old vampire Dracula preys upon the innocent Eva and her friends.
An entirely separate cast and crew went on duty when the principal players were through for the day and prepared a version of Dracula on the Universal lot for the Spanish-speaking market. Funnily enough, it turns out to be superior in almost every way to the more famous Lugosi version. It is much creepier, flows better, and boasts a more believable Renfield and a Van Helsing who is a worthy vampire slayer. The damsel in distress is a real beauty. This version is available on the Universal Dracula Legacy Collection DVD with English subtitles. Highly recommended.
17. The Public Enemy (1931)
Not Rated | 83 min | Crime, Drama
A young hoodlum rises up through the ranks of the Chicago underworld, even as a gangster's accidental death threatens to spark a bloody mob war.
I was so sure I had seen this before. But I have no recollection of the unforgettable ending at all so clearly I was basing my memories on clips. At any rate, Cagney gave his usual 110% and I thought many of the more brutal moments foreshadowed The Godfather. It moved a little more slowly than I would have liked.
18. Little Caesar (1931)
Not Rated | 79 min | Action, Crime, Drama
A small-time criminal moves to a big city to seek bigger fortune.
A power-crazy and gun-crazy hoodlum (Edward G. Robinson) rises to the top of his profession before a great fall. With Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as his chum turned song-and-dance man and Glenda Farrell as his dance partner.
This was an interesting companion piece to The Public Enemy. Robinson's character has none of the charm of Cagney's "bad boy" and there is a strong role for the police which were absent in the other film. Nonetheless, Robinson is as dynamic and compelling as Cagney for me and I thought the film flowed somewhat better.
19. Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)
Not Rated | 86 min | Drama, Romance, Adventure
On the South Pacific island of Bora Bora, a young couple's love is threatened when the tribal chief declares the girl a sacred virgin.
Silent docu-drama about the love of a Tahitian girl and boy and their struggle to stay together when a tabu is placed on the girl. This is beautiful to watch, the young actors are charming and natural, and the music is fun.
20. À Nous la Liberté (1931)
Not Rated | 97 min | Comedy, Musical
Seeking better life, two convicts escape from prison.
On Hulu Plus
21. The Champ (I) (1931)
Passed | 86 min | Drama, Sport
An alcoholic ex-boxer struggles to provide a good living for his son.
A washed-up alcoholic heavyweight (Wallace Beery) is attempting to raise his young son (Jackie Cooper) in Tijuana on gambling winnings. While he doesn't do a great job of it, love is strong between father and son. This sentimental but gritty tearjerker works for me. Cooper is particularly charming and, while Beery is an unconvincing boxer, he is a lovable lug.
22. Platinum Blonde (1931)
Passed | 89 min | Comedy, Romance
A young woman from a very rich family impulsively marries a reporter, but each assumes the other is the one whose lifestyle must change.
A society girl (Jean Harlow) and a reporter (Robert Williams) fall in love and elope but can their marriage survive her attempts to "civilize" him? With Loretta Young as his newspaper buddy, Gallagher. I liked this one a lot due to the snappy dialogue, expertly delivered by the very appealing Williams and company. I found myself wondering what happened to him. Turns out this was his first major role and he died of peritonitis 4 days after the picture's release.
23. Smart Money (1931)
Passed | 81 min | Crime, Drama
A Greek barber has uncommon skills in playing poker and soon rises in the seedy world of illegal gambling, but pretty blondes remain his Achilles' heel.
Nick the Barber (Edward G. Robinson) is known for his luck as a gambler. He takes off for the big city with a stake bankrolled by all his friends at the barber shop. Unfortunately, blondes are his weakness and they and considerable hubris will prove challenging. With James Cagney as his pal/enforcer, Evelyn Knapp as one of the blondes, and Boris Karloff in a tiny role as a gambling rival.
This movie was made as a way of cashing in on the tremendous success of Little Caesar. (Cagney had yet to break through to stardom in Public Enemy, which was in pre-production at the time this film was made.) This is the only film in which Robinson and Cagney appear together. Although Robinson reprises many of the characteristics of Rico, his character here is far more sympathetic. I enjoyed it very much.
24. Flunky, Work Hard! (1931)
29 min | Short, Comedy
The story of a poor insurance salesman who struggles to provide for his wife and family.
A bumbling insurance salesman struggles to make ends meet in Depression-era Japan. This silent short comedy is the earliest surviving work by cinema great Mikio Naruse, who, with Yasujiro Osu, made many domestic dramas in the 30's, 40's and 50's.
25. Night Nurse (1931)
Not Rated | 72 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama
A nurse enlists the help of a petty criminal to foil a sinister plot to murder two children.
The story follows the training and early career of plucky nurse Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck). Her first job is as a night nurse to a couple of young children who are mysteriously starving while their drunken mother carries on with a sinister chauffeur (Clark Gable - in jodhpurs!). Also with Joan Blondelle as another nurse and Ben Lyons as a good-natured young bootlegger. This Pre-Code classic is great fun what with all the disrobing, fisticuffs, and straighttalking ("you mother!"). The DVD includes a pretty good TCM documentary on pre-Code Hollywood called "Thou Shalt Not."
26. Monkey Business (1931)
Not Rated | 77 min | Comedy, Musical
On a transatlantic crossing, The Marx Brothers get up to their usual antics and manage to annoy just about everyone on board the ship.
Mixed Marx Brothers entry in which the boys stow away on an ocean liner. Harpo has some inspired moments including a long scene in a Punch and Judy show. Thelma Todd can never replace my beloved Margaret Dumont as a foil for Groucho.
27. The Maltese Falcon (1931)
Passed | 80 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
A lovely dame with dangerous lies employs the services of a private detective, who is quickly caught up in the mystery and intrigue of a statuette known as the Maltese Falcon.
The original film adaptation of the Dashiell Hammett novel with Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade and Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly (here not an alias). Also with Dwight Frye, who was having quite a year, as Wilmer Cook and the always delightful Una Merkel as Sam's secretary. I enjoyed this but couldn't help longing for Bogart and the rest of the 1941 cast who took the same dialogue to a whole new level. There was something about Bogart's ability to play it straight that gave the wisecracks a special bite. Here Cortez tries much too hard.
28. Svengali (1931)
Approved | 81 min | Drama, Horror, Romance
Through hypnotism and telepathic mind control, a sinister music maestro controls the singing voice, but not the heart, of the woman he loves.
A creepy singing teacher mesmerizes a young artist's model into a great concert career but can he hypnotize her heart? Marian Marsh is adorable as the gamin-like Trilby and the story is ably staged. The title role may be John Barrymore's hammiest performance ever and he can't seem to decide whether his accent should be Swedish, Yiddish, or German. Worth watching for Marsh.
29. Arrowsmith (1931)
Approved | 108 min | Drama
A medical researcher is sent to a plague outbreak, where he has to decide priorities for the use of a vaccine.
Somewhat ponderous adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel. M.D. Martin Arrowsmith (Ronald Colman) initially abandons research when he marries his first love (Helen Hayes) and becomes a country doctor. Later, he rejoins his research mentor and works on a cure for bubonic plague.
I haven't read the novel so cannot comment whether the film's problems originate in the book. It suffers from an overall pompous tone and some very dubious racial politics as well as from Richard Bennett's horrendous Swedish accent. Interesting to see uncredited early performances by Ford regulars Ward Bond and John Qualen.
30. The Black Camel (1931)
Passed | 71 min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller
The unsolved murder of a Hollywood actor several years earlier and an enigmatic psychic are the keys to help Charlie solve the Honolulu stabbing death of a beautiful actress.
Charlie Chan (Werner Oland) solves a murder on the fringes of a film shoot in Honolulu. With Bela Lugosi as a psychic, Dwight Frye as a butler, Sally Eilers as a friend of the victim, and Robert Young in his film debut as Sally's boyfriend. This is this is the earliest extant Oland/Chan film. It stands out for some dynamite Honolulu location footage and beautifully lit camerwork as well as featuring a somewhat more serious and active Chan than is seen later in the series. The remastered print on the DVD is out of this world.
31. A Free Soul (1931)
Passed | 93 min | Crime, Drama, Romance
An alcoholic lawyer who successfully defended a notorious gambler on a murder charge objects when his free-spirited daughter becomes romantically involved with him.
Steven Ashe (Lionel Barrymore) is a brilliant, but alcoholic, trial attorney, who has taught his daughter Jan (Norma Shearer) to think for herself. When Jan meets the sexy gambler (Clark Gable) her father has exonerated in a murder trial, she drops her steadfast fiance (Leslie Howard) and "gives herself" to him. It gets more and more dramatic from there.
It was refreshing to watch a film of this era with a strong female protagonist, even if Norma does recognize the error of her ways by the final frame. I enjoyed the film but the trial scenes, as usual, bothered me. I always watch these with a critical eye and the attorneys and judge almost never fail to trample on every rule of evidence in the book throughout.
Lionel Barrymore won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film.
32. The Skin Game (1931)
TV-G | 85 min | Drama
An old traditional family and a modern family battle over land in a small English village and almost destroy each other.
Adaptation of a stage play by John Galsworthy. A self-made industrialist (Edmund Gwynne) is buying up land and overturning the old order in the name of progress and power. The local squire's family seeks to combat this usurpation of its traditional demesne through a bit of blackmail with tragic results. I really enjoyed Gwynne's very un-Santa performance but that was the high point of this film. The sound quality detracts from the experience and the blackmail victim's histrionics are almost intolerable.
33. Mädchen in Uniform (1931)
Passed | 87 min | Drama, Romance
At an all-girls boarding school, Manuela falls in love with a teacher, to terrific consequences.
The girls at a Prussian boarding school are kept hungry and under strict discipline. They all have huge school girl crushes on the one kind teacher, Fraulein von Bernberg (Dorothea Weick). When Manuela (Hertha Thiele) enrolls, the sensitive motherless girl develops an obsession with her teacher.
This movie is considered to be a LGBT classic, though there is but one brief kiss on the lips and it's not entirely clear whether the longing is sexual per se. I thought the film was OK but a little slow.
34. East of Shanghai (1931)
Not Rated | 83 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Believing that an unexpected inheritance will bring them happiness, a married couple instead finds their relationship strained to the breaking point.
A married couple is scraping by when the man receives as unexpected gift that allows them to take a dream luxury sea cruise. Both are soon tempted by shipboard romance. With Joan Barry, who provided the voice for Annie Ondra in Blackmail, as the wife, Henry Kendall as the husband and Betty Amman as a vamp.
This was far more inventive and Hitchcockian than The Skin Game but I still wasn't crazy about it. I'm getting a bit tired of "men behaving badly" and their forgiving wives. It didn't help that the sound was out of sync on YouTube which is the only place I could find this.
35. Fighting Caravans (1931)
Passed | 92 min | Romance, Western
A young frontier scout helps guide a freight wagon train across the country, fighting off Indians and evil traders, while his two crusty companions try and save him from falling in love.
In the days before the intercontinental railroad, caravans of wagons carried the freight to California. A single French woman (Lili Dalmita) falls for an Indian scout (Gary Cooper) on this particular journey. This is a pretty routine Western but I was interested to see Dalmita who looks like she is out of a much later decade than the '30's. And of course Cooper is young and gorgeous.
36. Mata Hari (1931)
Passed | 89 min | Crime, Drama, Romance
A semi-fictionalized account of the life of Mata Hari, an exotic dancer who was accused of spying for Germany during World War I.
Votes: 3,133 | Gross: $0.93M
Exotic dancer turned German spy Mata Hari (Greta Garbo) has lured many men to their doom, including Russian General Shubin (Lionel Barrymore). Will a weakness for her latest mark Lieutenant Alexis Rosanoff (Ramon Novarro) be her downfall?
This movie was not for me. I found myself pondering for most of it whatever possessed the costume designers to put Garbo in those unflattering close fitting caps throughout. This was my first experience with Ramon Novarro. His appeal escaped me but perhaps he was past his prime.
37. Cimarron (1931)
Passed | 123 min | Drama, Western
A newspaper editor settles in an Oklahoma boom town with his reluctant wife at the end of the nineteenth century.
A heroic editor and lawyer (Richard Dix) repeatedly abandons his steadfast wife (Irene Dunne) and family and helps to make Oklahoma great????!!!! This is basically an epic starting with the Oklahoma Land Rush and ending with the oil boom.
Possibly I should cut this film some slack but I really do not feel like it. I hate movies like this one, especially when they are over two hours long and when they feature "comic" stutterers etc. Instead I will nominate it for several awards: Worst Picture to Win an Oscar, Worst Performance by an Actor Nominated for an Oscar (Richard Dix), and Worst Performance by Irene Dunne in a Motion Picture.
38. Indiscreet (1931)
Passed | 92 min | Comedy, Drama, Musical
A young woman jeopardizes the relationship with the man she loves when a no-account from her past shows up.
39. Five Star Final (1931)
Not Rated | 89 min | Crime, Drama
The City Editor of a sleazy tabloid goes against his own journalistic ethics to resurrect a twenty year old murder case... with tragic results.
Buy on Amazon Instant
40. Morals for Women (1931)
65 min | Drama
A desperate woman turns to prostitution but is saved by true love in this vintage cautionary tale.
41. The Struggle (1931)
Passed | 87 min | Drama
A young couple's marriage is jeopardized by the husband's descent into alcoholism.
42. Millie (1931)
Passed | 85 min | Drama, Romance
Millie's life begins to crumble when she finds out her husband is having an affair.
43. Lonely Wives (1931)
Passed | 85 min | Comedy, Romance
A lonely husband, whose wife has been away, hires a look-a-like impersonator to fill his place and fool his mother-in-law while he plays around with a pretty coquette. His wife returns that night and confusion prevails.
44. Corsair (1931)
75 min | Adventure
A stock market broker plans to liven up his boring life by taking up piracy on the high seas.
45. Behind Office Doors (1931)
Passed | 82 min | Drama, Romance