Reconsidering Hollywood’s greatest year: 1939 vs. 1959

posted by CSWalczak on September 17, 2009 at 7:45 am

Many consider 1939 to be the Hollywood’s finest year in terms of classic film production, the year that gave us “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz” among others. But in this article from the Seattle Times, the year 1959, during which “Ben-Hur,” “North by Northwest,” “Some Like It Hot,” were all released, also was a very comparably significant year in film history.

But my favorite movie year is 1959, the 12-month period when Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann, Otto Preminger, Jimmy Stewart and William Wyler all hit career peaks. Simultaneously, art houses were flooded with some of the best work from Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Satyajit Ray and Alain Resnais.

It was a year that seemed to sum up many careers (several veteran filmmakers directed their last pictures), while anticipating the innovations and disruptions of the 1960s.

Read the full story in the Seattle Times.

Comments (17)

markp on September 17, 2009 at 9:54 am

ALL of the pictures mentioned from both years were great. Nothing today comes close to any of them. What I wouldn’t give to be able to project and watch all of them on the big screen again in a true cinema treasure palace.

moviebuff82 on September 17, 2009 at 11:43 am

The difference is that in 1939 all films were shot in either color or black and white with the Academy ratio and mono sound and 20 years later, with TV becoming a popular sensation, movies with widescreens and stereophonic surround sound and 70mm projection were the norm. From 1939 to 1959, attendance declined, but recovered somewhat in the 1960s and afterwards after studios came up with big event movies like THe Sound of Music and Star Wars to lure audiences away from the home and into a big theater.

Robert Allen
Robert Allen on September 17, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Has anyone ever stopped to realize Marilyn Monroe couldn’t act if her life depended on it. She was a sex symbol and that’s all. In an era when we went to movies to watch our favorite personalities (John Wayne was always John Wayne. Jimmy Stewart was always Jimmy Stewart, etc.) Marilyn Monroe was always Marilyn Monroe and one dose of her was enough to last a lifetime. Norma Jean Baker should have stayed where she was.

CSWalczak on September 17, 2009 at 1:35 pm

I think the point of the article though was to encourage readers to rethink the history of times when quality Hollywood flmmaking had reached a high point – especially in terms of quality storytelling, technical craftsmanship, and later influence. The list of films cited for 1959 is quite impressive on those counts. Many of them cited in the article as being significant were in B&W and most were in mono, not stereo sound.

Also, I don’t think 70mm film was anywhere near being the norm in 1959; “Ben-Hur,” “The Big Fisherman,” and possibly “Porgy and Bess,” I think were the only releases. The golden era of films originating and presented in 70mm still a few years away. But the films of 1959 clearly revealed a number of trends.

carolgrau on September 17, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Nowadays they can’t even use thier imagination for anything. All they can seem to do is remakes of other peoples ideas.Also they love this stupid digital b.s. because it puts quality projectionist like myself out of work.

MPol on September 17, 2009 at 8:54 pm

I hear you on this one, norelco, I honestly do. However, many people predicted the coming of automation here in America, and I’m afraid, if the beginning emergence of digital cinema is any indication, that the prediction of the coming of automation rings true.

markp on September 18, 2009 at 5:05 am

Wow Norelco, there actually is another person besides me who still does projection. Curious as to how long you have been doing it?? I’m currently in my 34th year. And I agree with you 100% on this whole digital thing, and the remakes too. Problem today is too many number crunchers work in the big chains, and hollywood has morons who cant think up anything original. Add to that that there are no more sub-run or dollar houses, everything today is push it out, 2 or 3 weeks, then off to DVD land.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on September 18, 2009 at 1:40 pm

This article put into print what I’ve been saying for many years: 1959 (and 1962 while we’re at it) were both better movie years than 1939. But that’s just me – it does feel good to see someone else thinks the same way.

While we’re on the topic of personal opinions, I’d like to recommend three movies to anyone who thinks Marilyn can’t act: “Bus Stop”, “Some Like It Hot” and “The Misfits”.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on September 19, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Bill, you forgot “DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK”.

Marilyn knew how to play the bimbo to her dumb core audience as well as Rush Limbaugh plays the clown to his. Brilliant opportunist entertainers!

By the way 1939 is the real thing. Rent the DVDs and you will see.

bruceanthony on September 19, 2009 at 11:21 pm

I think 1939-1941 was Hollywood at its height in terms of great movies where critics and the public were on the same page. I agree 1959 was a great year even though attendance was on the decline through the early 1960’s. Female movie stars were as big as the men during this period of time until the the decline of the Studio System in the Mid 1950’s.brucec

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on September 20, 2009 at 6:58 pm

I also forgot “All About Eve”.

Robert Allen
Robert Allen on September 21, 2009 at 6:34 pm

I saw all three of those films Marilyn made Bill and I still say she couldn’t act.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on September 22, 2009 at 8:07 am

Bob – I guess we have to agree to disagree on Marilyn.

raysson on September 26, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Its a crying shame that PORGY AND BESS is not even released on DVD. I saw the re-release of this during a special screening of the film and it was shown in its original 70mm format and brilliant Technicolor. This was one of the top ten films of 1959,right up there with BEN-HUR,

CSWalczak on September 26, 2009 at 9:30 pm

If the information about “Porgy and Bess” in its entry on Wikipedia is accurate, the lack of a release on DVD is probably due to the fact that the rights are strictly controlled by the Gershwin and Heyward estates, which they fully regained when the license they gave the film’s producer, Samuel Goldwyn, expired. They blocked theatrical showings for many years. The film had a very troubled production history, lost half of its original production cost, and was apparently pulled from release in some locations. In 1959, critical reaction was very mixed. Perhaps, like “Vertigo,” which was not a success when it first came out,it might be now looked at differently.

carolgrau on October 15, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Movie534, I have been a projectionist for 53 years, started in 56 at age 10. My dad & uncle owned theatres in Pittsburgh, Pa. area. My uncle taught me how to operate and fix about all the problems he could think of. I also learned to run different kinds of projectors and lamps. It was to his advantage, he and dad would go to the bar next door and I would be left to run the movies.Was in local #171 out of Pittsburgh for years, my last union was 224 out of DC.

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