CRESTVIEW — Film historians may differ on the best film ever made — art being a matter of personal taste — but they generally agree that 1939 was the best year in American cinema.
Multiple factors made the year such an important one for movies, film historian Judy DeBolt said.
Among them, America was climbing out of the Great Depression, Hollywood resolved union disputes, and technological advances — including three-strip Technicolor and high fidelity sound — enhanced American films' quality.
In addition, the rise of Nazi Germany forced an exodus of top European stars, film composers and directors who settled in Hollywood.
Topping the year in box office receipts and audience popularity, and DeBolt's personal favorite, was "Gone With the Wind," followed closely by "The Wizard of Oz," a commercial failure when first released, she said.
DeBolt said she intended to share her personal top 10 best films of '39 list, "but I actually have 14. I couldn't stop at 10."
For resident Virginia Kemp, DeBolt's Feb. 4 presentation, "The Films of 1939" at the Crestview Public Library brought back a flood of memories of walking to neighborhood cinemas in her native Philadelphia.
"I was 13 years old in 1939 and I saw a lot of those movies," Kemp said. "I went to Saturday afternoon matinees. "
Kemp said her favorite film of the year was also "Gone With the Wind," but "Young Mr. Lincoln," No. 9 on DeBolt's list, generated a special memory.
Her mother, who disapproved of movies, gave Kemp money to see the Henry Fonda film about Lincoln's early career as an Illinois attorney.
"She thought it was educational and she was all for that. It was the only time I ever lied to my mother," Kemp said. "I walked to another (cinema) and saw 'One Million B.C.' I went home and made up a story about seeing the Lincoln movie."
The Rev. Harry Tipton, a retired Air Force and prison chaplain, also had fond memories of the epic Civil War classic that topped historians' lists.
"The first movie I ever saw was 'Gone With the Wind,'" he said. "I saw it when I was a small child in Knoxville, Tenn."
DeBolt's "behind the scenes" stories about the films made the presentation intriguing, Kemp and Tipton said.
"The program was delightful," Kemp said. "She talked for almost an hour and a half and nobody was getting antsy. She held our attention."
"I thought the lady had an amazing knowledge of those movies," Tipton said. "It makes me want to see some of the top ones again."
Film historian Judy DeBolt said she "couldn't stop at just 10" when compiling her list of 1939's top films. Here's her countdown.
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mickey Rooney, Rex
13. Drums Along the Mohawk (Claudette Colbert, Henry Fonda)
12. Rose of Washington Square (Tyrone Power, Alice Faye)
11. Babes in Arms (Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland)
10. Love Affair (Irene Dunn, Charles Boyer)
9. Young Mr. Lincoln (Henry Fonda, Alice Brady)
8. Ninotchka (Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas)
7. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara)
6. Wuthering Heights (Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon)
5. Goodbye Mr. Chips (Robert Donat, Greer Garson)
4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (James Stewart, Jean Arthur)
3. Stagecoach (Claire Trevor, John Wayne)
2. The Wizard of Oz (Judy Garland, Frank Bolger)
1. Gone With the Wind (Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh)