A book I recently bought has inspired me to create my own list of “The Greatest Films You Must Absolutely See”. I’ve broken them down by years. Take a look and seek out these films that are absolutely essential to the art of cinema and must be seen. Here is…
Episode 1: 1930 – 1934
Directed By: Howard Hughes
As World War I breaks out in Europe, Roy (James Hall) and Monte (Ben Lyon), two brothers studying at Oxford University, enlist in the Royal Flying Corps to fight for queen and country, while their college friend Karl is drafted in Germany. A love triangle involving Monte, Roy, and Roy’s girlfriend, Helen (Jean Harlow), the brothers’ disparate personalities, and Monte’s cowardice in the face of war soon threaten to compromise a top-secret bombing mission over German territory.
Directed By: Mervyn Leroy
An aspiring small-town criminal, Caesar “Rico” Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) relocates to Chicago to hit the big time, accompanied by his buddy, Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). While Rico makes a name for himself in the underworld, Joe decides to leave the life of crime and ventures into show business, where he meets the lovely dancer Olga (Glenda Farrell). Though Rico and Joe try to honor their friendship, eventually their choices take them down dramatically different paths.
Directed By: Charlie Chaplin
A hapless but resilient tramp (Charlie Chaplin) falls in love with a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) on the tough city streets. Upon learning that she and her grandmother are to be evicted from their home, the tramp undertakes a series of attempts to provide them with the money they need, all of which end in humiliating failure. But after a drunken millionaire (Harry Myers) lavishly rewards him for saving his life, the tramp can change the flower girl’s life forever.
Directed By: Tod Browning
The dashing, mysterious Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi), after hypnotizing a British soldier, Renfield (Dwight Frye), into his mindless slave, travels to London and takes up residence in an old castle. Soon Dracula begins to wreak havoc, sucking the blood of young women and turning them into vampires. When he sets his sights on Mina (Helen Chandler), the daughter of a prominent doctor, vampire-hunter Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is enlisted to put a stop to the count’s never-ending bloodlust.
Directed By: Fritz Lang
In this classic German thriller, Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), a serial killer who preys on children, becomes the focus of a massive Berlin police manhunt. Beckert’s heinous crimes are so repellant and disruptive to city life that he is even targeted by others in the seedy underworld network. With both cops and criminals in pursuit, the murderer soon realizes that people are on his trail, sending him into a tense, panicked attempt to escape justice.
Directed By: James Whale
This iconic horror film follows the obsessed scientist Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) as he attempts to create life by assembling a creature from body parts of the deceased. Aided by his loyal misshapen assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye), Frankenstein succeeds in animating his monster (Boris Karloff), but, confused and traumatized, it escapes into the countryside and begins to wreak havoc. Frankenstein searches for the elusive being, and eventually must confront his tormented creation.
The Public Enemy
Directed By: William Wellman
Two young Chicago hoodlums, Tom Powers (James Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Eddie Woods), rise up from their poverty-stricken slum life to become petty thieves, bootleggers and cold-blooded killers. But with street notoriety and newfound wealth, the duo feels the heat from the cops and rival gangsters both. Despite his ruthless criminal reputation, Tom tries to remain connected to his family, however, gang warfare and the need for revenge eventually pull him away.
Directed By: Carl Theodore Dreyer
A drifter obsessed with the supernatural stumbles upon an inn where a severely ill adolescent girl is slowly becoming a vampire.
Directed By: Tod Browning
When trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) learns that circus midget Hans (Harry Earles) has an inheritance, she marries the lovesick, diminutive performer, all the while planning to steal his fortune and run off with her lover, strong man Hercules (Henry Victor). When Hans’ friends and fellow performers discover what is going on, they band together and carry out a brutal revenge that leaves Hercules and Cleopatra knowing what it truly means to be a “freak.”
Directed By: Ed Goulding
At a luxurious Berlin hotel between the wars, the once-wealthy Baron Felix von Gaigern (John Barrymore) supports himself as a thief and gambler. In this lavish adaptation of the successful Broadway play, the baron romances one of his marks, the aging ballerina Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), and teams with dying accountant Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) against his former boss, crooked industrialist Preysing (Wallace Beery), and his ambitious stenographer, Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford).
Directed By: Karl Freund
A team of British archaeologists led by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) discover the mummified remains of the ancient Egyptian prince Imhotep (Boris Karloff), along with the legendary scroll of Thoth. When one of the archaeologists recites the scroll aloud, Imhotep returns to life, but escapes. Several years later, Imhotep has taken on the guise of a wealthy man, as he searches Egypt for his lost love, who he believes has been reincarnated as the lovely Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann).
Directed By: Leo McCarey
When the tiny nation of Freedonia goes bankrupt, its wealthy benefactor, Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), insists that the wacky Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) become the country’s president. Sensing a weakness in leadership, the bordering nation of Sylvania sends in the spies Pinky (Harpo Marx) and Chicolini (Chico Marx) to set the stage for a revolution. As Firefly clashes with the Sylvanian ambassador (Louis Calhern), plenty of mayhem ensues, and the countries verge on all-out war.
Directed By: Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack
Actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) travel to the Indian Ocean to do location shoots for Denham’s new jungle picture. Along the way, the actress meets and falls for rugged First Mate John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot). Upon arriving at a mysterious island, Ann is taken hostage by natives who prepare her as a sacrifice to the enormous ape Kong who rules over their jungle. But when Ann is rescued and Kong is captured, the real trouble begins.
Directed By: Henry King
An Iowa farmer (Will Rogers) and his wife bring their son, daughter (Janet Gaynor) and prize hog to a fair.
It Happened One Night
Directed By: Frank Capra
In Frank Capra’s acclaimed romantic comedy, spoiled heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) impetuously marries the scheming King Westley, leading her tycoon father (Walter Connolly) to spirit her away on his yacht. After jumping ship, Ellie falls in with cynical newspaper reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who offers to help her reunite with her new husband in exchange for an exclusive story. But during their travels, the reporter finds himself falling for the feisty young heiress.
Directed By: Cecil B DeMille
Devious Egyptian queen Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) struggles to maintain her tenuous hold on her kingdom, wooing her lovers Julius Caesar (Warren William) and Marc Antony (Henry Wilcoxon) while manipulating the ongoing power struggle between the two Romans for her own nefarious ends. Director Cecil B. DeMille fills the oft-told story with lavish musical production numbers and his trademark large-scale set pieces, as well as a tongue-in-cheek attitude toward sexuality.