Although 1939 is considered the "golden year" of classic Hollywood, 1938 was a banner year for enduring movies, as well, and 2013 marks the 75th anniversary of these great films. Anniversary years often usher in new releases of films on DVD or Blu-ray, so classic movie fans might be able to look forward to new editions of some of these favorite films. Here are a few of the most influential movies marking their 75th anniversaries this year.
"Bringing Up Baby" - Howard Hawks directs Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in this beloved screwball comedy about a madcap heiress and the leopard who helps her entangle a handsome paleontologist. Although it failed to earn a single Oscar nomination in 1939, "Bringing Up Baby" has become a true standard of the comedy genre. Who can resist Hepburn, Grant, and a supporting cast that includes Charlie Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald, and May Robson?
"Jezebel" - Bette Davis beats Vivien Leigh to the Civil War ball by a year with this costume melodrama from director William Wyler. Along with Davis, who won Best Actress for her role, the film stars Henry Fonda, George Brent, and Fay Bainter (who won for Best Supporting Actress), while Max Steiner provides the Oscar-nominated score.
"The Adventures of Robin Hood" - Michael Curtiz and William Keighley direct Errol Flynn in one of the swashbuckling star's most iconic roles in this tale of an England that never was, shot in gorgeous Technicolor with eye-popping sets and costumes. Olivia de Havilland is radiant as Maid Marian, while Alan Hale, Patric Knowles, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Una O'Connor, and Eugene Pallette pack the supporting cast with tremendous talent. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's terrific score earned one of the movie's three Oscar wins, and the film also enjoyed a nomination for Best Picture.
"Angels with Dirty Faces" - James Cagney plays one of his best gangster roles in this drama from director Michael Curtiz. Its three Oscar nominations included nods for Cagney and Curtiz, but today viewers will also be drawn to a supporting cast that includes Humphrey Bogart, Pat O'Brien, and Ann Sheridan. Many of the gangster genre's best conventions get airings in this picture, making it a must-see for fans of later mob films.
"The Lady Vanishes" - Alfred Hitchcock's English mystery predates his Hollywood debut in 1940 but shows that the director's skill was already well-honed by the time he made "Rebecca." Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, and Dame May Whitty star in this twisty, fun thriller, which takes place on a train populated with suspicious characters.
"Holiday" - George Cukor directs another 1938 pairing of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in this poignant but comedic story of a young man whose whirlwind romance might have matched him with the wrong sister. Despite a single Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction, this is an excellent romantic comedy that fans of either star are sure to enjoy. Edward Everett Horton, Lew Ayres, and Doris Nolan also offer memorable supporting performances.
"You Can't Take It with You" - The Best Picture winner in 1939 would be this sentimental comedy from Frank Capra, which stars Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart, and Lionel Barrymore as the leads in another cast packed with treasures. Spring Byington was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the matriarch of the eccentric Sycamore clan, and the movie earned seven nominations in all, with a win for Capra's direction joining the Best Picture award.
"Pygmalion" - This English adaptation of the play by George Bernard Shaw features Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard as the Cockney flower girl and her difficult mentor, with direction by Anthony Asquith. Both Hiller and Howard earned Oscar nominations for their parts, and the movie also scored a Best Picture nod, but its only win was for Best Screenplay. Wilfrid Lawson gives a terrific performance as Eliza Doolittle's opportunistic father, Alfred.
"Boys Town" - Spencer Tracy took home the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Father Flanagan in this story inspired by the real history of Boys Town. Mickey Rooney and Henry Hull lead the supporting cast, and Norman Taurog directs this five-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner. The movie helped to publicize the real life haven for homeless boys and made Father Flanagan one of Hollywood's most inspiring representations of Catholic priesthood. Tracy reprised the role in the 1941 sequel, "Men of Boys Town."
"Carefree" - Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance their way to romance in this musical from director Mark Sandrich. The film's three Oscar nominations included a nod for Irving Berlin's song, "Change Partners and Dance with Me." Ralph Bellamy, Jack Carson, and Luella Gear make up the supporting cast, while Astaire stars as a psychoanalyst who gets more than he bargained for when he hypnotizes a friend's altar-shy fiancee.
Other memorable films of 1938 include "Love Finds Andy Hardy," "The Dawn Patrol," "Vivacious Lady," and "Suez." Most of the movies listed here are currently available on DVD. Check Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services to see which titles might also be available for instant viewing.
Jennifer Garlen writes as the Huntsville and National Classic Movies Examiner. Her book, "Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching," is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com.