An Overview of 1937

January 20, 1937: Roosevelt's cold, wet inauguration.

It is time to begin consideration of the best pictures and performances of 1937.  First let’s take a look at what was going on in the eighth year of the Great Depression.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in to his second term as president as near freezing rain poured on the spectators.  The prior November Roosevelt trounced Kansas governor Alf Landon in one of the biggest landslides in U.S. history.  Roosevelt received every electoral vote, except for the eight from Vermont and Maine. (What was going on in those two states?)  Roosevelt’s 27.7 million votes to Landon’s 16.6 million made the final electoral vote count 523 to 8.  Landon must have had a stomach ache for weeks.  Maybe Obama should have taken note: when Democrats deliver to working class Americans, they reward them with votes.

Through 1937 Roosevelt continued to push his New Deal despite being called a socialist and a radical by his opponents, even going so far as trying to add more justices to the Supreme Court so he wouldn’t have to worry about Constitutional issues (thankfully this was one reform Congress prevented him from pursuing).  Some have argued that Roosevelt’s biggest mistake was giving into Republican hand-wringing over the ballooning federal deficit.  As soon as he caved to their demands for more austerity and cut spending in 1937, the country crashed into a severe recession.  A recession is never good, but when it comes in the middle of a depression it is disastrous.  Happily Roosevelt would reverse his ill-advised spending policy the next year and things would begin to improve.  (See, we know how to fix a bad economy and it has nothing to do with cutting spending or balancing the budget.  There’s no reason not to be pursing the same policies now no matter what economically myopic and irresponsible Republicans say.)

Elsewhere in the world, the Spanish Civil War raged turning more brutal when German forces supporting General Francisco Franco carpet bombed the Basque town of Guernica, the first time (but not the last) in aerial warfare that civilians were targeted.  Hundreds were killed in Franco’s effort to demoralize the Basque population and remove them as a viable force against which he would have to fight.

April 26, 1937: The aftermath of Fascist handiwork in Guernica, Spain

The horrors of Guernica inspired Pablo Picasso to paint one of his most iconic pictures, an impassioned cry against war in general and targeting civilians visiting a market in particular.

Picasso's "Guernica," first displayed July 1937 at the Paris International Exhibition


Also, Japan invaded China, sparking the Second World War in Asia and, not incidentally for this site, decimating the once productive Chinese film industry.

The Great Purge began in the Soviet Union, disillusioning many who had once been hopeful about the promise of Communism.

And in Brazil, Getúlio Vargas consolidated power with the predictable help of hysterical anti-Communist rhetoric, becoming a full-fledged dictator until he was ousted by a coup in 1945.

Also in 1937:

The Hindenburg exploded in New Jersey killing 36 people, a German Shepherd, and Zeppelin passenger air service forever.

May 6, 1937: The Hindenburg was the first air disaster captured on film and broadcast live over the radio.

Amelia Earhart’s disappearance over the Pacific turned the accomplished airwoman into legend.

Most of the Scottsboro Nine were acquitted of ridiculous rape charges in Alabama, saving them from the electric chair and ending another shamefully racist Southern travesty of justice.

The Scottsboro Nine (or Boys as they were called) meet with their attorney.

After decades of planning, the Golden Gate Bridge finally opened connecting San Francisco to Marin County.

Jean Harlow died suddenly of kidney failure, a result of childhood scarlet fever.

June 12, 1937: A Crowd Gathers at Forest Lawn in Los Angeles for Jean Harlow's Funeral


The New York Yankees won their second consecutive World Series in five games against the New York Giants.

1937 New York Yankees, baseball great Joe DiMaggio in the foreground.


The Academy Awards were handed early the next year for 1937, naturally to all the wrong people, including The Life of Emile Zola as best picture.  For the second year in a row Luise Rainer won best actress, this time for The Good Earth, and Spencer Tracey won for best actor in Captains Courageous.  And for the supporting performers Joseph Schildkraut scored for The Life of Emile Zola and Alice Brady won for In Old Chicago.  As we will see, these are hardly the correct choices.

I'm sure Luise Rainer is a wonderfully nice person, but I have no clue why she won for "The Good Earth."

Tomorrow the countdown of the ten best pictures will begin, followed by the choice for the most overrated picture of the year and the top performances.  There were some amazing movies that were release this year, so it will be fun.



Filed under 1937, Yearly Best Pictures

4 responses to “An Overview of 1937

  1. Very interesting to read all this background about 1937 and the historical situation at that time. Thanks for putting all this together.

  2. So you taught history then Jason, no? This is an absolutely spectacular consideration of 1937, and I have reveled in the maps, graphs and wonderful photos. And yes, Obama do take note what happens when the President delivers to middle-class voters! But of course we aill never see the likes of Roosevelt ever again! Nor Di Maggio! Nor Paul Muni. Nor Amerlia Earhardt! Nor Jean Harlowe!

    I continue to oppose you though on Luise Rainer. Why did she win you ask? She gave a deeply moving and accomplished performance. Usually that recipe is a potent force for awards. I will save discussion as to who was mopst deserving though, for your upcoming (pertinent) posts. Let’s just say she was more deserving than any of the winners that year. Tracy’s win for that phoney Portugese accent he sported in CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS was the real joke! Ha!

    You have set the stage beautifully here with your multi-faceted gifts and we are all the more richer for it.

    • Thank you as always Sam.

      Yes I taught history and I am finishing up work for my PhD in history now, though I find this work infinitely more interesting.

      How many of us thought Obama could have been the next Roosevelt who would take a stand against Wall Street, Big Banks, and powerful multi-national corporations? Alas, he’s been as weak-willed as most Democrats who aren’t from the most liberal districts of the country (like Bernie Sanders, Henry Waxman, Nancy Pelosi, Dennis Kucinich, etc.) When Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln (who has thankfully been booted from office) pass as Democrats, we’re all in trouble. I’m no blind Obama basher; I know he’s gotten a lot done, but he could have done better. Why start from a compromise position on health care when they’re going to call him a Communist anyway? He should have started with Medicare for all and worked down from there. Maybe we would have a public option now. Democrats today are terrible at messaging and Republicans are great at it. They find an issue that gets people mad and hype it, no matter how phony it is (ACORN, the New Black Panther Party, “victory mosques,” illegal immigration). Democrats are trying to get things done, which is much harder to sell than fear. When something like 56% of Americans think the federal government is too large, but want more spending on education, Medicare, social security, the military, and just about everything else, that doesn’t tell me Americans are idiots. That tells me Democrats have done a terrible job as selling their accomplishments and what they hope to accomplish.

      Roosevelt was a true visionary, but pragmatic leader. Ideology meant nothing to him. All he wanted to know is what needed to be done to get people back to work and the economy chugging again. He implemented whatever worked, whether the idea came from the left or the right. Unfortunately Obama is a natural negotiator and compromiser further shackled by conservative Democrats, especially in the Senate. (How much better off would we be with Ned Lamont in Joe Liberman’s seat?) We need him to fight, or at least look like he’s fighting. Too often it seems like they are afraid to lose a fight so they don’t start it. I’d rather see him lose more often than not if I felt like he was fighting for us, rather than caving to the demands of Wall Street, which is what looks like will happen with extending the tax cuts for the rich. Roosevelt had the luxury of massive majorities in both houses; I get that. But what about someone like Lyndon Johnson. Would we have had the Civil Rights Act if he wasn’t willing to strong arm some conservative Dems?

      As for Luise Rainer, no I still don’t think she should have won an Oscar for THE GOOD EARTH, but I don’t think she was bad in the movie. She gave a fine performance, much better than what she did in THE GREAT ZIEGFELD. I have several actresses who I would have given it to before her.

      And I may have liked Tracey’s performance as little more than you. I won’t be giving anything away when I say he didn’t deserve the Oscar either, but he will make my “notables” list.

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