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