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Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive | The Nation

Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive

Classic reviews of vintage films from our archive reflect the hardships and aspirations of Americans in the first Great Depression.

  • Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive (1 of 12)

    Metropolis (1927)


    Fritz Lang's silent science fiction fantasy is a prescient vision of a super-heated economy on the verge of collapse. Its depiction of workers pitted against corporate giants in a capitalist dystopia reflects the growing gulf between rich and poor. (Photo: Everett Collection)

  • Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive (2 of 12)

    The Jazz Singer (1927)


    This musical celebration of the roaring 20s hits movie screens barely two years before the stock market crashes. It's a breakthrough, launching the age of "talkies"--despite Al Jolson's cringe-inducing performance in blackface of a cantor-turned-Vaudevillian. (Photo: AP Images)

  • Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive (3 of 12)

    City Lights (1931)


    Charlie Chaplin's determined Little Tramp is the perfect hero for hard times. This sweet tale of romance with a blind girl who mistakes him for a millionaire is poignant and profound. Many, including Chaplin himself, consider it his greatest masterpiece. (Photo: AP Images)

  • Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive (4 of 12)

    King Kong (1933)


    Americans who can afford it flock to theaters to escape the dreariness of the Depression. This action-packed adventure of a gorilla and the girl who loves him features advanced (for its time) stop-motion special effects. (Photo: Everett Collection)

  • Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive (5 of 12)

    It Happened One Night (1935)


    Audiences looking for a little romance embrace this Oscar-winning screwball romp. Clark Gable's shirtless appearance troubles censors but titillates audiences in need of a boost. (Photo: Everett Collection)

  • Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive (6 of 12)

    A Night of the Opera (1935)


    Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark van Doren reviews films for The Nation in the 30's. In this witty little essay, he finds the Marx Brothers funny beyond words. (Photo: Everett Collection)

  • Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive (7 of 12)

    Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)


    No filmmaker better captures the innocent optimism that buoyed America's spirits during the Depression than Frank Capra. Mark van Doren reviews this fable of a average man (played by Gary Cooper) who inherits a fortune that provides Depression-era audiences with wish fulfillment and affirmation of their own self-worth. (Photo: Everett Collection)

  • Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive (8 of 12)

    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)


    Jimmy Stewart, in one of his most iconic roles, plays an honest lawmaker who stands up for the little guy and triumphs over the cynicism of politics. The film provides hope and catharsis for a battered nation. (Photo: Everett Collection)

  • Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive (9 of 12)

    Ninotchka (1939)


    Greta Garbo plays a rare comic role in this satire that foreshadows America's Cold War prejudices. (Photo: Everett Collection)

  • Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive (10 of 12)

    Of Mice and Men (1939)


    This gritty adaption of John Steinbeck's classic tale of two migrant workers struggling to survive is a stark reminder of exactly how hard times are in America--especially for those at the bottom of the ladder. (Photo: Everett Collection)

  • Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive (11 of 12)

    The Grapes of Wrath (1940)


    John Steinbeck's other Depression-era masterpiece stars Henry Fonda in a perfect summation of the hardships endured by American farmers and a glimmer of hope for a better tomorrow. (Photo: Everett Collection)

  • Movies for Hard Times: Classic Reviews from the Archive (12 of 12)

    The Great Dictator (1940)


    Charlie Chaplin takes the bold step of condemning the emerging menace of Adolf Hitler in this, his first talking picture. While the film is a commercial success, few Americans recognize what the future holds. (Photo: Everett Collection)

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