In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year by Thomas S. Hischak
  • Douglas Long
Thomas S. Hischak, 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year, Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017, 412 pages,
ISBN 978-1-4422-7804-2.

Unlike other books on the "golden" film year of 1939, Thomas S. Hischak's 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year discusses the majority of films from that year–not just the classics–in a daily format, mingling movie releases with news of the day. Such tight ordering of his subjects has served Hischak well in earlier books including Through the Screen Door: What Happened to the Broadway Musical When It Went to Hollywood (2004) and American Literature on Stage and Screen: 525 Works and Their Adaptations (2012).

In 1989, Ted Sennett wrote Hollywood's Golden Year, 1939: A Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration, which presented the classic 1939 films (Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, and so forth) chronologically with each month given historical context. For the 75th anniversary in 2014, Mark A. Vieira took a similar approach with Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939, adding some minor classics to the mix (Five Came Back, Tower of London, Fifth Avenue Girl), along with an introduction that explains some reasons for the year's remarkable cinematic output. Also published in 2014, Charles A. Adams' 1939: The Making of Six Great Films from Hollywood's Greatest Year unfortunately includes enough inaccuracies to compromise its value as a resource.

In 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year, Thomas S. Hischak takes a more granular approach. Like Sennett and Vieira, he works chronologically, but his daily entries include at least a paragraph on each American film released that year, plus several foreign films. Within each entry is news of the day, especially concerning the build-up and onset of the war in Europe. Often, Hischak notes connections between world events and films released concurrently. For March 31, for example, after noting that Great Britain and France allied with Poland in case of Nazi invasion, Hischak writes, "Ironically, on that same day a Polish film premiered in America." [81] And as Hischak points out, On a heym (Without a Home) is performed in Yiddish, making the irony even starker.

A prologue discusses New Year's Eve 1938 while the epilogue chronicles New Year's Day 1940. As Hischak notes, the end of 1938 found Americans still coping with a Depression which wouldn't be fully "licked" until World War II, [xv] which was under way by the beginning of 1940 (though the U.S. remained neutral). Since the lens for this historical context is cinema, Hischak reminds us that the movie theatre experience in 1939 included "…the main feature film, a second feature (usually a low-budget B movie), a newsreel, a cartoon, and perhaps a short subject or travelogue." [xvi] The book's epilogue suggests some reasons 1940 didn't follow on 1939's avalanche of high-quality films, including the loss of European markets due to the war and the scarcity of good film stock, especially color, which was more popular with audiences than ever.

Hischak sometimes provides updated historical context for a film. For example, for the Ronald Reagan action film Secret Service of the Air (March 4), Hischak writes, "Perhaps the most interesting thing about this B movie is the still-timely subject of Mexicans crossing the border into the states." [58] He also occasionally applies modern social mores to the film assessments. Of Torchy Blane in Chinatown (Feb. 2), he writes, "Feminists might find the film off-putting, but it is the stereotypic Asians and African-Americans that date the movie more." [29] The dual reporting about history and film presents a shared narrative that sometimes blends even when Hischak doesn't draw the connections for the reader. For example, the almost daily chronicling of the [End Page 84] growing Nazi threat in Europe shares space with an endless cycle of B-westerns. The resulting feeling is that in 1939 the world was falling apart, but the cavalry was on its way.

The stampede of B-westerns helps the reader appreciate even more the elements that made John Ford's Stagecoach...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 84-86
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.