Best Picture Nominees: 1939

The match is lit. Germany invades Poland. World War II has begun.

In Hollywood, this is the classic year to end all years. Some of the best films ever made are from 1939.

For more information about 1939, see The Learning Network's Fact Monster.

Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming)
Won Best Picture
This classic film tells the love story between Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) during the American Civil War. It's the history of a selfish woman who doesn't want to admit her feelings about the man she loves and the tale of her fall from spoiled plantation daughter to her survival during the burning of Atlanta and her beloved South. Shot in Technicolor, it is beautiful and of the most popular films of all time.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra)
Nominated Best Picture
IMDB Highest Rated
Naive and idealistic Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), leader of the Boy Rangers, is appointed Senator on a lark by the spineless governor of his state (Guy Kibbee). He is reunited with the state's senior senator--presidential hopeful and childhood hero, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains). In Washington, however, Smith discovers many of the shortcomings of the political process as his earnest goal of a national boys camp leads to a conflict with the state political boss, Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold). Taylor first tries to corrupt Smith and then later attempts to destroy Smith through a scandal. Smith prevails through a dramatic filibuster on the floor of the Senate--as he preaches for truth, justice and the American way. This is the film that launched James Stewart to superstardom.

The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming)
Nominated Best Picture
Solonor's Pick
Based on the books by L. Frank Baum, this is the story of Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), a farm girl from Kansas. When a nasty neighbor (Margaret Hamilton) tries to have her dog put to sleep, Dorothy takes her dog Toto to run away. A tornado appears and carries her to the magical land of Oz. Wishing to return, she begins to travel to the city of Oz where a great wizard (Frank Morgan) lives. On her way she meets a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) who needs a brain, a Tin Man (Jack Haley) who wants a heart, and a cowardly lion (Bert Lahr) who desperately needs courage. They all hope the Wizard of Oz will help them, before the Wicked Witch of the West (also played by Hamilton) catches up with them.

Of Mice and Men (Lewis Milestone)
Nominated Best Picture
Adapted from the novel by John Steinbeck, the film is about George (Burgess Meredith) and half-wit Lenny (Lon Chaney, Jr.) who work on a western ranch during the Great Depression, dreaming of owning and operating their own ranch some day. But Lenny's innocence, feeble-mindedness, his clumsy misuse of his physical strength, and finally a brutal set of circumstances kills their dream.

Stagecoach (John Ford)
Nominated Best Picture
A simple stagecoach trip is complicated by the fact that Geronimo is on the warpath in the area. The passengers on the coach include a a drunken doctor (Thomas Mitchell), a pregnant woman (Louise Platt), a bank manager who has taken off with his client's money (John Carradine), and the famous Ringo Kid (John Wayne), among others. This movie helped reinvent the Western, moving it up from its status as "grade B" fare to serious adult level. This, too, was John Wayne's breakout role, propelling him toward stardom.

Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch)
Nominated Best Picture
This is a lighthearted story of Communism versus Capitalism, with the biggest draw being Greta Garbo (Greta Garbo) in her first official American comedy. In the film, Soviet emissaries Buljanoff (Felix Bressart), Iranoff (Sig Ruman), and Kopalski (Alexander Granach) no sooner arrive in Paris to sell some jewelry for the government, than soft capitalist ways begin to corrupt them. Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire), former owner of the jewels but now exiled in Paris, sends her very good friend, playboy Leon d'Algout (Melvyn Douglas), to interfere with the sale. When sly Leon meets stern Comrade Nina Ivanovna (Garbo), sent to take over from the hapless emissaries, east-west romance results.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Sam Wood)
Nominated Best Picture
From the bestseller by James Hilton, this is the story of an old classics teacher (Robert Donat) looking back over his long career, remembering pupils and colleagues--above all the idyllic courtship and marriage to Katherine (Greer Garson) that transformed his life.

Wuthering Heights (William Wyler)
Nominated Best Picture
From the novel by Emily Bronte, this the dramatic story of the Earnshaws--Yorkshire farmers during the early 19th Century. One day, Mr. Earnshaw (Leo G. Carroll) returns from a trip to the city, bringing with him a ragged little boy called Heathcliff (Rex Downing/Laurence Olivier). Earnshaw's son, Hindley (Douglas Scott/Hugh Williams), resents the child, but Heathcliff becomes companion and soulmate to Hindley's sister, Catherine (Sarita Wooton/Merle Oberon). After her parents die, Cathy and Heathcliff grow up wild and free on the Moors, and despite the continued enmity between Hindley and Heathcliff they're happy--until Cathy meets Edgar Linton (David Niven), the son of a wealthy neighbor.

Dark Victory (Edmund Goulding)
Nominated Best Picture
Featuring Bette Davis in a fantastic turn as Judith Traherne--a young lady at the height of society when Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent) diagnoses a brain tumor. After surgery, she falls in love with Steele. The doctor tells her secretary that the tumor will come back and eventually kill her. Learning this, Judith becomes manic and depressive. Her horse trainer Michael (Humphrey Bogart), who loves her, tells her to get as much out of life as she can. She marries Steele, who intends to find a cure for her illness. As he goes off to a conference in New York, failing eyesight indicates to Judith that she is dying.

Love Affair (Leo McCarey)
Nominated Best Picture
French playboy Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer) and American Terry McKay (Irene Dunne) fall in love aboard ship. They arrange to reunite 6 months later, after Michel has had a chance to earn a decent living. Unfortunately, their meeting is foiled when Terry is injured minutes before their rendezvous.


The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir)
Banned on its original release as 'too demoralizing', and only made available again in its original form in 1956, Renoir's brilliant social comedy is epitomized by the phrase 'everyone has their reasons.' Centering on a lavish country house party given by the Marquis de la Chesnaye and his wife (Marcel Dalio and Nora Gregor), the film slides from melodrama into farce, from realism into fantasy, and from comedy into tragedy. Romantic intrigues, social rivalries, and human foibles are all observed with an unblinking eye that nevertheless refuses to judge. The carnage of the rabbit shoot, the intimations of mortality introduced by the after-dinner entertainment, and Renoir's own performance are all unforgettable. Embracing every level of French society, from the aristocratic hosts to a poacher turned servant, the film presents a hilarious yet melancholic picture of a nation riven by petty class distinctions.

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Best Picture: 1939
What is the Best Picture of 1939?

Gone with the Wind
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
The Wizard of Oz
Of Mice and Men
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Wuthering Heights
Dark Victory
Love Affair
The Rules of the Game

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1939 <- Main Menu -> 1940

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