Great Depression Films

Sunday, March 20 by Wendy Adams

Great Depression films give an account of the era from different points of view. Hobos rode the rails in search of work, and gangsters rose to power and wealth. The Depression era films give messages of hope and show the best and worst of the people who experienced it.

  1. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.” (1936) A simple man, Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) from a small country town inherits a large fortune and a home in the city. Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur) is the reporter after an exclusive story that plays the damsel in distress to get close to Deeds. He develops a plan to use his fortune to help Depression era struggling farmers.
  2. Of Mice and Men.” (1939) The Depression era John Steinbeck novel comes to film in this dramatic black and white look at life during the depression for an unlikely pair of ranch hands, Lennie (Lon Chaney Jr.), a very large strong mentally retarded man and George (Burgess Meredith) who is his self appointed caretaker.
  3. Grapes of Wrath.” (1940) This John Ford masterpiece is a realistic looks at life during the great depression. After losing their land, the Joad family takes to the road during the dust bowl era and head to California. On the journey, they work as migrant laborers and deal with dreadful obstacles. It stars Henry Fonda as Tom Joad and Jane Darwell as Ma Joad.
  4. Sullivan’s Travels.” (1941) Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a disconnected director who decides to make a film about the struggles of the common man during the Great Depression. He sets out on the road disguised as a hobo to experience real life. On his journey, he meets up with “the girl” played by Veronica Lake and runs into unexpected serious trouble.
  5. Meet John Doe.” (1941) Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) is fired from the newspaper and writes a fake letter from John Doe stating he intends to leap from a building on Christmas Eve as a statement of the unfair times he lives in. Ann is rehired to chase the story and hires Long John Willoughby (Gary Cooper) to play John Doe. The story of John Doe becomes a social movement of hope during the Great Depression with huge consequences.
  6. It’s a Wonderful Life.” (1946) Best known as a Christmas movie, the film shows life in the Great Depression when a run on the bank was a common occurrence. George Bailey (James Stewart) runs his family’s failing savings and loan company, marries Mary Hatch (Donna Reid), fights off the meanest man in town, Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), and is shown by the angel Clarence (Henry Travers) how his loved ones and the entire town would have suffered had he never lived.
  7. Al Capone.” (1959) This is a different look at the Great Depression from the time of Prohibition. It also shows how it propelled Al Capone (Rod Steiger) from a small time Chicago gangster to successful mob leader. This is a fairly factual account of the rise and fall of Al Capone. It costars Martin Balsam and Fay Spain.
  8. Bonnie & Clyde.” (1967) The infamous Great Depression crime couple Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) go on a bloody crime spree through several states. Hollywood has glamorized the characters and events. The story concludes with the infamous slow motion scene where Bonnie and Clyde are shot to pieces.
  9. Paper Moon.” (1973) A charming look at the Great Depression era this movie follows the father-daughter acting team of Ryan O’Neal, as Moses Pray, a small time con man, and Tatum O’Neal (Addie Loggins) as the orphaned child. Moses is talked into delivering Addie to her Aunt’s home in Missouri and along the way, she aids Moses in a few schemes.
  10. The Untouchables.” (1987) During the Great Depression, Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) ascends to power and Federal Agent Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) sets out to take down Capone. Sean Connery won an Oscar for his performance as Jim Malone. The film is not a factual account and contains excessive graphic violence throughout.