Best Documentary Movies of 1931
The House That Shadows Built
The House That Shadows Built (1931) is a short feature, roughly 48 minutes long, from Paramount Pictures made to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the studio's founding in 1912. It was a promotional film for exhibitors and never had a regular theatrical release and includes a brief history of Paramount, interviews with various actors, and clips from upcoming projects (some of which never came to fruition). The title comes from a biography of Paramount founder Adolph Zukor, The House That Shadows Built (1928), by William Henry Irwin.
Intimate Interviews: Bela Lugosi
Actor Bela Lugosi discusses his career, his social life, and his feelings about his most famous role, Count Dracula.
Portrait of a Young Man in Three Movements
This is a non-narrative film, comprised of shots that "portray a certain young man in the terms of the things that he likes", such as the flow of the tide on a seashore, the motion of finely-tuned machinery, and sunlight shining through the fronds of a palm.
A Bronx Morning
Arrival in the Bronx is shown with a view from an elevated train as it enters the city. Then follows a montage of sights from the Bronx. Many typical neighborhood activities are shown, along with scenes from many local businesses.
How I Play Golf, by Bobby Jones No. 11: 'Practice Shots'
Golf expert Bobby Jones arrives on the golf course to join actors James Cagney, Anthony Bushell, Donald Cook, Evalyn Knapp, and Louise Fazenda in shooting a golf instruction film. Louise Fazenda however has no knowledge of golf and her ongoing commentary disrupts Jones's attempts to practice. While Cagney and Bushell hold Louise's mouth shut, Jones demonstrates his approach to golf. Later, upon arrival of director George Marshall, Louise is sent off "to practice" alone while the cast and crew go about shooting the film.
Grierson set out to make "propaganda," and this film--with it's voice-over proclaiming the great value of the British industrial worker, without a hint of ambiguity or doubt--fits that category well. The authoritatarian narrator feels out-of-date and unsophisticated, but the footage is well shot and interesting, and the transparency of the propaganda aspect is almost a reflief at a time when so many films have hidden agendas.
The Forgotten Frontier
The Forgotten Frontier (1931) is a documentary film about the Frontier Nursing Service, nurses on horseback, who traveled the back roads of the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States.
Intimate Interviews: James Cagney
Dorothy West, an interviewer for the New York-based filmed interview series "Intimate Interviews" calls up rising screen star James Cagney and asks for an interview. He agrees and she comes to his house. Cagney and West sit down while she asks him questions about his early life and his career.
Round About Hollywood
This short travelogue depicts snippets of locations in Hollywood, California, most of them as seen from the streets. Considerable time is taken showing the kinds of architecture of private homes. There are images of various important buildings, and a depiction of the Hollywood Bowl. Finally, there is a sequence revolving around the premiere of the film “Dirigible” (1931) at the famed Chinese Theatre.
Around the World with Douglas Fairbanks
With the advent of sound, the world's leading screen idol, Douglas Fairbanks, experienced a downturn in his fortunes. His thin, reedy voice was not suited to the talkies, his marriage to Mary Pickford was on the outs, and his son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., had replaced him as a major box-office draw. Faced with the Hollywood equivalent of a mid-life crisis, Doug called up three of his best friends - director Victor Fleming, cinematographer Henry Sharp, and production manager Charles Lewis - and took them on a six-month tour of Asia, ostensibly to shoot a travelogue for United Artists (of which Fairbanks was still a major shareholder.) Their first stop is Honolulu, followed in quick succession by Japan, China, Peking, Hong Kong, Indochina, the Philippines, Siam, and India. Fairbanks and company spend time at such noteworthy spots as the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, the Summer Palace and the Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum.
Little Journeys to Great Masters
This short film provides a glimpse at famous art galleries of Rome, Florence, and the Vatican.
Wrestling Swordfish is a 1931 American short adventure film produced by Mack Sennett. In 1932, it won an Oscar for Best Short Subject (Novelty) at the 5th Academy Awards.
Screen Snapshots (Series 10, No. 8)
Pola Negri, Bebe Daniels, Mitzi Green, Polly Moran, Mack Sennett and Marjorie Beebe are seen relaxing at Palm Springs, a California winter resort; Barbara Stanwyck and Ricardo Cortez play golf; other celebrities are shown in Malibu Beach.
Believe It or Not (Second Series) #2
Ripley shows an aged Japanese statesman, a strange fish with legs, the 'Rubaiyat' in a finger ring, how a house of cards is torn up, and a giant typewriter in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Believe It or Not (Second Series) #3
This entry in the series crisscrosses America to find various curiosities. Among them are a church in Nebraska made of bales of hay; a duck with four legs that lives with its owner in Flint, Michigan; a 128-year-old former slave who lives in Holly Springs, Mississippi, with her 100-year-old daughter; and, in a cemetery in Mayfield, Kentucky, a family plot wherein the deceased members are memorialized with life-size statues, including the patriarch's horse and other family pets.
Believe It or Not (Second Series) #1
This first entry in the "Believe It Or Not" series of shorts visits northern Africa. Included are a look at the Tuareg people of the Sahara Desert, a waterfall whose under-surface builds up because of lime deposits, a clock that strikes 13, and the Tree of Abraham, estimated to be 3500 years old
Intimate Interviews: Walter Huston
On of a series of short subjects created for movie theaters in the 1930s, each an interview with a popular actor of the time.
Wild and Woolly
This Sports Champions entry visits a rodeo and highlights the three main events: bronco busting, bull riding, and bull-dogging steers.
Commissioned by Philips, Europa Radio celebrates the company’s experimental PCJJ shortwave radio station in Eindhoven that went on air in 1927 and broadcasted to Europe as well as the rest of the world in various languages. Hans Richter’s film covers one day from morning to night, showing the range and scope of the daily radio programs – from stock market news and sports events to live concerts and a speech by Albert Einstein. (via: impakt.nl)
She Goes to Vassar
This silent film follows a freshman through the course of her first year at the college
Ostend, Queen of Seaside Resorts
This montage film is composed of extracts from 35 reports filmed by Storck in 1930 in his capacity as official 'cinegraphiste' of the city of Ostend. A film about pleasure in general and the particular pleasure of being from Ostend, by day and night a city of parties and beaches, of sport and games.
The concept of machine-made knit was known as early as the 1850s, but it was only during the 1920s that the quality of the material had improved. When the plant known as "Atlas" was introduced in 1931, the shop windows drew a lot of attention, and Aho & Soldan was ordered to make a promotional film. In this well-paced film, we see the jersey production step by step.
Voice of Hollywood (Series 2, No. 3)
Rare footage of Jean Harlow and Bela Lugosi discussing Dracula, as well as Walter Huston performing a musical number. It exists solely in fragmentary form.
Declaration of the Poll at Chertsey Town Hall
This handsome local newsreel is an accomplished and charming record of Chertsey crowds gathering for the announcement of the 1931 election result - where National Government candidate Archibald Boyd-Carpenter wins a huge victory. With the occasion so well attended, it's no surprise that the camera focuses on the spectacle of the town's packed streets: almost every shot is crammed with local faces. The film was probably commissioned by local cinema director Clifford Spain, who produced and edited a number of local films to support his programmes at the Capitol cinema in Walton-on-Thames.
The poppy flower in its psychedelic glory.
Stars of Yesterday
Stars of Yesterday documentary film.
Land of the Maharajahs
This travel film takes the viewer to the northern part of Rajasthan. After a quick day tour in New Delhi and its surroundings we visit the magnificently painted havelis of Shekhawati, in Jhunjhunu, Mandawa and Fatehpur, an area that used to be one of the most prosperous parts of India. From there we visit Bikaner with its impressive fort, maybe the most beautiful in Rajasthan, and the city's Jain temples ending the tour with remarkable traditional music and dance in Kuri village right outside of Jaisalmer.
Bear Festival in Chikabumi near Asahikawa-city
Documents the most important ceremony of the Ainu people of northern Japan. For both the Ainu – and the peoples of the Amur river area on the mainland – the bear is an important spirit ancestor, and the annual ceremonial year used to revolve around ceremonies of the bear cult, where a bear is ritually killed and its spirit honoured. Also documented are aspects of Ainu daily life in the 1930s: houses, boats, ornate swords, religious artifacts, and the elaborately tattooed mouths of the older women. There are two shortened versions (28 and later 25 minutes) of this documentary edited in the 1960s. Although shorter, these versions include some new images that Munro had not sent to England.