Best Documentary Movies of 1937
Hindenburg Disaster Newsreel Footage
The airship Hindenburg, arriving from Europe, was being led to its mooring at Lakehurst, New Jersey when suddenly disaster struck. The hydrogen-filled zeppelin ignited, and was almost instantly transformed into an enormous fireball. In less than a minute, the entire ship had been consumed by flames. The Hindenburg explosion marked the end of the budding airship travel industry.
Tsar to Lenin
A documentary film account of the Russian Revolution, based on archival footage.
The Spanish Earth
A propaganda film made during the Spanish Civil War in support of the Republican government against the rebellion by Gen. Francisco Franco's forces who were backed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The film would have been seen by those making it as a documentary.
People of the Cumberland
The film takes place in rural Tennessee, where communities have experienced economic and environmental devastation created by the coal mining industry. The introduction of the Highlander Folk School in 1931 by educator Myles Horton and the movement to bring labor union representation to the region are shown as means of empowering the population. Efforts are made to stop the union activities with the murder of a local organizer, but eventually the union movement is able to take root with the local workforce.
One of the last voyages of a commercial sailing ship on a trip from Cornwall.
Around the Corner
Short film detailing the workings of the rear-axle differential and how this new system makes driving smoother and more comfortable.
Decathlon Champion: The Story of Glenn Morris
This Pete Smith Specialty tells how Glenn Morris trained for and won the 1936 Olympic decathlon event.
Heart of Spain
The first production from Frontier Films, the film production collective that was the successor to NYKino and the Workers Film and Photo League, Heart of Spain focuses on the Spanish Civil War, a conflict that became a touchstone of its era and was the most forceful opposition to the rising threat of fascism in Europe. Heart of Spain was begun by Geza Karpathi and Herbert Kline, who ultimately turned their footage over to Paul Strand, Leo Hurwitz, and Ben Maddow to make the film. It is compelling both for its shrewd formal aesthetics and as a sympathetic human document of the war.
Hong Kong: 'The Hub of the Orient'
This Traveltalk series short takes a look at Hong Kong.
Romance of Radium
Romance of Radium is a 1937 American short film directed by Jacques Tourneur, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. This short film tells the story of the discovery of radium and how it is used in medicine. In 1937, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Subject (One-Reel) at the 10th Academy Awards
Seeing the World, Part One: A Visit to New York, N.Y.
A sightseeing portrait of New York, with lively narration taking the viewer aboard the New York elevated and subway trains. Then the view from the windows becomes slightly abstracted, the voice of the commentator becomes uncertain. Featuring Joseph Cotten (credited 'Cotton') Virginia Nicholson Welles, John Becker and Edwin Denby.
We Work Again
The role of African Americans in the recovery years of the Great Depression is the subject of this informational short, which offers an idealized depiction of life in a segregated society. The highlight, by far, is rare footage of Orson Welles’s “Voodoo Macbeth,” produced in 1935 for the New York Negro Unit of the WPA’s Federal Theatre Project.
The Romance of Celluloid
Several behind the scenes aspects of the movie-making business, which results in the enjoyment the movie going public has in going to the theater, are presented. They include: the production of celluloid aka film stock, the materials used in the production of which include cotton and silver; construction crews who build sets including those to look like cities, towns and villages around the world; a visit with Jack Dawn who demonstrates the process of creating a makeup design; the screen testing process, where many an acting hopeful gets his/her start; the work of the candid camera man, the prying eyes behind the movie camera; a visit with Adrian, who designs the clothes worn by many of the stars on screen; and a visit with Herbert Stothart as he conducts his musical score for Conquest (1937). These behind the scenes looks provide the opportunity to get acquainted with the cavalcade of MGM stars and their productions that will grace the silver screen in the 1937/38 movie season.
Rocky Mountain Grandeur
This Traveltalk short visits Rocky Mountain National Park and a nearby dude ranch in Colorado.
Killers of the Sea
Captain Wallace Casewell Jr., chief of police of Panama City, Florida, is the star of Killers of the Sea. Appointing himself protector of all Gulf of Mexico gamefish, Capt. Casewell makes it his mission to round up illegal fishing boats and to stave off such natural predators as sharks, whales and octopi. This may well be the only American film in which a school of dolphins are depicted as "the enemy." Beyond its rather ludicrous continuity, the film offers several spectacular underwater scenes, as Casewell battles invading sea life with knife and harpoon. This 49-minute documentary was narrated by Lowell Thomas.
How to Undress in Front of Your Husband
A "Peeping Tom" likes to look through windows at women undressing. We see him as he sneaks a peek at two "subjects". His first one, a young woman who apparently has a major lingerie fetish, is young, shapely and attractive. The second one--to be charitable--isn't. That doesn't stop him, and the viewer, from getting an eyeful.
Expeditions in Borneo by Mr. and Mrs. Martin Johnson show the terrain, flora, fauna and lifestyle of Borneo as the Johnsons search for a huge orangutan.
Chile, Land of Charm
This documentary short features Chile's history, culture, and customs.
This Pete Smith Specialty showcases the Cristiani Family, a circus act. They mount and dismount moving horses and perform acrobatic feats while riding them.
A Trip Through the Walt Disney Studios
A Trip Through the Walt Disney Studios was a documentary made in response to requests from members of RKO Radio Pictures for a behind the scenes look at Walt Disney Studios. The film was never intended for public showing; it was only shown to executives at RKO. However, footage from this documentary was recycled into a shorter featurette, How Walt Disney Cartoons Are Made, which was released to public audiences. It was shot in the first week of July 1937.
A Job in a Million
A Cockney lad trains to be a messenger boy.
Today We Live
Two case studies highlighting the work of the National Council of Social Service: the conversion of a barn into a village hall in South Cerney, Gloucestershire, and the building of an occupational centre in the depressed mining village of Pentre in the Rhondda Valley, Wales.
Sword of the Samurai
A short documentary detailing the forging of a katana.
Glimpses of Peru
This Traveltalk series short brings us to Lima, Peru where we see a modern city.
Lest We Forget
A tribute to Will Rogers.
This travelogue begins at Bangkok's rail depot, a center of Indo-Chinese commerce. Next the narrator talks about Buddhism as the camera shows us some of Bangkok's many temples. Then, the narrator introduces us to the importance of traditional dance, with emphasis on the way that delicate wrist movements tell stories. It's on to the system of waterways in Bangkok, where more than 1,000,000 people live or conduct commerce. We take a ride down the Menam River, the country's most important commercial and social road. From our boat, we pass Wat Arun and other colorful signs of life typical in serene Siam.
This Traveltalk visit to Japan starts with a look at the country's cherry blossom trees, tulips, and ubiquitous gardens. We then see the proper manner for preparing a woman's hair and wearing a kimono.
This Traveltalk series short visits Copenhagen.
Unemployed miners in South Wales are helped to form a Subsistence Production Society to farm and produce goods co-operatively.
Children at School
Short documentary about British education in the late 1930s.
George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute
Color footage of inventor George Washington Carver at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Dr. Carver is filmed at his apartment, office, laboratory, and garden.
Popular Science J-7-1
Raising angora rabbits for wool; new marine navigation and safety technology; kitchen gadgets; developing new rose varieties.
The lifestyle of certain peoples in Africa, Bali, Samoa and the Hawaiian Islands, among other places, is examined with respect to the idea that physical perfection is the chief result of those lifestyles. Next, "Hesperia," a nudist camp in Oregon, is shown. "Mr. and Mrs. Average Housewife and Worker" arrive at the camp to escape the ills of modern civilization. Although they are at first hesitant and ashamed to participate, when they are shown proof of the advantages of the "back-to-nature" lifestyle, the couple joins in. The average life of an American nudist is depicted, including nudists shown at various jobs and pursuits, such as hewing trees, building houses, writing, painting and sculpting.
Did You Know That? Third Edition
This documentary is a compilation of unusual facts about Canada. It includes trains which travel in air, eels which swim to the market, and a ship that keeps afloat with its bottom and sides full of holes. Narrator Corey Thomson gives explanations in this educational short.
San Francisco: Market Street and Ferryboats
Silent black-and-white footage of San Francisco, including the Ferry Building clock tower and ferryboats.
Love Life of a Gorilla
This little-seen compilation 'educational' documentary from producer Samuel Cummins was an independently-produced jungle exploitation film typical of the 30s. It was inspired after the success of the pre-Code exploitation film Ingagi (1931) about gorilla-worshipping Congolese native women, and after the success of RKO's King Kong (1933). The film speculated that there was social/sexual intercourse or matings between African women and gorillas, after a Ubangi maiden was abducted by a gorilla and carried off into the jungle. It was considered scandalous and "off-color" by the Board of Review because of the theme of "the mating of women with wild animals and because of nude figures in the picture." The film included sensational content (ineptly interspersed with horrible stock footage) including a few shots of topless native women (censored versions superimposed fake ferns over bare breasts) and lusty gorillas (men in monkey suits). (filmsite.org)
You Only Live Once: Production Takes from a Film in the Making
A short educational film by the Museum of Modern Art showing the making of You Only Live Once.
Sharjah airport in the 1930's Showing the airport, town, Emirate and Imperial Airways staff. An early British documentary produced by many pioneers of the medium.
This silent b&w film has intertitles in gothic script (in German). The film features cineradiography of x-rays of the knee and foot.
Roentgenfilm III and IV
This silent b&w film comprises of two separate parts and like its companion film (Cardiac X-rays), it has intertitles in gothic script (in German). The film features cineradiography of x-rays of the shoulder and elbow. The shoulder sequences last for about 12 minutes and show the subject rotating the arm in the shoulder socket this is shot front-on, rear-on interspersed with relevant x-ray cineradiography. The next sequences relate to the arm, elbow, wrist and hand (8 minutes).
China Strikes Back
In 1936 and 1937 Harry Dunham shot "several hundred feet of film," being the first cameraman to penetrate into the Shensi region and obtain footage of the Communist forces in China. He smuggled his film out and placed it in the hands of Frontier Films. Leyda, Lerner, Meyers and Maddow (they had to use pseudonyms) spent four months preparing the film for publication. In that time, the Chinese situation altered to such an extent that Frontier had to change the scenario several times in order to keep up with events...the producers had to make a happy change in the theme of China Strikes Back. It was no longer a film showing the Chinese people moving toward unity. It became a pictorial history revealing the how and why behind a realized unity. (IMDb)
“The noble and proud village of Cascais has the Atlantic Ocean at its feet as an eternal servant. The honourable head of the Portuguese nation, General Carmona, lives in the citadel’s palace with his family. We pay a surprise visit to the President of the Republic strolling with his grandchildren in the citadel’s terrace. The Santa Marta lighthouse announces how close we are to the harbour.” (excerpt from the narration)
This silent b&w film has intertitles in gothic script (in German). The film features cineradiography of x-rays of the chest shot full-on and side-on. The sequences are listed (in English) on the box on the negative copy 'Respiration (undecipherable)' and 'Deep Child frontal and lateral views', 'Adult frontal and lateral views' 'Adult diaphragm'.
The Realized Dreams
A film promoting orphan's cause.
Crystal Palace, the Great Fire of 1936
Various shots during and after the Crystal Palace fire in 1936.
Hereford Pedigree Cattle
Short documentary on how cows and bulls are selected for breeding and selling.
Dramatic Universal newsreel footage of the Hindenburg disaster which took place on Thursday, May 6, 1937, when the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed during its attempt to dock with its mooring mast at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey. Of the 97 people on board (36 passengers, 61 crew), there were 35 fatalities; there was also one death among the ground crew. The actual cause of the fire remains unknown, although a variety of hypotheses have been put forward for both the cause of ignition and the initial fuel for the ensuing fire. The incident shattered public confidence in the giant, passenger-carrying rigid airship and marked the end of the airship era.
The Proof Parade
The new Frigidaires for 1937 are coming!
A war report made in the Fall of 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. It records the effects of aviation bombings on the rear of Aragon and Catalonia (the "black wings").