Top Ten 1930

1. All Quiet On the Western Front
2. The Blue Angel
3. Hell’s Angels
4. The Big House
5. L’Age D’Or
6. Morocco
7. Romance
8. Monte Carlo
9. Under The Roofs of Paris
10.  The Virtuous Sin


Emil Jannings won the first Best Actor Oscar for two films, The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh in 1927/28, but he is most famous for his participation in one of the greatest starmaking films of all time, ruining his professional and personal life for the beauty of Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg’s awe-inspiring The Blue Angel. Jannings aptly portrays the buttoned professor who lets himself indulge in the fantasy of a beautiful cabaret singer and quickly slides into destruction, eventually crowing like a chicken in the film’s devastating conclusion. It’s a future I imagine for myself, and having Jannings set such a glamorous precedent makes me very happy about it.

Honour Roll: Walter Huston, The Virtuous Sin; Chester Morris, The Big House


There was rarely a time that Marlene Dietrich didn’t make an indelible impression, but it truly is incredible to watch her jump-start a Hollywood career with her performance as the cabaret singer who inspired no end of imitators (and drag queens) in destroying a man’s soul in Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel. It quickly brought her to American shores, where her performance the same year in von Sternberg’s Morocco further solidified her exotic star power and even earned her her one Oscar nomination in her career. From there it was an immediate trip to eternal fame.

Honour Roll: Greta Garbo, Anna Christie


Norma Shearer won an Oscar for The Divorcee, and she’s delightfully spry in it, but the role that has aged best is Robert Montgomery as her husband’s buddy with whom she decides to have a fling. Montgomery was always a strange card on screen, a kind of mercurial yet otherworldly type that only the 1930s could have accepted as leading-man masculinity, and such charms would later be put to even better use as the strange murderer in Night Must Fall and afterlife traveler in Here Comes Mr. Jordan.


Anna Christie is a star vehicle for Greta Garbo, who cries and gets drunk at a bar in what was the idea of great drama in the thirties, and she’s matched for charismatic charm by Marie Dressler as the even drunker companion at the bar. Dressler was a late-life character actress star at the time, Canadian born and an Oscar winner for the now mostly forgotten Min and Bill, but in her few years on screen always managed to make quiet the impression before her unfortunate passing in 1934.


I absolutely love The Blue Angel, but I give Josef von Sternberg plenty of love on these lists, so I’ll go with Oscar’s choice and honour the rightfully deserving Lewis Milestone for what is still one of the most impressive films about World War I, All Quiet On The Western Front. The dramatic scenes don’t suffer for the technological limitations of recording dialogue at the time, while the fighting scenes have all the energy and verve of the kind of editing skill that would become more prevalent in the years to come, combined with a dread and horror of battle that would be erased with the need to make joining the army appealing with the onset of World War II (during which this film was, not surprisingly, banned).

Honour Roll: Josef von Sternberg, The Blue Angel/Morocco