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Welcome to the Leading Man Tournament Week 1

***This should have been up earlier but I’m nursing one of the worst sunburns on my face so my head is killing me.  Apologies!

It’s finally here, the first (hopefully becoming a yearly thing) Journeys in Classic Film Leading Man Tournament.  This week we’ll be determining who is the leading man of the 1930s out of five candidates (and I’m really sad I forgot William Powell but there’s always next year).  The five nominees for the 1930s are detailed above with some of their top works of the period (asterisks next to titles indicates I’ve reviewed the film on the blog), my thoughts on the actor, and plenty of photos to allow you to weigh your choices.  Voting for Week 1 starts today (Sunday) and concludes on the 27th when we’ll open up Week 2.  Throughout the week I’ll be updating everyone on the poll numbers and eventually telling you my choice (although I am of course not allowed to vote).  And the nominees are…

CLARK GABLE

Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night

Movies That Secured His Nomination: Red Dust* (1932), It Happened One Night (1934), China Seas* (1935), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Wife vs. Secretary* (1935), Saratoga* (1937), Gone With the Wind (1939)

Gable via signorelligirl.tumblr.com/

My Thoughts on the Nominee: I saw a slew of Gable’s films during the Jean Harlow retrospective and my favorites are the pre-Codes (especially Red Dust), and the comedies.  His work as a comedic actor is charming and smart-ass (see Wife vs. Secretary and of course Capra’s It Happened One Night).  Gable’s also one of two nominees that appeared in the seminal film of the 1930s, Gone With the Wind.  I have big issues with that movie (I should rewatch and review it just to rage against it) but he definitely was my favorite of the film.

Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind

GARY COOPER

Gary Cooper in Design for Living

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Movies That Secured His Nomination: Morocco (1930), A Farewell to Arms (1932), Design for Living (1933), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Cooper and Marlene Dietrich in Morocco

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My Thoughts on the Nominee:  Cooper made the list courtesy of TCM who told me he was one of the top grossing actors of the decade.  Sadly, I haven’t seen any of the films I mentioned above…yet!  I do have Mr. Deeds Goes to Town courtesy of the Frank Capra box set I got as a graduation gift.  Design for Living and Morocco are high on my list of films to get too.

Cooper in A Farewell to Arms

ERROL FLYNN

He’s definitely the bad boy of the 1930s nominees

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Movies That Secured His Nomination: Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Essex and Elizabeth (1939)

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My Thoughts on the Nominee: Errol Flynn is another actor I’m not well-versed in cinematically.  I have seen Essex and Elizabeth (or as I know of it, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex) and thought he was great.  If anything I know more about Flynn’s personal life and I must admit that bad boy background is intriguing to me.

Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood

JAMES STEWART

Happy birthday Jimmy Stewart!

Movies That Secured His Nomination: You Can’t Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Stewart and Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story

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My Thoughts on the Nominee:  First of all happy birthday Jimmy Stewart (totally didn’t plan that)!  Also, there are those who’d say Stewart is more a 1940s actors and I can’t say I disagree.  If anything I should have put him in the 40s but I really wanted to include a particular actor in the 40s and knew if I started switching around things at the last-minute I’d do too much so we’ll probably see Stewart move into a later decade next year.  Either way Stewart’s two movies of the 30s are seminal Frank Capra works that are defining of the director and the actor’s presence during the 1930s.

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LESLIE HOWARD

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Movies That Secured His Nomination: Of Human Bondage (1934), The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), Intermezzo (1939), Gone With the Wind (1939)

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My Thoughts on the Nominee: Leslie Howard is an actor I can really take or leave.  I’ve seen two of his films, Intermezzo and the aforementioned Gone with the Wind and he’s just too….meh for me.  He’s not a strong dynamic man like a Gable or a Brando, he’s too light.  I loved Intermezzo (a film I should revisit) but his role as Ashley in Gone with the Wind didn’t make me believe he’s a man Scarlet O’Hara would fight for (although my thoughts on Scarlet are that she’s just a bitch).  Why did I nominate him then?  He’s considered one of the more underrated actors of the time period.

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That’s your five of the 1930s!  Voting is open so vote, get your friends to vote, and declare your team in the comments section!  I’ll be back mid-week to tell you who I’d root for in this list (although my Team is in a later decade).

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

9 thoughts on “Welcome to the Leading Man Tournament Week 1 Leave a comment

  1. If I’m considering the actors only on their 1930s work, it’s probably James Stewart, if I’m considering the actors on their whole body of work, it is definitely James Stewart and to an absurd degree. His work with Hitchcock and Borzage and Capra and Ford…so much greatness.

    Between City Lights, Modern Times and The Great Dictator, Chaplin could almost be included as a 30s actor. Or maybe I’d consider Fred Astaire and all his 30s musicals.

    • I definitely forgot Chaplin, that was an oversight. Astaire was originally on the list but I think I dropped him in favor of one of the others (whose name escapes me now). Next year we’ll be upping the roster to 10 hopefully so I won’t be forgetting anyone!

  2. I adore Gary Cooper, and “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” is the film which began my love affair with him. It’s a sweet, touching film, which I think you will like.

  3. These are great picks, and I honestly have no idea whom to vote for. Part of me wants to give a vote to underdog Leslie Howard. I agree that he’s pretty meh in GWTW (I read the book before seeing the movie, and he wasn’t my image of Ashley at all), but I’ve really enjoyed some of his other performances, especially in Pygmalion and It’s Love I’m After. But then he’s against Stewart, Flynn, Cooper, and Gable. I’ll have to think a bit more before voting!

    And many thanks for organizing this tournament – it looks like it’s going to be great fun.

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