Hollywood’s Greatest Year

The world of 1939 was falling into turmoil. Europe was inching closer toward—and, on September 1, finally commenced—World War II.  Americans were looking for distractions. They wanted to escape, and Hollywood was working over time churning out movies to help in that regard, films that would go down in history as some of cinema’s most enduing classics. It’s hard to think of any other year that saw so many masterpieces released: Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Of Mice and Men, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Dark Victory, Wuthering Heights, Son of Frankenstein, and on and on.

Catch “Reel Music – Hollywood’s Greatest Year: 1939,” Friday night, August 28, at 9:00pm. We’ll sample scores from some of these great classics. In the meantime, enjoy trailers from a few movies that made 1939 Hollywood’s greatest year.

Gone With the Wind

The Wizard of Oz

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington


Dark Victory

Son of Frankenstein

Bernard Herrmann, Man of Many Genres

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a film director. I was fascinated by every aspect of movies, including the film score. Especially the film score. I loved how music could in some cases become its own character in the movie and an invisible part of the setting. I grew up on the exuberant, joyful John Williams scores to Star Wars and Superman, but it was a much older soundtrack that first taught me how much music can add to a movie.

I was in elementary school when I first saw the 1959 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring the always-wonderful James Mason and a better-than-you’d-expect Pat Boone. A movie theater in town was showing old movies for a dollar-something during the summer to occupy kids and give their parents a break. The subterranean world director Henry Levin created out of Jules Verne’s imaginative novel captivated me. Imagine! A whole world beneath our feet, just waiting for young kids like me, to explore.

A crucial part of that world Levin constructed from all the various elements that make a movie was a brilliantly effective original score. Composer Bernard Herrmann threw in all the instruments of the orchestra, even the king of them, the pipe organ, to build the film’s soundscape: cymbal crashes for volcanic eruptions, a shimmering harp for the descent into the earth, the cornett-like serpent for a giant prehistoric lizard, and, yes, the pipe organ for the film’s climax.

Journey to the Center of the Earth made me a lifelong fan of Bernard Herrmann, whose success lay partly in his great versatility. He was equally comfortable writing music for three very different genres—drama, sci-fi/fantasy, and horror/suspense. Have a listen to the sample below, and then join me Friday night, November 28, at 9:00, for “Reel Music: A Tribute to Bernard Herrmann,” on 89.9 FM,, and our Apple and Android apps.