Film Posters Of The 30′s

Edited by: Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh

While we are busy looking at film books – we thought it a good idea to focus on some of the artwork that helps sell a movie: The movie poster. This is the first of 7 looks at posters from different decades as we look at separate publications – each providing artwork from decades of cinema from the 30’s to the 90’s.

The Reel Poster Gallery based in London have quite the collection. It is both as extensive and wide and they have published these volumes to focus on the decades of cinema.

The 1930’s saw the release of such oldies as The Wizard of Oz, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gone With the Wind as well as such stars as Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Buster Crabbe, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, Robert Donat, James Cagney, Charlie Chaplin, Laura & Hardy and Errol Flynn hit the big time.

The 30’s style is a mixed collection if artworks from the Art Deco of Haward Hawks Hell’s Angels poster to your basic painted portrait. But it is amazing how close to contemporary art these artists were with their poster art. Take a look at the opening artworks of It Happened One Night by Jack Meyers and you could compare the stylistics to Tamara De Lempicka.

The Wizard of Oz stands out as one of few in this book that actually use photo real images. But even then they are layered with pinks and yellows giving quite the trippy feel that the film does. Flash Gordon is all by the artist and perhaps an early indicator of where the Bond Poster series would go with a large section of the poster given to the leads with the title in huge letters across the middle (We’ll get to Bond when we hit the 60’s!). The pockets of space left over are then taken up with various action elements form the film.

There are also a good deal of painted artworks such as Lost Horizon and Gone With the Wind and Dead End. Propaganda is also getting its toes wet in the likes of Triumph of the Will. In short careful study really sets these artworks in time.

There are a few misconceptions as well. Hitchcock’s original The Man Who Knew Too Much has Peter Lorre appear with a very camp looking green face and red lips – almost like the camp version of the Hulk.

The Hound of the Baskervilles shows us also a time when posters were dominated by words.  A large title followed below by many of the cast members’ names, leaving only the top half of the poster for any artwork at all.

Less expected are the artworks for films Swing, Underworld and various Paul Robeson films that feature all black casts. But let us not forget the Westerns, the swashbucklers and even the taboo films like Extase. The Reel Poster Gallery have done their homework. At over a 100 pages you get a wide variety of images, and very little writing in the way of the images, Save for an introduction and an Index.

Steven Hurst

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