15 Great Movies That Take Place During The Great Depression

8. Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Director Mervyn LeRoy adapts a beloved stage play to the big screen, making it a staple of the classical musical genre.

The “Gold Diggers” of the title are four aspiring actresses working in a Broadway show likely to fail due to financial woes of their producer Barney. The situation will be resolved by the intervention of Brad, the young love interest of ingenue dancer Polly. He proves to be an incredible showman and also a member of a wealthy family who escaped to express his artistic side.

Shot in 1933, during the Great Depression, the film is perfect in showcasing the elaborate camera movements of the beloved choreography of Busby Berkeley. But it also has strong social references to the social reality of the time. A perfect example is the song “Remember My Forgotten Man”, evoking the poverty of the soldiers who returned home from the war and found themselves in the midst of economic crisis.


7. Boxcar Bertha (1972)

Boxcar Bertha

Based on a true story, the film tells the tale of orphan Bertha Thompson, who meets, while stowing away on a train, union leader Big Bill Shelly. She falls in love with him but is abandoned soon after. With the help of a professional con man, she manages to devise a series of train robberies designed to attack the boss of the great railway Mr. Sartoris for needed money.

This is the second film of then emerging talent Martin Scorsese. The movie is a mirror of the desperation of the time; the only possible solution is lawlessness, but the tragic end also clears the few glimmers of hope of the protagonists.

Scorsese offers a glimpse of his talent in a tough and thrilling film, which shows the rebellious face of an America on its knees in the face of crisis.


6. Of Mice and Men (1992)

Of Mice and Men (1992)

The film focuses on the story of two laborers, Lennie( John Malkovich) and George(Gary Sinise), who, in the thirties,, live on the road, traveling from ranch to ranch in search of work. Lennie has the mind of a child but the enormous physical strength. George tries to protect him from life’s obstacles. However, Lennie is unable to control his strength and is attracted by the seductive wife of the ranch foreman and accidentally kills her. This act forces his friend to commit a tragic gesture that will put an end to their bizarre but strong friendship.

Gary Sinise, director and actor in the film, is a renowned figure in the world of American theater and the film industry but is quite often underestimated. In this movie he succeeded in transposing the famous book by John Steinbeck to film in an objective and never sentimental way.

The particular focus is on important issues such as the male friendship and diversity, all permeated by the atmosphere of melancholy and loneliness that transplanted from the pages of Steinbeck.


5. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)


In America of the thirties, three convicts (George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson) escape from a chain gang in order to find the money they have stolen. In their breathless journey across the Mississippi, they will come in contact with all kind of people against the backdrop of a bleak America in full depression.

Once more the Coen Brothers draw from literature to create a film inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, but set in the Deep South of the USA. In fact many episodes of the film are based on the Odyssey (Meeting with sirens and Polyphemus), captured with the photography by Roger Deakins who employs sepia tones to evoke the dusty landscapes of Mississippi.

Particular attention should be paid to the beautiful soundtrack, a key element in the movie, mixing folk and blues to recall the mood of the thirties (it won the Grammy for Best Album). Although the film is basically a comedy, it is a perfect example of the cultural and ideological contrasts of the time of the Great Depression.


4. My Man Godfrey (1936)

My Man Godfrey (1936)

Godfrey is found in a shanty town by a group of rich people during a scavenger hunt and is adopted by the Bullock family to serve as a butler. In time it is discovered that his qualities are remarkable and that he is, in fact, a once wealthy man ruined by the Great Depression and forced into wandering.

Based on the novel by Eric Hatch, the film evokes the contrast between wealth and opulence of the upper class and the conditions of New York in the thirties. As often the case in the films of Gregory La Cava, the events are treated with a note of sarcasm and irony that is hard to find in other comedies of the era. The characters of his movies are often divided between reality and idealism.

The queen and symbol of this gallery of vices and virtues is Irene Bullock, portrayed by Carole Lombard, the actress who embodies the spirit slightly anarchic of the sophisticated comedies of the thirties.


3. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)

They Shoot Horses, Don't They

During the early thirties many people participated in dance marathons, lured by monetary prizes but also just to eat regularly. In the course of one of these events, Gloria, a woman on the brink of depression and defeated by life, meets by chance another contestant, Robert, and involves him in a deadly situation.

Director Sydney Pollack based the movie on the novel by Horace McCoy. The film is shot almost entirely in the ballroom, creating a sense of claustrophobia and unease and also induces an allegorical element.

The continuous use of flash forwards introduces the idea of incontrovertible destiny, in particular regarding the character of Gloria (Jane Fonda). The tragic finale reveals the meaning of the title and instills a sense of resignation that permeates throughout the film and exemplifies the atmosphere of those years.


2. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

The Grapes of Wrath

This excellent Great Depression film, based on the famous novel by John Steinbeck, is a true pillar of American cinema. The plot is faithful to the book, and follows the travails of Tom Joad and his family on their journey to California, the promised land for the poor farmers of Oklahoma.

The film maintains the hardness of the book and perfectly details the status of these “Oakies”. It is also a film with a strong social ideology. The famous final speech “We are the people, no one can stop us”, sums up the thoughts of director John Ford and is a true hymn to resistance. An incredible cast, from Henry Fonda to Jane Darwell (who won an Oscar for best actress in a supporting role), helps create an unforgettable film which is a mirror of an entire generation.


1. Modern Times (1936)

Modern Times

One of Charles Chaplin’s most famous movies, Modern Times is a masterpiece in history of cinema. Chaplin portrays a worker enduring endless rounds at an assembly line. This relentless work will lead him to a nervous breakdown and a series of other hardships while looking for another job during the Depression.

The film has a social significance, as it tells a bittersweet tale of the conditions of exploited workers. It was also a risky project because it is almost entirely a silent movie, produced during the sound era. The film ends with a moving flicker of hope, an invitation to get up and not to give up despite difficulties.

The thirties were not easy years for Chaplin, the master of silent movies who succeeded in maintaining his integrity during the sound period and produced two masterpieces with Modern Times and City Lights.

Author Bio: Sebastiano graduated in Humanities and is attending a degree in Economics for Arts and Culture. He is interested in art and film ratings, and is a regular follower of Venice Film Festival.