April 17 would mark the 93rd founding anniversary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures or MGM. Louis B. Mayer, who founded the film studio along with Marcus Loew, knew how to develop actors. child actors included. They became big stars in slick musicals or slick comedies. MGM became renowned for these two genres, and the troubled times would be the reason behind Loew and Mayer not venturing into other genres. It didn't matter at all, as MGM was the most prestigious film studio back then. The rise and fall of this company would fall under the studio era. It could be called the classical Hollywood cinema.
Film enthusiasts would recall the leading men and their leading ladies, who turned the studio era into a legend. However, the men behind the camera deserved much credit as the actors in front of them. They inspired the next generations of filmmakers, if not changed American Cinema. (And it was mandatory for film students to familiarize with their works.) MGM may have the biggest names in their payroll, but the other film studios were also fortunate to have the most influential directors ever known. Let's list them down:
Howard Hawks. "Bringing Up Baby" wasn't a critical and commercial hit during its initial release in 1938, yet it took several decades before the next generation of critics praised it to high heavens. They realized they were watching an astonishing work of art; men must adhere to an understated code of manliness, yet their women loved to yank the rug from under their feet. They have a love for sly, leg-pulling wit, which could be seen in those old French films. Hawks tried other genres, but he was supremely confident in comedies.
D.W. Griffith. "The Birth of a Nation" director was the first to come up with an idea of a blockbuster. Griffith was a prolific filmmaker during the silent film era, and his 480 motion pictures and short films have that sense of larger than life. However, Griffith's legacy was overshadowed by issues like racism (in "The Birth of a Nation"). Most of his films may be long gone, but the ones that survived time (and the elements) would astound the later generations. Take a bow.
Ernst Lubitsch. Those who were familiar with Lubitsch's films would notice the frequent sight of doors. Mary Pickford once complained about it, but it doesn't mean that the German-born filmmaker had a fetish for such a thing. It could allude to the migration of European filmmakers to Hollywood before the Nazis ruled Europe. They brought their (European) sensibilities to gawky America, and delightful comedies would be the outcome. "Ninotchka" could be the best example.
Preston Sturges. "Sullivan's Travels" (1941), a satire on the marginalized citizens in Los Angeles, would also be a sublime anarchic comedy. And this would be a trademark of Preston Sturges. He also directed screwball comedies, taking it to another level. He was like the other artists who were ahead of their time, as comedy was often passed up for a drama (or a weepie). Sturges's style was imitated by the younger filmmakers, and it didn't work out at all. It had something to do with the times, though.
Josef von Sternberg. He was another German import, whose films were branded as silly at the worst. He was wise to cast Marlene Dietrich, another German import, turning it into opulent sound stage fantasia. The Moroccan desert wouldn't look like a punishing terrain, a visual opium for viewers who wanted to escape the harsh reality of the Great Depression.