The 10 Worst Films of the 1930's

The 10 Worst Films of the 1930’s

Recently, I finished compiling lists of the ten best films of each decade, which can be found on my content page. Having done that, I thought it would be infinitely more fun to compile a list of the decade’s worst films. Films so bad it is likely (especially in the case of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s) you have never heard of most of them as they have long been forgotten and, in some cases, may have had their negatives chopped up and made into ukulele picks. That way, it can be said that something useful came from each of their creations.

In compiling these lists, I have purposely skipped over low-budget films and, in all but one case, sequels that are much too easy to pick apart. I have decided to concentrate on films with major actors in lead roles, often directed by the top men in their field.

While I compile best lists, hoping even just one reader will seek out one or more of the titles I have listed, this list is provided so you will avoid these films at all costs. You can guarantee you will have a better time reading my brief descriptions than you will see any of these movies.

Let’s start with the 10 worst films of the 1930’s. As usual they have been placed in alphabetical order instead of by preference. To try and decide which films are worse then the others would likely result in me tearing my hair out and likely being ticketed for the nearest institution.

Alice in Wonderland (1933)

Based on the classic book by Lewis Carroll, Paramount Pictures went all out to be as faithful to the book as possible, including designing sets based on the illustrations found in the book. Such prominent actors as Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, and W.C. Fields were added to the mix, and the result was deadly. Kids ended up being confused or frightened, while adults were bored to tears. This film ended up being one of the biggest bombs of the decade and forced the studio to cancel its plans to further adapt the classics of children’s literature. After seeing this film, we can only be thankful for it.


This was the third (after The Big Broadcast (1932) and The Big Broadcast of 1936) in a series of musical comedies about big shows being put on for radio audiences. Despite such top stars as Jack Benny, George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Martha Raye, the film was saddled with two unknown leads who couldn’t carry a tune, and that can be a problem for a musical. The film is laughably bad and unbearable to sit through, but it still made way for “The Big Broadcast of 1938,” which didn’t turn out to be much better than this.


One of the earliest of film soap operas proved even then that melodrama is silly when overwritten. Joan Crawford stars as a woman who works her way up society’s ladder in any manner she can to achieve her dreams. It’s a dumb, one-note film that finds Crawford overacting thus laying the groundwork for Faye Dunaway’s much maligned performance in “Mommie Dearest.”


One of the most astonishingly bad movie musicals of all time tells the story of a Broadway star (a very miscast Marion Davies) and a heavyweight boxer (an equally miscast Clark Gable) who are thrown together in a romance for publicity’s sake, even though they hate each other. The film primarily consists of the two leads bickering, falling in love, and bickering even more, all sandwiched between some of the worst musical numbers ever filmed.

The highlight of the film is the big musical number near the end. During the shooting, a handyman accidentally walked into the background of the scene from one side to the other. The cameraman failed to notice this, but the editor spotted the poor man during post-production. By then, it was too late to re-shoot the scene, as the sets had been torn down, and the actors had moved on to other projects. Since this was a big number, it had to remain in the film.

If you ever catch this film on late-night television (which is highly unlikely), you may want to tune in near the end to see that scene. You will see the handyman walking in the background while dozens of dancers frolic in front of him.


This film was billed as “Grand Hotel” on the high seas without the top-tier level of actors and sparkling script. The film is a madcap comedy of romance and intrigue on a cruise ship, with the skipper seemingly witness to every event on board. Victor McLaglen and John Gilbert lead an “all-star cast” (with an appearance by The Three Stooges) of mostly unknowns who looked as if they wanted to jump overboard at any minute. To save 93 minutes of your life, let me spoil it and tell you they foolishly remain on board.

Hotel Imperial (1939)

This adventure film tells the tale of a woman searching for the man responsible for her sister’s death. Intrigue and romance follow in this “epic” adventure, which, unfortunately, is neither exciting nor thrilling. Ironically, the story behind the making of the film would have made for a better movie.

The film was originally made in 1927, based on a Broadway play. The original director was dumped by his lover, Greta Garbo, and returned to Sweden, where he died of a broken heart. The film’s leading lady was dating Rudolf Valentino, who died during production. From then on, the film was deemed a “curse,” but that didn’t stop money-hungry producers from remaking it.

Marlene Dietrich was cast in the lead, despite not having read the script, at a time when her box office appeal had waned. Director Joseph Von Sternberg, who had collaborated with Dietrich on several films, was brought in but soon left the project when Dietrich rejected his romantic advances. Henry Hathaway, known for his tough directing style, stepped in next. Surprisingly, Hathaway and Dietrich initially got along well. However, once Dietrich read the script in its entirety, she realized the disaster awaiting her and refused to continue unless the script was rewritten.

Production began with Hathaway shooting scenes with the leading man, Charles Boyer, and working around Dietrich. Ernst Lubitsch was brought in to calm tensions, and it worked for a while. Hathaway rewrote the script, and Dietrich reported to work, but the two clashed again, leading to rapidly rising production costs. Lubitsch was dismissed, taking away the only person who could control Dietrich. After 28 days, Dietrich left the project, and production was halted despite nearly $1,000,000 already being spent.

Margaret Sullivan was brought in to replace Dietrich, but five days later, she broke her left arm while awaiting a shot. When the studio informed Hathaway that Dietrich was being brought back, he walked off the picture and never returned. With word spreading that the picture was a “jinx,” no actress in Hollywood would even read the script.

The film was officially shut down for a year. It was resurrected when Marlene Dietrich regained interest in the project after seeing some of her canned footage. She found hope for the film and agreed to work with Hathaway again, but Hathaway refused. Dietrich left the project again after producers declined her demand to work only with Sternberg.

Enter Isa Miranda, Italy’s biggest leading lady of the 1930s. With her inclusion, the script had to be rewritten yet again, causing further delays. By the time production was ready to resume, it was 1938, two years after it originally began. Ray Milland replaced Boyer, who was off shooting another film, and Robert Florey, a B-movie horror director, was brought in to direct.

Production was back in full swing until Milland was injured in a horse riding accident while shooting a chase scene. He sustained a concussion, a gash to the skull, and lacerations to his arms and hands. Milland gamely returned to the set a week later, and the film was finally finished 31 months after it began.

The film opened in 1939, and despite a huge promotional push for the new leading lady, Isa Miranda, it flopped. A year later, Miranda abandoned her dreams of Hollywood stardom and quietly returned to Italy.


A comedic look at a rivalry between policemen and prizefighters is every bit as dull as it sounds despite such actors as James Cagney, Olivia DeHavilland, and Pat O’Brien in the leads.

PARNELL (1937)

Clark Gable stars as a 19th-century Irish leader who fights for the causes of his people and is brought down by an adulterous affair. The film has noble intentions that come crashing down by the action of the hero to make it more ludicrous than laughable. What I.S. laughable is listening to Gable trying to pull off an Irish brogue accent.


This is a famous film that details the evils of smoking marijuana. The film plays as a constant warning to teenagers and can be seen today as an interesting curio as to how the filmmakers had no idea what they were talking about. The film infers that even one hit from a “joint” will lead you down the path of destruction and even murder. The film culminates in a jury trial and even the suicide of one of the main characters. One memorable scene has a man playing the piano frantically as he takes puffs of marijuana. Interestingly, the film became a cult classic in the early 1970s when it was re-released to theaters, and the hippie youth of the time embraced it (under the influence, no doubt).


Bette Davis stars in what was basically just another telling of “The Maltese Falcon” only five years earlier. The film is just as confusing but far more contrived with the wooden Warren William in the Bogart role. Need I say that you should hold out for the Bogart version?

Author Gwen

Gwen is a freelance artist and writer for film, advertising, corporate projects, and web media. She feels his expertise in the entertainment industry provides a unique opportunity to engage the public through real-life stories and over a decade of experience and knowledge.