The answer: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, James Cagney, Ginger Rogers, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Paul Muni, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Boris Karloff, Paulette Goddard, Ronald Colman, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jean Arthur, Gary Cooper, Irene Dunne, Joan Fontaine, Glenn Ford, William Holden, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Gene Tierney, Jeanne Crain, Abbott & Costello, Dana Andrews, Alice Faye, Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward, Betty Grable, Richard Widmark, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, John Wayne, Jennifer Jones, Fredric March, Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Cary Grant.
The question: what Hollywood luminaries did not regularly work for or have a contract with MGM during Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s?
The answer: Frankenstein, Dracula, King Kong, The Public Enemy, Little Caesar, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, You Can’t Take It with You, It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gilda, Wuthering Heights, It’s a Wonderful Life, Gunga Din, The Letter, Kings Row, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Beau Geste, Sergeant York, Swing Time, Top Hat, 42nd Street, Trouble in Paradise, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Citizen Kane, The More the Merrier, The Pride of the Yankees, The Best Years of Our Lives, Laura, Lost Horizon, How Green Was My Valley, Stagecoach, Duel in the Sun, Mildred Pierce, Sullivan’s Travels, The Story of G.I. Joe, The Lady Eve, White Heat, The Maltese Falcon, The Grapes of Wrath, Twelve O’Clock High, The Big Sleep, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Killers, Out of the Past, All the King’s Men, Red River, All Quiet on the Western Front, Casablanca, Dark Victory, Notorious, The Heiress, Sands of Iwo Jima, Shanghai Express, and Now, Voyager.
The question: What classic movies were not made by MGM?
Common wisdom mandates Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as the greatest of all film studios during Hollywood’s heyday. MGM did have a gigantic backlot and a sterling talent pool of performers and behind-the-scenes personnel. However, as actress Marsha Hunt told Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention attendees in 2010, her home studio Paramount was looked upon as just as prestigious during that era. Recall that director Cecil B. DeMille directed his splashy spectacles for Paramount. Alfred Hitchcock worked for Selznick International, Paramount and Universal. Director John Ford won three Best Director Academy Awards during the golden age, none for MGM. They Were Expendable was his only MGM feature in that era and his 4th Oscar came for 1952’s The Quiet Man from Republic Pictures.
A cursory examination of films from the 1930s and 1940s reveals that the “Big Five” (aka “The Majors”) studios (MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros., RKO, 20th Century-Fox) were equals in terms of classics and quality of product. Even the “Little Three” majors (Columbia, Universal, United Artists) had their superstars and exceptional movies. In short, when identifying classic films MGM’s do not exceed those from other major studios.
One can make a case that this was due to the premature death (age 37)
Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer
in 1936 from pneumonia of producer Irving Thalberg. Married to Norma “The First Lady of the Screen” Shearer (one of MGM’s biggest stars), he was the guiding hand behind Anna Christie, Freaks, The Champ, Tarzan the Ape Man, Grand Hotel, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Good Earth, and many others. After Thalberg’s demise, the studio reins fell to Louis B. Mayer. More’s the pity. Mayer’s modus operandi was to ensure that every movie was suitable for every citizen. You can therefore guess that the Mickey Rooney Andy Hardy series came from MGM. In short, the movies that pushed the envelope and have left a more lasting impression in specific genres and subgenres were not made and released by MGM. In film noir, The Postman Always Rings Twice was practically the only important noir film from that studio. Noir received its fullest expression at RKO, Fox and Columbia. Screwball comedy was also not MGM’s forte. It reached its pinnacle at RKO and Paramount. Gritty crime films from The Public Enemy (1931) to White Heat (1949) were a staple at Warner Bros. At Fox, studio head Darryl Zanuck championed “social consciousness” in such films as The Grapes of Wrath, Pinky, and Gentleman’s Agreement. Universal was the kingdom of horror, Disney of animation.
To conclude, as far as the movies themselves, one should take with a grain of salt the often made contention that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the greatest studio of Hollywood’s Golden Age. “The Majors” were equals in that respect.