Committee Of Correspondence

What Happened to the Great American Movie?

Herb Stein
4:26 p.m.  Friday  9/27/96 

       Was there ever a golden age of American movies, an age when an exceptionally large number of movies were great? If there was such an age, when was it?
       People of my generation think they know the answers. They think the golden age was the years when they were in their 20s or early 30s. It was the time of Gone With the Wind (1939) and Citizen Kane (1941). It was the time of Greta Garbo and Clark Gable, of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, of the Marx Brothers.
       But maybe we suffer from a generational delusion. Perhaps every generation thinks that the movies produced when they were in their 20s and early 30s were the best ever.
       Are there any lasting standards of excellence that would lead people of different generations to agree about what the great movies were? Was there a period in which such great movies were produced with exceptional frequency? If there was such a time, and if it isn’t now, what has happened? Why don’t movies get better and better, like the record times for running 100 meters?