Thursday, December 3, 2015

Winter Sports in Films of the 1930s and 1940s

Whether you were born in a warm climate or the heart of the Arctic itself, the appeal of winter sports is undeniable. The crisp cold air, the thrill of the high-speeds, the beauty of the surrounding scenery capped off with the enjoyment of warming up with a cup of hot cocoa while sitting beside a roaring fire is one of the best pleasures to be had in winter. And if you are lucky enough to have a roasted sweet-potato near by, grab it. 

However, if there are palm trees blowing gently in the breeze outside your window, or so much snow has fallen that you can't shovel your way out of the house, then the next best thing to participating in winter sports is watching others romp in the snow. 

So grab a cola, find some pretty brunettes ( or a Jerry Colonna ) to sit beside and enjoy some good old-fashioned winter fun courtesy of Hollywood's dream factory. 


All of the popular stars of the 1930s and 1940s strapped on a pair of skates and hit the ice ( sometimes the hard way ) for at least one film. Sonja Henie, the most famous ice skater of the 1930s starred in ten productions for 20th Century Fox during her reign as the studio's ice queen. You can see her twirl in dizzying circles in One in a Million ( 1936 ), Happy Landing ( 1938 ), Second Fiddle ( 1939 ) and Wintertime ( 1943 ) where she starred opposite such glamour boys as Don Ameche and Cesar Romero.

Don't go expecting any triple-salchows however. While Sonja was the top in her field in her day ( she won three Olympic gold medals ), ten-year old skaters can outdo her moves these days. The Norwegian gal with the dimples had charm and that made up for a large part of her star appeal. Incidentally, the "ice" that she skated on was primarily frozen milk. On black and white film, water did not give off the milky white texture that the studios wanted so they mixed some cow's milk into it to give it a shine. 

The Ice Follies, which began in 1936 and toured around the world, were all the rage in the 1930s and, of course, when something is the rage Hollywood is bound to make a film about it. Joan Crawford was pushed onto the ice along with James Stewart and Lew Ayres ( playing a drunk again ) in The Ice Follies of 1939. The movie has its entertaining moments ( including a sparkling Technicolor finale with Roy and Eddie Shipstad, the founders of the Ice Follies, doing some of the skating routines ) but it crashed at the box office. 

That didn't stop Republic from releasing another Follies-themed film just two years later : Ice-Capades starring James Ellison. He looked good on ice, and so did Clark Gable and Jean Harlow when they attempted to glide without falling in Wife Vs. Secretary ( 1936 ). 

Bette Davis tried skating, too, but she fell on her rump in The Man Who Came to Dinner ( 1942 ). If you want to learn how to showoff on skates like Joseph Cotten did in The Farmer's Daughter ( 1946 ), then it's best to watch a tutorial first. Mickey Mouse gives viewers some points in On Ice ( 1935 ). 

Of course, having a partner to support you helps - just look at how much fun Loretta Young had with Cary Grant in The Bishop's Wife ( 1947 ). 


If you don't care for the graceful art of figure skating then how about experiencing the thrill of cold air rushing against your face as you head down the slopes on a pair of skis? We're cross-country ski enthusiasts ourselves, so instead of risking our necks on the mountainside we prefer to watch our favorite stars hit the standing in front of a backdrop screen. 

One of our all-time favorite actors - Melvyn Douglas - could often be found playing in the artificial snow. Claudette Colbert met him on the slopes at St. Moritz in I Met Him in Paris ( 1937 ) and Mary Astor stumbled down the hill with him in And So They Were Married ( 1936 ). 

Greta Garbo also found him in the snowbanks in Idaho in Two-Faced Woman ( 1941 ). Barbara Stanwyck went to Lake Arrowhead to look for Melvyn but all she found was George Brent in My Reputation ( 1946 ). It cost her her reputation too. 

That's what happens when you don't know how to ski, you end up bumping into fellows you didn't plan on meeting. If that is a common problem then it's best to learn the fundamentals of skiing. Goofy demonstrates proper technique in The Art of Skiing ( 1941 ) with comical results. It makes you want to consider buying life insurance. 

The Alps were the ideal place and definitely the "in" place to ski during the 1930s. European socialites would go sloping on the mountains for amusement just as American society went slumming in the cities. 

Even members of royalty like Prince Rudolph ( Tyrone Power ) went to Switzerland to enjoy the fresh mountain air and the excitement of downhill skiing. It was his only form of relaxation, poor boy. Not only did he manage to get a few days of skiing into his busy schedule but he met another winter sports enthusiast ( Sonja Henie ) whom he fell in love with in Thin Ice ( 1937 ). Robert Young found romance with Florence Eldridge on the Alpine slopes as well in Paradise for Three ( 1938 ).

Most Americans could not afford to travel to the Alps, so they opted to head to the most famous ski resort of the West - Sun Valley, Idaho. 

Not only was the snow perfect for skiing but you could find Sonja Henie there too ( she certainly got around ). In Sun Valley Serenade ( 1941 ) she played a Norwegian refugee showing off her skiing and skating talent to the band manager at a Sun Valley resort - who just happened to be played by John Payne, another actor who looked great in cold-climate pictures. 

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello caught ski-fever when they headed out to Sun Valley for Hit the Ice ( 1943 ). They tried dog-sledding but found out that rolling like a snowball gets you down a hill faster! 

American society enjoyed the fun to be had in Sun Valley too. Gene Tierney played an heiress who meets a swell looking guy ( Tyrone Power ) at a resort in That Wonderful Urge ( 1948 ). Alright, he turned out to be a reporter, but heiresses can't expect everything to be perfect. 

Well, there you have it folks....these are just a few film suggestions to get you off of your couch and out of the house where you can enjoy the brisk cool air and the pleasure to be found in winter sports. 

See you on the slopes!
This post is our contribution to the Winter Sports Blogathon being hosted by Le Mot du Cinephiliaque . Be sure to head on over there to read more posts on films that featured your favorite winter sports.


  1. A very fun idea for a post. It's always interesting when a famous athlete tries to become a movie star. It worked for some...but not Olympic skier Jean-Claude Killy, who made the heist film flop SNOW JOB!

    1. Thanks for the warning, Rick. Snow Job was a film on my "to-see" list!

  2. Wonderful! I love this overview of winter sports in classic film. You've inspired me to dig out my ice skates this weekend. :)

    1. These winter films do indeed inspire the audience to get up and get outdoors...I love it!

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