“Best Pictures” 1937

Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ll be reviewing the 10 films nominated in 1937. The 10th annual Academy Awards were held on March 10th, 1938. 2 categories would be featured for the last time this year(Best Dance Direction & Best Assistant Director).

The Awful Truth

Theawfultruth1937.jpg cary-grant-irene-dunne-the-awful-truth

Columbia – 1hr 30min


GENRE: Comedy/Love Triangle/Screwball

NOTES: Based on the 1922 play by Arthur Richman. • Leo McCarey won the award for Best Director. McCarey felt that his work on Make Way For Tomorrow(also from 1937) was more deserving of the award. • Dunne and Grant would team up again for My Favorite Wife(1940, also directed by McCarey) & Penny Serenade(1941). • There are two previous film versions of the play(a 1925 silent and a 1929 early talkie) and also a musical version called Let’s Do It Again(1953).

PROS: Cary Grant as Jerry revels in his role, which consists mostly of torturing Lucy(Irene Dunne). • Alexander D’Arcy as Armand. I love his smirky entrance. • The running gags with the dog Mr. Smith(Asta) are the best part, as Jerry Lucy fight for it’s affection and try to ascertain just whom it loves the most. • Dunne is very expressive and fun to watch. • Mom talking about rebounds. “Old tennis ball”. That must have been very fresh for 1937. • A Marilyn Monroe precursor with the wind and the skirt? “I just met her.”  The wrong hat gag. “Did you have a  hair cut maybe?” •  Funny use of off-screen sound to announce to the viewer that a fight has ensued.

CONS: Gosh the ending drags on and on! • Fast talking “swell, gee, say look here” type dialogue that you need to be in the mood for. • Not much in the way of story or plot. Just a thin premise. Feels almost more like improv than anything else. • That creepy cuckoo clock!


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Michael J. Anderson over at senseofcinema

Captains Courageous

captains_courageous_poster screenshot2014-04-03at30904pm

MGM – 1hr 55min

DIRECTOR: Victor Fleming

GENRE: Coming-of-Age/Drama/Literature

NOTES: Based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling. • Spencer Tracy won the Award for Best Actor.

PROS: Freddie Bartholomew(Harvey aka “Little Fish“) is a great actor for his age. I had only seen him once before in David Copperfield(1935). The word that comes to mind for his performance is: assured. There is absolutely no sign that he is intimidated by his senior co-stars. • Spencer Tracy(Manuel) is such a natural actor. Like the Brando of his time. •  Lionel Barrymore(Captain Disko) nearly steals the movie away from Tracy & Bartholomew. A rare performance by Mickey Rooney(Dan) that doesn’t manage to annoy the heck out of me! • The scene of Harvey‘s accident was unexpected. And the angle of the shot was shocking. Also note the lack of any dramatic music for that moment.  Cool title sequence. Great rapport and realistic dialogue amongst the crew members • Slick camera moves right from the get go; i.e. push-ins, pull-backs, inserts, dolly shots. The camera also imitates the motion of the waves for the boat shots and seamlessly integrates stock footage of actual fisherman with rear screen projection enhancing the studio sets. • The overall lack of a villain. Really it’s Harvey‘s spoiled youth that is the antagonist here.

CONS: The ending drags a bit. • A side story involving Captain Disko‘s obsession with out-performing another fishing boat feels a bit undercooked. I am sure that this is much more fleshed out in Kipling’s book.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes

Dead End

deadend deadendrev

United Artists – 1hr 33min

DIRECTOR: William Wyler

GENRE: Crime/Class Warfare/Gangster/Realism

NOTES: Based on the 1935 Broadway smash hit play by Sidney Kinglsey. • The first appearance of the Dead End Kids.  The original Dead End Kids would appear in six films for Warner Bros.(after being sold by UA). The most famous being Angels With Dirty Faces(1938)They would eventually morph into the more well known Bowery Boys• The location of the film is said to be 53rd Street behind the famous River House.

PROS: The cinematography of Gregg Toland. The lighting, framing and angles were signs of things to come in Toland’s landmark work on Citizen Kane(1941). One of my favorite shots is a slow pan on Humphrey Bogart(“Baby Face” Martin) in the diner when he decides to kidnap the Griswald Boy(Charles Peck) • The opening model shot is really cool! From the wide shot of the whole city seamlessly down into the depths of the dead end street live action set. • Most of the film takes place on the one street. Therefore the set had to be believable and are thanks to Art Director Richard Day. It is almost a character in and of itself. • The film eats through some significant run time without revealing much of a plot. Just shows various shenanigans of the Dead End Kids and points out the class distinctions between them and the high rise residents. • That dirty stairwell that Sylvia Sidney(Drina) walks through looking for Tommy(Billy Halop)! Babies crying off screen, grime everywhere! • The Dead End Kids are like a pack of Bugs Bunnies. “sssaaay!” “I got a hair!” “T.B.! I got T.B.!” • The way Martin looks on the boys’ antics with an air of pride. This is a great early role for Bogey! • The way the Doorman(Ward Bond) says “Whaaaaat?!”. Cracked me up. • The scene between “Baby Face” and his Mother(Marjorie Main) was pretty heart breaking thanks in part to a peculiar performance from Main. •  The gunfight comes earlier than expected and is quite exciting as Dave(Joel McCrea) chases Martin higher and higher up on the rooftops.

CONS: The Dead End Kids schtick can get a little tiresome after a while but I think that’s sort of the point. These kids don’t even really like each other! • Not Joel McCrea’s best role. Dave is far less interesting than “Baby Face“. • The story really unfolds through various monologues. This is obviously a direct result of the translation from the stage but doesn’t necessarily work for a movie.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from the caftanwoman

The Good Earth

good_earth_1937 screenshot2014-04-24at35933pm

MGM – 2hr 18min

DIRECTOR: Sidney Franklin

GENRE: Drama/Chinese History/Literature

NOTES: Adapted from the play by Owen & Donald Davis which was in turn based on the Pulitzer prize winning novel by Pearl S. Buck. • Luise Rainer won the Oscar for Best Actress making her the first actor in Academy Awards history to win two Oscars(in back to back years no less! Also a first.) • Karl Freund won the Oscar for Best Cinematography. • Filmed on location in Porter Ranch. • The film eventually cost an estimated 2.8 to 3 million dollars! • Anna May Wong was the obvious choice to portray O-Lan but was prevented by the Hays Code anti-miscengation rules. • One of two nominated films this year to feature Paul Muni in the leading role.

PROS: The set design and attention to historic detail is impressive. Not too often do you see films of the period filmed on location(in this case Porter Ranch, CA). • The real location leads to lovely shots of the outdoors. Highlighting the wheat fields in particular. Reminded me of Terrence Malick’s Days Of Heaven(1978). • The storming of the palace was very dramatic with all the extras. It felt legitimately dangerous. • There are some great shots in the film: from underwater; when the boys are fighting over the ox; from inside the wagon. • The locust scene was dramatic and the effects well done.

CONS: The acting is a bit too broad for my tastes. Too episodic. Not enough time to get to know the characters or care about them to any degree. It’s like everyone is acting for themselves. • It’s a little creepy seeing Paul Muni(Wang Lung) in yellow face. I don’t have a serious problem with the white-washing of foreign characters(in reverse, I wouldn’t care if George Washington was portrayed by an Asian actor in white-face) however the accents do make it difficult to fully engage with the characters. It’s a distraction if nothing else. • Crude attempt at a rainstorm. • Too much quick cutting at times in the transition scenes. • The locust scene while well done, just goes on and on and on!


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from EvanstonDad over at letterboxd

In Old Chicago (1938)


20th Century Fox – 1hr 36min

DIRECTOR: Henry King

GENRE: Political Drama/Disaster/Romantic-Musical

NOTES: Based on the story “We The O’learys” by Niven Busch and true events which transpired in October 1871. • Alice Brady won the Oscar for Best Actress in a supporting role. • Robert D. Webb won the Oscar for Best Assistant Director. • Jean Harlow was set to star in the roll of Belle but died tragically of kidney failure before filming began.

PROS: An exciting opening stunt featuring Mr. O’Leary(J. Anthony Hughes). • The little crying boy! What did they do to that poor kid to get him to really cry? That’s what I wanna know. • Alice Brady as Mrs. O’Leary is fantastic. She has this steel resolve of a woman who has been through a lot. Brady carries none of the theatricality that many silent film stars found hard to shake in the sound era. •  The set design of Old Chicago is fantastic. The streets are muddy and rutted. Teeming with extras. Everything is dirty. • All the sets are impressive. Especially around the O’Leary’s house. Rather than static shots, the camera weaves in and out of the set. Especially when it follows the O’Leary’s Laundry Cart.  There are some ugly mugs in this movie. I think that’s what movies are for. To highlight the “ugly” faces rather than the “beautiful” ones. • $4 drunk pass out! • “In Old Chicago” is a decent tune. • That pull back shot at the election rally for Gil Warren(Brian Donlevy) with all the guys pouring beer from barrels. It just keeps going! • “You’re the mayor but I’m Chicago.” Great line! • The climax of the fire is quite a spectacle with flaming debris flying through the air. Many good examples of double exposure in this sequence. It’s not quite as impressive however as the earthquake scene in San Francisco(1936). • There are some truly harrowing shots at the end as the people begin to cross the river with the city in flames in the background.

CONS: The humor can be a bit broad at times. • The foreshadowing is on-the-nose to say the least. The ubiquitous references to fire just became eye-rolling • Dion O’Leary(Tyrone Power) is a total creep! He borderline rapes Belle(Alice Faye). And of course she eventually falls for him. But at least she pushed him into the water trough first. He deserved more than that! • Could have used a better script. The ending of the film basically has no correlation to the first 3/4. • The dance numbers aren’t much to write home about.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cliff over at immortalephemera

The Life Of Emile Zola

10%ed%9a%8c_1938%eb%85%84_%ec%97%90%eb%b0%80_%ec%a1%b8%eb%9d%bc%ec%9d%98_%ec%83%9d%ec%95%a0 emile

Warner Bros. – 1hr 56min

DIRECTOR: William Dieterle

GENRE: Biopic/Historical Courtroom Drama

NOTES: Based on the life of Émile Zola and true events which transpired from 1894 to 1906. • Joseph Schildkraut won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. • Heinz Herald, Geza Herczeg, and Norman Reilly Raine won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. • One of two nominated films this year to feature Paul Muni in the leading role.

PROS: Paul Muni(Emile Zola) is a great character actor. He’s always taking on roles that require him to be in makeup and go gung-ho. This is no exception. The highlight of course is his speech in court. It’s somewhere near 6 uninterrupted minutes. • The historical attention to detail is evident. Especially in the dialogue. Things aren’t “dumbed down” for the sake of the audience. • Joseph Schildkraut as Captain Dreyfuss is also quite good. The scene where he finally leaves his cell is very moving. Is he happy to go or is he unsure to leave? Or both? • Court room dramas are not my cup of tea(to say the least) but this one does feature some tense moments. • “We have something in common… ‘nothing’!”

CONS: While Paul Muni is no doubt a great actor, he does have the tendency to over exaggerate and gesticulate. I love his passion for all his varied roles, but sometimes less is more. • This movie would definitely be helped if the viewer had a slight background knowledge of the events. • The beginning of the film is really unnecessary seeing as how it ends up focusing more on the Dreyfus Affair. They should have called the film: A Short Period in the Life of Emile Zola• There are far too many jumps in time at the beginning. The viewer can’t really settle into things and learn about the character if significant portions of their life go by in a blink! • A significant lack of French accents but that’s typical. • Gale Sondegaard was a bit melodramatic for my tastes in her portrayal of Lucie Dreyfuss. She’s much better in Anthony Adverse(1936).


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Witney Seibold over at thenerdist

Lost Horizon*

poster-lost-horizon-1937_01 shangri-la-4

Columbia – 2hr 12min

*The version I watched is missing 7 minutes of footage, but did feature the complete soundtrack. The missing footage has been replaced with production stills.

DIRECTOR: Frank Capra

GENRE: Drama/Adventure/Utopian-Dystopian

NOTES: Based on the novel by James Hilton. • One of the many collaborations between Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin. • The film went significantly over-budget despite having the largest initial budget($1.25 million) in cinema history up to that point. • Capra originally wanted an older actor to play the part of High Lama but both the original actor(A.E. Hanson) and his replacement(Henry B. Walthall) died before shooting, forcing Capra to look for a younger actor(Sam Jaffe) and put him in makeup. Not happy with Jaffe’s “old” makeup, Capra re-shot those scenes with yet another actor(Walter Connolly) but ended up sticking with Jaffe in the end. • Stephen Goosson won the Oscar for Best Art Direction. • Gene Havlick and Gene Milford won the Oscar for Best Film Editing. • The film was remade in 1973 as a musical.

PROS: The opening scene of a crowded airfield was well done. I’ve noticed that Capra is good at shooting scenes with large groups of people.  The aerial footage was also nice to see and the shots of the snow covered mountains. That must be where all the money went!  There is a bit of an Indiana Jones vibe to that opening 30 minutes. Stephen Spielberg is arguably our modern day Frank Capra so it only makes sense. Would love to ask him if he’s a fan of this film. • Always impressed with Ronald Colman(Robert Conway). Especially when he plays drunk! Doesn’t over do it like so many actors. • That plane crash set is pretty great! And we can see the actors breath during many of the cold scenes. •  I am totally on the side of George(John Howard) in this film. He’s right, Shangri-La is a communist nightmare! Get me the hell outta here!

CONS: There is a lull after those opening 30 minutes. But that’s more a testament to the exciting nature of the opening than a knock on the following arrival Shangri-La scenes. It had to slow down at some point! • No one gets frost bite in this movie! Even before they benefit from the magical effects of Shangri-La.  The whole film seems to not really know what to do with itself once in Shangri-La… kind of wanders. However, maybe that’s the point! •  Speaking of Spielberg(well, George Lucas really), this movie has a very elongated “pointer scene” where Colman asks all the questions the audience is thinking at that moment. • The George and Maria(Margo) love story is half-baked. But it is necessary that at least one person in Shangri-La be discontented. But it would have been better to have seen Maria suffering rather than to have her just explain it in exposition. • I think Capra wants us to be won over, like Robert, by the words of the High Lama but the guy just comes off as creepy.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from neilgrahamuk over at letterboxd

One Hundred Men And A Girl

100abc10 one-hundred-men-and-a-girl-durbin

Universal – 1hr 25min

DIRECTOR: Henry Koster

GENRE: Comedy-Musical/Farce

NOTES: Based on a story by Hanns Kräly.  One of 3 Best Picture nominees this year to feature Adolphe Menjou. • The composer Leopold Stokowski, best known for conducting the music for Walt Disney’s Fantasia(1940), appears as himself. It was his second appearance on the big screen(the first coming earlier in the year in The Big Broadcast of 1937). • Charles Previn, head of Universal’s Music Department, won the Oscar for Best Original Score even though the majority of the music in the film is by classical artists and no composer is credited.

PROS: Impressive pull-back shot via crane to open the movie. In fact, some nice editing all around in this extended musical sequence. • The Doorman(J. Scott Smart) reminded me of William Hootkins(aka Porkins from Star Wars(1977) aka Lt. Eckhardt from Batman(1989)). Ok, not a pro necessarily, just an observation. • Mischa Auer(Michael) has great comic timing and some funny deliveries: “Huh??!”; “I’m out!”; “Patsy got a sucker.”; “Nice place Davis”. • Deanna Durbin(Patsy) is much more tolerable here than in her debut film, Three Smart Girls(1936). Her passion to help her father(Adolphe Menjou) can be annoying but eventually it grows on you. • The running gag of practical jokes between Mr. Frost(Eugene Pallette) and Tommy Bitters(Jed Prouty) is silly but it works given the overall tone of the film. I want some of those exploding cigarettes. • Eugene Pallette, who sounds like he swallowed two frogs and bag of gravel, saying “I wouldn’t stand a chinaman’s chance.” • I like that Patsy inadvertently achieves her goal(partly anyway) over a hasty phone conversation.

CONS: Not quite sure why viewers of the time found Durbin so appealing. She is so hyper that she can be borderline annoying. • Durbin’s soprano, while strong, is a little hard to listen to simply because of recording restraints of the time. • Plot hole? Why doesn’t Patsy just sing for everybody right away and save herself a lot of trouble? • The middle of the film drags as Patsy tries to make her way to Stokowski• I think time has taken the “rousing” nature out of the ending. I am sure in 1937 it had the same effect a underdog sports movie might have today.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes

Stage Door

stage_door_1937 stagedoor8

RKO – 1hr 32min

DIRECTOR: Gregory La Cava

GENRE: Comedy/Show-biz life

NOTES: Based(very loosely) on the play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman. • One of 3 Best Picture nominees this year to feature Adolphe Menjou. • This film, along with Alice Adams(1935), was a bit of a career saver for Katherine Hepburn whose previous few films were flops.

PROS: Really fun to see a young(and brunette) Lucille Ball(Judy). She really stands out. She even sits differently than the other actresses. • I like how there isn’t really a stand out star. At first you think the film will be solely about Terry Randall(Katherine Hepburn) but then things shift to Jean(Ginger Rogers) and then back again! And Judy gets significant screen time. • Sarcastic remark after sarcastic remark. “I predict a hatchet murder before the night’s over.” “Have we met socially?”–“I hope not.”• Nobody talks like this in real life but that’s what the movies are for! Ginger Rogers always has the perfect comeback. “I bet you boil a terrific pot of water.” She also does a terrific job playing drunk. She runs the gamut of emotions after hearing the story of “Galatea” from Anthony Powell(Adolphe Menjou) • I enjoyed Constance Collier as the self-appointed expert on classical acting, Anne Luther.

CONS: The dialogue comes at a such a rapid pace and from so many different people that it can be hard to follow along at times. • The ending is a bit of a stretch. The idea that Terry could receive such bad news and instantly harness it into a great stage performance strains credulity even for 1930’s Hollywood.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Kristen over at journeysinclassicfilm

A Star Is Born

a_star_is_born_1937_poster star-is-born

United Artists- 1hr 51min

DIRECTOR: William A. Wellman

GENRE: Comedy/Fame/Alcoholism

NOTES: The film bears similarities to What Price Hollywood?(1932). So much so that RKO considered filing suit against Selznick International Pictures but nothing ever came of it William A. Wellman won the Oscar for Best Writing(Original Story).  Cinematographer W. Howard Greene received an honorary Oscar for the film’s use of Technicolor.  One of 3 Best Picture nominees this year to feature Adolphe Menjou.

PROS: Janet Gaynor(Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester) is really funny. When she tries to impress a party full of execs with her imitations of Garbo, Hepburn & Mae West, I was surprised by her versatility and expressiveness. Frederic March(Norman Maine) is one of the best actors of this time period and this role is one that he really sunk his teeth into. It has comedy(a lot of it) anger, depression, passion and March deftly maneuvers through all of them. Sometimes all in the same scene! And the funny stuff is really funny. Whistling after his phone book like it’s a dog. The whole drunken “worst performance” speech at the faux-Oscars.  • I love Technicolor. This is an early example of it and it’s neat to see all these actors I’ve been watching in black & white suddenly appear in color. It makes it feel like you’ve jumped ahead 20 years. Especially neat to see old Hollywood in color. • Wasn’t expecting the fate of Norman Maine. And Lionel Stander’s(Libby) cold blooded “First drink of water he’s had in 20 years!” • Paparazzi problems even back then! • “What is it cuddles? Speak out!” • Adolphe Menjou portrays a very realistic producer in Oliver Niles. Not the typical scumbag that we’re so use to seeing.

CONS: Despite loving Technicolor, the print I watched was very dark, especially during night time scenes. At some points the shadows literally block out Janet Gaynor. • The honeymoon scene has some funny bits but ultimately feels like it’s from a different movie. • The return of Grandmother Lettie(May Robson) towards the end was about as eye-rolling as it gets. Complete with Auld Lang Syne playing in the background!


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Judy over at movieclassics.wordpress



The Life Of Emile Zola

Did the Oscars get it right?


This was a hard pick for me. Not any single film really screamed “Best”. The Life Of Emile Zola probably deserves a second viewing because I generally love the slow-burn historical dramas and I think some brushing up on the Dreyfus Affair would greatly help the viewing experience. I was thinking of going with Lost Horizon just because it’s so different from it’s fellow nominees but, gun to my head, I have to choose Dead End. The photography is gorgeous, Bogey’s character is surprisingly layered, the theme(of aimless children being shown all the different paths they may take in life), the set is amazing and the transposition from stage to screen is done with care.



Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

Angel – dir. Ernst Lubitsch

Camille – dir. George Cukor

Easy Living – dir. Mitchell Leisen

The Edge Of The World – dir. Michael Powell

History Is Made At Night – dir. Frank Borzage

The Hurricane – dir. John Ford

Nothing Sacred – dir. William A. Wellman

Make Way For Tomorrow – dir. Leo McCarey

Pepe le Moko – dir. Julien Duvivier

The Prisoner Of Zenda – dir. John Cromwell

Shall We Dance – dir. Mark Sandrich

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs* – dir. David Hand

Stella Dallas – dir. King Vidor

They Won’t Forget – dir. Mervyn LeRoy

Way Out West – dir. James W. Horne

Wee Willie Winkie – dir. John Ford

Young And Innocent – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

You Only Live Once – dir. Fritz Lang


MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30 • 1930/31 • 1931/32 • 1932/33 • 1934 • 1935 • 1936  2015

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“Best Pictures” 1936

Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ll be reviewing the 10 films nominated in 1936. The 9th annual Academy Awards were held on March 4th, 1937.

Anthony Adverse

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Warner Bros. – 2hr 21min

DIRECTOR: Mervyn LeRoy

GENRE: Drama/Period Piece/Romantic Costume Epic

NOTES: Based on the novel by Hervey Allen. • Took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress(Gale Sondergaard), Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Score. • I wonder if Monty Python’s Flying Circus had the same Denis Moore in mind when they did my favorite sketch.

PROS: Great sets and great costumes. This is just the kind of thing the Academy came to love in it’s nominees. • I am a big Claude Rains fan. He’s always reliable for a solid performance and doesn’t disappoint here as Marquis Don Luis. I love when he recovers his health at the beginning of the film and is prancing around to show his wife Maria(Anita Louise). “Rejoice my dear!” He also has a great laughing scene. • Gale Sondergaard(as Faith Paleologus) is also a highlight. Her Oscar was well deserved. She totally revels in being a jealous conniving gold digger. • The always lovely Olivia de Havilland(as Angela) but her best roles were still to come.  Opens with a wagon careening down the road. Mostly shot on location. Usually these scenes were shot on sets, at least in the films I’ve seen from the period. • The cinematography has it’s moments. Claude Rains reflection in the wine glass just before he duels with Denis Moore(Louis Hayward) for example. Also some neat transitions to signal the passage of time. Although that was mostly done with boring title cards.

CONS: Very melodramatic. To a fault. Especially the early scenes with Denis and Maria. “Oh my dearest darling I must never be without blah blah blah.” • Large chunks of the novel are cut out and this makes trouble for the character arcs. In one scene Anthony(Fredric March) is visibly disturbed by the prospect of slavery, and in the next he’s been trading slaves for a year or more. • Speaking of March, I think he is one of the best actors of his day, however this role is a bit beneath him especially in the dialogue department. • There isn’t much to like about Anthony Adverse at all. • Virtually no attempt by anyone to capture the regional accents. The actor portraying Napoleon(Rollo Lloyd) might make the least amount of effort to sound French in movie history.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes


dodsworth2 dodsworth_1.jpg

United Artists – 1hr 41min

DIRECTOR: William Wyler

GENRE: Drama/Love triangle

NOTES: Adapted by Sydney Howard from his stage play based on the book by Sinclair Lewis. • Richard Day won the Oscar for Best Art Direction. • Walter Huston had portrayed Dodsworth in the 1934 stage play. He would also reprise the role again for radio in 1937.

PROS: Fantastic opening shot. One of my favorites from the 30’s so far. • A nice melancholy version of “Auld Lang Syne” to kick things off. • Nice center-framed deep focus shots. Usually with Sam Dodsworth(Huston) in the center. • Huston turns in a great performance. Fun to see him so young. I’d only really seen him in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre(1948). He has that same fast delivery in this one too. Really loved his fight scene with Ruth Chatterton(Fran) as they are preparing to go to bed. I mean he really yells at her! • Speaking of Ruth, she can really pull off an evening gown. She’s showing a lot of skin for a film smack dab in the middle of the Hays Code Era. She does a great job at playing a man-eater. Madeline Kahn kinda had a Ruth Chatterton thing going on now that I think of it. Both of those ladies would be pretty hard for me to resist. • The script is quite good and portrays the valleys of marriage without love realistically. Lots of good lines. “Love has got to stop someplace short of suicide.” The long takes really allow the actors to show off their chops. • Beautiful shot of a burning letter. • I really enjoyed the Chicago fire tangent. Arguing about who started it. Such a diversion from the point of the movie! • Baroness Von Obersdorf(Maria Ouspenskaya) was a bit of a surprise. She kinda came out of left field. I loved it when she totally burns Fran with the “old wife of a young husband” line.

CONS: Takes a good while to really get to the point. • Man oh man what terrible way to the end the movie. How do you not show the embrace?!


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from The Siren over at selfstyledsiren

The Great Ziegfeld

the-great-ziegfeld-movie-poster-1936-1020197053 006-the-great-ziegfeld-theredlist

MGM – 2hr 57min

DIRECTOR: Robert Z. Leonard

GENRE: Musical-Romance/Biopic

NOTES: Based on the real life Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr. and his many famous “Ziegfeld Follies” theatrical revues. • MGM would make two more “Ziegfeld” pictures; Ziegfeld Girl(1941) & Ziegfeld Follies(1946) • Luise Rainer(Anna Held) won Best Actress. • Seymour Felix won Best Dance Direction. • One of 14 on-screen pairings of William Powell & Myrna Loy. • Costumes were created by the famous Adrian.  MGM spent an exorbitant amount of money. Some estimates put it over $2 million!

PROS: The peak of Hollywood excess! Right off the bat. The opening credits are grand in scope. The establishing shots of the World’s Fair are teeming with extras, elephants, and set details. The highlight is the “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” set piece. Amazing! A 70ft 100 ton revolving cake like set with spiral staircase filled to the brim with all different types of performers. All filmed in only two takes I believe. Total spectacle. They should have saved it for the end! • William Powell(Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr.) is great as always. The epitome of a cool guy. Debonair, witty(“I wonder her total weight is.”), good natured, but also shrewd. • Frank Morgan as Billings is good as Ziegfeld’s foil(almost a pun there). I loved his enthusiasm over Ziegfeld’s looming eviction from the fair. • A very natural performance from Joseph Cawthorne(Dr. Ziegfeld, Sr.). It’s a shame he only appears in one scene. Luise Rainer’s award-winning performance as Anna. Particularly her meltdown scene. It goes on way to long but she sustains it, mostly in one take. Very impressive. And she really runs the gamut of emotions in this.

CONS: It’s really too long. An hour could be cut out of this. Scenes just keep going and going long after their energy runs out. Very chatty. • A bit disjointed. One second a character appears in Ziegfeld’s life, the next they are gone without much explanation if any. • Despite the 3 hour runtime, the aging of Ziegfeld feels unnatural and rushed. • Never really get into the motivations of Ziegfeld.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Ruth over at letterboxd

Libeled Lady

libeled-lady-poster libeled-lady-william-powell-jean-harlow-spencer-tracy-1936

MGM – 1hr 38min

DIRECTOR: Jack Conway

GENRE: Comedy/Screwball/Love Triangle

NOTES: Remade in 1946 as Easy To Wed• William Powell and Jean Harlow were a real-life couple at this point. • Harlow would only make 2 more films before dying from kidney failure in 1937. • One of 14 films to pair Powell and Myrna Loy.

PROS: Powell(Bill Chandler) and Loy(Connie Allenbury) and their great chemistry and banter. It had been displayed before and would be again in other films, and it’s on full display in this one too. “Beautiful now?” “No, just clean.” • Funny zingers but not nearly as funny as something like The Thin Man(1934). • A pretty crazy plot, albeit convoluted. But I like the plot twists of certain characters falling in and out of love with each other and the consequences of that. • Some nice tracking shots where the characters are walking and talking. • Superimposed credits? Not sure if that’s one of the first occurrences. •  Thought it was funny that the “Bridal March” played every time Gladys(Harlow) showed up on screen. • Myrna Loy’s eyes. “Beautiful aren’t they?” she says. Yes Myrna, yes they are.  • I love the gag where Warren(Spencer Tracy) high-tails it out of the Allenbury mansion, and Powell does the same thing a few minutes later. • Walter Connolly(Mr. Allenbury) is 3 for 3 with me. I also enjoyed him in The Bitter Tea of General Yen(1932) and It Happened One Night(1934).

CONS: The rapid-fire dialogue is more annoying than clever. It works much better in other films like The Thin Man(1934), and The Front Page(1931). • That terrible fishing scene. It plays like a bad Three Stooges film.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Jeremiah over at slantmagazine

Mr. Deeds Goes To Town

220px-Mdgtt1936.jpg mr-deeds-goes-to-town-1936-001-gary-cooper-welcome-scene-00n-ero

Columbia – 1hr 55min

DIRECTOR: Frank Capra

GENRE: Romantic Comedy/Fish-Out-Of-Water/Morality tale

NOTES: Based on the short story “Opera Hat” by Clarence Budington Kielland. • This is the 5th team up of screenwriter Robert Riskin and director Frank Capra; Platinum Blonde(1931), American Madness(1933), Lady For A Day(1933), It Happened One Night(1934). • May be responsible for introducing the word “doodle”(as in quick sketch) into the nomenclature. Also the word “pixilated” became en vogue that year thanks to this film • The song “Cinderella Man” by my favorite band RUSH is based on this film. • Remade with Adam Sandler as Mr. Deeds(2002). • Served as an influence for one of my favorite films The Hudsucker Proxy(1994).

PROS: Exciting opening shot(although it features the dreaded “sped-up” film technique. • Gary Cooper is perfectly cast as Mr. Deeds. Simple but not a dolt. Not spineless either. He stands for what he believes in. At this point in Cooper’s career though, this was casting against type. • I loved Cobb(Lionel Stander). He gets most of the best lines. “It’ll do in a pinch”. He also has a pretty great spit-take at one point. • In fact, all the side characters are pretty great. This is one of Capra’s strengths I think. • I love Deeds non-reaction to receiving $20 million. • A great tracking shot moving though the newspaper office. Also, some great layered shots in the Tullio’s restaurant scene.  Great telephone conversation scene. Just look how Capra shoots Cooper. Fantastic! • A great drunken monologue from Morrow the poet(Walter Catlett).  Preaching without being preachy. As Louise(Jean Arthur) says:

“We’re too busy being smart alecks. Too busy in a crazy competition for nothing.”

CONS: Some very muddled sound, especially on the dialogue. • Some pretty terrible rear projection shots. • Considering that I always find court room scenes to be terribly dull, and that the whole last reel of this film takes place in a courtroom, I guess you could call it a pro that I sat patiently through the whole thing. But yeah, I’ll leave it in the cons. I hate courtroom scenes! • Jean Arthur(Louise “Babe” Bennett/Mary Dawson) was ok in this but sometimes she went for the “shaky voice” acting that grates on me.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Dan Schneider over at altfg

Romeo And Juliet

03a 012-romeo-and-juliet-theredlist

MGM – 2hr 5min

DIRECTOR: George Cukor

GENRE: Shakespeare/Drama/Romance

NOTES: Adapted by Talbot Jennings from the play by William Shakespeare. • The play has been adapted many times but most famously on film by Franco Zeffirelli in 1968, and Baz Luhrmann in 1996• This was MGM’s most expensive production to date.

PROS: Very faithful to the time period. Apparently great care was taken to accurately portray costumes and design elements of 16th century Verona. And it shows. Gorgeous sets especially at the end in the catacombs • I liked the intro with the “living painting” so to speak. • The opening fight between the Montagues and Capulets was very well edited. • Nice framing throughout. Every shot is teeming with extras and every quadrant is filled foreground mid and back. Gives the frame a sort of 3-D effect at times. • Some reviewers thought John Barrymore was overdoing it with his Mercutio but I found it to be a very fun, loose performance. • Same can be said about Edna May Oliver as the Nurse. She is really going for it 100%. • The acting on the whole is great(with some minor annoyances from Norma Shearer(Juliet) that I can never seem to look past. • That great long hallway shot with the man putting out the torches for the night.

CONS: Well it’s Shakespeare. It can get a touch tedious at times, especially since we all know the plot of the story at this point in history. • Norma, Norma, Norma. She’s always hit or miss with me. Sometimes even in the same scene. As I’ve said before and others have pointed out she seems to have come from a bygone era(even in 1936). Her gesticulations are certainly remnants of her silent screen days and they always stand out. Also there is something about her voice that annoys me. She also eats up quite a lot of screen time in the second half. All that being said, I actually liked her here better than I did in The Barrets Of Wimple Street(1934). • Andy Devine as Peter is pretty terrible here, although he is playing a simpleton so I guess I should cut him some slack.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Rick Burin over at letterboxd

San Francisco

San_Francisco_(film)_poster vlcsnap-2011-07-31-08h58m02s48

MGM – 1hr 55min


GENRE: Romance/Musical-Drama/Disaster

NOTES: Based on actual events that transpired in San Francisco on April 18th, 1906. • D.W. Griffith was hired on to shoot the earthquake scenes. • Clark Gable played a very similar character(also named Blackie) in Manhattan Melodrama(1934). • The title song is still sung to this day in San Francisco’s annual earthquake commemoration.

PROS: It’s got a great script. There are lots of moments of realism. Although these could be ad-libs from the actors I suppose. Like when Father Mullin(Spencer Tracy) is speaking to Mary(Jeanette MacDonald) and suddenly yells out “Holy smoke the coffee!”.  Gable plays a great scumbag in Blackie. But at the same time, he’s got a code of ethics. And he doesn’t drink. • A grittiness that is lacking in other Hayes Code era films. Blood, destruction, sexual innuendo and the like.  The decadence of the New Year’s party. The blasé view of marriage and fidelity.  The famous earthquake scene. Still impressive to this day. Lots of convincing model shots, hydraulic sets, rear projection, fire.

CONS: A little too much singing for my taste. And Jeanette MacDonald’s soprano voice is a little shrill due to the recording limitations of that time. • A pretty cheesy, albeit effective ending. • Very similar to Titanic(1997) in that the first 2/3 of the film center around a love triangle and the last 3rd portrays a disaster that makes it all irrelevant. • As others have pointed out, the characters should have all been portrayed as low-lifes or sinners in order to make the ending more poignant.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes

The Story Of Louis Pasteur

The_Story_of_Louis_Pasteur_poster x950

Warner Bros. – 1hr 27min

DIRECTOR: William Dieterle

GENRE: Historical Drama/Slice-of-Life/Biopic

NOTES: Paul Muni won his one and only Oscar portraying Louis Pasteur • There are many historical inaccuracies in this picture as well as a great deal of telescoping the historical timeline. • The film also took home the Oscars for Best Story and Best Adapted Screenplay.

PROS: Paul Muni turns a strong performance although I found it to be a little bit one-note. But at least it was a good note! • Takes a significant amount of time(for a film of the era anyway) to explain germ theory, even going so far as to show microscopic slides of various blood cells and germ types. • I like how the story was not about the famous Pasteurization process. That’s the topic that everyone expects it’s going to be on. • Louis is introduced with a pretty slick edit.

CONS: Episodic to a fault. Moves very quickly from one plot point to the next leaving hardly any room for character development or small talk or even dramatic pauses. • The skeptics are portrayed as the villains as is typical of “man-stands-alone” type films. • Mostly boring shot compositions. • The character of Charbonnet(Fritz Leiber) is fictional as far as I know, which significantly reduces the drama of his self-injection for me.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: over at andyoucallyourselfascientist

A Tale Of Two Cities (1935)

MPW-60052 tale-of-two-cities-conway

MGM – 2hr 3min

DIRECTOR: Jack Conway

GENRE: Historical Drama/Lit-To-Screen

NOTES: Based on the novel by Charles Dickens. • The novel has been adapted many times on film, radio, and television. • Also won the Oscar for Best Film Editing. • The “Storming of the Bastille” action scene was directed by Val Lewton and Jaques Turner. • Lucille La Verne who portrays The Vengeance, would put her cackling laugh to iconic use the following year as the Evil Queen/Old Hag in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs.

PROS: A fantastic, progressive performance from Ronald Colman(Sydney Carton). He is just so relaxed and conveys a deep sadness with his eyes. This is acting that is far ahead of it’s time. His self-interrogation in the mirror is a standout scene. • Lots of “ugly mugs” in this film. I love it. Just plain old ordinary looking people. • Orchestrated camera moves. Very smooth. The layering of the shots with extras in every plain give many shots a 3-D effect. Sometimes the camera starts outside and moves back into an interior, as if the camera went through the window. The slow push in on Carton in the snow, as the carolers go by is just beautiful. • Evocative sets right off the bat. The Dover Road sequence is dark and foggy with muddy roads.  Basil Rathbone camps it up to eleven in his portrayal of the cold hearted, self-obsessed Marquis de St. Evremonde. “Irritating episode.”  • Blanche Yurka as Madame Defarge is fantastic! Very cold.  Jerry Cruncher(Billy Bevans) is funny. “I’m a resurrectionist, that’s what I am!” “Co-In-Side-Ents!”. • Edna May Oliver(as Miss Pross) doing what she always does. Some consider Oliver a one note actress and that may be, but it’s a great note! “All bankers are atheists!” I loved her cat fight with Defarge• Surprising use of the word “Why?” written across the screen during the epic “Storming of the Bastille” sequence. • Isabel Jewell nearly steals the movie in limited screen time as the doomed Seamstress.

CONS: The plot is a tad hard to follow. There are so many characters. Hard to say if this is the fault of the screenplay or of Dickens. • Elizabeth Allen(as Lucie Manette) is over-doing it I found. • Virtually no attempt to capture the French accent. And Jerry, Jr.(Donald Haines) has the absolute worst cockney accent ever put to screen. • A very crude attempt at a quick zoom on Defarge‘s rose. But an early attempt at experimentation should be considered a pro really. • The second half is not quite as engaging as the first.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cliff over at immortalephemera

Three Smart Girls

297131__03858.1413294453.380.500 vlcsnap-2011-12-11-17h46m37s161

Universal – 1hr 24min

DIRECTOR: Henry Koster

GENRE: Comedy/Musical

NOTES: Serves as a precursor to the 1961 Walt Disney Co. film, The Parent Trap• Two sequels would follow: Three Smart Girls Grow Up(1939) & Hers To Hold(1943). • This is Deanna Durbin’s screen debut. She would go on to make many successful musicals.

PROS: All the actors do a fair job here. Deanna Durbin(as Penny) is clearly the star. She’s got a lot of spunk. “Muffins and milk?! That’s no food for fighters!” • I thought Nella Walker(as the mother, Dorothy Craig) stood out in her performance. Unfortunately she only bookends the film. • Mischa Auer(Count Arisztid) has a funny scene involving a magazine. “I have work to do!”.

CONS: “Switzerland” looks more like Big Bear Lake, CA• I couldn’t understand the lyrics to the opening song that Penny sings. Possibly due to the recording quality of the day, but mostly due to Durbin’s soprano. • If they made a robot of a 1930’s quintessential guy, it would look and talk just like Bill Evans(John King). • The plot is pretty trivial and silly. Hard to believe this was considered Best Picture material.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Caroline over at garbolaughs




The Great Ziegfeld

Did the Oscars get it right?


The Great Ziegfeld gets a lot of flack as being one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time. I think that’s unfair. Yes it’s over-long and disjointed but it’s nowhere near “the worst” on any list. That said, it certainly wasn’t my favorite nominee from this year. That distinction goes to A Tale of Two Cities which featured beautiful cinematography and a truly great performance from Ronald Colman.


Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

After The Thin Man – dir. W.S. Van Dyke

As You Like It – dir. Paul Czinner

The Charge Of The Light Brigade – dir. Michael Curtiz

Come And Get It – dir. Howard Hawks/William Wyler

The Crime Of Monsieur Lange – dir. Jean Renoir

Fury – dir. Fritz Lang

Modern Times* – dir. Charlie Chaplin

My Man Godfrey – dir. Gregory LaCava

The Only Son – dir. Yasujiro Ozu

Partie de Campagne – dir. Jean Renoir

The Petrified Forest – dir. Archie Mayo

The Plainsman – dir. Cecil B. DeMille

The Prisoner Of Shark Island – dir. John Ford

Rembrandt – dir. Alexander Korda

Sabatoge* – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Showboat – dir. James Whale

The Story Of A Cheat – dir. Sacha Guitry

Swing Time – dir. George Stevens

Theodora Goes Wild – dir. Richard Boleslawski

These Three – dir. William Wyler

Things To Come – dir. William Cameron Menzies

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30 • 1930/31 • 1931/32 • 1932/33 • 1934 • 1935  2015

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“Best Pictures” 1935

Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ll be reviewing the 12 films nominated in 1935. The 8th annual Academy Awards were held on March 5th, 1936.

Alice Adams

Alice-Adams-Poster-1935 alice_adams_4_hepburn

RKO – 1hr 39min

DIRECTOR: George Stevens

GENRE: Romantic-Comedy

NOTES: Based on the novel by Booth Tarkington. • Katharine Hepburn had made a string of flops after her 1933 Oscar-winning performance in Morning Glory, but this film would return her to the limelight. • Hepburn wanted George Cukor to direct but he was already filming David Copperfield(1935). Apparently she eventually settled on Stevens via coin toss!

PROS: Katharine Hepburn is a strange bird(especially here) but boy is she watchable! You really can’t take your eyes off of her. • Feels like a film from the 40’s. A little ahead of it’s time maybe? I thought for a second that the boy got away in the end, which is apparently what happens in the novel, but alas the movie ends on the all too familiar happy note. • Fred Stone as Mr. Adams steals the movie. He’s hilarious. Case in point: When he eats some escargot. • The dinner scene towards the end has to go down as one of the most awkward in film history. • There are some nice moments of insight into Alice’s character. “I’m just me” she says. Arthur Russell(MacMurray) presses her with “But who is that?” “I’ve often wondered” she replies. She wants to be a part of Arthur’s upper class so badly, yet she doesn’t even know who she really is yet.

CONS: Honestly, Alice(Hepburn) is so self-absorbed and borderline crazy that I felt she deserves losing out on Arthur • Fred MacMurry is not given much to do. A fault that lies squarely on the screenwriters. For most of the film he’s resigned to sitting politely in silence while Alice prattles on and on. • Seriously the “glue factory” subplot has to be one of the most laughable ever.(I secretly love it) • The portrayal of Melina(an early role for Hattie McDaniel) as the lazy black worker is heavy on the stereotypical side. She makes the most of it though and pulls some great faces. Especially when her ruffled headband begins to droop in the heat. • Whenever the focus is taken off of Alice, the film suffers.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from C.K. over at hollywooddreamland

Broadway Melody Of 1936

p2777_p_v8_aa broadway-melody-of-1936-1936-2

MGM – 1hr 41min

DIRECTOR: Roy Del Ruth

GENRE: Musical-Comedy

NOTES: MGM released 3 other similar films(although narratively unrelated); The Broadway Melody(1929), Broadway Melody Of 1938(1937), & Broadway Melody Of 1940(1940).  

PROS: Eleanor Powell is a great tap dancer. She has a few fun, sexy numbers to show it off too. • Fun to watch a young Jack Benny here. He’s already exhibiting the trademarks that would make him famous on television. Including the hand placed lightly on the side of the face. • There a lot of nice tracking shots. And not just during the song & dance numbers. The “I’ve Got A Feelin’ You’re Foolin'” routine has a neat section where various items(e.g. a piano, a dinner table complete with dinner) emerge from the dance floor. It also employs some special effects like split screen and double exposure. • Ms. Corbett(Una Merkel) is a total scene stealer. She is so spunky, I think I have a new crush. Move over Jeanette MacDonald! • I was totally surprised to see Buddy Ebsen(most famous of course for his role of Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies) It took me a minute or two to even recognize him. And who knew he was such a good tap dancer?! He’s also wearing a rad Mickey Mouse sweater. • I loved Irene’s(Powell) impersonation of Katharine Hepburn. Already, Kate was fair game. • A funny running gag of Gordon(Robert Taylor) storming the newspaper office and belting Jack Benny. “Put that in your column!”. • Benny comparing Snoop(Sid Silvers) in drag to Wallace Beery!

CONS: Lots of clichés but it’s not like the movie is trying to hide that fact. • Plot is pretty convoluted but really just serves to get to the next musical segment. • A strange bit with  Robert John Wildhack where he analyzes different types of snores. This was kinda funny the first time, but not so much the 3rd!


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Contemporary review from Andre Sennwald over at nytimes

Captain Blood

Captain_Blood captBlood_beachDuel1_close_ws-1024x898

Warner Bros. – 1hr 59min

DIRECTOR: Michael Curtiz

GENRE: Adventure/Pirates

NOTES: Based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini.  Errol Flynn’s first starring role. He appeared as a corpse(!) earlier that year in Michael Curtiz’ The Case Of The Curious Bride This is a remake of the 1924 silent version• First of 8 films in which Flynn and Olivia de Havilland would be paired. • 2nd of 12 collaborations between Flynn and Curtiz.

PROS: Exciting intro!(albeit in front of a less than convincing rear projection shot.) Curtiz moves the camera a lot. Whenever a scene takes place on the ocean, the camera is slowly zooming in and then out to simulate the motion of the boat. It’s very subtle. There is more attention to shot composition than many of the films of this era. • The sets are expressionist-like and have a Disneyland ride feel to them. We are definitely in a genre-defining movie here.  The sets were actually the big highlight for me. That slave-driven waterwheel set being one of the more impressive. • Speaking of Disney, the characters in Captain Blood all have that exaggerated nature that would become indicative of their animated films.  The score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold is brash and dramatic and great.(Korngold would most famously score another Curtiz/Flynn picture, The Adventures Of Robin Hood(1938), and his work was an inspiration for John Williams’ Star Wars(1977) score) • Olivia de Havilland is gorgeous. Just putting that out there. She’s good here, but here more substantial roles would come later.

CONS: Can be a little too exposition heavy at times. • A little stale but only because we’ve seen this film a thousand times since. You really have to take off your 21st century lenses to appreciate the fact that this is truly the first real Pirate film.  Some of the model shots leave a little to be desired(even for the time). • Yet another montage to show the passage of time. Every movie from the 30’s seems to have these. Quick cuts, multiple exposure, the whole spiel.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Brian over at deepfocusreview

David Copperfield

davidcopperfield11 david-copperfield-fields

MGM – 2hr 13min

DIRECTOR: George Cukor

GENRE: Drama/Coming Of Age

NOTES: Based on the novel by Charles Dickens. • Freddie Bartholomew(young David Copperfield) emigrated from the UK just to make this film. • Charles Laughton was cast to play Mr. Micawber but was unhappy with his performance after viewing the dailies. It was Laughton who suggested that W.C. Fields should fill the role.

PROS: The beginning plays a bit like a silent film which I enjoyed. •  Bartholomew is right up there with Jackie Cooper for child actors who can emote. It is truly an impressive performance. “Something’s wrong Peggotty!” • Basil Rathbone playing yet another baddy. • W.C. Fields seems like a ridiculous choice, but as soon as he shows up he injects the film with some badly needed energy(despite his questionable acting at times). • You do feel for David as everyone always tends to leave him behind. • The “walk to Dover” sequence was done well. Movies of this period tend to have a montage scene. This was one of the more fun to watch. • Lennox Pawle as Mr. Dick is fantastic and has one of the great entrances of cinema history! The guy is just plain nuts and Pawle relishes the opportunity to show it. • There is a nice moment where Aunt Betsey(Edna May Oliver) hesitates to hug young David but gives in out of sheer love for the boy. It was very moving. • Detailed set design. • Impressive and convincing use of background matte paintings.

CONS: The acting is very exaggerated. This is most evident in Clara‘s(Elizabeth Allen) gesticulations. The only actors to bring realism are Bartholomew and Frank Lawton who portray David as a young boy and young adult respectively. • The music was a bit too bombastic for my taste. At times it reminded me of Danny Elfman’s work in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure(1985). • The recording quality was also poor. The music drowns out the dialogue at times • Dora(Maureen O’Sullivan) is annoying beyond belief. So it was hard for me to feel any sympathy with her and to understand David‘s infatuation with her • The second half of the film is not nearly as engaging to the first. This is no fault of Lawton who turns in quite a good performance actually. It’s just that the actions of people in their 20’s don’t hold the same depth of meaning as those of children.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cliff over at immortalephemera

The Informer

p4833_p_v8_aa informergypo

RKO – 1hr 31min


GENRE: Crime/Drama

NOTES: Based on the novel by Liam O’Flaherty. • Despite winning the Academy Award for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, & Best Score, it did not win Best Picture. • A silent version was made in the UK in 1929.

PROS: Victor McLaglen as Gypo. A truly threatening performance here. Whenever he yells out “GYPO!!” as a self-referential battle cry of some sort, you wonder if McLaglen isn’t actually drunk. McLaglen definitely earns his Best Actor award. • Minimalist sets. Reminded me of Fritz Lang’s M(1931). • Evocative lighting and the use of smoke. • The first half of the movie plays like a silent film. There is very limited dialogue. • A pretty realistic shootout(except maybe for the reckless actions of the Black & Tans). Una O’Connor(as Mrs. McPhillip) gets really hysterical in that scene, which I found quite moving. • There are a lot of techniques and story elements that are frequently used today.

CONS: They try to squeeze in a love story between Mary(Heather Angel) and Dan(Preston Foster). Why? Because it’s the 30’s and you have to. • I have never been a huge fan of court scenes in film and television. It just always feels like a cop out to get all the characters together in a room and tie up all the loose ends. I find them to dreadfully dull for the most part.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Contemporary review from Andre Sennwald over at nytimes

The Lives Of A Bengal Lancer

bengal bengal lancer 4

Paramount – 1hr 49min

DIRECTOR: Henry Hathaway

GENRE: Adventure/War/Buddy movie.

NOTES: Loosely based on the book by Francis Yeats-Brown. • Paramount sent cinematographers to India as early as 1931 but the film deteriorated and the film was delayed for 4 years. Various locations in Southern California were used to mimic Northwest India. • Contains the line “we have ways of making men talk”. Probably the origin of that often-bastardized phrase that most people I think associate with James Bond villains.

PROS: An under-appreciated script. A lot of reviewers find this film to be “boring” but I found there to be a level of authenticity and a realistic rapport between the three leads.(Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, Richard Cromwell) • Forsythe(Tone) is a cocky bastard and appears to love every minute of it. “There’s been a great deal of speaking of minds.” • I found Cromwell’s performance as Stone to be very natural and understated. This is something you don’t find very often in the 30’s. • A pretty exciting action finale complete with demolition of models.

CONS: The tone shifts at times. Especially when we get to Khan‘s palace. But this is also where the Indiana Jones elements are most prominent so it’s not necessarily the worst part. • It does drag in parts but I’d argue that it allows the picture to breathe and helps to grow the relationships between the 3 leads.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Jeff over at thestalkingmoon

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Nmidnight_1935 James-Cagney-and-Anita-Louise-in-A-Midsummer-Nights-Dream-1935

Warner Bros. – 2hr 13min

DIRECTOR: Max Reinhardt

GENRE: Comedy/Shakespeare/Musical

NOTES: Based on the play by William Shakespeare. • Only Olivia de Havilland and Mickey Rooney had ever performed Shakespeare before. • The music for the film was composed by Felix Mendelssohn originally for a German production of the play in 1842.(This includes the famous Wedding March which is used in ceremonies to this day) Erich Wolfgang Korngold adapted Mendelssohn’s music for the 1935 film. • This is technically Olivia de Havilland’s film debut, although audiences would see her in two films which were released earlier that year: Alibi Ike and The Irish In Us.

PROS: Very impressive sets. The majority of the movie takes place in a forest and the level of detail(for 1935) is extraordinary. You feel like you are in an actual wood. • The special effects are no less impressive. The scene where the fairies awaken and climb up the spiral cloud is captivating and eerie. • James Cagney(Bottom the Weaver) turns in a balls to the wall, 110% performance. It’s nothing like your typical Shakespeare performance, but it’s all the better for it. • As has been noted by many critics, and also by the actor himself, Dick Powell is completely miscast here. • Some very impressive wire work.

CONS: Mickey Rooney’s Puck goes down in my mind as the single most annoying character in cinema history! I can’t get that laugh out of my head. • My overall dislike for this film really comes down to the sound quality. Everyone seems to have shrieking voices and annoying laughs and there are many occasions where there is a cacophony of music and multiple actors speaking(shrieking). It actually made me feel very irritable and on edge. • Overlong. Just watch Oberon‘s(Victor Jory) approach to the sleeping lovers. Why does it have to take so long?! By the time we get to the end of the film with what should be the funniest scene(the player’s amateur performance), you just want it to be over. • Oh yeah, and those god-awful gnome masks!


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Scott over at filmschoolrejects

Les Misérables

Les_Misérables_(1935_film)_poster tumblr_m1gfv7inY41qdx4k4o1_500

Twentieth Century – 1hr 48min

DIRECTOR: Richard Boleslawski

GENRE: Drama/Crime

NOTES: Based upon the classic novel by Victor Hugo. • There are drastic changes from the novel making this one of the least faithful screen adaptations. • Frederic March’s wife, Florence Eldridge, plays Fantine. They would appear together in several films. • There are numerous film, radio, television, and stage adaptations of Les Miserables in multiple languages. The most famous arguably being the 1985 musical.

PROS: Frederic March and Charles Laughton(as Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert respectively). These are the two great actors of the 1930’s in my humble opinion. They are both undeniable presences every time they are on screen(and not just in this movie). • Effective camera work, artistic framing and lighting from cinematographer Gregg Toland(most famous for his work on Citizen Kane(1941)). • Cedric Hardwicke gives a dignified performance as Bishop Myriel.

CONS: Due to the cutting out of large portions of the novel, the movie tends to jump ahead in plot quite rapidly. There are not enough scenes that linger(although the ones that do are excellent).


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Java over at javabeanrush

Mutiny On The Bounty

p5313_p_v8_aa mutiny35bounty1441

MGM – 2hr 12min

DIRECTOR: Frank Lloyd

GENRE: Drama/Adventure/Sea Epic

NOTES: Based on The Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall which in turn is based on true events• Clark Gable was initially opposed to playing the role of Fletcher Christian because he felt it would tarnish his masculine on-screen persona. • Other film versions include the silent film The Mutiny On The Bounty(1916), In The Wake Of The Bounty(1933) with Errol Flynn, Mutiny On The Bounty(1962) with Marlon Brando, and The Bounty(1984) with Mel Gibson & Anthony Hopkins. • This was the highest grossing film of the year.

PROS: The use of real ships on real water. This greatly lends to the air of authenticity that the filmmakers seem to be trying to convey. • Well… Charles Laughton yet again. In my mind, he is the best actor of the period. He has the ability to completely transform into another person. Laughton’s Captain Bligh is an exaggerated version to be sure, but it’s a fully realized exaggeration that bears little resemblance to Laughton’s Javert in Les Miserables and Marmaduke Ruggles in Ruggles Of Red Gap.  I liked the juxtaposition at the beginning of the tavern patrons being terrified by the prospect of serving under Bligh, and the underestimation of Bligh by the upper class. • Mr. Bacchus(Dudley Digges) has a fantastic entrance! • The first storm is very impressive especially in the sound design. I am willing to bet that this scene floored audiences. • Franchot Tone(Byam) does a solid job. His storyline is the cord that runs through the whole film. • Some surprising gruesome imagery. Flog him anyway if ya know what I mean.

CONS: The delivery of the dialogue is much to rapid at times, especially from Gable. This is the fault of the director in my opinion. • Sometimes the humor doesn’t match the tone of the rest of the film. • There are far too many times when a character conveniently enters the scene and it draws your attention to the fact that they had just been waiting to enter from off camera. • Gable and Tone wear significantly less clothes than Tehani(Movita Castaneda) and Maimiti(Mamo Clark) to the beach. • The fully clothed “sex” scene between Christian and Maimiti made me laugh.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from David at bluray.hidefdigest

Naughty Marietta

naughty-marietta-movie-poster-1935 naughtymarietta2

MGM – 1hr 45min


GENRE: Romantic-Comedy/Operetta

NOTES: Based on the operetta by Victor Herbert.  The first of eight pairings of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. • Some of the songs like “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” were quite popular and would become more so due to the success of the film.

PROS: Detailed costume work. • Jeanette MacDonald(Princess Marie/Marietta) is lovely. She has many funny moments like sneaking aboard a ship while stuffing her face with bread. She just has a very playful personality that I am attracted to. • Cool scene where Princess Marie ascends different floors of a hotel(?) and engages in a different song with the residents of that floor. • The frame is often teeming with extras. • Pretty awesome looking Pirates. Surprisingly violent. “Kind of hard to hide on a boat my ladies”. • Nelson Eddy(as Cpt. Richard Warrington) turns a funny, cocky performance. Reminded me a bit of Han Solo. I enjoyed it when he holds the note a little extra too long. “Sorry girls but it breaks out once in a while”. • Does this film contain the origin of speed dating? • A charming scene with the actors posing as marionettes.

CONS: Boy you better like soprano! • Governor d’Annard(Frank Morgan) nervous talk gets a bit irritating after a while. • Kind of a boring final song. • There is not much in the way of conflict here(other than the aforementioned pirates).


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Andre Sennwald over at nytimes

Ruggles Of Red Gap

Ruggles_of_red_gap Charles Laughton in Leo McCarey's RUGGLES OF RED GAP (1935). Cou

Paramount – 1hr 30min


GENRE: Comedy/Fish-Out-Of-Water

NOTES: Based on the novel by Harry Leon Wilson. • The film Fancy Pants(1950) is a musical adaptation of the story starring Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. • It’s merely a coincidence that Charlie Ruggles(as Egbert) appears in this film. • One of 14 films to feature both Ruggles and Mary Boland(Effie).

PROS: There is a diverse cast of characters here. Standouts are EgbertMa Pettingill(Maude Eburne) with the cigarette hanging out of her mouth, and Roland Young(as the Earl of Burnstead• Charles Laughton(Ruggles) shows comic range here as opposed to the dramas he’d been doing. He is truly one of the great actors of the time period. • Some of the funniest moments are between Laughton and Young . Especially at the beginning where Burnstead attempts to explain America to Ruggles. “slavery was ended by Pocahontas or something” he mumbles. Also, the awkward goodbye between the two. • The highlight of the movie is the Gettysburg Address scene. It’s funny and moving if not a bit preachy. • I liked the message of the film that comes to light in the 2nd half.

CONS: The humor is a bit too broad for me. A little too mad cap and exaggerated. • Loses track of Ruggles towards the end. • The movie tends to drag which is not a good sign considering it is only 90 minutes long.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Scott over at criterioncast

Top Hat

TopHatORGI luxfon-com_22784

RKO – 1hr 41min

DIRECTOR: Mark Sandrich

GENRE: Dance-Musical/Comedy

NOTES: Based on the plays Scandal In Budapest by Sándor Faragó and A Girl Who Dares by Aladar Laszlo. • Irving Berlin wrote the songs, two of which(“Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” & “Cheek To Cheek”) have become timeless classics. • Lucille Ball makes a minor appearance as Flower Clerk• This was the most financially successful of the Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire pictures.

PROS: Clever opening shot. • The dance routines are legendary of course. Especially for “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails”. Very clever choreography where Jerry(Astaire) starts picking off the various other dancers mimicking a shooting gallery. Allegedly one of the people he “shoots” is a teenage Bob Hope• The song “Cheek to Cheek” is just a great song. I don’t know much about dancing, but I did notice the uninterrupted, single takes. Apparently this was demanded by Astaire. Makes his(and Rogers’) performance that much more impressive. • Some funny lines about “horsepower” and “walking from a boat ride”. I won’t spoil them for ya. • Helen Broderick(as Madge Hardwick) almost steals the movie.

CONS: Pretty much the same plot as The Gay Divorcee(1934) with all the same actors in very similar roles. This was actually a complaint made by Astaire too. So there ya go. In fact even the sets look the same! • There are times where the background music just doesn’t shut up. • Edward Everett Horton(as Horace Hardwick) is not nearly as funny here as he is in The Gay Divorcee. Same goes for Eric Blore(as Bates• The humor is pretty eye-rolling, minus the good lines mentioned above. • Astaire’s English accent(even though he’s faking it) leaves a little to be desired… to put it kindly.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from the late great Roger Ebert over at rogerebert


Mutiny on the bounty

Mutiny On The Bounty

Did the Oscars get it right?


But… it was close for me. The Informer won 4 of the big Oscar awards this year but not the big one. The thing that puts Mutiny On The Bounty  ahead for me is that it is good all the way through. The Informer loses it’s steam in the final act. Les Miserables was great too but needed fleshing out. Mutiny On The Bounty has a little bit of everything, and it’s complex characters(especially Laughton and Gable), it’s devotion to realism, and it’s epic nature make it the best of the 12 nominated films.



Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

The 39 Steps* – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Becky Sharp  – dir. Rouben Mamoulian

Bonne Chance! – dir. Sacha Guitry

Bride Of Frankenstein – dir. James Whale

The Crusades – dir. Cecil B. DeMille

The Devil Is A Woman – dir. Josef von Sternberg

Mad Love – dir. Karl Freund

Man On The Flying Trapeze – dir. Clyde Bruckman

A Night At The Opera* – dir. Sam Wood

Sylvia Scarlett – dir. George Cukor

Tit For Tat – dir. Charles Rogers

Toni – dir. Jean Renoir

Triumph Of The Will – dir. Leni Riefenstahl

Werewolf Of London – dir. Henry Hull

Wife! Be Like A Rose! – dir. Mikio Naruse

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30 • 1930/31 • 1931/32 • 1932/33 1934 • 1936  2015

Posted in 1930's, Best Pictures | 3 Comments

“Best Pictures” 2015

On my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ve decided to go ahead and get this year’s Oscars out of the way. Just consider it an aside from my main goal of going decade by decade(currently I’m tackling the 1930’s). The 88th Academy Awards were held on February 28th, 2016 and featured these 8 films from 2015:

The Big Short

The_Big_Short_teaser_poster 920x920

Paramount – 2hr 10min


GENRE: Comedy/Procedural/Social Commentary

NOTES: Based on the book by Michael Lewis.

PROS: Makes a very complex subject approachable, mostly through the use of comical asides(although probably condescending if you are versed on the subject… which I’m not).  The final decisions of our main characters despite any moral scruples they may have has a sobering effect.  The acting is mostly strong, if not a bit cliched. • Led Zeppelin for the credits!

CONS: The ever roving docu-drama-esque camera work. • Interjections of pop culture(although I think the point was, “Hey people, look at all the stupid stuff you were preoccupied with while Wall Street was busy screwing you.”)  Some manic editing(a single frame of Steve Carrell’s face? Why?)  The attempt to shoe horn in Baum‘s(Carrell) emotional past.  Oversimplifying Wall Street bankers by making them the ONE & ONLY reason for the collapse & seemingly all the world’s problems(smash cut from bankers in their nice cars to bums under a bridge).


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Tony over at tonymacklin.net

Bridge Of Spies

Bridge_of_Spies_poster.jpg bridge-of-spies-back-300x200.jpg

Walt Disney Studios – 2hr 21min

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

GENRE: Spy Thriller/Cold War

NOTES: Based on true events which took place between 1957 – 1962.

PROS: Perfectly executed. Spielberg takes what is essentially a series of conversations around desks and makes it feel swift, entertaining and poignant   The Coen brothers flair for the ironic shows itself in the screenplay(which they were hired to touch up).  All the secondary foreign actors are very strong.  Mark Rylance puts on a master display of restraint and won Best Supporting Actor for his performance.  A perfect role for Hanks. Our modern day Jimmy Stewart.

CONS: This is old fashioned Capra-esque filmmaking at it’s finest and so there is a tendency for moments to play a bit exaggerated. • Some of the music doesn’t quite gel.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Brain Tallerico over at rogerebert


brooklyn still-of-saoirse-ronan-and-emory-cohen-in-brooklyn-2015

Fox Searchlight – 1hr 52min 

DIRECTOR: John Crowley

GENRE: Romance/Period Piece

NOTES: Based on the novel by Colm Tóibín. • Much of the filming took place in Montreal because New York did not have enough buildings remaining from the 1950’s.

 PROS: Saorisie Ronan is stunning. A true movie star and a great actress. She does a lot with a limited script. • It’s a simple story but it pulls on the old heartstrings. Mainly because Ronan(as Eilis, pronounced ay-lish) is so magnetic. Who wouldn’t want to fall in love with her? • Some funny moments at the boarding house dinner table, especially with the two “giddy” girls played by Emily Bett Rickards(Patty) and Eve Macklin(Diana). • I like that Eilis ends up where she started, only now with some life experiences to pass on. A classic film trope but it always works.

CONS: All the conflicts in this movie feel a little too convenient.  Eilis falling for Tony(Emory Cohen) feels very rushed.  The color palette is a little silly. They are trying to evoke a nostalgic image of the 1950’s but the colors are so pronounced it starts to almost feel like a cartoon. • I really can’t stand pointless(underline pointless) hand held camera work. Why in the world we need a handheld style to portray mundane moments(like sitting around a dinner table) is beyond me. This is an tv/movie epidemic right now in my opinion.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Richard Brody over at newyorker

Mad Max: Fury Road

Max_Mad_Fury_Road_Newest_Poster.jpg maxresdefault

Warner Bros. 2hr

DIRECTOR: George Miller

GENRE: Action/Car Chase

NOTES: The 4th installment in the Mad Max franchise following Mad Max(1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior(1981) & Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome(1985). • Pre-production began as early as 1997. • Won the Academy awards for Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Film Editing, and Best Production Design.

PROS: Bonkers. Absolutely bonkers.

CONS: None really. I could see how this might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for the type of film it is, it hits zero sour notes.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Anthony Lane over at The New Yorker

The Martian

The_Martian_film_poster.jpg ng8zspcv4wubkb28zeyy

20th Century Fox – 2hr 21min

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

GENRE: Survival/Sci-Fi

NOTES: Based on the book by Andy Weir.

PROS: Matt Damon fits quite well in this role of the imperturbable botanist-astronaut.  Visually immersive(which is Ridley Scott’s biggest strength in my opinion.)

CONS: A touch predictable.  Clichés run rampant.  Watney(Matt Damon) always has the right answer the first time. He hardly ever struggles.  There’s a damn musical montage!  Lazy script writing with one note characters.  Scientists who suddenly need the details of their field explained to them.  One too many internet meme-esque dialogue moments, e.g., “I’m gonna have to science the shit outta this”.  Kristen Wiig’s character exists to merely ask questions which the writers are afraid the audience might not be able to ask & answer on their own.  Jeff Daniels is miscast here.  Overlong. It could have used some tighter editing, especially once Watney leaves Mars.  The ubiquitous self-surgery scene.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cole Smithey over at colesmithey

The Revenant

12022348_721537477980154_1854067653327057613_web leonardo-dicaprio-the-revenant

20th Century Fox – 2hr 36min

DIRECTOR: Alejandro Iñárritu

GENRE: Revenge/Survival/Western

NOTES: Based on the book by Michael Punke and the true account of 19th century trapper Hugh Glass.

PROS: More amazing cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki. The use of natural lighting makes you feel the cold and smell the dirt.  The Bear attack on Glass(DiCaprio) is frightening and hyper-realistic. It really sells the whole movie from that point.  Tom Hardy as Fitzgerald is phenomenal.

CONS: The tone of the film fluctuates.  The doses of magical realism in the dream sequences feel a bit dated.  The addition of Glass‘ half-Pawnee son Hawk(Forrest Goodluck) feels tacked on. None of the emotion there feels earned. In real life, Glass sought revenge for simply being left for dead by Bridger & Fitzgerald and not for anything to do with a son(There is no historical record that Glass even had a son or an Indian wife for that matter).  As much as I enjoy the look of the film and how it takes it’s time to dwell on the scenery, it could have used some tighter editing.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Justin Chang over at Variety


Room_Poster Room-e1450534504366-620x352

A24 – 1hr 58min

DIRECTOR: Lenny Abrahamson

GENRE: Drama/Traumatic experience/PTSD

NOTES: based on the novel by Emma Donaghue.

PROS: Incredible performances by both Larson & Tremblay.  Intense scene right smack dab in the middle of the film. It includes an incredible zoom shot coupled with powerful music that makes me cry just thinking about it.

CONS: The second half tries to cram way too much into it’s time. There are many issues touched on that could easily have their own movie devoted them.  The camera work(apart from the aforementioned zoom) doesn’t really do anything interesting. Just more of the same boring handheld work that’s so popular these days.  Jack‘s(Tremblay) narration feels tacked on but I’ve never been a fan of voiceover(even in Kubrick’s work).


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Tim Robey over at thetelegraph


Spotlight_(film)_poster maxresdefault

Open Road – 2hr 9min

DIRECTOR: Tom McCarthy

GENRE: Drama/Procedural

NOTES: Based on true events.

PROS: Great acting from both the stars and the supporting players(especially Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci). Mark Ruffalo turns in yet another great performance. He was made for these procedurals.(see also: Zodiac(2007)) • The fast talking newspaper movie. Reminiscent of classic newspaper movies like The Front Page(1931). • The dialogue is fantastic. And the actors make it feel very natural. Even when they are clearly moving the plot along.

CONS: Some cliche music from Howard Shore. • I felt they needed to highlight the victims sooner in the film in order for the audience to connect to the crimes and feel the importance of the Spotlight team’s project. • The victim interviews tended to play like a TV show. • The scene where Sacha(Rachel McAdams) confronts Father Paquin(Richard O’Rourke) felt very forced and unrealistic. That he would just open the door and immediately admit to molesting young boys is hard to believe.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Sheila over at rogerebert






Did the Oscars get it right?


Spotlight is a great movie but there are better procedural-type films(like Zodiac(2007), All The President’s Men(1976), High And Low(1963), and Apollo 13(1995) to name a few). It was certainly deserving of the nomination this year but Mad Max: Fury Road is perfection. If any “Action” movie(a genre which the Academy has almost always ignored) deserved Best Picture it was Mad Max: Fury Road. Incredibly exciting and confident in it’s theme and overall purpose.



Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

45 Years – dir. Andrew Haigh

Anomalisa – dir. Charlie Kaufman/Duke Johnson

The Assassin – dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsie

Carol – dir. Todd Haynes

Creed– dir. Ryan Coogler

The Diary Of A Teenage Girl – dir. Marielle Heller

The Duke Of Burgundy – dir. Peter Strickland

The End Of The Tour – dir. James Ponsoldt

Ex Machina – dir. Alex Garland

Experimenter – dir. Michael Almereyda

The Hateful Eight– dir. Quentin Tarantino

Inside Out – dir. Pete Docter

Mustang – dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven

The Look Of Silence – dir. Joshua Oppenheimer

Sicario – dir. Denis Villeneuve

Steve Jobs – dir. Danny Boyle

Son of Saul – dir. László Nemes

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens* – dir. J. J. Abrams

Straight Outta Compton – dir. F. Gary Gray

Tangerine – dir. Sean Baker

Victoria – dir. Sebastian Schipper

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30 • 1930/31 • 1931/32 • 1932/33 • 1934 • 1935 • 1936




Posted in Best Pictures | Tagged | 1 Comment

“Best Pictures” 1934

Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ll be reviewing the 12(that’s right, twelve this time! Why? God knows.) films nominated in 1934. The 7th annual Academy Awards were held on February 27th, 1935.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street

WimpoleStreet.jpg BarrettsofWimpoleStreet14

MGM – 1hr 50min

DIRECTOR: Sidney Franklin

GENRE: Drama/Love Story/Stage-To-Screen

NOTES: Based on the play by Rudolf Besier which in turn was based on the real life correspondence between English poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.  Remade shot for shot and in color by Sidney Franklin in 1957. • William Randolph Hearst wanted Marion Davies, his mistress, to be cast instead of Norma Shearer. MGM production head Irving Thalberg, who happened to be Shearer’s husband, refused. Consequently, Hearst refused any of his newspapers to review the film.

PROS: Charles Laughton as the patriarch. He commands the screen whenever he enters a room. Very creepy and dominating in this performance.  Evocative establishing shots. The opening shot of a rainy street, the winter scene, the day at the park. It’s a shame that the majority of the movie takes place in one room because the shot compositions come to life whenever they leave it.  I like how the maid Wilson(portrayed by Una O’Connor, who also played a servant in 1933’s Calvacade) seemingly hovers across the room in her long skirt.  I was impressed with Maureen O’Sullivan’s performance as Henrietta.  Marion Clayton Anderson as Cousin Bella was really funny and annoying.(Anderson only appeared in a few films; not sure why)  Ralph Forbes as Captain Cook is really good at playing the nervous guy.

CONS: This is definitely a stage to screen movie. There is not much attempt to make it feel like a film. It is essentially one long conversation/argument after another and grows tiresome after a while.  There is a lot of dialogue and there is a tendency for Shearer and March to rush through it.  Norma Shearer is always hit or miss with me. Here she is a miss. I think it comes down to her delivery. She has that airy voice and hardly ever says anything plainly. Her acting, if you will, is always front and center. In the film, Cousin Bella tells Elizabeth(Shearer) “You always have a look in your eyes as if you already saw the angels.” In other words, stop being so dramatic! Thank you Cousin Bella!  The camera barely moves as the majority of the film is restricted to Elizabeth’s room.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at pre-code.


220px-PosterCleopatra03.jpg 082-claudette-colbert

Paramount – 1hr 40min

DIRECTOR: Cecil B. DeMille

GENRE: Historical Epic/Romance

NOTES: Based on a historical adaptation by Bartlett Cormack.  One of 3 movies nominated for Best Picture this year which star Claudette Colbert.  Deservedly, Victor Milner won the award for Best Cinematography.

PROS: Colbert is great as Cleopatra. She, unlike Norma Shearer in my opinion, does not overact. She strikes just the right balance between subtle and exaggerated. Also, her voice is sultry but strong. She exudes the confidence that one would expect of the Queen of Egypt.  Epic set design and camera moves. Most of the film takes place on sets. Really, DeMille is synonymous with epic sets. The design of Cleopatra’s sail barge bedroom alone!  Henry Wilcoxon as Marc Antony gives a fun performance.  The montage of battle scenes towards the end is really impressive. It plays like a lot of montage scenes of the era(quick cuts, multiple exposures, dramatic music) but the special effects and model work especially, put it at the head of the pack. • I thought the stabbing of Julius Caesar was shot very well. Very understated and realistic. • Very cool 3-D looking credits sequence on the base of the sphinx.

CONS: The tone shifts around. Sometimes it is borderline screwball comedy. The drunk hiccup scene comes to mind. Also the 3 ring circus that breaks out aboard Cleopatra’s sail barge seems a little silly.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at pre-code.

Flirtation Walk

MV5BMTcwODg1OTE3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDY0NDIwMjE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpg flirtation2

First National – 1hr 37min

DIRECTOR: Frank Borzage

GENRE: Romantic-Comedy/Musical/War

NOTES: Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell’s fifth of seven films together.  Ruby Keeler does not have any dance numbers in this film.  The scenes at West Point were filmed on location.  Tyrone Power plays an uncredited bit role as a cadet.

PROS: Some nice stock footage(I assume) of planes ships and big guns.  Pretty good punch from the Sgt. which even produces a little blood.  “I hope you break your neck” sung to The Farmer in the Dell was a funny moment in an otherwise dull script.  Smooth dolly shots on the Luau dance number.  When Ruby Keeler falls for Powell, she really sells it with her eyes.  Some nice camera moves and shot compositions. The drill scene at West Point comes to mind.  I like the idea that these two rekindle their love through the vehicle of the play at the end. It’s a fun idea even if the play & music itself is forgettable.

CONS: There really isn’t a big musical number until an over hour into it. Unless you count the Luau scene.  “Say listen here see” type dialogue.  The humor is pretty broad with  a touch of slapstick.  Luau dance number goes on a bit long. Stops the narrative dead in it’s tracks.  Not much in way of plot which highlights even more the scenes where nothing moves forward.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Over at filmfanatic.org

The Gay Divorcee

The_Gay_Divorcee_movie_poster.jpg GayDivorcee38

RKO – 1hr 47min

DIRECTOR: Mark Sandrich

GENRE: Musical-Comedy

NOTES: Based on the (hard to find)book by Dwight Taylor.  The first of 9 starring role pairings for Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire(they both had minor roles in 1933’s Flying Down To Rio). • “The Continental” took home the prize in the new category of Best Original Song.

PROS: Astaire’s dancing is still impressive to this day.  Mimi(Rogers) playing hard-to-get works well. There are lots of funny little touches to show it too(like driving off with the beverage basket still on her car)  Edward Everett Horton is pretty darn funny as Egbert. Trying to decide what to eat for breakfast, the whistling bit with the hotel porter: “Have you time for an encore?”.  A silly but fun scene where Hortense(Alice Brady) and Mimi go to see Egbert in order to work out the terms of Mimi’s divorce. Lots of innuendo and miscommunication here.  A blasé view of divorce which is common at the time. “You can’t have a divorce on an empty stomach.”  The Waiter(Eric Biore, who appears in 5 Astaire-Rogers films) is a total scene stealer!

CONS: Episodic to a fault.  “Needle In A Haystack” dance routine was a little boring. No fault to Astaire. Just in comparison to the big set pieces of something like 42nd Street, this felt lazy.  Dialogue is unrealistic & a bit silly but this being a musical, it’s forgivable.  A god-awful song called “Let’s k-nock k-nees”(with a very young Betty Grable no less) and it’s accompanying overlong dance number which contains a not so discreet message of “Let’s get it on”. Watching Edward Everett Horton prance around in short-shorts, tank top, and sandals with socks here is not something I care to see ever again!  The big finale dance number set to “The Continental” is so damn long! And again, underwhelming compared to other musicals of the day.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at pre-code

Here Comes The Navy

Here_Comes_the_Navy_poster.jpg Navy1-640x420

Warner Bros. – 1hr 27min

DIRECTOR: Lloyd Bacon

GENRE: Comedy/War

NOTES: Sections of the film were filmed on the USS Arizona which would famously be sunk by the Japanese during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. • The USS Macon, a Navy scout dirigible which would crash the following year, is also featured. • Gloria Stuart would receive an Oscar nomination 63 years later for her performance in Titanic(1997). • The character Droopy Mullins(Frank McHugh) shares my surname! I’ve only come across a couple characters in cinema history with the last name “Mullins”.

PROS: The biggest drawing factor to this film is that most of it was filmed on location at various Naval training centers and of course on board the famous, and ill-fated, USS Arizona. • I like the idea of a silly movie taking place in a realistic setting. Reminds me of Monty Python & The Holy Grail(1975) in that way. • Lots of creative camera set ups and shot compositions; looking down ladders, inside a phone booth, a POV shot from inside the 14″/45 barrels as they shoot armor piercing rounds. In fact that whole scene of the process of loading the guns was fun to watch. • I wasn’t expecting the dramatic action scene at the end.

CONS: Dialogue consists mostly of generic wisecracks. Although there are some good lines like “What are you? A couple of violets?” and “Get up on your pins sucker!”. • One of the most stereotypical black characters I’ve ever seen. With the stuttering pidgin language and dumb looks on his face as he easily takes a bribe. And no this not “just how it was back then”. Watch The Champ(1931) or Arrowsmith(1931) and how they handle black characters • Cagney in blackface as he tries to sneak off the boat. Racially insensitive yes, but more to the point would that really fool anybody??


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Kevin over at kevinsmoviecorner

The House Of Rothschild

The_House_of_Rothschild_poster.jpg houseof

20th Century – 1hr 28min

DIRECTOR: Alfred L. Werker

GENRE: Biography/Period Piece

NOTES: Based on the play by George Hembert Westley.  This film came out 2 years after Hitler came to power in Germany. This hangs like an ominous cloud.  Joseph Goebbels had the film re-edited in Germany in order to highlight the anti-semitism.

PROS:  Detailed set design.  Good scene where the family tries to disguise the house in order to fool the tax collector.  George Arliss in a double role.  A four way split screen moment.  I didn’t even recognize Boris Karloff at first. He is sinister even without makeup  The last scene is shot in three strip technicolor(a technique also used that year in The Cat And The Fiddle). Studios were testing out the new technology after two strip technicolor failed to take off.

CONS: George Arliss is a good actor but feels like one from a different time. Feels old-fashioned for 1934(yes I know he’s playing 19th century here)  Dull shot compositions. Yet another stage-to-screen adaptation that fails to utilize the medium as far as camera technique is concerned.  Boring subject matter for me at least. Loans?… blechh!!  Artificial chemistry between the family.  They try to shoehorn in the love story between Julie & Fitzroy.  Probably a slanted view of the history of the Rothschild family painting them in the most favorable light possible.  Everyone seems to laugh a little too heartily. It’s as if… oh I don’t know… they’re acting or something.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at pre-code

Imitation Of Life

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Universal – 1hr 51min

DIRECTOR: John M. Stahl

GENRE: Drama/Rags-to-Riches

NOTES: Based on the bestseller by Fannie Hurst.  One of the first films to deal frankly with miscegeny.  Remade in 1959 by Douglas Sirk with Lana Turner and John Gavin.  One of 3 movies nominated this year that star Claudette Colbert.

PROS: Very progressive subject matter. For a change, the black actor’s emotional problems are front and center. Hard to say if it was intended but the discrepancy of “Fairness” between the races is on display. Even though the two women are on somewhat equal terms, Delilah(Louise Beavers) is paid less, lives in the basement, and maintains her servant duties despite the fact that it was her pancake recipe that led to the fortune.  The relationship between Colbert and Beavers feels very natural. There is an equal respect and admiration for each other even though Delilah is relegated to the role of servant even despite success.   Peola(Fredi Washington) is beautiful and her story is really the thrust of the film(or should be rather).   Ned Sparks would certainly be employed by the Coen Bros. if he was alive today.

CONS: Just doesn’t quite live up to it’s potential.  Many scenes go on too long. Very dialogue heavy.  Kind of descends into a “weepy” towards the end. Could use some tighter cutting.  Tries to squeeze in a dull love triangle which is not nearly as interesting as Peola’s story.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Marilyn Ferdinand over at ferdyonfilms

It Happened One Night

220px-Gable_ithapponepm_poster.jpg Claudette_Colbert_in_It_Happened_One_Night

Columbia – 1hr 45min

DIRECTOR: Frank Capra

GENRE: Romantic-Comedy

NOTES: First film to win in all 5 main categories(Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Writing). Only 2 other films have accomplished this feat; One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest(1975) and The Silence Of The Lambs(1991)  First comedy to win Best Picture(and a rare thing still) – One of 3 movies nominated this year in which she starred. Despite this, she didn’t show up to the Oscar ceremony being convinced that Bette Davis would win  Clark Gable made this film on loan from MGM and under protest.  Colbert called this “the worst clanker of my career”. • Gable’s performance was an inspiration for Friz Freleng in creating Bugs Bunny.

PROS: Really the prototype for all romantic comedies to follow. If you can get in the right headspace, you’ll notice how far ahead of it’s time it is. • Rapid pacing right off the get go. • There are many locations and set ups in this film. A nice change from the stuff one-room dramas that I’ve been watching. • Gable’s got some great monologues. His undressing scene and the hitchhiking scene for instance. • The breakfast scene is stands out and may be one of my favorite scenes of all time! •  There is a wonderful tracking shot of Colbert making her way to the public showers. • My favorite line comes via the annoying bus rider Oscar Shapeley(Roscoe Karns): “When a cold mama gets hot, boy how she sizzles!”

CONS: Colbert ends up going all weepy for Gable. This frustrated me because I find her to be such a strong character and above all that emotional fragility. • I felt that it starts to lose some steam towards the end.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Michal over at rogerebert.com

One Night Of Love

220px-Onenightoflove.JPG one-night-of-love-05

Columbia – 1hr 23min

DIRECTOR: Victor Schertzinger

GENRE: Romantic-Comedy/Musical

NOTES: Adapted from the story Don’t Fall in Love by Charles Beahan and Dorothy Speare. • Grace Moore was a classically trained operatic soprano and did her own singing.

PROS: Moore has a funny physicality. I am thinking of that scene where she is rolling around on the floor. She also has a funny bit where she pretends to have laryngitis. • Tullio Carminati’s overbearing nature is hilarious. • I was surprised by the amount and length of the opera pieces considering that this is not really a musical. Reminded me of Amadeus(1984). • I enjoyed the scene where Moore first arrives in Milan and steps out onto her hotel balcony. There is a cacophony of various practicing musicians. When she starts singing everyone begins to join along.

CONS: Despite some exchanges like “They did say something about ‘going crazy'”, this movie is not nearly as funny as it should be. Especially when you compare this to some of the Lubitsch musicals. • Moore was a well respected singer, but her singing voice is like nails on a chalkboard to me. This could be due to the limits of sound recording at the time though. • Yet another quick cut montage scene, so prevalent at the time. This one is not nearly as interesting as others though.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Morduant Hall over at nytimes

The Thin Man

The_Thin_Man_1934_Poster.jpg Holiday-09

MGM – 1hr 33min

DIRECTOR: W. S. Van Dyke

GENRE: Comedy/Murder Mystery/Noir

NOTES: Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammet. • William Powell & Myrna Loy had appeared together earlier in 1934’s Manhattan Melodrama(“the last film Dillinger ever saw”) – Five sequels were made: After The Thin Man(1936), Another Thin Man(1939), Shadow Of The Thin Man(1941), The Thin Man Goes Home(1945) & Song Of The Thin Man(1947).

PROS: The chemistry & dialogue between Powell & Loy is fantastic. They are so natural and playful. Really everything thing else takes plays second fiddle.

CONS: The plot is pretty convoluted and it’s easy to lose track of who’s who.  I am not a big fan of denouement. This movie thrives when Powell is “dancing” around the room, so to have him(and everyone else) sitting for the entire last scene is a bit of a drag.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from the late great Roger over at rogerebert.com

Viva Villa!

Viva_Villa_poster  vivavilla1.jpg~original

MGM – 1hr 55min

DIRECTOR: Jack Conway

GENRE: Biography/Period Piece

NOTES: Based on the (rare)book by Edgcumb Pinchon. • Wallace Beery had already portrayed Poncho Villa in Patria(1917), when Villa was still alive and well and active in Mexico.  Shot on location in Mexico.

PROS: Nice exterior shots in the opening scene.  Surprisingly violent right off the bat. Straight up cold blooded executions  The spit take from young Pancho was not expected  Some stark gritty imagery somewhat rare for the time(seeing as the production code was being enforced much more strictly by 1934)  Beery is a ridiculous choice to portray Pancho Villa, but I love anything Beery does so it works to my advantage at least  Sexual innuendos at their finest(“draw a bull with great big horns”) & a pretty suggestive dance routine too. • The baby swing constructed out of gun-belts!

CONS: Pretty dumb. “Theresa what is it?” She just got shot you numbskull! That’s what!  There is nothing “Mexican” about this film. It plays like a typical American Western really.  Some uneven tonality.  Mostly white actors portraying Mexicans, but alas this is just a sign of the times.  Beery’s Mexican accent is atrocious… even worse than his German accent in Grand Hotel   The inclusion of the annoying newspaper man Johny Sikes(Stuart Erwin) for what I assume is supposed to be comic relief.  I am thinking everyone must shoot tranquilizer bullets that take a second to go into effect.  Donald Cook’s performance as Don Felipe is a real stinker. It stands out even in a stinker of a movie. • Somehow Villa makes a speech to thousands of people without raising his voice above a conversational level.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Matthew over at cinephile-uk

The White Parade*

The White Parade

FOX – 1hr 20min*

DIRECTOR: Irving Cummings



*The only print of this film resides at UCLA’s Instructional Media Lab located on campus in the Powell Library building. Apparently you can set up an appointment to view it.




REVIEW FROM SOMEONE WHO HAS SEEN IT: from Matt over at mattvstheacademy




It Happened One Night

Did the Oscars get it right?


This was a pretty weak group of nominees. So saying that It Happened One Night won is not saying much. I really enjoyed The Thin Man and would be more eager to re-watch it over this. That said, It Happened One Night is an undeniable classic and has been parodied and unofficially remade probably hundreds of times. And from a cinematography point of view, it’s one of the best of the 1930’s.


Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

Babes In Toyland  – dir. Gus Meins & Charley Rogers

L’Antalante – dir. Jean Vigo

The Black Cat – dir. Edgar G. Ulmer

Death Takes A Holiday – dir. Mitchell Leisen

It’s A Gift – dir. Norman Z. McLeod

Judge Priest – dir. John Ford

Little Man, What Now? – Frank Borzage

The Lost Patrol  – dir. John Ford

Man Of Aran – dir. Michael J. Flaherty

The Man Who Knew Too Much* – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

The Merry Widow – dir. Ernst Lubitsch

Of Human Bondage – dir. John Cromwell

The Scarlett Empress – dir. Josef von Sternberg

Them That Hills – dir. Charley Rogers

Treasure Island* – dir. Victor Fleming

Twentieth Century – dir. Howard Hawks

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30 • 1930/31 • 1931/32 • 1932/33  1935  1936  2015


Posted in 1930's, Best Pictures | 2 Comments

“Best Pictures” 1932/33

Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! , I cover the 6th annual Academy Awards which were held on March 16, 1934 and featured films initially released between August 1, 1932 & December 31, 1933. Those 10 films are:

42nd Street

Forty-second-street-1933 0052113.JPG

Warner Bros. – 1hr 29min

DIRECTOR: Lloyd Bacon/Busby Berkeley

GENRE: Comedy/Backstage-Musical

NOTES: Based on the (rare)novel by Bradford Ropes.  Ruby Keeler(who portrays Peggy Sawyer) was Al Jolson’s wife at the time.

PROS: The last 20 minutes are innovative and genre-defining. The whole film overall may define Depression-Era films  Efficient pacing.  Some clever visual gags(like the bit with a model stage and some funny business in the background of a boarding house to name a couple).  The musical numbers at the end are fantastic. The staging for “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” is incredible & “42nd Street” is just a  great tune no matter how you slice it.  Some great comebacks/jabs from Ginger Rogers(as Ann) which I don’t understand but love just the same. Such as, “Must have been tough on your mother not having any children!”. What does that mean?! Who cares, it’s great.

CONS: A lot of the dialogue and wisecracks are overdone, but can be forgiven considering the time.  The Pat & Dorothy storyline isn’t really fleshed out enough and tends to drag down the film.  Warner Baxter’s performance is good but the overbearing nature of it gets annoying after a while, as does Keeler’s naive new girl schtick.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Emanuel over at emanuellevy


Cavalcade_film_poster cavalcade10

FOX – 2hr 30min

DIRECTOR: Frank Lloyd

GENRE: Drama/World War I/ Epic/ Romance

NOTES: Based on the 1931 play by Noël Coward.  Frank Borzage was initially set to direct. Frank Lloyd would win the award for Best Director. • Coward also wrote the songs for the film including the great “Twentieth Century Blues”. • Some of the first swearing in film history!

PROS: Well acted by all. Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook are believable as they “age” over a 33 year time frame.  Margaret Lindsay does a lot with a small role as Edith A down to earth “real talk” that comes from the servant staff.(This is where the swearing comes in.) • The overlap of historical events is fun and reminiscent of Cimarron from a couple years previous.  Gay couples are shown. That must be a first also. Although it is during the decline of civilization segment and some may find this offensive.  I love the song “Twentieth Century Blues”. It was written by Coward and sung beautifully by Ursula Jeans towards the end of the film. Watch it here.

CONS: Too disjointed. You lose track of who’s who and who’s related to who at times.  A really annoying and overly long(I mean, so long it’s funny) montage of war scenes. The footage just keeps repeating in multiple exposures and all these famous themes play over it and it all becomes a cacophony.  Feels more like a play at times than a film(a common problem with adaptations even to this day)


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from James over at reelviews

A Farewell To Arms (1932)

Poster_-_A_Farewell_to_Arms_(1932)_01 4546422905_3480667708_b

Paramount – 1hr 25min

DIRECTOR: Frank Borzage

GENRE: Drama/Romance/good pre-code example

NOTES: Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway.  Allegedly Hemingway wasn’t happy with the film.  Won the Oscar for Best Cinematography(well deserved) and Best Sound.

PROS: The shot compositions, framing and camera movement is some of the best work that I’ve seen from the period. All smoothly choreographed.  Some convincing model work at the beginning and great Art Direction/Set design throughout.  A really cool musical montage(not unlike the one in Cavalcade) involving Cooper’s march and subsequent escape on the way to Milan, which contains German expressionist tinges & along with the music builds in intensity.  A great use of P.O.V. for Cooper’s trip to the hospital.  Helen Hayes is one of the most genuine & natural actresses of this time period.  A surprising amount of references to sex, even considering that this was pre-code.  Adolphe Menjou is a strong actor and maintains a convincing Italian accent throughout. “Baby!”.  Gary Cooper does fine work as well(unless of course you find his limited range annoying; to me that’s where his charm resides).

CONS: The ending is a tad overwrought. Which is a shame because up until that point, the film retained the matter-of-fact nature of Hemingway’s writing.  I’ve never read the book, but I have heard that this film skips along too quickly and doesn’t flesh the characters out well enough(another common objection to film adaptations).


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Paul Bruce over at letterboxd

I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932)

i-am-a-fugitive-from-a-chain-gang-19321 mbdiamm-ec004

Warner Bros. – 1hr 33min

DIRECTOR: Mervyn LeRoy

GENRE: Prison Break/Social Commentary

NOTES: Based on the memoir by Robert E. Burns.  Burns was on the lam when the film was released.  The film caused an uproar aimed at the Georgia chain gang system. So much so that the warden J. Harold Hardy sued Warner Bros.

PROS: Biting critique of the chain gang system & message of how the system itself can actually create criminals.  A look at post traumatic stress before there was a name for it.  Some incredible, evocative lighting for the period.  An exciting escape scene which contains some clever sound design and shot compositions(e.g. hiding in the lake).

CONS: A bit “on the nose” at times. What Burns really wants to do is design & build bridges, and then he gets an office with a direct view of a bridge under construction, and eventually he actually blows up a bridge(and all his hopes and dreams along with it!).


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Robert Beksinki over at letterboxd

Lady For A Day

p11849_p_v8_aa 5676_11_large

Columbia – 1hr 36min

DIRECTOR: Frank Capra

GENRE: Comedy/Inspirational

NOTES: Based on the short story Madame La Gimp by Damon Runyon.  Capra remade the film in 1961 as Pocketful Of Miracles.  To my knowledge, outside of The Big Lebowski(1998) it contains the only other main character in cinematic history to be referred to as “the dude”.

PROS: Strong performances by all, especially May Robson(who was nominated for Best Actress).  Every character has a distinct personality.  An uplifting message of helping individuals helps the community.

CONS: Loses track of Apple Annie in the second half.  Implausible plot(although that should probably be forgiven).


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: over at battleshippretension

Little Women

Little_Women_1933_poster.jpg LittleWomen10

RKO – 1hr 57min

DIRECTOR: George Cukor

GENRE: Drama/Romance

NOTES: Based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott.  The 3rd film adaptation of the book and first sound version.  Remade in 1949, again for TV in 1978, and again on film with Winona Ryder in 1994.

PROS: Katherine Hepburn is all personality and uses it well here.  Lacks a villain which is a nice change.

CONS: Boring shot compositions. The camera is mostly set up straight on for the entirety of the film(I suppose this could be seen as an attempt to capture a pictorial sort of feel as if looking through family photos).  Overly-sentimental.  The sound is overloaded at times.  Very important events take place suddenly and last mere seconds before moving on to the next scene. It plays more like a silent short(only it’s almost 2 hours long) and is a bit disorientating at times.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Mordaunt Hall over at nytimes

The Private Life Of Henry VIII

197709_1020_a 961e301c-a830-4381-8e15-d4e87a870cad-2060x1236

London Films(UK) – 1hr 37min

DIRECTOR: Alexander Korda

GENRE: Comedy/Biopic/Tongue in cheek

NOTES: The first British film to be nominated for Best Picture.  Laughton won the award for Best Actor.  Elsa Lanchester & Laughton were married at the time.

PROS: Charles Laughton. What Robert Newton did for pirates in Treasure Island(1950), Laughton does for kings here. It might be that how we think of king-like behavior today is due more in part to Laughton then to actual historical records.  Lanchester(as Anne of Cleves) turns in a  delightful albeit silly performance. The scene where she plays cards with King Henry is a highlight.

CONS: Limited sets & costumes.  Far too short to cover the historical aspects in any satisfying detail.  Overall silliness despite the serious nature of the true events. I mean, people were getting their heads chopped off let’s not forget!


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cliff Aliperti over at immortalephemera

She Done Him Wrong

She_Done_Him_Wrong-800038272-large thumbnailImage

Paramount – 1hr 6min

DIRECTOR: Lowell Sherman

GENRE: Comedy/good pre-code example

NOTES: Based on Mae West’s 1928 Broadway play Diamond Lil.  Partial credit for the screenplay went to West herself.  This is her first starring role.  Very early appearance of Cary Grant.

PROS: Mae West’s schtick is charming.  Lady Lou doesn’t control the cash flow, but she has all the boys eating out of the palm of her hand. • The fact that Mae West was 39 at the time gives her character the gravitas needed for it to be believable.  Has the feeling of an episode of HBO’s Deadwood(only without the swearing).

CONS: An inconsequential plot which is a bit convoluted and hard to follow.  Bogged down by one too many musical numbers.  Pretty much every thing West says is a clever rejoinder, so it’s probably a good thing that the film is so short.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at pre-code

 Smilin’ Through (1932)

Smilin'_Through_1932_film_poster.jpg smilin03

MGM – 1hr 38min

DIRECTOR: Sidney Franklin

GENRE: Melodrama/Romance/Epic/Mystery/WW1

NOTES: Based on the play by Jane Cowl & Jane Murfin.  Both Norma Shearer and Frederic March perform double roles, which is not uncommon for the period.  What kind of name is “Moonyeen”? According to one website, 1933 was the record high for U.S. babies being named Moonyeen(a whopping 14). Maybe that was due to this film??  There is a silent version from 1922 & a Frank Borzage remake from 1941.

PROS: A great script with some nice moments that feel real and inspired, as opposed to “written”.  Nice opening shot compositions in an ethereal garden.  Heavy subject matter right from the get go.  Shearer is great at playing the infatuated girl. This is a more innocent & playful character then usual for her.  The film tries to cover an epic amount of ideas(war, PSD, love triangles, bitterness, murder, mystery, regret, forgiveness).  One of the best toasts/pick up lines ever: “May you keep as young and as pretty as you are until doomsday and never forget the man who wished it.” Damn. Gonna have to remember that one.  Ralph Forbes as Willy plays the 5th wheel. The good guy who absolutely adores Norma Shearer but who only remains just a friend to her. I really felt for the guy!  Leslie Howard turns in a strong performance with a believable arc.

CONS: Very melodramatic at times. • Norma Shearer fluctuates from down to earth and real to completely overboard, gesticular(is that a word) and silent-screeny(that’s definitely not a word).  The flashback where Shearer and March take on their second roles is a bit too long, especially since we know what happened for the most part.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at pre-code

State Fair

State_Fair_(1933_film)_poster.jpg ayres-gaynor-state-fair

FOX – 1hr 37min

DIRECTOR: Henry King

GENRE: Romantic Comedy

NOTES: Based on the best selling novel by Phil Stong.  Remade(to greater success) in 1945 by Walter Lang with music by Rogers & Hammerstein. Remade again in 1962 by José Ferrer.  Adapted into a successful Broadway musical in 1996.

PROS: Will Rogers is great. His dopey, affable, nonplussed manner is so natural I can’t help but assume that’s how he was in real life.  Nice tracking shots and zooms.  Creative opening credits.  A plotless opening act which feels surprisingly fresh and different from many other films of the 30’s.  Nice authentic family moments such as the children trying to get some privacy from their parents.  The car ride to the fair is fantastic. It’s nice and slow and breathes. Something which you hardly ever get in movies from this era.  The plain & simple dialogue is refreshing.

CONS:  There are some silly jokes.  The sound is poor.  Overall, the lack of conflict makes this one forgettable. But like Little Women(1933), it’s a nice change up to have no villain.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Eric over at letterboxd




Did the Oscars get it right?


Cavalcade is good, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that it’s time spanning, historical event criss-crossing, epic nature wowed audiences at the time. But for me, the most interesting film of this group is I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang. It’s years ahead of it’s time. It’s subject matter is controversial. It’s gritty. It’s more deserving.


Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

American Madness – dir. Frank Capra

Baby Face – dir. Alfred E. Green

The Bitter Tea Of General Yen* – dir. Frank Capra

Bondu Saved From Drowning – dir. Jean Renoir

Bombshell – dir. Victor Fleming

Design For Living – dir. Ernst Lubitsch

Duck Soup – dir. Leo McCarey

Heroes For Sale – dir. William A. Wellman

The Invisible Man – dir. James Whale

The Island Of Lost Souls – dir. Erle C. Kenton

King Kong* –  dir. Merian C. Cooper/Ernest B. Schoedsack

Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan – dir. Luis Buñuel

Liebelei – dir. Max Ophüls

Love Me Tonight – dir. Rouben Mamoulian

Me And My Gal – dir. Raoul Walsh

The Mummy – dir. Karl Freund

The Old Dark House – dir. James Whale

Pilgrimage – dir. John Ford

The Sin Of Nora Moran – dir. Phil Goldstone

Sons Of The Desert – dir. William A. Seiter

The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse – dir. Fritz Lang

Trouble In Paradise – dir. Ernst Lubitsch

Wild Boys Of The Road – dir. William A. Wellman

Zero For Conduct – dir. Jean Vigo

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30  1930/31 1931/32 • 1934  1935 • 1936  2015

Posted in 1930's, Best Pictures | 2 Comments

“Best Pictures” 1931/1932

Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! , I cover the 5th Academy Awards which were held on November 18, 1932 and featured films initially released between August 1, 1931 & July 31, 1932. Those films are:

Arrowsmith (1931)

Arrowsmith_film_poster.jpg arrowsmith3

United Artists – 1hr 48min


GENRE: Dramedy/Medical Achievement

NOTES: Based on the book by Sinclair Lewis. • Allegedly large chunks of the story were left out in order for Ford to hurry the production along and return to his drinking habit(he was banned by the studio from imbibing during the shoot).

PROS: Many funny moments and wry performances from both Arrowsmith(Colman) and Lee(Hayes).  The whole film has a down to earth feel to it. Ford allows the actors to stumble over lines and bump into props.  Dr. Marchand(Clarence Brooks). Here we have a black character without any stereotypes so common at the time. Although as one reviewer points out, it’s a role that’s “more inoffensive than progressive” per se.  Lots of style in the cinematography which has been rare so far in these nominees.  Some gorgeous lighting.  A great “seduction” sequence between Colman and Myrna Loy which takes place with the actors in separate rooms and zero dialogue between them. It’s all suggestion and very stylish.

CONS: Very rushed(possibly for the reason mentioned above). There are many ideas presented in this film but no time whatsoever to explore them. Arrowsmith goes from meeting the girl, to asking her to marry him within seconds… then they move to her parents house… then to New York… then the West Indies; all before you ever feel settled into the movie!  A typical problem with films of this era in that the protagonist has no faults. Colman is pretty slick, but is Arrowsmith supposed to be that slick? I guess I’d need to read the book.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from The Siren over at selfstyledsiren

Bad Girl (1931)

Badgirl_movieposter bad-girl-02-eilers-dunn

FOX – 1hr 30min

DIRECTOR: Frank Borzage

GENRE: Romantic-comedy/Realism/good pre-code example

NOTES: Based on theater adaptation of the book by Vina Delmar • Both title & poster are rather misleading. Even at the time, New York Times’ Mordaunt Hall referred to the title as “strangely unsuitable”.

PROS: Long dialogue scenes that feel spontaneous and real(Edwin J. Burke won the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay).  James Dunn(the personification of Bugs Bunny) in what I believe is his first starring role, impressed audiences at the time with his matter of fact style and lack of melodrama. The parlance of the 30’s comes off as artificial to modern audiences, but it seems to have been a breath of fresh air to contemporary audiences.  Dunn shows some range with a nuanced crying scene.  There are some nice tracking shots early on.  The boxing match scene contains a really funny & inspired moment – Some great shots of Coney Island.  The movie plays with expectations a number of times. I thought I knew what was going to happen and ended up pleasantly surprised.  Martin Scorsese has written about Borzage’s ability to properly convey the act of falling in love. It shows in this film.

CONS: Being adapted from a play, the sets are limited(although one could argue this adds to the interplay between Dunn & Eilers).  A very unrealistic pregnancy but alas, this is the 30’s we’re talking about.  That annoying tendency of couples to ride out an argument to the point of absurdity, when they could simply end it by properly explaining themselves(I suppose this adds to the realism and could bee seen as a “pro”).


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at Pre-Code

The Champ (1931)

The_Champ_poster.jpg thechamp193103gg4

MGM – 1hr 27min

DIRECTOR: King Vidor

GENRE: Sports-Boxing/Sentimental/Father-Son

NOTES: Wallace Beery tied with Frederic March(Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) for Best Actor. March actually received one more vote than Beery, but the rules at the time considered this a tie and both actors received the award.  The first pairing of Cooper & Beery; they would make 3 more films together.  This film kind of saved the aging Beery’s career. Interesting because a similar film from 2008,  The Wrestler was viewed as a career saver for the aging Mickey Rourke.

PROS: Cooper & Beery. Jackie Cooper(the first child star) follows his Best Actor nominated performance in Skippy(the youngest to receive it to this day) with another powerhouse performance. His ability to emote and sustain long takes is so impressive.  Beery is becoming my favorite actor from the 30’s. He’s got that ruggedness and power without ever having to show it. The brute with the soft heart(although apparently in real life Beery could be rather cold) is a common character in film history and it’s safe to say Beery is the prototype.  The chemistry between the two is palpable(whether the result of actual affection for each other or just plain good acting; Cooper claimed Beery didn’t treat him well off-screen).  A great, energetic opening shot. – Some very smooth camera moves, dolly shots.  Cooper’s black friend Jonah(Jesse Scott) is portrayed as just another kid(i.e. no stereotypical “black” mannerisms or pidgin language so common for black actors of the time).  A realistic representation of divorce. Both parents have dealt with the situation as adults and neither are portrayed as “the bad parent”.  There’s a whole history to the family that’s alluded to but never shown.  I love how Vidor keeps the camera at “kid height” with the scenes involving Cooper. A technique Steven Spielberg used effectively in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

CONS: One contemporary review compared it to a silent film, and you get the sense that audiences of the time were tiring of melodrama. It is a bit maudlin at times(especially the end) but in my opinion those types of films go out of fashion and then come back. Classics need time to become classics.  Linda(Irene Rich), the mother, over-acts in my opinion. The most maudlin moments come from her.  The boxing match is basically a slap fight with the film sped up(ugh!!) but credit to Vidor for interjecting some close ups to show the impact of the punches.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Eric & Patrick over at threemoviebuffs

Five Star Final (1931)

Five_Star_Final_1931_poster five-star-final-robinson

First National – 1hr 29min

DIRECTOR: Mervyn LeRoy

GENRE: Journalism drama/Scandal

NOTES: Based on the play by former newspaperman Louis Weitzenkorn. Tabloids were running rampant even back then.  Boris Karloff was weeks away from filming his career defining role in Frankenstein(1931).

PROS: The cynicism is laid on thick which I found to be bold. There are no scruples at this paper. • Edward G. Robinson, known at that point for his gangster roles, fits in perfectly to this role. His anger is palpable and he delivers a great last line.  Aline MacMahon(as Miss Taylor) in her first film plays a convincing dejected lovesick secretary.

CONS: Heavy handed at times and a bit melodramatic(especially the scenes with the parents).  Ends up being too “on the nose” in it’s rebuke of tabloid muck-raking. The Front Page(1931), a film that deals with the same subject, gets the same message across without preaching.  This one could improve with a re-watch.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at Pre-Code

Grand Hotel

GrandHotelFilmPoster GrandHotelHeroImage

MGM – 1hr 52min

DIRECTOR: Edmund Goulding

GENRE: Drama/Ensemble

NOTES: Based on a play adapted from the novel by Vicki Baum.  Contains the famous line from Greta Garbo “I vant to be alone”.  Garbo and Crawford share no scenes most likely due to the worry of the execs.

PROS: A perfect opening scene. A rare overhead dolly shot followed by quick cuts between all the main characters on the phone which introduces them and their plot lines.  Overlapping plots that we see a lot today but not so much back then(In fact the term “Grand Hotel” became synonymous with ensemble pictures.)  The plot twist involving John Barrymore(as the Baron) was surprising.  Joan Crawford is electric in her role.   Beery does a good job playing against type(sorta)  A rather cold last act. Nothing schmaltzy here.  Some great camera play and “equal opportunity” staging.  No one star takes precedent in this film.

CONS: Greta Garbo doesn’t do much for me here. To me, she is over-acting, but maybe she can be forgiven as she was portraying a famous dancer in the film. Movie goers at the time were obsessed with her.  Nothing really competes with that opening act.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at Pre-Code

One Hour With You

One_Hour_With_You OneHourWithYou14

Paramount – 1hr 20min

DIRECTOR: Ernst Lubitsch / George Cukor

GENRE: Musical-Comedy/Love triangle/good pre-code example

NOTES:  Adapted from the play Only A Dream.  A remake of Lubitsch’s silent film The Marriage Circle (1924).  Apparently there was a bit of a power struggle in the Directing department. Some say Lubitsch just slapped his name on Cukor’s film; others that Lubitsch had to come in and save it. The issue of credit was eventually settled in court.  The title song became very popular and was re-recorded many times.

PROS: Very funny. I think most of the jokes would play even in 2016.  Chevalier on display. This would be a great film to introduce someone to the atom bomb of charm that is Maurice.  Chevalier’s running gag of breaking the 4th wall and addressing the audience works every time. He manages, strictly through his charm to implicate you in his infidelity. “What would you do? That’s what I did to?”  It’s official, I have a thing for Jeanette MacDonald. She plays a much stronger character here than she does in The Love Parade.  Charles Ruggles(as Adolph) playing a really sad, pathetic character. He’s hopelessly in love with MacDonald(and who can blame him?).  I was really impressed with Roland Young(as Professor Olivier). He gives a really restrained dignified performance. – Genevieve Tobin as the temptress Mitzi is all sexual energy. Mostly through the use of her eyes.

CONS: As much as I love MacDonald, her soprano singing voice can grate on ya.  Not much in the way of plot.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at Pre-Code

Shanghai Express

Poster - Shanghai Express_03 shanghai_insidetrain

Paramount – 1hr 20min

DIRECTOR: Josef von Sternberg

GENRE: Drama

NOTES: Based on a story Sky Over China by Henry Hervey which in turn was based on an actual event that took place on May 6th, 1923.  The 4th of 7 collaborations between Dietrich and von Sternberg.  Lee Garmes won the Oscar for Best Cinematography. – remade as Night Plane from Chungking(1942) & Peking Express(1951)

PROS: Gorgeous, atmospheric black & white photography(the award was well deserved).  Brilliant set design; the train station and market streets that the Express travels through are always bustling. Von Sternberg arranges the extras foreground, background, and mid to give it all a 3-D effect.  A stunning sequence when the train is commandeered. The soldiers are seen in silhouette projected onto rising steam.  Marlene being Marlene. I am not as wowed by her as some, but her presence is definitely the main attraction here.  Surprisingly violent.  Some great choreography within the confines of the train cars. The sliding window & doors bit with Anna May Wong comes to mind.

CONS: Not much in the way of plot. It’s all a bit too linear. It’s all character introductions for the first 15 minutes or so.  Clive Brook’s performance is on the monotone side.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Wheeler over at sensesofcinema

The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

thesmilinglieutenant THE-SMILING-LIEUTENANT_470x350

Paramount – 1hr 29min

DIRECTOR: Ernst Lubitsch

GENRE: Comedy/Musical/Love Triangle/good pre-code example

NOTES: Based on the operetta Ein Waltzertraum.  Chevalier’s mother had passed away shortly before filming.  This was Paramount’s highest grossing film that year.

PROS: Miriam Hopkins gets to have all the fun and she excels at covering a range of emotions transforming from naive prude to confident sexpot.  A realistic portrayal of sexual attraction.

CONS: There is quite a lull in the middle of the film.  It lacks the energy of the other Chevalier/Lubitsch team ups.  In my opinion, Chevalier doesn’t have the same chemistry with Colbert that he has with MacDonald in The Love ParadeOne Hour With You The songs are forgettable.


BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at Pre-Code



Grand Hotel

Did the Oscars get it right?


Grand Hotel is good and it’s ensemble cast & overlapping plot lines are very fresh for the time, but I am a sucker for The Champ. Some would probably call it “Oscar bait” and the more cynical side of me would scoff at it’s “aww gee that’s swell” nature… but it’s ability to move me despite being over 80 years old shows a timeless quality to the story and is a testament to the power of Cooper & Beery’s performances.



Here are some favorably reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde* – dir. Rouben Mamoulian

Frankenstein* – dir. James Whale

Freaks – dir. Tod Browning

I Was Born, But…” – dir. Yasujiro Ozu

Comradeship – dir. G.W. Papst

Mädchen in Uniform – dir. Leontine Sagan

The Miracle Woman – dir. Frank Capra

Monkey Business – dir. Norman Z. McLeod

À Nous la Liberté – dir. René Clair

Platinum Blonde – dir. Frank Capra

Scarface – dir. Howard Hawks

Street Scene – dir. King Vidor

Tarzan The Ape Man – dir. W. S. Van Dyke

Vampyr – dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer

MY OTHER REVIEWS: 1929/30  1930/31 • 1932/33 • 1934  1935 • 1936  2015


Posted in 1930's, Best Pictures | 2 Comments