“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

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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.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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

Cleopatra

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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.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

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

Flirtation Walk

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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.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Over at filmfanatic.org

The Gay Divorcee

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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.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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

Here Comes The Navy

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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??

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Kevin over at kevinsmoviecorner

The House Of Rothschild

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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.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

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.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Marilyn Ferdinand over at ferdyonfilms

It Happened One Night

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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.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

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

One Night Of Love

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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.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

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.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

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

Viva Villa!

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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.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

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

The White Parade*

The White Parade

FOX – 1hr 20min*

DIRECTOR: Irving Cummings

GENRE:

NOTES:

*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.

PROS:

CONS:

REWATCHABILITY:

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

 

WHAT WON?

It-Happened-4.jpg

It Happened One Night

Did the Oscars get it right?

YES!

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.

SNUBS?

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 •  2015

 

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“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

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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.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Emanuel over at emanuellevy

Cavalcade

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)

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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).

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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!).

REWATCHABILITY: 4/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Robert Beksinki over at letterboxd

Lady For A Day

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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).

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

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!

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

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.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Eric over at letterboxd

WHAT WON?

8578_1.jpg

Cavalcade

Did the Oscars get it right?

NO!

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 1933 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.

SNUBS?

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

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 • 2015

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“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

DIRECTOR: John Ford

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.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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”).

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

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.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

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.

REWATCHABILITY:  2/4

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.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

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.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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

WHAT WON?

GrandHotel1.png

Grand Hotel

Did the Oscars get it right?

NO!

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.

 

SNUBS?

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 • 2015

 

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“Best Pictures” 1930/1931

Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! , I cover the 4th Academy Awards which were held on November 10, 1931 and featured films initially released between August 1, 1930 & July 31, 1931. Those films are:

Cimarron

Cimarron_(1931_film)_poster Cimarron-gunned-down

RKO – 2hr 4min

DIRECTOR: Wesley Ruggles

GENRE: Western/Epic

NOTES: Based on the novel by Edna Ferber.  RKO spent $1.5 million dollars in the midst of the Great Depression.  The sets built in Encino, CA for old Osage were left up and used by RKO for many other Western films.

PROS: Iconic opening scene of a land rush with thousands of extras riding horses, wagons, carts, penny-farthing’s, etc. There are also some funny visual gags in this scene.  The set design of Osage, especially as shown in the boomtown days is lush and busy with every inch of the frame filled with detail. It feels much more authentic compared to the typical lazy empty streets you see in many westerns of the period.  A pretty exciting gun fight. • Neat to see the progression of Osage; from lean-up’s to skyscrapers within the span of two hours(this was the big appeal for audiences in 1931).  The posters for this movie all kick ass!

CONS: Yancey Cravat(Richard Dix) is intolerable. He’s perfect at everything and I am not sure if he was intended to be viewed as a suffering saint, but he comes off as condescending and just plain annoying!!  Episodic to a fault.  A lot of casual racism. Some may say this is just due to the time in which it is made, but when you compare this film with even something like Trader Horn(also nominated this year) it’s approach to black characters looks downright absurd. The first time we see the young servant Isaiah(Eugene Jackson) he’s hanging from a chandalier fanning the family who are sitting at the dinner table!  Irene Dunne’s old makeup at the end of the movie actually makes her appear younger!  The sound is atrocious. I actually had to turn the subtitles on.  Maybe the film is supposed to be viewed as satire and we are just missing the point. Critics loved it at the time which I can only assume was because of the epic decade spanning story.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

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

East Lynne*

eastlynne Anne_Harding_Clive_Brook_East_Lynne_1931

FOX – 1hr 42min

DIRECTOR: Frank Lloyd

GENRE: Drama

NOTES: Based on the classic novel by Ellen Wood.  The only complete print of this film(with a running time of 102 minutes) 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.

*The version I am reviewing was missing the last 12 minutes.

PROS: Ann Harding gives a steady, controlled performance. There are moments with her child where she appears to be improvising(a moment with a donkey standing on her dress comes to mind) and she comes off as totally believable and candid as if we are suddenly viewing  home movies.  Really all the performances are strong.  Nice set design within the mansion & some quaint exterior shots filmed on location.  A couple sudden moments that I am sure were quite shocking to the audience of that time.

CONS: An overly tragic plot that would become the type of thing now seen on TV Soap Operas.  Some goofy music at times.  Despite a strong “stand up for herself” moment, Harding’s character almost immediately reverts back to the “I’ll do anything you want me to” woman, which is a common reversal seen in movies of that era.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

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

The Front Page

The_Front_Page_(1931_film)_poster (From left) Pat O'Brien, Adolphe Menjou, Effie Ellsler, & Mauric

United Artists – 1hr 41min

DIRECTOR: Lewis Milestone

GENRE: Comedy/Ensemble/good pre-code example

NOTES: Based on a 1928 smash hit Broadway play of the same name which was written by two former reporters. • Remade into the more well known and critically acclaimed film from 1940, called His Girl Friday• Developed into a short running TV series for CBS and remade again in 1974 by Billy Wilder to serve as a Walter Matthau/Jack Lemmon vehicle.

PROS: Creative opening credits.  Great rapid-fire, edgy dialogue which has since become synonymous with movies of the 1930’s & 40’s. Many cite His Girl Friday(1940) as the best film iteration of the play, but they shouldn’t overlook this first attempt. There’s a layer of grit over this whole film that you won’t find in the later versions  Speaking of grit & edge, it’s borderline nihilistic at times! The way the guys treat the prostitute Molly Malloy(Mae Clark), lot’s of almost-swearing(the movie ends on a well placed curse), and even the bird getting flipped highlight the fact that this was made pre Hays code.  Fantastic camera movement. 98.7% of the film takes place in the Press Room of the Criminal Courts Building and yet you never feel bored of it because of the creative use of the camera. There are scenes with multiple characters sitting around a table as the camera tracks around them in a continuous circle. Actors lean in and out of frame timed to the camera moves. It reminded me a bit of the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs(1992). Quentin Tarantino has cited His Girl Friday as one of his favorite films but I wonder if he’s seen this one?(He probably has)  Inventive camera angles. Speaking of Tarantino, this film might be the origin of the “trunk-shot“… although in this case it’s the “roll-top desk-shot”.  The plot really keeps you on your toes.  Adolphe Menjou as the editor Mr. Burns is great. He was nominated for Best Actor that year.

CONS: Loses a little bit of steam in the second half.  The sound is pretty muddled, which makes it difficult to hear, especially since so many people are talking at the same time. Hopefully this was remedied in the restored Kino Classics blu-ray edition that came out recently.  Pat O’Brien’s voice starts to grate on ya after a while…  but maybe it’s just me.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

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

Skippy (1930)

Skippy-1931 skippy-coogan

Paramount – 1hr 25min

DIRECTOR: Norman Taurog

GENRE: Comedy/Drama

NOTES: Based on the highly popular comic strip of the same name by Percy Crosby(which was an influence on Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts).  Crosby allegedly didn’t care for this film.  Jackie Cooper(age 9 at the time) remains the youngest person ever nominated for Best Actor.  For Skippy, Cooper was on loan from Hal Roach studios. He was under contract making Our Gang shorts(what would later become The Little Rascals)  The story behind a crucial crying scene is one of Hollywood legend.  Despite his arguably sadistic techniques, Taurog won Best Director that year.

PROS: Jackie Cooper’s performance. He has the confidence, control and ability to emote(even despite cruel trickery from the director) that many adult actors would wish for.  Robert Coogan as Sooky. The fact that he struggles with most of his lines(so much so that he falls down at one point!) and yet Taurog allows for it, is really where the charm of this film emanates from. Letting kids be kids adds to the realism too.  Despite it’s light-heartedness there is some social commentary below the surface.  The set design of “Shanty Town” is gritty and feels lived-in.  A hard dose of reality in the middle of the film that is surprisingly moving almost 90 years later.

CONS: Despite great lines like “ahh yer full of prunes” and “I’ll paste ya one!”, the dialogue is a bit on the artificial side and could be a annoying for the less patient viewer or someone unacquainted with the dialogue of the 1930’s.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Russell over at screensnapshots

Trader Horn

Trader_Horn_(1931_film)_poster screen-capture

MGM – 2hr 2min

DIRECTOR: W.S. Van Dyke

GENRE: Jungle Adventure/Documentary

NOTES: The first film(non-documentary) shot on location in Africa(although a few scenes were shot on set).  Based on the book by the real life Alfred Aloysius “Trader” Horn.  Edwina Booth would end up suing MGM because she contracted malaria while shooting. The lawsuit basically put her on the outs with the studios and she would only make a few more films before retiring.

PROS: Shot on location which it gives it an air of authenticity rare for the time.  Fast paced cutting in the first half of the film really propels the story along.  The use of actual natives as opposed to white guys with painted faces. • Gritty; i.e. nudity, blood, dead bodies, animal attacks, actual hunting kills(or so it seemed), torture, etc.  Some occasionally impressive use of rear projection and matte paintings.  Harry Carey Sr. plays the grizzled hunter role convincingly.

CONS: The movie as a whole is a bit boring. (I am sure that all the African footage was more of a spectacle in 1931 though)  An overlong “name that animal” segment smack dab in the middle of the film. Every African animal you can think of seemingly just happen to all be within the same acre of land that Horn(Carey Sr.) & Peru(Duncan Renaldo)stroll through. Horn provides the name for each one they see. Just when you think they couldn’t possibly see another animal, Horn points and says “and there’s a [name’s animal] .” He also provides little tidbits for each animal and corrects Peru on common misconceptions. The whole thing borders on comical as it just keeps going on and on. Even Peru remarks on the luck of having all the animals in such close proximity of each other!  Despite some good rear projection, there is also some pretty shoddy instances of it.  An overuse of speeding up the film for pacing and energy. Sped up film never looks good and I can’t believe anyone thought it ever did!

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from El Santo over at 1000misspenthours

WHAT WON?

Cimarron1.png

Cimarron

 

Did the Oscars get it right?

NO!

Cimarron is just not very good. At the time it was seen by some as the best picture ever made!! But in this humble viewer’s opinion, The Front Page is the clear winner of this lot. It’s funny, it’s slick, it’s gritty, it’s good!

And if foreign films would have been permitted a nomination that year, my vote might even go to Fritz Lang’s first sound picture M, which is a very honest & early portrayal of a psychopath(played by Peter Lorre) not as a monster, but as human being who is sick.

SNUBS?

Here are some favorably reviewed films which were eligible that year but 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:

L’Age d’Or – dir. Luis Buñuel

Animal Crackers – dir. Victor Heerman

The Big Trail – dir. Raoul Walsh

Das Blaue Engel – dir. Josef von Sternberg

City Lights* – dir. Charles Chaplin

The Criminal Code – dir. Howard Hawks

Dishonored – dir. Josef von Sternberg

Dracula* – dir. Tod Browning

A Free Soul* – dir. Clarence Brown

Little Caesar – dir. Melvyn LeRoy

M* – dir. Fritz Lang

Le Million  – René Clair

Morocco – dir. Josef von Sternberg

Other Men’s Women – dir. William A. Wellman

The Public Enemy – dir. William A. Wellman

Rich And Strange – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Tabu – dir. F.W. Murnau

The Threepenny Opera – dir. G.W. Pabst

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

Posted in 1930's, Best Pictures | 1 Comment

“Best Pictures” 1929/1930

This is the first entry on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! This entry covers the 5 nominees for the 3rd Annual Academy Awards ceremony which took place on November 5th 1930 and featured films initially released between August 1, 1929 and July 31 1930. Those films are:

All Quiet On The Western Front

5903678_orig All Quiet - screen

Universal – 2hr 32min

DIRECTOR: Lewis Milestone

GENRE: War/WW1

NOTES: Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque. • Lewis Milestone won Best Director for his efforts.

PROS: Incredible battle scenes complete with gore and documentary-esque camera angles. A precursor to Saving Private Ryan and many others.  Poetic imagery that would be maudlin if it weren’t so affective.  An anti-war message that feels progressive even today.  Louis Wolheim(as “Katsczinksy”) really shines.

CONS: Strange acting choices from the lead, Lew Ayres.  Melodramatic to the max.

REWATCHABILITY: 4/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Leonard Maltin over on YouTube

The Big House

The Big House-poster.jpeg The Big House-screen

MGM – 1hr 27min

DIRECTOR: George Hill

GENRE: Prison Flick/Revenge/Corruption of Justice

NOTES: The screen writer Frances Marion paid several visits to a prison and interviewed inmates in order to make the dialogue and details as accurate as possible. She won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

PROS: Wallace Beery is just flat-out awesome! I can’t watch him without thinking of the gangsters on Looney Tunes. He’s totally believable as a murdering convict and yet you are drawn to his loyal quality and code of ethics. In my opinion he should have won Best Actor  Some smooth camera moves and nice pre-Kubrick-esque framing at times.  A nice turn for Chester Morris here who I found to be pretty hammy in The Divorcee that year.  A stuttering comedic inmate. Stuttering characters seemed to be all the rage in the 30’s. It’s no wonder then how Porky Pig emerged(speaking of Looney Tunes) • A pretty critical look at the prison system and it’s flaws.

CONS: The face-off at the end is an impressive display of early sound design but ultimately an editing mess and a bit over the top.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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

Disraeli (1929)

Disraeli-poster Disraeli-screen

Warner Bros. – 1hr 27min

DIRECTOR: Alfred E. Green

GENRE: Biography/Slice of Life/Stage to Screen

NOTES: This was George Arliss’ 4th turn at portraying Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. All versions are based on the stage play which Arliss originally performed on Broadway in 1911. He reprised the role for the play’s revival in 1917, and also for the silent film version in 1921.

PROS: George Arliss is an old pro and it shows. A charming and witty performance.

CONS: Pretty boring. It’s basically the play transferred to the screen.  The camera remains static the entire time as the majority of the film takes place in a drawing room.   Without any real knowledge of Benjamin Disraeli this becomes a watch simply to attend to one’s completist tendencies.

REWATCHABILITY: 1/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Edward Copeland over at eddieonfilm

The Divorcee

The Divorcee-poster2935652473_8e90476fa7

MGM – 1hr 24min

DIRECTOR: Robert Z. Leonard

GENRE: Romantic Drama/Scandal/good pre-code example

NOTES: Based on the book Ex-wife by Ursula Parrott. • Norma Shearer won Best Actress for her performance here.

PROS: Norma Shearer… grrrr. Lots of pre-code-ness e.g., blasé attitude to divorce, revenge sex, drunk driving,etc.  Some nice understated moments like a certain missed phone call and the whole “playing the field” montage towards the end.

CONS: Lots of schmaltzy dialogue.  Generally overacted.

REWATCHABILITY: 2/4

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

The Love Parade (1929)

The Love Parade-poster the love parade

Paramount – 1hr 47min

DIRECTOR: Ernst Lubitsch

GENRE: Musical-Comedy/good pre-code example

NOTES: Adapted from the French play Le Prince Consort.  A film of firsts: Lubtisch’s first “talkie” and his first musical(obviously). Quite possibly the first musical(at least how we think of them today). Jeanette MacDonald’s first film and her first of four pairings with Chevalier.

PROS: Funny! In that Marx Brothers screwball, breaking the 4th wall kinda way.(The Marx Brothers’ first film, The Cocoanuts came out this year as well)  Jeanette & Maurice have great chemistry. She has a certain “down to earth” quality that I kinda fell in love with and Chevalier is one charming bastard even at a young age.  Lupino Lane and Lilian Roth as the “common couple” show off their impressive physicality in their musical numbers.  Lubitsch’s command of sound, in his first sound picture no less, is possibly the most surprising aspect of this film. Feature length sound pictures had only been around for a little under 2 years. Sound effects, synchronized singing on separate sets(filmed simultaneously!) and an overall clarity make this film one of the earliest triumphs of the new technology.

CONS: Slows down considerably in the 2nd half  The Queen(MacDonald) has quite the reversal at the end, basically losing all her strength which she carried through the whole movie. It is intentional and probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously given the light-hearted nature of the film. Those types of reversals are also common during this period.

REWATCHABILITY: 3/4

BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Owen Erasmus over at Letterboxd

 WHAT WON?

All Quiet On The Western Front

All Quiet On The Western Front

Did the Oscars get it right?

YES!

As much as I loved The Love Parade(get it?), All Quiet On The Western Front is really far and above it and miles above the other films. Both in it’s message which is loftier, and it’s imagery which is still affective 86 years later. Despite some clunky acting it truly set the bar for battle scenes and contains almost every trope you’ve come to expect from a war film.

SNUBS?

Here are some favorably reviewed films which were eligible that year but 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:

Applause* – dir. Rouben Mamoulian

The Bat Whispers – dir. Roland West

Blackmail* – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Bulldog Drummond – dir. F. Richard Jones

City Girl – dir. F.W. Murnau

The Cocoanuts – dir. Robert Florey/Joseph Saintly

The Dawn Patrol – dir. Howard Hawks

Earth* – dir. Alexander Dovzhenko

Hallelujah! – dir. King Vidor

Ladies Of Leisure – dir. Frank Capra

Lucky Star – dir. Frank Borzage

Murder! – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Pandora’s Box* – dir. G.W. Pabst

People On Sunday – dir. Robert Siodmak/Curt Siodmak

Under The Roofs Of Paris – dir. René Clair

The White Hell Of Pitz Palu – dir. Arnold Fanck/G.W. Pabst

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

Posted in 1930's, Best Pictures | 1 Comment

My Journey Through the “Best Pictures”

osc-banner_statuette
I am attempting to watch all of the films that have ever been nominated for Best Picture. Why? Because I’m one pathetic loser that’s why.

And also I love cinema!! I don’t put too much stock in the Academy however, seeing as how many of my favorite films have lost the award or been simply snubbed altogether. The point of all this is to see how many times, at least upon my estimation, the Academy got it right(or wrong). And also, obviously, to see more films. (And also because I have nothing better to do.)

As of January 2016, there’s been 520 films nominated for Best Picture, dating back to 1927(523 if you count the “Unique & Artistic Production” category that was discarded after the debut award ceremony). By last tally, I’ve seen 141 of those films or a paltry 27%.

[1-14-16 EDIT] The nominations are in for the 2016 award ceremony so make that total 528(531 if you’re a nerd like me).

I’ve decided to tackle the decade of the 1930’s first because that’s the decade of which I’ve seen the LEAST number of nominated films(honestly, like maybe 2 0r 3). So I’ll start with the nominees from the 1929/30 ceremony and continue on down the line until I reach 1940. I may jump to a different decade at that point or I may stick with the 40’s. Who knows? (And who cares?)

For each year, I’ll watch the WINNING picture last, in order to decide for myself if it is indeed superior to the others. I may even watch some of the films which didn’t garner a nomination.

I’ll be back later to give my reviews(I gotta watch the damn things for damn sakes) for each film and my final verdict. Quick links below:

1929/1930

1930/1931

1931/1932

2015

 

Posted in 1930's, Best Pictures | 3 Comments

“That’s what it means…”

On April 4th 2009, a debate took place between the Christian Philosopher/Theologian William Lane Craig and the late Atheist Author/Journalist Christopher Hitchens at Biola University. The topic of that night’s debate was “Does God Exist?” After an hour and twenty minutes the two speakers ended their remarks to the crowd and entered into a cross-examination period. Craig was given the first turn and stated:

“Let’s talk first about whether there are any good arguments to think that Atheism is true. Now it seems to me that you’re rather ambivalent here that you say – you redefine Atheism to mean a sort of ah-theism or non- theism…”

Off-camera Hitchens interjects:

“That’s what it means.”

Amongst certain YouTube commentators(and some atheist friends of mine) this is viewed as Hitchens scoring a point in his own favor. They will laugh and say something along the lines of “Craig doesn’t even know what the word means”.

So, is Craig confused here? Does atheism simply mean non-theism as Hitchens contends?

Definitions

Atheism: “the belief that there is no God or gods”. This is the standard definition of the word and it’s the definition that Craig holds to.

Hitchens on the other hand, wants to hold to version of atheism as “a lack of belief”. As he says later:

“[Atheism is]not in itself a belief or a system.”

This is why Craig says that Hitchens has redefined the word. Hitchens doesn’t think atheism is a ‘belief’ at all. Rather he contends that non-theism is equivalent to atheism. So if Theism=”belief in God” then atheism(on Hitchens view)=”no belief in God.” Another way to say that one has “no belief in God” is to say that one simply “lacks belief in God”.

Craig is correct in calling this a redefinition and making a distinction between Atheism and a-theism or non-theism. Because Atheism has never meant simply a-theism. The etymology of atheism is “a” and “theos” which are Greek for “without” and “god”. But the etymology of a word doesn’t necessarily give you it’s definition. For instance your salary doesn’t have anything to do with salt(sal is the Latin word for salt). And anyway if we were going by the etymology of “atheism” it would just mean “without God” not “without BELIEF in God”.

It’s true, some dictionaries(especially online) will show atheism to mean,

1. The disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.

But ‘lack of belief’ is a fairly recent addition. There is a history to this. For example, in the late 20th century certain Atheist philosophers like Antony Flew put forth what is called the Presumption of Atheism:

What I want to examine is the contention that the debate about the existence of God should properly begin from the presumption of atheism, that the onus of proof must lie upon the theist.
The word ‘atheism’, however, has…to be construed unusually[emphasis mine]. Whereas nowadays the usual meaning of ‘atheist’ in English is ‘someone who asserts that there is no such being as God’, I want the word to be understood not positively but negatively. I want the originally Greek prefix ‘a’ to be read in the same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is read in such other Greco-English words as ‘amoral’, ‘atypical’, and ‘asymmetrical’. In this interpretation an atheist becomes: not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God; but someone who is simply not a theist. Let us, for future ready reference, introduce the labels ‘positive atheist’ for the former and ‘negative atheist’ for the latter.(God, Freedom and Immortality: A Critical Analysis, by Antony Flew [Prometheus Books, 1984], “The Presumption of Atheism”)

Clearly atheism has not always meant “lack of belief”(for Flew wouldn’t have needed to explain it!). For a succinct analysis on why “lack of belief” is a poor definition of atheism and why as an atheist(if you are one) you shouldn’t apply it to yourself, see this article (written by an atheist no less!)

…it does not therefore exist.

What gets ignored by the aforementioned YouTube commentators is what immediately follows Hitchens’ quick “that’s what it means” remark. Craig obviously doesn’t agree that “non-theism” equates to “lack of belief” so he wants to clarify just what it is that Hitchens means by atheism:

“…but how do you distinguish then, the different varieties of non-theism, for example, what is normally called atheism, agnosticism or the view of verificationists that the statement ‘God exists’ is simply meaningless?”

Hitchens concedes that “there are different schools of atheism” and it is here that he begins to vacillate between definitions:

“There is no claim I know how to make that says ‘atheism is true’ because atheism is the statement that ‘a certain proposition isn’t true’.”

Ok, well, what is that ‘certain proposition’?

It must be the proposition: ‘God exists’. For that is the proposition that the Theist affirms. Now, if that proposition(God exists) isn’t true, then that means that the statement “God does not exist” is true, for they are logically equivalent statements.

In other words,
Theism=true if Atheism is false.
Atheism=true if Thesim is false.

If one is true, the other must necessarily be false.

Clearly this is no longer just a ‘lack of belief’, but the assertion of a statement. And a statement is either true or false.

So Hitchens by his own definition, has committed himself(despite his intentions) to Craig’s standard view of Atheism i.e., asserting “God does not exist”. Hitchens has to admit now that atheism is a viewpoint, and like Theism, it requires justification.

However Craig doesn’t ask for justification at this point. Rather he grants Hitchens some options in order to clarify just what view he holds to:

“[Your defintion] really embodies a diversity of views such as agnosticism, what is normally called atheism, or this verificationism. Now, which of those do you hold to within this umbrella of a-theism? Are you an atheist who asserts the proposition “God does not exist” or do you simply withhold belief in God in the way that the agnostic does?”

You’ll notice in the video that Hitchens doesn’t answer the question and Craig has to prod him three times for a response. In my opinion, Hitchens is stalling for time. By the set rules of the cross-examination period, Craig only has six minutes to ask any and all questions before Hitchens has the floor.

After some irrelevant time-wasting remarks about Thomas Huxley, Hitchens says he finds agnosticism to be “evasive”. Ok so he’s not an agnostic. Got it.

Then he calls certain religious claims “meaningless”, “white noise” and “gibberish”. Ok, so maybe he’s a verificationist?

But then after the third prodding from Craig, Hitchens says this:

“I think once I have said that I’ve never seen any persuasive evidence for the existence in something, and I’ve made real attempts to study the evidence presented and the arguments presented, that I will go as far as to say, have the nerve to say, that it does not therefore exist…”

“It(i.e. God) does not therefore exist.” That statement is either true or false. This is definitely not just a lack of belief.

So Craig makes the fair move at this point and asks Hitchens if he has “any arguments leading to the conclusion God does not exist?” To which Hitchens replies “I’d rather state it in reverse and say I find all the arguments in favor to be fallacious or unconvincing.” And later he says that there seems to be a “lack of magnificence” in the evidence for God. What exactly constitutes as “magnificent” as far as evidence is concerned? Hitchens doesn’t say.

To me this is just Agnosticism trying to dress up as Atheism. I agree with Craig who points out on a podcast(which I encourage you to listen to as it accompanies the article from above):

“…it is possible for a person to have a lack of belief that God exists without being an atheist..One can suspend belief or be in a state of uncertainty about one’s belief in God’s existence, but that shouldn’t be called atheism. That should be called agnosticism. The atheist is one who believes that God does not exist. The theist believes that God exists. It is only the agnostic who fails to have a settled belief about those propositions.” [Reasonable Faith Podcast “The definition that will not die!”, on 4-6-2014]

At this point, the agnostic might make the last ditch effort to retain the ‘atheist’ tag by calling themselves an “agnostic atheist”. But this would require yet another redefinition of terms.

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