“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 • 1937 • 1938 1939 • 1970 2015


This entry was posted in 1930's, Best Pictures. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Best Pictures” 1931/1932

  1. Pingback: My Journey Through the “Best Pictures” | janterrirocks

  2. Pingback: “Best Pictures” 2015 | janterrirocks

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