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:
Warner Bros. – 1hr 29min
NOTES: Based on the (rare)novel by Bradford Ropes. • Ruby Keeler(who portrays Peggy Sawyer) was Al Jolson’s wife at the time.
PROS: The last 20 minutes are innovative and genre-defining. The whole film overall may define Depression-Era films • Efficient pacing. • Some clever visual gags(like the bit with a model stage and some funny business in the background of a boarding house to name a couple). • The musical numbers at the end are fantastic. The staging for “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” is incredible & “42nd Street” is just a great tune no matter how you slice it. • Some great comebacks/jabs from Ginger Rogers(as Ann) which I don’t understand but love just the same. Such as, “Must have been tough on your mother not having any children!”. What does that mean?! Who cares, it’s great.
CONS: A lot of the dialogue and wisecracks are overdone, but can be forgiven considering the time. • The Pat & Dorothy storyline isn’t really fleshed out enough and tends to drag down the film. • Warner Baxter’s performance is good but the overbearing nature of it gets annoying after a while, as does Keeler’s naive new girl schtick.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Emanuel over at emanuellevy
FOX – 2hr 30min
DIRECTOR: Frank Lloyd
GENRE: Drama/World War I/ Epic/ Romance
NOTES: Based on the 1931 play by Noël Coward. • Frank Borzage was initially set to direct. Frank Lloyd would win the award for Best Director. • Coward also wrote the songs for the film including the great “Twentieth Century Blues”. • Some of the first swearing in film history!
PROS: Well acted by all. Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook are believable as they “age” over a 33 year time frame. • Margaret Lindsay does a lot with a small role as Edith. • A down to earth “real talk” that comes from the servant staff.(This is where the swearing comes in.) • The overlap of historical events is fun and reminiscent of Cimarron from a couple years previous. • Gay couples are shown. That must be a first also. Although it is during the decline of civilization segment and some may find this offensive. • I love the song “Twentieth Century Blues”. It was written by Coward and sung beautifully by Ursula Jeans towards the end of the film. Watch it here.
CONS: Too disjointed. You lose track of who’s who and who’s related to who at times. • A really annoying and overly long(I mean, so long it’s funny) montage of war scenes. The footage just keeps repeating in multiple exposures and all these famous themes play over it and it all becomes a cacophony. • Feels more like a play at times than a film(a common problem with adaptations even to this day)
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from James over at reelviews
A Farewell To Arms (1932)
Paramount – 1hr 25min
DIRECTOR: Frank Borzage
GENRE: Drama/Romance/good pre-code example
NOTES: Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. • Allegedly Hemingway wasn’t happy with the film. • Won the Oscar for Best Cinematography(well deserved) and Best Sound.
PROS: The shot compositions, framing and camera movement is some of the best work that I’ve seen from the period. All smoothly choreographed. • Some convincing model work at the beginning and great Art Direction/Set design throughout. • A really cool musical montage(not unlike the one in Cavalcade) involving Cooper’s march and subsequent escape on the way to Milan, which contains German expressionist tinges & along with the music builds in intensity. • A great use of P.O.V. for Cooper’s trip to the hospital. • Helen Hayes is one of the most genuine & natural actresses of this time period. • A surprising amount of references to sex, even considering that this was pre-code. • Adolphe Menjou is a strong actor and maintains a convincing Italian accent throughout. “Baby!”. • Gary Cooper does fine work as well(unless of course you find his limited range annoying; to me that’s where his charm resides).
CONS: The ending is a tad overwrought. Which is a shame because up until that point, the film retained the matter-of-fact nature of Hemingway’s writing. • I’ve never read the book, but I have heard that this film skips along too quickly and doesn’t flesh the characters out well enough(another common objection to film adaptations).
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Paul Bruce over at letterboxd
Warner Bros. – 1hr 33min
DIRECTOR: Mervyn LeRoy
GENRE: Prison Break/Social Commentary
NOTES: Based on the memoir by Robert E. Burns. • Burns was on the lam when the film was released. • The film caused an uproar aimed at the Georgia chain gang system. So much so that the warden J. Harold Hardy sued Warner Bros.
PROS: Biting critique of the chain gang system & message of how the system itself can actually create criminals. • A look at post traumatic stress before there was a name for it. • Some incredible, evocative lighting for the period. • An exciting escape scene which contains some clever sound design and shot compositions(e.g. hiding in the lake).
CONS: A bit “on the nose” at times. What Burns really wants to do is design & build bridges, and then he gets an office with a direct view of a bridge under construction, and eventually he actually blows up a bridge(and all his hopes and dreams along with it!).
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Robert Beksinki over at letterboxd
Columbia – 1hr 36min
DIRECTOR: Frank Capra
NOTES: Based on the short story Madame La Gimp by Damon Runyon. • Capra remade the film in 1961 as Pocketful Of Miracles. • To my knowledge, outside of The Big Lebowski(1998) it contains the only other main character in cinematic history to be referred to as “the dude”.
PROS: Strong performances by all, especially May Robson(who was nominated for Best Actress). • Every character has a distinct personality. • An uplifting message of helping individuals helps the community.
CONS: Loses track of Apple Annie in the second half. • Implausible plot(although that should probably be forgiven).
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: over at battleshippretension
RKO – 1hr 57min
DIRECTOR: George Cukor
PROS: Katherine Hepburn is all personality and uses it well here. • Lacks a villain which is a nice change.
CONS: Boring shot compositions. The camera is mostly set up straight on for the entirety of the film(I suppose this could be seen as an attempt to capture a pictorial sort of feel as if looking through family photos). • Overly-sentimental. • The sound is overloaded at times. • Very important events take place suddenly and last mere seconds before moving on to the next scene. It plays more like a silent short(only it’s almost 2 hours long) and is a bit disorientating at times.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Mordaunt Hall over at nytimes
London Films(UK) – 1hr 37min
DIRECTOR: Alexander Korda
GENRE: Comedy/Biopic/Tongue in cheek
NOTES: The first British film to be nominated for Best Picture. • Laughton won the award for Best Actor. • Elsa Lanchester & Laughton were married at the time.
PROS: Charles Laughton. What Robert Newton did for pirates in Treasure Island(1950), Laughton does for kings here. It might be that how we think of king-like behavior today is due more in part to Laughton then to actual historical records. • Lanchester(as Anne of Cleves) turns in a delightful albeit silly performance. The scene where she plays cards with King Henry is a highlight.
CONS: Limited sets & costumes. • Far too short to cover the historical aspects in any satisfying detail. • Overall silliness despite the serious nature of the true events. I mean, people were getting their heads chopped off let’s not forget!
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cliff Aliperti over at immortalephemera
Paramount – 1hr 6min
DIRECTOR: Lowell Sherman
GENRE: Comedy/good pre-code example
NOTES: Based on Mae West’s 1928 Broadway play Diamond Lil. • Partial credit for the screenplay went to West herself. • This is her first starring role. • Very early appearance of Cary Grant.
PROS: Mae West’s schtick is charming. • Lady Lou doesn’t control the cash flow, but she has all the boys eating out of the palm of her hand. • The fact that Mae West was 39 at the time gives her character the gravitas needed for it to be believable. • Has the feeling of an episode of HBO’s Deadwood(only without the swearing).
CONS: An inconsequential plot which is a bit convoluted and hard to follow. • Bogged down by one too many musical numbers. • Pretty much every thing West says is a clever rejoinder, so it’s probably a good thing that the film is so short.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at pre-code
Smilin’ Through (1932)
MGM – 1hr 38min
DIRECTOR: Sidney Franklin
NOTES: Based on the play by Jane Cowl & Jane Murfin. • Both Norma Shearer and Frederic March perform double roles, which is not uncommon for the period. • What kind of name is “Moonyeen”? According to one website, 1933 was the record high for U.S. babies being named Moonyeen(a whopping 14). Maybe that was due to this film?? • There is a silent version from 1922 & a Frank Borzage remake from 1941.
PROS: A great script with some nice moments that feel real and inspired, as opposed to “written”. • Nice opening shot compositions in an ethereal garden. • Heavy subject matter right from the get go. • Shearer is great at playing the infatuated girl. This is a more innocent & playful character then usual for her. • The film tries to cover an epic amount of ideas(war, PSD, love triangles, bitterness, murder, mystery, regret, forgiveness). • One of the best toasts/pick up lines ever: “May you keep as young and as pretty as you are until doomsday and never forget the man who wished it.” Damn. Gonna have to remember that one. • Ralph Forbes as Willy plays the 5th wheel. The good guy who absolutely adores Norma Shearer but who only remains just a friend to her. I really felt for the guy! • Leslie Howard turns in a strong performance with a believable arc.
CONS: Very melodramatic at times. • Norma Shearer fluctuates from down to earth and real to completely overboard, gesticular(is that a word) and silent-screeny(that’s definitely not a word). • The flashback where Shearer and March take on their second roles is a bit too long, especially since we know what happened for the most part.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at pre-code
FOX – 1hr 37min
DIRECTOR: Henry King
GENRE: Romantic Comedy
NOTES: Based on the best selling novel by Phil Stong. • Remade(to greater success) in 1945 by Walter Lang with music by Rogers & Hammerstein. Remade again in 1962 by José Ferrer. • Adapted into a successful Broadway musical in 1996.
PROS: Will Rogers is great. His dopey, affable, nonplussed manner is so natural I can’t help but assume that’s how he was in real life. • Nice tracking shots and zooms. • Creative opening credits. • A plotless opening act which feels surprisingly fresh and different from many other films of the 30’s. • Nice authentic family moments such as the children trying to get some privacy from their parents. • The car ride to the fair is fantastic. It’s nice and slow and breathes. Something which you hardly ever get in movies from this era. • The plain & simple dialogue is refreshing.
CONS: There are some silly jokes. • The sound is poor. • Overall, the lack of conflict makes this one forgettable. But like Little Women(1933), it’s a nice change up to have no villain.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Eric over at letterboxd
Did the Oscars get it right?
Cavalcade is good, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that it’s time spanning, historical event criss-crossing, epic nature wowed audiences at the time. But for me, the most interesting film of this group is I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang. It’s years ahead of it’s time. It’s subject matter is controversial. It’s gritty. It’s more deserving.
Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:
American Madness – dir. Frank Capra
The Bitter Tea Of General Yen* – dir. Frank Capra
Bondu Saved From Drowning – dir. Jean Renoir
Bombshell – dir. Victor Fleming
Design For Living* – dir. Ernst Lubitsch
Duck Soup – dir. Leo McCarey
Heroes For Sale – dir. William A. Wellman
The Invisible Man – dir. James Whale
The Island Of Lost Souls – dir. Erle C. Kenton
King Kong* – dir. Merian C. Cooper/Ernest B. Schoedsack
Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan – dir. Luis Buñuel
Liebelei – dir. Max Ophüls
Love Me Tonight – dir. Rouben Mamoulian
Me And My Gal – dir. Raoul Walsh
The Mummy – dir. Karl Freund
The Old Dark House – dir. James Whale
Pilgrimage – dir. John Ford
The Sin Of Nora Moran – dir. Phil Goldstone
Sons Of The Desert – dir. William A. Seiter
The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse – dir. Fritz Lang
Trouble In Paradise – dir. Ernst Lubitsch
Wild Boys Of The Road – dir. William A. Wellman
Zero For Conduct – dir. Jean Vigo