Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ll be reviewing the 12 films nominated in 1935. The 8th annual Academy Awards were held on March 5th, 1936.
RKO – 1hr 39min
DIRECTOR: George Stevens
NOTES: Based on the novel by Booth Tarkington. • Katharine Hepburn had made a string of flops after her 1933 Oscar-winning performance in Morning Glory, but this film would return her to the limelight. • Hepburn wanted George Cukor to direct but he was already filming David Copperfield(1935). Apparently she eventually settled on Stevens via coin toss!
PROS: Katharine Hepburn is a strange bird(especially here) but boy is she watchable! You really can’t take your eyes off of her. • Feels like a film from the 40’s. A little ahead of it’s time maybe? I thought for a second that the boy got away in the end, which is apparently what happens in the novel, but alas the movie ends on the all too familiar happy note. • Fred Stone as Mr. Adams steals the movie. He’s hilarious. Case in point: When he eats some escargot. • The dinner scene towards the end has to go down as one of the most awkward in film history. • There are some nice moments of insight into Alice’s character. “I’m just me” she says. Arthur Russell(MacMurray) presses her with “But who is that?” “I’ve often wondered” she replies. She wants to be a part of Arthur’s upper class so badly, yet she doesn’t even know who she really is yet.
CONS: Honestly, Alice(Hepburn) is so self-absorbed and borderline crazy that I felt she deserves losing out on Arthur • Fred MacMurry is not given much to do. A fault that lies squarely on the screenwriters. For most of the film he’s resigned to sitting politely in silence while Alice prattles on and on. • Seriously the “glue factory” subplot has to be one of the most laughable ever.(I secretly love it) • The portrayal of Melina(an early role for Hattie McDaniel) as the lazy black worker is heavy on the stereotypical side. She makes the most of it though and pulls some great faces. Especially when her ruffled headband begins to droop in the heat. • Whenever the focus is taken off of Alice, the film suffers.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from C.K. over at hollywooddreamland
MGM – 1hr 41min
DIRECTOR: Roy Del Ruth
NOTES: MGM released 3 other similar films(although narratively unrelated); The Broadway Melody(1929), Broadway Melody Of 1938(1937), & Broadway Melody Of 1940(1940).
PROS: Eleanor Powell is a great tap dancer. She has a few fun, sexy numbers to show it off too. • Fun to watch a young Jack Benny here. He’s already exhibiting the trademarks that would make him famous on television. Including the hand placed lightly on the side of the face. • There a lot of nice tracking shots. And not just during the song & dance numbers. • The “I’ve Got A Feelin’ You’re Foolin'” routine has a neat section where various items(e.g. a piano, a dinner table complete with dinner) emerge from the dance floor. It also employs some special effects like split screen and double exposure. • Ms. Corbett(Una Merkel) is a total scene stealer. She is so spunky, I think I have a new crush. Move over Jeanette MacDonald! • I was totally surprised to see Buddy Ebsen(most famous of course for his role of Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies) It took me a minute or two to even recognize him. And who knew he was such a good tap dancer?! He’s also wearing a rad Mickey Mouse sweater. • I loved Irene’s(Powell) impersonation of Katharine Hepburn. Already, Kate was fair game. • A funny running gag of Gordon(Robert Taylor) storming the newspaper office and belting Jack Benny. “Put that in your column!”. • Benny comparing Snoop(Sid Silvers) in drag to Wallace Beery!
CONS: Lots of clichés but it’s not like the movie is trying to hide that fact. • Plot is pretty convoluted but really just serves to get to the next musical segment. • A strange bit with Robert John Wildhack where he analyzes different types of snores. This was kinda funny the first time, but not so much the 3rd!
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Contemporary review from Andre Sennwald over at nytimes
Warner Bros. – 1hr 59min
DIRECTOR: Michael Curtiz
NOTES: Based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini. • Errol Flynn’s first starring role. He appeared as a corpse(!) earlier that year in Michael Curtiz’ The Case Of The Curious Bride • This is a remake of the 1924 silent version. • First of 8 films in which Flynn and Olivia de Havilland would be paired. • 2nd of 12 collaborations between Flynn and Curtiz.
PROS: Exciting intro!(albeit in front of a less than convincing rear projection shot.) • Curtiz moves the camera a lot. Whenever a scene takes place on the ocean, the camera is slowly zooming in and then out to simulate the motion of the boat. It’s very subtle. There is more attention to shot composition than many of the films of this era. • The sets are expressionist-like and have a Disneyland ride feel to them. We are definitely in a genre-defining movie here. • The sets were actually the big highlight for me. That slave-driven waterwheel set being one of the more impressive. • Speaking of Disney, the characters in Captain Blood all have that exaggerated nature that would become indicative of their animated films. • The score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold is brash and dramatic and great.(Korngold would most famously score another Curtiz/Flynn picture, The Adventures Of Robin Hood(1938), and his work was an inspiration for John Williams’ Star Wars(1977) score) • Olivia de Havilland is gorgeous. Just putting that out there. She’s good here, but here more substantial roles would come later.
CONS: Can be a little too exposition heavy at times. • A little stale but only because we’ve seen this film a thousand times since. You really have to take off your 21st century lenses to appreciate the fact that this is truly the first real Pirate film. • Some of the model shots leave a little to be desired(even for the time). • Yet another montage to show the passage of time. Every movie from the 30’s seems to have these. Quick cuts, multiple exposure, the whole spiel.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Brian over at deepfocusreview
MGM – 2hr 13min
DIRECTOR: George Cukor
GENRE: Drama/Coming Of Age
NOTES: Based on the novel by Charles Dickens. • Freddie Bartholomew(young David Copperfield) emigrated from the UK just to make this film. • Charles Laughton was cast to play Mr. Micawber but was unhappy with his performance after viewing the dailies. It was Laughton who suggested that W.C. Fields should fill the role.
PROS: The beginning plays a bit like a silent film which I enjoyed. • Bartholomew is right up there with Jackie Cooper for child actors who can emote. It is truly an impressive performance. “Something’s wrong Peggotty!” • Basil Rathbone playing yet another baddy. • W.C. Fields seems like a ridiculous choice, but as soon as he shows up he injects the film with some badly needed energy(despite his questionable acting at times). • You do feel for David as everyone always tends to leave him behind. • The “walk to Dover” sequence was done well. Movies of this period tend to have a montage scene. This was one of the more fun to watch. • Lennox Pawle as Mr. Dick is fantastic and has one of the great entrances of cinema history! The guy is just plain nuts and Pawle relishes the opportunity to show it. • There is a nice moment where Aunt Betsey(Edna May Oliver) hesitates to hug young David but gives in out of sheer love for the boy. It was very moving. • Detailed set design. • Impressive and convincing use of background matte paintings.
CONS: The acting is very exaggerated. This is most evident in Clara‘s(Elizabeth Allen) gesticulations. The only actors to bring realism are Bartholomew and Frank Lawton who portray David as a young boy and young adult respectively. • The music was a bit too bombastic for my taste. At times it reminded me of Danny Elfman’s work in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure(1985). • The recording quality was also poor. The music drowns out the dialogue at times • Dora(Maureen O’Sullivan) is annoying beyond belief. So it was hard for me to feel any sympathy with her and to understand David‘s infatuation with her • The second half of the film is not nearly as engaging to the first. This is no fault of Lawton who turns in quite a good performance actually. It’s just that the actions of people in their 20’s don’t hold the same depth of meaning as those of children.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cliff over at immortalephemera
RKO – 1hr 31min
DIRECTOR: John Ford
NOTES: Based on the novel by Liam O’Flaherty. • Despite winning the Academy Award for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, & Best Score, it did not win Best Picture. • A silent version was made in the UK in 1929.
PROS: Victor McLaglen as Gypo. A truly threatening performance here. Whenever he yells out “GYPO!!” as a self-referential battle cry of some sort, you wonder if McLaglen isn’t actually drunk. McLaglen definitely earns his Best Actor award. • Minimalist sets. Reminded me of Fritz Lang’s M(1931). • Evocative lighting and the use of smoke. • The first half of the movie plays like a silent film. There is very limited dialogue. • A pretty realistic shootout(except maybe for the reckless actions of the Black & Tans). Una O’Connor(as Mrs. McPhillip) gets really hysterical in that scene, which I found quite moving. • There are a lot of techniques and story elements that are frequently used today.
CONS: They try to squeeze in a love story between Mary(Heather Angel) and Dan(Preston Foster). Why? Because it’s the 30’s and you have to. • I have never been a huge fan of court scenes in film and television. It just always feels like a cop out to get all the characters together in a room and tie up all the loose ends. I find them to dreadfully dull for the most part.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Contemporary review from Andre Sennwald over at nytimes
Paramount – 1hr 49min
DIRECTOR: Henry Hathaway
GENRE: Adventure/War/Buddy movie.
NOTES: Loosely based on the book by Francis Yeats-Brown. • Paramount sent cinematographers to India as early as 1931 but the film deteriorated and the film was delayed for 4 years. Various locations in Southern California were used to mimic Northwest India. • Contains the line “we have ways of making men talk”. Probably the origin of that often-bastardized phrase that most people I think associate with James Bond villains.
PROS: An under-appreciated script. A lot of reviewers find this film to be “boring” but I found there to be a level of authenticity and a realistic rapport between the three leads.(Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, Richard Cromwell) • Forsythe(Tone) is a cocky bastard and appears to love every minute of it. “There’s been a great deal of speaking of minds.” • I found Cromwell’s performance as Stone to be very natural and understated. This is something you don’t find very often in the 30’s. • A pretty exciting action finale complete with demolition of models.
CONS: The tone shifts at times. Especially when we get to Khan‘s palace. But this is also where the Indiana Jones elements are most prominent so it’s not necessarily the worst part. • It does drag in parts but I’d argue that it allows the picture to breathe and helps to grow the relationships between the 3 leads.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Jeff over at thestalkingmoon
Warner Bros. – 2hr 13min
DIRECTOR: Max Reinhardt
NOTES: Based on the play by William Shakespeare. • Only Olivia de Havilland and Mickey Rooney had ever performed Shakespeare before. • The music for the film was composed by Felix Mendelssohn originally for a German production of the play in 1842.(This includes the famous Wedding March which is used in ceremonies to this day) Erich Wolfgang Korngold adapted Mendelssohn’s music for the 1935 film. • This is technically Olivia de Havilland’s film debut, although audiences would see her in two films which were released earlier that year: Alibi Ike and The Irish In Us.
PROS: Very impressive sets. The majority of the movie takes place in a forest and the level of detail(for 1935) is extraordinary. You feel like you are in an actual wood. • The special effects are no less impressive. The scene where the fairies awaken and climb up the spiral cloud is captivating and eerie. • James Cagney(Bottom the Weaver) turns in a balls to the wall, 110% performance. It’s nothing like your typical Shakespeare performance, but it’s all the better for it. • As has been noted by many critics, and also by the actor himself, Dick Powell is completely miscast here. • Some very impressive wire work.
CONS: Mickey Rooney’s Puck goes down in my mind as the single most annoying character in cinema history! I can’t get that laugh out of my head. • My overall dislike for this film really comes down to the sound quality. Everyone seems to have shrieking voices and annoying laughs and there are many occasions where there is a cacophony of music and multiple actors speaking(shrieking). It actually made me feel very irritable and on edge. • Overlong. Just watch Oberon‘s(Victor Jory) approach to the sleeping lovers. Why does it have to take so long?! By the time we get to the end of the film with what should be the funniest scene(the player’s amateur performance), you just want it to be over. • Oh yeah, and those god-awful gnome masks!
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Scott over at filmschoolrejects
Twentieth Century – 1hr 48min
DIRECTOR: Richard Boleslawski
NOTES: Based upon the classic novel by Victor Hugo. • There are drastic changes from the novel making this one of the least faithful screen adaptations. • Frederic March’s wife, Florence Eldridge, plays Fantine. They would appear together in several films. • There are numerous film, radio, television, and stage adaptations of Les Miserables in multiple languages. The most famous arguably being the 1985 musical.
PROS: Frederic March and Charles Laughton(as Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert respectively). These are the two great actors of the 1930’s in my humble opinion. They are both undeniable presences every time they are on screen(and not just in this movie). • Effective camera work, artistic framing and lighting from cinematographer Gregg Toland(most famous for his work on Citizen Kane(1941)). • Cedric Hardwicke gives a dignified performance as Bishop Myriel.
CONS: Due to the cutting out of large portions of the novel, the movie tends to jump ahead in plot quite rapidly. There are not enough scenes that linger(although the ones that do are excellent).
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Java over at javabeanrush
MGM – 2hr 12min
DIRECTOR: Frank Lloyd
GENRE: Drama/Adventure/Sea Epic
NOTES: Based on The Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall which in turn is based on true events. • Clark Gable was initially opposed to playing the role of Fletcher Christian because he felt it would tarnish his masculine on-screen persona. • Other film versions include the silent film The Mutiny On The Bounty(1916), In The Wake Of The Bounty(1933) with Errol Flynn, Mutiny On The Bounty(1962) with Marlon Brando, and The Bounty(1984) with Mel Gibson & Anthony Hopkins. • This was the highest grossing film of the year.
PROS: The use of real ships on real water. This greatly lends to the air of authenticity that the filmmakers seem to be trying to convey. • Well… Charles Laughton yet again. In my mind, he is the best actor of the period. He has the ability to completely transform into another person. Laughton’s Captain Bligh is an exaggerated version to be sure, but it’s a fully realized exaggeration that bears little resemblance to Laughton’s Javert in Les Miserables and Marmaduke Ruggles in Ruggles Of Red Gap. • I liked the juxtaposition at the beginning of the tavern patrons being terrified by the prospect of serving under Bligh, and the underestimation of Bligh by the upper class. • Mr. Bacchus(Dudley Digges) has a fantastic entrance! • The first storm is very impressive especially in the sound design. I am willing to bet that this scene floored audiences. • Franchot Tone(Byam) does a solid job. His storyline is the cord that runs through the whole film. • Some surprising gruesome imagery. Flog him anyway if ya know what I mean.
CONS: The delivery of the dialogue is much to rapid at times, especially from Gable. This is the fault of the director in my opinion. • Sometimes the humor doesn’t match the tone of the rest of the film. • There are far too many times when a character conveniently enters the scene and it draws your attention to the fact that they had just been waiting to enter from off camera. • Gable and Tone wear significantly less clothes than Tehani(Movita Castaneda) and Maimiti(Mamo Clark) to the beach. • The fully clothed “sex” scene between Christian and Maimiti made me laugh.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from David at bluray.hidefdigest
MGM – 1hr 45min
DIRECTOR: W.S. Van Dyke
NOTES: Based on the operetta by Victor Herbert. • The first of eight pairings of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. • Some of the songs like “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” were quite popular and would become more so due to the success of the film.
PROS: Detailed costume work. • Jeanette MacDonald(Princess Marie/Marietta) is lovely. She has many funny moments like sneaking aboard a ship while stuffing her face with bread. She just has a very playful personality that I am attracted to. • Cool scene where Princess Marie ascends different floors of a hotel(?) and engages in a different song with the residents of that floor. • The frame is often teeming with extras. • Pretty awesome looking Pirates. Surprisingly violent. “Kind of hard to hide on a boat my ladies”. • Nelson Eddy(as Cpt. Richard Warrington) turns a funny, cocky performance. Reminded me a bit of Han Solo. I enjoyed it when he holds the note a little extra too long. “Sorry girls but it breaks out once in a while”. • Does this film contain the origin of speed dating? • A charming scene with the actors posing as marionettes.
CONS: Boy you better like soprano! • Governor d’Annard(Frank Morgan) nervous talk gets a bit irritating after a while. • Kind of a boring final song. • There is not much in the way of conflict here(other than the aforementioned pirates).
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Andre Sennwald over at nytimes
Paramount – 1hr 30min
DIRECTOR: Leo McCarey
NOTES: Based on the novel by Harry Leon Wilson. • The film Fancy Pants(1950) is a musical adaptation of the story starring Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. • It’s merely a coincidence that Charlie Ruggles(as Egbert) appears in this film. • One of 14 films to feature both Ruggles and Mary Boland(Effie).
PROS: There is a diverse cast of characters here. Standouts are Egbert, Ma Pettingill(Maude Eburne) with the cigarette hanging out of her mouth, and Roland Young(as the Earl of Burnstead) • Charles Laughton(Ruggles) shows comic range here as opposed to the dramas he’d been doing. He is truly one of the great actors of the time period. • Some of the funniest moments are between Laughton and Young . Especially at the beginning where Burnstead attempts to explain America to Ruggles. “slavery was ended by Pocahontas or something” he mumbles. Also, the awkward goodbye between the two. • The highlight of the movie is the Gettysburg Address scene. It’s funny and moving if not a bit preachy. • I liked the message of the film that comes to light in the 2nd half.
CONS: The humor is a bit too broad for me. A little too mad cap and exaggerated. • Loses track of Ruggles towards the end. • The movie tends to drag which is not a good sign considering it is only 90 minutes long.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Scott over at criterioncast
RKO – 1hr 41min
DIRECTOR: Mark Sandrich
NOTES: Based on the plays Scandal In Budapest by Sándor Faragó and A Girl Who Dares by Aladar Laszlo. • Irving Berlin wrote the songs, two of which(“Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” & “Cheek To Cheek”) have become timeless classics. • Lucille Ball makes a minor appearance as Flower Clerk. • This was the most financially successful of the Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire pictures.
PROS: Clever opening shot. • The dance routines are legendary of course. Especially for “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails”. Very clever choreography where Jerry(Astaire) starts picking off the various other dancers mimicking a shooting gallery. Allegedly one of the people he “shoots” is a teenage Bob Hope! • The song “Cheek to Cheek” is just a great song. I don’t know much about dancing, but I did notice the uninterrupted, single takes. Apparently this was demanded by Astaire. Makes his(and Rogers’) performance that much more impressive. • Some funny lines about “horsepower” and “walking from a boat ride”. I won’t spoil them for ya. • Helen Broderick(as Madge Hardwick) almost steals the movie.
CONS: Pretty much the same plot as The Gay Divorcee(1934) with all the same actors in very similar roles. This was actually a complaint made by Astaire too. So there ya go. In fact even the sets look the same! • There are times where the background music just doesn’t shut up. • Edward Everett Horton(as Horace Hardwick) is not nearly as funny here as he is in The Gay Divorcee. Same goes for Eric Blore(as Bates) • The humor is pretty eye-rolling, minus the good lines mentioned above. • Astaire’s English accent(even though he’s faking it) leaves a little to be desired… to put it kindly.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from the late great Roger Ebert over at rogerebert
Did the Oscars get it right?
But… it was close for me. The Informer won 4 of the big Oscar awards this year but not the big one. The thing that puts Mutiny On The Bounty ahead for me is that it is good all the way through. The Informer loses it’s steam in the final act. Les Miserables was great too but needed fleshing out. Mutiny On The Bounty has a little bit of everything, and it’s complex characters(especially Laughton and Gable), it’s devotion to realism, and it’s epic nature make it the best of the 12 nominated films.
Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:
The 39 Steps* – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Becky Sharp – dir. Rouben Mamoulian
Bonne Chance! – dir. Sacha Guitry
Bride Of Frankenstein – dir. James Whale
The Crusades – dir. Cecil B. DeMille
The Devil Is A Woman – dir. Josef von Sternberg
Mad Love – dir. Karl Freund
Man On The Flying Trapeze – dir. Clyde Bruckman
A Night At The Opera* – dir. Sam Wood
Sylvia Scarlett – dir. George Cukor
Tit For Tat – dir. Charles Rogers
Toni – dir. Jean Renoir
Triumph Of The Will – dir. Leni Riefenstahl
Werewolf Of London – dir. Henry Hull
Wife! Be Like A Rose! – dir. Mikio Naruse