Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ll be reviewing the 10 films nominated in 1936. The 9th annual Academy Awards were held on March 4th, 1937.
Warner Bros. – 2hr 21min
DIRECTOR: Mervyn LeRoy
GENRE: Drama/Period Piece/Romantic Costume Epic
NOTES: Based on the novel by Hervey Allen. • Took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress(Gale Sondergaard), Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Score. • I wonder if Monty Python’s Flying Circus had the same Denis Moore in mind when they did my favorite sketch.
PROS: Great sets and great costumes. This is just the kind of thing the Academy came to love in it’s nominees. • I am a big Claude Rains fan. He’s always reliable for a solid performance and doesn’t disappoint here as Marquis Don Luis. I love when he recovers his health at the beginning of the film and is prancing around to show his wife Maria(Anita Louise). “Rejoice my dear!” He also has a great laughing scene. • Gale Sondergaard(as Faith Paleologus) is also a highlight. Her Oscar was well deserved. She totally revels in being a jealous conniving gold digger. • The always lovely Olivia de Havilland(as Angela) but her best roles were still to come. • Opens with a wagon careening down the road. Mostly shot on location. Usually these scenes were shot on sets, at least in the films I’ve seen from the period. • The cinematography has it’s moments. Claude Rains reflection in the wine glass just before he duels with Denis Moore(Louis Hayward) for example. Also some neat transitions to signal the passage of time. Although that was mostly done with boring title cards.
CONS: Very melodramatic. To a fault. Especially the early scenes with Denis and Maria. “Oh my dearest darling I must never be without blah blah blah.” • Large chunks of the novel are cut out and this makes trouble for the character arcs. In one scene Anthony(Fredric March) is visibly disturbed by the prospect of slavery, and in the next he’s been trading slaves for a year or more. • Speaking of March, I think he is one of the best actors of his day, however this role is a bit beneath him especially in the dialogue department. • There isn’t much to like about Anthony Adverse at all. • Virtually no attempt by anyone to capture the regional accents. The actor portraying Napoleon(Rollo Lloyd) might make the least amount of effort to sound French in movie history.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes
United Artists – 1hr 41min
DIRECTOR: William Wyler
GENRE: Drama/Love triangle
NOTES: Adapted by Sydney Howard from his stage play based on the book by Sinclair Lewis. • Richard Day won the Oscar for Best Art Direction. • Walter Huston had portrayed Dodsworth in the 1934 stage play. He would also reprise the role again for radio in 1937.
PROS: Fantastic opening shot. One of my favorites from the 30’s so far. • A nice melancholy version of “Auld Lang Syne” to kick things off. • Nice center-framed deep focus shots. Usually with Sam Dodsworth(Huston) in the center. • Huston turns in a great performance. Fun to see him so young. I’d only really seen him in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre(1948). He has that same fast delivery in this one too. Really loved his fight scene with Ruth Chatterton(Fran) as they are preparing to go to bed. I mean he really yells at her! • Speaking of Ruth, she can really pull off an evening gown. She’s showing a lot of skin for a film smack dab in the middle of the Hays Code Era. She does a great job at playing a man-eater. Madeline Kahn kinda had a Ruth Chatterton thing going on now that I think of it. Both of those ladies would be pretty hard for me to resist. • The script is quite good and portrays the valleys of marriage without love realistically. Lots of good lines. “Love has got to stop someplace short of suicide.” • The long takes really allow the actors to show off their chops. • Beautiful shot of a burning letter. • I really enjoyed the Chicago fire tangent. Arguing about who started it. Such a diversion from the point of the movie! • Baroness Von Obersdorf(Maria Ouspenskaya) was a bit of a surprise. She kinda came out of left field. I loved it when she totally burns Fran with the “old wife of a young husband” line.
CONS: Takes a good while to really get to the point. • Man oh man what terrible way to the end the movie. How do you not show the embrace?!
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from The Siren over at selfstyledsiren
MGM – 2hr 57min
DIRECTOR: Robert Z. Leonard
NOTES: Based on the real life Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr. and his many famous “Ziegfeld Follies” theatrical revues. • MGM would make two more “Ziegfeld” pictures; Ziegfeld Girl(1941) & Ziegfeld Follies(1946) • Luise Rainer(Anna Held) won Best Actress. • Seymour Felix won Best Dance Direction. • One of 14 on-screen pairings of William Powell & Myrna Loy. • Costumes were created by the famous Adrian. • MGM spent an exorbitant amount of money. Some estimates put it over $2 million!
PROS: The peak of Hollywood excess! Right off the bat. The opening credits are grand in scope. The establishing shots of the World’s Fair are teeming with extras, elephants, and set details. • The highlight is the “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” set piece. Amazing! A 70ft 100 ton revolving cake like set with spiral staircase filled to the brim with all different types of performers. All filmed in only two takes I believe. Total spectacle. They should have saved it for the end! • William Powell(Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr.) is great as always. The epitome of a cool guy. Debonair, witty(“I wonder her total weight is.”), good natured, but also shrewd. • Frank Morgan as Billings is good as Ziegfeld’s foil(almost a pun there). I loved his enthusiasm over Ziegfeld’s looming eviction from the fair. • A very natural performance from Joseph Cawthorne(Dr. Ziegfeld, Sr.). It’s a shame he only appears in one scene. • Luise Rainer’s award-winning performance as Anna. Particularly her meltdown scene. It goes on way to long but she sustains it, mostly in one take. Very impressive. And she really runs the gamut of emotions in this.
CONS: It’s really too long. An hour could be cut out of this. Scenes just keep going and going long after their energy runs out. Very chatty. • A bit disjointed. One second a character appears in Ziegfeld’s life, the next they are gone without much explanation if any. • Despite the 3 hour runtime, the aging of Ziegfeld feels unnatural and rushed. • Never really get into the motivations of Ziegfeld.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Ruth over at letterboxd
MGM – 1hr 38min
DIRECTOR: Jack Conway
GENRE: Comedy/Screwball/Love Triangle
NOTES: Remade in 1946 as Easy To Wed. • William Powell and Jean Harlow were a real-life couple at this point. • Harlow would only make 2 more films before dying from kidney failure in 1937. • One of 14 films to pair Powell and Myrna Loy.
PROS: Powell(Bill Chandler) and Loy(Connie Allenbury) and their great chemistry and banter. It had been displayed before and would be again in other films, and it’s on full display in this one too. “Beautiful now?” “No, just clean.” • Funny zingers but not nearly as funny as something like The Thin Man(1934). • A pretty crazy plot, albeit convoluted. But I like the plot twists of certain characters falling in and out of love with each other and the consequences of that. • Some nice tracking shots where the characters are walking and talking. • Superimposed credits? Not sure if that’s one of the first occurrences. • Thought it was funny that the “Bridal March” played every time Gladys(Harlow) showed up on screen. • Myrna Loy’s eyes. “Beautiful aren’t they?” she says. Yes Myrna, yes they are. • I love the gag where Warren(Spencer Tracy) high-tails it out of the Allenbury mansion, and Powell does the same thing a few minutes later. • Walter Connolly(Mr. Allenbury) is 3 for 3 with me. I also enjoyed him in The Bitter Tea of General Yen(1932) and It Happened One Night(1934).
CONS: The rapid-fire dialogue is more annoying than clever. It works much better in other films like The Thin Man(1934), and The Front Page(1931). • That terrible fishing scene. It plays like a bad Three Stooges film.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Jeremiah over at slantmagazine
Columbia – 1hr 55min
DIRECTOR: Frank Capra
GENRE: Romantic Comedy/Fish-Out-Of-Water/Morality tale
NOTES: Based on the short story “Opera Hat” by Clarence Budington Kielland. • This is the 5th team up of screenwriter Robert Riskin and director Frank Capra; Platinum Blonde(1931), American Madness(1933), Lady For A Day(1933), It Happened One Night(1934). • May be responsible for introducing the word “doodle”(as in quick sketch) into the nomenclature. Also the word “pixilated” became en vogue that year thanks to this film • The song “Cinderella Man” by my favorite band RUSH is based on this film. • Remade with Adam Sandler as Mr. Deeds(2002). • Served as an influence for one of my favorite films The Hudsucker Proxy(1994).
PROS: Exciting opening shot(although it features the dreaded “sped-up” film technique. • Gary Cooper is perfectly cast as Mr. Deeds. Simple but not a dolt. Not spineless either. He stands for what he believes in. At this point in Cooper’s career though, this was casting against type. • I loved Cobb(Lionel Stander). He gets most of the best lines. “It’ll do in a pinch”. He also has a pretty great spit-take at one point. • In fact, all the side characters are pretty great. This is one of Capra’s strengths I think. • I love Deeds non-reaction to receiving $20 million. • A great tracking shot moving though the newspaper office. Also, some great layered shots in the Tullio’s restaurant scene. • Great telephone conversation scene. Just look how Capra shoots Cooper. Fantastic! • A great drunken monologue from Morrow the poet(Walter Catlett). • Preaching without being preachy. As Louise(Jean Arthur) says:
“We’re too busy being smart alecks. Too busy in a crazy competition for nothing.”
CONS: Some very muddled sound, especially on the dialogue. • Some pretty terrible rear projection shots. • Considering that I always find court room scenes to be terribly dull, and that the whole last reel of this film takes place in a courtroom, I guess you could call it a pro that I sat patiently through the whole thing. But yeah, I’ll leave it in the cons. I hate courtroom scenes! • Jean Arthur(Louise “Babe” Bennett/Mary Dawson) was ok in this but sometimes she went for the “shaky voice” acting that grates on me.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Dan Schneider over at altfg
MGM – 2hr 5min
DIRECTOR: George Cukor
NOTES: Adapted by Talbot Jennings from the play by William Shakespeare. • The play has been adapted many times but most famously on film by Franco Zeffirelli in 1968, and Baz Luhrmann in 1996. • This was MGM’s most expensive production to date.
PROS: Very faithful to the time period. Apparently great care was taken to accurately portray costumes and design elements of 16th century Verona. And it shows. Gorgeous sets especially at the end in the catacombs • I liked the intro with the “living painting” so to speak. • The opening fight between the Montagues and Capulets was very well edited. • Nice framing throughout. Every shot is teeming with extras and every quadrant is filled foreground mid and back. Gives the frame a sort of 3-D effect at times. • Some reviewers thought John Barrymore was overdoing it with his Mercutio but I found it to be a very fun, loose performance. • Same can be said about Edna May Oliver as the Nurse. She is really going for it 100%. • The acting on the whole is great(with some minor annoyances from Norma Shearer(Juliet) that I can never seem to look past. • That great long hallway shot with the man putting out the torches for the night.
CONS: Well it’s Shakespeare. It can get a touch tedious at times, especially since we all know the plot of the story at this point in history. • Norma, Norma, Norma. She’s always hit or miss with me. Sometimes even in the same scene. As I’ve said before and others have pointed out she seems to have come from a bygone era(even in 1936). Her gesticulations are certainly remnants of her silent screen days and they always stand out. Also there is something about her voice that annoys me. She also eats up quite a lot of screen time in the second half. All that being said, I actually liked her here better than I did in The Barrets Of Wimple Street(1934). • Andy Devine as Peter is pretty terrible here, although he is playing a simpleton so I guess I should cut him some slack.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Rick Burin over at letterboxd
MGM – 1hr 55min
DIRECTOR: W.S. Van Dyke
NOTES: Based on actual events that transpired in San Francisco on April 18th, 1906. • D.W. Griffith was hired on to shoot the earthquake scenes. • Clark Gable played a very similar character(also named Blackie) in Manhattan Melodrama(1934). • The title song is still sung to this day in San Francisco’s annual earthquake commemoration.
PROS: It’s got a great script. There are lots of moments of realism. Although these could be ad-libs from the actors I suppose. Like when Father Mullin(Spencer Tracy) is speaking to Mary(Jeanette MacDonald) and suddenly yells out “Holy smoke the coffee!”. • Gable plays a great scumbag in Blackie. But at the same time, he’s got a code of ethics. And he doesn’t drink. • A grittiness that is lacking in other Hayes Code era films. Blood, destruction, sexual innuendo and the like. • The decadence of the New Year’s party. The blasé view of marriage and fidelity. • The famous earthquake scene. Still impressive to this day. Lots of convincing model shots, hydraulic sets, rear projection, fire.
CONS: A little too much singing for my taste. And Jeanette MacDonald’s soprano voice is a little shrill due to the recording limitations of that time. • A pretty cheesy, albeit effective ending. • Very similar to Titanic(1997) in that the first 2/3 of the film center around a love triangle and the last 3rd portrays a disaster that makes it all irrelevant. • As others have pointed out, the characters should have all been portrayed as low-lifes or sinners in order to make the ending more poignant.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes
Warner Bros. – 1hr 27min
DIRECTOR: William Dieterle
GENRE: Historical Drama/Slice-of-Life/Biopic
NOTES: Paul Muni won his one and only Oscar portraying Louis Pasteur • There are many historical inaccuracies in this picture as well as a great deal of telescoping the historical timeline. • The film also took home the Oscars for Best Story and Best Adapted Screenplay.
PROS: Paul Muni turns a strong performance although I found it to be a little bit one-note. But at least it was a good note! • Takes a significant amount of time(for a film of the era anyway) to explain germ theory, even going so far as to show microscopic slides of various blood cells and germ types. • I like how the story was not about the famous Pasteurization process. That’s the topic that everyone expects it’s going to be on. • Louis is introduced with a pretty slick edit.
CONS: Episodic to a fault. Moves very quickly from one plot point to the next leaving hardly any room for character development or small talk or even dramatic pauses. • The skeptics are portrayed as the villains as is typical of “man-stands-alone” type films. • Mostly boring shot compositions. • The character of Charbonnet(Fritz Leiber) is fictional as far as I know, which significantly reduces the drama of his self-injection for me.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: over at andyoucallyourselfascientist
A Tale Of Two Cities (1935)
MGM – 2hr 3min
DIRECTOR: Jack Conway
GENRE: Historical Drama/Lit-To-Screen
NOTES: Based on the novel by Charles Dickens. • The novel has been adapted many times on film, radio, and television. • Also won the Oscar for Best Film Editing. • The “Storming of the Bastille” action scene was directed by Val Lewton and Jaques Turner. • Lucille La Verne who portrays The Vengeance, would put her cackling laugh to iconic use the following year as the Evil Queen/Old Hag in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs.
PROS: A fantastic, progressive performance from Ronald Colman(Sydney Carton). He is just so relaxed and conveys a deep sadness with his eyes. This is acting that is far ahead of it’s time. His self-interrogation in the mirror is a standout scene. • Lots of “ugly mugs” in this film. I love it. Just plain old ordinary looking people. • Orchestrated camera moves. Very smooth. The layering of the shots with extras in every plain give many shots a 3-D effect. Sometimes the camera starts outside and moves back into an interior, as if the camera went through the window. The slow push in on Carton in the snow, as the carolers go by is just beautiful. • Evocative sets right off the bat. The Dover Road sequence is dark and foggy with muddy roads. • Basil Rathbone camps it up to eleven in his portrayal of the cold hearted, self-obsessed Marquis de St. Evremonde. “Irritating episode.” • Blanche Yurka as Madame Defarge is fantastic! Very cold. • Jerry Cruncher(Billy Bevans) is funny. “I’m a resurrectionist, that’s what I am!” “Co-In-Side-Ents!”. • Edna May Oliver(as Miss Pross) doing what she always does. Some consider Oliver a one note actress and that may be, but it’s a great note! “All bankers are atheists!” I loved her cat fight with Defarge. • Surprising use of the word “Why?” written across the screen during the epic “Storming of the Bastille” sequence. • Isabel Jewell nearly steals the movie in limited screen time as the doomed Seamstress.
CONS: The plot is a tad hard to follow. There are so many characters. Hard to say if this is the fault of the screenplay or of Dickens. • Elizabeth Allen(as Lucie Manette) is over-doing it I found. • Virtually no attempt to capture the French accent. And Jerry, Jr.(Donald Haines) has the absolute worst cockney accent ever put to screen. • A very crude attempt at a quick zoom on Defarge‘s rose. But an early attempt at experimentation should be considered a pro really. • The second half is not quite as engaging as the first.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cliff over at immortalephemera
Universal – 1hr 24min
DIRECTOR: Henry Koster
NOTES: Serves as a precursor to the 1961 Walt Disney Co. film, The Parent Trap. • Two sequels would follow: Three Smart Girls Grow Up(1939) & Hers To Hold(1943). • This is Deanna Durbin’s screen debut. She would go on to make many successful musicals.
PROS: All the actors do a fair job here. Deanna Durbin(as Penny) is clearly the star. She’s got a lot of spunk. “Muffins and milk?! That’s no food for fighters!” • I thought Nella Walker(as the mother, Dorothy Craig) stood out in her performance. Unfortunately she only bookends the film. • Mischa Auer(Count Arisztid) has a funny scene involving a magazine. “I have work to do!”.
CONS: “Switzerland” looks more like Big Bear Lake, CA. • I couldn’t understand the lyrics to the opening song that Penny sings. Possibly due to the recording quality of the day, but mostly due to Durbin’s soprano. • If they made a robot of a 1930’s quintessential guy, it would look and talk just like Bill Evans(John King). • The plot is pretty trivial and silly. Hard to believe this was considered Best Picture material.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Caroline over at garbolaughs
Did the Oscars get it right?
The Great Ziegfeld gets a lot of flack as being one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time. I think that’s unfair. Yes it’s over-long and disjointed but it’s nowhere near “the worst” on any list. That said, it certainly wasn’t my favorite nominee from this year. That distinction goes to A Tale of Two Cities which featured beautiful cinematography and a truly great performance from Ronald Colman.
Here are some well reviewed films eligible that year which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:
After The Thin Man* – dir. W.S. Van Dyke
As You Like It – dir. Paul Czinner
The Charge Of The Light Brigade – dir. Michael Curtiz
Come And Get It – dir. Howard Hawks/William Wyler
The Crime Of Monsieur Lange – dir. Jean Renoir
Fury – dir. Fritz Lang
Modern Times* – dir. Charlie Chaplin
My Man Godfrey – dir. Gregory LaCava
The Only Son – dir. Yasujiro Ozu
Partie de Campagne – dir. Jean Renoir
The Petrified Forest – dir. Archie Mayo
The Plainsman – dir. Cecil B. DeMille
The Prisoner Of Shark Island – dir. John Ford
Rembrandt – dir. Alexander Korda
Sabatoge* – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Showboat – dir. James Whale
The Story Of A Cheat – dir. Sacha Guitry
Swing Time – dir. George Stevens
Theodora Goes Wild – dir. Richard Boleslawski
These Three – dir. William Wyler
Things To Come – dir. William Cameron Menzies