Next on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! I’ll be reviewing the 10 films nominated in 1937. The 10th annual Academy Awards were held on March 10th, 1938. 2 categories would be featured for the last time this year(Best Dance Direction & Best Assistant Director).
Columbia – 1hr 30min
DIRECTOR: Leo McCarey
GENRE: Comedy/Love Triangle/Screwball
NOTES: Based on the 1922 play by Arthur Richman. • Leo McCarey won the award for Best Director. McCarey felt that his work on Make Way For Tomorrow(also from 1937) was more deserving of the award. • Dunne and Grant would team up again for My Favorite Wife(1940, also directed by McCarey) & Penny Serenade(1941). • There are two previous film versions of the play(a 1925 silent and a 1929 early talkie) and also a musical version called Let’s Do It Again(1953).
PROS: Cary Grant as Jerry revels in his role, which consists mostly of torturing Lucy(Irene Dunne). • Alexander D’Arcy as Armand. I love his smirky entrance. • The running gags with the dog Mr. Smith(Asta) are the best part, as Jerry & Lucy fight for it’s affection and try to ascertain just whom it loves the most. • Dunne is very expressive and fun to watch. • Mom talking about rebounds. “Old tennis ball”. That must have been very fresh for 1937. • A Marilyn Monroe precursor with the wind and the skirt? “I just met her.” • The wrong hat gag. “Did you have a hair cut maybe?” • Funny use of off-screen sound to announce to the viewer that a fight has ensued.
CONS: Gosh the ending drags on and on! • Fast talking “swell, gee, say look here” type dialogue that you need to be in the mood for. • Not much in the way of story or plot. Just a thin premise. Feels almost more like improv than anything else. • That creepy cuckoo clock!
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Michael J. Anderson over at senseofcinema
MGM – 1hr 55min
DIRECTOR: Victor Fleming
NOTES: Based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling. • Spencer Tracy won the Award for Best Actor.
PROS: Freddie Bartholomew(Harvey aka “Little Fish“) is a great actor for his age. I had only seen him once before in David Copperfield(1935). The word that comes to mind for his performance is: assured. There is absolutely no sign that he is intimidated by his senior co-stars. • Spencer Tracy(Manuel) is such a natural actor. Like the Brando of his time. • Lionel Barrymore(Captain Disko) nearly steals the movie away from Tracy & Bartholomew. • A rare performance by Mickey Rooney(Dan) that doesn’t manage to annoy the heck out of me! • The scene of Harvey‘s accident was unexpected. And the angle of the shot was shocking. Also note the lack of any dramatic music for that moment. • Cool title sequence. • Great rapport and realistic dialogue amongst the crew members • Slick camera moves right from the get go; i.e. push-ins, pull-backs, inserts, dolly shots. The camera also imitates the motion of the waves for the boat shots and seamlessly integrates stock footage of actual fisherman with rear screen projection enhancing the studio sets. • The overall lack of a villain. Really it’s Harvey‘s spoiled youth that is the antagonist here.
CONS: The ending drags a bit. • A side story involving Captain Disko‘s obsession with out-performing another fishing boat feels a bit undercooked. I am sure that this is much more fleshed out in Kipling’s book.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes
United Artists – 1hr 33min
DIRECTOR: William Wyler
GENRE: Crime/Class Warfare/Gangster/Realism
NOTES: Based on the 1935 Broadway smash hit play by Sidney Kinglsey. • The first appearance of the Dead End Kids. The original Dead End Kids would appear in six films for Warner Bros.(after being sold by UA). The most famous being Angels With Dirty Faces(1938). They would eventually morph into the more well known Bowery Boys. • The location of the film is said to be 53rd Street behind the famous River House.
PROS: The cinematography of Gregg Toland. The lighting, framing and angles were signs of things to come in Toland’s landmark work on Citizen Kane(1941). One of my favorite shots is a slow pan on Humphrey Bogart(“Baby Face” Martin) in the diner when he decides to kidnap the Griswald Boy(Charles Peck) • The opening model shot is really cool! From the wide shot of the whole city seamlessly down into the depths of the dead end street live action set. • Most of the film takes place on the one street. Therefore the set had to be believable and are thanks to Art Director Richard Day. It is almost a character in and of itself. • The film eats through some significant run time without revealing much of a plot. Just shows various shenanigans of the Dead End Kids and points out the class distinctions between them and the high rise residents. • That dirty stairwell that Sylvia Sidney(Drina) walks through looking for Tommy(Billy Halop)! Babies crying off screen, grime everywhere! • The Dead End Kids are like a pack of Bugs Bunnies. “sssaaay!” “I got a hair!” “T.B.! I got T.B.!” • The way Martin looks on the boys’ antics with an air of pride. This is a great early role for Bogey! • The way the Doorman(Ward Bond) says “Whaaaaat?!”. Cracked me up. • The scene between “Baby Face” and his Mother(Marjorie Main) was pretty heart breaking thanks in part to a peculiar performance from Main. • The gunfight comes earlier than expected and is quite exciting as Dave(Joel McCrea) chases Martin higher and higher up on the rooftops.
CONS: The Dead End Kids schtick can get a little tiresome after a while but I think that’s sort of the point. These kids don’t even really like each other! • Not Joel McCrea’s best role. Dave is far less interesting than “Baby Face“. • The story really unfolds through various monologues. This is obviously a direct result of the translation from the stage but doesn’t necessarily work for a movie.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from the caftanwoman
MGM – 2hr 18min
DIRECTOR: Sidney Franklin
GENRE: Drama/Chinese History/Literature
NOTES: Adapted from the play by Owen & Donald Davis which was in turn based on the Pulitzer prize winning novel by Pearl S. Buck. • Luise Rainer won the Oscar for Best Actress making her the first actor in Academy Awards history to win two Oscars(in back to back years no less! Also a first.) • Karl Freund won the Oscar for Best Cinematography. • Filmed on location in Porter Ranch. • The film eventually cost an estimated 2.8 to 3 million dollars! • Anna May Wong was the obvious choice to portray O-Lan but was prevented by the Hays Code anti-miscengation rules. • One of two nominated films this year to feature Paul Muni in the leading role.
PROS: The set design and attention to historic detail is impressive. Not too often do you see films of the period filmed on location(in this case Porter Ranch, CA). • The real location leads to lovely shots of the outdoors. Highlighting the wheat fields in particular. Reminded me of Terrence Malick’s Days Of Heaven(1978). • The storming of the palace was very dramatic with all the extras. It felt legitimately dangerous. • There are some great shots in the film: from underwater; when the boys are fighting over the ox; from inside the wagon. • The locust scene was dramatic and the effects well done.
CONS: The acting is a bit too broad for my tastes. • Too episodic. Not enough time to get to know the characters or care about them to any degree. It’s like everyone is acting for themselves. • It’s a little creepy seeing Paul Muni(Wang Lung) in yellow face. I don’t have a serious problem with the white-washing of foreign characters(in reverse, I wouldn’t care if George Washington was portrayed by an Asian actor in white-face) however the accents do make it difficult to fully engage with the characters. It’s a distraction if nothing else. • Crude attempt at a rainstorm. • Too much quick cutting at times in the transition scenes. • The locust scene while well done, just goes on and on and on!
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from EvanstonDad over at letterboxd
In Old Chicago (1938)
20th Century Fox – 1hr 36min
DIRECTOR: Henry King
GENRE: Political Drama/Disaster/Romantic-Musical
NOTES: Based on the story “We The O’learys” by Niven Busch and true events which transpired in October 1871. • Alice Brady won the Oscar for Best Actress in a supporting role. • Robert D. Webb won the Oscar for Best Assistant Director. • Jean Harlow was set to star in the roll of Belle but died tragically of kidney failure before filming began.
PROS: An exciting opening stunt featuring Mr. O’Leary(J. Anthony Hughes). • The little crying boy! What did they do to that poor kid to get him to really cry? That’s what I wanna know. • Alice Brady as Mrs. O’Leary is fantastic. She has this steel resolve of a woman who has been through a lot. Brady carries none of the theatricality that many silent film stars found hard to shake in the sound era. • The set design of Old Chicago is fantastic. The streets are muddy and rutted. Teeming with extras. Everything is dirty. • All the sets are impressive. Especially around the O’Leary’s house. Rather than static shots, the camera weaves in and out of the set. Especially when it follows the O’Leary’s Laundry Cart. • There are some ugly mugs in this movie. I think that’s what movies are for. To highlight the “ugly” faces rather than the “beautiful” ones. • $4 drunk pass out! • “In Old Chicago” is a decent tune. • That pull back shot at the election rally for Gil Warren(Brian Donlevy) with all the guys pouring beer from barrels. It just keeps going! • “You’re the mayor but I’m Chicago.” Great line! • The climax of the fire is quite a spectacle with flaming debris flying through the air. Many good examples of double exposure in this sequence. It’s not quite as impressive however as the earthquake scene in San Francisco(1936). • There are some truly harrowing shots at the end as the people begin to cross the river with the city in flames in the background.
CONS: The humor can be a bit broad at times. • The foreshadowing is on-the-nose to say the least. The ubiquitous references to fire just became eye-rolling • Dion O’Leary(Tyrone Power) is a total creep! He borderline rapes Belle(Alice Faye). And of course she eventually falls for him. But at least she pushed him into the water trough first. He deserved more than that! • Could have used a better script. The ending of the film basically has no correlation to the first 3/4. • The dance numbers aren’t much to write home about.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Cliff over at immortalephemera
Warner Bros. – 1hr 56min
DIRECTOR: William Dieterle
GENRE: Biopic/Historical Courtroom Drama
NOTES: Based on the life of Émile Zola and true events which transpired from 1894 to 1906. • Joseph Schildkraut won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. • Heinz Herald, Geza Herczeg, and Norman Reilly Raine won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. • One of two nominated films this year to feature Paul Muni in the leading role.
PROS: Paul Muni(Emile Zola) is a great character actor. He’s always taking on roles that require him to be in makeup and go gung-ho. This is no exception. The highlight of course is his speech in court. It’s somewhere near 6 uninterrupted minutes. • The historical attention to detail is evident. Especially in the dialogue. Things aren’t “dumbed down” for the sake of the audience. • Joseph Schildkraut as Captain Dreyfuss is also quite good. The scene where he finally leaves his cell is very moving. Is he happy to go or is he unsure to leave? Or both? • Court room dramas are not my cup of tea(to say the least) but this one does feature some tense moments. • “We have something in common… ‘nothing’!”
CONS: While Paul Muni is no doubt a great actor, he does have the tendency to over exaggerate and gesticulate. I love his passion for all his varied roles, but sometimes less is more. • This movie would definitely be helped if the viewer had a slight background knowledge of the events. • The beginning of the film is really unnecessary seeing as how it ends up focusing more on the Dreyfus Affair. They should have called the film: A Short Period in the Life of Emile Zola! • There are far too many jumps in time at the beginning. The viewer can’t really settle into things and learn about the character if significant portions of their life go by in a blink! • A significant lack of French accents but that’s typical. • Gale Sondegaard was a bit melodramatic for my tastes in her portrayal of Lucie Dreyfuss. She’s much better in Anthony Adverse(1936).
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Witney Seibold over at thenerdist
Columbia – 2hr 12min
*The version I watched is missing 7 minutes of footage, but did feature the complete soundtrack. The missing footage has been replaced with production stills.
DIRECTOR: Frank Capra
NOTES: Based on the novel by James Hilton. • One of the many collaborations between Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin. • The film went significantly over-budget despite having the largest initial budget($1.25 million) in cinema history up to that point. • Capra originally wanted an older actor to play the part of High Lama but both the original actor(A.E. Hanson) and his replacement(Henry B. Walthall) died before shooting, forcing Capra to look for a younger actor(Sam Jaffe) and put him in makeup. Not happy with Jaffe’s “old” makeup, Capra re-shot those scenes with yet another actor(Walter Connolly) but ended up sticking with Jaffe in the end. • Stephen Goosson won the Oscar for Best Art Direction. • Gene Havlick and Gene Milford won the Oscar for Best Film Editing. • The film was remade in 1973 as a musical.
PROS: The opening scene of a crowded airfield was well done. I’ve noticed that Capra is good at shooting scenes with large groups of people. • The aerial footage was also nice to see and the shots of the snow covered mountains. That must be where all the money went! • There is a bit of an Indiana Jones vibe to that opening 30 minutes. Stephen Spielberg is arguably our modern day Frank Capra so it only makes sense. Would love to ask him if he’s a fan of this film. • Always impressed with Ronald Colman(Robert Conway). Especially when he plays drunk! Doesn’t over do it like so many actors. • That plane crash set is pretty great! And we can see the actors breath during many of the cold scenes. • I am totally on the side of George(John Howard) in this film. He’s right, Shangri-La is a communist nightmare! Get me the hell outta here!
CONS: There is a lull after those opening 30 minutes. But that’s more a testament to the exciting nature of the opening than a knock on the following arrival Shangri-La scenes. It had to slow down at some point! • No one gets frost bite in this movie! Even before they benefit from the magical effects of Shangri-La. • The whole film seems to not really know what to do with itself once in Shangri-La… kind of wanders. However, maybe that’s the point! • Speaking of Spielberg(well, George Lucas really), this movie has a very elongated “pointer scene” where Colman asks all the questions the audience is thinking at that moment. • The George and Maria(Margo) love story is half-baked. But it is necessary that at least one person in Shangri-La be discontented. But it would have been better to have seen Maria suffering rather than to have her just explain it in exposition. • I think Capra wants us to be won over, like Robert, by the words of the High Lama but the guy just comes off as creepy.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from neilgrahamuk over at letterboxd
Universal – 1hr 25min
DIRECTOR: Henry Koster
NOTES: Based on a story by Hanns Kräly. • One of 3 Best Picture nominees this year to feature Adolphe Menjou. • The composer Leopold Stokowski, best known for conducting the music for Walt Disney’s Fantasia(1940), appears as himself. It was his second appearance on the big screen(the first coming earlier in the year in The Big Broadcast of 1937). • Charles Previn, head of Universal’s Music Department, won the Oscar for Best Original Score even though the majority of the music in the film is by classical artists and no composer is credited.
PROS: Impressive pull-back shot via crane to open the movie. In fact, some nice editing all around in this extended musical sequence. • The Doorman(J. Scott Smart) reminded me of William Hootkins(aka Porkins from Star Wars(1977) aka Lt. Eckhardt from Batman(1989)). Ok, not a pro necessarily, just an observation. • Mischa Auer(Michael) has great comic timing and some funny deliveries: “Huh??!”; “I’m out!”; “Patsy got a sucker.”; “Nice place Davis”. • Deanna Durbin(Patsy) is much more tolerable here than in her debut film, Three Smart Girls(1936). Her passion to help her father(Adolphe Menjou) can be annoying but eventually it grows on you. • The running gag of practical jokes between Mr. Frost(Eugene Pallette) and Tommy Bitters(Jed Prouty) is silly but it works given the overall tone of the film. I want some of those exploding cigarettes. • Eugene Pallette, who sounds like he swallowed two frogs and bag of gravel, saying “I wouldn’t stand a chinaman’s chance.” • I like that Patsy inadvertently achieves her goal(partly anyway) over a hasty phone conversation.
CONS: Not quite sure why viewers of the time found Durbin so appealing. She is so hyper that she can be borderline annoying. • Durbin’s soprano, while strong, is a little hard to listen to simply because of recording restraints of the time. • Plot hole? Why doesn’t Patsy just sing for everybody right away and save herself a lot of trouble? • The middle of the film drags as Patsy tries to make her way to Stokowski. • I think time has taken the “rousing” nature out of the ending. I am sure in 1937 it had the same effect a underdog sports movie might have today.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: contemporary review from Frank Nugent over at nytimes
RKO – 1hr 32min
DIRECTOR: Gregory La Cava
GENRE: Comedy/Show-biz life
NOTES: Based(very loosely) on the play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman. • One of 3 Best Picture nominees this year to feature Adolphe Menjou. • This film, along with Alice Adams(1935), was a bit of a career saver for Katherine Hepburn whose previous few films were flops.
PROS: Really fun to see a young(and brunette) Lucille Ball(Judy). She really stands out. She even sits differently than the other actresses. • I like how there isn’t really a stand out star. At first you think the film will be solely about Terry Randall(Katherine Hepburn) but then things shift to Jean(Ginger Rogers) and then back again! And Judy gets significant screen time. • Sarcastic remark after sarcastic remark. “I predict a hatchet murder before the night’s over.” “Have we met socially?”–“I hope not.”• Nobody talks like this in real life but that’s what the movies are for! Ginger Rogers always has the perfect comeback. “I bet you boil a terrific pot of water.” She also does a terrific job playing drunk. She runs the gamut of emotions after hearing the story of “Galatea” from Anthony Powell(Adolphe Menjou) • I enjoyed Constance Collier as the self-appointed expert on classical acting, Anne Luther.
CONS: The dialogue comes at a such a rapid pace and from so many different people that it can be hard to follow along at times. • The ending is a bit of a stretch. The idea that Terry could receive such bad news and instantly harness it into a great stage performance strains credulity even for 1930’s Hollywood.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Kristen over at journeysinclassicfilm
United Artists- 1hr 51min
DIRECTOR: William A. Wellman
NOTES: The film bears similarities to What Price Hollywood?(1932). So much so that RKO considered filing suit against Selznick International Pictures but nothing ever came of it • William A. Wellman won the Oscar for Best Writing(Original Story). • Cinematographer W. Howard Greene received an honorary Oscar for the film’s use of Technicolor. • One of 3 Best Picture nominees this year to feature Adolphe Menjou.
PROS: Janet Gaynor(Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester) is really funny. When she tries to impress a party full of execs with her imitations of Garbo, Hepburn & Mae West, I was surprised by her versatility and expressiveness. • Frederic March(Norman Maine) is one of the best actors of this time period and this role is one that he really sunk his teeth into. It has comedy(a lot of it) anger, depression, passion and March deftly maneuvers through all of them. Sometimes all in the same scene! And the funny stuff is really funny. Whistling after his phone book like it’s a dog. The whole drunken “worst performance” speech at the faux-Oscars. • I love Technicolor. This is an early example of it and it’s neat to see all these actors I’ve been watching in black & white suddenly appear in color. It makes it feel like you’ve jumped ahead 20 years. Especially neat to see old Hollywood in color. • Wasn’t expecting the fate of Norman Maine. And Lionel Stander’s(Libby) cold blooded “First drink of water he’s had in 20 years!” • Paparazzi problems even back then! • “What is it cuddles? Speak out!” • Adolphe Menjou portrays a very realistic producer in Oliver Niles. Not the typical scumbag that we’re so use to seeing.
CONS: Despite loving Technicolor, the print I watched was very dark, especially during night time scenes. At some points the shadows literally block out Janet Gaynor. • The honeymoon scene has some funny bits but ultimately feels like it’s from a different movie. • The return of Grandmother Lettie(May Robson) towards the end was about as eye-rolling as it gets. Complete with Auld Lang Syne playing in the background!
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Judy over at movieclassics.wordpress
Did the Oscars get it right?
This was a hard pick for me. Not any single film really screamed “Best”. The Life Of Emile Zola probably deserves a second viewing because I generally love the slow-burn historical dramas and I think some brushing up on the Dreyfus Affair would greatly help the viewing experience. I was thinking of going with Lost Horizon just because it’s so different from it’s fellow nominees but, gun to my head, I have to choose Dead End. The photography is gorgeous, Bogey’s character is surprisingly layered, the theme(of aimless children being shown all the different paths they may take in life), the set is amazing and the transposition from stage to screen is done with care.
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:
Angel – dir. Ernst Lubitsch
Camille – dir. George Cukor
Easy Living – dir. Mitchell Leisen
The Edge Of The World – dir. Michael Powell
History Is Made At Night – dir. Frank Borzage
The Hurricane – dir. John Ford
Nothing Sacred – dir. William A. Wellman
Make Way For Tomorrow – dir. Leo McCarey
Pepe le Moko – dir. Julien Duvivier
The Prisoner Of Zenda – dir. John Cromwell
Shall We Dance – dir. Mark Sandrich
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs* – dir. David Hand
Stella Dallas – dir. King Vidor
They Won’t Forget – dir. Mervyn LeRoy
Way Out West – dir. James W. Horne
Wee Willie Winkie – dir. John Ford
Young And Innocent – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
You Only Live Once – dir. Fritz Lang