The whole ensemble from You Can't Take It With You (1938)

The 11th Academy Awards, for the film year 1938.  The nominations were announced on February 5, 1939 and the awards were held on February 23, 1939.

Best Picture:  You Can’t Take It With You

  • The Grand Illusion
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • Pygmalion
  • The Citadel
  • Jezebel
  • Test Pilot
  • Four Daughters
  • Alexander’s Ragtime Band
  • Boys Town

Most Surprising Omission:  Angels with Dirty Faces

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  Bringing Up Baby

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #70

The Race: Warner Bros. was making good use of Michael Curtiz.  First there was his big Errol Flynn adventure, The Adventures of Robin Hood.  Then came Four Daughters, as he waited until James Cagney was free to make Angels with Dirty Faces.  He wasn’t the only thing on the Warners lot, as Bette Davis starred in Jezebel as a bitchy Southern belle.  The biggest studio around was still MGM, with a number of major Oscar contenders, including Spencer Tracy in Boys Town and Test Pilot, and two British films, The Citadel and Pygmalion.  But the king of the hill was still Frank Capra, trying for a third consecutive Best Picture nomination with his adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play You Can’t Take It With You.

Most of these films ended up being ignored by the critics at year’s end.  The Citadel managed to win both the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics.  Of the other major contenders, Angels had to make do with a NYFC Best Actor award for Cagney and only Jezebel joined The Citadel on the NBR Top 10 list.

The Results: When the smoke cleared, all the major contenders were in the race except for Angels.  It had earned nominations for Actor, Director and Original Story but was out of the running in Picture.  Robin Hood was in for Picture, but not for Director.  Surprisingly it was Four Daughters that earned both Picture and Director nominations.  Joining it were The Citadel, Boys Town and You Can’t Take It With You.  Rounding out the Best Picture nominees were Alexander’s Ragtime Band, a film that re-united pretty much everyone from 1937 Best Picture nominee In Old Chicago and Grand Illusion, the first Foreign film to ever get nominated.  It had won Best Foreign Film from both critics groups.

In the end, it was Capra who came through yet again, winning Best Picture for a second time and Best Director for a third.  Amazingly enough, even though it was only the 11th awards ceremony, three of the acting winners already had Oscars (Spencer Tracy, Bette Davis, Walter Brennan) and the fourth, Fay Bainter, had been nominated in both categories.

Capra's third Best Director Oscar and second Best Picture: You Can't Take It With You (1938)

You Can’t Take It With You

  • Director:  Frank Capra
  • Writer:  Robert Riskin  (from the play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman)
  • Producer:  Frank Capra
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Stars:  Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore, Spring Byington, Edward Arnold
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Supporting Actress (Byington), Editing, Cinematography, Sound
  • Length:  126 min
  • Genre:  Comedy  (Screwball)
  • Box Office Gross:
  • Release Date:  23 August 1938
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #5  (year)  /  #197  (nominees)  /  #51  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Barrymore), Supporting Actress (Byington), Editing, Art Direction

The Film:  I was surprised at how much this suffered upon watching it again.  It used to be hard to find on video and in fact, when I finally did see it in early 1996, it was the last of the Best Picture winners.  I loved it, just like I had loved the other major films of Capra’s career, all of which I had seen by that point.  But going back to it, it doesn’t quite feel the same.  It feels too forced, feels too staged, feels too much like I’m being preached at.  It felt better later that night when I watched Auntie Mame, which, like Can’t Take It, is about living your life with freedom, but this film is about freedom of the soul and has a much larger sense of personal and social responsibility than Auntie Mame.

Unfortunately, it is that sense of responsibility that seems so forced.  While life is lived in various shades of gray, it seems that Capra films live very much in black and white.  There’s no question who the hero of the film is (Lionel Barrymore as Grandpa) and no question who the villain is (Edward Arnold as Anthony P. Kirby).  Of course, we have the young wonderful couple who bring the two families together, played so well by Jean Arthur and Jimmy Stewart, but it’s all about the stand-off between Grandpa and Mr. Kirby.  This is Capra, so is there any question as to how it will end?

But I guess it doesn’t matter how it ends.  It matters how you get there.  And the journey is enjoyable, filled with warm, wonderful characters and charm.  So, of course, in the end, I still rate it at four stars, though it is a lower four stars than I used to hold it at.  It’s not as good as Deeds or Smith or Life, but it’s Capra and it’s Arthur and it’s Stewart.  And that pretty much says it all right there.

The first Foreign film to get nominated for Best Picture: The Grand Illusion (1938)

The Grand Illusion  (La grande illusion)

  • Director:  Jean Renoir
  • Writer:  Jean Renoir  /  Charles Spaak
  • Producer:  Frank Rollmer  /  Albert Pinkovitch
  • Studio:  R.A.O  /  World Pictures
  • Stars:  Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture
  • Length:  114 min
  • Genre:  Foreign / War  (World War I)
  • Box Office Gross:  $.31 mil
  • Release Date:  12 September 1938
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1  (year)  /  #4 (nominees)  /  #6  (all-time)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor (Gabin), Supporting Actor (von Stroheim), Editing, Cinematography, Score, Sound, Art Direction, Foreign Film (1937)

The Film:  Let’s get the list down first.  Sunset Boulevard, The Wizard of Oz, Children of Paradise, The Godfather, The Seventh Seal.  Those are the films that I currently rank above it.  There are a few more films that enter the conversation for the greatest film ever made (Chinatown, Bonnie & Clyde, Rashomon).  But these are the films on the short list and Grand Illusion is one of them, something I knew instantly the first time I saw it back in college.

Francois Truffaut once contended that it wasn’t possible to make an anti-war film, that the energy and power of war on-screen would counteract the message.  So Grand Illusion does away with that by not showing us the war.  All we get is the cost.  We get the prisoners, the desperate attempts to return to life, the haunted German countryside.  But we don’t see any actual combat.  We get a feeling for the war without the adrenaline rush.

There is an interesting scene part way through the film.  Count von Rauffenstein, played with a masterly air of aristocracy by Erich von Stroheim, is talking with the Captain Boeldieu.  He scoffs at the idea of Rosenthal and Marechal being considered officers and equals, noting “The charming legacy of the French Revolution.”  But then he says this: “I do not know who is going to win this war, but I know one thing: the end of it, whatever it may be, will be the end of the Rauffensteins and the Boeldieus.”  He is correct.  World War I altered the very way the world worked, destroyed the imperialistic ambitions of the enormous empires and moved the aristocracy out of positions of power across Europe.  It paved the way for the kind of revolution in Germany which very quickly was leading to a second World War, something Renoir could easily see.  It’s easy to understand why this film was quickly banned in Germany.

This is a war between empires, between nation states, yet in the end, how much of it matters.  Different nationalities are thrown together in the prison and Rauffenstein is crushed when the bond of aristocracy is overthrown by the bond of nationality when Boeldieu helps the other officers escape.  But Marechal, the commoner who has become an officer, falls in love with a German woman.  And then is saved by an invisible border, one that he can’t see and can’t know that he has crossed, but luckily for him, the German soldiers do.

And so all of this is written in the shadow of collapsing European economies.  The question arises about what the people in various European countries will do.  Before World War I, there was the upper class.  Then there were the nationalities.  Perhaps, as Renoir would have hoped, someday, it will all be about a common humanity.

Flynn and de Havilland. So perfect. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

The Adventures of Robin Hood

  • Director:  Michael Curtiz
  • Writer:  Norman Reilly Raine  /  Seton I. Miller
  • Producer:  Hal B. Wallis  /  Henry Blanke
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Editing, Original Score, Interior Decoration
  • Length:  102 min
  • Genre:  Adventure
  • Release Date:  14 May 1938
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #2  (year)  /  #104 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Score, Sound, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Costume Design

The Film:  This is what the movies are all about.  A hell of an adventure.  An exciting, charismatic hero.  A beautiful young maiden.  A dastardly villain.  Excitement, humor, drama, romance, thrills.  Who knows what will come from the forthcoming Ridley Scott Robin Hood, but it is unlikely to have the kind of humor and good-heartedness that invades every moment of this film.

That’s what makes this the best of the Robin Hood films.  Not that Errol Flynn was ever a great actor.  But he was a great screen presence and he feels like Robin Hood.  This is the kind of charm, good humor and athletic ability that we would have expected from Robin of Locksley.  And of course there is Olivia de Havilland, so often cast with Flynn, but never more perfect as the woman who at first is resistant to his charms, only to find the good man beneath the rogue.  Then there are Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains, so perfectly cast as the villains, Rains so weak and pathetic, Rathbone so dastardly and devilish.

What do you want from a movie?  There are times when I just want to enjoy myself.  And few films fit that description better than The Adventures of Robin Hood.  It is the best of all the Errol Flynn films, made with masterful direction from Michael Curtiz and exquisite technical mastery.  It is a great film through and through.

Leslie Howard is the perfect Henry Higgins in Pygmalion (1938)

Pygmalion

  • Director:  Anthony Asquith  /  Leslie Howard
  • Writer:  George Bernard Shaw  /  W.P. Lipscomb  /  Cecil Lewis  (from the play by Shaw)
  • Producer:  Gabriel Pascal
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Screenplay, Actor (Howard), Actress (Hiller)
  • Length:  96 min
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Release Date:  8 December 1938
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #4  (year)  /  #172 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Howard), Actress (Hiller)

The Film:  I admit it.  I miss the songs.  When Henry Higgins first encounters Eliza in Covent Garden and listens to her speak, I expect to hear “Why Can’t the English?”  In fact, I have now popped in the original Broadway CD and can listen as I write this.  It all seems to fit.

It’s a shame that the absence of the songs messes me up a little because this is a wonderful film, and it’s not wonderful really in any of the same ways that My Fair Lady is.  It does have some nice art direction and some nice costumes, but it isn’t a gorgeous period film like the musical and of course it doesn’t have the songs.  What it has is the original script written by George Bernard Shaw (the only man to win a Nobel Prize and an Oscar) and it has two of the most wonderful performances in all of film history: Leslie Howard as Henry Higgins, the part he was born to play and Wendy Hiller as lovely, dirty Eliza Dolittle, the street urchin who wants to be a lady in a flower shop.

Wendy Hiller as Eliza: the hair I like

There is no one who can play a smart, upright British man who looks down his nose at you quite like Leslie Howard.  When he is told that Colonel Pickering treats a flower girl like a duchess and he responds “And I treat a duchess like a flower girl,” he is absolutely believable.  He is very much me.  Veronica’s not so thrilled about that.  My mother would be appalled.  But it’s so very me.  It’s why I am such a fan of Leslie Howard.

Then there is Wendy Hiller.  Is there a stranger looking lovely actress?  Or a more lovely strange looking actress?  Which is it?  I’m not sure.  In all the years, she never became a part of Hollywood, never became famous.  But look at some of the roles during the years: Pygmalion, Major Barbara, I Know Where I’m Going, Separate Tables, A Man for All Seasons.  She won the Oscar for Separate Tables and she should have won for Pygmalion.  Much more than Audrey Hepburn and even more than Julie Andrews, she is able to appear pathetic in the gutter and so magnificently lovely later.  She is Henry’s match from the first syllable she utters.  And how odd for me, after all these years of thinking her rather strange looking, to pause the DVD and turn to Veronica and say, “Can you do that with your hair?” (the way it looks when she is arguing with Henry in his mother’s apartment towards the end – the picture on the left).  Wouldn’t it be loverly?

Robert Donat in the kind of role only he can play in The Citadel (1938)

The Citadel

  • Director:  King Vidor
  • Writer:  Ian Dalrymple  /  Frank Wead  /  Elizabeth Hill  (from the novel by A.J. Cronin)
  • Producer:  Victor Saville
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Robert Donat, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Richardson, Rex Harrison
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Donat)
  • Length:  110 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  3 November 1938
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #11  (year)  /  #335 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Donat), Supporting Actor (Richardson)

The Film:  This is really one of those kind of roles that only Robert Donat could play.  He had that ability to play a straight role like this, like Mr. Chips, without leering into melodrama and without any cynicism.  He had a very quiet dignity that was unlike any other actor at the time.  Certainly part of it was being British, but could you really imagine Colman or Laughton or Olivier in this role?  It is a Donat role, through and through.  That he plays it so well, that it is a good film, that never laps overly into sentimentality is mostly thanks to him.

Of course, he’s not the only thing in the film.  There is Rosalind Russell, not quite up to the standard she would set later, but lovely and charming.  There is also Ralph Richardson in a great early role as the best friend, who has a wonderful drunken scene near the end of the film (“Pull myself together?  Why?  I like being apart.”), who was much better than any of the actors actually nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  There is solid cinematography, solid story telling.  It doesn’t quite ever rise into the range of being a great or even a very good film, but then King Vidor always was an over-rated director.

Bette Davis won her second Oscar for Jezebel (1938)

Jezebel

  • Director:  William Wyler
  • Writer:  Clements Ripley  /  Abem Finkel  /  John Huston  (from the play by Owen Davis)
  • Producer:  Hal B. Wallis  /  Henry Blanke
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, Fay Bainter, George Brent
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Actress (Davis), Supporting Actress (Bainter), Cinematography, Score
  • Length:  104 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  26 March 1938
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #12  (year)  /  #340 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actress (Davis), Supporting Actress (Bainter), Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design

The Film:  I’ve never really liked Bette Davis.  Is that an odd admission?  Not that I think she is a bad actress.  Far from it.  She is, without question, one of the greatest actresses who ever appeared on-screen.  I think she earned her Oscar nominations and more besides.  She also, in her early roles, had an odd sort of appeal; not that she was good looking, but she was somehow appealing in spite of the fact that unlike Shearer or Garbo or Hepburn, she was so obviously not that good looking.  But I don’t like her.  I don’t particularly enjoy watching her.  Perhaps that’s because she so often played horrible people, people who deserved a lot of the terrible things that happened to them.  Certainly in Jezebel she plays such a person.  Does she actually earn the ending she gets?  Because we don’t know what’s going to happen.  We can assume that she’s going to die of yellowjack.  But we don’t know that for certain and she’s fought hard to make sure she can end up with the man that she claims she loves.  Of course, this is Bette Davis and we can’t really be certain if she loves him.

Let’s back up a step.  This is the story of Julie, a spoiled Southern girl in New Orleans who wants to flaunt herself and enjoys the scandals she creates.  She manages to drive away her fiancee, the ever dependable Henry Fonda in one of the thankless roles he was continually placed in until the studios realized what a star they had.  When he returns, married, she becomes determined to get her revenge, but she really still wants him.  Not that she necessarily loves him.  But she desperately wants him, almost as something you would covet.  When he is struck down by yellow fever, she risks her life and goes to him, eventually convincing his wife that she should be allowed to go away with him and care for him, that the wife is a good person but that she needs to do this to earn the title of good for herself.

It’s an okay film.  Certainly it is one of Davis’ best performances, for which she won the Oscar (I give my award to Wendy Hiller, but Davis comes in second).  Fay Bainter also won an Oscar for playing her aunt, becoming the first person nominated for both acting awards in the same year (she lost Best Actress for White Banners, a film very difficult to find now).  It is very well directed by William Wyler, the man who would become Davis’ lover and would direct many of her finest performances.

The story is that this was given to Davis for losing out on the role of Scarlet O’Hara.  But that’s, quite simply, a bit of urban legend crap.  Look at Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951).  It has a memo from Walter MacEwan, the executive assistant to Warners major producer, Hal B. Wallis.  In that memo (on page 40), MacEwan writes “(Jezebel) would provide a good role for Bette Davis, who could play the spots off the part of a little bitch of an aristocratic Southern girl.  She should also look swell in the gowns of the period.”  The date on that memo?  February 15, 1935, over a year before Gone with the Wind had even been published.

Gable, Loy and Tracy, but not much to brag about: Test Pilot (1938)

Test Pilot

  • Director:  Victor Fleming
  • Writer:  Vincent Lawrence  /  Waldemar Young  /  Frank Wead
  • Producer:  Louis D. Lighton
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Original Story, Editing
  • Length:  118 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  22 April 1938
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #27  (year)  /  #408 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Sound, Sound Editing

The Film:  The argument for living in Arizona is that while it might be 117 degrees, at least it’s a dry heat.  The retort is that a butane torch is also a dry heat, but you don’t stick your head in it.  The analogy is that you have enjoyable movies with high quality stars like Gable and Tracy and Loy and you enjoy them for what they are.  The retort is, that’s fine, but you don’t nominate them for Best Picture.

There’s going to be a lot of films like this over the years.  It’s a perfectly decent film.  It’s a good enough film, Gable is cocky and enjoyable, Tracy is solid and understated, Loy is beautiful.  That’s what they all did best.  It’s well made, with some decent direction, good sound, good shots of the planes in flight.  It’s got the same kind of story that so many other stories have — the triangle without the romance on the third point, just a friendship.  Gable is the pilot.  Loy is his wife.  Tracy is the mechanic who is loyal to Gable.  It’s decent enough fun all around, not difficult to watch, goes down easily.

As for its nominations, well Best Editing wasn’t too bad; it does move well enough.  The Best Original Story nomination is completely ridiculous as it has pretty much no originality whatsoever.  As for Best Picture, well, like I said, it’s fine to make pictures like this, fine for people to enjoy them, but don’t try to make them take that step into art by nominating them for Best Picture.

Somehow Michael Curtiz was nominated for Four Daughters (1938) and not Robin Hood

Four Daughters

  • Director:  Michael Curtiz
  • Writer:  Lenore J. Coffee  /  Julius J. Epstein  (from the novel Sister Act by Fannie Hurst)
  • Producer:  Hal B. Wallis  /  Henry Blanke
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Priscilla Lane, Claude Rains, John Garfield
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Garfield), Sound
  • Length:  90 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  9 August 1938
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #34  (year)  /  #413 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  So how was this pitched?  Warner Bros. went to Curtiz and Rains and said, “Yeah, we know you just did Robin Hood and it’s possibly the best film we’ve ever made, but we’d like you to go do a fairly uninteresting story about a musician who has four daughters and the family drama that stems from that.”  Well, it was Warners and both of them were under contract, so this was what came next.  From the memos in Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951), it looks like this was something the studio gave to Curtiz to bide his time between Robin Hood and directing Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces.  I’m sure everyone at Warners was stunned when Four Daughters knocked Angels out of the Best Picture race and Curtiz knocked himself out for Robin Hood (he was also nominated for Angels, something, due to Academy rule changes, that wouldn’t happen again until 2000).

Because, really what we have here is a fairly pedestrian story.  Rains is very solid as the music professor who is raising his four daughters.  One of them falls in love with rough-neck John Garfield (who was nominated over Rains mainly because Warners was pushing him) and runs off.  But of course there is a reunion later and there is never really much tension or drama in the story.  The acting isn’t bad and the writing isn’t bad.  It’s just all kind of there.  If Rains wasn’t in it I would barely remember it and it lacks all the energy of the other two 1938 Michael Curtiz films.

Power, Faye, Ameche, but not as boring as In Old Chicago: Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938)

Alexander’s Ragtime Band

  • Director:  Henry King
  • Writer:  Irving Berlin  /  Kathryn Scolla  /  Lamar Trotti  /  Richard Sherman
  • Producer:  Darryl F. Zanuck  /  Harry Joe Brown
  • Studio:  20th Century-Fox
  • Stars:  Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche, Ethel Merman
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Original Story, Editing, Score, Interior Decoration, Song (“Now It Can Be Told”)
  • Length:  106 min
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Release Date:  16 August 1938
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #35  (year)  /  #420 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Song

The Film:  So what do we have here?  We have pretty much all the same people who had been involved in In Old Chicago, the 1937 film that is one of the most forgettable Best Picture nominees in history.  Thankfully, even with the absence of Alice Brady, this film is much better.  Not a ton better, as it is still only ***, but it’s not boring, it’s not stupid and at times can even be entertaining.

That said, I don’t really want to heap praise upon it.  Tyrone Power and Alice Faye never had much in the way of acting ability and the story is the same kind of love triangle involving the two of them and Don Ameche.  But there are a lot of fairly entertaining musical numbers and the presence of Ethel Merman, who really could sing, helps bring those songs to life.  It certainly says something that they were able to make an entire film to justify the tiny little story from the song of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, but here we have it, the story of a band that gets together, fights, breaks up, the leader leaves and goes off to war and then comes home.  Not much to it.  But certainly better than In Old Chicago.

Another undeserved Oscar for Spencer Tracy for Boys Town (1938)

Boys Town

  • Director:  Norman Taurog
  • Writer:  John Meehan  /  Dore Schary  /  Eleanore Griffin
  • Producer:  John W. Considine, Jr.
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay, Original Story, Actor (Tracy)
  • Length:  96 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (True Story)
  • Release Date:  9 September 1938
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #43  (year)  /  #425 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  I could say that this was a bad time for me to be watching Boys Town.  After all, here we have an entire institution filled to the decks with young boys founded by a Catholic priest.  But if you know me at all, you know I’ve never had much use for Catholic theology and so the recent news doesn’t really change how I feel about this film.  Just like I no longer give points to a film just because of the social message it’s trying to convey, I also try not to think about aspects of the film I might find personally distasteful.  Instead, I try to judge the film based on the film itself.

It’s pretty boring.  Let’s just look at the Oscar nominations.  It won the Oscar for Best Original Story, which seems silly, because the pitch must have been: let’s write a film about Father Flanagan and the founding of Boys Town.  That seriously won an Oscar?  Then there’s the Screenplay.  They decided to focus in on Flanagan and one boy in particular.  The script itself isn’t so bad, except that it reeks of self-righteousness.  Flanagan doesn’t believe that there’s such a thing as a bad boy, so of course he will prove it.  There’s certainly not much to it.  Then there is the Oscar nomination for director Norman Taurog.  Except the film isn’t particularly well-directed.  It mostly consists of Tracy being pious, convinced that he will be right and things will work out and Rooney alternately being tough and showing that he is not as tough as he seems.  It was nominated for Best Picture, of course, or we wouldn’t be talking about it now.

Which brings us to Spencer Tracy.  Tracy is the most over-rated actor in Hollywood history.  He wasn’t a bad actor by any means.  But he was under-stated and could quite often just be boring (when Somerset Maugham watching him filming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde he asked which he was now).  How could they have looked at Cagney and his brilliant performance in Angels with Dirty Faces, then looked at Tracy constantly saying over and over again (in pretty much the same manner) “There’s no such thing as a bad boy” and decided that Tracy was worthy of an Oscar?  Again?  After a horribly over-rated performance the year before?  Again, Tracy is a good actor and over the years gave some performances that absolutely merited the Oscar nominations they received (most notably Bad Day at Black Rock).  But 10 nominations?  Two Oscars?  That’s just ridiculous.

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