It's all going badly for Tony.

It’s all going badly for Tony.

You can read more about this year in film here.  The Best Picture race is discussed here, with reviews of all the nominees.  First there are the categories, followed by all the films with their nominations, then the Globes, where I split the major awards by Drama and Comedy, followed by a few lists at the very end.  If there’s a film you expected to see and didn’t, check the very bottom – it might be eligible in a different year.  Films in red won the Oscar in that category.  Films in blue were nominated.  But remember, there’s still only eight categories at this point.

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture
  1. Scarface
  2. Frankenstein
  3. À Nous La Liberté
  4. Horse Feathers
  5. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Analysis:  So, of my top five films, only two of them earned any Oscar nominations.  And one of those two was a Foreign film (more on that in Art Direction).  But, while the Academy was heaping honors on mediocre Lubitsch musicals and really bad Wallace Beery performances, it’s the gangster film, the horror film and the Marx Brothers comedy that rise to the actual top.  And my #6 film is Freaks, a film that probably scared the hell out of the Academy.

  • Best Director
  1. Howard Hawks  (Scarface)
  2. James Whale  (Frankenstein)
  3. René Clair  (À Nous La Liberté)
  4. Rouben Mamoulian  (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
  5. Tod Browning  (Freaks)

Analysis:  Howard Hawks would eventually earn an Oscar nomination, for one of his lesser efforts (Sergeant York).  But the other four of these directors would never get even that.  At the Oscars, King Vidor was losing to Frank Borzage again (just like in the first Oscar year), yet neither belonged anywhere near the race.  The only Oscar nominee who even merits mention from me is Josef von Sternberg, whose Shanghai Express at least finishes in 8th place (behind Wooden Crosses and Five Star Final).  James Whale will be back twice in the next three years and Howard Hawks will earn a number of Nighthawk nominations but this is it for Clair, Mamoulian and Browning.

  1. Scarface
  2. Frankenstein
  3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  4. Five Star Final
  5. Grand Hotel
  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. Horse Feathers
  2. À Nous La Liberté
  3. What Price Hollywood
  4. Monkey Business

Analysis:  This group of four is better than all seven from the two previous years combined, namely because of how good Feathers and Liberté are.  That the Academy chose The Champ, one of the least original and least interesting scripts to ever receive an Oscar nomination as their winner without nominating those two is embarrassing.  But they at least nominated What Price Hollywood and could have given the Oscar to that.  Instead the Oscar went to Francis Marion, who two years earlier, had won the Oscar for her mediocre The Big House over All Quiet, so clearly they liked her (and she becomes the first two-time Oscar winner for writing – actually, along with Borzage she becomes the first two-time Oscar winner, period).

  • Best Actor:
  1. Fredric March  (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
  2. Paul Muni  (Scarface)
  3. Edward G. Robinson  (Five Star Final)
  4. Ronald Colman  (Arrowsmith)
  5. Lowell Sherman  (What Price Hollywood)

Analysis:  I’ve bounced back and forth on this for years, between March and Muni.  This time, having just watched both films in quick succession, I have pushed March a little higher because he is so impressive at both parts of the performance – the one time that it really seems like it could be different actors playing Jekyll and Hyde.  Which is not to take anything away from Muni’s impressive performance.  The performance from Wallace Beery in The Champ, which “tied” with March at the Oscars (by getting only one vote less) is so ridiculous that I don’t even rate it.

  • Best Actress
  1. Constance Bennett  (What Price Hollywood)
  2. Marlene Dietrich  (Shanghai Express)
  3. Greta Garbo  (Grand Hotel)
  4. Helen Hayes  (The Sin of Madelon Claudet)
  5. Sally Eilers  (Bad Girl)

Analysis:  Marlene Dietrich comes in second place for the second year in a row.  Beating her out for the Nighthawk is Constance Bennett for a performance that would barely get her a nomination in a good year.  But this is a very weak year and it earns her the award.

  • karloffBest Supporting Actor:
  1. Boris Karloff  (Frankenstein)
  2. Lionel Barrymore  (Grand Hotel)
  3. Boris Karloff  (Five Star Final)
  4. George Raft (Scarface)
  5. Lionel Barrymore  (Broken Lullaby)

Analysis:  This is so Karloff’s year.  Aside from easily winning the Nighthawk and earning a second nomination, he has a good performance in The Old Dark House and a good small performance in Scarface.  Both of Barrymore’s performances are filled with pathos but Karloff outdoes them with just his eyes and grunts in Frankenstein.

  • hopkinsBest Supporting Actress:
  1. Miriam Hopkins  (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
  2. Aline MacMahon  (Five Star Final)
  3. Bette Davis  (Cabin in the Cotton)
  4. Ann Dvorak  (Scarface)
  5. Billie Burke  (A Bill of Divorcement)

Analysis:  This is just bad luck for MacMahon and Davis.  Not only would either of them easily win Best Actress if they were lead performances (and would have won Actress in 31 or 30 as well), but either of them would have Best Supporting Actress in any year going all the way back to the first Nighthawk Awards and indeed the next three years as well.  Davis’ performance helped to make her a star, especially her great line “I’d kiss ya, but I just washed my hair.” while I have already talked at length about MacMahon’s performance, especially her drunk scene (which I wonder if it was catered to her talent as the scenes were for Marie Dressler in Anna Christie since the drunk scene wasn’t in the original play).  In 6th is Nina Mae McKinney as the hotel owner in Safe in Hell, a rare non-degrading performance for an African-American and especially impressive as she was only 19.  For much more on Hopkins performance, go here.

  • Best Editing:
  1. Scarface
  2. À Nous La Liberté
  3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  4. Frankenstein
  5. Freaks
  • Best Cinematography:
  1. Frankenstein
  2. Scarface
  3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  4. Wooden Crosses
  5. Freaks

Analysis:  Shanghai Express, which won the Oscar, was just off the list in sixth place.

  • Best Original Score:
  1. À Nous La Liberté
  2. Shanghai Express
  3. Arrowsmith
  4. What Price Hollywood

Analysis:  It’s astounding to go back to a year like this and watch some of the best films of the year – films like Scarface or Jekyll – and realize that there is no original score for the film.  That it took them a while to really start doing that may be why it took until 1934 before the category was added at the Oscars.

  • Best Sound:
  1. Scarface
  2. Frankenstein
  3. À Nous La Liberté
  4. Tarzan the Ape Man
  5. Freaks

Analysis:  Like the year before, the Oscar for Best Sound was given to a Studio Sound Department rather than to an individual for a film, though, since Paramount won, maybe it was intended somewhat for Jekyll?  But another great gangster film is overlooked for the award, though, since they ignored Scarface in every other category I doubt they would have awarded it here.

  • Clive, Colin (Frankenstein)_02Best Art Direction:
  1. Frankenstein
  2. À Nous La Liberté
  3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  4. Grand Hotel
  5. Shanghai Express

Analysis:  This is probably the category that Universal’s Golden Age of Horror got the best.  And the Academy apparently couldn’t be bothered to notice it.  While Cedric Gibbons, the MGM art director and original Academy member would win 11 Oscars, many of them for work that wasn’t better than okay, Charles D. Hall was coming up with some of the most amazing sets that would ever be seen on film.  Hall’s work includes Phantom of the Opera, The Man Who Laughs, Dracula, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, all for Universal.  They received no Oscar nominations.  He wouldn’t be nominated until after he left Universal for United Artists, and even there he wouldn’t be nominated for Modern Times, but for lesser efforts on Merrily We Live and Captain Fury.  And I can’t forget to mention the presence of Liberté, which, as you can see, was nominated for the Oscar.  It was a measure of the brilliance of its sets that it was nominated.  It was the first Foreign Language film to ever be nominated at the Oscars (it would be another 6 years before another film, Grand Illusion, would become the second film and while the British would dominate Art Direction in the late 40’s, another Foreign Language film wouldn’t get a nomination in the category until La Ronde in 1951.

  • Best Visual Effects:
  1. Frankenstein
  2. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Best Sound Editing:
  1. Frankenstein
  2. Scarface
  3. À Nous La Liberté
  4. Tarzan the Ape Man
  • Best Costume Design:
  1. The Congress Dances
  2. Frankenstein
  3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Analysis:  The Congress Dances is a German film about the Congress of Vienna with some nice period costumes.  We often think of the look of the classic Horror films but the costumes weren’t nearly as impressive as the sets.

  • Best Makeup
  1. Frankenstein
  2. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Analysis:  Poor Jekyll has the fourth best makeup of the decade behind only Wizard of Oz, Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein but still can’t win the award.  Fredric March knew how good it was, thanking his makeup artist in his Oscar acceptance speech: “I must thank Wally Westmore, who made my task an easy one.  Wally, who I consider a great artist, is responsible for the greater measure of my success.”  (Inside Oscar, p 40-41)

  • Best Original Song:
  1. Everyone Says I Love You”  (Horse Feathers)
  2. Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”  (Horse Feathers)
  3. La liberte, c’est pour les heureux  (À Nous La Liberté)

Analysis:  This is going to be very tricky in the years before the creation of the Best Song category at the Academy Awards in 1934.  I was yelled at for dismissing nearly all pre-1934 songs other than Marx Bros songs in my Best Original Song post for my History of the Academy Awards series.  But it’s hard figuring out precisely which songs were written for these films.  This gets much easier (though not perfectly clear) starting in 1954, when you can go to the Academy list for Song Title from all the films released in each year (not perfectly clear because some of them I’m fairly certain are wrong, but we’ll get to those in individual years).  As for this year, we have the two hilarious songs from Horse Feathers, two songs I have been able to remember since the very first time I saw the film.  The first is the better song but the second is hilarious.  As for the third, well the link goes to the song as it appears in the beginning of the film.  But one of the great things about the song is that it is returned to not once, but twice in the course of the film, ending the film even as it began it.

  • VampyrposterBest Foreign Film:
  1. Vampyr
  2. À Nous La Liberté
  3. The Blood of a Poet
  4. Wooden Crosses
  5. Marius

Analysis:  There is some disadvantage of time here.  À Nous La Liberté, from Rene Clair, would easily be the Best Foreign Film in either of the next two years, but here it can’t beat out Vampyr.  Which makes this the second time that a German vampire film has won Best Foreign Film already.  And it’s the only German film among the nominees this time – #2-5 are all French films.

By Film:

note:  They’re in points order.  You get twice as many points for a win as for a nomination.  Hopefully your math skills will let you figure out the system.

  • Scarface  (500)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Sound Editing
  • Frankenstein  (445)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design, Makeup
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  (380)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Costume Design, Makeup
  • À Nous La Liberté  (300)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Editing, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Original Song, Foreign Film
  • What Price Hollywood  (170)
    • Original Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Original Score
  • Horse Feathers  (160)
    • Picture, Original Screenplay, Original Song, Original Song
  • Five Star Final  (135)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • Grand Hotel  (125)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actor, Art Direction
  • Freaks  (115)
    • Director, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction
  • Shanghai Express  (80)
    • Actress, Original Score, Art Direction
  • Arrowsmith  (60)
    • Actor, Original Score
  • Wooden Crosses  (45)
    • Cinematography, Foreign Film
  • Monkey Business  (40)
    • Original Screenplay
  • Tarzan the Ape Man  (40)
    • Sound, Sound Editing
  • The Sin of Madelon Claudet  (35)
    • Actress
  • Bad Girl  (35)
    • Actress
  • Broken Lullaby  (30)
    • Supporting Actor
  • Cabin in the Cotton  (30)
    • Supporting Actress
  • A Bill of Divorcement  (30)
    • Supporting Actress
  • The Congress Dances  (30)
    • Costume Design

Best Film Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Awards:

  • Night Court

Analysis:  A good film from Woody Van Dyke before he started making a living with the Thin Man series, starring Walter Huston as a corrupt judge.  Almost a ***.5 film, but not quite.

Biggest Awards Film Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Awards:

  • The Champ

Analysis:  For the second year in a row this award goes to a film starring Jackie Cooper.  But this time I don’t blame him – I much more blame the horrendous script (which somehow won the Oscar) and the ridiculous hamming-it-up performance from Wallace Beery (which also won the Oscar, sort-of).  It’s utter crap.  In my review, I noted the over-acting of Cooper as well and the constant close-ups that King Vidor (also Oscar nominated, Good Lord this was ridiculous) gave him.

Nighthawk Golden Globes:

Drama:

  • Best Picture
  1. Scarface
  2. Frankenstein
  3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  4. Freaks
  5. Five Star Final
  • Best Director
  1. Howard Hawks  (Scarface)
  2. James Whale  (Frankenstein)
  3. Rouben Mamoulian (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
  4. Tod Browning  (Freaks)
  5. Raymond Bernard  (Wooden Crosses)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. Scarface
  2. Frankenstein
  3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  4. Five Star Final
  5. Grand Hotel
  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. What Price Hollywood

Analysis:  The one category where the Comedy / Musical category really have it over Drama.  The Oscars nominated Star Witness, which I didn’t think good enough, Lady and Gent, which I haven’t seen, and The Champ, which I have already denigrated elsewhere.

  • A nice lull on the set as a director takes tea with his stars.

    A nice lull on the set as a director takes tea with his stars.

    Best Actor:

  1. Fredric March  (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
  2. Paul Muni  (Scarface)
  3. Edward G. Robinson  (Five Star Final)
  4. Ronald Colman  (Arrowsmith)
  5. Lowell Sherman  (What Price Hollywood)

Analysis:  Because all of the Nighthawk nominees are in Drama films, we don’t add anyone here.  The next couple of slots are Colin Clive (Frankenstein) and John Barrymore (Grand Hotel).

  • What Price Hollywood 003Best Actress
  1. Constance Bennett  (What Price Hollywood)
  2. Marlene Dietrich  (Shanghai Express)
  3. Greta Garbo  (Grand Hotel)
  4. Helen Hayes  (The Sin of Madelon Claudet)
  5. Sally Eilers  (Bad Girl)

Analysis:  The same as for Best Actor, there are no added performances here.  My number 6 for Best Actress is the Comedy winner below, followed by the only other two performances I thought merited mention – Katharine Hepburn in A Bill of Divorcement and Helen Hayes again, this time for Arrowsmith.

  • Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Boris Karloff  (Frankenstein)
  2. Lionel Barrymore  (Grand Hotel)
  3. Boris Karloff  (Five Star Final)
  4. George Raft (Scarface)
  5. Lionel Barrymore  (Broken Lullaby)
  • Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Miriam Hopkins  (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
  2. Aline MacMahon  (Five Star Final)
  3. Bette Davis  (Cabin in the Cotton)
  4. Ann Dvorak  (Scarface)
  5. Billie Burke  (A Bill of Divorcement)

By Film:

  • Scarface  (365)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  (265)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actress
  • Frankenstein  (195)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor
  • Five Star Final  (185)
    • Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • What Price Hollywood  (185)
    • Original Screenplay, Actor, Actress
  • Grand Hotel  (105)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actor
  • Freaks  (95)
    • Picture, Director
  • Wooden Crosses  (45)
    • Director
  • Arrowsmith (65)
    • Actor
  • Shanghai Express  (35)
    • Actress
  • The Sin of Madelon Claudet  (35)
    • Actress
  • Bad Girl (35)
    • Actress
  • Broken Lullaby  (30)
    • Supporting Actor
  • Cabin in the Cotton  (30)
    • Supporting Actress
  • A Bill of Divorcement  (30)
    • Supporting Actress

Best Drama Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Golden Globes:

  • Night Court

Analysis:  See above.

Comedy / Musical:

  • Best Picture:
  1. À Nous La Liberté
  2. Horse Feathers

Analysis:  There are 14 films that qualify as either a Comedy or a Musical.  Two of them are brilliant.  Two of them are quite good, but just can’t make it to the ***.5 mark which is my cut-off (The Old Dark House, Monkey Business).  And from there, it starts to go downhill.  Five of the films rank below ***.  It really does come down to those two great films.

  • Best Director:
  1. René Clair  (À Nous La Liberté)
  2. James Whale  (The Old Dark House)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. The Old Dark House
  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. Horse Feathers
  2. À Nous La Liberté
  3. Monkey Business
  • groucho marx horse feathers 3Best Actor:
  1. Groucho Marx  (Horse Feathers)

Analysis:  Can what Groucho does really be called acting?  I don’t know.  But he does it better than anyone else, and in a year where there just wouldn’t be anyone else listed there otherwise, he earns my spot.

  • cromwell-dressler-hersholt-emmaBest Actress:
  1. Marie Dressler  (Emma)

Analysis:  Dressler is pretty good in what is really a truly bad film, again, winning consecutive Nighthawk Globe awards.

  • Best Supporting Actor / Supporting Actress:

Analysis:  I considered giving a nod to Boris Karloff for The Old Dark House, or even Charles Laughton for the same, but in the end I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  And so we end up with no one in either of these categories.  But don’t worry – things will start to get much better in these categories next year.

By Film:

  • À Nous La Liberté  (230)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay
  • Horse Feathers  (200)
    • Picture, Original Screenplay, Actor
  • The Old Dark House  (105)
    • Director, Adapted Screenplay
  • Emma  (70)
    • Actress
  • Monkey Business  (40)
    • Original Screenplay
  • The Royal Family of Broadway  (35)
    • Actor

Best Comedy Not Nominated for any Nighthawk Golden Globes:

  • The Congress Dances

Analysis:  Oh yeah, when I mentioned this film up in Costume Design, did I mention that it’s a musical?  Well, it is, and it’s not a bad one, which in this year means it barely beats out Capra’s Platinum Blonde as the best Comedy or Musical with no nominations on the year.

Roundup for the Year in Film:

Eligible Films I Have Seen:  87

  • Average Film Score for the Year, out of 100: 64.36

Oscar-Nominated Films I Have Not Seen:

  • Lady and Gent  (Original Story)

Oscar Quality:

Best Picture:  I could say that this is a drastic improvement over the year before, going from an 8.03 to a 5.68.  But that’s still a pretty bad score, the sixth worst year in Oscar history.  The problem here isn’t so much a plethora of bad films (only two films near the bottom – The Smiling Lieutenant and The Champ) but that there are no great films.  Like 1929 and 1931, there are no **** films nominated for Best Picture, the last time this would happen until 1956.  At least they didn’t compound the problem too much, picking the second best of the nominees for Best Picture.

The Winners:  When I rank the winners of all the Oscar categories, I do a few things.  One of the things I do is give an average based on where I have the winners ranked in each category, and then I do it again without Best Picture.  That’s because I rank every film for Picture and when a really bad film wins (like Cimarron) it brings down the overall score quite a bit.  With the first score, this year gets a 11.38, which is one of the worst years in history.  But it actually is one of the rare bad years to get worse when Best Picture is factored out, in fact going up to a 11.57, the worst year in history.  That’s because they picked my #10 film on the year for Best Picture but picked the truly awful script for The Champ and they still didn’t have very many categories.  And I even gave the year the benefit of the doubt, going with my rank for March’s Oscar rather than Beery’s – otherwise it would have been much worse.  But in eight categories they only chose my #1 choice once and one of my top 5 one other time (Actress).  But their score among the nominees is a 2.13 because the other nominees were often such bad choices that the Academy could have made worse choices than they did (although, again, that’s using March as the winner).

Top 5 Films of the Year:

Easily the best film of the year – something Chaplin would do again five years later.

1  –  Scarface  (see review here)

2  –  Frankenstein  (see review here)

And, for the second year in a row, the award of director whose film makes life worth living goes to Rene Clair.

And, for the second year in a row, the award of director whose film makes life worth living goes to Rene Clair.

3  –  À Nous La Liberté  (dir. René Clair)

Imagine Modern Times (I am hesitant to say this because of the lawsuit, which you can read about on your own and because, as great as this film is, it doesn’t actually come close to Modern Times, but the comparison is more than apt).  Throw in a bit of Les Mis.  Throw in some lively music, anchored by a very good song that resounds through an entire film (like “Look Down” in Les Mis).  Scramble them together with a doomed attempt at romance, a satire on the working class and the upper class and an ending that could be claimed to be ripped off by Modern Times if it hadn’t already basically been used by Chaplin before and we get a recipe for a great film, the second time in three years that Clair wins Best Picture – Comedy or Musical at the Nighthawk Golden Globes (only kept out of winning in the middle year by Chaplin’s incomparable City Lights).  In fact, for all the notion of the Musical at MGM, Clair made more first-rate Musicals in 1930-31 than MGM made in the first two decades of the Sound Era.

It’s easy to see early on where the Les Mis influence comes in.  Louis, just out of prison (escaped) manages to leave behind his old life and become the owner of a factory and has made himself rich and respectable while hoping that the past won’t catch up to him.  And of course the past does catch up to him, but in the form of an old friend from prison rather than a relentless policeman.  The presence of his friend (and later, a whole group of gangsters) threatens to undo the life that Louis has managed to make for himself out of the ashes of his old one.

This is where Modern Times comes in.  It’s the 20th, not the 19th century, and Louis owns a factory that puts together phonographs.  We get a view of the factory work floor, the influence of Henry Ford and his assembly line and it isn’t so different from the prison toy-making assembly line that Louis was working on in the opening scene.  The tediousness of the factory, the similarities to being in prison are all made quite clear and yet we don’t feel bludgeoned over the head by them either.  And like Modern Times, this is a wicked satire about the world that we are living in, as Louis has a bourgeois life and a bourgeois wife (who is cheating on him) and all of it bores him.  When his old prison friend shows up this doesn’t end up ruining him, but in a sense it liberates him from the tedium of the modern world.  And the satire is taken up a level in the finale, as a boring old man continues to read his speech in front of what becomes a ridiculous scene of the upper-class engaging in their lowest habits and desires.

And then there is the music.  Like his last two films, Clair makes great use of sound.  At one point we have a character who thinks the flowers are singing, but then sees it is a woman, only (for us) to realize that the source of the music is actually a phonograph.  The film begins, as I said, in an assembly line, with the prisoners singing the enchanting “La liberte, c’est pour les heureux” (“freedom is for the happy”).  The song returns again in the scene with Louis’ wife as the presence of his friend has lightened his life.  And then, at the end, as the two friends head off together down the road, we get one final verse of the song and we watch them, free and happy, off to find what’s next.

I would say it doesn't get any funnier than this but Duck Soup would prove that statement a lie.

I would say it doesn’t get any funnier than this but Duck Soup would prove that statement a lie.

4  –  Horse Feathers  (dir. Norman Z. McLeod)

“I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when you arrived.”  Everyone has their favorite lines from Marx Brothers films, and, let’s face it, they’re almost all from Groucho.  That’s because the one-liner is what Groucho does so very well, better than almost anyone in the history of film.  That’s not to say that Groucho’s one-liners are all that a Marx Brothers film is about.  Most Marx Brothers films are good fun because they combine a variety of entertainments and they work together.  While Duck Soup is the best Marx Brothers film because the story works with the humor the best and Groucho is in his finest form, Horse Feathers is the film that combines all the various forms of humor the best.

All Marx Brothers films have flimsy plots.  In this one it’s the need for the college to win a football game and so a plot is hatched between the new college president (Groucho) and his son (Zeppo).  But those plots are just something to build a loose tree that all the branches of fun can be hung upon.  In some ways, this plot works the best for me, someone who was raised on college campuses, to be treated with lines like “Tomorrow we start tearing down the college.”  “But, Professor, where will the students sleep?”  “Where they always sleep: in the classroom.”  or “The trustees have a few suggestions they would like to submit to you.”  “I think you know what the trustees can do with their suggestions.”

But there are four key kinds of entertainment.  The first is those wonderful Groucho one-liners and monologues, where he just goes on and on and the rest of the cast just stands there, sometimes reacting, sometimes just standing there.  We get lines like “Well, I thought my razor was dull until I heard his speech. And that reminds me of a story that’s so dirty I’m ashamed to think of it myself.”  The second is the back and forth routines between Groucho and Chico, such as the classic scene where Groucho needs the password that Chico knows.  The third is the ridiculous things that Harpo does, such as when a homeless man wants a cup of coffee and Harpo simply pulls one out of his jacket or how everything pays off for him in the speak-easy, even the pay phone.  I wonder, sometimes, if the other actors weren’t told what Harpo would do, given the reactions when the coffee is handed out or when someone says “Cut the cards” and Harpo comes slamming down with an axe on the deck.

Then there is the fourth kind of entertainment and I have saved it for last for a reason.  Like I said, Duck Soup is their best film, but this has the best combination.  That’s because the fourth is the songs, and while many Marx Brothers have one good song, that’s the weakest part of Duck Soup, and here we have two absolutely fantastic songs – their most wonderful enduring song (“Everyone Says I Love You”) and what is probably their funniest song (“Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”, which one YouTube commenter noted may now be the Republican theme song).

5  –  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  (see my review here)

5 Worst Films  (#1 being the worst):

  1. Elmer the Great
  2. The Champ
  3. The Age of Consent
  4. Wet Parade
  5. The Hatchet Man
elmer-the-great-movie-poster-1933-1020196868

It just makes me want to bang my head on a wall.

Elmer the Great  (dir. Mervyn LeRoy)

I embarked on a project a few years ago called The History of the Academy Awards: Best Director.  It consisted of ranking every director who had ever been nominated for an Oscar.  To do it properly it meant I had to watch as many films as possible from every director.  And, as a result, I filled out the bottom ranks of most of the years in the 1930’s.  Let’s look at this year, 1931-32.  Of the 87 films I have seen, 9 of them I gave **.  Of those 9 films, I saw 7 of them for the first time while working on this project.  The only two exceptions are Westward Passage, which I watched because it was an early Olivier film and The Champ, which was directed by a director in the project, but which I had already seen years ago because of its Oscar wins.  In fact, of the 33 films ranked below *** on the year, 22 of them I ending up specifically seeing them for this project.

Which brings me to the other point I want to make before what will be a rather short review.  Comedy clearly works for you or it doesn’t.  I am, as should be obvious by now, a huge Marx Brothers fan, especially of the early films.  I also, as is made clear here, a big fan of the Ealing Comedies.  I enjoy the silent Laurel and Hardy, though I don’t much like their sound films.  I am not a fan of Abbott and Costello.  I despise Adam Sandler and most of Judd Apatow.

Those two things come together in this film because of Joe E. Brown.  Now, for a long time the only thing I had seen Brown in was in Some Like It Hot, in which he is fantastic and should have been Oscar nominated.  But I had never seen any of his early comedies, when he was a big star.  But, because Mervyn LeRoy directed four of Brown’s early films I got to watch him at work when he was a big star.  And I hated him.  And I hated the films.

There is a smugness about Brown, about his vanity, about his total inability to interact in a normal way with the world.  He has to mug in every single shot and I find him grating and annoying and even if the plot is interesting and the script is witty I would have turned away (to be fair, I have the exact same reaction to Red Skelton).  But, the added problem is that the plot isn’t interesting (in this one, which is probably the worst and most annoying of the Brown films, he plays a talented Cubs player, which I couldn’t believe for a second, who gets into highjinks when his fiancee comes to town, and oh, the hell with it, go read the summary on Wikipedia) and the script doesn’t have an ounce of wit.  Some comic actors relied on their scripts – Groucho was all about how witty he could be.  Some combined their scripts with an ability to react – Bob Hope comes to mind, he of the one-liners and some truly great reaction shots.  Others relied on their personalities to succeed and a whole lot of facial reactions.  Reaction shots work great when you’re Bob Hope and are reacting.  But just constant facial tics with actors like Brown and Skelton, if what they are doing can be called acting, is just an annoyance and one that gets very old very fast.

I realize that comedy is completely personal.  That is made evident in conversations with my mother as she enjoys films that I would never ever watch and while I laugh hysterically at Clerks and warn her that she should never ever watch it.  So you don’t have to take my recommendation.  But don’t blame me if you go watching the films and hate them too.  I warned you.

Points:

  • Most Nighthawk Nominations:  Frankenstein  /  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  (12)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards:  Frankenstein  (6)
  • Most Nighthawk Points:  Scarface  (500)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Award:  The Sin of Madelon Claudet
  • 2nd Place Award:  Frankenstein  (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Sound, Costume Design)
  • 6th Place Award:  Freaks  (Picture, Art Direction)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Nominations:  Scarface  (6)  **
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Awards:  Scarface  (3)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Points:  Scarface  (365)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Drama Award:  The Sin of Madelon Claudet
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Nominations:  À Nous La Liberté  /  Horse Feathers  (3)
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Awards:  À Nous La Liberté  /  Horse Feathers  (2)
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Points:  À Nous La Liberté  (230)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Comedy Award:  Emma

Note:  * means a Nighthawk record up to this point; ** ties a Nighthawk record

Analysis:  This makes it three years in a row that the worst film nominated for a Nighthawk Award is not only a film nominated for Best Actress, but the film that actually won Best Actress at the Oscars (though in none of the three cases did it win the Nighthawk).  Also, for the second year in a row, the worst Comedy nominated is a Marie Dressler Comedy nominated for her performance.

Progressive Leaders:

  • Most Nighthawk Nominations:  All Quiet on the Western Front  (13)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards:  City Lights  (9)
  • Most Nighthawk Points:  All Quiet on the Western Front  (645)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards without winning Best Picture:  Frankenstein  (6)
  • Most Nighthawk Nominations without a Best Picture Nomination:  Faust  (8)
  • Most Nighthawk Nominations without a Nighthawk Award:  Faust  /  7th Heaven (8)
  • Actor:  Lon Chaney  (240)
  • Actress:  Lilian Gish  /  Janet Gaynor  (210)
  • Director:  F.W. Murnau  (180)

Breakdown by Genre  (Foreign in parenthesis, best film in genre following, avg. score is afterwards, in parenthesis):

  • Drama:  57  (2)  –  Five Star Final  (61.1)
  • Comedy:  8  –  Horse Feathers  (63)
  • Foreign:  6  –  À Nous La Liberté  (73.2)
  • Horror:  6  –  Frankenstein  (78.5)
  • Musical:  5  (2)  –  À Nous La Liberté  (66)
  • Crime:  4  –  Scarface  (75)
  • Suspense:  2  –  The Mask of Fu Manchu  (59.5)
  • War:  2  (1)  –  Wooden Crosses  (76)
  • Adventure:  1  –  Tarzan the Ape Man  (70)
  • Kids:  1  (1)  –  Emil and the Detectives  (67)
  • Western:  1  –  Heritage of the Desert  (60)
  • Action:  0
  • Fantasy:  0
  • Mystery:  0
  • Sci-Fi:  0

Analysis:  There are a couple of things that seem odd here but I’m not checking back through all 9000 films over 100 years to confirm that they are odd and not just the norm.  The first is that there is no **** Drama film – Five Star Final is a high ***.5, but it seems bizarre to not have a Drama that reaches ****.  Also, most of the worst films of the year are Dramas, which means that while the average film for the year is a 64, the average Drama for the year is a 61.

Studio Note:

So, we are in the heart of the Studio Era, where there were the big 5.  These were Fox, MGM, Paramount, RKO and Warner Bros.  I have seen 19 Warner films from this year, 17 MGM, 15 Paramount and 13 RKO.  Yet, I have only seen 4 films from Fox.  Are there films just not as preserved?  Not as good as thus not as easy to find?  Did they have fewer Oscar-nominated Directors and thus I didn’t catch them on the Best Director project?  And of the four films from Fox I have seen, three of them were directed by Frank Borzage (the other, Transatlantic, won the Oscar for Best Art Direction).  By the way, of the majors, Paramount does the best, averaging a 67, RKO does the worst, averaging a 57, and MGM (62.9) and Warners (62.2) split the difference.

14 Films Eligible for Best Foreign Film (alphabetical, with director in parenthesis – red are ****, blue are ***.5 – both those colors qualify for my Best Foreign Film Award):

  • The Blood of a Poet  (Cocteau)
  • The Blue Light  (Reifenstahl)
  • La Chienne  (Renoir)
  • The Congress Dances  (Charell)
  • Emil and the Detectives  (Lamprecht)
  • Kameradschaft  (Pabst)
  • Kuhle Wampe  (Dudow)
  • Lilac  (Litvak)
  • Madchen in Uniform  (Sagan)
  • Marius  (Korda)
  • A Nous La Liberte  (Clair)
  • Road to Life  (Ekk)
  • Vampyr  (Dreyer)
  • Wooden Crosses  (Bernard)

Note:  Fourteen films, and every one of them except Road to Life is either French or German.

Films Eligible in This Year But Originally Released in a Different Calendar Year:

  • The Murderer Dmitri Karamazoff  (1931-32)

Films Released This Year Originally But Eligible in a Different Year:

  • The Blood of a Poet  (1932-33)
  • Kameradschaft  (1932-33)
  • Kuhle Wampe  (1932-33)
  • Lilac  (1932-33)
  • Madchen in Uniform  (1932-33)
  • Marius  (1932-33)
  • The Blue Light  (1934)
  • Vampyr  (1934)
  • La Chienne  (1976)

Note:  Because of the way the Academy’s “years” were drawn prior to 1934, years fell into two different Oscar years.  So this is not a list of all the 1932 films that fall into the 1932-33 category.  This list only consists of 1931 films that did not fall into either 1930-31 or 1931-32 as well as any film eligible for Best Foreign Film in this year, but eligible for other awards in a different year.  After 1933, this will get considerably less complicated.

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