My Top 10:

scarface

Paul Muni as Tony, the crazed gangster and Ann Dvorak as his sister in Scarface

  1. Scarface
  2. Vampyr
  3. Frankenstein
  4. A Nous la Liberte
  5. Horse Feathers
  6. Freaks
  7. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  8. Wooden Crosses
  9. What Price Hollywood
  10. Grand Hotel

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture Grand Hotel
  • Best Director:  Frank Borzage  (Bad Girl)
  • Best Actor:  Frederic March  (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) / Wallace Beery  (The Champ)
  • Best Actress:  Helen Hayes  (The Sin of Madelon Claudet)
  • Best Adaptation:  Bad Girl (from the novel by Viña Delmar)
  • Best Original Story:  The Champ

TSPDT Consensus Top 5 Films:

  • Vampyr – #183
  • Freaks – #207
  • Frankenstein – #365
  • Scarface – #490
  • A Nous La Liberte – #506

Top 5 Awards Points:

  1. The Champ – 245
  2. Bad Girl – 220
  3. Shanghai Express – 145
  4. Arrowsmith – 135
  5. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – 135

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • Frankenstein – #87  (1998 poll – not on 2007 poll)

Nighthawk Awards:

SHANGHAI

Marlene Dietrich as Shanghai Lily in Shanghai Express

  • Best Picture:  Scarface
  • Best Director:  Howard Hawks (Scarface)
  • Best Actor:  Paul Muni  (Scarface)
  • Best Actress:  Marlene Dietrich  (Shanghai Express)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Boris Karloff  (Frankenstein)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Miriam Hopkins  (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Vampyr
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Horse Feathers
  • Best Foreign Film:  Vampyr (from the novel In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu)

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch over and over:  Horse Feathers
  • Best Scene:  the creation scene in Frankenstein
  • Best Line:  “I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when you arrived.”  (Horse Feathers – Groucho Marx)
  • See the Movie – Don’t Read the Book:  Vampyr

The ignored genre finally gets some respect.  Not only do Horror films account for 4 of my top 7, but they actually take all of the top 3 spots from TSPDT.  Yet, those same three films were ignored at the Oscars and the one that did get some attention (Jekyll) wasn’t actually nominated for Best Picture, in spite of being better than any of the actual nominees.  Scarface, the best film of the year, is ignored by the Oscars and savaged by the authorities for not giving gangster Tony Camonte an ending befitting his crimes.  Like City Lights, the NBR places it in the Top 10.  Battles with the Hays Office and local censors delayed the film’s release for close to a year.

Film History: While Irving Thalberg has a heart attack, reducing his power at MGM, Harry Cohn becomes president of Columbia.  Under Cohn’s reign, Columbia would win Best Picture 6 times, but he was more hated than anyone in Hollywood and at his funeral, in response to the crowds, Red Skeleton noted “Give the people what they want to see and they’ll show up.”  Johnny Weismuller debuts as Tarzan (side note: in the early 50’s, my uncle would break his hand punching Weismuller’s son in the back).  Thomas Edison, the inventor of the cinematograph dies in late 1930 and George Eastman, the inventor of flexible film dies in early 31.  D.W. Griffith release his final film, The Struggle.

Academy Awards: This was an Oscar year unlike any other.  Grand Hotel is still the only film to win Best Picture while having no other nominations.  It would be another 57 years before another film won without a Best Director nomination.  It would be 19 years before a BP wasn’t in the top two in Oscar points and only one other film (The Greatest Show on Earth) would fail to finish in the top 3 (and it finished fourth while Grand Hotel finished sixth).  Frank Borzage would win his second Oscar (the first to do so) and would fail to win Best Picture again (a mark matched only by John Ford and George Stevens).  Academy rules (not actually in effect, but from the year before) would allow Wallace Beery to claim an Oscar when he finished one vote behind Frederic March.  March and Helen Hayes would eventually both win second Oscars after long gaps (14 years for March, 38 for Hayes).  March would be the last Best Actor winner from a film not nominated for BP until 1947.  All the Best Director nominees would be from BP nominees (easy to do with 3 Directors and 8 films), a trend that would continue, with 2 exceptions until 1943 (My Man Godfrey in 1936 and Angels with Dirty Faces in 1938).  Surprisingly enough, I actually agree with the award for Grand Hotel among the nominations.  While Shanghai Express is fairly good, Grand Hotel is really the only one of the 8 that deserved even a nomination (***.5 or better).

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Original Story for The Champ
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Picture for The Champ
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Director for Scarface
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Picture – only Grand Hotel was worthy, The Champ was an embarrassing choice and One Hour With You is weak Cukor and weak Lubitsch
  • Best Oscar Nomination:  Best Art Direction for A Nous La Liberte – the first Foreign nominee, and completely worthy
groucho2ax0

Groucho Marx as Professor Wagstaff in the under-appreciated Horse Feathers (1932)

Overlooked film of 1932:

Horse Feathers (dir. Norman Z. McLeod)

Duck Soup, in spite of its lack of financial success when it was originally released is now revered as a classic.  Ebert hailed it, the Top 1000 ranks it high and it’s been on both AFI lists.  It’s the best of Marx Brothers by the consensus of pretty much everyone.  So what about Horse Feathers?  It’s the second best of the Marx Brothers, has hilarious lines, great interplay back and forth between the brothers, wonderful songs and is almost completely ignored.

You could make a few arguments against the inclusion of Horse Feathers as a great film and all of them have counter-arguments.  First, it has only a flimsy plot.  On the other hand, all Marx Brothers films have flimsy plots and it is not more flimsy than the plot of any big action film.  Second, the way Groucho throws his lines out at times seem to befuddle everybody and bring things to a halt.  But that was the way Groucho was.  As he said, poor Margaret Dumont never got any of his jokes.  It doesn’t seem like any cast members ever get his jokes except his brothers.  But the lines are always worth it.  Third, the film only remains today in a cut version.  Even in the newest DVD releases, there are jumps in editing and obviously parts that are missing.  This is due to the re-editing after the enforcement of the Production Code so that it could get a re-release and this is the best we have.

Then we have the greatness of the film.  We have the brilliant lines that Groucho keeps throwing at us (“You’re a disgrace to the name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is even possible.”  “You know, this is the first time I’ve been out in a canoe since I saw ‘The American Tragedy.’ ”  “I think you know what the trustees can do with their suggestions.”).  We have the great scene at the speak-easy where Groucho tries to figure out the password (reminiscent of this classic Sesame Street scene).  We have the craziness that ensues whenever Chico is asked to do something (this pretty much happens in every Marx Brothers film).

Then there are the songs.  Sometimes early Hollywood songs get forgotten because there was no Academy Award for Best Song until 1934.  But this film has two of the best early ones.  First we have Professor Wagstaff’s earnest disapproval of any idea that has already been presented (“I’m Against It”).  But then we have the Marx Brothers most beautiful song, one which would give Woody Allen the title of his own musical: “Everyone Says I Love You.”  What makes the song even more enchanting is how, during the course of the film, all four brothers sing it to Thelma Todd.  What could be a little throwaway verse becomes a classic song as it helps tie the parts of the film together into a cohesive whole.

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