My Top 10:

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William Powell, Myrna Loy and Asta in The Thin Man (1934)

  1. The Thin Man
  2. The Gay Divorcee
  3. It Happened One Night
  4. Death Takes a Holiday
  5. Mauvaise Graine
  6. Story of Floating Weeds
  7. The Scarlet Empress
  8. Of Human Bondage
  9. Twentieth Century
  10. Madame Bovary

Academy Awards:

  • Best PictureIt Happened One Night
  • Best Director:  Frank Capra  (It Happened One Night)
  • Best Actor:  Clark Gable  (It Happened One Night)
  • Best Actress:  Claudette Colbert  (It Happened One Night)
  • Best Adaptation:  It Happened One Night (from the short story “Night Bus” by Samuel Hopkins Adams)
  • Best Original Story:  Manhattan Melodrama

TSPDT Consensus Top 5 Films:

  • It Happened One Night – #198
  • The Scarlet Empress – #298
  • Man of Aran – #311
  • It’s a Gift – #423
  • Our Daily Bread – #821

Top 5 Awards Points:

  1. It Happened One Night – 490
  2. One Night of Love – 245
  3. The Thin Man – 170
  4. Cleopatra – 155
  5. The Gay Divorcee – 135

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • It Happened One Night – #35  (1998) / #46  (2007)

Nighthawk Awards:

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Bette Davis as the Cockney waitress in Of Human Bondage - even with write-in votes she only finished third in the Oscar voting

  • Best Picture:  The Thin Man
  • Best Director:  W.S. Van Dyke  (The Thin Man)
  • Best Actor:  William Powell  (The Thin Man)
  • Best Actress:  Bette Davis  (Of Human Bondage)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Charles Laughton  (The Barretts of Wimpole Street)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Alice Brady  (The Gay Divorcee)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The Thin Man (from the novel by Dashiell Hammett)
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Mauvaise Graine
  • Best Foreign Film:  L’Atalante

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch over and over:  The Gay Divorcee
  • Best Scene:  Claudette Colbert stopping traffic in It Happened One Night
  • Best Ending:  It Happened One Night
  • Best Line:  “I read where you were shot 5 times in the tabloids.”  “It’s not true.  He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.”  (The Thin Man – Myrna Loy and William Powell)
  • Read the Book – Don’t See the Movie:  The Age of Innocence

Ebert Great Films (in order they were added):

  • The Thin Man
  • The Scarlet Empress

In 1934 the Academy Awards and NBR finally lined up as the Academy stuck to the actual calendar year.  It is the last of the weaker years, as many of the Best Picture nominees are widely forgotten today, with a few of them (The White Parade, The House of Rothschild, Here Comes the Navy) especially hard to find.  Of the 5 films hailed in the Top 1000, one is a British documentary and one is a W.C. Fields film lauded more for his wit than for any greatness in the film itself.  While It Happened swept the awards, I prefer the wit of The Thin Man.  Is there a more entertaining movie couple than William Powell and Myrna Loy?  But either way, it’s close – my top 3 are pretty much a tie.  All of them are well made, well acted and first rate entertainment and all of them have wit and romance — two things that aren’t combined well enough anymore.

Film History: Thanks to films like The Story of Temple Drake and She Done Him Wrong, the Production Code begins to be strictly enforced in June, thus ending the Pre-Code Era. We have the first appearances of Donald Duck and The Three Stooges, the start of the Thin Man series and the beginnings of screwball comedy with It Happened One Night.  Jean Vigo dies of leukemia, just after the release of his L’Atalante.  John Dillinger makes Manhattan Melodrama famous as the trivia question answer to “What movie was Dillinger coming out of when he was killed by police?”

Academy Awards: It Happened One Night is still remembered as the first film to win the big 5: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay (it was also the first film to win more than 3 Oscars).  It would take 41 years before it would happen again (or even before the same film would win Actor and Actress).  The Academy expanded, adding Editing, Score, Song and Assistant Director.  For the final time, more than 1 film will get a Best Picture nomination and no other nominations (the 3 hard to find films mentioned above).

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Cinematography for Cleopatra
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Adaptation for Viva Villa!
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Actress for Bette Davis  (Of Human Bondage)
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Editing
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Actor

Awards: For the first time, the NBR and the Oscars were working on the same calendar and yet, only three of the Top 10 NBR films made the Best Picture nominations, though they did both agree on It Happened One Night as the best film of the year (the other two were The Thin Man and Viva Villa!).  For the first time (according to their records), the NBR picked a specific Best Foreign Film, the documentary Man of Aran.

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Helen Venable and Frederic March in Death Takes a Holiday (1934)

Over-looked film of 1934:

Death Takes a Holiday (dir. Mitchell Leisen)

Do people today understand the extent to which Frederic March was a star?  When they look back at the 30’s, and look at Gable and Cagney will they even remember March?  But Frederic March was one of the first great actors to emerge in the Sound Era.  He had the forceful presence of John Barrymore (without the self-destructive drinking), the elegance and class of Leslie Howard (without the foppishness) and he could romance with the best of them.

So why, why, why would anyone in their right minds ever have conceived of re-making a Frederic March film with Brad Pitt in the March role?  March had charisma, had star power, knew how to act.  Pitt can do great acting in character roles, but as a lead is a complete vacuum, and never more so than in Meet Joe Black, the over-long, tedious re-make of Death Takes a Holiday.  Pitt’s idea of being Death was to simply never show the slightest sign of emotion.

March, on the other hand, was one hell of an actor, one of the first to win an Oscar for Best Actor and one of the few to do it a second time.  As Death, he actually seeks out to explore a world.  He gives a performance of someone who has ventured out beyond what they are normally accustomed to and what to understand what the new world means.  He is genuinely seeking out a chance to explore life, the very thing that he brings an end to.  And Death Takes a Holiday is a fascinating film, often forgotten, for it was nominated for no Oscars and has not been seen much over the years (it is unavailable on DVD).  But it is a sharp reminder of the star power of the Studio Era.

Treat yourself to some Frederic March.  It doesn’t just have to be Death Takes a Holiday.  It could be either of his Oscar winning roles: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or The Best Years of Our Lives.  It could be the film he should have won an Oscar for: A Star is Born.  It could be his Oscar nominated performance as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.  Or his amazing late career performance in Inherit the Wind.  Just discover him and watch how amazing he truly was.

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