A widely reviled Best Picture winner: Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook in Cavalcade (1933)

The 6th Academy Awards, for the period from August 1, 1932 to December 31, 1933.  The nominations were announced on February 26, 1934 and the awards ceremony was held on March 16, 1934.

Best Picture:  Cavalcade

  • I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
  • The Private Life of Henry VIII
  • Little Women
  • Lady for a Day
  • State Fair
  • A Farewell to Arms
  • Smilin’ Through
  • 42nd Street
  • She Done Him Wrong

Most Surprising Omission:  Trouble in Paradise

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  M

Best Eligible U.S. Film Not Nominated:  King Kong

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #75

The Race:  The race for the Oscars really kicked off over a year before on December 22, 1932.  That was when the National Board of Review decided that in addition to their Top 10 of the year that they would also name a single Best Picture, and the initial winner, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, had been released in November and wouldn’t be eligible until the next year’s Oscars.  They also named A Farewell to Arms, a December release, to their Top 10.  It would be over a year before another Oscar ceremony because of the decision to align the Oscars with the calendar year.  So in December of 1933, the NBR would again name a Best Picture, this time Topaze.  Their Top 10 would include Cavalcade, Little Women, She Done Him Wrong and State Fair.

The Results:  The National Board of Review award didn’t help Topaze as it wasn’t among the 10 nominees.  After the nominations, the heavy hitters were considered to be Little Women, A Farewell to Arms, I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, Lady for a Day and State Fair, but four days before the ceremony, Variety announced that Cavalcade, a Fox film made in Britain, was the likely winner.  That turned out to be accurate as Cavalcade, now widely reviled as one of the weakest Oscar winners, would indeed take home the prize.

Who says Noel Coward can't be boring? Cavalcade (1933) is.

Cavalcade

  • Director:  Frank Lloyd
  • Writer:  Reginald Berkeley  (from the play by Noel Coward)
  • Producer:  Winfield Sheehan
  • Stars:  Diana Wynyard, Clive Brook
  • Studio:  Fox
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Actress (Wynyard), Interior Decoration
  • Length:  110 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  15 April 1933
  • My Rating:  **.5
  • My Rank:  #51 (year)  /  #430 (nominees)  /  #78 (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  Cavalcade is the second lowest ranked Best Picture on the IMDb and that’s not quite fair.  It’s not a bad movie, like Broadway Melody or Cimarron (the only one ranked lower).  It’s not even a vastly over-rated mediocre film like Gigi or Braveheart.  What it is, is an exceedingly boring film.  It takes everything that can be dull about a play and makes it worse by expanding it for the film.  It’s the original Forrest Gump, with every part connected with a larger part of world history.  We get a long scene between a young couple on the deck of a large ship talking about how good the future will be.  Do we really need the shot at the end where it focuses in on the name of the ship?  By this point, it has to be obvious that it’s the Titanic.  But it wants to hit us over the head with history again and again (one website has altered the film poster to say Cavalcade: As subtle as a horse-kick to the head).

Perhaps the bigger problem is that the film won Best Director as well as Best Picture.  Many winners of Best Picture win because of their size and scope.  Certainly the scope on this film is large, it wants to show us all of twentieth century British history and how it affected one family.  But we really don’t care that much about the family.  The mother, played by Oscar nominee Diane Wynyard, isn’t particular good and definitely wears out her welcome, and the father, Clive Brook, is just as stolid and boring as he was in Shanghai Express.  But there is the large size and scope and voters go for that.  But to win Best Director?  This film has terrible directing.  The editing jumps all around as it wants to show us the larger society of the world, but keep coming back to this family that we just can’t make ourselves care about.

So there we have it.  A really rather boring film that wasn’t even among the 50 best of the year.  But the second worst?  No.  I’ve only got it as the sixth worse.  I’ll still take it over The Greatest Show on Earth, Gigi, Braveheart, Cimarron or The Broadway Melody.

It still has an impact after 75 years: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

  • Director:  Mervyn LeRoy
  • Writer:  Howard J. Green / Brent Holmes  (from the book by Robert E. Burns)
  • Producer:  Hal B. Wallis
  • Stars:  Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Actor (Muni), Sound
  • Length:  93 min
  • Genre:  Drama (True Story)
  • Release Date:  19 November 1932
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #3 (year)  /  #131 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Muni), Supporting Actress (Farrell), Editing, Cinematography, Score, Sound

The Film:  In 1952, Richard Russell would make a try for the Democratic nomination for President.  He did well in the South and ended up finishing third on all three ballots cast at the Democratic National Convention.  He had been a major force in the Senate since joining it in 1933 and would remain so until his death in 1971.  His cultivation of Lyndon Johnson during his early years in the Senate would enable Johnson’s rise to power as Majority Leader and his eventual ascension to the Presidency.  During the 1950’s, Russell would lead the fight against Civil Rights legislation, though, when Johnson convinced him that things had to change with the vote in 1957, he did allow things to eventually proceed.  During the 1950’s, he was one of the most well known and powerful senators in the country.  What had been forgotten was that he had been Governor of Georgia back in 1932.  Back then, the book I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang was released, followed by the film.  The book described, and then the film showed, the entire country the kind of brutal oppression that still ruled the Georgia prison system and the chain gang.  Burns had been given a 6 to 10 year sentence for being involved in a robbery of a diner, a crime he had been somewhat persuaded to participate in and somewhat intimidated.  The sentence was much harsher than the crime could have ever allowed for outside of the brutal South.  As depicted in the film, Burns escaped from the chain gang and ended up in Chicago.  When eventually discovered, he agreed to return to Georgia for a 90 day sentence, but that promise was broken and he was thrown back on the chain gang.  Escaping again, he actually took to a life of crime to survive and was in prison in New Jersey when the film was made.  Russell demanded his extradition and produced affidavits from convicts that the chain gang wasn’t that bad.  Rather than reforming his brutal system, Russell, who would later say “I had never seen a man I knew was innocent, convicted,” instead defended his brutal state, taking the offense by extolling the virtues of his horrid system of punishment.  Interestingly enough, by the time he became a national figure again, in the Senate, in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, of the scores of profiles about him, there was no mention whatsoever of his participation in this disgusting story.  When Robert Caro, the eminent biographer of Lyndon Johnson, undertook his years of research into Johnson’s life, he was unable to find any connection between Russell the national figure and Russell the brutal governor.  The fact was, as Caro put it, he he “been the harshest Governor in the history of a very harsh state.”

That is the background for this film, an amazing social drama that depicts poor James Allen (essentially Robert Burns), a Great War veteran, unable to hold a job in the world he comes back to, who, hungry, desperate, ends up in this robbery and finds his life destroyed.  He is able to escape and lives for years in Chicago, though he is eventually forced to marry his landlady when she reads his mail and discovers his secret.  Neither is happy with the other and when Allen falls in love, his wife responds by exposing his secret.  He eventually agrees to go back to Georgia, only to find himself betrayed, forced to stay indefinitely on the chain gang once again.  There is another break, this one an amazing car chase, but there is no happy ending.  Allen is forced to live on his wits, cut off from those he loves.

Everything about this film is fantastic.  It is smart, well-made, with terrific acting from Muni and Farrell (as the wife who he hates) and the best direction of Mervyn LeRoy’s career.  It makes great use of sound and cinematography and has one of the most haunting final shots in all of film history.  A frightened, exhausted Allen returns to Chicago to visit Helen, the love he was forced to leave when he was returned to Georgia.  She wants to help, to give him food, shelter, but he will not take it.  He hugs her, then disappears back into the darkness.  Calling after him, asking how he will live, how he eats, from the darkness, you simply hear the words, “I steal.”

All the Russell information comes from pages 188-189 of The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate by Robert Caro.

First film with no U.S. funding to get nominated for Best Picture: The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

The Private Life of Henry VIII

  • Director:  Alexander Korda
  • Writer:  Lejos Biro  /  Arthur Wimperis
  • Producer:  Alexander Korda
  • Stars:  Charles Laughton, Robert Donat, Merle Oberon, Elsa Lanchester
  • Studio:  London Films  (distributed by United Artists)
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Actor (Laughton)
  • Length:  97 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Biopic)
  • Release Date:  21 September 1933
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #9 (year)  /  #270 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Screenplay, Actor (Laughton), Supporting Actress (Lanchester), Score, Art Direction, Costume Design

The Film:  So much of the film is wrapped up in the one performance.  Are there parts of the film that people think of that don’t involve Charles Laughton?  He is so perfectly cast, he doesn’t just play the part, he inhabits the very idea of Henry VIII and becomes the measure against which later Henrys must be compared against.  So it was strange to watch the film again and realize that he doesn’t appear on-screen until eight minutes into the film.  We’ve been hearing about him, and his legend is already growing in the film, but then, as the ladies of the court gossip about him, he is there in the doorway, in that famous pose from the painting.  This is Henry, in all his beastly splendor, one of the most famous of all the English kings, one of the most fascinating.

There is more to the film than Laughton though.  For one thing, there is Elsa Lanchester.  She might only be in the film for a few minutes, but it is always those few minutes that people talk about.  She plays Anne of Cleves, an intelligent, thoughtful woman who managed to actually outwit Henry and keep her head.  They were already married at the time and their chemistry on-screen together is delightful, a bit of foreplay to the much longer, wonderful scenes between them in Witness for the Prosecution.

Then there is the film itself.  It is a very good film, much better than many of the nominees.  It was the first film made entirely outside of the United States with foreign money to be nominated for Best Picture.  It focuses on Henry’s private life and doesn’t much care about anything else.  It skips his first wife entirely because, as the film points out, she’s not particularly interesting.  It also sidesteps the whole story of how he came to divorce her, separate from the Catholic Church and marry Anne Boleyn in the first place, in order to focus on his later wives.  Anne is already in jail and waiting to be executed when the film opens.  But it makes good use of the way that courts gossip about the lives of those who rule them and has that wonderful Laughton performance in the middle of it all, anchoring it.  It’s true that I don’t give him Best Actor.  But he was eligible in the same year as Peter Lorre in M.

Capra was crushed when he didn't win Best Director for Lady for a Day (1933)

Lady for a Day

  • Director:  Frank Capra
  • Writer:  Robert Riskin  (from a story by Damon Runyon)
  • Producer:  Frank Capra
  • Stars:  May Robson, Warren William, Guy Kibbee
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adaptation, Actress (Robson)
  • Length:  96 min
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Release Date:  13 September 1933
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #11 (year)  /  #288 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Robson)

The Film:  Frank Capra was crushed when he didn’t win Best Director for this film, especially since Will Rogers simply called out “Frank” for the winner, Frank Lloyd.  And certainly he deserved it more than Lloyd did (though not as much as George Cukor who was the third nominee and who would have to wait 31 years for his Oscar instead of just one).  But it’s interesting that the loss was what made Capra determined to win an Oscar, because up until Lady for a Day, he really hadn’t made an Oscar worthy film.  None of his early films were bad, but none were particularly great either.  This is the first film in which we can get an idea of who Capra was as a director and the greatness that followed, including 3 Oscars, flowed directly from this film.  Capra even liked it so much that he re-made it in 1961 as A Pocketful of Miracles.

The story is pretty simple.  Poor Annie, the apple vendor, who lives in a small run down apartment, has been writing her daughter letters telling her how wonderful her life is while collecting the letters at the local swanky hotel.  However, at the same time that her ruse is discovered by the hotel and they stop allowing her to get her mail, her daughter writers her to say she and her fiancee will be visiting.  Annie is horrified at the thought that her daughter will discover her pathetic circumstances and that it will ruin her engagement.  Enter the Dude.  He is a local gangster who rather likes Annie and he becomes determined to help fool the daughter and puts together a scheme wherein they will pretend that Annie is a member of high society long enough for her daughter to get married.

Where the comedy comes from is that three reporters who have stumbled upon the scheme have been kidnapped by the Dude and this puts the police hot on him.  We end up with a scene where the Dude has to convince the police commissioner, the mayor and even the governor the wisdom of his scheme and they all race together to fool Annie’s daughter, the fiancee and the Count, the fiancee’s father.  Their ruse lasts long enough to get the three of them back on a boat to Europe.

All of the basic elements are there for future Capra films: the foolishness of the upper class, the nobility of the lower classes, the sentimentality attached to the ending, but the humor to go along with it.  Robson is very good as Annie and was the first of nine actors in the 1930’s to earn Oscar nominations in Capra films.  Though it doesn’t place as highly in Capra’s oeuvre as the films that would follow, it is still an enjoyable early comedy.

Kate Hepburn as an intelligent, literate New Englander. Not exactly a stretch for her. Little Women (1933)

Little Women

  • Director:  George Cukor
  • Writer:  Victor Heerman  /  Sarah Y. Mason  (from the novel by Louisa May Alcott)
  • Producer:  Merian C. Cooper / Kenneth MacGowan
  • Stars:  Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas, Edna May Oliver
  • Studio:  RKO Radio
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adaptation
  • Length:  115 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Romance)
  • Release Date:  24 November 1933
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #14 (year)  /  #289 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actress (Hepburn), Score, Costume Design

The Film:  There are those who prefer the 1994 version with Wynona Ryder and there are those who prefer the 1933 version with Katharine Hepburn (only Rex Reed prefers the 1949 version with June Allyson).  I am among the former, because I feel that the later version removes some of the saccharine sweetness of the novel, something which the Hepburn version seems to relish in.  It almost makes you want to skip through the first 30 minutes of the film.  But we have to slog through the slow introductions of the four March daughters so that we can learn to love each one in their own turn.  But there is no question that this version belongs solely to Jo, because when Katharine Hepburn is on-screen, there isn’t much else to care about.  She brings the film alive, in her interactions with her mother, her sisters, her neighbor, and his grandfather.

Looking back at the film, I found myself a bit stuck.  For a long time now, I have felt that Katharine Hepburn deserved her 1933 Oscar for Best Actress, but for Little Women, rather than Morning Glory.  But perhaps I was wrong.  She might be better in Morning Glory after all.  Something about Jo March seems a little too easy for Hepburn.  Jo was from New England, born to be an intelligent writer, born to be smarter than everybody else, and maybe that’s just a little too close to Kate the Great herself.  Perhaps that was part of the reason that I watched this film and actually found myself wishing I was watching the 1994 version instead.  Of course, the later version is filled with better actors, from Christian Bale to Claire Danes to Kirsten Dunst, and so perhaps some of the fault lies outside of Hepburn herself.  But it surprised me nonetheless.

The original and still the best: State Fair (1933)

State Fair

  • Director:  Henry King
  • Writer:  Sonya Levien  /  Paul Green  (from the novel by Philip Strong)
  • Producer:  Winfield Sheehan
  • Stars:  Will Rogers, Janet Gaynor, Lew Ayres
  • Studio:  Fox
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Adaptation
  • Length:  97 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Romance)
  • Release Date:  10 February 1933
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #16 (year)  /  #292 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actress (Gaynor)

The Film:  I am at a complete loss to explain why this film is not readily available.  Every now and then it’s on the Fox Film Channel, but it has never been made available on either VHS or DVD.  There are later (and lesser) versions of the film which are easy to find.  But this is the original, the version nominated for Best Picture, with Will Rogers, Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres.  And it is quite a good film.  It reminds us once again why Janet Gaynor won one Oscar and strongly deserved a second.  It has the best example of Will Rogers’ acting ability.  It has Lew Ayres in the kind of under-rated role that was the mark of his career.  It even does a fairly good job of telling a story about middle America.  It makes us care about these characters, makes us care what’s going to happen at the fair.  I’ve lived my entire life on one coast or the other and most films about middle America don’t hold much interest for me.  But these are real characters and this story, told in the middle of the Depression, gives us a glimpse into a way of life that has been rapidly fading for nearly a century now.

So think about what you want to see.  Do you want to see Dana Andrews or Pat Boone belting out Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes?  Is that your idea of a film?  Because I would much rather see acting.  It’s not hard to find either the 1945 or 1962 musical versions, yet this lingers in the vaults at 20th Century Fox.  While the Library of Congress might work to preserve prints of great movies, perhaps the Academy should understand that once they have elevated a film to the status of Best Picture, especially when it really is a good film, they should try to make sure it is available for people to watch.  Certainly they could put a little pressure on Fox and try to get this out on a DVD.

1st of 2 Cooper / Hemingway films to get a Best Picture nom: A Farewell to Arms (1932)

A Farewell to Arms

  • Director:  Frank Borzage
  • Writer:  Benjamin Glazer  /  Oliver H. P. Garrett  (from the novel by Ernest Hemingway)
  • Producer:  Adolph Zukor
  • Stars:  Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes, Adolph Menjou
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Cinematography, Sound, Interior Decoration
  • Length:  80 min
  • Genre:  War  (World War I)
  • Release Date:  8 December 1932
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #29 (year)  /  #383 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Supporting Actor (Menjou), Sound

The Film:  Hemingway’s prose is simple and straight forward, lacking the difficult narrative of Faulkner, Joyce or Woolf.  His characters are fairly easy to understand and his dialogue is as true as any other writer of fiction.  So why is it that film versions of his novels never seem to rise above the ordinary?  The best film made from a Hemingway novel is To Have and Have Not, in which Faulkner and Howard Hawks jettisoned most of the book and simply kept the basic idea.  For Whom the Bell Tolls was a great film and earned its Best Picture nomination, but it seems to be the exception.  Over 40 films have been from his writings and there’s just the two great ones?  Sad, but true.  This film certainly should be better.  It stars Gary Cooper, who in some way, seems to be the perfect person to play a Hemingway hero.  It has solid production values, and while I don’t agree with either of its Oscars, neither is an embarrassment.

So why is it as I watched this film, I seemed to feel nothing?  Is it because I’ve moved away from Hemingway in the 20 years since I first started reading him?  That might be part of it, and certainly I don’t think as highly of the novel as I did when I first picked it up the summer before my senior year of high school.  But there is something curiously missing in the film.  Perhaps Cooper, while right for For Whom the Bell Tolls, is the wrong person here.  Or perhaps he just hadn’t been around long enough yet to fully be able to sink into the role.  But there didn’t seem to be any chemistry between Cooper and Hayes.  I couldn’t believe that they were falling in love in the middle of a war.

Then there is the ending.  Luckily I haven’t been made to endure the original U.S. ending in which Catherine actually lives, because that would just end any positive opinion of the film right there.  The story doesn’t amount to much if she actually ends up alive at the end.  But even the ending you can currently see, that was used in Europe, doesn’t quite work.  The IMDb describes it as “Hemingway’s original ending.”  But that’s not really true.  What you get here is some tears and a fade away with Lt. Henry looking up (perhaps because Catherine goes to heaven?).  But think of the last line of the novel: “After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”  That’s how the film should end and perhaps that could have saved it, just a little.

1st of consecutive March / Shearer "forbidden romance" Best Picture nominees: Smilin' Through (1932)

Smilin’ Through

  • Director:  Sidney Franklin
  • Writer:  Ernest Vajda / Claudine West  (from the play by Jane Cowl and Jane Murfin)
  • Producer:  Irving G. Thalberg
  • Stars:  Norma Shearer, Frederic March, Leslie Howard
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture
  • Length:  98 min
  • Genre:  Drama (Romance)
  • Release Date:  24 September 1932
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #31 (year)  /  #384 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  Perhaps because this was originally based on a play, this story takes place in England.  That works for Leslie Howard, who is English through and through.  It also works for Frederic March, because he is supposed to be an American.  But what is there to explain Norma Shearer?  She has an accent that doesn’t quite reach English, but isn’t really that far away.  She also has the thankless role of being the more modern, younger woman as well as the woman who died 50 years before.  She does much better with the modern role and her romance with Frederic March seems so much more alive than does the flashback story of her and Leslie Howard.

All in all, this is really just another standard romance picture.  We have two lovers who are kept apart because of their familial histories and then are pushed even farther apart by war.  Played by Norma Shearer and Frederic March, they are both fine and attractive young people that we want to root for.  Leslie Howard, playing Shearer’s uncle, whose marriage was destroyed on his wedding day by March’s father, is left to simply sit around and brood and his performance isn’t nearly as memorable as the other two.  There are really only a couple of reasons why anyone still watches this film today and why it isn’t as forgotten as most standard romance films (though it is fairly forgotten).  The first is that it did receive a Best Picture nomination, and while it wasn’t even close to deserving it, it certainly is much better than 42nd Street or She Done Him Wrong.  The second is the performers themselves.  While Leslie Howard is more forgotten today, namely because his best known film is Gone with the Wind, in which he was horribly miscast, and while Norma Shearer today doesn’t nearly have the reputation that she did in her prime, there are still many out there who are big fans of Frederic March, and deservedly so, because he was one of the finest actors of the the first two decades of sound films.  He was never bad and rarely even mediocre and he is just fine here.  I suppose that’s what I can say.  This film is just fine.  We’ll leave it at that.

Considered a classic. It's not. 42nd Street (1933)

42nd Street

  • Director:  Lloyd Bacon
  • Writer:  Rian James  /  James Seymour  (from the novel by Bradford Ropes)
  • Producer:  Darryl F. Zanuck
  • Stars:  Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, George Brent, Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Sound
  • Length:  89 min
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Release Date:  11 March 1933
  • Box Office:  $2.30 mil
  • My Rating:  **.5
  • My Rank:  #53 (year)  /  #455 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  It’s interesting that The Broadway Melody is so reviled yet 42nd Street is still considered a classic, because they’re really not that far apart.  Both of them have an awful lot of singing and dancing, a lot of the magic of being on Broadway and being in a show.  Neither one has much of anything when it comes to writing or acting.  Broadway Melody might have had worse writing and a ridiculous story, but 42nd Street has the line “You’re going out a youngster but you’ve got to come back a star!”, a line that sounds as stupid and cheesy now as it must have then.  And Broadway Melody didn’t make me sit through yet another ridiculous Warner Baxter performance.

So that’s the easy explanation for why I rate 42nd Street so much lower than do many other critics (every time it comes on TCM and I see that Comcast has given it 4 stars, I cringe).  Even the songs don’t stand out to me.  But then what is behind the explanation for the fact that I do rate 42nd Street higher than Broadway Melody, even raising it slightly from my previous ** rating on my original list?  Well, that comes down the direction.  Some of that, I assume, should go to Lloyd Bacon, but really I think it has to do with Busby Berkeley.  I will never be a fan of the kind of song and dance numbers that Berkeley delighted in putting together, but this is the first musical that really opens up on film, allowing for new directions in Cinematography and Editing.  We are to move around with the numbers.  It’s not longer a question of the novelty of having sound.  Now we can actually make some good use of it.

Plotwise, there really isn’t much to this film.  It’s got so many cliched moments and even if they weren’t a cliche back then, there certainly wasn’t any originality behind them.  Baxter wants to put on a last show and of course, he’s not pleased with anything.  Do you really think it will be anything but a success?  The film itself was a great success, helping Warner Bros at a time when they were desperate for a hit.  But let’s not keep calling it a classic.  Ginger Rogers wouldn’t start being in classics until the next year.

One of the worst nominees ever: She Done Him Wrong (1933)

She Done Him Wrong

  • Director:  Lowell Sherman
  • Writer:  Mae West  /  Harvey F. Thew  /  John Bright
  • Producer:  William Le Baron
  • Stars:  Mae West, Cary Grant
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture
  • Length:  66 min
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Release Date:  9 February 1933
  • Box Office:  $2.00 mil
  • My Rating:  **
  • My Rank:  #55 (year)  /  #472 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  I will never understand the appeal of Mae West.  Yes, yes, I know how she was an example of sexual energy, how she said things that other people wouldn’t or couldn’t say, that she epitomized sex in a way that no one else seemed to.  But that doesn’t make her appealing.  It just makes her a cultural touchstone.  And many cultural touchstones are terrible at any kind of art.  All that being said, I hate She Done Him Wrong and, of course, Mae West has a lot to do with that.  First of all, she was a terrible actress.  She, like Jayne Mansfield and Raquel Welch later, existed on screen to appeal to the basic instinct of the common heterosexual male, but had no talent for acting whatsoever.  I also can’t stand her as a performer, either as a comedian or as a singer.  Every moment she spends on screen I want to stop watching and that’s a bad sign when she spends most of the time on screen (thankfully it is the shortest Best Picture nominee ever).

Then there is Cary Grant.  If I were watching this in 1933, I never would have guessed that Grant would go on to become such a star.  He doesn’t seem to have the charm and energy that he would have in later years.  And that Grant or his character could conceive of marrying Mae West or her character I find so ridiculous that the ending only serves to make me hate the film all the more.

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