The 7th Academy Awards, for the film year of 1934.  The nominations were announced on February 5, 1935 and the ceremony was held on February 27, 1935.

Gable and Colbert: both won Oscars for It Happened One Night (1934)

Best Picture:  It Happened One Night

  • The Thin Man
  • The Gay Divorcee
  • The Barretts of Wimpole Street
  • The White Parade
  • Imitation of Life
  • The House of Rothschild
  • Here Comes the Navy
  • One Night of Love
  • Viva Villa!
  • Flirtation Walk
  • Cleopatra

Most Surprising Omission:  Affairs of Cellini

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  Death Takes a Holiday

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #79

The Race: As Frank Capra would later write about in his autobiography and is chronicled on pages 24 to 27 of Oscar Dearest, Capra was desperate to win the Oscar and had been for several years.  When he thought he had won for Lady for a Day only to find out it was Frank Lloyd, he pushed himself even harder and come through with It Happened One Night.  It didn’t start out doing well, but word of mouth eventually got around.  It was one of the most talked about films of the year, along with Of Human Bondage, for which Bette Davis had to beg Jack Warner to allow her to go make at RKO.  Other big successes of the year included The Thin Man, which instantly made a star of Myrna Loy and One Night of Love, which prompted a move to start signing opera stars to film contracts.

With the Academy calendar finally matched up the calendar year, it meant that the Oscars were lining up with the National Board of Review.  It Happened One Night was the Best Picture winner, immediately moving Capra to the frontrunner position.

The Results: The Academy expanded to 12 Best Picture nominees but without much sense as to how they were chosen.  Affairs of Cellini earned 4 Oscar nominations, but Best Picture wasn’t among them (it was the only film to receive multiple nominations to not get a BP nom).  Of Human Bondage not only failed to earn Bette Davis a nomination, but didn’t receive any nominations.  On the other hand, three of the nominated films, Here Comes the Navy, The House of Rothschild and The White Parade all failed to get any other nominations (and all are very difficult to find these days).  While the National Board of Review named a Top 10, only three of the films, It Happened One Night, The Thin Man and Viva Villa, ended up with Best Picture nominations (only two of the other seven received any nominations – The Lost Patrol and Eskimo).  It Happened One Night easily won, sweeping all five of its nominations, the first film to win the big 5 and the only film until 1958 to sweep.

But the group of 12 were terrible overall.  Only three of them were really worthy of the nominations and most of them ranged from mediocre to just plain terrible.  To have four films that can’t even reach *** is just ridiculous.

The only big 5 winner until 1975, the only sweep until 1958 – It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night

  • Director:  Frank Capra
  • Writer:  Robert Riskin  (from the story “Night Bus” by Samuel Hopkins Adams)
  • Producer:  Harry Cohn
  • Stars:  Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adaptation, Actor (Gable), Actress (Colbert)
  • Oscar Notes:  Most Oscars (5) – beaten in 1939, Most Oscar Points (410) – beaten in 1939, first film to win Big 5 awards
  • Length:  105 min
  • Genre:  Comedy (Screwball)
  • Release Date:  23 February 1934
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #2 (year)  /  #168 (nominees)  /  #43 (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Gable), Actress (Colbert), Editing

The Film:  Who would have suspected that Gable could do comedy like this.  Certainly it wasn’t on Louis B. Mayer’s mind when he agreed to loan him to Columbia for the film.  Columbia had wanted Robert Montgomery, but Montgomery didn’t want to do it and Mayer said he would loan them Gable because he had been misbehaving and Mayer wanted to give him a spanking.  While it was known around town that Capra desperately wanted an Oscar, could Mayer have conceived that this would win not only Capra, but also Gable an Oscar?

In a year with two films that are impossible to find and one that only exists in an archive, what can possibly be said about this film?  It is an acknowledged classic, one of the first and best of the screwball comedies, the first film to win the big 5 Oscars, Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Actress.  It has great performances from both Gable and Colbert, and if I don’t give either of them my award, it’s not because of any flaw in their performances, but because of how great the performances in The Thin Man and Of Human Bondage were.

What it comes down to is this.  This is a great film.  It is funny, charming and endearing.  The scene where Colbert stops the car is still one of the most famous scenes in film history.  The ending is perfect, doing exactly what was possible under the code.  It is well written, well acted, well directed.  It works just as well now as it did in 1934.  What more do you need?

So witty, so sly, so perfect: The Thin Man (1934)

The Thin Man

  • Director:  W.S. Van Dyke
  • Writer:  Albert Hackett / Frances Goodrich  (from the novel by Dashiell Hammett)
  • Producer:  Hunt Stromberg
  • Stars:  William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adaptation, Actor (Powell)
  • Length:  91 min
  • Genre:  Mystery (Detective)
  • Release Date:  25 May 1934
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1 (year)  /  #147 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Powell), Actress (Loy), Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction

The Film:  It’s strange to watch it and realize that Nick and Nora are barely in the first third of the film.  It focuses much more on the Wynant family, on Mr. Wynant and the mysterious things going on with his money and with his daughter and her concerns.  We do get our introduction to Nick, so gleefully drunk, to Nora, being dragged along the floor, and to Asta, their wonderful dog who is so perfect throughout the film.  That introductory scene lets us see everything we will love later: their charming drunkenness, their witty back and forth, their love for the dog.

Ostensibly it’s a mystery, a good one, with a lot of potential villains and we really don’t know who the real villain is until the final minute and I’m not sure that Nick does either.  It’s a fun mystery, with bodies, strange clues, some good detective work, suspense, even some action (the kind of action where a man knocks his wife out to get her out of the line of fire).

But the mystery is just a backdrop to the wit.  Look at some of these lines:  “I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.”  “It’s not true.  He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.”  “Waiter, serve the nuts.  I mean will you serve the guests the nuts.”  “Have you ever heard of the Sullivan Act?”  “Oh, that’s all right.  We’re married.”  They banter back and forth, they are rarely serious (when asked if Nick is working on a case, Nora replies “Yes.  A case of scotch.”).  It is a screwball comedy disguised as a mystery.

Of course, how could a bad movie have come out of this?  Dash Hammett was one of the best of the pulp detective writers.  There’s a fine lineup of writers who worked on those books that would eventually become the basis for film noir, from Hammett to Raymond Chandler to Geoffrey Homes to James M. Cain to Jim Thompson.  But only Hammett had this kind of wit to actually have a comedy come from one of these films.  Of course, this was just the start as Powell and Loy would team together five more times as Nick and Nora.  It’s just too bad that Academy didn’t bother to nominate Loy or give this film the Oscars it deserved.  It Happened One Night was a good choice for all of its Oscars, but The Thin Man would have been even better.

The first and best of the Astaire / Rogers musicals: The Gay Divorcee (1934)

The Gay Divorcee

  • Director:  Mark Sandrich
  • Writer:  George Marion Jr. / Dorothy Yost / Edward Kaufman  (from the play Gay Divorce by Dwight Taylor / Kenneth S. Webb / Samuel Hoffenstein)
  • Producer:  Pandro S. Berman
  • Stars:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Alice Brady
  • Studio:  RKO Radio
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Score, Sound, Interior Decoration, Song (“The Continental”)
  • Length:  107 min
  • Genre:  Musical (Romantic)
  • Release Date:  12 October 1934
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #3 (year)  /  #175 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Astaire), Supporting Actor (Horton), Supporting Actress (Brady), Editing, Song (“The Continental”)

The Film:  I’ve been reading a lot about the Blacklist and I had to stop and think before I started to review this.  Have my feelings on that era and on Ginger Rogers, who was a fervent Anti-Communist and didn’t hesitate for a second to try to throw Dalton Trumbo to the HUAC wolves, colored my thoughts on this film at all?  Because I have to ask myself those questions.  I want to judge the film on what it is, not necessarily as a reflection on the people involved.  So I’ll try to think of her as she is; a light comedic actress who wasn’t much outside of comedy (her Oscar was very undeserved) but who did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in heels.  That’s not really true, of course, but it’s a nice line.

There are a lot of nice lines in this film.  It’s an excellent film, one of the best of its kind.  It has nice, charming performances from both Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and wonderful supporting performances from Alice Brady and Edward Everett Horton, both doing what they do best (for Brady, it’s being flighty, for Horton, confused).  There’s a plot of course, but like all the Astaire / Rogers musicals that would follow this one (this was the first), the plot is an excuse for Astaire to be charming and for the two of them to share dance and music numbers.

Of course, the dance and music numbers are part of why this one is the best.  We have the wonderful Cole Porter song “Night and Day”, which had made its debut in the stage play the film was adapted from, and we also have “The Continental” the first song to win Best Song at the Oscars.  While that final moment might go on a bit too long, it is still wonderful and the song absolutely deserved its Oscar.

Don’t let the cast fool you. The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) is no better than okay.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street

  • Director:  Sidney Franklin
  • Writer:  Ernest Vajda / Claudine West / Donald Ogden Stewart  (from the play by Rudolf Besier)
  • Producer:  Irving G. Thalberg
  • Stars:  Norma Shearer, Frederic March, Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Sullivan
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Actress (Shearer)
  • Length:  109 min
  • Genre:  Drama (Romance)
  • Release Date:  21 September 1934
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #24 (year)  /  #398 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actor (March), Actress (Shearer), Supporting Actor (Laughton), Art Direction, Costume Design

The Film:  This is definitely one of those films that suffered when I went back to it.  I think I saw it through a haze the first time.  It had Norma Shearer!  And Frederic March!  And Charles Laughton!  Such great actors!  With a great romantic story of two great poets and how they fell in love and were able to overcome her father’s objections!

But the fact is, this is, at best, an okay film.  None of the performances particularly stand out, certainly not in comparison to the other great performances they would all give.  March is so much more restrained than even his Norman Maine or Henry Jekyll.  Norma Shearer, while radiant as always, doesn’t really seem like a poet, just a lovestruck girl who’s been browbeaten by her father.  And Laughton, so delightfully dark and dangerous the next year as both Javert and Captain Bligh, mostly just thunders without any real power behind his performance.

So what do we have left?  A decent film, filled with decent performances that probably wouldn’t be very interesting if it didn’t involve Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Yet, here I have it ranked fourth among the 12 nominees for the year.  Well, that says quite a bit about the nominees from 1934.

I could only find the German poster.  And it took me an extra three and a half years to see the film.

I could only find the German poster. And it took me an extra three and a half years to see the film.

The White Parade

  • Director:  Irving Cummings
  • Writer:  Rian James and Jesse L. Lasky, Jr. (from the novel by Rian James)
  • Producer:  Jesse L. Lasky
  • Stars:  Loretta Young, John Boles, Jane Darwell, Frank Conroy
  • Studio:  Fox
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Sound
  • Length:  80 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  16 November 1934
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #35  (year)  /  #430  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  There really isn’t much to say about The White Parade.  The extent of its mention in Inside Oscar is on page 56: “None of Shirley Temple’s movies were nominated, leaving Loretta Young’s tribute to nursing, The White Parade, as Fox’s only Best Picture nominee.”  Movie Awards doesn’t even say that much.  It’s a film about nursing that has been sitting at UCLA for decades.  My hope is that someday I will get a chance to head out there and watch it and be able to cross it off the list, but for now, it sits here at the bottom, waiting to be seen.

In April of 2010, that was all I could possibly say about The White Parade.  It only had 11 votes on the IMDb and not a single external review.  There is now one external review (with this about to become the second) and 23 votes.  But the question still lingers about whether it is any good.  I went to UCLA thinking that East Lynne, a melodrama that at least had Ann Harding, would be the far better film of the two I was watching, especially as I don’t particularly like Loretta Young.  So, imagine my surprise when East Lynne turned to out to be terrible and The White Parade turned out to be surprisingly solid (SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW).

The White Parade is a woman’s film.  I say this, not as a dismissive statement, but as a description.  It is a story about six women who set out to be nurses, what happens to them through their studies and their eventual entry into the world of nursing.  As most of the main characters are women and it continues to make them the stars, no matter what else happens in the film, that is part of the reason it’s a woman’s film.  But the other reason is that this film is, for 1934, very surprisingly strong in its viewpoint that these women don’t need men to survive.  There are three main male characters in the plot.  One of them comes through a variety of circumstances and his role is to look handsome and essentially be a pain.  The second, though he eventually comes through in a vital part of the film in support of Young’s character, ignores her earlier in the film because he has just been dumped via telegram and is so crest-fallen that he can’t function at all.  The third is a complete cad, a young intern who won’t reveal his part in keeping a nurse out of her room all night even though it is going to cost her career and almost ends up costing her her life.

The film’s quality is nothing above standard and the it takes us through all sorts of cliched plot points.  It follows six young woman from their first day in training to be a nurse.  Two of them are nice (one of which is Young), two are snarky (one will be Young’s foil while the other will become her biggest supporter), one is a bit of a Midwestern hick (and, going along with the cliche, is also the much bigger woman who is clearly designed to be the unattractive one of the group) and the final one is a dumb blonde.  The film looks like a giant cliche right from the start.

But then we are reminded of a fact about nurses in this time period (though it was made in 1934, the film takes place in 1907): most women who are going into the nursing industry are woman who are unmarried and don’t have husbands to provide an income and most of them come from poor circumstances – they need this work in order to make a living.  Nursing isn’t viewed as nearly a viable important profession as it is today (later, the love interest who will try to take Young away from the profession insists “At best it’s chambermaid work with worse pay.”).  So, for many of these woman it’s not a calling.  It’s a job that they need to succeed at.

Then we get into the plot mechanics.  Through a string of silly circumstances, Young ends up dating a rich Boston polo player, though she also graduates from nursing school with her friends (in a ceremony that looks like a Mason secret ceremony).  Her polo player ends up in a car accident and is upset when Young isn’t always nursing him (she stays with a needy pregnant patient instead).  And then the other nice one ends up being booted for spending all night with the intern.  She ends up with the key to the narcotic cabinet (which Young was supposed to take care of) and has a long walk to clearly kill herself, after which Young finds her and tries to find a doctor (in a very badly directed series of scenes).  (At this point there are a few minutes missing from the film, though I don’t think we miss any key information).

In the end, we see Young keep her career as a nurse, partially thanks to the intervention of the doctor, who insists that she is meant to be a nurse – that if she were meant to marry her rich polo player she would have done it.  It takes a stand in honor of a woman sticking to her profession and not needing a man to get by and that her low-paid, little-respected (at the time) position is vitally important.  And Young is actually quite good in the scene where she keeps her position, not being able to decide how she feels, with emotions flitting across her face, and in the end she leaves without saying anything.

It’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s fairly badly directed and there’s nothing about any aspect of it that demands Academy respect.  But all of the key actors give solid performances, it manages to take a cliched plot and almost overcome it (though it almost undoes that at the end with a literal white parade of nurses going by in the background – subtle, it is not) and it has the courage to stand up for the women in the film and for what they chose to do for a living.  And that makes it a hell of a lot better than East Lynne and in a year as bad as 1934, makes it good enough for 5th place among the 12 nominated films.

It inspired a remake and an R.E.M. song. I prefer the song to either film. Imitation of Life (1934)

Imitation of Life

  • Director:  John M. Stahl
  • Writer:  William Hurlbut  (from the novel by Fannie Hurst)
  • Producer:  John M. Stahl
  • Stars:  Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Louise Beavers, Ned Sparks
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Sound, Assistant Director
  • Length:  111 min
  • Genre:  Drama (Social)
  • Release Date:  26 November 1934
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #37 (year)  /  #435 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Supporting Actor (Sparks)

The Film:  It’s strange to look at what people write about this film and no one seems to mention the similarities between Aunt Delilah and her pancake mix and Aunt Jemima.  It seems so obvious that Delilah and her mix were based on Jemimah, right down to the smile and even the name that sounds so similar.  All of that adds to the question of how we should feel about this film these days.

I long ago gave up giving points to films just because of the social message that they try to convey.  It has to be about the film, not about the message.  If you can give the message in a good film, then fine.  If you can’t, you shouldn’t get any credit for trying but failing.  Well, this film gets some credit.  It wants to make a serious issue about passing, the notion of someone of black descent passing as white due to their actual skin coloration.  Of course, this is adapted from a novel about passing, which isn’t nearly as good as the Nella Larson classic, Passing.  And it does bog the issue down with melodrama involving a love triangle between Claudette Colbert and her daughter and a man they both love, with the passing issue involving Delilah and her daughter (who is light skinned) only being the background story.  Granted, it’s not as full of melodrama as the Douglas Sirk remake, and as a result, is better than the Sirk version.  But the melodrama and Colbert’s general lackluster performance distracts from what could be a powerful story.

Then of course there is the character of Delilah herself.  She fits almost every pre-conceived stereotype of a black “mammy” at the time.  She just wants to take care of Bea and the girls.  When she is confronted with the notion of becoming rich, she is simply worried about not being able to take care of Bea anymore.  Certainly Louise Beavers does a fine job in that role (far less aggravating then, say, Butterfly McQueen would be in Gone with the Wind).  But Delilah is so much like Aunt Jemima, right down the look on the box and the flipping pancake in the ad, how can people not mention that she so blatantly fits this racial stereotype?  If we give the film credit for trying to make a statement about racism, do we take points away when it plays into all the pre-conceived notions?

Or should I just review it as a film.  As a film, it’s okay.  It’s a decent drama with decent acting, though a fine snarky performance from Ned Sparks, in all those ways that he excelled.  It didn’t really deserve the Best Sound nomination, certainly wasn’t anywhere close to a Best Picture.  I can’t really say much about the Best Assistant Director nomination, a category that only existed for a few years and one that I have no idea how to judge.

Fodder for anti-semites: The House of Rothschild (1934)

The House of Rothschild

  • Director:  Alfred L. Werker
  • Writer:  Nunnally Johnson  (from the play Rothschild by George Hembert Westley)
  • Producer:  Darryl F. Zanuck / William Goetz / Raymond Griffith
  • Stars:  George Arliss, Boris Karloff, Loretta Young
  • Studio:  20th Century
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture
  • Length:  88 min
  • Genre:  Drama (Biopic)
  • Release Date:  7 April 1934
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #36 (year)  /  #431 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  This is one of those Best Picture nominees that is extremely difficult to find.  Sadly, it’s kind of easy to see why.  While the characters in the film, the powerful and rich Rothschild family, combats Anti-Semitism throughout the film, there are also a lot of places where the film falls right into Jewish stereotypes, especially during the first parts of the film.  The film is a biopic of the entire family and their rise to power in the late 18th Century and how they came to rule the world of European finance, rising to esteem during the Napoleonic Wars.

As a film it’s decent enough.  There’s solid acting, especially from George Arliss, who early on plays a specific Jewish stereotype and later plays a British aristocrat.  It does what all but the best biopics do, it slogs through the years, telling the story in various anecdotes while using makeup to appear that the characters are getting older and focusing slightly on relationships.  Nothing about the direction or writing or production aspects are substandard, though none are really worth mentioning either.

The main problem is that right now this film is sitting on YouTube, and that is where I finally watched it.  But mostly what it attracts is disgusting bigots who want to blame either the Rothschilds in particular, or the entire Jewish race for pretty much every financial problem in the entire world.  Likely we would see more of it if the film ever actually got a release on DVD.  In that case, let people see how it they can and leave it in the archives.  It didn’t deserve a Best Picture nomination and it’s really only of worth to Oscar enthusiasts.

You can see the Navy only if you can find the film: Here Comes the Navy (1934) is still hard to find.

Here Comes the Navy

  • Director:  Lloyd Bacon
  • Writer:  Earl Baldwin  /  Ben Marksen
  • Producer:  Lou Edelman
  • Stars:  James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Gloria Stuart
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture
  • Length:  87 min
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Release Date:  21 July 1934
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #44 (year)  /  #437 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  Here Comes the Navy is one of those films that Warner Bros. used to make all the time.  It’s about a couple of guys, one of them a construction worker, one a Naval officer.  They dislike each other at first sight and soon after have a fight.  And of course, things will work out that they will meet again and again.  There will be some fights.  There will be a girl (in many of them, they are after the same girl – this film makes use of the other common variation – one is the brother and one is in love).  Of course, everything will work out well in the end.  It’s mostly a comedy and it’s not out of place that it stars Jimmy Cagney and Pat O’Brien.

But there’s a couple of strange things about this one that make it somewhat different than all the other countless films.  The first is that this one was nominated for Best Picture.  This was odd enough.  After all, even though Warner Bros. was one of the major studios, this was only their fourth Best Picture nomination (after Disraeli, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and 42nd Street).  But there’s the other thing.  It’s almost completely unavailable.  It’s never been released on video or on DVD.  You can catch it on TCM, if you’re lucky.  Other than that, there are difficult, but not impossible, ways to see it.

So, the question is, why?  Why was it nominated?  Why isn’t it available?  Well, to answer the first question, I don’t really know.  It was its only nomination, in fact the only nomination for the entire studio, so it is entirely possible that it was the film they decided to push.  After all, it would be 1944, when the nominees had been reduced to 5 before Warner Bros. would fail to get a nomination again.

So now the next question.  Why isn’t it available?  It’s certainly not a bad film.  It’s just as good as any film like it and since it has Cagney, there certainly would be interest among people in seeing it, even outside of the Oscar completists.  Although another hard to find nominee, One Foot in Heaven, is also a Warners film.  But there’s one other thing about this film.  A lot of the action takes place on one particular ship and the name of the ship is mentioned throughout the film.  That ship was the battleship U.S.S. Arizona, now famous for having been destroyed and sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Perhaps people can’t bring themselves to release the film and force people to relive all of that.  I don’t know for certain.  But it certainly offers at least some sort of explanation why a decent, harmless film that was nominated for Best Picture still has yet to see a home video release.

It kicked off the Opera in film craze. Don’t ask why. One Night of Love (1934)

One Night of Love

  • Director:  Victor Schertzinger
  • Writer:  S.K. Lauren / James Gow / Edmund H. North  (from the story “Don’t Fall in Love” by Dorothy Speare and Charles Beahan)
  • Producer:  Harry Cohn / Everett Riskin
  • Stars:  Grace Moore, Tullio Carminati
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Actress (Moore), Editing, Score, Sound
  • Length:  84 min
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Release Date:  15 September 1934
  • My Rating:  **.5
  • My Rank:  #56 (year)  /  #461 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  For an actress who really couldn’t do much outside of sing, for a story that doesn’t really have any originality, for a film that really isn’t much, it isn’t as bad as it could have been.  It’s still a decent film, still has some performances that are watchable, even if they didn’t do enough to earn their nominations.  In fact, this film didn’t deserve any of its nominations.  It was financially successful and it prompted any number of movie studios to go out and find other operatic stars and make their own musicals.  But it didn’t do enough to really spark a craze and thankfully it eventually died away.  I suppose I can just say this: if you like Opera, then you will probably enjoy this film and find it an avenue to any number of films that you will enjoy.  And if Opera isn’t your thing?  Well, you can join the rest of us and think that this film is okay and just move on to the next one.  But even if you do like it, bear this in mind.  At the time, it was tied for The Love Parade with the second most Oscar nominations in history (6).  Do you really think it ever deserved such a position?

Enough annoying smirking to make you wish you had never seen it: Dick Powell in Flirtation Walk (1934)

Flirtation Walk

  • Director:  Frank Borzage
  • Writer:  Delmer Daves  /  Louis F. Edelman
  • Producer:  Jack L. Warner / Hal B. Wallis / Robert Lord
  • Stars:  Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Pat O’Brien
  • Studio:  First National
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Sound
  • Length:  97 min
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Release Date:  1 December 1934
  • My Rating:  **.5
  • My Rank:  #74 (year)  /  #481 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  Oh good lord.  I’m thankful I’m already done with 42nd Street.  Now the only Dick Powell performance I have to sit through is A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I don’t think I could take another one.  This film is so ridiculous and stupid.  There’s really nothing that could make it a good film.  I suppose perhaps another actor, one who could actually act, instead of just smile smugly, could have at least made it a decent film.

Here’s the story in a nutshell.  A private in Hawaii escorts a general’s daughter around.  They fall in love, but he gets in trouble for taking her off base.  Then he goes off to West Point and she eventually meets up with him again.  Can you see where this is going?  Is there anyone who couldn’t possibly see where this is going?  It’s the kind of story that has been old since the dawn of time and they do absolutely nothing here to make it new.  Oh, sure, there are native Hawaiian dances and music and there are other musical numbers.  But that doesn’t make it original and it certainly doesn’t make it good.  It’s hard to believe this is Frank Borzage, the same director who already had two Oscars under his belt.  Pat O’Brien plays the same kind of gruff older mentor role he plays in so many other films and Ruby Keeler stands around and looks cute.  And Powell is ever so annoying and smug.  I can understand why O’Brien slugs him so often early in the film.  I would have taken a swing at him too.

Wallace Beery does his best hamming in Viva Villa (1934)

Viva Villa

  • Director:  Jack Conway
  • Writer:  Ben Hecht  (from the book by Edgecumb Pinchon and O.B. Stade)
  • Producer:  David O. Selznick
  • Stars:  Wallace Beery, Leo Carillo, Fay Wray
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Adaptation, Sound, Assistant Director
  • Length:  118 min
  • Genre:  Drama (Biopic)
  • Release Date:  27 April 1934
  • Box Office:  $1.10 mil
  • My Rating:  **
  • My Rank:  #77 (year)  /  #490 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  Oh, good lord.  What a bunch of crap.  A comment that I made on Mythical Monkey ended up prompting this post in which Wallace Beery claims his award for Biggest Ham, much as he was given the Oscar for Best Actor at the end of the ceremony in 1932 after “tying” Frederic March.  But Beery was the biggest ham and I find almost all of his film roles to be equally appalling.  This might be the worst, perhaps because the film might be the worst of the Beery films I have seen.  It boggles my mind that this ever could have been nominated for Best Picture.

It does not help of course that this film doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to any of the actual historical events.  If there was at least some history behind it, perhaps something could be done with it, other than to watch it because it was a Best Picture nominee or watch in horror at Wallace Beery hamming it up through every single scene.  The problem is, that since the film is based entirely around his character, he is in most of the scenes in the film.

I don’t know what more to say about it.  It purports to be a biopic of Pancho Villa, the legendary Mexican revolutionary who not only was one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution, but also invaded the United States, was chased by General Pershing while the rest of the world was fighting World War I, starred in his own film and is a larger than life figure south of the border.  But this film is complete crap.  I remembered it as relentlessly mediocre, but in fact, it is quite bad.  It is badly acted, badly written, badly made and is one of the larger embarrassments in Academy history.

So bad it makes the remake look better – the original 1934 Cleopatra

Cleopatra

  • Director:  Cecil B. DeMille
  • Writer:  Bartlett Cormack  /  Waldemar Young  /  Vincent Lawrence
  • Producer:  Cecil B. DeMille
  • Stars:  Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Henry Wilcoxon
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Assistant Director
  • Length:  100 min
  • Genre:  Drama (Historical)
  • Release Date:  5 October 1934
  • My Rating:  **
  • My Rank:  #79 (year – out of 79)  /  #504 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  It was going tolerably for a while.  Certainly Warren William wasn’t any good as Julius Caesar and Claudette Colbert wasn’t any good as Cleopatra.  But it wasn’t painful to watch, just not a good film.  Then come the Ides of March and we should all beware.  In fact, anyone who ever decides to watch this film should beware.  Because the assassination is so ineptly handled, so mind-bogglingly bad, so pathetically awful as to inspire either ferocious head-shaking or uncontrollable laughter.  It is simply that bad and the film never recovers.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Claudette Colbert is the focus of the film and she’s simply dreadful.  While it is true that until last month no performer had ever won an Oscar and a Razzie in the same year, but the Razzies didn’t exist in 1934.  If I were to do them retrospectively, she would win hands down and it could sit side by side with her Oscar.  Even if she wasn’t so dreadfully awful, she was always badly cast.  Cleopatra, the legendary ruler of Egypt, the woman of 1000 men, supposedly the most beautiful woman in the world.  Played by Claudette Colbert?  They would have been better off with lesser actresses like Louise Brooks and Clara Bow whose looks could at least inspire such rages that Marc Antony gives us (badly – there isn’t the slightest shred of acting on display anywhere in this film).  It’s hard to play such a role seriously and especially hard to play it well.  So why bother to cast a real actress?  Just cast someone who can at least look the part.

But, of course, this is Cecil B. DeMille and historical accuracy was never really one of his trademarks (one little ditty about him and his lack of accuracy was “He wanted to put Moses / In the War of the Roses”).  His trademark was making large historical epics.  They were grand, big, sweeping and ever so badly acted.  There’s no question that DeMille was an important person in the evolution of Hollywood, that he almost single-handedly made Paramount but are there film critics today who take him seriously as a director?  Cleopatra is very badly directed, with no sense of timing or suspense.  Warren William blunders through the first part of the film and Henry Wilcoxon blusters his way through the second half.  Neither is believable in their roles and neither is believable as a potential mate for Cleopatra.  But of course Colbert was never believable as Cleopatra either.

If you’re an Oscar completist, by all means, watch this.  If you love DeMille films, then by all means, watch this.  But, of course, if you love DeMille films, you probably don’t care what I think.

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