Mutiny on the Bounty is the only film to earn 3 Best Actor nominations, but I couldn’t find a picture with all three, so here are Charles Laughton and Clark Gable. Franchot Tone was the other.

The 8th Academy Awards, for the film year of 1935.  The nominations were announced on February 7, 1936 and the awards were held on March 5, 1936.

Best Picture:  Mutiny on the Bounty

  • The Informer
  • Les Miserables
  • Captain Blood
  • Top Hat
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
  • David Copperfield
  • Ruggles of Red Gap
  • Alice Adams
  • Naughty Marietta
  • The Broadway Melody of 1936

Most Surprising Omission:  Anna Karenina

Best Film Not Nominated:  The Bride of Frankenstein

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #67

The Race: Franchot Tone was quickly becoming a big star in 1935 and he starred in two of the year’s biggest films: The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and the $2 million epic The Mutiny on the Bounty (the most expensive film since the 1926 Ben-Hur).  Both were big money-makers and garnered critical acclaim.  Among the other really big films of the year were Alice Adams, starring Katharine Hepburn, and David Copperfield, starring pretty much every person MGM could find on the lot to throw into it.  Warner Bros. was busy throwing all of its stars into A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the first all-star Shakespeare production and Charles Laughton, aside from Mutiny, could also be found in Les Miserables and even doing comedy in Ruggles of Red Gap.

But when the awards season kicked off in mid December, it was John Ford’s The Informer that quickly established itself as the film of the year, winning Best Picture from the National Board of Review and Best Picture and Director from the New York Film Critics.  Of the NBR Top 10, a whopping 7 would eventually go on to become Best Picture nominees:  The Informer, Alice Adams, David Copperfield, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, Les Miserables, Mutiny on the Bounty and Ruggles of Red Gap.

The Results: It was Garbo’s version of Anna Karenina that was left out in the cold.  In spite of a Top 10 finish at the NBR and winning Best Actress from the NYFC, it failed to earn a single Oscar nomination.  Joining the seven films in the Best Picture lineup were Warner Bros. hits Captain Blood and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and lighter musicals Naughty Marietta, Top Hat and The Broadway Melody of 1936.

Warner Bros. definitely had voting power.  They managed to get both of their films into the lineup and, thanks to write-in votes, secured top 3 finishes in several categories for both films without actual nominations, including the only write-in Academy Award in history: Best Cinematography for MidsummerThe Informer continued to take him many of the major awards, winning Actor, Director and Screenplay, but in the end, Mutiny on the Bounty became the last film to win Best Picture and nothing else.

The last film to win Best Picture and no other Oscars: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Mutiny on the Bounty

  • Director:  Frank Lloyd
  • Writer:  Talbot Jennings  /  Jules Furthman  /  Carey Wilson  (from the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall)
  • Producer:  Irving Thalberg  /  Albert Lewin
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Laughton), Actor (Gable), Actor (Tone), Editing, Score
  • Oscar Note:  Last film to win Best Picture and no other Oscars
  • Oscar Record:  Most Nominations (8) – passed in 1937
  • Length:  132 min
  • Genre:  Adventure (Historical)
  • Release Date:  8 November 1935
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #2 (year)  /  #135 (nominees)  /  #38 (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Laughton), Actor (Gable), Editing, Cinematography, Score, Sound, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Costume Design

The Film:  What a feat.  After the mutiny, when he and the loyal men were cast adrift in the boat, Bligh steered his men some 3600 miles across open sea on a 47 day voyage.  They had landed once and lost a man because of it, so they didn’t land again, just kept going west until they reached Timor.  To this day, it is one of the most remarkable feats of navigation and seamanship in nautical history.  And it’s one of those things that many people forget about the film.  These are great scenes, with solid effects, wonderful sound and one hell of a performance by Charles Laughton, who, by this point, we have spent and hour and a half hating for being such a harsh brute of a captain, the kind of man who literally has a dead man flogged, and at this point actually arouses our sympathy, both for the abilities themselves and for the way he still holds his men together.

Of course, this is all part of the brilliant of Laughton’s performance.  Of course, all of the performances in the film are good.  Gable is hard nosed and stubborn, determined not to let Bligh go on beating what he views as his men.  Tone is solid in what is easily the best performance of his career as the young midshipman who provides a more human story to the core of this (by following him, it allows us to go back and see the court-martial).  But the heart of this film is the remarkable performance by Laughton.  Because who else could have gotten any sympathy out of the audience by that point in the film.

Of course, it would be left to The Bounty, the 1984 film that is considerably more historically accurate (because it is not based on the Nordhoff and Hall novel, but rather the actual historical records) to really provide a large measure of sympathy for the character of Captain Bligh.  But this film is the best version of the story for a variety of reasons.  It is filled with adventure on the journey, has great performances, is well directed and while I might not pick it as the Best Picture of 1935, it certainly comes in a very close second.

The Informer won pretty much everything in 1935 except Best Picture at the Oscars

The Informer

  • Director:  John Ford
  • Writer:  Dudley Nichols  (from the story by Liam O’Flaherty)
  • Producer:  Cliff Reid
  • Studio:  RKO Radio
  • Stars:  Victor McLaglen, Una O’Connor, Margot Grahame
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (McLaglen), Editing, Score
  • Oscar Note:  Dudley Nichols refused his Oscar due to Union / Academy strife
  • Length:  91 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  9 May 1935
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1 (year)  /  #134 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (McLaglen), Supporting Actress (O’Connor), Editing, Cinematography, Score, Sound

The Film:  For some reason this film doesn’t seem to have the reputation that it used to have.  It won Best Director and Best Screenplay and came in second place in the Best Picture race.  It won Best Picture from the National Board of Review and in the initial New York Film Critics Awards won Best Picture and Director.  There can’t be any question that while it didn’t win Best Picture (perhaps more attributable to the power of MGM and the scope of Mutiny), it was, at the time, considered one of the great motion pictures in American film.  The fact is, they were right.  It was the best film of the year and it deserved its accolades (except Best Actor).

This film deserves to be talked about more for one particular reason.  This is the film that really turned John Ford into a director.  Before this he had made numerous films, beginning back in the silent era, but this was his first masterpiece, the film that allowed him to become an auteur.  It has a dark vision of the lonely Irish streets and makes you feel both sympathy and empathy for Gyppo and the dilemma he faces between turning in his friend and the chance to get out of Ireland, to get to America and try to begin a new life.  McLaglen would later become a relentless ham in many a Ford film, but this is a solid performance and absolutely believable for every minute.  And even Una O’Connor, who could be so frustrating with her constant shrieks in so many Hollywood films, is here dignified and tortured as the mother of Frankie, the man that Gyppo has informed upon.

Then there is the aspect of the script.  Dudley Nichols did a magnificent job of turning Liam O’Flaherty’s story into a finely tuned, suspenseful story about the troubles in Ireland.  It made it all the more poignant when, because of labor strife between the various guilds and the Academy, Nichols refused to accept his Oscar.  His refusal helped to turn the tide of changing the Academy from a labor organization into the preservation institution of American film that it is today.

March and Laughton make the perfect Valjean and Javert in Les Miserables (1935)

Les Miserables

  • Director:  Richard Boleslawski
  • Writer:  W.P. Lipscomb  (from the novel by Victor Hugo)
  • Producer:  Darryl F. Zanuck
  • Studio:  20th Century
  • Stars:  Frederic March, Charles Laughton
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Editing, Cinematography, Assistant Director
  • Length:  108 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Literary Adaptation)
  • Release Date:  20 April 1935
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #3 (year)  /  #137 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (March), Supporting Actor (Laughton), Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design

The Film:  It is one of the great stories of all-time and the reason it makes such wonderful films (and the most wonderful musical Broadway or the West End has ever seen) is because it is not a great novel.  It is a good novel filled with ridiculously long asides that are easy to excise.  The screenwriters can just cut to the heart of the story and put that on screen and with ease, you can have a great film that comes in at less than two hours and feels like a complete story.

The film is broken into three parts and the way those parts break down emphasize the role of Jean Valjean and the performance of Frederic March at the center of the film.  The first part of the film deals with Valjean’s crime, his years in prison and the initial time after his release, when he encounters the kindly bishop and finds his life changed.  The second part centers around his time as mayor and his interactions with Fantine, his protection of Cosette and his tricky relationship with Javert.  The third part is the Paris part and though we do have the romance between Cosette and Marius, they are more of an excuse to bring the final climax between Valjean and Javert to its fruition rather than focusing too much on the failed revolution.

The two main roles in this film are perfectly cast.  March has the larger and more difficult role.  He must first be the unrepentant convict whose will has been beaten out of him, then the kindly mayor, then the forceful man who will not give in to Javert, first to protect his new daughter, then to protect her love.  He is innocent, weak, brutal, strong, determined and honorable and even gets to play mad in his small role as the other convict mistaken for Valjean.  In all the years and all the film versions, he is still the most perfect epitome of Jean Valjean.

Then there is Charles Laughton.  First, a small note on the Nighthawk Nominations.  When someone is nominated as a lead or supporting by the Academy, I keep their categorization, even if I don’t agree with it.  But if they aren’t, I make my own choice.  I used to think of Javert as the other lead.  But watching the film again, it is so much Valjean’s story and Javert is in much less of it than I remembered and he clearly seems to be a supporting role.  But what a supporting performance.  Coming in the same year as the brutal Bligh and the uptight, but comic Ruggles, Javert is perhaps Laughton’s most perfect creation on film, so determined, so convinced in his belief that the law must be obeyed that he would wander into the middle of the revolution without even being aware of the danger he is in.

That’s what it comes down to in this film.  Valjean goes to the barricades motivated by love.  Javert goes because of revenge.  And neither of them cares about the revolution itself.  It’s just a backdrop.  The important thing is the story.

Errol Flynn becomes a star in Captain Blood (1935)

Captain Blood

  • Director:  Michael Curtiz
  • Writer:  Casey Robinson  (from the novel by Rafael Sabatini)
  • Producer:  Hal Wallis  /  Harry Joe Brown  /  Gordon Hollingshead
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Sound
  • Oscar Note:  Came in 2nd in Director as a write-in; came in 3rd in Screenplay as a write-in; came in 3rd in Score as a write-in
  • Length:  119 min
  • Genre:  Adventure
  • Release Date:  28 December 1935
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #6 (year)  /  #172 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Editing, Score, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design

The Film:  I do so love Olivia de Havilland, especially every time she smiles.  Of all the great actresses of the Studio Era, her beauty was the most under-rated.  She was the perfect co-star for Errol Flynn, because her beauty was exactly the kind a swashbuckler could understand.  And there was never a better swashbuckler than Errol Flynn.  When that fantastic music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold plays and Flynn swings across from one ship to another and out comes his rapier, it’s the best kind of adventure movie.  Of course, there’s more to the film than just Errol with a sword or Olivia with a smile.  But do you need any more?

Well, I’ll give it to you.  It’s got a sympathetic hero, right from the start.  Poor Peter Blood is only thrown into slavery because he is a doctor who refuses to allow people to die, no matter whether they are rebels or not.  So he and his friends are sent off to the Caribbean where he works his charm and his skills as a physician to become doctor to the governor and eventually manages to make his escape and save the city at the same time.  Then come his days of piracy, with quick editing, great camera shots, magnificent sound that never feels overwhelming and that fantastic Korngold score (not nominated for an Oscar, yet finishing third due to write-in votes).  Then lovely Arabella Bishop, the niece of his sworn enemy comes back into his life.  It is obvious from the first second they see each other again that there is chemistry and soon there will be sparks, first from anger, then from love.  She is so fiery and proud.  He is flashy and similarly proud.

Then we have that magnificent conclusion, as Blood comes tearing into Port Royal to serve the new king and we get that sea battle that ends with the sword fights.  We have the witty script that ended up in 3rd place at the Oscars on the strength of write-in votes alone and the brilliant direction by Michael Curtiz that came in 2nd.  Then, of course, that wonderful little ending and that Flynn charm and that Olivia smile.

And if I talk about it in such wonderful terms, why is it it only earns technical nominations from me?  Bad luck.  It comes in sixth place in Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay.  The Oscar may have expanded to 10.  I keep all of mine at 5.

A second consecutive nomination for an Astaire / Rogers film: Top Hat (1935)

Top Hat

  • Director:  Mark Sandrich
  • Writer:  Allan Scott  /  Dwight Taylor
  • Producer:  Pandro S. Berman
  • Studio:  RKO Radio
  • Stars:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Interior Decoration, Song (“Cheek to Cheek”), Dance Direction
  • Length:  101 min
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Box Office Gross:  $1.78 mil
  • Release Date:  6 September 1935
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #8 (year)  /  #245 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Original Screenplay, Actress, (Rogers), Supporting Actor (Horton), Song (“Cheek to Cheek”)

The Film:  It’s a very good film, enjoyable, with good songs, one in particular, and enjoyable performances from Astaire, Rogers and Horton.  But it’s not a great film, not the all-time classic that everyone seems to think it is.  There’s just something slightly missing, something that keeps it from reaching the same level that The Gay Divorcee did.  I think it’s the humor.  It’s just not as funny, relies more on the dance numbers and less on Astaire’s charm.  Part of the reason it’s not as funny is because the plot isn’t quite as charming as the first one.  But part of it must definitely be attributed to the lack of Alice Brady.  Her whimsical performance was one of the delights of the first film and she seems to be the main difference between the two films.

But of course, it is a very good film.  I will never understand why there was a push for operatic type performances or the type of Broadway Melody or Gold Diggers films that didn’t have a plot other than enough to throw in the songs and dance numbers around.  The Astaire / Rogers films had plots, they had performances, they had acting, and of course, they had those wonderful songs.

The first Shakespeare Best Picture nominee: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • Director:  William Dieterle  /  Max Reinhardt
  • Writer:  Charles Kenyon  /  Mary C. McCall, Jr.  (from the play by William Shakespeare)
  • Producer:  Henry Blanke
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  James Cagney, Mickey Rooney, Anita Louise, Dick Powell, Olivia de Havilland
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Editing, Cinematography
  • Oscar Note:  Cinematography win was as a write-in; 2nd place finish in Assistant Director as a write-in
  • Length:  133 min
  • Genre:  Fantasy  (Shakespeare)
  • Release Date:  30 October 1935
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #14 (year)  /  #300 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Visual Effects, Makeup

The Film:  I always remember this film as being better than it is.  Perhaps it’s good to write the review so quickly after seeing it this time, because maybe with an actual review it will remind me that it’s not a Best Picture contender, at least not in my world (you have to be ***.5 or ****).  It’s difficult for me to admit that for a couple of reasons.  The first is that I adore Olivia de Havilland and think James Cagney is a brilliant actor and it’s tough for me to admit that even their presence couldn’t make this film any better than good.  The second is that there is no definitive version of this film, that no version of the play rises above good, and that’s hard for me to accept because the play means so much to me and I so want there to be a great film version.

While Hamlet, in grad school, became the play that I studied the most, the one I knew the most about, it was A Midsummer Night’s Dream that introduced me to Shakespeare.  It was in sixth grade when I was in the play in school, a performance I still have on tape (and some of the performances in that sixth grade production from Taft Elementary are better than some of the performances in various film versions).  I have loved the play so much that even today, I can still recite that wonderful soliloquy that ends the film (If we shadows have offended . . .).  So, I have ideas of how the film should work, of how the roles should be performed and nothing seems to quite live up to my expectations.  Perhaps that’s why I keep thinking this is better than it is.  I want it to be better than it is.

But it is what it is.  It is overly long, not because it is Shakespeare, but because of long scenes of no dialogue whatsoever, the introductory scenes of the faerie kingdom being only the most egregious example.  There is enough of a story, enough wonderful dialogue, enough hijinks among the lovers, to make a wonderful film.  You don’t need to add a long overture or a dance.  Just trust in the actors and let them live and breathe these words.  Some of them do.  Cagney is wonderful, so alive and boisterous as Bottom.  De Havilland is sweet and beautiful, a perfect Hermia.  But what about the rest?  The problem is that they start to lag (Mickey Rooney can be forgiven as Puck – his performance is kind of all over the place and some of that must go back to the direction).  Dick Powell, of course, is the worst, with his constant smug smile, just like in all his other films.  I’m not sure what he does on film, but it certainly can’t be called acting.

It has the interesting foot-note in Oscar history as being the only film to win an Oscar with write-in votes (they were only allowed in 1934 and 1935).  Did it deserve it?  Well, the Cinematography is marvelous, especially out in the forest.  The art direction and costumes are also sumptuous.  If only the directors had as much faith in Shakespeare himself and had cut out the grand production flourishes.

Imperialism as adventure in Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

  • Director:  Henry Hathaway
  • Writer:  Grover Jones  /  William Slavens McNutt  /  Waldemar Young  /  John L. Balderston  /  Achmed Abdullah  (from the novel by Francis Yeats-Brown)
  • Producer:  Louis D. Lighton
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Stars:  Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, Richard Cromwell, Guy Standing
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing, Sound, Interior Decoration, Assistant Director
  • Length:  109 min
  • Genre:  Adventure
  • Release Date:  11 January 1935
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #16 (year)  /  #317 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Sound Editing

The Film:  What excitement!  What an adventure!  We have a good adventure story about British lancers in India.  Yes, it seems rather outdated now because of the imperialism, though it doesn’t have too much to apologize for, even in this era of political correctness.  So why is it languishing down here among the nominees?  Why isn’t it higher?

Well, a couple of reasons.  First of all, it is a good, but not a great film.  Not even a very good film.  Just good.  Enjoyable, well made, with good cinematography, good sound, well edited.  There’s not much in the way of acting, but when Gary Cooper is your lead and there’s not a whole lot around to support him, there isn’t going to be a whole lot of acting.  It’s a decent story, but nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary.

But there’s the second reason.  It has the bad luck to be a good enjoyable adventure film, with good scenes of action in the same year of Captain Blood and Mutiny on the Bounty.  How can it hope to compare?  How can Gary Cooper and his low-key approach to acting hope to compare with the fieriness of Flynn or Gable?  So there we have it.  It’s good, but not great.  So watch it.  But then watch Captain Blood or Mutiny again.  Because they are great.

Another MGM all-star cast in David Copperfield (1935)

David Copperfield

  • Director:  George Cukor
  • Writer:  Hugh Walpole  /  Howard Estabrook  (from the novel by Charles Dickens)
  • Producer:  David O. Selznick
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Frank Lawton, Freddie Bartholomew, W.C. Fields, Basil Rathbone, Roland Young, Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O’Sullivan
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Editing, Assistant Director
  • Length:  130 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Literary Adaptation)
  • Release Date:  18 January 1935
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #17 (year)  /  #321 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Supporting Actor (Fields)

The Film:  Do yourself a favor.  Don’t ever make the mistake of watching David Copperfield and Captains Courageous on the same day.  It will fill you with boundless rage that you can’t go back in time and smack the crap out of Freddie Bartholomew and keep him from ever having made a single film.  He was the ultimate example of “child actor”, an annoying brat who couldn’t act if the director had shot his dog.  At least he isn’t around all that long in David Copperfield, as he only plays the young David.  While people often thing of young David when they think of the story, he actually grows up pretty quickly and we can deal with the adult David (though he is played by Frank Lawton and he’s not all that good either).

This isn’t really a film.  It’s an excuse to use great literature as an excuse to start grabbing stars off the MGM lot and put them on the same stage.  The one who is remembered the best is W.C. Fields, who, of course, was the best in the film, and found a role that was absolutely suitable for him.  It was the only time in his career that he really did any acting.  Most of the rest of the cast kind of wander in, do their best Dickens, and wander back out.  There is a story in there, of course, of how young David is mistreated by his step-father and how he comes to grow up and the hardships he endures, typical Dickens stuff.  And it’s a fairly enjoyable film, is never boring, never really drags and it does light up any time that Fields comes on screen.

Laughton does comedy in Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)

Ruggles of Red Gap

  • Director:  Leo McCarey
  • Writer:  Humphrey Pearson  /  Walter DeLeon  /  Harlan Thompson  (from the novel by Harry Leon Wilson)
  • Producer:  Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Stars:  Charles Laughton, Mary Boland, Charles Ruggles, Zasu Pitts
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture
  • Length:  90 min
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Release Date:  8 March 1935
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #19 (year)  /  #330 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  Who would have guessed at the time that Charles Laughton could do comedy.  He had arrived in America a star, having already won an Oscar for playing the crude and lewd Henry VIII.  Then he played the rigid and repressed father of Elizabeth Barrett.  By the end of 1935 he would star as both Javert and Captain Bligh, two men forced rock solid by their rigid attachment to rules and order.  But here, even as he is uptight the kind of way only a British actor playing a British butler could be, he is also marvelously loose and funny.  He can even be touching.  How strange and moving is it in a crowd of roughnecks, to see the uptight Brit as the one man who can recite the Gettysburg Address by heart.

What a delight it is to watch Laughton here.  Of course, this is not him at his best.  He is at his best when he is allowed to let anger overcome his rigid structure, at his best as Javert and Bligh.  But here he is so much more enjoyable, allowed to relax and we can enjoy watching him.  There is much to enjoy in this film.  It’s not a great film, but a good one, one to watch and make you laugh as Ruggles is lost in a poker game by his master and ends up in Red Gap, Washington, in a rough and crazy world that is much different than the upper class Europe he has been used to.  But he manages to overcome his obstacles and ends up owning a tavern.  It’s not a classic, but it’s so much better than so many other Best Picture nominees and it’s enjoyable.  Perhaps all a film needs to be.

Alice Adams in 1935 became the second Pulitzer winning novel to be turned into a Best Picture nominee

Alice Adams

  • Director:  George Stevens
  • Writer:  Dorothy Yost  /  Mortimer Offner  /  Jane Murfin  (from the novel by Booth Tarkington)
  • Producer:  Pandro S. Berman
  • Studio:  RKO Radio
  • Stars:  Katharine Hepburn, Fred MacMurray
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Actress (Hepburn)
  • Length:  99 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Romance)
  • Release Date:  15 August 1935
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #21 (year)  /  #361 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actress (Hepburn)

The Film:  Why is it she is never more radiant than when she is flighty?  Alice Adams is not one of the best Katharine Hepburn performances (in spite of Pauline Kael’s notion that it is), but she is rarely more beautiful and, in a weak year, it is the best performance of the year.  It’s simply too bad that it comes in a film that ends up overwrought with sentimentality and that seems to stand outside the sphere of actual human experience.  Not that it is a bad film, it is a perfectly fine film, anchored in the Hepburn performance, but it just doesn’t seem like it’s real in any way.

Look first at the situation.  Certainly the novel was written before the Depression, but the film came right in the heart of it.  We have the father in this film who goes into his own business venture to try to make more money for his daughter, who suffers in the town society due to their lack of financial resources.  Did people really flock to the this kind of entertainment in the heart of the Depression?  To watch a man who claims he doesn’t have any money, but seems to have a big enough house.  Perhaps it’s where I’ve lived and the times I’ve lived in, but it seems, if you’ve got land, you can always get money.  Exactly how poor can they be if they still have that house?  Then we have that ending, completely overwrought, where, of course, people do the right thing.  Could they not bring themselves to make a more serious social drama?  Is this just the way the Midwest was at that time?  Perhaps it’s me, perhaps I just can’t relate.  But I think the weaknesses are there in the film and the film succeeds almost entirely on the Hepburn performance.

I’d rather watch Astaire and Rogers than MacDonald and Eddy in Naughty Marietta (1935)

Naughty Marietta

  • Director:  Robert Z. Leonard  /  W.S. Van Dyke
  • Writer:  Frances Goodrich  /  Albert Hackett  /  John Lee Mahin  /  Rida Johnson Young
  • Producer:  Hunt Stromberg
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Frank Morgan, Elsa Lanchester
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Sound
  • Length:  105 min
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Release Date:  29 March 1935
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #39 (year)  /  #424 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  I don’t think there’s any question, to me anyway, that I gave this a lower rating the first time around because I don’t like either of the leads and I don’t particularly care for the music that they sing.  But if I step back a second, actually look at it as a whole coherent film, well, it raises it enough to pass it to the lower levels of  a *** film, just reaching respectability.  Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were a team, making romantic musicals together, but unlike Astaire and Rogers who were charming and danced around in amazing grace as they sang, MacDonald and Eddy usually stood there and belted out songs in their best operatic style.  Neither one was much of an actor and the two of them put together didn’t have half the acting charm that Astaire possessed.

So here is the plot in a nutshell.  MacDonald runs away from France to keep from being forced into marriage.  She is rescued from pirates by gun-for-hire Eddy.  They dislike each other at first but quickly grow to love each other.  Her father catches up to her in New Orleans, but of course, it all ends up happily ever after.  Was it ever going to end any other way?  It’s well enough made, well enough directed, it’s just, unless you happen to particularly like the two leads, there’s not much reason to watch it.  Unless of course, you want to see all the Best Picture nominees, and if you do, well, you’ll watch a lot of films that are much worse than this one.

Why? Why was The Broadway Melody of 1936 nominated?

The Broadway Melody of 1936

  • Director:  Roy Del Ruth
  • Writer:  Moss Hart  /  Jack McGowan  /  Sid Silvers
  • Producer:  John W. Considine Jr.
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Jack Benny, Eleanor Powell, Robert Taylor, Una Merkel, Buddy Ebsen
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Original Story, Dance Direction
  • Length:  101 min
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Release Date:  25 August 1935
  • My Rating:  **
  • My Rank:  #48 (year)  /  #462 (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film: Why, why, why, why, why, why, why?  I’m not questioning why they made these films.  It’s obvious that there was a market for them, that people enjoyed going to something that had just a little bit of plot (she’ll go to the big city and make it big on stage!) and some musical numbers thrown in.  They all have stars of various degrees, they all can be enjoyed, even when they’re not very good (this isn’t the best, but given that the original version, which was much worse, won Best Picture, it’s also not the worst) but this one is pretty boring.  The question is, why was it nominated for Best Picture?  Were there seriously people that year who thought to themselves, well, there’s that Bride of Frankenstein film and there’s those two films by the English director, Hitchcock, The 39 Steps and The Man Who Knew Too Much and there’s the Marx Brothers comedy, A Night at the Opera and Leslie Howard is in The Scarlet Pimpernel, but you know what, I think The Broadway Melody of 1936 is one of the best films of the year.  Even having 12 Best Picture nominees shouldn’t allow for something like that.  This is the kind of picture that Sullivan’s Travels was making fun through the whole first half of the movie.  But if this is your cup of tea, if you want to see people doing long tap dance numbers (and by people, I mean people other than Fred Astaire) and singing straight into the camera, but not showing even the slightest sign of acting ability, well then, by all means, enjoy.  I’ll be re-watching one of those other films I just mentioned.