Still a powerful ending after 83 years.

Still a powerful ending after 83 years.

You can read more about this year in film here.  The Best Picture race is discussed here, with reviews of all the nominees.  First there are the categories, followed by all the films with their nominations, then the Globes, where I split the major awards by Drama and Comedy, followed by a few lists at the very end.  If there’s a film you expected to see and didn’t, check the very bottom – it might be eligible in a different year.  Films in red won the Oscar in that category.  Films in blue were nominated.  But remember, there’s still only eight categories at this point.

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture
  1. All Quiet on the Western Front
  2. Lucky Star
  3. Asphalt
  4. The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna
  5. A Cottage on Dartmoor

Analysis:  Here we are, in the first Oscar year which really encompasses the transition to sound films and four of my top five films are Silent films.  To get to another sound film you have to get down to Under the Roofs of Paris at #8 and to get to another English-language sound film you have to go to Hell’s Angels at #11.  Also, like the previous year, several films (#3-5) were films I hadn’t seen a few weeks ago.  They were all films I picked up on expanding to the 8000 film expanded list that TSPDT use to calculate their Top 1000.  The rest of my Top 10 I had already seen.  But it’s a list heavy with Foreign films again – three of the top 5, as well as #6 (Au Bonheur des Dames), 7 (Arsenal), 8 (Under the Roofs of Paris) and 10 (Diary of a Lost Girl).  In fact, the only English-language film that even gets considered for my Best Picture category (***.5 or ****) not in the top 5 is City Girl at #9.  And yet, at least the Academy got this one right – hard for them to screw up as this was arguably the best film ever made up to this point and definitely the best sound film made so far.

  • lewis-milestoneBest Director
  1. Lewis Milestone  (All Quiet on the Western Front)
  2. Joe May  (Asphalt)
  3. Frank Borzage  (Lucky Star)
  4. Hanns Schwarz  (The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna)
  5. Anthony Asquith  (A Cottage on Dartmoor)

Analysis:  At least we get an American in the top 5 this time.  We have, in order, a Russian born director who came to America in 1912, an Austrian working in Germany, an American, another Austrian working in Germany and a Brit (a rather unique Brit who stayed in Britain).

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front
  2. Lucky Star
  3. Anna Christie
  4. Au Bonheur des Dames
  5. The Cocoanuts
  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna
  2. Asphalt
  3. Under the Roofs of Paris
  4. A Cottage on Dartmoor

Analysis:  When you see that I only have four nominees you can tell how weak the year is.  What’s worse, is that a few weeks ago I only had one – Roofs.  It’s just a bad year overall for film and the writing was partially to blame.

  • Best Actor:
  1. Lew Ayres  (All Quiet on the Western Front)
  2. George Arliss  (Disraeli)
  3. Erich von Stroheim  (The Great Gabbo)
  4. Conrad Veidt  (The Last Performance)
  5. Walter Huston  (Abraham Lincoln)

Analysis:  This category and the one below are linked.  I, at one time, had Arliss as the winner.  But Arliss’ performance really seems to reek too much of stage acting.  It seems too much like he just comes it and wittily says the lines.  Part of that may stem from the dreadful direction he got.  But Ayres’ performance seems so much more real.  The last three performances are all good but in a decent year wouldn’t be anywhere near the top 5.

  • Best Actress
  1. Janet Gaynor  (Lucky Star)
  2. Greta Garbo  (Anna Christie)
  3. Brigitte Helm  (The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna)
  4. Gloria Swanson  (The Trespasser)
  5. Norma Shearer  (The Divorcee)

Analysis:  I used to have Garbo as the winner, but as the Monkey points out, Dressler actually wipes the floor with her.  While Arliss is more acting for the stage, Garbo is more acting for a silent film.  Not that she isn’t very good – she is, of course.  But watching the film again to write about for Adapted Screenplay and looking at the performances and watching Lucky Star again, Gaynor edges her out.  I wish I could have Shearer higher up, because good god, I adore her and this is the film she won the Oscar for.  But she’ll get her chance in 30-31.  For you Louise Brooks fans, I feel I shout point out that I didn’t forget her – she just gets edged out into sixth place for Diary of a Lost Girl.

  • asphaltBest Supporting Actor:
  1. Albert Steinruck  (Asphalt)
  2. Louis Wallheim  (All Quiet on the Western Front)
  3. Warwick Ward  (The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna)
  4. Josef Rovensky  (Diary of a Lost Girl)
  5. David Torrence  (City Girl)

Analysis:  Not a strong category, filled with fathers – some good men (Asphalt), some morally weak but caring for their children (Diary) and some too burned up inside (City Girl).

  • dressler_marie_anna_christie_stillBest Supporting Actress:
  1. Marie Dressler  (Anna Christie)
  2. Beryl Mercer  (All Quiet on the Western Front)
  3. Edith Yorke  (City Girl)
  4. Franziska Kinz  (Diary of a Lost Girl)

Analysis:  This is even weaker than Supporting Actor.  Without Dressler it would barely be even worth it – she earns more points than the other three nominees combined.  I had recently read Monkey’s essay on her performance (see Actress, above) before re-watching the film for the first time in over a decade and I’m sure it stuck with me.  She really gives a forceful performance, one that was tailored a bit to her strengths, as two of her three scenes aren’t even in the original play, but were written specifically for the film (and the first wasn’t used in the German version filmed at the same time).

  • Best Editing:
  1. All Quiet on the Western Front
  2. Arsenal
  3. A Cottage on Dartmoor
  4. Asphalt
  5. City Girl

Analysis:  City Girl might be cheating.  I am judging the film as I am able to see it now and that’s not exactly the film as it was originally made.  It was butchered and re-cut several times and released in two versions (the sound version is supposed to be much worse).  But it was lost for years and then re-edited based on notes from the original screenwriters and that’s what I can see now, and that film is well-edited.  This issue will also come up with Touch of Evil.

  • Best Cinematography:
  1. All Quiet on the Western Front
  2. Hell’s Angels
  3. Asphalt
  4. City Girl
  5. Au Bonheur des Dames
  • Best Sound:
  1. All Quiet on the Western Front
  2. Hell’s Angels
  3. Under the Roofs of Paris
  4. The Big House
  5. Applause

Analysis:  Clearly things take a big leap forward in this year (and below, where I have brought in the category of Sound Editing).  Both categories, of course, are dominated by the two war films in which sound is so important (neither of which was nominated, of course).

  • Best Art Direction:
  1. Under the Roofs of Paris
  2. Au Bonheur des Dames
  3. Asphalt
  4. The Great Gabbo
  5. All Quiet on the Western Front

Analysis:  Further proof that the Europeans had an amazing sense of style.

  • Best Visual Effects:
  1. Hell’s Angels
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Best Sound Editing:
  1. All Quiet on the Western Front
  2. Hell’s Angels
  • Best Costume Design:
  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. The Vagabond King
  3. Disraeli
  • Best Original Song:
  1. “Waiting at the End of the Road”  (Hallelujah)

Analysis:  This is going to be very tricky in the years before the creation of the Best Song category at the Academy Awards in 1934.  I was yelled at for dismissing nearly all pre-1934 songs other than Marx Bros songs in my Best Original Song post for my History of the Academy Awards series.  But it’s hard figuring out precisely which songs were written for these films.  This gets much easier (though not perfectly clear) starting in 1954, when you can go to the Academy list for Song Title from all the films released in each year (not perfectly clear because some of them I’m fairly certain are wrong, but we’ll get to those in individual years).  As for this year, this is the one song that I can verify was written for its film and is at least good enough to earn a nomination.

  • au_bonheur_des_damesBest Foreign Film:
  1. Au Bonheur des Dames
  2. Earth
  3. Under the Roofs of Paris
  4. Diary of a Lost Girl

Analysis:  Not a great group of films – in fact, not a great film among them.  This is the first year in which I have seen no **** Foreign films (but, it sadly won’t be the last).  For the record, the films come from France, the USSR, France again and Germany.  Just like the year before, I have a German film which many would put in this category (and possibly have win) that I don’t rate above ***; this time it’s The Blue Angel – a good film, but more for Dietrich’s performance than the film itself.

By Film:

note:  They’re in points order.  You get twice as many points for a win as for a nomination.  Hopefully your math skills will let you figure out the system.

  • All Quiet on the Western Front  (645)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing
  • Asphalt  (285)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Foreign Film (28-29)
  • The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna  (260)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actor, Foreign Film (28-29)
  • Lucky Star  (205)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress
  • A Cottage on Dartmoor  (160)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Editing
  • Anna Christie  (160)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Score
  • Au Bonheur des Dames  (125)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Foreign Film
  • Under the Roofs of Paris  (120)
    • Original Screenplay, Sound, Art Direction, Foreign Film
  • City Girl  (110)
    • Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography
  • Hell’s Angels  (105)
    • Cinematography, Sound, Visual Effects, Sound Editing
  • The Trespasser  (85)
    • Actress, Original Score
  • Diary of a Lost Girl  (80)
    • Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Foreign Film
  • Abraham Lincoln  (60)
    • Actor, Costume Design
  • The Great Gabbo  (55)
    • Actor, Art Direction
  • Disraeli  (50)
    • Actor, Costume Design
  • Arsenal  (45)
    • Editing, Foreign Film (28-29)
  • The Cocoanuts  (40)
    • Adapted Screenplay
  • The Last Performance  (35)
    • Actor
  • The Divorcee  (35)
    • Actress
  • The Big House  (20)
    • Sound
  • Applause  (20)
    • Sound
  • Hallelujah  (20)
    • Original Song
  • The Vagabond King  (15)
    • Costume Design

Best Film Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Awards:

  • The Ghost That Never Returns

Analysis:  This is a Soviet film that I discovered thanks to the TSPDT expanded list and was able to find on YouTube.  It’s a good film and just barely edges out Eisenstein’s The General Line here, but it wasn’t strong enough to actually compete in any category.

Biggest Awards Film Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Awards:

  • The Love Parade

Analysis:  Ah, please don’t let me get started on Ernst Lubitsch and how my feelings differ from those of, say, Billy Wilder.  Suffice it to say, The Love Parade was nominated for six Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound) – the first film to reach that mark – and was nominated in every category except two (Actress, Writing).  So, the Academy liked the film (I didn’t).  But they didn’t love it – it lost in all six categories, setting a record that it would either hold or share until 1941.

Nighthawk Golden Globes:

Drama:

  • Best Picture
  1. All Quiet on the Western Front
  2. Lucky Star
  3. Asphalt
  4. The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna
  5. A Cottage on Dartmoor
  • Best Director
  1. Lewis Milestone  (All Quiet on the Western Front)
  2. Joe May  (Asphalt)
  3. Frank Borzage  (Lucky Star)
  4. Hanns Schwarz  (The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna)
  5. Anthony Asquith  (A Cottage on Dartmoor)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. All Quiet on the Western Front
  2. Lucky Star
  3. Anna Christie
  4. Au Bonheur des Dames
  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna
  2. Asphalt
  3. A Cottage on Dartmoor
  • ayresBest Actor:
  1. Lew Ayres  (All Quiet on the Western Front)
  2. George Arliss  (Disraeli)
  3. Conrad Veidt  (The Last Performance)
  4. Walter Huston  (Abraham Lincoln)
  5. Francis Lederer  (The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna)

Analysis:  Just like the previous year, there is only one performance nominated for a Globe in Drama that wasn’t nominated in the regular category up above and it’s here in Best Actor.  So, with von Stroheim in the Comedy category, Francis Lederer manages to sneak into the fifth spot as the soldier that Brigitte Helm falls in love with in Lies.

  • Lucky_Star_ss_003Best Actress
  1. Janet Gaynor  (Lucky Star)
  2. Greta Garbo  (Anna Christie)
  3. Brigitte Helm  (The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna)
  4. Gloria Swanson  (The Trespasser)
  5. Norma Shearer  (The Divorcee)
  • Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Albert Steinruck  (Asphalt)
  2. Louis Wallheim  (All Quiet on the Western Front)
  3. Warwick Ward  (The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna)
  4. Josef Rovensky  (Diary of a Lost Girl)
  5. David Torrence  (City Girl)
  • Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Marie Dressler  (Anna Christie)
  2. Beryl Mercer  (All Quiet on the Western Front)
  3. Edith Yorke  (City Girl)
  4. Franziska Kinz  (Diary of a Lost Girl)

By Film:

  • All Quiet on the Western Front  (400)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna  (275)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor
  • Lucky Star  (205)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress
  • Asphalt  (195)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor
  • A Cottage on Dartmoor  (135)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay
  • Anna Christie  (135)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress
  • City Girl  (60)
    • Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • Diary of a Lost Girl  (60)
    • Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • Au Bonheur des Dames  (40)
    • Adapted Screenplay
  • The Last Performance  (35)
    • Actor
  • Abraham Lincoln  (35)
    • Actor
  • Disraeli (35)
    • Actor
  • The Trespasser  (35)
    • Actress
  • The Divorcee (35)
    • Actress

Best Drama Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Golden Globes:

  • Arsenal

Analysis:

Comedy:

  • Best Picture:
  1. Under the Roofs of Paris

Analysis:  Another very weak year for comedies and musicals.  I’ve at least seen more than the year before – this time there are 20 films that actually qualify in this category.  And, surprisingly, for all we think of MGM, it’s actually Paramount with the largest share (8).  But the problem is, that they aren’t really that good.  Clearly I only rate one film above *** and 8 of them I have at either **.5 or below.  And of the other 11, only two of them are on the higher side of the *** range – The Great Gabbo (more on that below) and The Cocoanuts (which I already reviewed in the Adapted Screenplay post).

  • Best Director:
  1. Rene Clair  (Under the Roofs of Paris)
  2. Rouben Mamoulian  (Applause)

Analysis:  Applause was one of the first musicals that really opened things up.  It has a ridiculously trite script and some pretty bad acting, so doesn’t rate that highly overall.  But the direction from Mamoulian at least merits a nomination here.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. The Cocoanuts
  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. Under the Roofs of Paris
  • greatgabbo-stroheim4Best Actor:
  1. Erich von Stroheim  (The Great Gabbo)

Analysis:  In the 1927-28 post on Best Supporting Actor – Drama, I mentioned the idea of putting an acting performance in the comedy categories when the performance is comedic in a dramatic film, but in the end I didn’t actually move the performance.  This is the opposite – I always forget that The Great Gabbo is actually a musical because the one reason to watch it is the performance from von Stroheim, which is the dramatic heart of the film.  The rest of it is all filled with unmemorable musical numbers.  So, von Stroheim manages to win this award partially because he is good in a weak year and partially because the films he is in happens to be a musical even though his performance is much heavier (as evidenced by the picture on the right, though I feel I should point out that’s his ventriloquist dummy he’s about to punch out).

  • illeryBest Actress:
  1. Pola Illery  (Under the Roofs of Paris)

Analysis:  Even though she doesn’t even make the Top 10 in the regular awards, the total lack of competition ends up with Pola Illery, as the girl sought after by two men in Clair’s charming musical, finishing in the winning spot.

  • Best Supporting Actor:
  • Best Supporting Actress

Analysis:  I’ve seen 20 films that are either comedies or musicals and I couldn’t find any supporting performances that I thought were even worthy of mention.

By Film:

  • Under the Roofs of Paris  (340)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress
  • The Cocoanuts  (80)
    • Adapted Screenplay
  • The Great Gabbo  (70)
    • Actor
  • Applause  (45)
    • Director

Best Comedy Not Nominated for any Nighthawk Golden Globes:

  • Hallelujah

Analysis:  It earns historical merit for having an all-black cast in a film made by a white director (King Vidor) for a major studio (MGM).  It is a good film, and is the fourth-highest qualifying film, but I didn’t think any of the performances worthy of nomination.  But definitely an important film that you need to see if you have never seen it.

Roundup for the Year in Film:

Eligible Films I Have Seen:  68

Oscar-Nominated Films I Have Not Seen:

  • Street of Chance  (Writing)
  • Condemned  (Actor)
  • The Case of Sergeant Grischa  (Sound)
  • Song of the Flame  (Sound)

Oscar Quality:

Best Picture:  All Quiet on the Western Front saves this year from the scrap-heap.  Even with All Quiet, this year finishes in 78th place (out of 85) among all the Best Picture years.  On a 100 point scale, All Quiet earns a 98, which is 30 points higher than the average of all 5 nominees (68.0), the highest difference in any year and one of only three years above a 21.4 (the other two are 1963 and 1934).  It finishes 31 points higher than the next best nominee.  It is so much better it ranks in the top 30 among all the nominees while none of the other nominees can even make the Top 400.

The Winners:  When I rank the winners of the Oscars, I do a few things.  One of the things I do is give an average based on where I have the winners ranked in each category, and then I do it again without Best Picture.  That’s because I rank every film for Picture and when a really bad film wins (like Cimarron) it brings down the overall score quite a bit.  With the first score, this year gets a 7.88, which is pretty bad but at least isn’t one of the handful of years in double-digits.  But, all of those years get better when you factor out Best Picture.  This year actually gets worse, because they picked the best film of the year for Best Picture – so it actually goes up to 8.86, for the second-worst year of all-time behind 1928-29.  But that’s namely because they made three bad choices (The Big House for Writing, With Byrd at the South Pole for Cinematography and King of Jazz for Art Direction) in a year that only has eight categories.  And when looking at how it ranks among the nominees, it gets a 1.88, which means they at least had a decent sense of which nominee to pick – just not which films to nominate.  This would be the last year I would agree with Best Picture until 1943.  In fact, by agreeing with them completely on Picture and Director, I agree with the Oscars on as many awards (2), as I would in the next four years combined.

Top 5 Films of the Year:

1  –  All Quiet on the Western Front  (see review here)

2  –  Lucky Star  (see review here)

Film noir, about a decade and a half too early.

Film noir, about a decade and a half too early.

3  –  Asphalt  (dir. Joe May)

Peter Bogdanovich is on the record as saying that 1928 is the best year for film, noting that filmmakers had perfected silent films, but had not yet managed to screw up sound films.  Well, what does it say about this stretch here, from mid 1929 to mid 1930, that only one film makes it to four stars and that the next four on the list, all very good, but not great, are all silent films (three of which were imports)?  Were the best directors already at work screwing up sound films?  Were the artistic intentions still mired in silent films while the sound films were being made by those trying to make money?

In the end, what was going on doesn’t matter.  Only the films matter.  And this film matters – Asphalt, directed by Joe May, almost a noir film some fifteen years before the concept of the noir film had even come into existence.  Though May was not on the same level as some of the other German directors – like Murnau and Leni, say, who had already left for America – he was surrounded by some of the top talent who had been responsible for the best of German cinema over the previous decade.  He had producer Erich Pommer (Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Faust, Metropolis), set designer Erich Kettlehut (Mabuse, Metropolis) and cinematographer Gunther Rittau (Nibelungen, Metropolis).  Surrounded by this talent, who created an atmosphere of realism highlighted on the edges by the expressionism that had marked the German cinema, we see the shadows and darkness that go along with a simple plot of a young cop who arrests a young woman for stealing a diamond and then manage to fall in love with her.

Like so many films that would mark the core work of what would later become film noir, the plot is simple and the characters are morally compromised.  Yet, it is the directorial style that matters – the way the camera lurks into the shadows to see what may be hiding there, the way it lingers on the eyes of the policeman when he knows he is lost in this woman.  And she, at first just wants to draw him in so that she can avoid arrest, but in the end, after things gets much more complicated, she finds she cares for him more than she had intended.

Seriously, if you've never seen a Brigitte Helm film you're missing great films and great performances.

Seriously, if you’ve never seen a Brigitte Helm film you’re missing great films and great performances.

4  –  The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna  (dir. Hanns Schwarz)

Brigitte Helm is a fantastic actress, and let’s hope that film audiences today  discover that.  In the first year of the Oscars, she gave the stunning supporting performance in Metropolis, as both the saintly Maria and the robot which takes her place and she also gave a strong supporting performance as the blind cousin of the title character in The Love of Jeanne Ney who is betrayed in love.  The following year, she was the devilish countess in L’Argent.  And here she is the title character, again unlucky in love, though this time she tries to do what is best, only to have it betray her heart.

Helm is Nina Petrovna, a lovely young woman who, watching a military parade in pre-Soviet Russia, tosses a rose to a young officer.  He picks up the flower and his eyes slowly move up to find hers.  This leads to an almost instant attraction between the two and it isn’t long before they become lovers.  There’s a problem of course, because if we didn’t have a problem, we wouldn’t have a film.  In this case, the problem is her location.  She was standing there with the good view of the military parade because she is the kept mistress of a rather powerful Colonel.  So, like with Asphalt, we have a love affair that is a really bad idea and yet the two of them can not seem to help themselves.

All of this would make for a lesse film in lesser hands.  But, first we have very good production values at work (this is an UFA film, of course, like so many of the best films that came out of pre-Nazi Germany).  And second, we have a good script that is actually helped by the fact that it’s silent, and so it focuses more on the story and less on dialogue that might have ended up stilted and cliched in a sound film.  And third, and probably most importantly, we have the acting.  There is a solid performance from Franz Lederer as the young officer who falls head over heels for the beautiful young woman that he feels it is just his good fortune to meet.  We have an even better performance from Warwick Ward as the Colonel, who feels betrayed that he has given so much to this woman (excepting, of course, marrying her) and that she has the gall to fall in love with a young, good-looking officer.  But the best performance in the film, as could be expected, is from the lovely Brigitte Helm, once again proving not only how good she can be, but how wide-spread her range is, with a dramatic romantic performance unlike any of the previous films that have earned her three previous Nighthawk nominations (including two wins).

I won’t mention what happens in the end in the hopes that you have either seen the film or will go see it.  But I will suffice to say this: things are not going to end well, and the film develops it as a natural progression (though, of course, relying on concepts of honor that work better in drama than they would in life).  And how well it all fits together, and how all three performances interact (and don’t) in the final few minutes really add a nice sense of pathos to a film that has done a good job earning it from the start.

One DVD case says it "out-Hitchcock's Hitchcock."  It's not that great, but it's better than any film Hitchcock had done to this point.

One DVD case says it “out-Hitchcock’s Hitchcock.” It’s not that great, but it’s better than any film Hitchcock had done to this point.

5  –  A Cottage on Dartmoor  (dir. Anthony Asquith)

Britain, the country that been the major force in the world for several centuries now, wasn’t quite on the same footing in the film industry as the U.S., Germany or France.  That’s made clear in a documentary that appears on the KINO DVD of A Cottage on Dartmoor called Silent Britain (you can see it in the picture on the right because I couldn’t find an image for the original poster – only the DVD case).  In it, the narrator talks about trying to revive the notion that Britain had almost no worthwhile film industry during the Silent Era.  That he has to try to correct this image shows how prevalent the image is.  This is made quite clear in the TSPDT 8000 film list (which is where I saw this film and decided to watch it).  There are 374 pre-1930 films on the list.  The Soviets/Russians have 29, Germany and France have 45 each and 223 of them are American.  The Brits have 8, which is fewer than Sweden (and three of them are Hitchcock films).  There are more British films from 1937 on the list than ones made before 1930.

All of that is a shame because you might miss a treasure, like I almost missed this one.  On one DVD case I saw when trying to find the poster (not the KINO one), it said that the film “out-Hitchcock’s Hitchcock.”  Now, in a sense that’s true, because at this time Hitchcock was busy making the first sound films in Britain and they weren’t as good as his best silent film (The Lodger).  In fact, while Hitchcock was already making these kind of thrillers (The Lodger, Blackmail, Murder), he hadn’t yet quite found his stride, and wouldn’t until The Man Who Knew Too Much.  But while this is a very good film, an in a weak year like this one, good enough for fifth place, it’s nowhere near as great as the best that Hitchcock would begin making in the mid-30’s and keep making for almost 30 years.  And, with the lonely house, isolated on the Devonshire moors, I was instantly reminded of the lonely Scottish house that would feature so prominently in Hitchcock’s 39 Steps.  This film, made by Anthony Asquith, who would later become well-known for film adaptations of notable plays like Pygmalion, The Browning Version and The Importance of Being Earnest, has all the feel of a Hitchcock thriller – dark shadows, a dark, disturbing story and the desperate hunt for a fugitive.

But there’s one way in which this film is so much different from a Hitchcock film.  The key driving point to so many Hitchcock films, like The 39 Steps, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest, is the pursuit of the innocent man who looks guilty.  This is the story of a guilty man and his desperate zeal.  And it’s a confusing film at first, because it begins late in the story and very quickly jumps back to the beginning.  But as we get a feel for the construction of the story, of a young man who has an obsessive infatuation for his co-worker, but watches her turn away from him, the editing works very well, linking scenes together, showing us how we have gotten from this quiet young man to the frenzied fugitive out on the moors, headed for that lonely cottage and its occupant.

What happens after that is an interesting study in human nature – the nature of three very different individuals who have very different feelings about the same events that they have all gone through and what next step to take at this point.  That is what the film has been building up to and it does a good job with the pay-off.  This is a very good thriller, perhaps the best of all the British silent films, and here it is, coming in at the very tail end of the Silent Era just as Hitchcock was making the first sound feature film in Britain.  And yet, it deserves to be remembered for what it does and how well it does it.

5 Worst Films  (#1 being the worst):

  1. The Taming of the Shrew
  2. The Divorcee
  3. Moby Dick
  4. Green Goddess
  5. Not So Dumb
Mary Pickford and Sam Taylor again team up for the worst film of the year.

Mary Pickford and Sam Taylor again team up for the worst film of the year.

Worst Film of the Year:

The Taming of the Shrew  (dir. Sam Taylor)

In 1928-29, Mary Pickford and Sam Taylor teamed up to make the worst film of the year, Coquette, which, sadly, won Pickford an Oscar.  In 29-30, they added Pickford’s (by-now-estranged) husband, Douglas Fairbanks into the mix and made a film that was nearly as bad and ended up being a major nail in the coffin to the careers of both stars.

Now, Pickford and Fairbanks had been major stars in the Silent Era.  Part of that was their sheer likability – Pickford was the small little pixie who always seemed to be downtrodden that you wanted to root for in films like Sparrows and Pollyanna.  Fairbanks was the first of the great action stars – those men who had charisma up the wazzoo and always seemed to be dashing, no matter what was happenings.  Both them were perfect for the Silent Era and both of them played their roles to the hilt (Pickford was also a good businesswoman and, as a result, just about the most powerful female in the entire industry in the 1920’s).  That being said, acting was never really their forte.  They could work so well in Silents because we never had to hear them try to emote while speaking at the same time.  And so, it was probably always going to be a problem for them to transition into talkies – unlike certain actors who just had the acting chops to pull it off, like the Barrymores or Garbo, or other actors who had been character performers in the Silent Era, but who had such perfect speaking voices that they were almost made for instant stardom in the talkies (like, say William Powell, Ronald Colman or Herbert Marshall) – Pickford and Fairbanks just weren’t cut out for this era.

But, it was a mistake of the highest degree to decide that their first talkie together (in fact, their first film together as stars – they had made cameos together but nothing more) and Fairbanks’ first talkie at all, would be a Shakespeare adaptation.  This meant that this would also be the first talkie adaptation of a Shakespeare play.  This was a whole lot of pressure to put on themselves.  And what’s more, as the Mythical Monkey has pointed out in his piece on this film (which is a lot more generous than mine, but hey, we can disagree on films and still be friends, or as much as you can be friends with someone whose real name you don’t know and who lives 400 miles away, but he’s the same profession as my sister and brother-in-law in the same city, so I’m sure they must be friends – after all, how many lawyers could there possibly be in DC?), Fairbanks still wanted to be a star and still was trying to play the roles that had made him one – roles like Zorro, Robin Hood and D’Artagnan.  So, he could still play that kind of role in this film – after all, while Petruchio doesn’t exactly get to have the kind of swordplay we see in Hamlet, he is still a brash, arrogant man who believes he is god’s gift to women and that role would be right up Fairbanks’ alley.  But Pickford wanted to get away from the roles she had been playing – and that would work for her as well, because Kate the shrew was nothing like the roles she had been playing.  Be subservient in a relationship?  Hell, in most of the films she had been she was lucky to even have a relationship.  So, both were getting what they wanted.  So, it had to work, right?

Well, no.  So why doesn’t it work?  Well, for a couple of reasons.  Actually, more than a couple.  First, there is the problem of the play itself.  In the course of undergraduate years and four different go-arounds at grad school, I have been to four different universities and the only thing they all had in common was that I took at least one Shakespeare course at all of them (actually, I took two different ones at PSU so I wouldn’t have to take the Milton class).  So, I am more than familiar with the Bard.  And I will make this point quickly, a point I have made in more than one class – not everything Shakespeare did was gold.  Yes, his language is beautiful in pretty much every play – there are always lines worth quoting.  But just because the lines of, say, the balcony scene are amazing (“It is the east and Juliet is the sun” comes to my brain instantly) doesn’t mean the play works as a whole (Romeo acts without getting permission from his brain first).  And so it is with Taming of the Shrew, one of the most problematic of his plays because, quite simply, the end of it is in no way believable.  Now, it can be done in a way that it almost seems so (the Taylor / Burton version almost succeeds, namely because of the performances).  But who would really believe that Kate would be controlled, and quite frankly, who would want her to be?  Clearly they picked the play because it was a comedy, which worked well for both of them and for director Sam Taylor (who was actually a good comedy director before he started doing Pickford talkies) – it meant they didn’t have to struggle as much with dramatic Shakespeare scenes like John Gilbert had done in The Hollywood Revue of 1929.

But their choice of play was only the first problem.  The second was what they did with the play.  This could hardly be considered a Shakespeare adaptation, in spite of what the poster says (the poster says Adapted and Directed by Sam Taylor – for years I have read of the infamous credit “with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor”.  That didn’t appear in the version I saw, yet Pickford had the film re-edited in 1966 for a re-release and if that credit really existed she might have had it excised – there seems to be debate on the Internet, but it looks like it really did exist and was probably excised).  At 66 minutes, much of what had been in the original Shakespeare play has been cut down.  In fact, though Taylor “adapted it”, really he adapted it from the David Garrick adaptation of the play called Catherine and Petruchio.  So, as a scholar of Shakespeare, I don’t mind that they shortened it, as it had been done already.  All of that isn’t the biggest problem.

The problem is that, no matter what has been done with the story, no matter how many of the minor characters are cut, no matter how much it cuts down the fat of the play to reduce it to the bare bones, they still have to be able to speak the language and not look like fools doing it.  If it had just been a comedy they could have done fine.  If they wanted one where there is some romance and Fairbanks could still play an overbearing man, maybe they could have tried Pygmalion (actually, never mind – that would have been just as bad, to have Fairbanks as Henry Higgins, though Pickford might have pulled off Eliza).  But to get two actors who were never cut out to be in the talkies and try to attempt Shakespeare?  They just aren’t up to it.  Yes, Fairbanks is very much the Petruchio role.  But he still has to be able to speak the lines and it’s just painful when he tries.  And it’s more painful when we have to see Pickford trying it, and that gets to the biggest part of the problem.

Do you find her believable?  I can't stop laughing.

Do you find her believable? I can’t stop laughing.

Is there anyone who believes Mary Pickford in this role?  It’s not just that she’s playing against type – she did that in Coquette and she was good even if the film was crap.  When she first comes out, supposedly this bundle of fury, scaring away any who would dare go up the stairs, she’s still just this tiny little pixie and I want to bust out laughing (see picture on right).  I just can’t buy her as the shrew – especially when she’s trying so hard to be shrewish.  And, no matter all the problems with the story in the play, if you can’t be believable as this shrew who frightens away all men, then nothing else will work.  And she just can’t do it.  Playing against type is one thing, but you have to be able to play the role.  And, aside from the problem of not being able to do the language properly (I have been to a lot of Shakespeare plays and I can always tell when the actors have simply memorized the role and don’t actually know quite what they’re saying), she is just hopelessly out of her depth.  And so the film doesn’t work at all.

This was the beginning of the end for both stars.  Their marriage was already in trouble and working on the film together hastened the end.  And though it was a box-office success, it would not last for either one (either somewhere on the Monkey’s site or in the book The Speed of Sound, I can’t remember which and can’t find where I read it at the moment, I saw something that pointed out that it was hard to judge how successful an actor would be in talkies at first – their first talkies were always profitable because people wanted to hear them speak – it was the later ones that rapidly went downhill).  And it’s sad to look at this film and see them both so much out of their depth.  It’s never been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, but if I have to watch it on film, I’ll go with Liz and Dick, who at least know what the lines mean and can say them with force and impact.  It still has the same problems as a play, but it works better as a film.  And as for you, well, you can either follow my advice or follow the Monkey’s, or better yet, see it and make up your own mind.  Every Shakespeare film is worth at least one go-around.  Well, except for the Ethan Hawke version of Hamlet.

Points:

  • Most Nighthawk Nominations:  All Quiet on the Western Front  (13)  *
  • Most Nighthawk Awards:  All Quiet on the Western Front  (8) **
  • Most Nighthawk Points:  All Quiet on the Western Front  (645) *
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Award:  The Divorcee
  • 2nd Place Award:  All Quiet on the Western Front  (Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Score, Visual Effects)
  • 6th Place Award:  The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna  (Actor, Editing)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Nominations:  All Quiet on the Western Front / The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna  (6)  **
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Awards:  All Quiet on the Western Front  (4)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Points:  All Quiet on the Western Front  (400)  *
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Drama Award:  The Divorcee
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Nominations:  Under the Roofs of Paris  (4)
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Awards:  Under the Roofs of Paris  (6)
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Points:  Under the Roofs of Paris  (460)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Comedy Award:  Applause

Note:  * means a Nighthawk record up to this point; ** ties a Nighthawk record

Analysis:  Yes, that’s how dominant All Quiet is – it wins 8 awards and comes in 2nd place an additional four times.  It’s just that much better than any other film from this year.

Progressive Leaders:

  • Most Nighthawk Nominations:  All Quiet on the Western Front  (13)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards:  Nosferatu  /  All Quiet on the Western Front  (8)
  • Most Nighthawk Points:  All Quiet on the Western Front  (645)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards without winning Best Picture:  Metropolis  (5)
  • Most Nighthawk Nominations without a Best Picture Nomination:  Faust  (8)
  • Most Nighthawk Nominations without a Nighthawk Award:  Faust  /  7th Heaven (8)
  • Actor:  Lon Chaney  (240)
  • Actress:  Lilian Gish  /  Janet Gaynor  (210)
  • Director:  F.W. Murnau  (180)

Breakdown by Genre  (Foreign in parenthesis, best film in genre following):

  • Drama:  35  (8)  –  Lucky Star
  • Musical:  12  –  The Great Gabbo
  • Foreign:  10  –  Asphalt
  • Comedy:  8  (1)  –  Under the Roofs of Paris
  • War:  5 (1)  –  All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Crime:  3  –  The Unholy Three
  • Mystery:  2  –  Bulldog Drummond
  • Suspense:  2  –  A Cottage on Dartmoor
  • Adventure:  1  –  Moby Dick
  • Action:  0
  • Fantasy:  0
  • Horror:  0
  • Kids:  0
  • Sci-Fi:  0
  • Western:  0

8 Films Eligible for Best Foreign Film (alphabetical, with director in parenthesis – red are ****, blue are ***.5 – both those colors qualify for my Best Foreign Film Award):

  • Au Bonheur des Dames  (Duvivier)
  • The Blue Angel  (von Sternberg)
  • Diary of a Lost Girl  (Pabst)
  • Earth  (Dovzhenko)
  • The General Line  (Eisenstein)
  • Under the Roofs of Paris  (Clair)
  • The White Hell of Pitz Palu  (Pabst)
  • Woman in the Moon  (Lang)

Films Eligible in This Year But Originally Released in a Different Calendar Year:

  • Arsenal  (1928-29)
  • Asphalt  (1928-29)
  • The Ghost That Never Returns  (1928-29)
  • The New Babylon  (1928-29)
  • The Wonderful Lives of Nina Petrovna  (1928-29)

Films Released This Year Originally But Eligible in a Different Year:

  • The Blue Angel  (1930-31)
  • Earth  (1930-31)
  • Woman in the Moon  (1930-31)
  • Queen Kelly  (1985)

Note:  Because of the way the Academy’s “years” were drawn prior to 1934, years fell into two different Oscar years.  So this is not a list of all the 1930 films that fall into the 1930-31 category.  This list only consists of 1929 films that did not fall into either 1928-29 or 1929-30 as well as any film eligible for Best Foreign Film in this year, but eligible for other awards in a different year.  After 1933, this will get considerably less complicated.

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