That wonderful final shot.

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. City Lights
  2. Dracula
  3. The Public Enemy
  4. Le Million
  5. Earth

Analysis:  Unlike the previous couple of years, I had already seen all of these films long ago, though I did bump up The Public Enemy and Le Million when I watched them again.  Also unlike the year before, where my #1 film won Best Picture, here the Oscar nominees are nowhere in sight.  My top 5 films earned one Oscar nomination combined – the writing nomination for The Public Enemy.  In fact, City Lights not only made my list of Top 100 films to not earn any Oscar nominations, but it was all the way up at #16 (yet, not the highest Chaplin film on the list, with Modern Times making it in at #5).  The good news for Hollywood, is that they do better on this list – three of the top four films, as well as #6-8 (Doorway to Hell, Waterloo Bridge, Little Caesar).

  • Best Director
  1. Charlie Chaplin  (City Lights)
  2. William Wellman  (The Public Enemy)
  3. Tod Browning  (Dracula)
  4. René Clair  (Le Million)
  5. Aleksandr Dovzhenko  (Earth)

Analysis:  Hollywood was finally catching up with what was being done in Europe, or at least by European directors.  Chaplin was a Brit, but by this time had been in the States for almost 20 years, basically his entire film career.  Then we have a man whose family dated back in America to 1640, and then another American.  Though the next two slots are a Frenchman and a Soviet (more specifically, a Ukranian Cossack).

  1. Dracula
  2. Le Million
  3. The Front Page
  4. Animal Crackers
  5. Little Caesar
  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. City Lights
  2. The Public Enemy
  3. Doorway to Hell

Analysis:  The year before I only had four nominees.  Here, I only have three.  Yet, this is the better year, if for no other reason, than City Lights, which is a magnificent film and possibly better than all four of the films from the year before combined.

  • Best Actor:
  1. Charlie Chaplin  (City Lights)
  2. James Cagney  (The Public Enemy)
  3. Bela Lugosi  (Dracula)
  4. Lionel Barrymore  (A Free Soul)
  5. Adolph Menjou  (The Front Page)

Analysis:  Cagney would have been the winner in either of the previous two years.  Since Chaplin’s is a silent film, Cagney’s performance is the first really great performance of the Sound Era.  Menjou’s performance I have listed here because he was nominated here.  But it’s questionable as to who is the lead in the film – but, of course, the supporting categories wouldn’t be added until 1936, so there was nowhere else to put him, and he was a star after all.

  • Best Actress
  1. Norma Shearer  (A Free Soul)
  2. Marlene Dietrich  (The Blue Angel)
  3. Marlene Dietrich  (Morocco)
  4. Marie Dressler  (Min and Bill)
  5. Barbara Stanwyck  (The Miracle Woman)
  6. Ann Harding  (Holiday)

Analysis:  The two performances from Deitrich mean that Harding gets a nomination in spite of her sixth place finish.  I actually think there’s very little that separates 1 through 5 on this list and wouldn’t argue overly much with anyone who had them in a different order.

  • myers-citylightsBest Supporting Actor:
  1. Harry Myers  (City Lights)
  2. Clark Gable  (A Free Soul)
  3. Dwight Frye  (Dracula)
  4. Boris Karloff  (The Criminal Code)
  5. Paul Ollivier  (Le Million)

Analysis:  I used to have Leslie Howard as the winner in this category and now he doesn’t even make the nominee list (he’s at #6).  That’s because I am such a fan of Howard that I over-rated this performance, partly because of his style of acting.  But, watching A Free Soul again, it’s clear that Gable gives the more powerful performance.  There is a very dark bent to this group of nominees – Gable is a gangster, Frye is poor Renfield, who goes mad and becomes Dracula’s servant, Karloff is a criminal who slits a cop’s throat before being gunned down and Ollivier is the leader of a gang of criminals.  And in seventh place is Gable again, for his even more despicable character in Night Nurse, the man who is letting children die so he can get their inheritance and who punches out Barbara Stanwyck.

  • City Lights (1931)Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Virginia Cherill  (City Lights)
  2. Joan Blondell  (Night Nurse)
  3. Mary Astor  (Holiday)

Analysis:  Possibly the weakest group of Supporting Actress nominees that there will be in any year.  In even a decent year, Cherill wouldn’t even get a nomination, let alone the win.  But there just wasn’t much there in supporting performances.  And I did find myself impressed, watching the scene again where she throws out the old water, how she must do that scene perfectly for that scene to work, and it absolutely works, no matter how many times you watch it.  And that final scene is so perfect and touching, she ends up getting the win over Blondell, whose role in Night Nurse should have been larger (you can read a great essay on Blondell written by the Monkey here).

  • Best Editing:
  1. City Lights
  2. Le Million
  3. The Public Enemy
  4. Dracula
  5. Earth
  • Best Cinematography:
  1. City Lights
  2. Dracula
  3. The Public Enemy
  4. Le Million
  5. Tabu
  • Best Original Score:
  1. City Lights
  2. Le Million
  3. Trader Horn

Analysis:  Chaplin completes the sweep – winning six Nighthawk Awards in one year – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Editing, Score.  This might be the first truly great score written for a motion picture.  Le Million has what would later be considered a “song score”, but it is still good and there isn’t a whole lot of competition at this point.

  • Best Sound:
  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Le Million
  3. Little Caesar
  4. The Criminal Code
  5. Cimarron

Analysis:  As I have written before, it’s ironic that the one nomination Cimarron deserved, it didn’t get, because the Academy changed the rules for this and the next year, making the Studio as a whole eligible for the Best Sound category rather than an individual film.  But the bigger shame was that the brilliant sound of The Public Enemy was thus robbed, although since my #1 and 3 are both Warners films and Warners wasn’t nominated, they probably would have been ignored anyway (what the hell, you know, Warners only invented sound films).

  • castledraculaBest Art Direction:
  1. Dracula
  2. Le Million
  3. City Lights
  4. Dracula
  5. Liliom

Analysis:  No, that’s not a typo.  The #4 film is the Spanish language version of Dracula filmed at the same time.  It will also appear below in the Costume Design category.  Yet, even using the same sets, they don’t manage to create the same effect.  There were a lot of places where the Academy let down the Universal Golden Age of Horror by not giving them Oscar nominations, but it is possibly Art Direction (still titled Interior Decoration at this time) where they did these films the greatest disservice.

  • Best Visual Effects:
  1. Woman in the Moon
  • Best Sound Editing:
  1. Le Million
  2. The Public Enemy
  • Best Costume Design:
  1. Dracula
  2. Dracula
  • Best Makeup
  1. Dracula

Analysis:  These two categories show how much higher I think of the Tod Browning version of Dracula – giving it the awards in both categories while not even nominating the Melford version for Makeup.

  • Best Original Song:
  1. “Hello, I Must Be Going”  (Animal Crackers)
  2. “Opening Song”  (Le Million)

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, we have the one really good (if very short) song that was definitely written for the film and not for the original stage version and the one song in Le Million that stands out to me – the opening number that begins the action.

  • Best Foreign Film:
  1. M
  2. Le Million
  3. The Three Penny Opera
  4. L’Age D’or
  5. Miss Europe

Analysis:  A much better selection than the year before.  We have Germany (1 and 3) and France (2 and 4) again.  But, for the first time we have a nominee that’s not from France, Germany or the USSR: Buñuel’s surrealistic L’Age D’or.  This is just luck of the draw for Le Million and Three Penny Opera – had they been released the year before they would have been easy winners (actually, so would L’Age) – but here, they are stuck behind one of the greatest films of all-time.

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.

  • City Lights  (630)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Art Direction
  • Dracula  (380)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup
  • Le Million  (350)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Original Song, Foreign Film
  • The Public Enemy  (280)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Sound Editing
  • Earth  (140)
    • Picture, Director, Editing, Foreign Film (29-30)
  • A Free Soul  (135)
    • Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor
  • The Front Page  (75)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actor
  • Holiday  (65)
    • Actress, Supporting Actress
  • Little Caesar  (60)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Sound
  • Animal Crackers  (60)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Original Song
  • The Criminal Code  (50)
    • Supporting Actor, Sound
  • Doorway to Hell  (40)
    • Original Screenplay
  • Woman in the Moon  (40)
    • Visual Effects
  • The Blue Angel  (35)
    • Actress
  • Morocco  (35)
    • Actress
  • Min and Bill  (35)
    • Actress
  • The Miracle Woman  (35)
    • Actress
  • Dracula  (35)
    • Art Direction, Costume Design
  • Night Nurse  (30)
    • Supporting Actress
  • Tabu  (25)
    • Cinematography
  • Trader Horn  (25)
    • Original Score
  • Cimarron  (20)
    • Sound
  • Liliom  (20)
    • Art Drection

Best Film Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Awards:

  • Waterloo Bridge

Analysis:  This is a good film, but can’t quite make the leap into very good.  It has better direction than the 1940 version would have, because of the sure hand of James Whale.

Biggest Awards Film Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Awards:

  • Skippy

Analysis:  Oh, I have already made my clear, both here and here my thoughts on this dumb film.  It won Best Director at the Oscars (somehow) and was nominated for Picture, Writing Adaptation and Actor, making it, with 215 points, the second biggest awards film of the year behind Cimarron.

Nighthawk Golden Globes:


  • Best Picture
  1. Dracula
  2. The Public Enemy
  3. Earth
  4. Doorway to Hell

Analysis:  Doorway to Hell made it into the Best Original Screenplay category (just like it did at the Oscars, but ended up in sixth place in both Picture and Director.  However, that means with City Lights and Le Million in the Comedy category, it makes it in here.

  • Best Director
  1. William Wellman  (The Public Enemy)
  2. Tod Browning  (Dracula)
  3. Aleksandr Dovzhenko (Earth)
  4. Archie Mayo  (Doorway to Hell)
  5. James Whale  (Waterloo Bridge)

Analysis:  The Public Enemy almost rates at a tie with Dracula, but the direction in the former is definitely better.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. Dracula
  2. Little Caesar
  3. The Criminal Code
  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Doorway to Hell
  • james-cagneyBest Actor:
  1. James Cagney  (The Public Enemy)
  2. Bela Lugosi  (Dracula)
  3. Lionel Barrymore  (A Free Soul)
  4. Edward G. Robinson  (Little Caesar)
  5. Lew Ayres  (Doorway to Hell)

Analysis:  At least we get two extra performances this time, with both Chaplin and Menjou in the Comedy category.  One of them, Robinson, would probably be nominated by a lot of people, but I didn’t think it quite strong enough to break into the top 5.

  • freesoulBest Actress
  1. Norma Shearer  (A Free Soul)
  2. Marlene Dietrich  (The Blue Angel)
  3. Marlene Dietrich  (Morocco)
  4. Barbara Stanwyck  (The Miracle Woman)
  5. Ann Harding  (Holiday)
  • Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Clark Gable  (A Free Soul)
  2. Dwight Frye  (Dracula)
  3. Boris Karloff  (The Criminal Code)
  4. Leslie Howard  (A Free Soul)
  5. Clark Gable  (Night Nurse)

Analysis:  Gable gets the win here for a low-life gangster and yet his other nomination is for someone even worse.  Both of them end up dead, not because the Code mandates it, since we’re in the Pre-Code Era, but because you want both of them to end up dead.

  • Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Joan Blondell  (Night Nurse)
  2. Mary Astor  (Holiday)

By Film:

  • Dracula  (290)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor
  • The Public Enemy  (290)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor
  • A Free Soul  (195)
    • Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actor
  • Doorway to Hell  (170)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor
  • Earth  (95)
    • Picture, Director
  • Night Nurse  (90)
    • Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • Little Caesar  (75)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actor
  • The Criminal Code  (70)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor
  • Holiday  (65)
    • Actress, Supporting Actress
  • Waterloo Bridge  (45)
    • Director
  • The Blue Angel  (35)
    • Actress
  • Morocco (35)
    • Actress
  • The Miracle Woman  (35)
    • Actress

Best Drama Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Golden Globes:

  • Woman in the Moon

Analysis:  Fritz Lang’s sci-fi film is good fun, but the direction isn’t nearly up to most of his films and no acting performance stands out.


  • Best Picture:
  1. City Lights
  2. Le Million

Analysis:  Though I have seen more films overall in this “year”, there are fewer films that qualify as Comedy or Musical, with only 15 this time around.  But they are a slightly better bunch this time, with two films earning Best Picture nominations and only 5 films ranking below ***.

  • Best Director:
  1. Charlie Chaplin  (City Lights)
  2. René Clair  (Le Million)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. Le Million
  2. The Front Page
  3. Animal Crackers
  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. City Lights
  • Best Actor:
  1. Charlie Chaplin  (City Lights)
  2. Adolph Menjou  (The Front Page)
  3. Frederic March  (The Royal Family of Broadway)
  4. Rene Lefevre  (Le Million)

Analysis:  March was actually Oscar-nominated for his performance, but it is a far cry from the kind of performances he would start giving the next year in Jekyll and would continue to give for the next 25 years.

  • marie dressler 5Best Actress:
  1. Marie Dressler  (Min and Bill)
  2. Anabella  (Le Million)

Analysis:  Dressler is pretty good in what is really a truly bad film.  Anabella just barely rates a nomination here.

  • Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Harry Myers  (City Lights)
  2. Paul Ollivier  (Le Million)
  3. Edward Everett Horton  (The Front Page)

Analysis:  This isn’t up to the work that Horton would later do as the straight man in Astaire / Rogers musicals but it is a step in that direction, and definitely the only performer in the film who gives a better performance than the person in the corresponding role in His Girl Friday.

  • Best Supporting Actress
  1. Virginia Cherill  (City Lights)

By Film:

  • City Lights  (460)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • Le Million  (275)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor
  • The Front Page  (105)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor
  • Min and Bill  (70)
    • Actress
  • Animal Crackers  (40)
    • Adapted Screenplay
  • The Royal Family of Broadway  (35)
    • Actor

Best Comedy Not Nominated for any Nighthawk Golden Globes:

  • Parlor, Bedroom and Bath

Analysis:  While Chaplin would continue to make whatever kind of film he wanted to make, Buster Keaton had moved into sound and the results weren’t nearly as good.  This is an enjoyable film, but no better than mid-***, ranking #24 on the year, though that makes it the fifth best Comedy / Musical.

Roundup for the Year in Film:

Eligible Films I Have Seen:  77

Oscar-Nominated Films I Have Not Seen:

  • The Right to Love  (Cinematography)

Oscar Quality:

Best Picture:  How bad is this year for the Oscar nominees for Best Picture?  Well, it works on a reverse score (the higher, the worse) and only the 8 worst years have a score over 5.  Only two years have a score over 6.  Those are this year (8.40) and 1928-29 (9.20).  It is the second worst year and it’s much closer to the worst than it is to #83.  Four of the five Best Picture nominees rank in the bottom 35 of all 505.

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 16.88, which is the second worst year in history.  But, in the second rank, it goes all the way up to 9.14, because I factor out Best Picture.  It’s still the second worst in history.  In fact, this year ranks with 1928-29 as the only two years in history where none of my #1 or 2 films in any category won the Oscar.  The two best categories are Actor and Actress, which both rank as #4.  It is also hurt by the fact that there are only 8 categories, so each bad choice hurts even more.  But they didn’t just have bad choices of nominees – they also screwed up the winners even among the nominees.  Even among the nominees, this years earns a 3.25 – a difficult figure to look at when there are only 5 nominees in the categories.  It is the first time, and the only one until 1958 when they picked the worst choice for Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay.  Those three choices of the worst nominee wouldn’t be passed until 1958, by which time there would be 21 categories.

Top 5 Films of the Year:

Easily the best film of the year - something Chaplin would do again five years later.

Easily the best film of the year – something Chaplin would do again five years later.

1  –  City Lights  (dir. Charlie Chaplin)

Is it possible for the end of a film to actually revive your faith in the basic worth of humanity?  A friend of mine recently told me that some good news that another friend of ours got (he was given an honorary doctorate) not only made her feel good for him – it helped her feel good about the whole world.  That’s kind of how I felt just watching (and not for the first time, or the second, or even the fifth) the end of City Lights.

Look at what Chaplin does in the course of this film.  He begins it with pure perfect satire, with a wonderful use of sound over the pompous dignitaries there to commemorate the statue.  And then the tarp comes up and we get out first view in this film of that ever lovable tramp, asleep in the most comfortable place he could find – curled up in the arms of the statue, with the tarp keeping him warm.  But now he suddenly has to try and get out of the situation, and he does it with his usual problems and even his usual courtesy (the way he always doffs his cap is wonderful).  This whole thing is a stark reminder of the first rule of comedy – people are not funny because they are trying to be funny.  They are funny because they are trying to be serious in what quickly becomes a ridiculous situation.

After the tramp finally makes it off the statue, a couple of things happen to his life.  One is that he meets a beautiful young flower seller who also happens to be blind (at one point, after he realizes this, the tramp sits and watches her and she gets rid of a bucket of water in his face – an absolutely perfect scene that relies precisely on timing and on the two actors getting the moment just right).  He will eventually learn that there is a procedure that could potentially restore her eyesight but that she can’t afford it.

The second thing that happens is that he meets a drunk millionaire, bent on killing himself.  The millionaire has been abandoned by his unfaithful wife and he is tired of everything, but his attempts to drown himself in the river will turn increasingly hilarious (again, that same rule of comedy) until he is forced to simply give up and embrace the life he has with the tramp who has, somewhat inadvertently, saved his life.

Chaplin perfectly balances the two aspects of the film – the growing potential for romance with the girl and the increasingly ridiculous highjinks he gets into with the millionaire (not limited to the fact that the millionaire gets totally trashed with the tramp but never remembers who he is when he is sober in the morning).  We never get too distracted by the love story, but we also never tire of things like the fights that the millionaire wants to pick with everyone (or the great scene where he is driving them home and when told “Be careful how you’re driving.” he replies “Am I driving?”).

All of it will come down to a simple understanding.  Or a simple misunderstanding.  The tramp and the millionaire are friends and the millionaire is more than happy to loan the tramp money so the blind girl can have the operation.  Only, of course, he’s not going to remember it.  And so, things will go badly for the tramp, like they generally do, like when he eats that boot, or when he is chased from the circus.

But then we come to that final moment.  And good god, I hope I don’t have to explain what happens, I hope you have seen the film.  If you have not, you need to see the film, to see that wonderful encounter, as things suddenly become clear and those wonderful words and that beautiful smile comes across his lips and we can be reminded that some films end exactly where they should.

2  –  Dracula  (see review here and more on the book here, here and here)

I'd rather have Mae Clarke on the poster, but somehow I think I'm outvoted on that one.

I’d rather have Mae Clarke on the poster, but somehow I think I’m outvoted on that one.

3  –  The Public Enemy  (dir. William Wellman)

I am hesitant to read introductions to fiction books before I have read them for the first time.  I want to experience the book first, enjoy it, let it wash over me, before I read what a critic or professor has to say about it.  I’m the same with films – I like to read reviews, to see stuff about it, but only after I have seen it.

Ah, but once I have seen it, I have no problem with taking in any of these kinds of things before revisiting something.  So, in this case, I had the DVD of The Public Enemy and there was this piece on it called “Beer and Blood: Enemies of the Public”.  I don’t recommend it if you haven’t seen the film, especially as it shows the very powerful final scene of the film.  But if you’ve seen the film already, it’s a perfect little 20 minute piece to watch.  Because there are certain people who know so much about film, and if they’re going to talk about a film, it’s good to listen.  And one of those people has some things to say about this film – Marty Scorsese.

And I listened to what Marty had to say on this film, even though I had seen it before.  I looked at the things he was pointing out – at some of the interesting camera angles in the film, some shot from below, some from above.  I looked at the way that Cagney continually half-punches people, and then there is the scene where his mother does it to him and we see where that little gesture comes from, and how touching it is.

And then we can come to one of the key scenes in the film, certainly the most famous scene in the film (it even appears in a nice book I have called You Ain’t Heard Nothin Yet: 501 Famous Lines from Great (and Not-So-Great) Movies with a picture and a caption “Perhaps most famous visual line in movies.”), the scene where Cagney, fed up already with the gal he’s shacking up with that he shoves the grapefruit she’s put out for breakfast into her face.  There are a couple of things pointed out about the scene – the first that it’s not just that he does it, but that it focuses so much on it, and on her reaction.  But the second is the bigger thing.  This is actually one of the most violent scenes we actually see in the film.  Think of some of the scenes in the film – various deaths (including the brilliant one with Putty Nose), and a big shoot-out where Tom takes his revenge.  And all of those things happen off camera.  This is a bloody, brutally violent film, and yet we rarely actually see the actions on-screen and only sometimes even see the consequences.  The grapefruit is so shocking because it is so unexpected, but also because they shove right into our faces, the same way that the grapefruit is shoved into poor Mae Clarke’s face.  (A little aside here – given the acting abilities of both women and that I don’t go for platinum blondes, I would totally go for Mae Clarke over Jean Harlow, so it’s a shame that Clarke doesn’t even have screen credit in the film).

Everyone remembers Little Caesar and The Public Enemy (Caesar came first and it made Robinson into an instant star, but Enemy is the far better film – better directed, better acted, better made) as the films that brought the gangster film to the forefront of Hollywood and helped push the Production Code into enforcement.  And yet, so much of what would come in with the Code is already here – so much of the violence is kept off-screen and Tom Powers certainly gets the kind of come-uppence that the Code would demand.  And here, it doesn’t seem like it’s being forced onto the story – it really does seem like exactly what would have happened to a character like Tom Powers.

So, there we have it – five paragraphs about this seminal film, which I thought was very good the first time I saw it and was more blown away this time – rating it much higher – and I still haven’t really said anything about the most important part of the film – the performance of James Cagney.

All of this hinges around Cagney.  The film is well-directed, as I said.  It is very well made, with good use of music (there is no score at all, as Marty points out, but one particular song is used multiple times, and quite well each time).  But without the intensity of the performance from Cagney, without that insane crazed stick of dynamite right in the center of the film, this wouldn’t be a film worth remembering in the way that we do.  Pop back up the page and look at the picture of Cagney that I included for his Best Actor (Drama) award.  I chose that particular picture for a reason, as he stands there in the rain, just before he will walk through that door with his gun blazing.  With shots we never actually see.  Dealing death that stays off-screen and may be all the more haunting because of it.

4  –  Le Million  (see review here)


The Russians knew how to make good films with their propaganda.

5  –  Earth  (dir. Aleksandr Dovzhenko)

Earth is not a great film.  It is not on the same level as the masterworks of Sergei Eisenstein, films of the same time period like The Battleship Potemkin and October.  But it is a very good film, a film on the same kind of level as The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, Aelita: Queen of Mars and Arsenal, the previous film in director Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s Ukranian Trilogy.

All of these films have something in common.  Except for Adventures, which is a comedy, and which focuses a bit more on the writing, these films don’t have particularly strong scripts.  They are heavy-handed in their propagandistic approach to the Soviet way of life – to the events of the Revolution, to the ideas of collectivization.  So, they can be a bit clunky when trying to do things with plot and character.

But, oh, what happens if you try to ignore what they are saying, and just look at the way it is being done, they are something special to look at.  The Soviets, the pioneers of montage, the land of natural-born directors who worked in perfect harmony with their cinematographers, made films that really could be enjoyed for how they looked.

In a better year, Earth would simply be a contender for some of the awards.  But here, in a year where the top four films are quite strong, but there is a precipitous drop-off after that, it is good enough to easily finish in fifth place and earn a Best Picture nomination.  It’s Editing (very well put together, flowing nicely from one beautiful shot to another) and Director also earn nominations, while the Cinematography is just pushed into sixth place by the Oscar-winning Tabu.  In the end, I prefer a film with a strong script, and in a better year I would get that.  But here, this kind of direction, these beautiful shots of the windswept fields, the wonderful flow from one scene to another are enough.

5 Worst Films  (#1 being the worst):

  1. The Maltese Falcon
  2. Laugh and Get Rich
  3. Min and Bill
  4. Local Boy Makes Good
  5. Cuban Love Song

Worst Film of the Year:

The Maltese Falcon  (dir. Roy Del Ruth)

This film is so awful, such a bad adaptation of the novel that I am tempted to say that no film as bad has ever been made from a novel this good.  But, sadly, I don’t even have to go to my list of Top 100 Novels to know that’s not true, because as bad as this film is, it’s actually better than the 1936 version of the novel, filmed as Satan Met a Lady.  You can find reviews of both films here.


  • Most Nighthawk Nominations:  Le Million  (12)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards:  City Lights  (9) *
  • Most Nighthawk Points:  City Lights  (630)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Award:  Min and Bill
  • 2nd Place Award:  Le Million  (Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Original Song, Foreign Film)
  • 6th Place Award:  Doorway to Hell  (Picture, Director, Editing, Sound)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Nominations:  Dracula  (5)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Awards:  The Public Enemy  (3)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Points:  Dracula  /  The Public Enemy  (290)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Drama Award:  A Free Soul
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Nominations:  City Lights  /  Le Million  (6)  **
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Awards:  City Lights  (6)  **
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Points:  City Lights  (460)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Comedy Award:  Min and Bill

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


Progressive Leaders:

  • Most Nighthawk Nominations:  All Quiet on the Western Front  (13)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards:  City Lights  (9)
  • 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:  41  (4)  –  Earth
  • Comedy:  9  –  City Lights
  • Foreign:  8  –  Le Million
  • Crime:  6  –  The Public Enemy
  • Musical:  5 (1)  –  Le Million
  • War:  3  –  The Dawn Patrol
  • Western:  3  –  The Big Trail
  • Adventure:  2  –  Beau Ideal
  • Horror:  2  (1)  –  Dracula
  • Mystery:  2  –  The Bat Whispers
  • Sci-Fi:  2  (1)  –  Woman in the Moon
  • Fantasy:  1  (1)  –  The Adventures of Prince Achmed
  • Suspense:  1  –  Murder!
  • Action:  0
  • Kids:  0

Analysis:  Crime films really take off here.  And of those six film, five of them (The Public Enemy, Doorway to Hell, Little Caesar, Smart Money and The Secret Six are gangster films) and the other one (Paid) has gangster elements.  An interesting note on those six films – I listed them in descending order of how good they are, and the first four, all much better than the last two, are all Warner Bros films, while the last two are MGM.

image0201Studio Note:

MGM is again the clear winner here for sheer number of films I have seen.  The Studio with more stars than were in the sky accounts for 1/4 of the films I have seen – 20 out of 77.  But here’s the thing.  They’re not very good.  I’ve seen 13 Warner Bros-First National films, with three of them in the top 10.  I’ve only seen three Universal films from the year, but all three make the Top 10 (both versions of Dracula and Waterloo Bridge).  Yet, with 20 films, the highest MGM can get up to is #24 (Parlor, Bedroom and Bath).  Over half the MGM films are below *** and five of them are only **, with Min and Bill the worst of the lot.  And clearly they still hadn’t really hit their main genre yet – of the 20 films, only one of them is a Musical (A Lady’s Morals).  MGM only earns 4 combined Nighthawk nominations – all for acting (3 for A Free Soul and the other for Min and Bill), in what are, ironically two of their worst films on the year.

9 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):

  • Anna Christie  (Feyder)
  • Dracula  (Melford)
  • L’Age D’or  (Buñuel)
  • Le Million  (Clair)
  • Limite  (Peixoto)
  • M  (Lang)
  • Miss Europe  (Genina)
  • The Murderer Dimitri Karamazoff  (Otsep)
  • The Three Penny Opera  (Pabst)

Note:  Limite, which is from Brazil, is the earliest feature-length film I have seen from South America.

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

  • The Adventures of Prince Achmed  (1912-26)
  • Italian Straw Hat  (1927-28)
  • Storm Over Asia  (1928-29)
  • The Blue Angel  (1929-30)
  • Earth  (1929-30)
  • Woman in the Moon  (1929-30)

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

  • The Murderer Dmitri Karamazoff  (1931-32)
  • M  (1932-33)
  • The Three Penny Opera  (1960)
  • L’Age D’or  (1980)
  • Miss Europe  (1983)
  • Limite  (1992)

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 1931 films that fall into the 1931-32 category.  This list only consists of 1930 films that did not fall into either 1929-30 or 1930-31 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.