Joad got out and stood beside the cab window.  The vertical exhaust pipe puttered up its barely visible blue smoke.  Joad leaned toward the driver.  'Homicide,' he said quickly."

“Joad got out and stood beside the cab window. The vertical exhaust pipe puttered up its barely visible blue smoke. Joad leaned toward the driver. ‘Homicide,’ he said quickly.”

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.  The Academy added two categories this year.

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture
  1. The Grapes of Wrath
  2. Rebecca
  3. The Philadelphia Story
  4. The Great Dictator
  5. His Girl Friday

Analysis:  The top 4 are all Best Picture nominees.  This is actually a much better year than 1939 and one of the best years in history.  Not making the top 5, in order, are Pinocchio, The Great McGinty, The Letter, The Shop Around the Corner and La Bête Humaine.  The Top 5 average a 96.2 and the Top 10 average a 93.5 – both highs up to this point.  This is the first time since the combined year of 1912-26 that all of the Top 10 are **** films.

  • ActFondaFordGrapesWrathBest Director
  1. John Ford  (The Grapes of Wrath)
  2. Alfred Hitchcock  (Rebecca)
  3. Charlie Chaplin  (The Great Dictator)
  4. George Cukor  (The Philadelphia Story)
  5. Howard Hawks  (His Girl Friday)

Analysis:  This is Chaplin’s fifth (and final nomination – it moves Chaplin out of his tie with Fritz Lang and into first place in director points), Ford’s second win (and third nomination), Hawks’ fourth nomination and Hitchcock’s second.  The strange thing is, after this point, Hitchcock will earn more nominations than these other four directors put together.  It’s also a rare year in that three of the top five are for comedies.  My sixth choice is William Wyler for The Letter, which was also Oscar nominated.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. The Grapes of Wrath
  2. The Philadelphia Story
  3. His Girl Friday
  4. Rebecca
  5. Pinocchio

Analysis:  This year actually has a full Top 10, with #6, The Letter, a better #6 than any so far except Bride of Frankenstein.  And the #7 and 8 on the list, The Shop Around the Corner and La Bête Humaine, would be in the top 5 of any year to date except 1935.  The Top 10 are rounded out with The Baker’s Wife and Pride and Prejudice.  This is by far the best group of five to date and one of the best groups of 5 ever.

  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. The Great Dictator
  2. The Great McGinty
  3. Le Jour se Leve
  4. Foreign Correspondent

Analysis:  Preston Sturges won his only Oscar for McGinty, but Dictator is just that little bit better.  These are the only four films in the top 16 to be made from original scripts.  The other two Oscar nominees weren’t much to brag about – Angels Over Broadway (okay) and Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (fairly standard Warners biopic fare).  If I was forced to pick a fifth film it would be the little heralded Sidewalks of London, a 1938 Laughton / Leigh film just hitting the States in 1940.

  • Best Actor:
  1. Henry Fonda  (The Grapes of Wrath)
  2. Charles Chaplin  (The Great Dictator)
  3. Laurence Olivier  (Rebecca)
  4. Cary Grant  (His Girl Friday)
  5. James Stewart  (The Philadelphia Story)

Analysis:  Olivier drops from 2nd in 1939 to 3rd here.  He rarely actually wins this category at the Nighthawks, but is almost always in the top 3, usually against very strong competition.  The fifth Oscar nominee, Raymond Massey (Abe Lincoln in Illinois) ends up down in 13th, because of the competition.  In the second five, we have two Jean Gabin performances (La Bête Humaine and Le Jour se Leve) and two more Jimmy Stewart performances (The Shop Around the Corner and Destry Rides Again).  At the Oscars, this would be Fonda’s only nomination prior to finally winning in 1981.  But here, he’s the winner in his second nomination (with several to come).  It’s Grant’s third nomination in four years, but his only Nighthawk win will come down in Supporting Actor.  As will be the case in all four acting categories, this is the best group of five to date.  But, unlike the other three, this is a historically great group of five.

  • Best Actress
  1. Katharine Hepburn  (The Philadelphia Story)
  2. Joan Fontaine  (Rebecca)
  3. Rosalind Russell  (His Girl Friday)
  4. Bette Davis  (The Letter)
  5. Margaret Sullavan  (The Shop Around the Corner)

Analysis:  There is a significant drop-off after Davis.  This is a great top 4, but the final spot was almost a toss-up; I also considered Vivien Leigh (Waterloo Bridge) and Greer Garson (Pride and Prejudice).  Of course, Russell, Sullavan, Leigh and Garson were all passed over for the mediocrity of Martha Scott in Our Town and the terrible winning choice of Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle.  This is Hepburn’s sixth nomination and third win already.  She ties Janet Gaynor for 1st place all-time in points.  Davis is five points behind, having 7 nominations (and 2 wins), but one of those nominations is for supporting.

  • Cary-Grant-Philly_lBest Supporting Actor:
  1. Cary Grant  (The Philadelphia Story)
  2. Jackie Oakie  (The Great Dictator)
  3. James Stephenson  (The Letter)
  4. Fernand Redux  (La Bête Humaine)
  5. John Carradine  (The Grapes of Wrath)

Analysis:  This is the only year from 1938 to 1944 in which Claude Rains is not nominated.  This category, like Best Actress, has an actual Oscar winner who doesn’t even make my Top 10 (in this case Walter Brennan, winning his third Oscar for The Westerner).  You won’t have another Supporting Actor winner that low until at least 1964.  Aside from Grant (fourth nomination, with more to come) all of these nominees are one and done.

  • rebeccaBest Supporting Actress:
  1. Judith Anderson  (Rebecca)
  2. Ruth Hussey  (The Philadelphia Story)
  3. Jane Darwell  (The Grapes of Wrath)
  4. Mary Boland  (Pride and Prejudice)
  5. Ida Lupino  (They Drive By Night)

Analysis:  This is the only appearance at the Nighthawk Awards for any of these five.  The top three are great, the bottom two are just filler.  And that’s it – there is no one else on my list, not even the other two Oscar nominees, both of whom I thought were very forgettable (Barbara O’Neill in All This and Heaven Too and Marjorie Rambeau in Primrose Path).  But Anderson’s performance is one for the ages.

  • Best Editing:
  1. The Grapes of Wrath
  2. The Great Dictator
  3. His Girl Friday
  4. Rebecca
  5. The Great McGinty

Analysis:  Cecil B. DeMille’s boring North West Mounted Police won the Oscar while three of my choices went un-nominated.  While all of the acting is the best to date, this is the only tech category where I think this year is superior to 1939.

  • Best Cinematography:
  1. The Grapes of Wrath
  2. Rebecca
  3. La Bête Humaine
  4. The Letter
  5. The Great Dictator

Analysis:  That’s right.  Gregg Toland’s amazing work on Grapes wasn’t even nominated.  The Thief of Bagdad, which won the Color award, is my top color film, coming in at #7 overall.

  • Best Original Score:
  1. The Great Dictator
  2. Rebecca
  3. The Sea Hawk
  4. The Letter
  5. Pinocchio

Analysis:  The Sea Hawk was nominated for Best Score while the others were nominated for Best Original Score.  Charlie Chaplin, who did the music for The Great Dictator, along with Meredith Willson (who would later write The Music Man) was not nominated while Willson was.  That’s ironic, since Chaplin’s only competitive Oscar would come in 1972 for Best Original Score.  But even this win for Chaplin (his fourth) leaves him 25 points short of Max Steiner, who earns his fourth straight nomination and his 10th overall.  At the Oscars, he would earn his 9th nomination for The Letter, even though the Oscars didn’t begin music categories until 1934.

  • Best Sound:
  1. The Great Dictator
  2. The Sea Hawk
  3. The Grapes of Wrath
  4. His Girl Friday
  5. La Bête Humaine

Analysis:  For the second straight year the actual Oscar winner (in this case Strike Up the Band) doesn’t even make my Top 10.

  • Manderley-great-hall-512x384Best Art Direction:
  1. Rebecca
  2. The Thief of Bagdad
  3. The Grapes of Wrath
  4. The Philadelphia Story
  5. His Girl Friday

Analysis:  Pride and Prejudice, the black-and-white winner, would end up in 7th place.  This is part of why I don’t split like the Academy did – Thief is the only color film in my Top 20.

  • Best Visual Effects
  1. The Thief of Bagdad
  2. Rebecca
  3. The Sea Hawk
  4. Dr. Cyclops

Analysis:  This is a rare point in this decade where the Academy actually got the winner right in this category.

  • Best Sound Editing
  1. The Sea Hawk
  2. Rebecca
  3. The Great Dictator
  • Film_431w_ThiefOfBagdad_originalBest Costume Design:
  1. The Thief of Bagdad
  2. The Sea Hawk
  3. Pride and Prejudice
  4. The Great Dictator
  5. The Grapes of Wrath
  • Best Makeup
  1. The Thief of Bagdad
  • Best Original Song:
  1. “When You Wish Upon a Star”  (Pinocchio)
  2. “Give a Little Whistle”  (Pinocchio)
  3. “I’ve Got No Strings”  (Pinocchio)
  4. “Our Love Affair”  (Strike Up the Band)
  5. “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee”  (Pinocchio)

Analysis:  Two years in a row where an all-time classic is up for the award and both times the Academy comes through.  But, because of Academy rules, no other songs from the studio would be eligible (“From 1938 through 1945, each studio’s music department submitted a single song which would then automatically be nominated.  Omissions during there years are therefore the responsibility of the studios and not the Academy.”  (Inside Oscar, p 1012)), so my other Pinocchio songs, of course, couldn’t be nominated.  I have no such stupid rules.  They’re the best songs of the year.

  • pinocchio_ver5_xlgBest Animated Film:
  1. Pinocchio

Analysis:  Thanks to Disney, this category will exist for a few years.  After that, it becomes on-again / off-again, depending on what Disney is doing.  There really won’t be any other contenders for a few decades.

  • Best Foreign Film:
  1. none

Analysis:  Of the over 9000 films I have seen, only five of them are Foreign Language Films originally released in 1940.  The world was at war and there just wasn’t as much being made.  Of the five, the best is Marcel Pagnol’s The Well-Digger’s Daughter, but it’s still only a high-level *** film and not good enough to qualify for the award.  It’s the only year where I can’t find a single film good enough to make my list.

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.

  • The Grapes of Wrath  (555)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design
  • Rebecca  (420)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing
  • The Great Dictator  (415)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Sound Editing, Costume Design
  • The Philadelphia Story  (350)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Art Direction
  • His Girl Friday  (270)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Editing, Sound, Art Direction
  • Pinocchio  (155)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Original Song, Original Song, Original Song, Original Song, Animated Film
  • The Sea Hawk  (120)
    • Original Score, Sound, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design
  • The Letter  (115)
    • Actress, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Original Score
  • The Thief of Bagdad  (110)
    • Art Direction, Visual Effects, Costume Design, Makeup
  • La Bête Humaine  (95)
    • Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Sound, Foreign Film (1938)
  • The Great McGinty  (65)
    • Original Screenplay, Editing
  • Le Jour se Leve  (60)
    • Original Screenplay, Foreign Film (1939)
  • Pride and Prejudice  (45)
    • Supporting Actress, Costume Design
  • Foreign Correspondent  (40)
    • Original Screenplay
  • The Shop Around the Corner  (35)
    • Actress
  • They Drive By Night  (30)
    • Supporting Actress
  • The Baker’s Wife  (20)
    • Foreign Film (1938)
  • Dr. Cyclops  (20)
    • Visual Effects
  • Strike Up the Band  (10)
    • Original Song

Analysis:  This is the curse of being a great year.  Look at this year compared to 1937.  The top 4 films here would all win Best Picture, Director and Screenplay in 1937.  The Letter, La Bête Humaine, The Great McGinty and The Shop Around the Corner would all have earned Picture, Director and Screenplay nominations.  Instead, they all make do with a handful of nominations because this is such a stacked year.  I mention more about Shop down below under the Comedy awards.

Best Film Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Awards:

  • The Long Voyage Home

Analysis:  It’s a very good film, a ***.5 John Ford film, overshadowed in the same year as Grapes of Wrath.  It does end up with four finishes in my Top 10, but nothing higher than 7th (Score and Sound).  It’s emblematic of how good the year is – it wasn’t going to make the Top 10 in my aborted Adapted Screenplay post, but it’s still worthy of consideration.

Biggest Awards Film Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Awards:

  • The Long Voyage Home

Analysis:  It was nominated for Best Picture (among 6 nominations) and won Best Director from the New York Film Critics (a co-win with Grapes).  Next up was Kitty Foyle, which was nominated for five Oscars and actually won Best Actress, but which I don’t even consider worthy of mention for any awards.

Nighthawk Golden Globes:


  • Best Picture
  1. The Grapes of Wrath
  2. Rebecca
  3. The Letter
  4. La Bête Humaine
  5. Le Jour se Leve

Analysis:  This works out really well; there’s an 8 point drop between Jour and The Long Voyage Home, the next film on the list.

  • Best Director
  1. John Ford  (The Grapes of Wrath)
  2. Alfred Hitchcock  (Rebecca)
  3. William Wyler  (The Letter)
  4. Jean Renoir  (La Bête Humaine)
  5. Marcel Carné  (Le Jour se Leve)

Analysis:  Ford’s second win (and fourth nom) moves him into a tie with Fritz Lang for #1 in drama director points.  Just below is Wyler, with his 5th straight nomination.  Then comes Renoir, with his third nomination in four years.  It’s also second nominations each for Hitchcock and Carné (with the latter coming in 5th place for the second straight year).

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. The Grapes of Wrath
  2. Rebecca
  3. The Letter
  4. La Bête Humaine
  5. The Long Voyage Home

Analysis:  Since I’ve already pointed out that Voyage didn’t make my Top 10 that shows how good the comedies are this year, in that they have 6 of the Top 10 adapted scripts.

  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. Le Jour se Leve
  2. Foreign Correspondent
  • grapes_wrath_5Best Actor:
  1. Henry Fonda  (The Grapes of Wrath)
  2. Laurence Olivier  (Rebecca)
  3. Jean Gabin  (La Bête Humaine)
  4. Jean Gabin  (Le Jour se Leve)
  5. Charles Laughton  (Sidewalks of London)

Analysis:  For the second year in a row Olivier comes in second and Gabin comes in fourth.  It’s also Gabin’s fourth year in a row getting nominated.  But with yet another nomination, Laughton goes up to 290 points, well ahead of anybody else to this point.

  • fontaine4Best Actress
  1. Joan Fontaine  (Rebecca)
  2. Bette Davis  (The Letter)
  3. Vivien Leigh  (Waterloo Bridge)
  4. Vivien Leigh  (Sidewalks of London)
  5. Carole Lombard  (They Knew What They Wanted)

Analysis:  There’s a significant drop-off after Davis.

  • Best Supporting Actor:
  1. James Stephensen  (The Letter)
  2. Fernand Redoux  (La Bête Humaine)
  3. John Carradine  (The Grapes of Wrath)
  4. George Sanders  (Rebecca)
  5. William Gargan  (They Knew What They Wanted)

Analysis:  Gargan was nominated for the Oscar.  But actual Oscar-winner Walter Brennan still doesn’t make my list.  Carradine and Sanders, who are both so good and so integral to their brilliant films, were passed over for another standard Brennan performance.

  • Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Judith Anderson  (Rebecca)
  2. Jane Darwell  (The Grapes of Wrath)
  3. Ida Lupino  (They Drive By Night)

By Film:  Yes, I actually go with a short list rather than put on either of two Oscar nominated performances – Barbara O’Neil in All This and Heaven Too or Marjori Rambeau in Primrose Path.

  • The Grapes of Wrath  (400)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • Rebecca  (330)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • The Letter  (230)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actor
  • Le Jour se Leve  (210)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor
  • La Bête Humaine  (200)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor
  • Sidewalks of London  (70)
    • Actor, Actress
  • They Knew What They Wanted  (65)
    • Actress, Supporting Actor
  • The Long Voyage Home  (40)
    • Adapted Screenplay
  • Foreign Correspondent  (40)
    • Original Screenplay
  • Waterloo Bridge  (35)
    • Actress
  • They Drive By Night  (30)
    • Supporting Actress

Best Drama Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Golden Globes:

  • The Thief of Bagdad

Analysis:  A good film and very enjoyable – it’s especially great to look at.  But the only category I considered it in was Director.

Comedy / Musical:

  • Best Picture:
  1. The Philadelphia Story
  2. The Great Dictator
  3. His Girl Friday
  4. Pinocchio
  5. The Great McGinty

Analysis:  In 1939, the “great year for films”, only one qualifying film in this category hit ****.  Here, we have a full slate of **** nominees and that’s what The Shop Around the Corner being left off – the first time a **** doesn’t get nominated in this category.  Every one of these films deserves the term “classic”.

  • Best Director:
  1. Charles Chaplin  (The Great Dictator)
  2. George Cukor  (The Philadelphia Story)
  3. Howards Hawks  (His Girl Friday)
  4. Preston Sturges  (The Great McGinty)
  5. Ernst Lubitsch  (The Shop Around the Corner)

Analysis:  After just two nominees in 1939, we have a full slate, three of whom earned full Nighthawk nominations.  This now puts Chaplin way ahead in this point category with 450 points.  Lubitsch moves into a tie for a distant 3rd with 180 points with his third nomination (including one win) and Hawks also earns his third nomination.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. The Philadelphia Story
  2. His Girl Friday
  3. Pinocchio
  4. The Shop Around the Corner
  5. The Baker’s Wife

Analysis:  Adapted from three plays, a short story and a children’s book, that kind of sums up how comedy films usually are adapted.

  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. The Great Dictator
  2. The Great McGinty

Analysis:  One of these is by Chaplin of course, who has been ruling this category (this is his fifth win).  The other is by Preston Sturges, who is about to take it over.  From 1940 to 1944, he will earn six nominations and three wins in this category.  His three losses are this one here and twice to himself.

  • gdBest Actor:
  1. Charles Chaplin (The Great Dictator)
  2. Cary Grant  (His Girl Friday)
  3. James Stewart  (The Philadelphia Story)
  4. James Stewart  (The Shop Around the Corner)
  5. James Stewart  (Destry Rides Again)

Analysis:  From one of the weakest years ever (one nominee and even he just barely squeaks in) to a very strong one, although heavy on the Jimmy Stewart.

  • Annex - Hepburn, Katharine (Philadelphia Story, The)_06Best Actress:
  1. Katharine Hepburn  (The Philadelphia Story)
  2. Rosalind Russell  (His Girl Friday)
  3. Margaret Sullavan  (The Shop Around the Corner)
  4. Greer Garson  (Pride and Prejudice)
  5. Paulette Goddard  (The Great Dictator)

Analysis:  Just like with Actress – Drama, there’s a big drop-off after the first two.

  • Best Supporting Actor
  1. Cary Grant  (The Philadelphia Story)
  2. Jackie Oakie  (The Great Dictator)
  3. Ralph Bellamy  (His Girl Friday)
  4. Edmund Gwenn  (Pride and Prejudice)
  5. Joseph Schildkraut  (The Shop Around the Corner)
  • Best Supporting Actress
  1. Ruth Hussey  (The Philadelphia Story)
  2. Mary Boland  (Pride and Prejudice)

By Film:

  • The Philadelphia Story  (450)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting ActorSupporting Actress
  • The Great Dictator  (355)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor
  • His Girl Friday  (235)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor
  • The Shop Around the Corner  (185)
    • Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor
  • The Great McGinty  (135)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay
  • Pride and Prejudice  (95)
    • Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • Pinocchio  (90)
    • Picture, Adapted Screenplay
  • The Baker’s Wife  (40)
    • Adapted Screenplay
  • Destry Rides Again  (35)
    • Actor

Analysis:  The Shop Around the Corner would have been the Best Picture – Comedy winner in 1928, 1929 and 1930.  It would have been the #2 film in 1931, 1933, 1935, 1937 and 1939.  Here it can’t even make the top 5 – the first **** film to fail to earn a Best Picture nomination in the Comedy section.

Best Comedy Not Nominated for any Nighthawk Golden Globes:

  • Christmas in July

Analysis:  A good Preston Sturges film (his second as a director), but a far cry from the other films of his peak period.

Roundup for the Year in Film:

Eligible Films I Have Seen:  111

By Stars:

  • ****:  10
  • ***.5:  5
  • ***:  74
  • **.5:  19
  • **:  3
  • Average Film Score for the Year, out of 100:  67.20

Analysis:  There’s 12 more films than 1939 but seven fewer films below the level of ***.  In 1939, almost 30% of the films were less than *** while here’s it less than 20%.  That brings us to the highest overall average since 1928-29.

Oscar-Nominated Films I Have Not Seen:

  • Behind the News  (Sound)
  • Typhoon  (Special Effects)
  • Women in War  (Special Effects)

Oscar Quality:

Best Picture:  The Best Picture category takes another small step, moving up two more spots, to #51, the best to date.  The average film is slightly down (79.9 instead of 81.3) but the average rank is slightly better because of three films in the top 100 and another film just outside it.

The Winners:  The winners take a big step back, with the average winner ranking at 5.11 and four categories in which the Oscar winner didn’t even make my Top 10 (Actress, Supporting Actor, Editing, Sound).  And even among the nominees, it takes a step back, with an average rank of 2.58.  The acting is particularly bad – the worst to date with an average of 8 on the year and even an appalling 3.75 among the nominees.  And yet, the only category where the Academy gave the Oscar to the worst of the nominees was in Editing.

The Nominees:  While they were blowing it with the winners, they were getting a lot of the nominees right.  There’s an increase to a score of 64.9, the best to date among the nominees (out of 100).  And three of the acting categories get better (only Actress gets a little bit worse).  Best Actor, in fact, has its best score since 1927-28.  The only categories that score less than a 60 are Story, Black-and-White Cinematography, Sound and Black-and-White Art Direction.

Top 5 Films of the Year:

1  –  The Grapes of Wrath  (see my reviews here, here and here)

2  –  Rebecca  (see my review here)

3  –  The Philadelphia Story  (see my review here)

4  –  The Great Dictator  (see my review here)

his-girl-friday-poster5  –  His Girl Friday  (dir. Howard Hawks)

Many people list It Happened One Night as the first screwball comedy.  It certainly had all the makings of one – silly plot, fast talking, smart characters who face off before falling in love.  But in a lot of ways The Front Page, written for the stage in 1928 and made into a film in 1931 had a lot of the same.  It moved faster than most films (or plays), with some very fast scenes and a whole lot of brilliant dialogue between characters facing off against each other.  There was just one problem – it wasn’t a romance.  Both of the leads facing off against each other were male.  So, depending on which bit of trivia on the IMDb you choose to believe, either Howard Hawks pulled out the play at a party and a female read the Hildy lines and Hawks decided to make the film with Hildy as a female or Hawks was planning to remake the film and had his secretary read the lines and decided it would be better with a female.

Whichever story is true (possibly neither), the movie got made, with Cary Grant stepping in as Walter Burns and Rosalind Russell playing the role of Hildy, the reporter leaving the paper to go get married.  But this time she’s not just Burns’ star reporter; she’s also his ex-wife.  And what follows is one of the all-time great screwball comedies – possibly the best kind of comedy.  It’s got Cary Grant in one of the best roles of his career (“Listen the last man that said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before he cut his throat,” he says, one of the great all-time in-jokes).  It’s got Rosalind Russell in a role I ranked 3rd all-time in my 50 Sexiest Performances post (which, sadly, is no longer available as CC2K has completely redone their site) and one in which she can face off against Cary Grant without giving any ground (“I wish you hadn’t done that,” Grant says.  “Divorced me,” he continues, “Makes a fella lose all faith in himself. Gives him a… almost gives him a feeling he wasn’t wanted.”  “Oh, now, look, junior,” Russell replies, “that’s what divorces are for.”).  And there’s even a good solid role for Ralph Bellamy, beefed up from the original role for the fiancee on stage.

The Front Page, made in 1931, was a good film.  The Front Page, made in 1974, is a very good film, namely because of Matthau and Lemmon.  Switching Channels is an uneven but enjoyable film.  But His Girl Friday is an absolutely great film.  It easily has the best performance of any of the four films in all three key roles.  It’s as funny as almost any film ever made.  It’s got the brilliant frenetic pace of the earlier film but it’s also got a great romance between two characters who absolutely deserve each other and it makes you as happy as can be when they actually get each other in the end.

and, since I had written it up before I abandoned the post, a quick word on the adaptation:

Something like three minutes.  That’s how long it takes Walter Burns to show up in this film.  And that’s after an opening shot that begins with a pan across the newsroom and has Hildy come out of the elevator.  And Burns is introduced when she walks in and quits (after a much longer discussion she wasn’t planning on).  So, this version is saying right up front that these are the two key roles and we’re going to do as much as we can with these two roles.  And part of the way it takes a 189 page play and makes it into a 92 minute film is by keying in on the Burns / Hildy relationship and taking most of the stuff about the newspaper industry, all that stuff that happens in the press room, and letting it drop.

But, of course, the real big change isn’t that they key in on the relationship.  It’s that they fundamentally alter the relationship by turning Hildy into a female (a good thing the name works so well for either gender) and having the two of them be a recently divorced couple as well as an editor and reporter.  This also adds a bit of playful fun with the relationship between Bruce (Hildy’s fiancee) and his mother – a much different relationship now that Bruce is a male (it’s also similar to Bellamy’s role in The Awful Truth – perhaps why Walter describes him as looking like Ralph Bellamy).

The best thing is that it keeps one of the best bits from the original play – Walter telling Duffy to change everything in the paper.  In the play it’s spread out among other people interrupting and one line has to be changed and is, brilliantly (in the play it’s “To hell with the League of Nations!” which in this film becomes “Take Hitler and stick him in the funny page!”).  But, with all the changing, moving around, putting things on page 6, it all comes to the same brilliant punchline: “Leave the rooster story alone – that’s human interest!”

5 Worst Films  (#1 being the worst):

  1. One Million B.C.
  2. Stranger on the Third Floor
  3. All This and Heaven Too
  4. My Little Chickadee
  5. Star Dust

note:  John Farrow narrowly escapes making the list a fourth-straight year.  His Married and In Love is only the 7th worst film of the year.  But Heaven is the first Best Picture nominee on the list since 1934.


Seriously, just this once, try the remake instead.

Seriously, just this once, try the remake instead.

One Million B.C.  (dir. Hal Roach)

In 1966, Hammer Films, those great producers of horror, would venture in prehistory fantasy with One Million Years, B.C..  It is not a great film, though there are two keys aspects to make it worth watching – the stop-motion dinosaurs from Ray Harryhausen (everything from Harryhausen was worth watching, as I discuss here) and the bikini worn by Raquel Welch, which instantly made her the biggest pin-up in the world.  Now that a film was a remake of a 1940 film produced and directed by Hal Roach, well-known for Laurel and Hardy comedies.  Neither Harryhausen or Welch were involved in the original of course, because it was made in 1940.  That takes away the only two reasons for watching the film in the first place (and the latter film is in glorious color and this is in a black-and-white that doesn’t serve it well).  So, what do you have left?

Well, what you have left is the single worst film I have seen from 1940.  It’s a ridiculous story of “prehistory”, of cavemen living in the time of dinosaurs, of battles against the monsters and trying to survive.  Most of the dinosaurs look pretty ridiculous.  The plot is simply absurd.  And yet, all of this might have had the possibility of decent entertainment.  But there’s one other problem.

The original film might not have had the impressive look of Welch in a bikini.  But it did have Victor Mature, the actor who Groucho Marx once remarked upon “No picture can hold my interest where the leading man’s tits are bigger than the leading lady’s.”  Mature’s rather odd looks wouldn’t be an issue if he had some acting to counter that.  But he didn’t.  He never could act much and he was always odd to look at.  And yet, Hollywood continued to put him in film after film.  This was his first big leading role and he falls flat on his face.  So we have a film with a pretty worthless story.  We have effects that somehow managed an Oscar nomination when some of them are quite laughable (compare them to Oscar winner Thief of Bagdad’s effects).  We have a leading man who is just embarrassing.  If you really want to watch a film that combines dinosaurs and cavemen, go with the remake.  At least the dinosaurs have some craft behind them.


  • Most Nighthawk Nominations:  Rebecca  (12)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards:  The Grapes of Wrath  (6)
  • Most Nighthawk Points:  The Grapes of Wrath  (555)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Award:  Dr. Cyclops
  • 2nd Place Award:  Rebecca  (Picture, Director, Actress, Cinematography, Original Score, Visual Effects, Sound Editing)
  • 6th Place Award:  The Letter  (Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Nominations:  Rebecca  (7)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Awards:  The Grapes of Wrath  (4)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Points:  The Grapes of Wrath  (400)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Drama Award:  They Knew What They Wanted
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Nominations:  The Philadelphia Story  (7)
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Awards:  The Philadelphia Story  (5)
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Points:  The Philadelphia Story  (450)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Comedy Award:  The Baker’s Wife

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

Progressive Leaders:

  • Most Nighthawk Nominations:  The Wizard of Oz  (18)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards:  The Wizard of Oz  (14)
  • Most Nighthawk Points:  The Wizard of Oz  (795)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards without winning Best Picture:  Frankenstein  (6)
  • Most Nighthawk Nominations without a Best Picture Nomination:  Captain Blood  (10)
  • Most Nighthawk Nominations without a Nighthawk Award:  My Man Godfrey (11)
  • Actor:  Charles Laughton  (255)
  • Actress:  Janet Gaynor  /  Katharine Hepburn  (315)
  • Director:  Charlie Chaplin  (315)
  • Writer:  Charlie Chaplin  (360)
  • Cinematographer:  Roland Totheroh  (150)
  • Composer:  Max Steiner  (300)

Breakdown by Genre  (Foreign in parenthesis, best film in genre following, avg. score is afterwards, in parenthesis):

  • Drama:  43  (2)  –  The Grapes of Wrath  (64.4)
  • Comedy:  23  (1)  –  The Philadelphia Story  (72.7)
  • Musical:  14  (1)  –  Strike Up the Band  (63.5)
  • Crime:  6  (2)  –  La Bête Humaine  (74.2)
  • Foreign:  6  –  La Bête Humaine  (73.3)
  • Western:  6  –  The Return of Frank James  (67.3)
  • Adventure:  5  –  The Thief of Bagdad  (68)
  • Suspense:  4 –  The Letter  (75.5)
  • Kids:  2  –  Pinocchio  (79)
  • Mystery:  2  –  Rebecca  (69)
  • Action:  2  –  Captain Caution  (65)
  • Horror:  2  –  The Mummy’s Hand  (57.5)
  • Sci-Fi:  1  –  Dr. Cyclops  (57)
  • Fantasy:  1  –  One Million B.C.  (41)
  • War:  0

Analysis:  All those great comedies make for the highest average in the category since 1928.  The Musicals, in spite of not having a single film higher than a 68 have their highest average since 1933.

Studio Note:

MGM has the most films yet again, this time up to 22, almost a fifth of all the films; not only is it the highest total since 1936, but the average of 68 is the highest for MGM since 1929.  I’ve only seen 12 films from Warners – the first time they account for less than 11% of the film in a year since 1929.  But I have new highs for RKO (14), Columbia (9) and Universal (9).  All those RKO films only average a 61, the lowest average for the studio since 1933.  This is in contrast to all the rest of the studios – all the majors except RKO have a higher average than 1939 and all but Warners have a higher average than 1938 as well, with several having their highest in several years.

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

  • The Heart of a Queen  (Froelich, Germany)
  • Kora Terry  (Jacoby, Germany)
  • My Universities  (Donskoi, USSR)
  • The Stationmaster  (Ucicky, Germany)
  • The Well-Digger’s Daughter  (Pagnol, France)

Note:  Germany, while conquering Europe, also puts out three of the five films I’ve seen on the year.  The best is Daughter, but it’s still not good enough to qualify for my awards.  That does make it five straight years, though, where the best Foreign Film is from France, even if it doesn’t win my award.  A shame for Pagnol, since he was nominated in 1936, 1937 and 1938, but hasn’t won the award.

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

  • Ecstasy  (1933)
  • The Baker’s Wife  (1938)
  • La Bête Humaine  (1938)
  • Luciano Serra, Pilot  (1938)
  • Sidewalks of London  (1938)
  • Destry Rides Again  (1939)
  • The Face at the Window  (1939)
  • Le Jour se Leve  (1939)
  • The Lion Has Wings  (1939)

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

  • Fantasia  (1941)
  • I Take This Woman  (1941)
  • My Universities  (1941)
  • Night Train  (1941)
  • The Heart of a Queen  (1945)
  • The Stationmaster  (1945)
  • The Well-Digger’s Daughter  (1946)
  • Gaslight  (1953)