The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1935

1935 is one of those years — I don’t know — I guess you can’t really fault the Academy that much, but, I think general consensus is, while they didn’t make a bad choice (kinda, maybe, sorta), there was a choice that has held up as a better choice after the fact. It’s tough. I think it might have been tough back then too, since there was a Picture/Director split between the two films.

For those not in the know, the two films are Mutiny on the Bounty and The Informer. I’ll talk about them both down there. Mutiny on the Bounty won Best Picture — and it makes sense that they’d choose it, being the type of film that it is — but The Informer is one of those films — it’s a very strong picture. I guess it’s kind of a toss-up, historically. I don’t know. But I feel The Informer has held up better. Mostly because it’s never been remade, and still looks great.

Anyway, the other awards for this year were — the last year before supporting categories were invented, mind you — Victor McLaglen for The Informer and Bette Davis for Dangerous. Those aren’t as important as these two are. I feel like this race is a classic example of — well, the same type of race that we had in 2010 — the “Oscar” film vs. the — whatever the other type was.


And the nominees are…

Michael Curtiz, Captain Blood (write-in)

John Ford, The Informer

Henry Hathaway, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

Frank Lloyd, Mutiny on the Bounty

Curtiz — This is an interesting case scenario in Oscar history. It’s a write-in that managed to actually do really well. Write-ins are things that occasionally happen — the two most famous being — well, this year. The year before this, Bette Davis got a huge write-in campaign for Of Human Bondage, but not enough for her to win. And as such, the Oscar she got this year is regarded as a blatant make-up Oscar — in the vein of Jimmy Stewart. The other, and more famous, is Hal Mohr, who won Best Cinematography for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (rightfully so, it’s incredible) despite not being nominated. He got enough write-in votes to actually win the category. Since the 30s, write-ins have gotten a lot less frequent, I guess due to greater sophistication in the system. The only other — small, mind you. Not enough to even make a dent — write-in campaign I saw get any kind of attention was the one for The Dark Knight for Best Picture. But we knew that was never happening.

What was interesting about this nomination for Curtiz, is that, as a write-in candidate, the Academy announced that he had finished second in the voting (with Henry Hathaway finishing third). This is interesting for two reasons — one, well, they must have really loved his direction, and two, the Best Picture winner’s director finished dead last. Of course, this is probably due to him having won twice before, but still — it might say something else.

Anyway, Captain Blood. This movie is basically a Robin Hood movie with Errol Flynn before The Adventures of Robin Hood. He’s a doctor who aids people regardless of their color or creed or whatever, and gets in trouble with the king of where he’s from for healing those that they’re in a war with. And as such, he’s convicted and ends up being sent away on a slave ship. He’s then purchased by Olivia de Havilland, and then becomes a swashbuckler out to payback those who fucked him over. It’s your standard Errol Flynn fare. One of the more well-known of the lot.

The direction in the film is pretty solid. Let’s not get too out of hand. But, it was definitely worth a nomination, and, were it not for the actual winner, possibly even worth a win. Curtiz is a director who didn’t get his due until he directed one of the most famous films of all time, but, hey, at least he wasn’t as fucked over as George Cukor was.

Ford — I have to tell you — this film is incredible.

It’s about a dude — Victor McLaglen, whom some people will recognize from Ford’s other films. The two I most recognize him from are, The Quiet Man, obviously, since he’s the antagonist of the film who has that epic boxing match with John Wayne at the end. And the other, is Rio Grande. He plays Quincannon, the “Chowderheaded Mick Sergeant.” You’ll recognize him because he’s got the thickest Irish accent this side of the Atlantic — who informs on his friend in the IRA for a measly $20. Or something to that effect. Of course, the money is a lot considering how poor everyone is in the town. But, at what price comes that money?

For the rest of the film, he’s wracked with guilt about informing on his friend, and we see him get worse and worse over the course of the film until he’s so destroyed by guilt that he ends up giving himself away. It’s a strong performance and a really strong film.

What makes the directorial effort by Ford so astounding is that — since he was embarrassed at how shitty his sets looked, because the budget was laughably low, he decided to just add smoke around the whole set and shoot it as though it were dark and foggy out. It brings a heavy atmosphere over the entire film and really adds to the depth of the whole thing. The fog hangs like Gypo’s conscience. And the film is also shot well in that — it’s shot to make you feel as though you’re with Gypo as the walls are closing in. Everything is shot and paced in such a way that it really ratchets up the tension as Gypo gets more and more paranoid. This award was so deserving its not even funny. You know a man is good when, after Citizen Kane was released, they asked Orson Welles which directors he admired, and he said, “Oh, you know, all the old masters — John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.”

Also, a fun trivia note (that really only one person will enjoy): The Informer is the film playing on the TV screen in The Departed as Leo bashes the Virgin Mary painting over the dude’s head and shoots him in the kneecap. The one where the guy is like, “I thought I was supposed to go into shock. I’m not, it fuckin’ hurts!” The scene of Gypo’s confession is shown for the briefest of seconds and then is in the background for the rest of the scene. Just sayin’.

Hathaway — I’ll come right out and say it — this is the type of film that I hate. One of those films about code of conduct in the military. If it’s not starring John Wayne it bores the shit out of me. And worse — its stars Gary Cooper. Gary Cooper, to me, if he’s not fucking a starlet half his age or in a western — I can’t stand watching him act. Give me Cary Grant or Henry Fonda any day. I’ll also come out and say it — I’ve watched this movie twice and still I cannot tell you what it’s about.

I was so bored by this movie that twice I came out not knowing what I’d seen. I deliberately watched it the second time too, specifically to find out what I’d missed the first time. That’s how much I didn’t care for it. It’s about cavalrymen in India — that much I know. And there’s some sort of beef between the company commander and the men — standard shit. Probably the whole, “You’re gonna get us killed,” “You’re too strict,” business. I’m spitballing here. And using Wikipedia. Because I’m serious when I say I really don’t remember it. There’s some sort of conflict going on, people die, they attack, they win, all that stuff.

Honestly, I’m just gonna say, I’m not voting for this. If the film couldn’t capture even a little bit of my attention — twice — then the directorial effort is not getting voted for.

Lloyd — Frank Lloyd is not getting my vote. Just coming out and saying it. He won twice. Once I talked about yesterday. The other I haven’t seen yet because it’s not available. So I’ll reserve judgment until then. This film is about men on a ship with a cruel captain. The kind that treats himself well but the men like shit. He makes them work hard and controls rations so much that he’s having feasts while they starve. They then mutiny. It’s kind of like Hamlet, in that, they struggle with the idea of mutiny for a while. Then, they do it, and cast him adrift on a boat with the men loyal to him. Then, like an expert seaman, he navigates himself and the men to safety with no instruments other than his knowledge of the sea. Then he goes back and becomes a dickhead again. He gets a man convicted to hang just because he thinks he had something to do with the mutiny. Shit like that. And then the other guys take the ship to Tahiti and burn it, making everyone think they’re dead, while they live on the island with the sexy Caribbean women.

That’s the film. It’s a fair directorial effort. It looks better than it is because of the wide shots of the boat in water. But it’s clear they shot on a studio soundstage most of the scenes. So, the fact that it looks nice, and is a film that films somewhat epic earns him points, but, he’s not getting my vote, I already said it.

My Thoughts: John Ford is the only one to really vote for here. Maybe Curtiz. But, watch The Informer and tell me that’s not a great piece of directing. That film could have been made fifteen years later and still looked as good. Mutiny on the Bounty and Captain Blood look like 1935 films. That’s the difference.

My Vote: Ford.

Should Have Won: Ford

Is the result acceptable?: Oh, yeah. This is a rare Ford film, in that, before he went off on all his westerns, he made a film very different from what we’re used to from him. This is a dark film, very claustrophobic. It’s very, very well-directed and deserved this all the way. Also, if Lloyd were worth voting for — know he won twice for — lesser efforts. So, Ford is really the vote.

Ones I suggest you see: Ford, Lloyd (if you haven’t seen any version of Bounty. This one and the Milestone one are probably the best. This is the most concise, while the other one is the most — scenic). And Curtiz, I guess, if you love Errol Flynn/Olivia de Havilland movies.


4) Hathaway

3) Lloyd

2) Curtiz

1) Ford

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