The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1934
Everybody has one year they’re the most biased about. 1934 is mine.
Most years, you can at least have some sort of objectivity when you go, “Yeah, I guess it’s okay.” But, here, my favorite film of all time is contained amongst the nominees, and no matter what it’s up against, I’m always going to feel as if it should have won. So this one’s gonna be brief on the voting and everything. I will talk about how great all three of these movies and performances are, though. So you do get that. Because this category is fucking amazing. All three are great. It’s just — my favorite is my favorite.
Oh, yeah, basically what you need to know is — It Happened One Night swept everything. Beat the hell out of everything. Except my spirit.
BEST ACTOR – 1934
And the nominees are…
Clark Gable, It Happened One Night
Frank Morgan, The Affairs of Cellini
William Powell, The Thin Man
Gable — What a great movie this is. One of the best romantic comedies of all time. This is the film where Frank Capra’s magic came together for the first time. There were glimpses of it before this, but this is the first one where, everything worked.
The movie’s about Claudette Colbert. She’s an heiress, and she gets married without her father’s permission. He gets mad and she runs away. As she runs away, Gable, a reporter, is just being fired from his job. They’re both traveling on the same bus, and he immediately recognizes her. And since she doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing (she doesn’t know how to do the things normal people do), he sort of helps her out, mostly under the guise of getting the story on her. And she immediately takes a disliking to him, because he’s smug and makes fun of her all the time. And the two bicker a lot. Then, eventually they go on the run together, because people start recognizing her, so they masquerade as husband and wife. And thye get closer to one another and fall in love and all that. And the whole thing is a nice screwball romantic comedy. Words cannot express just how great this movie is.
Gable, of course, is his Gable self. Honestly, in a macro sense, independent of any other nominees in this category (Note: This is me covering my ass for what I’m about to say), I’m glad Gable won this year. Because while he should have won for Gone With the Wind (also independent of any other nominees), Jimmy Stewart was also up for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington that year and kinda deserved it a little more. I don’t want to speculate about what-ifs and could’ves, so let’s just leave it at, Gable is good, but, this is really the only year he could have gotten away with this performance and still won Best Actor. I mean, really, he doesn’t do that much here. But, you know, country was in a Depression, was looking for light-hearted stuff, and this was there. I understand it, but, let’s not put this performance on the level of a Raging Bull, shall we?
Morgan — This is the movie I should be spending the most time talking about. I say should because — well we know that probably won’t happen. I should be talking about it the most because — this is the film on this list that the least amount of people are likely to know about. The other two are classics. This one — hell, I wouldn’t have known about it if it wasn’t for this Oscar Quest. Which is great, because I’m glad I saw it. This is one hell of a funny movie.
The movie is about a man named Cellini, played by Frederic March (the great Frederic March), who is a common man. He’s not royalty or anything. He’s a sculptor. And he has a way with the ladies. That is to say — he’s known for being a bit of a Don Juan. He’s fucked half the ladies in Florence, is what I’m saying. And people say shit about him, like, he’s got mystical powers that he uses to entrance the ladies. And eventually those rumors make their way up to the Duke and Duchess of Florence.
Now, the Duke is played by Frank Morgan. You may know him as the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz. Yeah, that guy. The man behind the curtain. He’s the Duke, and he plays this the way he plays almost every role — stuttering. Not crazy stuttering, but more like — well, you’ve seen Wizard of Oz, you know what I’m talking about.
That whole nervous, tripping over words. That’s his schtick. And he’s having an affair with a younger woman and doesn’t want his wife to find out. Meanwhile, the wife knows and is now setting her sights on Cellini. Meanwhile the Duke, who doesn’t want to cause problems and just wants to live in the lap of luxury, got requests to have Cellini killed. So he’s doing it to appease the people and doesn’t really care so much. Anyway, the Duchess starts sleeping with Cellini and then the rest of the film becomes about both the Duke and the Duchess trying not to let the other know they’re having an affair. And the best part about it is, the Duke is being cuckolded the entire time, and unwittingly enlists Cellini to help him.
Example: There’s a dinner party. And the Duke brings Cellini to act as a date for his mistress. And there’s a great sort of tag that’s played where, the Duke goes over to talk to his mistress, and, so as not to be suspicious, he has Cellini go and talk to his wife. And they go together and they’re sleeping together and she’s worried that he knows. And then they switch, almost, so as not to arouse suspicion. It’s really funny how it all works out. And eventually it all comes to a head, and works out okay. But it’s a really funny movie, and short too, so even if you don’t like it as much as I do, it’s only like 80 minutes long.
As for the performance, it’s a standard Frank Morgan performance. He’s good and he’s funny. The only thing is, Frederic March is the real star of the movie. Morgan really has what amounts to a supporting role. But, since the category wouldn’t be invented for another two years, and because Morgan really is the best thing about this movie, I think that’s why he got on here with such a limited part. But still, he should be on here, even if he is 3 of 3.
Powell — The Thin Man is a perfect film. That’s really all there is to say.
So now watch as I say a whole bunch more about it.
This film appeals to me on so many levels. First, the dialogue cracks. It’s so fucking witty it pours over onto you. That’s what I want in a film. Smart writing. This film has it in spades. And diamonds and clubs and hearts. The other part of it that appeals to me is how much it defies convention. First, the film is about a married couple. They never fight, they never bicker, and they love each other very much. Not something you see every day, is it? They also banter with the best of them. Normally I’d put a bunch of lines from the film here as an example, but, I don’t want to ruin it if you haven’t seen it. Plus, I don’t know if I could stop myself. I might end up quoting the entire film the whole way through.
But what’s great about the film is how it’s very clearly a mystery, and yet at the same time isn’t. The whole film is a whodunit, yet — it doesn’t want to be. Clyde Wynant is an inventor. The first ten minutes are spent with him. Then, we find out he’s gone missing. His daughter really wants to figure out who the person behind it is. She runs into Nick Charles, a famous detective her father knew, at a club and asks him about it. He, on the other hand, doesn’t want anything to do with the case. He’s married Nora, a wealthy San Francisco socialite, and wants nothing more than to sit around “taking care” of all her money and live the life of luxury. She, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to see these famous detecting skills she’s heard so much about but never got a chance to see. So the film becomes about Nora, and everyone else, trying to get Nick on the case, while Nick sits around drinks all the time, and somehow allows himself to be caught up in the case. It’s fucking fantastic. A detective who doesn’t want to be a detective. And, what’s more — a detective who does nothing but drink all the time and not once does the drinking affect him in any way. Everything about this movie appeals to me.
I haven’t even scratched the surface of what this movie’s about, but, I’m assuming that, if you’re reading this, either you’ve seen it, or you’re running out to do so now because you know that if you haven’t seen it, I won’t talk to you anymore.
Now, as for Powell’s performance — it’s perfect. There’s no other way to describe it. The first time we see the character, he has his back turned to us, and he’s standing at a bar, telling the bartenders the “proper” way to make a cocktail. The lesson is, while shaking a dry martini, “you always shake to waltz time.” (A Bronx is shaken to two-step, and a Manhattan is shaken to foxtrot, in case you were wondering.) And as he’s telling them this, he’s mixing a drink, which he promptly pours and places on the waiter’s tray, which the waiter promptly presents back to him, since it was his drink the entire time. Perfection. To me, there’s nothing better than a performance like this. And a film like this. Which is why objectiveness for this year will never happen.
My Thoughts: It’s my favorite movie of all time. Who you think I’m gonna vote for? Cool with Gable winning though.
My Vote: Powell
Should Have Won: Abstain. I won’t be remotely objective enough to answer that question.
Is the result acceptable?: Not gonna answer this either. I can’t do it.
Performances I suggest you see: Well what the fuck do you think I’m gonna say? The Thin Man is my favorite movie of all time. If you don’t see it, we’re done here. It Happened One Night is a classic and a must see for everyone. It’s brilliant. And The Affairs of Cellini is also a hysterical film, even though it’s a bit — rough. That is to say, it hasn’t been restored, so it looks all wear-and-tear. But still, it’s a very funny movie and I definitely recommend checking it out if you can. So, I recommend all of them. In the order I told you. And if you read this blog and haven’t seen the first one — seriously, there’s nothing more I have to say to you.