The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1937

I hate 1937. It feels like such a waste. The Life of Emile Zola is just a weak, weak Best Picture choice. Good film, yes, but just a weak choice. I know a lot of people would say The Awful Truth was the best film this year, but, it’s a comedy, and that wasn’t gonna win. Really, the film that should have won was A Star is Born. It’s such an iconic story, how could they not give it to that? But I digress.

Best Director this year was Leo McCarey for The Awful Truth. This is regarded as a good decision, but for the wrong film. Even McCarey said that when he won. You see, he also directed a film called Make Way for Tomorrow this year, which is basically a film about old people, and how the young ignore them, and it’s kind of an “old people matter too!” film. It’s really great. Anyway, he won for the wrong film. Best Actor this year was Spencer Tracy for Captains Courageous, which, isn’t a great decision, but I can go with it, I guess. Best Actress was Luise Rainer for The Good Earth, which I haven’t fully made up my mind on yet. Soon though. I’ll let you know soon. And Best Supporting Actress was Alice Brady for In Old Chicago, which, as I said here, is an acceptable decision historically, but not a good one based on the category.

So that’s 1937. Weak Best Picture choice, the Best Director choice was for the wrong film, Best Actor is just a strange choice, Best Actress is fine, I guess, Best Supporting Actress is sort of fine, but also a bit weak, and this category is — well, let’s talk about it.


And the nominees were…

Ralph Bellamy, The Awful Truth

Thomas Mitchell, The Hurricane

Joseph Schildkraut, The Life of Emile Zola

H.B. Warner, Lost Horizon

Roland Young, Topper

Bellamy — The Awful Truth is a lovely film. It’s probably one of the top ten classic screwball comedies of all time.

Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are married. He comes home from a trip to find her not home. He finds out she stayed at another man’s country club after her car supposedly broke down. He suspects her of having an affair. She discovers that he wasn’t where he said he was on his business trip. She suspects him of having an affair. They agree to divorce.

However, after the divorce, they continue to have feelings toward one another. But what happens is, Dunne becomes engaged to Ralph Bellamy, a nice man who lives next door. But she realizes she still loves Grant and breaks the engagement. And the whole time Grant has been trying to ruin all her dates and stuff, sabotaging them in the hopes of winning her back. However, before she can tell Bellamy, the dude Grant thought she slept with shows up at her apartment. And while she’s arguing with him, Grant shows up, so she hides the dude in her bedroom. And then Grant tells her he wants to reconcile, which makes her happy, but then Bellamy shows up. Grant then goes to hide in her bedroom so as not to complicate things. In there, he finds the other dude, and there’s a whole screwball scene that happens, and then the two of them storm out in front of Bellamy and his mother, who, needless to say are shocked, shocked! to see that she’s had two men in her bedroom. Really funny scene.

Anyway, Grant, hearing she’s engaged to one man and is with another, he starts going out with another woman, and now the entire film flips around. Now she’s the one that tries sabotaging him. Which is just a stroke of genius, screenplay-wise. So what happens is, Dunne shows up and pretends to be Grant’s sister, and really just fucks up the whole thing, because he’s dating a really high society woman, and Dunne pretends to be this low class slob. And she basically ruins any chance he had. And then the film ends with them reconciling, and it’s all happy. It’s a great film. A comedy of remarriage.

Ralph Bellamy is really great in the film. He plays his typical Bellamy role — the straight man. And, honestly, I’m leaning toward voting for him, simply because the straight man never gets any respect, despite having one of the most difficult roles in the film. And in a category like this — it’s a legitimate possibility. Plus, it’s Ralph Bellamy. The dude put in a lot of great work over his career.

Mitchell — The Hurricane is just a really, really boring film. For me it’s only redeeming quality is the actual hurricane that happens, which only happens at the end. Not worth it.

It’s about a south Pacific island, and the natives and their drama. One dude marries the chief’s daughter and then goes off on a ship, and then he goes to Tahiti, and beats up a white man, and then is put in jail. And then he starts escaping, which adds to the sentence and eventually escapes and returns home. Then a hurricane happens. That’s the film. Thomas Mitchell plays a doctor. He is barely in the film. He shows up, says some shit, then leaves. Then he comes back, argues against the police in favor of the native dude, and goes away again. Then he gets caught in the hurricane with a pregnant woman. That’s it.

Clearly a #5. It’s not even close. The only reason he’s nominated is because he’s Thomas Mitchell. He’s had a lot of great roles in his career, but this, my friends, is not one of them. He’d get his Oscar in 1939 (where he played the brilliantly drunk doctor in Stagecoach, as well as Gerald O’Hara in Gone With the Wind).

Schildkraut — The Life of Emile Zola is not a bad film. It’s just a bad Best Picture winner. It’s about Emile Zola, played by Paul Muni, who might well have won an Oscar for the film if he hadn’t won the year before this. I wouldn’t have voted for him, but, the Academy probably would have.

The film is at first about Zola and his early life. He plays a journalist who writes these inflammatory articles exposing all the corruption and seediness going on in Paris. We see him as he writes his first book, Nana, about a prostitute. We see him get rich and famous off of it. Then we flash forward, past all the other books he’s written, to him as an old man. Well — 60. He’s complacent, and is exactly what he said he wouldn’t be when he was younger. And along comes the Dreyfus Affair.

The Dreyfus Affair was a situation where a letter is intercepted that’s addressed to a German officer. It basically shows that there’s a spy in the upper ranks of the French army. The commanding officers assume the spy is Dreyfus, who is Jewish. The decision is very much based on anti-semitism. He is arrested and thrown in jail. However, new evidence comes to light that says Dreyfus is innocent, but the commanding officers squash it, not wanting to look bad for having thrown him in jail.

Eventually, Dreyfus’s wife goes to Zola and gets him to agree to take up the case. Zola writes an article that accuses the army of covering the whole thing up, which, naturally, gets Zola arrested. His plan was to get arrested and prove the conspiracy at his trial. The problem is, the judge doesn’t allow him to talk about the Dreyfus affair, plus all the military men lie under oath. So Zola goes to prison. And he flees to England and continues to write on behalf of Dreyfus. Then eventually they admit that they were wrong and Dreyfus is freed. However, on the day Dreyfus is reinstated, Zola dies from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a leaky gas pipe in his house.

The film is pretty good, but, not a Best Picture winner. As for Schildkraut, I don’t really think he did anything to warrant a win. Literally, he shows up, is arrested. He says he’s innocent. They throw him in jail. The next time we see him, he’s in jail, looking sad, and reads a letter from his wife, and this makes him remain hopeful. Then he shows up later on as they free him. It’s a shot of him leaving prison. Then he gets reinstated and is sad about Zola’s death and gives a speech. That’s it.

I don’t see why the performance won in terms of the performance.In terms of the role, I can see it perfectly. It’s a classy film, a Best Picture winner, and I think the Academy wanted the film to win at least one acting award. On paper, the performance sounds like a clear winner. Watching the film though — I wouldn’t vote for it. It just wasn’t on screen enough.

Warner — Lost Horizon is a wonderful film. It’s just tremendous. It’s a nice little fantasy.

The film begins with Ronald Colman flying into China to rescue a bunch of trapped people. They fly out just before the army can reach them to kill them. However, their plane is hijacked and eventually runs out of gas and crashes in the Himalayas. Not knowing where to go, they’re rescued by H.B. Warner, who takes them to Shangri-La, the mythical place where the people don’t age and everything is perfect. Gradually, they all grow to love the place. Even the worst off of them, like a girl that was terminally ill, start to recover and feel young and alive again. However, Colman’s younger brother falls in love with a woman there, and they decide they have to leave. Colman, however, discovers he was brought there on purpose (the hijacker was bringing them there) because the leader of the area is dying. He’s like 700 years old and is finally dying. And he wants Colman to take over. However, his brother demands that they leave, and Colman goes with him. They bring the woman the brother is in love with. However, after three days, they get outside Shangri-La, back into the real world, where the powers of the place wear off, and all of a sudden, they become tired (as they weren’t fatigued before this) and the woman, really several hundred years old, begins to rapidly age and dies. And then the brother dies by falling off the mountain. Colman is then rescued, but forgets all about the place. But then, en route back to England, remembers all about it, and returns to Shangri-La.

It’s a great film. One of those films that you wish were real. Wouldn’t that be something?

Anyway, Warner plays Chang, the right hand man to the old ruler of the place. He’s very proper, and basically is unflappable to the westerners and their opinions. That’s basically what he does. He’s very serene, helpful, kind of like a butler. He’s great in the role, and fits in perfectly in the film, but I’m not voting for him. I don’t think it should have won, for one, and two, it’s a white dude playing an Asian. That’s a no-no. I’m not promoting racism. No vote.

Young — And finally we have Topper. This is an interesting film. Cary Grant and Constance Bennett are a rich high society couple. They go around drinking every night and partying. One night, on a dangerous stretch of road, they’re fooling around and crash their car and die. However, they become spirits. So now they’re dead and are hanging around. And Topper, played by Roland Young, is a fellow employee of Grant’s whom Grant always liked. He comes to the scene and they start talking to him. They basically start haunting him in order to help him. He’s very stuffy and stuck in his ways, and they try to teach him that life is worth living to its fullest. That’s basically the film. Them, as ghosts, setting out to help their friend. And the hilarity that ensues.

It’s a very funny film. I highly recommend checking it out. It’s really well done, and Cary Grant is wonderful as always. And Roland Young is also really, really funny here. Honestly, he was good enough to win this category. The only thing that makes me hesitate about voting for him is the fact that he’s the lead of the film. I mean, he plays Topper! Grant is kind of also the lead, but, in many ways, Young is really the lead of the film, and I just don’t like that he’s in supporting. It’s almost not fair. I mean, he’s great, but, I’d just feel weird voting for a lead role in a supporting performance.

My Thoughts: Yeah, there’s a problem here. This category isn’t very good. First you have Thomas Mitchell in The Hurricane. This is a film that’s not very good until the hurricane happens, and that’s not until the last ten minutes of the film. Plus Mitchell would give a better performance two years after this in Stagecoach, which he’d win for. So he’s right off the top, #5.

Then we have H.B. Warner, who isn’t really in the film. He’s pretty serene. Just sort of accepts things and is pretty low key. Not really something I can vote for. So he’s off.

Then we have Roland Young. He’s great in the movie, and is very funny, but, he’s kind of the lead of the film. He plays Topper, for christ’s sake. I don’t know if I can willingly go along with category fraud just because Cary Grant had to get billed as the lead.

So we’re left with Joseph Schildkraut and Ralph Bellamy. Right there, I can see why the went the way they did. But, personally, I thought Schildkraut didn’t do anything here. He shows up, is arrested, says he didn’t do it, then goes in jail. Then we cut to him a couple of times and that’s it. The film is about Paul Muni, not him. The role itself is significant, but the performance isn’t really on film. So I can’t vote for it. I just can’t.

Which leaves us with Ralph Bellamy. Now, most people wouldn’t consider this performance something to vote for, but really, Bellamy was always the perfect straight man in these screwball comedies — just look at His Girl Friday — and the straight man never gets enough credit. I think that’s the epitome of a supporting actor, because he needs to give so much to the leads. It’s his reactions that are making them funny. So I vote Bellamy. Let’s let the straight man get some love for a change.

My Vote: Bellamy

Should Have Won: I guess no preference, really. Nothing particularly stands out here as a “should have.”

Is the result acceptable?: I guess. It was definitely the classiest decision here. Plus, the Dreyfus Affair is pretty big, historically. You could defend the win based on that alone. Plus it’s not like he really beat anyone who needed the win or was so amazing that a loss is just unacceptable. So, yeah, I guess. Does anyone really have strong feelings on this category?

Performances I suggest you see: The Awful Truth is a classic screwball comedy and is a funny, funny film. If you’re a fan of funny movies, you need to see this one. The fact that it’s a Cary Grant film should let you know it’s quality. Almost the same applies to Topper. It’s not as classic as The Awful Truth, but it’s still a good film. Very funny. Definitely worth seeing. Really great. And Lost Horizon is a terrific film and just a dream to watch. It really is a great fantasy. Almost as if Dorothy landed in Munchkinland and hung around the place. Really fantastic. Highly, highly recommended. And The Life of Emile Zola is a good film, but not for everyone. But then again, it’s a Best Picture winner, and that holds its own brand of interest. I recommend people see it, simply so they can say whether or not they think it should have won.


5) Mitchell

4) Schildkraut

3) Warner

2) Young

1) Bellamy


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