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The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1936

Like me some 1936. But I don’t love it. This would be the fuck on the “Fuck, Marry, Kill” list. Fuck 1936, Marry 1939, Kill 1937.

The Great Ziegfeld wins Best Picture for 1936, and it’s a fantastic decision. It’s a quintessential Oscar film, and a really great film at that. Everything a film from 1936 that won Best Picture should have. Best Director this year was Frank Capra for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (talked about here). I like that the film got recognized, but I don’t like the decision. Leonard should have won for Ziegfeld or Van Dyke should have won for San Francisco and that great recreation of the earthquake they have there.

Best Actor this year was Paul Muni for The Story of Louis Pasteur, which is a fine decision, although I say William Powell should have won for his Ziegfeld performance and his My Man Godfrey performance. Muni was better served winning the year after this for The Life of Emile Zola, which would have added a bit more legitimacy to that film winning Best Picture. Best Supporting Actor (the first in the category’s history) was Walter Brennan for Come and Get It, which makes sense. He is the quintessential supporting actor. Best Supporting Actress was Gale Sondergaard for Anthony Adverse (talked about here), which I don’t get at all. To me, Alice Brady was a much better choice.

And then this category — I don’t get it at all. Not at all. She was a supporting character in the film, for one, and they seem to be basing the award on one scene. Plus she won the year after this — I don’t like this decision at all.

BEST ACTRESS – 1936

And the nominees were…

Irene Dunne, Theodora Goes Wild

Gladys George, Valiant is the Word for Carrie

Carol Lombard, My Man Godfrey

Luise Rainer, The Great Ziegfeld

Norma Shearer, Romeo and Juliet

Dunne — Theodora Goes Wild is a comic film about a woman who writes risque romance novels (under a pen name) while living in a straight-laced town. And she’s constantly taking trips to New York, where only her publisher knows who she is. And the film is about a man meeting her (as the author) and wanting to know more about her and inviting himself to the town and realizing she is leading two lives. And he gets her in all these situations, and it’s funny, but eventually they fall in love, and — well, it’s enjoyable.

Dunne is good here, but this certainly was not her best performance. She was much better in I Remember Mama, The Awful Truth and Love Affair. Even Cimarron. This is the weakest of her nominations. I can’t vote for her for this.

George — Valiant is the Word for Carrie is about Gladys George (Carrie), a prostitute, who befriends a young boy in town. His mother is dying, and his father is abusive. And then Carrie gets run out of town (as prostitutes often are), and she finds that she really likes the boy (and he likes her), and wants to look after him. But she knows it’s not good for him, so she is intentionally mean to him so he won’t follow her. But then there’s a big train crash in the town. The kid meets a girl that’s a bit younger than him, who doesn’t want to go back to her family. Then Carrie comes back and takes them both with her to New York.

And in New York, she starts a chain of successful laundromats. And we cut to years later, and the kids are grown. And the girl is in love with the boy, but the boy is involved with this other woman — this accident occurred whereby the guy thinks he was responsible for the other woman’s brother’s death, so he feels responsible for him. And she only loves him because he’s rich, and he’s the only one who can’t tell. So Carrie, knowing she’ll leave the boy if her old flame (in prison, naturally) is free, organizes a prison break. And of course it goes wrong, and the other woman is killed, and Carrie is arrested. And what happens is, Carrie doesn’t want her past to come up during the trial, so she pleads guilty and goes to jail, knowing it will allow the boy and the girl to be together.

The film, despite seeming overly abundant with melodramatic situations and coincidences, is actually really good. I enjoyed it quite a bit. George is strong here, too. I really liked her performance. I thought she’d be a #4 here, but she wound up being a solid #3. I thought about voting for her, but honestly — I love Carole Lombard. I’m not gonna pretend like I’d vote for George. I won’t.

Lombard — My Man Godfrey is a great film about a man ruined by the Depression who is found in the city dump, and is hired by a rich family as their butler. And he manages to help the family (as well as himself) in various ways, and the film is funny, touching, and very, very great.

Lombard plays the daughter of the family who is ditzy and spoiled. She is used to getting what she wants and often has tantrums when she doesn’t. Godfrey starts treating her strictly, and she ends up falling in love with him (she’s very impulsive). And basically, she decides they’re going to get married and won’t take no for an answer. It’s quite a delightful performance. And in a category like this, she’s easily my vote. I can’t see voting anyone else.

Rainer — The Great Ziegfeld is a biopic of Florenz Ziegfeld, who created the Ziegfeld Follies an was a theater impresario. William Powell plays Ziegfeld, and we see him go from a dude promoting acts at carnivals to the “great” Ziegfeld. The film is three hours long, has lots of musical numbers (really ornately staged), and shows Ziegfeld’s marriages, first to European actress Anna Held, and then to Billie Burke.

Myrna Loy plays Billie Burke. That made me very, very happy.

Rainer plays Anna Held. And she basically doesn’t do much here, and disappears by the second half of the film. Her one big scene is where she gets a call from Ziegfeld and pretends to be happy for him, even though she is miserable. Most people acknowledge that this is the reason she won.

I thought she did a good job here, and I can (sort of) understand why they voted for her. Thing is — she feels like a supporting character. She’d have fared much better in Best Supporting Actress this year. In this category — I can’t vote for her. I liked Lombard’s performance better.

Shearer — Romeo and Juliet. I think you know what it’s about.

Shearer plays Juliet (obviously). She won an Oscar already, and this part is too on-the-nose. Absolutely not. I will not give someone a second Oscar for a performance as obvious as Juliet. No way.

My Thoughts: This seems to come down to Rainer and Lombard. And Rainer is really only a supporting character in the film. Plus Lombard is who she is and is positively delightful in the film. I don’t see why someone wouldn’t vote for her (especially since Rainer won for only one scene).

My Vote: Lombard

Should Have Won: Lombard

Is the result acceptable?: Maybe. I can’t tell. Rainer probably shouldn’t have won either of the Oscars she won, but on the other hand, her only competition was Carole Lombard. I can live with this decision if she doesn’t win the one after this. But she does — so it’s complicated. I guess we should just say no, right?

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen My Man Godfrey, you’re dead to me.

The Great Ziegfeld is an amazing, amazing film. And a Best Picture winner. You should probably see it.

Valiant is the Word for Carrie is actually a pretty strong film. Not for everyone, but I really liked it, and I recommend it.

Romeo and Juliet is Romeo and Juliet. You know what you’re getting. It’s a 1930s version. Personally, I prefer the Zeffirelli version and the Luhrmann versions as sort of the best and most fun (respectively) of the bunch. This one just sort of is. You really only should see it if you love the story, love 30s films –basically if you want to see them do the film, 30s-style — or love the stars. Otherwise, you’re missing absolutely nothing.

Theodora Goes Wild — entertaining, easy to watch — not essential by any means. I recommend it if you want to give it a shot. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, so it really comes down to whether or not you want to see it.

Rankings:

5) Shearer

4) Dunne

3) George

2) Rainer

1) Lombard

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