The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1927-1928 (Comedy & Dramatic)
(Note: THIS CATEGORY IS NOT FINISHED. I still need to watch one of the nominees. I still have not been able to find Sorrell and Son in any cheap/acceptable format. If anyone has it or knows where it can be procured, let me know, so this category can be finished.)
The very first Best Director category. It’s split up into two. So we’ll deal with one then go into the other one afterward. First let’s recap the year.
Best Picture was also split into two categories. The “Outstanding Production” of the year was Wings, while the “Unique or Artistic Production” went to Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Then Best Actor was Emil Jannings for The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh (talked about here). And Best Actress was Janet Gaynor for Seventh Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise (talked about here). All of them are good decisions.
And these categories — based on what was nominated (for the first one), or simply based on the effort (the second one), they were both good choices (the second being really good).
BEST DIRECTOR – 1927-1928 (Comedy)
And the nominees were…
Lewis Milestone, Two Arabian Knights
Ted Wilde, Speedy
Milestone — Interesting story behind this film. They thought it was lost for years, and then they randomly found a copy in Howard Hughe’s vault. (He produced it.)
The plot is about two soldiers who escape a POW camp and all the adventures they encounter along the way. It’s actually a really solid film. And when you watch it, you can see why it won this award. Milestone really knew how to compose an image.
Wilde — Speedy is basically a Harold Lloyd comedy film. Very slapstick. Plot loosely connected by a series of gags. It’s about him trying to save the last trolley that’s pulled by horses in the city, before they transfer over completely to taxis. It’s about old technology vs. new technology (like that scene in Dodge City and other countless westerns where they race the horse against the train).
There’s really not too much to say here about the direction except — there’s one really good scene of POV driving. Lloyd is in a taxi and the camera is mounted on the front, so you’re speeding around in the car from right on top of the hood. That was really nice. Otherwise, it’s pretty standard.
My Thoughts: I vote Lewis Milestone, since the Speedy direction was standard fare for most of it with the one moment that made me go, “Wow, that’s nice.” But Two Arabian Knights — I was impressed with the direction throughout. When you watch that next to other silent films, you can see that the framing and compositions are really strong and evocative. So I vote Milestone. Plus he’s done so many good films in his career, and All Quiet on the Western Front is worth two Oscars. So he’s my vote.
My Vote: Milestone
Should Have Won: Milestone
Is the result acceptable?: I’m not kidding when I say his All Quiet on the Western Front effort was worth two Oscars. Plus, no Chaplin. If you’re not nominating Chaplin (or Keaton) on this list, does it really matter who wins? Yes, it’s acceptable.
Ones I suggest you see: Two Arabian Knights is definitely worth checking out. It’s a silent film that’s really strong and worth a formal look. And Speedy is Harold Lloyd, so if you like his stuff, you’ll enjoy this.
BEST DIRECTOR – 1927-1928 (Dramatic)
And the nominees were…
Frank Borzage, Seventh Heaven
Herbert Brenon, Sorrell and Son
King Vidor, The Crowd
Borzage — Seventh Heaven is one of my favorite silent films. I saw this in a class I took on silents and fell head over heels in love with it. There’s something about Borzage’s direction that makes him really able to create great emotion from his films.
The film is about Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. He’s a sewer worker who dreams of something more and she’s a woman whose been abused by her sister for years. And at the beginning, we see her sister, an “absinthe addict” (that’s some 1927 censorship for you), beating her severely and her being terribly unhappy. And then she ends up running away from her sister after a particularly vicious beating, and runs into Farrell on his lunch break. And Farrell saves her from her sister, but then ignores her. And she goes to kill herself because she has nothing to look forward to, and he stops her.
And then a cop comes (having arrested the sister) and is going to arrest her too, but Farrell, out of pity, says she’s his wife. And the cop says that they’ll check up on them within the month, and if that’s not true, they’re both in trouble. So he ends up having to take her in for the month, and we see, over the course of the month, how his feelings for her start to change (since she’s pretty much in love with him from the start), and how they fall in love, and get married. It’s really beautiful how Borzage does it. And then, World War I happens, and he goes off to fight. And the rest of the film is basically about how love conquers all (even in the face of absolute, certain, no doubt about it, death). There’s a great scene at the end (that’s both humorous and also somehow works within the context of the film), where we see him get killed, and then like four people come to tell her that he’s dead, and she says, “No he isn’t,” and somehow, no he isn’t. But it’s a terrific film.
Borzage’s direction here is amazing. I should vote for Vidor, since his direction was probably better and because Borzage would win another Best Director for Bad Girl, but I love Seventh Heaven so much, I have to vote for him. It’s a personal favorite. I have to stick by those.
Brenon — Haven’t seen this. It’s impossible to find. I’ll let you know when I see it.
Vidor — The Crowd is an American classic. One of the best films of the silent era.
I don’t really want to try to explain it (since this is a film people unquestionably need to see. Seventh Heaven isn’t necessarily one. The Crowd is mentioned in the same breath of Metropolis. It’s a great film that just happens to be silent. Seventh Heaven you only really hear when you look for great films of the silent era), but basically, it’s about boy meets girl, and their ups and downs as they live in the big city. The idea is that all their personal triumphs and tragedies are all happening in a place where everything continues no matter what happens to individuals. It’s quite an impactful film. It packs quite a punch. Honestly, it’s the best effort in this category. I’m just not voting for it because I love Seventh Heaven so much.
My Thoughts: I’m serious when I say that Vidor is clearly the person who should have won this. I’m really only voting for Borzage because I love the film. (It’s like me voting for Dudley Moore for Arthur even though it was clear Henry Fonda should have won that year. You have to stick by your favorites.) But Vidor really should have won this.
My Vote: Borzage
Should Have Won: Borzage, Vidor
Is the result acceptable?: I say it is, because I love Borzage and I love the effort. But really, Vidor should have won. And also, why wasn’t F.W. Murnau on here for Sunrise? What the hell is that about?
Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen The Crowd, you don’t really love film. Because it’s essential.
If you haven’t seen Seventh Heaven, we can’t be friends.