Yeesh. What happened here? I can’t explain at all what happened in 1937. The best I can figure is that at this point, the Academy became self-conscious and was trying to do the “Academy” thing, but didn’t really have a choice there. That’s really all I can come up with because I don’t understand it at all.
It’s not that The Life of Emile Zola is a bad film — far from it — it’s just a weak Best Picture winner. It doesn’t hold up at all, and is now one of the worst ten Best Picture winners of all time because of that. The film also won Best Supporting Actress for Joseph Schildkraut (talked about here), which is a bad decision in execution, simply because Schildkraut is barely on screen in the film, but a good one in theory, since the role (Captain Dreyfus, of the Dreyfus Affair) is one that would win this award. Add to that the weak category and it does make some sense. Then, Best Actor was Spencer Tracy for Captains Courageous (talked about here), which I don’t understand but can accept, given the category. It’s really his win the year after this I don’t like. Then Best Actress was Luise Rainer again for The Good Earth (talked about here), another one where she sneaks in. It’s not a particularly good decision, and yet, I can see exactly how it happened. (Still don’t like it, though.) Best Supporting Actress was Alice Brady for In Old Chicago (talked about here), which makes sense, since she was a respected character actress and was playing Mrs. O’Leary (her cow was allegedly what started the great Chicago Fire), but I still feel like Andrea Leeds should have won there. And Best Director was Leo McCarey for The Awful Truth (talked about here), which was a great decision, only for the wrong film. If you’ve ever seen Make Way for Tomorrow, you know that’s the film he really won for this year. Either way, he deserved it.
So, overall — 1937 — probably one of the weakest years in Academy history, in terms of winners and nominees. It’s just not very memorable. Again, this is one of those years that’s memorable for what didn’t win instead of what won. That’s never a good situation to be in.
BEST PICTURE – 1937
And the nominees are…
The Awful Truth (Columbia)
Captains Courageous (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Dead End (Goldwyn, United Artists)
The Good Earth (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
In Old Chicago (20th Century Fox)
The Life of Emile Zola (Warner Bros.)
Lost Horizon (Columbia)
One Hundred Men and a Girl (Universal)
Stage Door (RKO Radio)
A Star Is Born (Selznick International, United Artists) (more…)