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The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1935

I consider 1935 the first year where the Academy can truly be critiqued. All of the double years are really just them figuring stuff out, and then 1934 was when they came out and were like, “We got it!” That sweep of It Happened One Night in 1934 was basically them really stating what they felt they were all about. So, to me, this is the first year where you can really say, “You know, I don’t agree with that.” From here on out, you can disagree with the decisions the way we do now.

Mutiny on the Bounty is a great film and a classic film, and it makes sense that it won Best Picture. Though it is a bit strange that it didn’t also win Best Director (or maybe the other way round, that The Informer didn’t win Best Picture). Best Director went to John Ford for The Informer (talked about here), which was totally deserved (and it kept Frank Lloyd from winning a third Oscar. He’s not exactly Capra, you know?). Victor McLaglen also won Best Actor for the film (talked about here), which was definitely deserved (plus his competition was Charles Laughton, Clark Gable and Paul Muni, who, respectively, won Best Actor the year before this, the year before that, and the year after this, so it worked out just fine). And Best Actress was Bette Davis for Dangerous (talked about here), which I don’t like at all, but don’t care about because the person who should have won based on performance (Katharine Hepburn) already had an Oscar.

The other note about 1935 is that is was (outside of it being one of only two years in Academy history in which write-in votes were allowed, the other being 1934) that this is the year that led to the creation of the Supporting categories. Franchot Tone, nominated for Best Actor this year, was really no more than a supporting character in Mutiny on the Bounty, but there was no category for supporting performances. So I feel like that led to them creating the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress categories, to better fit performances like that. That’s probably not true, but as a screenwriter, I like making connections like that, that seem to fit easily enough. So I’m going with it.

Other than that — 1935 was a pretty good year. There were really only two films that were gonna win, and they split Picture and Director, so really it comes down to personal preference.

BEST PICTURE – 1935

And the nominees are…

Alice Adams (RKO Radio)

The Broadway Melody of 1936 (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Captain Blood (Warner Bros. Cosmopolitan)

David Copperfield (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

The Informer (RKO Radio)

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (Paramount)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Warner Bros.)

Mutiny on the Bounty (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Les Misérables (20th Century, United Artists)

Naughty Marietta (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Ruggles of Red Gap (Paramount)

Top Hat (RKO Radio)

Alice Adams — This is a pretty simple film, and yet, I loved every minute of it.

Katharine Hepburn is a lower-class girl who comes from a regular family. She wants to be accepted into high society, but everyone looks down on her because her family is poor. And she goes to this party (which is very embarrassing for her, since she has to wear the same dress she wore last time — most girls have a new dress each time, she only has one — and because she has to take her brother as her date), thrown by the wealthiest girl in town. And while there, she manages to meet Fred MacMurray, a wealthy man who is more interested in her than the boring rich girls. And they start talking, and eventually Hepburn invites him over for dinner. And then she makes this whole ado about the dinner, trying to make it respectable like a rich family would do it, and it’s a nice comic sequence because it goes embarrassingly (for her) wrong. But then MacMurray says he doesn’t care and likes her for who she is. And then there’s this other plot about the father and all this other stuff — the film is really good.

I was actually surprised at how good this was. I went in like, “Oh great, a Katharine Hepburn movie.” And then it was interesting. And then it was good. And then it was really good. And she was actually really great in it (to the point where I feel she should have won Best Actress this year, in that category). A lot of that probably has to do with George Stevens being the director. That man just makes great films.

In terms of this category, though, this film won’t contend. There are three films above it, and this just doesn’t fit in that group. So, it’s good, but I can’t vote for it.

The Broadway Melody of 1936 — These Broadway Melody films are all basically the same. Stories, music — put on a show. This one has a girl trying to get her former boyfriend to put her in his show, but he’s sleeping with the widow backing the show, so then she starts impersonating this famous French dancer, not realizing that the woman is totally made up by a gossip columnist to sell more papers. And there are romantic angles and stuff and they put on the show — it’s very standard stuff. The difference here is that there are no innuendos and double entendres like there were back in 1933, so the whole thing is just boring.

Pretty sure most people would rank this as either the bottom film in this category or the one right above it. It’s not here if this is a list of ten films. It’s filler.

Captain Blood — Captain Blood is kind of like an Errol Flynn version of “Robin Hood” before Adventures of Robin Hood. It’s not, but — you can tell. I mean, it’s a swashbuckler, so they’re all similar, but — well, just listen to what it’s about:

Errol Flynn is a doctor who cares for a man who opposes the crown. He is arrested for treason simply for being a doctor. He is sentenced to death, but then the king decides he can make some money off of them so he sells them into slavery. Then he is bought by Olivia de Havilland, who makes him the personal physician of the governor. But he still works to escape with his fellow prisoners, and they do, and they become pirates. And Flynn fights Basil Rathbone (who is of course the villain), and then eventually ends up being pardoned and brought back into the Royal Navy.

It’s a great film. A lot of fun. Not as good as Robin Hood, but really great. I can’t vote for it here, though, because the category is too strong. It’s no 1938. So I can’t vote for this. But it’s a lot of fun.

The Informer — This film is brilliant. Probably John Ford’s most psychological film. And it shows. The mood here is so ominous.

Victor McLaglen is an Irishman who informs on his best friend, who is a member of the IRA, for $20 (or, pounds. I was just too lazy to figure out the keyboard code for the pound symbol). They all come from a very poor town, so the reward is enticing to everyone. Though they all know it’s basically blood money, since they know what’ll happen to the man when they inform on him. And he does it anyway, since he really wants to sail to America with his girlfriend, and the reward will help him do that. So he does, and the rest of the film is him being wracked with guilt over having done it. It’s really terrific. We slowly see him getting more and more unraveled as the film goes on. It’s incredible.

I liked this film a lot. All around, this film is good enough to rival Mutiny on the Bounty for a win. All things considered. (Because I do take into account what would fit as an Oscar-winner.) Even so, it’s definitely a finalist. It’s gonna be between this and Top Hat for me.

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer — This is one of those films that a lot of people seem to really like that I just didn’t. I didn’t hate it, I just was completely indifferent toward it. Which is weird. I just wasn’t interested. I even watched it a second time just to be sure. And yeah — I just don’t care about this film one way or another.

Gary Cooper is a Bengal Lancer. The son of his commander is transferred into the unit. The commander tries to treat the kid impartially so as not to show favoritism. Then the kid gets kidnapped. The commander refuses to go rescue him (since he can’t ignore protocol for personal reasons. Though he is pushing too far in the opposite direction). Then Cooper goes to rescue the kid anyway. The kid is tortured and gives up information, but they come to his rescue and they win anyway.

It’s not a bad film. It’s not. I just don’t care about it. Though this is the film with the “we have ways of making men talk” line, as they torture the kid. Either way, this never had a shot here, simply because of the competition. Most people wouldn’t put this higher than fourth. So it doesn’t matter what I think of it, since it would never win.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream — I preface most Shakespeare films by saying I don’t normally do Shakespeare. Most of the time, the films end up all being too similar, because there are normally only a few ways you can skin that cat. Sometimes they find a really fun way of telling it (like Baz Luhrmann), but by and large — seen one Hamlet, seen ’em all. And in order to really enjoy the different versions, you need to at least care about the play enough to enjoy the different stagings of it. I’m not that person, just because they all feel stagy to me. (Or they’re modern retellings which are almost always boring and contrived.) So generally you’ll only see me like one version of a Shakespeare play. Hamlet — Olivier. Romeo and Juliet — the Zeffirelli version (I consider the Luhrmann version its own animal). Henry V — actually, Olivier and Branagh both turned in good ones there. Othello — I don’t know. I don’t really like that play that much. But Midsummer Night’s Dream — this one. This one by far.

I really enjoyed this film because of how they shot this. There are a lot of great camera tricks, great lighting. They did this thing where they have sparkles just lingering around the frame when the fairies show up. It looked really nice. (You can tell the film was amazingly shot because its cinematographer, Hal Mohr, is the only write-in candidate to actually win an Oscar. The cinematography here was so good, even though he wasn’t nominated, he still received enough write-in votes to actually win the award. That’s the only time in history that’s ever happened.)

I didn’t care for the story at all, but the technical specs of this film are awesome. And you get James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, Dick Powell, Joe E. Brown. So on all those levels, I really enjoyed this. And that’s enough for me. And also, for some reason Olivia de Havilland enters all her scenes in this movie looking like she just had some really good sex off-camera before each take. (Seriously, watch it. You’ll see what I mean.) I really enjoyed that. Especially since Dick Powell is not exactly Errol Flynn. Here’s a dude that made those sexually suggestive numbers in the Busby Berkeley films seem almost innocent. It’s kinda like Taylor Swift covering a Madonna song. That whore edge just gets taken off because of the wholesomeness involved.

As for the film in this category — no. Can’t vote for it. Liked it, but this film’s strengths are in the technical categories and not in it being the best picture.

Oh, also, I want to mention — there’s a weird boy in this film who only speaks in jungle grunts, primitive screams and iambic pentameter. It’s really weird. Imagine that kid from Jungle 2 Jungle (I totally just dropped that reference) mixed with Bam Bam from The Flintstones throwing pixie dust and turning James Cagney into a donkey. (Though there are some really nice camera tricks with him, the kid. He turns into a dog in one shot, and also a flame. And he does one of those disappearing tricks like Méliès films. Some Cook in Trouble stuff.)

Mutiny on the Bounty — Most people should know what this film is about. The Bounty, Captain Bligh, cruel bastard, men hate him. They mutiny, send him out to sea. They go to Tahiti to live the good life. He manages to make his way back to England using his sea skills and court-martials those he feels are responsible. It’s a classic.

The film is great, and is probably the best version of the story told. Well, this and the 1962 version are different. So they sort of act alongside one another. This film is more about Bligh, whereas the ’62 version is more about showing off how beautiful Tahiti is. (It’s like that with every one of these films. The 30s version is the straight story version, and the 50s/60s version — like A Star is Born or Pygmalion — is overly indulgent and has all the bells and whistles (though no songs with this one). Neither are bad, you just can’t compare the two directly. They work more in tandem.)

Either way, this is an amazing film, and is one of the top three here. I just don’t love this as much as I love The Informer or Top Hat, so as cool as I am with this winning, I really just don’t want to vote for it. It just feels like too boring a choice for me. I’m okay with the choice, but I don’t want to vote for it.

Les Misérables — They’re remaking this film this year, so a lot of people are gonna be familiar with the story if they aren’t already. That’s nice. Especially since — I really loved this movie. I was shocked. I watched a bunch of these films in a row — David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Anthony Adverse, Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, this — and I disliked a lot of them. Not specifically from that list, just, in general. Those literary adaptations. And I got to this, and I was just so depressed. Well, not depressed, just — “Man, these films are so tiresome to get through.” You just feel heavy. Like you’re mired in a deep pit of movies you don’t like, and they just weigh on you. Some movies feel like work. These feel like being stuck in a dead-end job that you hate, and realizing every day that it’s always Monday and is never Friday.

These were the type of movies that require so much effort to get through that once they’re over, you just need to stop watching movies and put on some junk food. You have to realize — when I was watching these movies, I was doing five, six, seven movies a day. Just banging them out. And when I got to these, it was kind of like I had to sit through Shoah for three viewings in a row. And after them, I literally had to turn my brain off for an entire weekend just to get back on track. When these were done, I literally put on The Mummy and The Mummy Returns that night, and spent the rest of the weekend watching — actually, I think I put on the Rings trilogy. But anyway — that’s what these were like. The group. Not the individual films (some of them). And I was just trying to power through them all, since I deliberately saved them for the very end of my watching all the Best Picture nominees (this was like, February 2011), so it was really rough. But the fact that I really liked this film should tell you something. Because when you’re on a run like that, it takes a really strong film to get you out of it.

The film is about Jean Valjean, who is an ex-con who doesn’t report to his parole and then becomes a wanted fugitive for twenty years. And Charles Laughton is Inspector Javert, who pursues him the entire time.  It’s — just see it. It’s amazing. I’m hoping that the musical that’s coming out will be good, and then I can treat the pair like I treat My Fair Lady and Pygmalion and the ’37 and ’54 Star is Borns.

This is a film that, in a weaker year (that is, when there weren’t three films to vote for), I’d consider for a vote. But I don’t like voting for films like this, even though I really liked this one, so there’s no way it would ever hang with the three top films here, for me. So I can’t vote for it. But it’s great. I really liked it a lot.

Naughty Marietta — This is probably the second weakest overall film in the category. If there were only ten nominees, this would have a good chance at being one of the two that didn’t make it. I think. Then again, who knows with the Academy?

The film is about a princess who doesn’t want to go through with her arranged marriage so she trades places  with her maid and travels to New Orleans. And while there, she falls in love with a sailor. That’s basically the film. It’s one of those musicals. So there are comic scenes and songs and stuff. Though there’s a lot of that opera-style singing, which I really don’t like. Though the main song of this film is, “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life!” which is the song that best exemplifies that style of singing. And they sing it like six times over the course of the film, too. It got really annoying after a while. And then funny.

Anyway, yeah. It’s an enjoyable enough film, but it had absolutely no shot here.

Ruggles of Red Gap — This film surprised me. I really enjoyed this.

The film is about Charles Laughton as a butler who has faithfully served his house for many years. Then one day his master loses him as part of a bet to some nouveau riche Americans. So the Americans bring him back with them. And when he gets there (since he’s British), people think he’s a wealthy nobleman, so everyone treats him like a celebrity. And as he lives in this town, he starts realizing he has his own freedoms as a person (since he’s only ever been a butler), and eventually he gives up being a butler and opens his own restaurant.

It’s a really good film. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I guess it’s because it’s similar to The Remains of the Day, which I love. But I really liked this. I thought it was funny, and poignant. Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that he won two years earlier, between this and Mutiny on the Bounty, Laughton wins Best Actor this year. Anyway, the film is great, but I can’t vote for it. It just doesn’t hold up among the heavy hitters. It’s a strong mid-range film at best.

Top Hat — And, Top Hat. I like that we end with this. Twelve films are a lot to get through. But when you end with this one, it feels all right.

The film is a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film, which should tell you how great it is right there. The film is about Fred as a dancer who has come to star in a show in London. And he practices one of the routines in his room and wakes up Ginger, who lives below him. She comes up to yell at him and he falls in love with her. And then he starts following her all over London. And — it’s a screwball. I don’t want to ruin it. It’s amazing. This might be their best film. This also has the song “Cheek to Cheek” in it, which is one of their absolute best.

This film is perfect. I love it so much, and I feel we’d all be well within our rights to vote for this in this category. To me, The Informer and Mutiny on the Bounty are the two “Oscar” choices, and this is that all around choice that nobody could fault. It’s between those three.

My Thoughts: Well — Mutiny on the Bounty and The Informer are the two best choices in terms of film and “Oscar”-ness. At first I thought the vote was simply between those two, but, honestly — I love Top Hat. I really love it. So I’m gonna vote for that. I don’t care. It’s a win-win no matter what happens for me. I’d have taken any result.

My Vote: Top Hat

Should Have Won: The Informer, Mutiny on the Bounty, Top Hat

Is this result acceptable?: Oh yeah. It’s a classic. It might not be as beloved as the two films it beat (maybe), but it’s definitely an acceptable choice (at worst). It’s certainly not a bad choice.

Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Top Hat, The Informer or Mutiny on the Bounty, you’re dead to me, you don’t really love movies, and what’s wrong with you?

You should definitely see Alice Adams. It’s one of the best films of the 30s. Not essential, but highly, highly, recommended.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is amazing. Watch the photography in this film. It’s incredible. A technical landmark of the 30s. Essential in some ways, still very highly recommended.

Les Misérables is amazing. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it (since I disliked a lot of those classic literary films of the mid-30s), but I really loved it a lot. I recommend this very highly. And considering I didn’t like most of the films of this sort, that’s saying something.

Captain Blood is a classic, and might well be essential. It’s a lot of fun, so — screw it, let’s say you need to see it.

Ruggles of Red Gap is so good. It’s such a good movie. You probably haven’t heard about it, but I bet you’ll enjoy the hell out of it. It’s definitely a gem of this Quest that nobody knows about.

Naughty Marietta — yeah, it’s fun. Not amazing, but worth a watch.

Lives of a Bengal Lancer — meh, I didn’t care for it. Lots of people do, though, so I’ll mention it. I say take it or leave it.

David Copperfield I did not like at all, but it’s a classic book, so some people might really like it.

Broadway Melody — I say skip it. You don’t need to see it. You could, though. It’s not bad. I just didn’t care for it. I’ve seen it before several times, so it wasn’t remotely interesting for me.

Rankings:

12) The Broadway Melody of 1936

11) David Copperfield

10) The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

9) Naughty Marietta

8) Captain Blood

7) Ruggles of Red Gap

6) A Midsummer Night’s Dream

5) Les Misérables

4) Mutiny on the Bounty

3) Alice Adams

2) The Informer

1) Top Hat

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