The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1932-1933
This was the last year of the “double years” of the Academy, and it’s fitting. 1932-1933 was the last year before everything became completely “classical” as we know it to be. By around, 1932, Hollywood had perfected sound and started telling stories freely. However, the issue that then arose was one of censorship. There were many scandals out of Hollywood in the 20s and it soiled the industry’s reputation. So they basically started self-censoring, creating a list of “Don’ts and Be Carefuls,” of things filmmakers should avoid putting on screen. It wasn’t something that had to be adhered to, so some people didn’t necessarily listen to it. So you had these “Pre-Code” films, as they came to be known, which were, in the words of Dick Powell in The Bad and the Beautiful, “liberally peppered with sex.” And the government was fixing to come down on them if they didn’t stop it, fast. So after 1933, they passed the Production Code (enforced by Will Hays. Which got it the nickname “Hays Code”), which was basically a list of things that couldn’t be shown on screen (and was basically an early form of the MPAA, in that, if you didn’t follow the guidelines of the system, you couldn’t get your film distributed in major theaters. Not having a production code seal was like being rated NC-17.) So this is the real last year of the party, so to speak. Which is fitting that this was the last year before the Oscars really became “the Oscars.”
This last year was basically a free-for-all for Best Picture. It was the first year of ten nominees, and I don’t think the Academy quite knew what to vote for. I think they fell back on classy stage material, which can explain how Cavalcade won Best Picture and Best Director for Frank Lloyd (talked about here). Best Actor was Charles Laughton for The Private Life of Henry VIII (talked about here), which I don’t particularly like as a decision (based on the category), but was a helpful decision in that it kept him from winning in other years where he really shouldn’t have won. And Best Actress was Katharine Hepburn for Morning Glory (talked about here), which — the category only had three nominees, and she was really the best in the bunch. It was a star-making performance, and it showed. I understand that completely.
The real question about this year is the Best Picture decision. It’s not that it’s a bad film, it’s just that one other film held up better. So, in a way, it feels like one of those years where they go with the “Academy” decision and overlook the film that’s clearly a better choice. And as a result, this is one of the weakest Best Picture winners of all time, and is certainly one of the two most forgotten (next to The Broadway Melody).
BEST PICTURE – 1932-1933
And the nominees were…
42nd Street (Warner Bros.)
A Farewell to Arms (Paramount)
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Warner Bros.)
Lady for a Day (Columbia)
Little Women (RKO Radio)
The Private Life of Henry VIII (London Films, United Artists)
She Done Him Wrong (Paramount)
Smilin’ Through (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
State Fair (Fox) (more…)