Monday, October 19, 2020

Top Ten of 1931-32

Here 'tis, my Top Ten for the films released between August 1, 1931 and July 31st, 1932. Apologies to the almost-made-its: À nous la libertéBroken LullabyGrand HotelMata Hari, Million Dollar LegsMurders in the Rue Morgue, and Waterloo Bridge.


Now, the list proper, in alphabetical order:

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Best Motion Picture of the Year: 1931-32, Day Fourteen

The Fifth Academy Awards was the place for screen history: movie debuts, ties, and the one trivia piece everyone gets a kick out of, Grand Hotel winning Best Picture with no other nominations.

What's funny about that Grand Hotel bit is...it wasn't the only lone Best Picture nominee. Of the eight films competing, four were unnominated elsewhere. In addition to the ensemble drama Grand Hotel, there was Five Star Final, about a tabloid ruining the life of a woman trying to get her life back on track; One Hour with You, a musical-comedy in which a happily married couple find their marital bliss threatened by the wife's best friend; and The Smiling Lieutenant, a musical-comedy in which a lieutenant merrily living in sin with a female orchestra leader finds himself betrothed to the princess of a small nation. It's a curious mix of loners, especially alongside based-on-a-bestseller Arrowsmith, two-time Oscar winner Bad Girl, hit weepie The Champ, and dangerously sexy Shanghai Express. So let's talk about it!

Friday, October 16, 2020

Best Actress, 1931-32, Day Thirteen

The story of the fifth Best Actress race is that of the stage. Marie Dressler was already a Hollywood powerhouse and Oscar winner - indeed, she was the reigning champion for Best Actress, thanks to her performance in Min and Bill - but the other two nominees were better known for their theatrical, rather than their cinematic, output. (For more on Marie Dressler, I recommend the You Must Remember This spin-off show Make Me Over; Dressler's career and why it was so unique is covered in one episode by Farran Nehme.)


Lynn Fontanne and husband Alfred Lunt were the King and Queen of Broadway. Though Fontanne had appeared in two earlier films in the silent era, the stage was her true metier. Look up her credits on IBDb, and you'll find consistent work from 1910 - 1958; look up her credits on IMDb, and you'll see four films, two television guest appearances, and three teleplays, including The Magnificent Yankee, which earned her and Lunt Emmy wins. Much was made in 1931 of MGM being able to nab the couple to recreate their smash stage hit of 1924, The Guardsman, and even more so once the success carried over into cinema. Despite Thalberg's best efforts, however, Fontanne and Lunt were not to be swayed: back to the boards of New York they tread.


Helen Hayes was an accomplished stage actress - she would eventually come to be known as the First Lady of the American Stage - when she joined her writer husband in Los Angeles. Once again, MGM did the coaxing, landing Hayes for her screen debut in The Sin of Madelon Claudet...provided they hire her husband to do the adapting, of course. Hayes wasn't crazy about the role or the film, but it led to a long and illustrious screen career, one that she was able to balance alongside a healthy stage career. Her asthma pushed her to retire from theatre work in 1971 after the revival of Harvey, but she continued doing films and TV roles through 1985. She's an EGOT-er, including two Oscars and two Tonys.

And with that intro done, here's they work they were honored for:

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Best Actor: 1931-32, Day Twelve

Norma Shearer presented the award for Best Actor - and to go by Inside Oscar, it was an exciting way to present it. She did the nominees, then the winner was revealed via an audio clip from their performance as the star's photograph was projected behind Norma. Fredric March accepted...and then some time later, the ballot-counters realized that there was only a three point difference between two of the nominees. According to the rules of the time, that meant...A TIE!


Wallace Beery went up a little late, but he accepted his Best Actor trophy. It was the first of only six times this happened, and the first of only twice in the acting categories. Beery and March had just adopted children, so March made a joke about them winning for "best male performance," ha-ha. The third nominee, Alfred Lunt, probably would've felt crunchy about it had he cared. He and his wife Lynn Fontanne were both up for Academy Awards for The Guardsman, recreating their hit stage roles; both also declined MGM contracts so that they could return to treading the boards in New York.

The nominees:

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Best Director: 1931-32, Day Eleven

Five years in, and already the Academy was repeating itself!

The nominees for Best Director, 1931-32, had all been here before. Josef von Sternberg had just been nominated the previous year for Morocco, when he lost to Skippy's Norman Taurog. King Vidor was on his third go-round, having been previously nominated at the Third Academy Awards for the all-Black musical Hallelujah, which he lost to Lewis Milestone for All Quiet on the Western Front, and at the First Academy Awards, where he was nominated for The Crowd. The man he lost to, the first-ever winner for Best Director, was none other than Frank Borzage, nominated then for Seventh Heaven.


And now we have Borzage on his second nomination, for Bad Girl. And guess what? He won again! Two for two? Not so bad, Mr. Borzage. But let's take a closer look, shall we?

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Best Adaptation: 1931-32, Day Ten

Monday, we discussed the nominees for Best Original Story, as presented by the reigning winner for Best Adaptation, Howard Estabrook. Estabrook also presented for, of course, Best Adaptation, which saw three nominated films from a classic, an award winner, and a recent bestseller.


Arrowsmith was published in 1925, the ninth novel by Sinclair Lewis. Lewis won the Pulitzer Prize, but declined it, saying, among other things, that, "All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous." And here we are now discussing its feature film adaptation's Oscar nominations. Lewis is known for his socially conscious novels tackling American issues through various occupations. Among his best-known works are Main Street (adapted for film in 1923 and 1936), Babbitt (adapted for film in 1924 and 1934), Elmer Gantry (adapted for film in 1960), Dodsworth (adapted for film in 1936), and It Can't Happen Here (never adapted).


Bad Girl was published as a novel by Viña Delmar in 1928. She was 23 and it was her first novel, and with the provocative title and subsequent banning of it by some cities, she was bound to be a sensation. A novelist, short story writer, playwright, and screenwriter, Delmar adapted the novel for the stage, and would later write the screenplays for Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) and The Awful Truth (1937, nomination for Best Screenplay).


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came from the 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a mystery with an unbelievable ending written by Robert Louis Stevenson. My goodness, you know Stevenson's work: Treasure Island (1883, over 50 adaptations), Kidnapped (1886, at least nine adaptations), The Black Arrow (1888, at least eight adaptations), A Child's Garden of Verses (1885). Jekyll and Hyde (as it sometimes known) has been adapted countless times, starting in 1908. This is one of the most famous versions, alongside the 1920 version with John Barrymore and the 1990 Broadway musical by Frank Wildhorn.

That's how they started; here's how they ended up:

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Best Original Story: 1931-32, Day Nine

On November 18, 1932, the Motion Picture Academy held its fifth annual awards show at the Ambassador Hotel in the heart of what is now Los Angeles' Koreatown. Academy President Conrad Nagel (an actor whos appeared in five films released during the eligibility window, none of which were nominared or seen by yours truly) was the Master of Ceremonies; he also presented the Short Subject awards as well as a Special Award to walt Disney, for the creation of Mickey Mouse. All that business followed the awarding of Sci-Tech Awards, Sound Recording, Interior Decoration, and Cinematography. And then the writing awards, presented by Howard Estabrook.


Estabrook was the reigning winner of the Best Adaptation Academy Award, which he received for Best Picture Cimarron. I don't know which writing category came first, but I'm starting with....Original Story. Not screenplay, mind you: story. Adaptation and Dialogue were often credited to different writers than the story, a holdover, I imagine, from the scenarist days of silent film. Starting in 1940, there were three writing awards: Story, Story and Screenplay, and Screenplay (for adaptations and screenplays not written by the original scenarist). Things were simplified after the awards for 1956, and from then on, it was just Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay.

That is now, but this was then. The four (?!) nominees for Original Story, 1931-32, were:

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Some Nominees: 1931-32, Day Eight

A week from today, I'll discuss the eight Best Picture nominees, eventually crowning my personal favorite. But there were nine other films nominated in seven categories at the 5th Academy Awards, and while we'll delve into some of those individual elements so honored, here I'd like to talk about the films as a whole.

The Fourth Quarter: 1931-32, Day Seven

These are films released May 1, 1932-July 31, 1932 - the final qualifying quarter for the Fifth Academy Awards:

Monday, October 5, 2020

The First Quarter: 1931-32, Day Four

Today and into Thursday, we're looking at the films released in each quarter of the qualifying period. Excluding the nominated titles, I present the films of August 1, 1931, through October 31st, 1931:

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Sounds Like Paramount: 1931-32, Day Three

Among the many ways the Fifth Academy Awards differed from the ones to come: this was the second and last ceremony in which the Sound Recording category went to the studio's sound department instead of an individual film and its sound engineers. For the second year in a row, the winner was Paramount.


Friday, October 2, 2020

The Joan Blondell Show: 1931-32, Day Two

She wasn't nominated (this year, at least), but how do you talk about the films of 1931-32 without talking about Joan Blondell, she of the bright yellow hair, sardonic wit, and big doe eyes?