This first part of the 1931-32 Retro Hollmann Awards focuses on the eight categories not yet added to the Academy Awards - the Supporting Acting categories, the Music categories, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup, and Visual Effects - as well as Best Ensemble. Which is where we're starting:
Million Dollar Legs
2. Grand Hotel; 3. Freaks; 4. The Guardsman; 5. Platinum Blonde
Million Dollar Legs is wall-to-wall comic talent, none of whom give you a moment's opportunity to catch your breath. W.C. Fields' pompous president and Lyda Roberti's kooky seductress are the obvious highlights; there's also wonderfully hilarious menace from the president's cabinet, led by Hugh Herbert, modest physical gags courtesy Andy Clyde, and some of the most straight-faced readings of nonsense from heroine Susan Fleming. Jack Oakie, great with a one-liner, leads.
Grand Hotel isn't the largest cast, but it's certainly the biggest - every star shines brightly. Freaks' ensemble of mostly amateur actors bring a weird energy to an already unique film. The Guardsman is more than its two leads: it's their four supporting players, too! Platinum Blonde gives every cast member a spotlight, even if it's just for one reaction.
Best Supporting Actress
Anna May Wong as Hui Fei
2. Vivienne Osborne in The Dark Horse; 3. Karen Morley in Scarface; 4. Ann Dvorak in Scarface; Daisy Earles in Freaks
Wong's Hui Fei is not atypical in cinema: the mysterious, mostly silent Asian beauty is still present in films like Suicide Squad and The Brothers Bloom. And Hui Fei is not silent entirely, thank goodness, though she does choose her moments carefully - the way she smacks down the snobby Englishwoman with a well-timed line reading and a flick of the wrist is...awesome. But in her silence, there is measurement, calculation: you see her plotting her revenge against Henry Chang, and here her anger is so fixed, the rage so palpable, nothing can distract her. She's who you think about after the final fade out.
The Dark Horse's Maybelle Blake is willing to upend a political campaign to get her alimony; Osborne's sardonic line readings, disgusted sneers, and subtle looks make her a heroine. Scarface's Poppy is Lovo's girl 'til she meets Tony, with Morley's eyes always calculating her next step in being kept. Scarface's Cesca is Tony's sister and fixation; Dvorak plays a girl who loves fun, boys, and her brother, who hates him but needs him. Freaks' Frieda...something about the way Earles' voice breaks when she pleads with Hans just bleeds me.
Best Film Editing
Tarzan the Ape Man
Tom Held / Ben Lewis
2. Scarface; 3. Freaks; 4. Shanghai Express; 5. The Dark Horse
It's not just the mostly seamless blending of footage to create death-defying action sequences. It's the patience with which it develops its characters, the 24-hour courtship of Tarzan and Jane...and, OK, certain of the action sequences, such as the long river crossing amid hostile hippos, or the final sequence involving stampeding elephants. Action and romance doled out in perfect quantities!
Scarface has a thunderous momentum from the first kill all the way to the final shootout. The Dark Horse is rapid-fire funny; its cuts and beats make it so. Shanghai Express is patient, but its action - on and off - hits you right in the chest. Freaks goes by laconically enough, until the noose suddenly tightens around our villains' necks.
Best Visual Effects
2. Tarzan the Ape Man; 3. The Crowd Roars; 4. Waterloo Bridge; 5. White Zombie
Wooden Crosses recreates the explosive battles of WWI. The delays between cannon fire, the sky dotted not with clouds, but puffs of smoke, entire regiments and shelters felled with a single blast. It's big...human...ghastly.
Tarzan the Ape Man constantly puts its cast in danger - steep drops, vicious animals, etc. The Crowd Roars puts its stars on the race track - flames and all. Waterloo Bridge brings bombs to London. White Zombie perches castles on beachside cliffs and Bela Lugosi's face in teacups.
Best Original Song
1. "Jazz Up Your Lingerie" from The Smiling Lieutenant
music by Oscar Straus
lyrics by Clifford Grey
2. "Bend Down, Sister" from Palmy Days
music by Con Conrad
lyrics by Ballard MacDonald and David Silverstein
3. "À nous la liberté" from À nous la liberté
music by Georges Auric
lyric by René Clair
4. "It's Terrific (when I Get Hot)" from Million Dollar Legs
music by Ralph Rainger
lyrics by Leo Robin
5. "Oh! That Mitzi" from One Hour with You
music by Oscar Straus
lyrics by André Hornez
1. À nous la liberté
2. One Hour with You
W. Franke Harling / Oscar Straus
3. Le million
Armand Bernard / Philippe Parès / Georges Van Parys
5. Shanghai Express
W. Franke Harling
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Jack P. Pierce, makeup designer
Pauline Eells, wig maker
2. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; 3. The Guardsman; 4. The Sin of Madelon Claudet; 5. White Zombie
It may be the bias of decades of iconography - but then again, there's a reason Frankenstein's makeup is so iconic. Those shrunken cheeks, the scars, the square flat top, the sunken-in eyes: even in black-and-white, it looks sallow! And as transformative as the makeup is, it does not compromise a second of Boris Karloff's performance, of the Monster's humanity. Bonus points for transforming Dwight Frye into the shaggy hunchback Fritz.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores evolutionary theory in its Hyde conception - and plays with layers for the transformation scene. The Guardsman is all about stage makeup, even opening with The Actress slices off her prosthetic nose. The Sin of Madelon Claudet takes Helen Hayes from beautiful youth to bedraggled...hag? White Zombie's zombies are properly eerie.
Best Costume Design
2. Mata Hari; 3. Daughter of the Dragon; 4. The Guardsman; 5. Grand Hotel
Gowns by Travis Banton, reads the credit; one looks at Marlene Dietrich's feathered ensembles, you'll be gasping; Anna May Wong's outfits may be modestly-patterned and cover everything, but there's a certain thinness to the material that makes her as formidable as Dietrich; Louise Closser Hale's lace and pearls, well, that's the whole tale of Victorian primness, isn't it? Even the men are immediately identifiable from their wardrobe: Lawrence Grant's missionary with the hint of the collar, Warner Oland's European dinner clothes switching to a revolutionary uniform, Clive Brooks' tailored foine-ness. You know who they are just from what they wear!
Mata Hari would have won were it not for Shanghai Express; everything worn by Greta Garbo is stunning. Daughter of the Dragon outfits its ensemble characteristically, making sure Anna May Wong is eye-catching. The Guardsman is all capital-c Costumes. Grand Hotel is chic.
Best Supporting Actor
Guy Kibbee as Zachary Hicks
The Dark Horse
2. Boris Karloff in Frankenstein; 3. Halliwell Hobbes in Platinum Blonde; 4. Warner Oland in Shanghai Express; 5. Osgood Perkins in Scarface
You've seen professional buffoon Guy Kibbee do his professional buffooning in films like Union Depot and Gold Diggers of 1933. His performance in The Dark Horse is a big showcase for all the clownery he's capable of, his open, childlike face the perfect canvas for expressing confusion, excitement, petulance. His introductory scene lets you know who this Zachary Hicks is: a passionate but not very bright man with specific grievances and way-too-tight shoes (who else but Kibbee could so ably sell the way he literally cuts them loose during the convention?). There's not much growth; the whole point of Hicks is that his is a malleable persona, a blank slate 'pon which anything could be projected. But Kibbee makes him flesh without anything like backstory or subtext; he just commits, unfussily, to the whole idea.
Frankenstein's Monster may seem a menace, but the infantile fascination Karloff gives him adds humanity. Platinum Blonde's Smythe the Butler is the perfect servant, but Hobbes gives him plenty of moments to comment silently on the goings-on. Shanghai Express's Henry Chang is an iconic villain, one that Oland imbues with suavity and cruelty. Scarface's Johnny Lovo is a smart enough, but Perkins shows how he's no match for Tony's rabid violence.
Tomorrow, the Screenplay categories, the Lead Acting categories, Best Picture - and more!
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