Monday, October 26, 2020

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The 1931-32 Retro Hollmann Awards, Part Two

A long and unexpected delay - life does that sometimes! But finally, after 72 films screened, six Oscar categories reexamined and judged, a Top Ten decided, and nine awards given, it's the exciting conclusion of the 1031-32 retrospective: The Retro Hollmann Awards, Part Deux!: 

Best Production Design

Waterloo Bridge
Charles D. Hall, art direction
2. Shanghai Express; 3. Murders in the Rue Morgue; 4. The Mad Genius; 5. White Zombie

The re-creation of WWI London streets, from the shops and theatre marquees all the way to the bridge itself, the skyline of iconic landmarks in the distance. Myra's musty, single-room flat, all planks and beams, with its rooftop access to her best friend's. Compare that to the vastness of the dining room, the study, the gardens of Major wetherby's estate.

Shanghai Express's attention to detail, from train cars to stations to criminal hideaways, is full. Murders in the Rue Morgue embraces German Expressionism and Universal Gothic. The Mad Genius gives us theatre, circus, and new wealth revenge! White Zombie's ever-present cemeteries are the stuff of eerie dreams.

Best Cinematography

1. Shanghai Express
Lee Garmes

2. Tarzan the Ape Man
Clyde De Vinna / Harold Rosson

3. Frankenstein
Arthur Edeson

4. Murders in the Rue Morgue
Karl Freund

5. Mata Hari
William H. Daniels

Best Actor
Paul Muni as Tony Camonte
2. Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; 3. Stuart Erwin in Make Me a Star; 4. Alfred Lunt in The Guardsman; 5. Colin Clive in Frankenstein

Pacino's Tony Montana is introduced with an immovable countenance, stonewalling immigration and Miami police, defiantly unsmiling. Muni's Tony Camonte, by contrast, bears a wicked, boyish grin, and there's a childish exuberance in his approach to crime. It's all, "Gimme, gimme, I want it," whether it's a broad, a new kind of gun, or control of Chicago's gangland. When he doesn't get his way, he throws deadly tantrums; when he does get his way, he's surprisingly sweet and celebratory. He's scarred and has terrible hair, but he's still handsome, and that boyish quality gives him an unexpected charm. Muni does little else to endear us to him - he's a psycho, a murderer, a child, what is there to sympathize with? - yet there's this ineffable quality to the performance that has one feel sick when he gets his comeuppance at the end. A Movie Star performance, one of the best.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are both beautifully embodied by March. Make Me a Star's Merton is plausibly naive in the hands of Erwin. The Guardsman is an invention of The Actor, and The Actor is a masterful comic creation of Lunt's. Frankenstein is heartbreaking, you can see it and hear it in Clive's every moment.

Best Sound
Tarzan the Ape Man
Douglas Shearer, recording director
Paul Neal, sound
2. Freaks; 3. The Crowd Roars; 4. Monkey Business; 5. Scarface

An obvious winner, for what is Tarzan without the chatter of the chimpanzee, the roar of the leopard, the stampeding of elephant feet, the chilling everywhere-yet-nowhere of forest noises, and, of course, that famous Tarzan cry, summoning the animals, summoning Jane, declaring himself King of the Jungle? Detailed work, carefully configured.

Freaks' eerie music and haunting screams (with this second and Tarzan first, I suppose in 1931-32 I would have given my vote to MGM's sound department). The Crowd Roars' screaming fans, racing tires, crackling flames. Monkey Business' chaotic deck chases, record players, Punch and Judy. Scarface's bullets and beatings.

Best Actress
Miriam Hopkins as Princess Anna
The Smiling Lieutenant
2. Mae Clarke in Waterloo Bridge; 3. Joan Crawford in Possesed; 4. Lynn Fontanne in The Guardsman; 5. Barbara Stanwyck in Forbidden

Miriam Hopkins' neurotic energy in The Smiling Lieutenant must be seen to be believed. It is not merely a question of her ability to play the Princess's sexual naivete, childish pouting, and royal entitlement; she is a bonafide weirdo with her line readings and physicality, an off-putting presence in any situation. And it works! It works so marvelously, you miss her when she's not on screen. She's genuinely funny, but also genuine: you do believe her side of the love story, and when she strikes that climactic pose at the piano, you know a happy ending is in store for her, probably as many times as she'd like.

As Waterloo Bridge's Myra Deauville, a prostitute who falls in love with a wealthy young soldier, Clarke gives a warm and gutting performance that just came in second. Marian Martin may be Possessed, but Crawford shows her to be her own woman. The Guardsman has a unique challenge in The Actress, and Fontanne has you constantly guessing her game. Forbidden is the life Lulu Smith shares with her married lover, but Stanwyck toughens it out over twenty years.

Best Director
Tod Browning
2. Josef von Sternberg for Shanghai Express; 3. Howard Hawks for Scarface; 4. René Clair for À nous la liberté; 5. W.S. Van Dyke for Tarzan the Ape Man

I honestly feel that the other four directors have delivered more polished work: consistently good performances, beautiful cinematography, terrific handling of story. But no other movie feels like Freaks, and that's a credit to Tod Browning's singular talent as not only a director, but as someone who can so clearly, so obviously see the movie just waiting to be made on the most unexpected subjects. No one but Browning would make a seemingly aimless ensemble film about sideshow performers, and even if they did, I doubt they would ever make it the way he does. It's a straightforward movie, blunt about baths and drunkenness and sex; it's a dreamy movie, with glamor-lit Daisy Earles and nightmare shadows for a knife-wielding Schlitze. It's Browning's masterpiece.

Von Sternberg gives you something fresh in every frame of Shanghai Express. Hawks has the best instincts for showcasing Scarface's ensemble and delivering excitement. Clair's work on À nous la liberté is as oddly particular as Browning's. Van Dyke makes Tarzan the Ape Man a romantic himbo hero worth rooting for - and the love story worth sobbing for.

Best Adapted Screenplay
screen story by Ben Hecht
dialogue by Seton I. Miller & John Lee Mahin & W.R. Burnett
from the novel by Armitage Trail
2. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; 3. Possessed; 4. Grand Hotel; 5. Tarzan the Ape Man

Everything I said about Muni's above is backed by the screenplay. But there's more! I love the subtle development of the relationship between Cesca and Rinaldo, the impotence of the expected "preaching to the audience" scene, the single-minded brutality of the cop pursuing Tony, Lovo's arc from boss to pest, the various uses of a barbershop, the emphasis on Tony's momma, the emergence of the tommy gun, the steel doors for the windows...

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sees man's duality too clearly. Possessed is sex-positive, non-judgmental. Grand Hotel balances its cast of characters and sees the inevitability of its shocking turn. Tarzan the Ape Man is...just so lovely!

Best Original Screenplay
À nous la liberté
René Clair
2. The Dark Horse; 3. Mata Hari; 4. Forbidden; 5. Million Dollar Legs

À nous la liberté takes a pair of convicts: one escapes and becomes a multi-millionaire music manufacturing mogul, the other does his time and tries to romance a young lady who happens to work at the music factory. Clair's screenplay charts a clear parallel between prison life and factory life, the leech of a profit-driven society.

The Dark Horse is wickedly funny. Mata Hari is a romantic yarn in non-fiction armor. Forbidden is an intimate tale of long-term consequences. Million Dollar Legs is laugh-out-loud, every time.

Best Motion Picture of the Year
produced by Howard Hawks / Howard Hughes
2. Freaks; 3. Frankenstein; 4. Shanghai Express; 5. Tarzan the Ape Man
6. The Smiling Lieutenant; 7. The Dark Horse; 8. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
9. The Guardsman; 10. Possessed

There you have it! Scarface wins Best Picture, tying Shanghai Express for most wins at three apiece. 

Start getting prepped, though, because we're spending December with the films of 1970: Airport, Five Easy Pieces, Love StoryMASHPatton, and more!

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