Tuesday, July 5, 2022

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The 1935 Retro Hollmann Awards: Part One

We wrap up the 1935 retrospective this week with the 1935 Retro Hollmann Awards. You've seen the full slate of nominees, you know the Top Ten - now on with the awards!

Well, six of them, at least. Back in 1935, the Academy Awards were not yet ten years old, they had a lot of growing to do. It would be another year before they added supporting categories, another four before a competitive special effects category, another 13 before Best Costume Design, another 46 before Best Makeup...and Best Ensemble still does not exist, though the Screen Actors Guild has awarded it since 1995. The Hollmann Awards, even the retro ones, honor all categories, but to respect the tradition and the time period, these six categories get their own post. And it's this one!

We begin with Best Ensemble...

Best Ensemble
Sylvia Scarlett
2. Top Hat, 3. Alice Adams, 4. The Clairvoyant, 5. Naughty Marietta

I love the ensemble of Sylvia Scarlett, could not pick a single one to honor for individual acting kudos because they are all so good together, funny, zany, heartbreaking, sexy. Here you get a Cary Grant that's charming and sinister, an Edmund Gwenn that's amusing and tragic, a Brian Aherne that's both caddish and romantic - and, of course, a Katharine Hepburn with the tomboyish appeal made literal, so feminine because she is so boyish.

A shout-out, too, to the runners-up: Top Hat's ensemble is committed to the screwball tone, and everyone shares several scenes together, which is always a treat; both Alice Adams and The Clairvoyant are about families and the way one member becomes the center of gravity for the rest; Naughty Marietta builds a genuine community of its cast.

Best Visual Effects
The Last Days of Pompeii
Harry Redmond, Sr. / Harry Redmond, Jr., special effects
Vernon L. Walker, photographic effects
2. The Bride of Frankenstein, 3. Captain Blood, 4. China Seas, 5. Dante's Inferno

The miniature science experiments in The Bride of Frankenstein, the sea battles of Captain Blood, the storm-at-sea in China Seas, the visions of Hell and high seas disaster in Dante's Inferno: all notable, all worthy. The Last Days of Pompeii, though - hoo! ha! I adore a disaster film and while Pompeii really makes you wait for its explosive finale, once it happens, it's satisfying. A coliseum crumbling, buildings grinding sinners into dust, The Faithful escaping on a ship surrounded by fire, miniatures and rear projection working together to bring Vesuvius and its eruption to life. It's the movie's raison d'ĂȘtre, and it does not disappoint.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The Bride of Frankenstein
Jack P. Pierce, makeup
Irma Kusely, hair
2. A Midsummer Night's Dream, 3. Les Miserables, 4. The Last Days of Pompeii, 5. Werewolf of London

Pierce updates and adjusts his work on Karloff from the original Frankenstein, adding burns and scars to reflect the Monster's experience with the windmill fire. O.P. Heggie gets the big bushy beard treatment. Dwight Frye's bushy-browed ogre. And, of course, Elsa Lanchester big beehive and scarred, sewn face. Iconic looks, all.

Best Supporting Actor
Fred Stone as Virgil Adams
Alice Adams
2. Ernest Thesiger in The Bride of Frankenstein, 3. Victor Jory in A Midsummer Night's Dream, 4. J. Carrol Naish in Black Fury, 5. Frank Morgan in Naughty Marietta

Morgan's governor of New Orleans is a great sidekick, father figure, co-conspirator. Naish's Steve, a magnetic shit-stirrer who makes an impact with audience and characters alike before just vanishing. Jory's Oberon...well, it's one of the best performances I've seen in a Shakespeare film. Thesiger is clearly having a delicious time, making a meal of Dr. Pretorius.

But first place must go to Fred Stone as the patriarch Virgil Adams in Alice Adams. His wife thinks he's pathetic, his boss takes him for granted, his community has no respect for him. Stone's portrayal is of a man not so much pathetic as he is helpless, beaten down, someone for whom the system did not work because, well, he actually respected the spoken rules of it instead of the unspoken understanding of how to actually get ahead. His only solace is the understanding of his daughter Alice; the prospect of her happiness is what finally pushes him to do things he would never do (use a formula he developed for, but which was rejected by, his boss to establish his own business). To Stone's credit, he rarely moves his face beyond exhaustion. He works, he's sick, almost everyone around him is ungrateful - he is tired. But he is decent. I love Virgil Adams because of what Fred Stone brings to Virgil Adams.

Best Costume Design

The Devil is a Woman
Travis Banton
2. A Midsummer Night's Dream, 3. The Crusades, 4. Becky Sharp, 5. Ruggles of Red Gap

This was almost A Midsummer Night's Dream's to lose, with its variety of costumes from nobles to fairies: the Queen of the Amazons captive in her own gown by a snaky collar, Oberon in his night sky cape and leotard wearing a crown of branches, cobweb-gowned Titania. Why, then, The Devil is a Woman, which Spanish police officers notwithstanding, keeps its wardrobe finery to Marlene Dietrich's femme fatale? Baby, they're just so fabulous, these gowns! She doesn't put a rose in her ear, she wears the bouquet as a dress! The veils she wears may half-hide her eyes, lending an air of mystery, but they are so over-the-top that every man is guaranteed to look twice. The style and shape of the lace, whether black or white, whether gown or headpiece, is at once elegant and sinister, a spider's web of glamor, all the better to ensnare. The devil is a woman, and the costumes of Travis Banton are the cape and pitchfork.

Best Supporting Actress
Alice Brady as Matilda Prentiss
Gold Diggers of 1935
2. Elsa Lanchester in The Bride of Frankenstein, 3. Helen Broderick in Top Hat, 4. Mary Clare in The Clairvoyant, 5. Mariya Strelkova in Jolly Fellows

Strelkova as the over-the-top rich bitch, Clare as the concerned momager, Broderick as the sharp-tongued bff, Lanchester as both the hissing bride and her mischievous creator. All these performances, even Lanchester's and Strelkova's, live in a kind of recognizable reality, behaving as human beings do. 

Alice Brady in Gold Diggers of 1935 is a cartoon, all manner and style, her voice trilling in despair over money matters, her hands gesticulating like a parody of an early-silents heroine, her face working to make every line reading italicized, subtext be damned. It is unsubtle. It is hammy. It is perfect. She is meeting her film where it is - this, after all, is a flick where dancing pianos move about on staircases, a character seems to demonstrate an objectophiliac obsession with snuff boxes, and the escapist fantasy "Lullaby of Broadway" ends with an accidental death - that is to say, the movie itself is eccentric, unhinged. Brady is perhaps the most over-the-top of them all, yet she is also the one person who sees through it all, even momentarily - for me, the clencher, the one detail in the performance that gives her the win, is the running joke where she stops a conversation dead, looks unblinkingly into her scene partner's face, and merely murmurs, "Hmmm...." Brady animated the rest of her performance to make this moment hit, and it works, by God, a laugh is guaranteed every time she does it. A beautifully calculated comic performance, the best part of the film.

Six categories, six films honored! Tomorrow, the remaining twelve - music, cinematography, lead acting, and more - including Best Picture of the Year!

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