Wednesday, July 6, 2022

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The 1935 Retro Hollmann Awards: Part Two

Six down, twelve to go! After yesterday's spreading-of-the-wealth, the 1935 Retro Hollmann Awards conclude today with Music Awards, Writing Awards, Lead Acting, Production Design, Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Director, and Best Picture of the Year! Remember to reacquaint yourself with the complete roster of nominees and the Top Ten.

Now, on with the show:

Best Score
1. The Bride of Frankenstein
Franz Waxman
2. Jolly Fellows
Isaak Dunaevskiy
3. The Informer
Max Steiner
4. She
Max Steiner
5. Captain Blood
Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Best Production Design

Dante's Inferno
Duncan Cramer / David S. Hall, art direction
2. Black Fury, 3. The Last Days of Pompeii, 4. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 5. The Wandering Jew

A film that takes you from the boiler room of a trans-Atlantic steamer to the dining room of a gambling ship, from the tents of a traveling carnival to the boardwalk of a permanent pleasure palace. Naturally, it saves its greatest coup for the titular inferno: from the low-rent approximation at film's beginning to the expensive, multi-level centerpiece of that boardwalk fairground, and then, finally, Hell itself, all twisting limbs and tortured souls that bend and writhe together to make up the ground, the flora, the architecture of eternal damnation. Practical and fantastical spaces, plus our ideas of such in between? That's variety, masterfully carried out. 

Best Original Screenplay
Dante's Inferno
Philip Klein and Robert Yost
2. A Night at the Opera, 3. The Crusades, 4.The Man Who Knew Too Much, 5. Shanghai

Classic Hollywood: take the title of a well-known work, barely use some of the original material, make a new thing of it. When it works, it's just terrific. Dante's Inferno works, using The Divine Comedy as a backdrop and a source material for some lesson-learning, surrounding it with the story of how a man's pursuit of the American Dream causes the erosion of his soul - and those around him. I think it's clever how it wraps its story back to the boilers, and its depiction of success that's both sudden and gradual is pretty grounded.

But it was a tight race, since A Night at the Opera is one of the funniest films of all time, The Crusades is worthy of Shakespeare in its "adjustment" of history for melodrama, The Man Who Knew Too Much's increasingly bizarre stakes are nightmarish and a pleasure, and Shanghai offers an incisive look at white supremacy in an Asian city.

Best Director
James Whale
The Bride of Frankenstein
2. Grigoriy Aleksandrov for Jolly Fellows, 3. John Ford for The Informer, 4. Karl Freund for Mad Love, 5. Michael Curtiz for Black Fury

The Bride of Frankenstein is an auteur vision. This is the work of a man who feels passionately about the dangers of science (The Invisible Man, anyone?), who society considers worthy of participation (not unrelated to Waterloo Bridge), how do we define a monster (Frankenstein...obviously). The writing calls attention to its origins as a nightmare bedtime story; Whale runs with this visually, working with cinematographer John J. Mescall to create indelible, fantastical imagery, from Pretorius's first entrance to the cutting of "He isn't human!" It's more than just a great film, it's better than the original, maybe even the best Universal Monsters film, I don't know, I'll have to rewatch The Wolf Man. I love James Whale.

Best Original Song
1. "Alone" from A Night at the Opera
music by Nacio Herb Brown
lyrics by Arthur Freed
2. "No Strings (Fancy Free)" from Top Hat
music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
3. "Cheek to Cheek" from Top Hat
music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
4. "Lullaby of Broadway" from Gold Diggers of 1935
music by Harry Warren
lyrics by Al Dubin
5. "Congo Lullaby" from Sanders of the River
music by Mischa Spoliansky
lyrics by Arthur Wimperis

Best Cinematography

1. A Midsummer Night's Dream
Hal Mohr

2. The Crusades
Victor Milner

3. The Bride of Frankenstein
John J. Mescall

4. Peter Ibbetson
Charles Lang

5. Black Fury
Byron Haskin

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Informer
Dudley Nichols
from the novel by Liam O'Flaherty
2. Black Fury, 3. The Clairvoyant, 4. Alice Adams, 5. Les Miserables

Bit of a spoiler - this is the only Oscar winner that's also winning at the Hollmanns. As I said: " captures the desperation and shortsightedness of such a man [as Gypo Nolan, the informer], the severity with which the IRA enacts its justice, the mercy of [martyr] McPhillip's family, the ominous anonymity of the Black and Tans."

Black Fury and The Clairvoyant are here because they are both unique, surprising stories in well-worn genres. Alice Adams is here for its frank appreciation of an oddball family. Les Misérables is here for its laser-focus on which aspect of that tome to adapt.

Best Actor
Claude Rains as Maximus
The Clairvoyant
2. Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, 3. Victor McLaglen in The Informer, 4. Boris Karloff in The Bride of Frankenstein, 5. Peter Lorre in Crime and Punishment

The kind of role that could easily trip one up, especially in those scenes when he suddenly gets a vision and monotones a prophecy. How does Rains get away with it? In the first place, he lets us know from the outset that this is more curse than miracle, his seer troubled by the visions, haunted in the eyes. In the second place, he makes sure there is enough contrast between that side of Maximus and his showman side, the man who takes pleasure in working with his wife, negotiating a better deal for himself, satisfied with being an entertainer, a fake, rather than the real thing. Money is his motivation, and it's when he's altruistic that things go wrong (love that), and yet this never comes across as greedy or cutthroat. That's the script, yes, but it's also in the genial performance Rains gives: this is a working-class man, first and foremost, whose trade happens to be music hall shows. The genuine clairvoyance is a surprise and an inconvenience, but it is exciting to see him quickly suss out the benefits such a power, such a reputation, can offer his family. Warm and tragic, it's the role that shows what Rains can do when he's centerstage - the answer, it seems, is everything.

And that just puts him ahead of Flynn's Movie Star magnetism, McLaglen's unsanded patheticness, Karloff's deeply human resentment, and Lorre's guilt.

Best Film Editing
Jolly Fellows
Esfir Tobak
2. A Night at the Opera, 3. The Bride of Frankenstein, 4. Captain Blood, 5. Mad Love

The comedy of A Night at the Opera, the suspense of The Bride of Frankenstein, the action of Captain Blood, the terror of Mad Love. And then we have Jolly Fellows, aka Moscow Laughs, aka Happy-Go-Lucky Fellows. It is absolutely wild to watch chaos unfold at this level, and while of course, the staging of it is thrilling enough, Tobak's work in making every laugh hit, every insanity navigable, is stupendous. Not a gag is missed, and never at the detriment of the film's pace. Rollicking good time.

Best Sound
The Bride of Frankenstein
Gilbert Kurland, sound supervisor
William Hedgcock, sound technician
2. A Night at the Opera, 3. Captain Blood, 4. Top Hat, 5. China Seas

Every scene offers a new showcase in sound - the crowd screaming over the crackling embers of the windmill, the screams and gunshots of frightened villagers, the inaudible squeaks of Pretorius's menagerie, the violin of the blind hermit, the storm raging outside the castle as the machines buzz and snap their electric currents within, the score sweeping throughout. Sophisticated work, detailed work, superb work.

Best Actress
Jeanette MacDonald as Princess Marie de Namour de la Bonfain, alias Marietta Franini
Naughty Marietta
2. Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams, 3. Marlene Dietrich in The Devil is a Woman, 4. Claudette Colbert in Private Worlds, 5. Loretta Young in The Call of the Wild

After Young's reluctant romance, Colbert's confident professional, and Dietrich's calculating temptress, we've a bloodbath between Hepburn and MacDonald - and Alice Adams is a Best Picture nominee for me! Why, then, MacDonald? Because MacDonald catapults Naughty Marietta from a good time to Top Ten worthy. It's not just her singing ability, it's the performance she gives while singing, the one she gives while not singing, the confidence and doubt of her "Marietta." It's the stubborn set of her jaw when she ventures forth on her own, the defiance in her song with the marionette theater, the complete open honesty of her face when she sings, "Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last, I've found thee" - my God, especially that one, where we and Warrington know, really know, what she feels! All of my acting wins I give to performances that I could not get out of my head, that I thought of in the morning, while working, in the shower - MacDonald's is no different.

Best Motion Picture of the Year
The Bride of Frankenstein
produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr.
2. A Night at the Opera, 3. Alice Adams, 4. The Informer, 5. Jolly Fellows
6. The Clairvoyant, 7. Dante's Inferno, 8. Naughty Marietta, 9. Mad Love, 10. Black Fury

And there we have it! The official ranking of the Top Ten and my favorite film of 1935, The Bride of Frankenstein. Those who know will say, "Oh, predictable, the man has had two Bride of Frankenstein action figures since he was in fifth grade, even now one of them stands on the bookcase beside his bed," but I insist this came as a surprise to me. At different points in my viewings, I thought Black Fury, Alice Adams, Jolly Fellows, or A Night at the Opera (another lifelong favorite) would take the prize, but...I just dig how The Bride of Frankenstein goes about itself. It's so beautiful!

I watched 74 films; 33 were nominated; 13 won. The Bride of Frankenstein took home the biggest haul with five, Dante's Inferno is next with two, followed by one apiece for Alice AdamsThe Clairvoyant, The Devil is a WomanGold Diggers of 1935, The Informer, Jolly Fellows, The Last Days of Pompeii, A Midsummer Night's DreamNaughty Marietta, A Night at the Opera, and Sylvia Scarlett.

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