Sunday, August 28, 2022

The 1936 Retro Hollmann Awards: And the Winners Are...

Meant to have this done on Thursday and Friday, but a fever struck, so instead, we're getting a Sunday Special. If you haven't, familiarize yourself with the full list of nominees, the unranked Top Ten, and the complete lineup of films screened. Then come back here and see my personal picks in 18 categories, starting with...

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The 1936 Retro Nominees Are...

I've written a lot about these films by now. You've seen my write-ups of Oscar's nominees, you've seen the Top Ten, you've seen the full list of 71 films screened. Only 31 of those films are named here. In 18 categories, these are the nominees for the 1936 Retro Hollmann Awards:

Monday, August 22, 2022

My Top Ten of 1936

Yes, a day late, but I needed time to consider everything! It was difficult to narrow it down, and I had to sacrifice such treasures as Ah, Wilderness!The Green Pastures, and Rose Marie. But I think I ended with a satisfying Top Ten of 1936.

In alphabetical order:

Friday, August 19, 2022

1936: The Films

On Sunday, I deliver my Top Ten; on Monday, my nominees for the 1936 Retro Hollmann Awards. To review, here are the 71 films screened:

Read the writing, watch the movies, attend to the Sabbath, and be back here Sunday!

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Thursday, August 18, 2022

1936: What's Left?

Well, I managed to come up with a theme to tie in all the other non-nominated films I saw from 1936. That just leaves this final group of five.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

1936: The Play's The Thing

Before the screen, we had the stage. Scripts and stars, all ready to go - it's a no-brainer to bring them direct from the proscenium to the soundstage. And yet, because they are different mediums, and because studios have staff to be paid, the transition is rarely so direct - even when it's a Shakespeare adaptation. Here are seven films, some of which are practically word-for-word as they appeared on Broadway, most of them...not.

Monday, August 15, 2022

1936: Double Features

Now that we've looked at the 1936 Best Picture nominees, let's discuss some non-nominated films. Here are ten that I think would make great double features with those nominees:

Sunday, August 14, 2022

1936: Best Picture

Let's begin this Best Picture talk with a movie that got zero nominations - Ah, Wilderness!. Based upon Eugene O'Neill's only comedy, the film follows a small-town family in 1906, primarily the second son (Eric Linden), a high school senior whose new discoveries in art, intellectualism, and women irritate everyone around him, and the father (Lionel Barrymore), a newspaperman who leads his family patiently. Timeless observations about teen pretensions, familial annoyances, enabling between relatives, and the suspension of time during the Fourth of July. Fine performances, terrific sets and costumes. And it got nothing.

Maybe it was timing. Depending on where you check, it either qualified for the 8th Academy Awards or the 9th Academy Awards. IMDb lists it as a Christmas 1935 release in New York City. Because Academy rules stipulate a film must play one week in LA to be considered, it's possible it did not make it to Los Angeles until January 1936 or later - thus why it shows up on the 1936 Reminder List available at And The Oscar Goes To. But, too, maybe members of the nominating committee were bristling against its history-making Oscar campaign. Never before had a studio had the chutzpah to put out ads begging for awards, but leave it to MGM to lead the charge. 

If indeed it was 1935, then while the Ah, Wilderness! campaign was unsuccessful, Leo still got a trophy when Mutiny on the Bounty won. If it was 1936...Leo still got a trophy when The Great Ziegfeld won. I guess the Academy felt Leo was ready to receive after all!

Including MGM's winning showbiz epic, here are the ten nominees for Best Picture...starting from my tenth favorite and finishing on my winning pick:

Friday, August 12, 2022

1936: Actress

Used to be, the Academy Awards were a celebratory evening of dinner and dancing. The winners were announced to the press in advance and the awards were distributed close to the end of the evening. The 9th ceremony was held at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, and it is this ceremony that gets the showcase treatment when you visit the hotel's historic corridor:

My sister took that photo during her visit last weekend. You can see Cecil B. DeMille, Henry Fonda, Walt Disney. And on the lefthand side, the table on the dance floor draped in white, the figure wearing white - is that year's Best Actress Oscar winner, Luise Rainer. She almost didn't make it, preferring to spend the evening at home with her husband, playwright Clifford Odets. Indeed, all her rivals were at the ceremony already when news of her win trickled up from the press room. Inside Oscar reports that Gladys George, silent film star nominated for her big comeback turn in Valiant is the Word for Carrie, was inconsolable. It also reports that studio brass got on the horn and demanded Rainer get her ass down there so she could accept the Oscar in front of the cameras. And so:

Rainer's is a long and interesting life. German by birth, she became a stage star under the tutelage of Max Reinhardt (he who gave us 1935's A Midsummer Night's Dream). Emigrating to the United States as Hitler rose to power, she took the leading lady part in Escapade, starring...William Powell! Indeed, she was cast as a replacement for his frequent co-star Myrna Loy. She credited Powell with championing her in early Hollywood, teaching her how to adjust her talents for the camera. That partnership led directly to their reteaming in The Great Ziegfeld, with Myrna Loy appearing as the woman who replaces Rainer in Ziegfeld's life. Following a second consecutive win for The Good Earth, Rainer soon became disillusioned with Hollywood and MGM, feeling Louis B. Mayer did not have the same taste as recently-deceased Irving Thalberg. Her film credits end at 1941, and she appeared sporadically in television for the next sixty years. For a while, she was the oldest living Oscar winner, passing away in 2014 at the age of 104! And she was still giving interviews!

Does her performance hold up? Let's talk:

Thursday, August 11, 2022

1936: Actor

Even with the addition of two categories for supporting actors, there were still some complaints from the acting branch after the 9th Academy Awards. W.C. Fields complained about the Academy's tendency to favor drama over comedy in the acting categories - yes, an issue even just nine years into their run, and one that is frequently brought up today. Just as much, in fact, as the tendency to award biopic performances. The Film Experience's Nathaniel Rogers just tweeted last week:
I replied that I blame Paul Muni. In 1936, he finally triumphed after three nominations (and one write-in), being named Best Actor for The Story of Louis Pasteur

And sure, he wasn't the first performer to win for playing a real person (that was George Arliss in Disraeli), but his Pasteur certainly set the template for burying a hot actor under makeup, letting them go nuts on an accent, and emphasizing the importance of the subject. The fact that his win this year was immediately followed by a nomination for The Life of Emile Zola, the 1937 Best Picture winner, further cements the Muni Method as the best way to impress the Academy into at least a nomination.

All that said, though...was it an undeserved win? Let's look at the lineup:

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

1936: Supporting Actress

Yesterday, we discussed - briefly - the origins of the supporting categories. Today, we discuss the greatest thing to come out of that process: the Best Supporting Actress category. Blogs have been dedicated to it, hours of online debate have been spent on it, great careers have been honored in it. It is, in my opinion, the best category at the Oscars.

Just as its male counterpart established its habit of honoring industry veterans with long CVs, the first Best Supporting Actress race established its traditional mix of old hands, newcomers, youths, and matriarchs. Broadway vet Beulah Bondi had been in films since reprising her stage role for the 1931 screen adaptation of Street Scene; frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if that performance also added to the formation of this category and her being among its first honorees. Alice Brady started in films in 1915, took a ten-year break to focus on stage work (during which she originated the lead role of Lavinia in Mourning Becomes Electra), and came back to play moms in 1933. Future Nancy Drew star Bonita Granville was a child star, making her debut at age 10 in 1932's Westward Passage. The two first-timers were hardly newbies. Sixty-year-old Maria Ouspenskaya was an experienced stage performer and acting teacher who brought the Stanislavski Method to the United States, while 36-year-old Gale Sondergaard had been on Broadway since 1928. Anthony Adverse was her movie debut, clearly an auspicious one: she became the first Best Supporting Actress winner.

Deservedly so? That's what we're here to discuss:

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

1936: Supporting Actor

This is where it all started.

After 1935's Best Actor race had three nominees from the same film, and in the wake of Actors Guild protests against the ceremony, the Academy set a definite field of five for its directing, writing, and acting categories...and added two to the latter. Those two are Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Finally, the performers perennially below the title were finally getting their due! 

While recent years have seen the category go to either marquee names "slumming" it in character parts or lead actors campaigning as supporting to better their chances of winning (Kaluuya, Pitt, Ali, arguably Rockwell), the inaugural category is a who's who of 1930s supporting stars. Mischa Auer has twelve credits in 1936, including Oscar-nominated films That Girl from Paris, Three Smart Girls and Winterset; not all the roles have names, and some are even uncredited. Akim Tamiroff has seven credits, many of them not so much supporting as they are cameos, as in Anthony Adverse and The Story of Louis Pasteur. Stuart Erwin was a sometimes-leading man (we nominated him in Leading Actor at the 1931-32 Retro Hollmann Awards for Make Me a Star), but most of his six 1936 credits have him second- or third-billed - his nomination comes from a film where he's top-billed, but it's an ensemble flick and he's only ten minutes of it. Basil Rathbone was still three years away from Sherlock Holmes, but he appears in two Best Picture nominees (Romeo and Juliet, A Tale of Two Cities) and the Technicolor marvel The Garden of Allah.

And then there's Walter Brennan. 

Brennan had been working as an extra and stand-in since 1925. Sometimes he'd get a featured part - a line of dialogue here, a reaction shot there. He credits the growth of his parts to the fact that he was kicked in the face during one of those appearances, resulting in several lost teeth and a sudden aged appearance, being cast as old codgers at the age of 40. In 1935, he did 24 feature films, most of them uncredited, but among them is Barbary Coast, where he gives the film's best performance as Old Atrocity. It's the role that changed his career: in 1936, five of his six credits are major supporting parts, including parts in nominated films Banjo on My Knee, Fury, and These Three. Back in 1936, a committee of 50 decided the nominees, but all guild members could vote...including members of the Extras Union. It is believed their support led to Brennan's triumph as the first Best Supporting Actor winner - he was, after all, the extra who made it.

But maybe it wasn't just support from comrades-in-arms that led to that win. Maybe the performance itself is genuinely deserving. Let's discuss, shall we?:

Monday, August 8, 2022

1936: Director

The second week of 1936 begins! Last week, we talked some nominees, specifically ones for Dance Direction, Original Song, Score, and the Writing Awards. This week starts with the nominees for Best Director.

In only its ninth year, Oscar showed it couldn't stop repeating itself. Already, two-time winners in this category were made up of Frank Borzage (1927/28, 1931/32), Lewis Milestone (1927/28, 1929/30), and Frank Lloyd (1928/29, 1932/33). Another Frank joined the ranks: having already won for It Happened One Night in 1934, Capra won his second Academy Award for directing Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Capra, by the way, was also the Academy president at the time, had expanded categories to appease the actors union, and was one of the newly-formed 50-person nominating committee allowing certain representatives of certain branches to decide the full lineup. But I'm sure the win wasn't all political - Capra's much-admired to this day, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town was popular with critics (Graham Greene himself gave it a favorable review) and audiences (it was Capra's most profitable film up to the time, #7 at the int'l box office).

My thoughts on Capra's work, as well as that of his fellow nominees, after the jump:

Thursday, August 4, 2022

1936: Writing Awards

The dance and music categories are done. We move on to the writing awards. One is Original Story, which honored the original concepts dreamed up by writers, not all of whom would get to translate their stories into script form. The other is Screenplay, honoring authors of scripts that were either based on pre-existing works, such as novels, plays, and short stories, or working off of one of the aforementioned Original Stories.

In 1936, the story of both categories was a single film. Pierre Collings and Sheridan Gibney were nominated both for their concept of how to depict the life of Louis Pasteur for film and for their script executing that idea. They won both. It was the first and last time either man would be nominated. Collings died of pneumonia in 1937, six months after winning his Oscars; it is believed he pawned one of them out of desperation, a nervous breakdown and descent into alcoholism having kept him from work. Gibney would later be blacklisted, though he served as president of the Writers Guild - twice!

Their winning work and the nominees they went up against after the jump.

1936: Dance Direction

The short-lived category of Dance Direction was inaugurated for the 1935 Academy Awards. They continued through into the 1936 ceremony, and that is what we discuss today. 

At this time, a committee of 50 decided the nominees in each category. While most categories kept their limit to five nominees, for some reason - possibly a tie or compromise? - Dance Direction's lineup was seven-wide.  That's one tic more than Original Song, which suggests to me that this committee liked a musical number.

The nominees:

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

1936: Score

We've sung some songs, now for music without words. Two things to note about the 1936 nominees for Best Score.

The first thing is that only one of them comes from a Best Picture nominee - and no surprise, that movie, Anthony Adverse, wound up winning. But I looked back at the recent years of this category and found that, while it may be more open to non-Best Picture nominees than other categories, 2015 is the last time only one Best Picture nominee made the cut...that was Bridge of Spies, and it lost to The Hateful Eight. There's never been any time when a Best Picture nominee was not also up for Score; the closest you can come is 1972 (when The Godfather's nomination was rescinded) and 1979, but to count those you'd have to ignore the Best Adaptation/Musical Score, and we don't do that here.

The second thing is that the actual composer is not the nominee. Instead, the head of the studio's music department gets all the honor, and that's how things were until 1938. This year, 1936, saw Max Steiner in the interesting position of having two scores nominated, but himself only nominated for one of them. His score for The Charge of the Light Brigade was his first for Warner Bros., but because it was Warner Bros., Leo F. Forbstein got the nomination; his score for The Garden of Allah, however, was with the independent Selznick International, and so he could get the full glory.

Have a listen to the winner Anthony Adverse, both Steiner scores, and more, after the jump:

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

1936: Original Song

After an initial toe-dip into the pool of 1936, we dive right in with our look at Best Original Song. It was only the third time the award was given out, but already, history was repeating itself. The inaugural award was given to "The Continental" from the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers vehicle The Gay DivorcĂ©e; two years later, it was another Fred & Ginger show that took home the prize. The winning song, plus the five other tunes it triumphed over, after the jump:

Monday, August 1, 2022

1936: The Beginning

Of the 40 feature films nominated at the 9th Academy Awards, I watched 39. The one outlier is General Spanky, a Civil War-set comedy starring the cast of Our Gang. It was not a lack of opportunity that prevented my seeing the film, but rather the terrible taste the film's opening five minutes left in my mouth, one that turned more bitter as I researched the film (opening with a joke calling Buckwheat, a five-year-old Black child, a racial slur genuinely horrified me).

Anyway, that's one movie we won't talk about. The 39 others are all up for discussion, and we'll start with these six: