Sunday, August 28, 2022

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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...

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Stuart Freeborn, makeup artist
2. The Green Pastures; 3. The Devil-Doll; 4. The Story of Louis Pasteur; 5. The Great Ziegfeld

Rembrandt does something really special in capturing the period looks of 17th-century Holland. Mustaches are wispy, sometimes drooping, sometimes perfectly coiffed. Beards are not always maintained. None of the wigs look like wigs. It's realism, embracing the imperfections of hair care. It lends the whole thing credibility, documentary realness, even.

Best Visual Effects
Things to Come
Ned Mann, special effects director
Edward Cohen, special effects photographer
George J. Teague, special photographic effects
Ross Jacklin / Harry Zech, special effects
2. San Francisco; 3. The Devil-Doll; 4. The Invisible Ray; 5. Ceiling Zero

I almost did give this to  San Francisco for its pulse-pounding earthquake sequence and the disasters that follow after, up to and including the immolation of Beacon Hill. But I give it to Things to Come for ... well, just the sheer amount of effects work, very little of which has aged at all! I mean, a fleet of futuristic jetplanes appearing in the sky, people diving out of them, a battle ensues - then, the future takes shape, with mattes and sets and miniatures blended together to create a multi-level underground metropolis.

Best Supporting Actor
Paul Robeson as Joe
Show Boat
2. Roger Livesey in Rembrandt; 3. John Barrymore in Romeo and Juliet; 4. Basil Rathbone in Romeo and Juliet; 5. Leo Carrillo in Moonlight Murder

Robeson is a commanding presence. As Joe, he gives us a man who sees a lot, full of empathy and affection, who's made the decision that he's not going to work any harder than he has to. I'm sure this character is originally written to be the stereotype of the "lazy" Black man, but the way Robeson plays Joe, it's more of a rebellion, defiance - just because he has to exist in this society doesn't mean he has to play by its rules. It's there in the lyrics of "Ol' Man River" - "I gets weary, yes I'm sick of trying/I'm tired of living and I'm feared of dying..." Joe establishes his individualism in his own way, without breaking a sweat.

Best Score
1. Modern Times
Charles Chaplin
2. The Garden of Allah
Max Steiner
3. The Devil-Doll
Franz Waxman
4. Anthony Adverse
Erich Wolfgang Korngold
5. Dracula's Daughter
Heinz Roemheld

Best Adapted Screenplay
Sidney Howard
from his play and the novel by Sinclair Lewis
2. These Three; 3. Ah, Wilderness!; 4. After the Thin Man; 5. The Charge of the Light Brigade

As I wrote, before, Dodsworth has "...real adults dealing with daily life issues in a way that acknowledges the complexity and messiness of human emotions. ... The conversations are so real, the decisions so true." I also just love the way it draws even its most minor characters, quick but specific lines that completely sketch out who these people are - Baroness Von Obersdorf is the most obvious one, but consider, too, the Pearsons or Renée de Penable.

Best Supporting Actress
Mary Astor as Edith Cortright
2. Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld; 3. Blanche Yurka in A Tale of Two Cities; 4. Elisabeth Risdon in Theodora Goes Wild; 5. Bonita Granville in These Three

Like everyone else in Dodsworth, Edith Cortright feels lived-in, real. She's perfectly charming if unassuming when we first meet her. Astor's easy and immediate chemistry with Walter Huston makes their eventual relationship...if not inevitable, certainly, at the very least, very believable, and one that you actively root for. Only Astor could deliver her teary monologue near the climax so convincingly, so wrenchingly. It's a beautiful performance.

Best Costume Design

Show Boat
Doris Zinkeisen
2. The Garden of Allah; 3. Romeo and Juliet; 4. The Green Pastures; 5. Theodora Goes Wild

I wish I had something insightful to say, but I really just love these costumes. That's all there is to it. They're varied and detailed and beautiful.

Best Sound
San Francisco
Douglas Shearer, recording director
2. Swing Time; 3. The Charge of the Light Brigade; 4. A Tale of Two Cities; 5. The Great Ziegfeld

San Francisco is the film that has it all. Multiple musical numbers, styles ranging from operatic to more honkytonk saloon. Large crowd scenes, everyone singing and laughing and fighting. The earthquake itself: buildings crumbling, people screaming, flames erupting. The eerie quiet that comes over Beacon Hill as they prepare to move out in preparation for its demolition. They make every sound count.

Best Director
W.S. Van Dyke
San Francisco
2. Charles Chaplin for Modern Times; 3. William Wyler for Dodsworth; 4. Richard Boleslawski for The Garden of Allah; 5. Fritz Lang for Fury

Van Dyke juggles so much that shouldn't work together, that should feel like a messy glop of Hollywood bull, and instead is a funny, suspenseful, romantic, soul-stirring tale of love, redemption, and faith. The special effects disaster sequences work just as well as the quiet scenes between the lead trio...and the latter is just as engaging as the former.

Best Editing
Modern Times
Charles Chaplin / Willard Nico
2. San Francisco; 3. The Charge of the Light Brigade; 4. Fury; 5. Swing Time

Comedy is dependent on editing, knowing where to cut, and whether to cut at all. Here, multiple sequences are made in the edit: the feeding machine, the department store live-in, the handyman's assistant, and, of course, the entire restaurant scene. It's funny, so it's cut well!

Best Original Song
1. Follow the Fleet - "Get Thee Behind Me, Satan"
music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
2. Swing Time - "The Way You Look Tonight"
music by Jerome Kern
lyrics by Dorothy Fields
3. Swing Time - "A Fine Romance"
music by Jerome Kern
lyrics by Dorothy Fields
4. San Francisco - "San Francisco"
music by Bronislau Kaper and Walter Jurmann
lyrics by Gus Kahn
5. Show Boat - "I Still Suits Me"
music by Jerome Kern
lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Best Actress
Jeanette MacDonald as Mary Blake
San Francisco
2. Ruth Chatterton in Dodsworth; 3. Irene Dunne in Theodora Goes Wild; 4. Paulette Goddard in Modern Times; 5. Myrna Loy in Libeled Lady

I don't think I've ever given back-to-back Best [Whatever] to the same person, but I find that I adore Jeanette MacDonald. She's got that beautiful singing voice, yes, but she's also such a great actress: give her a one-liner, she'll make you laugh; give her a love scene, you'll want to propose; see her in tears, your heart is broken. She gets to do all of those here, of course, though naturally, the scene that sticks out the most is her defiantly representing her ex-lover's saloon in a talent contest so that he won't lose the business, leading the crowd in a rousing rendition of "San Francisco." It's great because her character, an opera singer, has struggled throughout with "saloon" singing, and it's clear that she hasn't really gotten more comfortable with it, but she tries, dammit, she's determined, and that determination inspires the audience to join her. She sells the film's big moments. Isn't that enough to declare her the best?

Best Original Screenplay
Moonlight Murder
Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf
story by Albert J. Cohen and Robert T. Shannon
2. Theodora Goes Wild; 3. Modern Times; 4. Fury; 5. Rembrandt

This "B-movie" is a masterclass in mystery writing, from structure to characterization. Nothing but ingenuity, start to finish: in the murder method, in the planting of red herrings (so many!), in the integration of forensics, in the denouement... Realistic dynamics and complexity (I nominated Carrillo for perfectly pulling off his character's entitlement, charm, loyalty to friends, disloyalty to women). Each suspect is distinct, possible, memorable! I love the Charlie Chan films, but they can't often boast that.

Best Ensemble
Anything Goes
2. These Three; 3. Ah, Wilderness!; 4. Moonlight Murder; 5. Banjo on My Knee

My best friend and I became best friends - like, confirmed, say it out loud - doing a production of Anything Goes as teenagers, so I have a lot of personal feelings attached to the material. I cannot imagine any film version doing it better than this one and - besides the songs, of course - the ensemble is the big reason why. Ethel Merman in top form as Reno Sweeney, the character she created; Bing Crosby suave and mischievous as Billy; Charlie Ruggles (who just missed my supporting actor lineup) stealing the show as Public Enemy #13 Moonface Martin; Margaret Dumont in her single scene as a naive religious passenger, her voice trilling in every line, her eyes suggesting someone a little off; Philip Ahn and Keye Luke as Chinese "converts" who pull the wool over the white man's eyes; Arthur Treacher somehow selling a kind of appeal as Lord Evelyn. Those are my personal standouts, but Ida Lupino, Grace Bradley, and Richard Carle are all putting in the work, too. It's what we look for when we say "best!"

Best Production Design

Modern Times
Charles D. Hall, production design
J. Russell Spencer, settings
2. Things to Come; 3. Dodsworth; 4. The Charge of the Light Brigade; 5. Anthony Adverse

The factory: boxy, sterile, a spotless floor...and the machines are gears on gears on gears, confusing and chaotic. The shack: tiny, wood, the outside visible through the slats of the "walls," props approximating a more typical home. The department store: full of everything, every convenience and pleasure, to a degree that is almost ostentatious! The jail: it looks so dusty!

Best Cinematography

1. The Garden of Allah
W. Howard Greene / Virgil Miller / Harold Rosson

2. The Prisoner of Shark Island
Bert Glennon

3. Mary of Scotland
Joseph H. August

4. San Francisco
Oliver T. Marsh

5. Dodsworth
Rudolph Maté

Best Actor
Clark Gable as Blackie Norton
San Francisco
2. Walter Huston in Dodsworth; 3. Charles Laughton in Rembrandt; 4. Errol Flynn in The Charge of the Light Brigade; 5. Spencer Tracy in Fury

I guess Gable's is the more demonstrative performance, and there's certainly a huge degree of difficulty in the subtlety of Huston's. Another day, those top two could've been swapped. But this is today, and today I fall for Clark Gable being his smirking, rough-and-tumble self. I love Gable being hurt and proud enough to refuse MacDonald's representing his saloon, pulling it off with a macho bravado but with the pain readable on his face. I love Gable tenderly comforting Jessie Ralph. I love Gable refusing religion stubbornly, defiantly, with an air of one who fears it...or does not believe he's deserving of Grace. And you know I love Gable at the end, teary-eyed and prostrated before God. I love Gable in San Francisco.

Best Motion Picture of the Year
San Francisco
produced by John Emerson / Bernard H. Hyman
2. Dodsworth; 3. Modern Times; 4. Fury; 5. The Charge of the Light Brigade
6. The Garden of Allah; 7. Moonlight Murder; 8. Theodora Goes Wild; 9. Rembrandt; 10. These Three

There stands my final word on the matter. San Francisco, the Best Picture of 1936, winner of five Hollmann Awards! Modern Times with three, Dodsworth and Show Boat with two apiece, and a win each for Anything Goes, Follow the Fleet, The Garden of Allah, Moonlight Murder, Rembrandt, and Things to Come. That's 71 films screened, 31 nominated, and 10 winning.

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