Friday, May 31, 2024

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The Winners - The 1940 Retro Hollmann Awards

You've seen the Top Ten and the nominees - now, the winners:

Best Supporting Actress
Marjorie Rambeau as Mamie Adams
Primrose Path
2. Beulah Bondi in Remember the Night; 3. Mary Nash in The Philadelphia Story; 4. Queenie Vassar in Primrose Path; 5. Una Merkel in Destry Rides Again

Rambeau is terrific, completely nonjudgmental in her portrayal of a provider who may not be model mother of the year but possesses a deep reservoir of maternal love. She acknowledges the dignity of a human being without smoothing over the coarseness. Her act of self-sacrifice would be surprising were it not for the depth and concern Rambeau brings to this character. It's an absolutely lovely performance.

Best Actor
Maurice Schwartz as Tevya
2. Sabu in The Thief of Bagdad; 3. Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath; 4. James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story; 5. Walter Brennan in The Westerner

First, I just want to say that this was the easiest lineup to make. Every performance clicked into place for me, almost immediately...though that makes an alphabetized list of five much easier than ranking any above the other. In the end, I gave the edge to Schwartz's perfect portrayal of Tevya the Milkman because it (a) helped me see how the characterization of Tevye (it's spelled so many ways) in Fiddler on the Roof is consistent with an established quasi-stock character and (b) balanced the ironic humor with the more dramatic elements fluidly, subtly, and recognizably human ways. His two scenes with the Russian Orthodox priest, one a good-natured chat between neighbors, the other a confrontation between a father and a co-conspirator in her assimilation, are testament to the levels of wit and tragedy he can play. Moving.

Best Ensemble
Primrose Path
2. The Philadelphia Story; 3. Angels Over Broadway; 4. The Long Voyage Home; 5. You'll Find Out

There are all sorts of ways this movie can go wrong, especially given the melodrama of some story elements, but this cast sells you on every single beat. Not just Ginger Rogers and Joel McCrea as the lovers, and not just Marjorie Rambeau and Queenie Vassar as the matriarchs, but everyone from the drunken dad (Miles Mander) to the empathic Gramp (Henry Travers) to momma's friend-in-arms (Vivienne Osborne!) to the seen-it-all dresser for these city prostitutes (not sure how she's credited) to Ginger Rogers' Portuguese rival (Carmen Morales). 

Best Production Design

The Thief of Bagdad
Vincent Korda, production design
2. The House of the Seven Gables; 3. Primrose Path; 4. Green Hell; 5. The Shop Around the Corner

Best Costume Design

The Thief of Bagdad
John Armstrong / Oliver Messel / Marcel Vertès
2. North West Mounted Police; 3. The House of the Seven Gables; 4. The Blue Bird; 5. Destry Rides Again

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The Thief of Bagdad
Stuart Freeborn / Norbert A. Myles / Guy Pearce, makeup artists
2. The House of the Seven Gables; 3. Arizona; 4. Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet; 5. Edison, the Man

Un, deux, trois, all for The Thief of Bagdad, which uses these elements to create its fantasy world before the visual effects work their magic. The All-Seeing Eye section is a great example of all three elements working in perfect tandem, with its intricate designs for the temple set and the makeup and costumes of the temple guardians and Sabu. Another great example: Miles Malleson, transformed through makeup and what appears to be an entire closet's worth of clothes into the Sultan of Basra, who walks through his marbled palace to meet his fate at the hands of the Silver Maid, a character whose execution depends on all three disciplines put to imaginative use.

Best Sound
North West Mounted Police
John Cope / Harry Lindgren, sound recordists
Howard Joslin, sound effects
2. The Mark of Zorro; 3. His Girl Friday; 4. The Grapes of Wrath; 5. You'll Find Out

Lots of guns, horses, brawling, whispered intimacies, crunched leaves, rolling rivers, irate crowds, etc. I don't know how else to put it except that North West Mounted Police sounds like how movies should sound: big, varied, full.

Best Supporting Actor
Victor Sen Yung as Ong Chi Seng
The Letter
2. John Carradine in The Grapes of Wrath; 3. Eddie Collins in The Blue Bird; 4. Frank Morgan in The Shop Around the Corner; 5. Judel Dubinsky in American Matchmaker

Tough to choose between Carradine's seemingly-crazed, drunken, failed preacher who becomes a clear-eyed fighter for the worker, and Victor Sen Yung's quiet, calculating legal assistant who arranges for Bette Davis's downfall without stepping a foot out of place. I think I have to give it to Sen Yung, who never raises his voice or even his eyes to convey a quiet menace, a bitterness at being so patronized by the colonials, and a subtle triumph in using his ability to walk between both worlds to his best advantage. It's the opposite of his Number Two son in the Charlie Chan fans, demonstrating his full range and great dramatic talent. 

Best Original Screenplay
The Great Dictator
Charles Chaplin
2. Angels Over Broadway; 3. The Westerner; 4. Remember the Night; 5. The Great McGinty

Working at expert levels of interweaving political commentary, romance, slapstick, joke-writing, and character work, flowing beautifully, culminating in one of the great speeches of the 20th century.

Best Visual Effects

The Thief of Bagdad
Lawrence W. Butler, special effects director
2. Dr. Cyclops; 3. The Invisible Man Returns; 4. One Million B.C.; 5. The Blue Bird

Takes a chance on a lot and pulls it off, from the genie's interactions with Abu to the magic carpet ride to a horse that gallops in the air to a huge spider, in addition to trapping the genie in a bottle, sending Abu to all these different locales, etc., etc., etc. It's magical!

Best Adapted Screenplay
Christmas in July
Preston Sturges
from his play A Cup of Coffee
2. The Philadelphia Story; 3. Primrose Path; 4. The Grapes of Wrath; 5. Tevya

It's quick but effective on every level: moving, funny, full of great characters and absolutely stupid jokes. But this is, after all, Preston Sturges we're talking about; one might say his talent for dialogue, story structure, and people is, well, bred in his bean.

Best Score
1. The Thief of Bagdad
Miklós Rózsa
2. The Great Dictator
Charles Chaplin / Meredith Willson
3. The Mark of Zorro
Alfred Newman
4. Broadway Melody of 1940
Cole Porter
5. Pinocchio
Leigh Harline / Paul J. Smith

Best Director
John Ford
The Grapes of Wrath
2. Ernest B. Schoedsack for Dr. Cyclops; 3. George Cukor for The Philadelphia Story; 4. Maurice Schwartz for Tevya; 5. Ludwig Berger / Michael Powell / Tim Whelan for The Thief of Bagdad

He's got a gruff reputation and called actors stupid, but few capture people like Ford. He understands humanity, can depict their woes without becoming maudlin, can inject joy and frivolity without undercutting the rest of the drama. He is America's great storyteller, the master, really. Bonus points for also giving us The Long Voyage Home this same year, where this set photo is from.

Best Editing
The Thief of Bagdad
Charles Crichton
2. The Grapes of Wrath; 3. The Mark of Zorro; 4. North West Mounted Police; 5. The Letter

For its incorporation of visual effects while maintaining the momentum of its storytelling, creating a sense of wonder as well as suspense and wit, one must give a tip o' the cap to The Thief of Bagdad here. It was rather close, though: I'm a great admirer of what The Grapes of Wrath accomplishes in whole scenes sans dialogue, relying just on the editing to tell the story. But Thief of Bagdad...gosh, even in scenes with no visual effects, it captures your attention, moves, entertains.
Best Cinematography

1. Dr. Cyclops
Henry Sharp

2. The Grapes of Wrath
Gregg Toland

3. The Thief of Bagdad
Georges Périnal

4. The Long Voyage Home
Gregg Toland

5. The Mark of Zorro
Arthur C. Miller

Best Original Song
1. Pinocchio - "When You Wish Upon A Star"
music by Leigh Harline
lyrics by Ned Washington
2. Spring Parade - "It's Foolish But It's Fun"
music by Robert Stolz
lyrics by Gus Kahn
3The Thief of Bagdad - "I Want To Be A Sailor"
music by Miklós Rózsa
lyrics by Robert Vansittart and William Kernell
4. Spring Parade - "Waltzing In The Clouds"
music by Robert Stolz
lyrics by Gus Kahn
5. Johnny Apollo - "This Is The Beginning Of The End"
music and lyrics by Mack Gordon

Best Actress
Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord
The Philadelphia Story
2. Jean Arthur in Arizona; 3. Ginger Rogers in Primrose Path; 4. Bette Davis in The Letter; 5. Jane Darwell in The Grapes of Wrath

What more can I say that hasn't already been said? It's a part tailor-made for her, and she wears it well. It's my second-favorite performance of the year (Yung is #1), the one I like to revisit even if it's just a brief clip on YouTube. A Star performance.

Just a quick review before the final award. Of the five Best Picture nominees: The Grapes of Wrath has one award, for Best Director. The Philadelphia Story has one award, for Best Actress. Primrose Path has two awards, for Best Supporting Actress and Best Ensemble. The Thief of Bagdad has six awards, for Best Score, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Visual Effects. And Tevya has one award, for Best Actor. The six films also awarded tonight: Christmas in July (Best Adapted Screenplay), Dr. Cyclops (Best Cinematography), The Great Dictator (Best Original Screenplay), The Letter (Best Supporting Actor), North West Mounted Police (Best Sound), and Pinocchio (Best Original Song).

Counting down from the original Top Ten: 10. North West Mounted Police; 9. You'll Find Out; 8. The Great Dictator; 7. The Letter; 6. Dr. Cyclops - all highly recommended. And finally:

Best Motion Picture of the Year
Primrose Path
produced by Gregory La Cava
2. The Grapes of Wrath; 3. The Thief of Bagdad; 4. The Philadelphia Story; 5. Tevya

The top three almost tie, frankly, and picking a #1 is daunting. I think Primrose Path is the most entertaining (and undersung!) and The Thief of Bagdad is the most impressive on an individual crafts level (clearly, since it's going to end the night with the most wins). But I do think The Grapes of Wrath is a perfect example of flawless filmmaking, can't take anything away from it, writing, performances, cinematography, editing, not a flaw to be seen. I do love my imperfect beauties, though, and when one friend kept saying he expected The Grapes of Wrath to get the win, I kept thinking, "But...Primrose Path!" Which no one has seen and therefore no one wants to discuss, but hopefully seeing it here will lead one or two of you to seek it out. It's a little shaggier than the others, but it really hit me in a way no other movie this year did. 

And that's the final word on 1940. Join us on Sunday as we begin the tour through 1941!

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