November 27, 2013

Frank Morgan, The Affairs of Cellini

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I believe I'm in the minority when I say that I love Frank Morgan's nomination for The Affairs of Cellini (not that there are many people out there who are writing about--much less have seen--the film), and let me tell you why. My first reason is that The Affairs of Cellini is a comedy, a much underrepresented genre of film at the Oscars. My second reason is that The Affairs of Cellini is really quite a delightful film, with delightful performances across the board. My third reason is that Frank Morgan is not top-billed, a la Lionel Barrymore and Warner Baxter. It always tickles my fancy when a male actor nabs a Best Actor nod when he isn't top billed, because it goes against the very concept of top-billing. You are top billed if you are either the bigger star or the male (often times, both go hand-in-hand), and to be top-billed suggests that you are the reason people should see a particular film. At the same time, an acting nomination in and of itself is an even bigger suggestion to see a film, and thus when these schools of thought conflict, it suggests that even though a lesser star isn't technically the main draw for the film because he's not the bigger name, he still holds his own and manages work that's good enough to procure attention. Approach a person on the street and chances are he or she won't be familiar with the name Frank Morgan--interestingly enough Inside Oscar says that the prior year, after actors like Paul Muni, Gary Cooper, and Jeanette Macdonald withdrew from AMPAs, they had actually gone over to Morgan's house to form the Screen Actors Guild. Morgan also ended up being "narrowly defeated" by Clark Gable for the Best Actor trophy in 1934, so there seems to have been a great deal of industry respect for him at the time, despite whether or not he was a box office draw or the highest paid Hollywood actor at the time.

November 26, 2013

Norma Shearer, The Barretts of Wimpole Street

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Another year, another melodramatic romance starring Norma Shearer. The Barretts of Wimpole Street is a film I didn't quite enjoy save for its rather shocking final act revelation. While the dynamics of the storyline is certainly interesting at times and kinda-sorta-maybe based off the real lives of poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, this is a drama done dull. I mean, I can't garner much excitement over a film that sees Shearer basically locked in a house the entire time and features two scenes in which the viewer has to guess whether or not Shearer can make it up/down a flight of stairs--very much a filmed play and not really cinematic. At the end of the day, this is an average to above-average picture with performances that are good but hardly worth fussing over.

November 25, 2013

Grace Moore, One Night of Love

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If there was anything I took away from One Night of Love, it was learning that Grace Moore was an opera singer. That's the beauty of old school Hollywood--studio heads were actually interested in recruiting famous people from outside the realm of film to take part in their movies. Interestingly enough audiences would go and see these movies, and Oscar would reward these people with nominations. That doesn't happen anymore--we now live in world where all juicy female roles will automatically be given to Meryl Streep, and the idea of putting acclaimed stage stars much less opera stars in lead roles in feature films is not realistic by any means. So in a way, Moore's inclusion in the Oscar race is one of the more interesting ones out there. Whether or not it was worthy is an entirely different question.

November 24, 2013

1934 - 7th Academy Awards

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and the nominees were:
Clark Gable, It Happened One Night
Frank Morgan, The Affairs of Cellini
William Powell, The Thin Man
Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night
Grace Moore, One Night of Love
Norma Shearer, The Barretts of Wimpole Street

(plus a special appearance by write-in candidate)
Bette Davis, Of Human Bondage

November 23, 2013

M and Peter Lorre

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What is there to say about M that hasn't already been said? It is a magnificent cinematic achievement crafted by a legendary filmmaker. Gripping, ballsy in its subject matter, and explicit in its subtlety, the film's only flaw was that it was a product well ahead of its time. Hollywood filmmaking was on the cusp of entering the Hays Code era at the time of M's release. American pictures then usually followed a succinct set of guidelines--endings were to be happy, all that is evil is to be vanquished. The beauty of M was it simply couldn't be bothered by the traditional storytelling conventions of Hollywood--instead it is a picture that is riveting storytelling from start to finish all the while encompassing a disturbing character study that challenges conventional norms as well as the viewers.

November 17, 2013

Katharine Hepburn, Little Women

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Won: Gold Medal Winner for Best Actress - Venice Film Festival

"As vital, sympathetic and full of the joie de vivre as one could hope for...Miss Hepburn goes darting through this picture without giving one a moment to think of her as other than Jo," praised Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times at the time of Little Women's release. Trusty ol' Wikipedia says joie de vivre "may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life..." This is a more than accurate assessment of Katharine Hepburn, whose luminosity spearheads Little Women and whose performance is just as joyous if not more than that of her role as Eva in Morning Glory.

November 13, 2013

Paul Muni, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

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Paul Muni had quite an impressive run in the early thirties--by 1934 he'd been twice nominated for Best Actor and had already made the controversial Scarface, and he'd only been in four films! According to Inside Oscar, AMPAs revealed the placements of the nominees in the major categories at 1934's ceremony, pointing out that Muni was "right behind Charles Laughton." The book adds that there was only "polite applause" when Laughton was crowned the winner, suggesting that he wasn't exactly a crowd pleasing winner. But apparently the writers and many of the top Hollywood stars--Muni included--had resigned from AMPAs that year to form their own guilds, and despite his managing to pull out a nomination, one could imagine this as putting him at an unfavorable disadvantage in regards to accumulating enough votes to win him top honors. But I guess the question remains: is he any better than that year's champ?

November 7, 2013

May Robson, Lady for a Day

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Just as I was previously mentioning how ladies of this era were sure to get nominations for being a caring mother or a caring maternal figure, along comes another performance that is exactly that. May Robson got the role of Apple Annie after Marie Dressler wasn't able to take it on (and wouldn't it have been a hoot if Dressler got 3 nominations in a row for playing different versions of the same woman?). I didn't have any expectations going into the film, and I suppose it was because I was unfamiliar with Robson and thus couldn't form any expectations, but ultimately I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed the film and its leading lady.

November 6, 2013

Leslie Howard, Berkeley Square

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Just looking at the stats, the overall intensity of AMPA's anglophilia during its sixth year was pretty crazy. The grotesque Best Picture winner was a film that spent 110 minutes trying to show how amazing it was to be English. U.K.'s Frank Lloyd was named the Best Director of said grotesque Best Picture (this was his second time winning in the Academy's six years for incredibly banal pictures). The Private Life of Henry VIII became the first completely British production to be nominated for Best Picture, and that film's English star won Best Actor. 50% of the acting nominees were English--the last of whom to be reviewed by yours truly is here. I suppose Lloyd wasn't satisfied enough with Cavalcade (that or the demand for British pics was through the roof), so he popped out a second story about English life that very year in the form of Berkeley Square, a film that manages to be just as mundane (but not quite as bad) as Cavalcade. And like Diana Wynyard and Corinne Griffith, star Leslie Howard's work here isn't anything to get excited about.