*Cimarron (1931)*

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Starring: Richard Dix, Irene Dunne

Director: Wesley Ruggles

Summary: An adventuring lawyer/newspaper editor settles down in an Oklahoma boom town

Other nominations: Director, Actor (Dix), Actress (Dunne), Adapted Screenplay*, Art Direction*, Cinematography

Positives

-You can obviously see the money and effort that went into this production-the great western scenery is a highlight, there’s a ton of extras and horses, they had to do different makeup for the leads since it takes place over 40 years, etc. The cost, and the great depression, is what caused this to be the only BP winner to lose money in its initial run

-Excellent cinematography, especially for the big opening Oklahoma rush scene which is a good as anything I’ve seen so far here.

Negatives

-This is a slow and boring story with flat and uninteresting characters and not a whole lot worth talking about happens. Dix’s character is one note but at least his hamming it up is somewhat entertaining; Dunne’s character sucks and she effectively becomes the main character in the 2nd half. You would think that it taking place over 40 years would mean something has to happen, but not really. Sure the buildings change, the characters look older, etc., buts that’s all superficial. It’s mainly a series of semi-related events over a long period of time.

-Oh man, are the some offensive characters here, mainly the two black characters and the stuttering guy who’s used for comic relief. I’ve seen much more racist portrayals of African-Americans in early movies before, but it’s still pretty bad (it literally has a “look boy, doesn’t that watermelon look tasty?” “Oh yessum sir!” moment). The stuttering character is REALLY bad though-oddly enough this is the 2nd BP winner in the last 3 years to have a comedic stuttering character (the other being The Broadway Melody); this one was much worse than the other.

-There’s this really muddled message about the plight of the American Indians in this movie as well. While it laments what was taken from and clearly presents the racism against them as negative, the main characters sure don’t have a problem settling on and making money off the land that was taken from them. It’s a movie that says “look at how bad we treated these people and what we took from them”, and then proceeds to glorify the people who treated them badly and took their land from them. It makes Crash look like Do The Right Thing.

Other Stuff

-This was the first Best Picture nominee scored by the legendary Max Steiner. While I didn’t find it to be exceptional or anything, his work was always solid at a minimum. Steiner would go on to be nominated for 24 Academy Awards, winning 3 as a composer.

Overall

I can see why, at the time, they would have given Cimarron Best Picture, due to its huge cost and scope and that even then, the Academy liked “Big” movies. To a modern audience though, this movie has aged very poorly

Rating: D+

East Lynne (1931)

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Starring: Ann Harding, Clive Brook, Conrad Nagel

Director: Frank Lloyd

Summary: The trophy wife of a stodgy man of wealth yearns for a more interesting life

Other nominations: None

Well, since I didn’t have an appointment to watch the only copy of this film at UCLA, I was unable to review this. There will be a few more Frank Lloyd films coming up later, and Conrad Nagel was a regular supporting character around this time, but other than that, not much to say about this one sadly. The fact that there have been no attempts to restore and release this film to the public means it can’t have been that great.

The Front Page (1931)

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Starring: Pat O’Brien, Adolphe Menjou, Mary Brian

Director: Lewis Milestone

Summary: A newspaper reporter, hoping to leave the business, stumbles into the story of a lifetime

Other nominations: Director, Actor (Menjou)

Positive

-Once the film kicks into gear, it’s really an entertaining screwball comedy story with a reporter who gets thrown into a crazy situation that starts spiraling out of control. Great rapid-fire dialogue too, although somewhat dated, as it’s very much of the period.

-Although far from his work from the last year (All Quiet on the Western Front), Milestone still puts forth a good effort as director, as the camera work is creative and he goods solid performances from his actors

Negatives

-While it does eventually get going, the first 45 minutes are a real slog to get through-it sets up what will eventually become the real plot of the film and the various tensions and conflicts that come with it, it’s pretty dull.

-The biggest problem for this movie is that, on the whole, is more interesting (in that “I wonder what’s going to happen next” kind of way) than it is funny. I could have looked passed the slow start of the movie if the comedy had been there to make up for it, but other than a few chuckles, there’s not much there.

Overall

The Front Page has good, quick dialogue and it definitely does pick up after a while-the problem is it’s not funny enough to fully work as a comedy, nor is it quite interesting enough to stand out as anything else. Pass on this version of this story (which you can find on Youtube due to it being one of the few films on this list to fall into the public domain), and instead watch the better-known remake His Girl Friday, which is the same plot but with reversed genders for the main character and their significant other.

Rating: C-

Skippy (1931)

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Starring: Jackie Cooper, Robert Coogan, Mitzi Green, Jackie Searl

Director: Norman Taurog

Summary: Boys from opposite sides of the track try to raise money for a dog license

Other nominations: Director*, Actor (Cooper), Adapted Screenplay

Positives

-Although he certainly didn’t deserve a Best Actor win, Jackie Cooper is a great actor for a nine year old, and this solidified him as the go-to child actor for a generation. The most infamous thing this movie is remembered for is that Director Taurog got Cooper, his nephew, to cry in one scene by telling him he was going to kill Cooper’s own dog. After finding out his dog was fine, Cooper pretty much never spoke to Taurog ever again, not surprisingly.

Negatives

-The last 30 minutes of this film was the most soul crushing thing I’ve seen since Requiem for a Dream. Seriously, the movie takes a shockingly dark turn out of nowhere from regular kids film to End of Evangelion-level downer when *spoilers* the dogcatcher shot the fucking dog and it’s entirely because Skippy’s dad and some other kid were pieces of shit. *spoilers* Seriously, there is NOTHING that would lead you assume this could possibly be coming. In a different movie this would be fine or even great, but there’s a distinct problem with how this movie did it: it actually attempts have a happy ending afterwards, which is impossible as there is no coming back from what happened; the fact that it was so unnecessary and avoidable makes it even worse. Either do it at the very end (like another well-known movie would later do), or do it early enough before you established what kind of movie this is and go from there in a darker direction for the rest of the film. They chose the very worst possible choice here.

-I hate everyone in this movie, who range from merely annoying to needs to get punched in the face repeatedly. Cooper is a good actor, but good lord Coogan and the other kids are not. There is not one likable character or actor in this movie except for Cooper; truly, this was Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s crowning achievement as a screenwriter.

Other Stuff

-Leonard Maltin gave Skippy 3/4 stars; this was a higher score than he gave the following movies: Taxi Driver, Blade Runner, The Big Lebowski, Amadeus and The Shawshank Redemption

Overall

I can not emphasis enough how much I hated this movie. It started out as merely extremely annoying (which was what I was expecting), but it ended up turning into something so, so much worse. How this movie was nominated for Best Picture and Taurog won Best Director over CITY LIGHTS is the single most unforgivable decision in the history of the Academy Awards.

Rating: D-. I can’t give it an F because it has some redeeming quality to it

Trader Horn (1931)

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Starring: Harry Carey, Duncan Renaldo, Edwina Booth

Director: W.S. Van Dyke

Summary: An African trader and a white jungle goddess join forces against a hostile tribe

Other nominations: None

Positives

-They shot (most) of the movie in African jungles, and as a result, the film has a great atmosphere settings always look fantastic and it has authentic animal footage. The downside to shooting in the jungle however was that 2 crew members were killed by wild animals and Edwina Booth was forced to retire from acting (and sue MGM) after a six-year battle with the malaria she contracted on the shoot.

Negatives

-”More offensive than Mandingo! More shocking than Behind the Green Door!” Jesus, this film is exactly as racist as the plot summary would lead you to believe. Selected Quotes:

“They’re not savages, they’re just happy, ignorant children!” Then the guy sees the strung-up skeleton from the cannibal tribe…

“Don’t you understand, white people must help each other!”

The racism in this film is worse than in, say King Kong (a great film in spite of its racism), because here, it’s a constant issue the entire movie, and King Kong obviously has a lot more going for it.

-This film contained barbaric animal cruelty even for 1931 standards (which is why they had to film certain parts in Mexico to skirt around cruelty laws). Multiple animals are shot and killed on screen for the movie, and they starved some of the animals to make them extra-aggressive for animal fight scenes

-A huge chunk of this movie is basically a travelogue, including 15 straight minutes of the main character pointing at animals, them showing the previously filmed animal footage with him talking about the animals over it, and then cuts back to him to point out more animals.

-This stupid hat: http://i88.photobucket.com/albums/k194/thesmark/traderhorn.png

Overall

Trader horn sucks, but I can’t give it an F for the same reasons as Skippy

Rating: D- (but what do I know, Leonard Maltin also gave this movie 3/4 stars)

1930/31 in Review

Other notable films from 1930/31

City Lights: this is easily the worst oversight by the Academy so far-how do you not nominate Chaplin’s magnum opus in a one of the weakest BP fields ever? The only reason I can think of was because it was a (mostly) silent film when everything was about sound. Not much more needs to be said about one of the greatest films of all-time which was Chaplin’s best blend of comedy and his signature pathos.

M: Another fantastic Fritz Lang/Thea von Harbou collaboration, this film launched Peter Lorre’s career and forever typecasted him into weird/odd/disturbing roles. Unfortunately, this movie could not have been considered by the Academy as it did not reach the U.S. until 1933.

The Public Enemy: One of the most famous gangster movies of all time and which launched the career of James Cagney, who plays the ruthless Tom Powers.

Little Caesar: Much like The Public Enemy for Cagney, Little Caesar was the breakout gangster role for Edward G. Robinson, who would make an entire career out of playing gangsters and street toughs.

The Blue Angel: The film that made Marlene Dietrich a sex symbol and a star. The movie was filmed in both German and English versions with the same actors simultaneously; the problem was that most of the actors were not very good English speakers, so the film not getting as much buzz in the U.S. as it did internationally at the time is understandable.

Dracula: while slow and somewhat antiquated by current standards, one of the most famous monster movies ever made. Bela Lugosi forever defined the character of Dracula with his performance.

Animal Crackers: Although not the best work by the Marx Brothers, this was their first good movie and was a box office hit in its day. Still very watchable.

1930/31 nominees in review

The Front Page: C-

Cimarron: D+ (Won Best Picture)

Trader Horn: D-

Skippy: D-

East Lynne: No publically available copies

My feelings on this undertaking right now: http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s–YmrI9iP6–/1131927567791147922.jpg

Somehow even worse than the 1928/29 nominees, none of these movie are even average (although who knows about East Lynne) and two were astoundingly bad; it’s made so much worse by the far that numerous, obviously superior films were not (or could not be) considered by the Academy. I would have given the Best Picture to The Front Page over Cimarron, but it’s not like it was big snub.
Now, gladly onto the 5th Academy Awards (1931/32) which looks to be an immense improvement, although the field grows from 5 to 8.