Alice Adams (1935)

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Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Fred MacMurray, Fred Stone, Evelyn Venable

Director: George Stevens

Summary: A small-town girl with social ambitions falls in love with a local wealthy young man

Other Nominations: Actress (Hepburn)

Positives

-Katharine Hepburn puts on an extremely strong performance as the title character, giving a lot of nuance in her expressions and a vulnerability and awkwardness to her character. When Bette Davis won the Oscar for Best Actress (mostly as a make-up for her snub from the previous year in Of Human Bondage), Davis said she didn’t deserve it and though Hepburn should have won for this role instead (Hepburn finished runner-up).

-There’s a lot more realism in the emotions, troubles, themes and characters than in most melodramas of the time…for most of it anyway

-This movie features Hedda Hopper and Hattie McDaniel in minor roles which is fun to see. This was one of Hopper’s last roles before she became the most famous gossip columnist in Hollywood, and McDaniel plays (surprise) the help, although she’s a bit different than usual as her character is quite surly

Negatives

-The ending hurts this movie a lot, as it goes against the realistic tone of the rest of the movie. In fact, the ending is completely different than it was in the original novel, and the producer demanded a change that pretty much everybody else was against.

-Fred MacMurray’s character is the most generic love interest ever. He has zero identifiable personality traits and exists more as a thing with listable characteristics (handsome, wealthy) than anything else. In short, he fails the “Star Wars Character Test” from Red Letter Media.

Overall

Solid melodrama with a well-written and well-acted lead that is in part betrayed by a studio mandated ending. Worth a watch for Hepburn’s performance.

Rating: B-

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Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935)

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Starring: Jack Benny, Eleanor Powell, Robert Taylor, Una Merkel, June Knight, Buddy Ebsen

Director: Roy Del Ruth

Summary: A Broadway columnist tries to use an innocent dancer to frame a producer
Other Nominations: Story, Dance Direction*

Positives

-Eleanor Powell highlights the overall great dancing and choreography in the movie. Powell’s dancing (she does tap) is as good as anybody’s during this period where there were so many dancing movies that the Academy Awards had an entire category for Dance Direction.

-This is a song-heavy musical, but most of characters that are there are solid. I liked the secretary character played by Merkel, and Ebsen makes his film debut here in a supporting role where he displays a lot of down-home charm. The only nothing character is Taylor’s, who plays the producer.

Negatives

-More of a comedic slant than most of the movie musicals of the time, but a lot of the humor is unfunny. Jack Benny is just okay, and the worst is this recurring character who’s a “Research Professor on Snoring” who keeps popping back up, and his only joke is that he goes on long, extended talks about different snoring noises and gives names to each of them; just awful.

-The dancing is strong, but most of the songs fell flat for me and felt dated. Oddly enough, I thought the final number overall was the weakest in the movie.

Other Stuff

-This movie is not a direct sequel to The Broadway Melody, as the plot and characters are completely different and only the title song returns. However, this is the first time that a follow-up film in a franchise was nominated for Best Picture, which is a rare feat (the others: the two Godfather sequels, the two Lord of the Rings sequels, Toy Story 3, Bells of St. Mary’s and Mad Max: Fury Road)

Overall

For a musical comedy where I didn’t like the music or comedy, this actually wasn’t that bad-the dancing is really good and there are some solid characters which made up for a lot of its other shortcomings.

Rating: C-

Captain Blood (1935)

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Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone, Ross Alexander, Guy Kibbee

Director: Michael Curtiz

Summary: After being unjustly sentenced to prison, a doctor escapes and becomes a notorious pirate

Other Nominations: Director (write-in), Adapted Screenplay (Write-In), Score (Write-In), Sound Recording

Positives

-Flynn was an unknown before this film, and you can see why it made him into a star-he’s the handsomest man to ever handsome and is the definition of dashing. Could not have possibly cast anyone better in the role considering it basically calls for just those two things.

-First memorable score that has come up so far, sets a great tone for the whole movie, as it plays over the film throughout (much like Conan the Barbarian for example)

-This is the first of many Michael Curtiz film to be nominated for Best Picture. He has one of the most interesting and versatile careers of any director I can think of: started in Europe doing small movies, then went to the USA and did good some of the original technicolor horror movies (Mystery of the Wax Museum, Doctor X), then he went to do some great adventure movies (Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood), then finally to some of the best dramas of the era (Casablanca, Mildred Pierce) before washing out at the end. He definitely knew how to direct action, with the highlights here being the escape scene and the big finale.

Negatives

-I know it’s an action movie, but other than Blood himself and maybe Rathbone’s French pirate, there aren’t many interesting or distinctive characters here and are mostly flat pirates or generic evil guys. de Havilland (who’s only 19 at the time and was also an unknown) isn’t given much to work with for the most part.

-Most of the movie looks good from a production design standpoint, with the notable exception of the matte paintings of the sky behind the ships which look noticeably bad.

Overall

This was Flynn’s star-making performance and it’s easy to see why with his good looks and obvious charisma. Consistently entertaining movie even if I didn’t think it was great or anything.

Rating: B

David Copperfield (1935)

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Starring: Freddie Bartholomew, Frank Lawton, W.C. Fields, Lionel Barrymore, Madge Evans, Maureen O’Sullivan, Basil Rathbone, Edna May Oliver, Roland Young

Director: George Cukor

Summary: Charles Dickens’ classic tale of an orphaned boy’s fight for happiness and the colorful characters who help and hinder

Other Nominations: Film Editing, Assistant Director

Positives

-As with any Dickens story, there are tons of interesting supporting characters, and they are all well-portrayed. Highlights include Young as the scheming Uriah Heep, Fields as Mr. Micawber, and Rathbone as the evil stepfather Murdstone.

-Considering the time constraints (it’s 129 minutes), they did a really solid job of adapting the 624-page novel with really only one large subplot (and its characters) removed-there’s a reason why this is considered the #1 film adaptation of the novel.

-Not really a positive or negative, but this begins in earnest the wave of Best Picture nominated classic literary and play adaptations that would continue through the rest of the decade; Little Women was in 1933, but this is when there started being a big flood of them. Coming down the pipeline: another Dickens story, two Shakespeare plays, a Victor Hugo story, a Shaw play and an Emily Bronte story.

Negatives

-Bartholomew (as a child) and Lawton (as an adult) aren’t especially good portraying title character, but I think it really comes down to what is my biggest problem with the story in general: I don’t think David Copperfield himself is all that interesting of a character. I know there are plenty of good stories that involve a fairly generic character that gets surrounded by a whirlwind of colorful events and characters (an example being the Mad Max sequels), but the focus in those was always on the events themselves vs. the character, whereas here everything is about a character that I don’t have that much invested in.

Other Stuff

-Charles Laughton was originally cast as Mr. Micawber, which would have made this the 4th Best Picture nominee he was in this year. However, he resigned after two days of shooting because he wasn’t a good fit.

Overall

Quality adaptation of the famous Dickens story-other than better actors for the lead or an expanded 3-hour version that covers everything, I’m not sure what they could have done to make the story better. If you love the story, you will probably like this version a lot.However, I can’t give it that high of a rating because I simply never fully connected with the main character in a story that is 100% about him.

Rating: C

The Informer (1935)

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Starring: Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, Preston Foster, Margot Grahame

Director: John Ford

Summary: An Irish rebel turns in his best friend to earn passage money to America, then has to dodge the suspicions of his cohorts

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (McLaglen)*, Adapted Screenplay*, Score*, Film Editing

Positives

-Direction is great-the whole movie has a very fitting film noir look to it, mostly taking place on streets at night with heavy fog and backlighting, punctuated by bright street lamps and other light sources. Ford was also known to have jerked around McLaglen during filming to get the performance he wanted (since his character is drunk and/or generally off-balance the whole movie), which at least in the end result paid off.

-Even though I only liked, not loved his performance, McLaglen is perfectly cast as the big pathetic schlubby lead

Negatives

-The movie starts and ends pretty strong, but the middle really meanders and just felt like the movie was stalling for time. All it did was show us more about the lead that we already had a sense for, and it repeats the same things over and over. The script could have been tighter or something more could have carried the middle of the movie.

-Even though Max Steiner is one of the most celebrated composers ever, I thought his score overpowered the film sometimes and the movie would have been better had there been no soundtrack, or if was toned down a lot in places.

Overall

It has a strong visual style and some great scenes, but the middle lost my interest. Good, but this really feels like it could and should have been better than it was.

Rating: B-

Les Miserables (1935)

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Starring: Fredric March, Charles Laughton, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Rochelle Hudson, Frances Drake

Director: Richard Boleslawski

Summary: Adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel where an obsessed policeman relentlessly pursues an escaped convict

Other Nominations: Cinematography, Film Editing, Assistant Director

Positives

-The story of Les Miserables is one of the most famous of all-time, and for good reason, as you have an interesting and sympathetic lead, one of the best villains of all-time, and a lot of great and well-done themes covering a wide range of topics, like what does it mean to be a moral man or even a good Christian man, and how we treat former convicts after they have left (which still is a very relevant issue today). Regardless of what you think of this versions adaptation, those themes are still very much present and well-presented

-Considering I didn’t care for him all that much in the two previous films I saw him in (Smilin’ Through and the Barretts of Wimpole Street), I was really impressed with Fredric March as Jean Valjean throughout the whole movie. His problems is those previous films might be attributed to him not being a great romantic lead more than anything. Charles Laughton is also as good as you would expect as Javert

Negatives

-This one to me is hard to classify as strictly positive or negative but is the biggest issue with the film: while I think it succeeds as a stand alone film, it isn’t a very faithful adaptation. The obvious comparison here is with the 1934 version of Les Miserable which took a totally different track-while this version is 110 minutes and a lot is changed, the 1934 version is easily the most faithful film adaptation of the story but is 280 minutes, or over 4 ½ hours (it’s a REALLY long novel). I am a huge proponent for economy of storytelling, and the fact that the movie included everything needed to satisfy me from the same story in almost 3 fewer hours is a huge plus; my favorite example of this from the movie is that it starts with a short scene that I’m pretty certain was written only for this version with Javert that only lasts 3-4 minutes, but tells you everything you need to know about why he is who he is. On the other hand, many supporting characters have been drastically changed, and the movie ends long before the novel ends, leaving you with a very different impression of the ultimate fates of most of the characters than the novel does.

-One aspect about Jean Valjean’s character that is revealed towards the end is frankly gross,

-The character of Cozette in general isn’t fleshed out whatsoever, but that’s a problem with the source material.

Other Stuff

-This was the last film 20th Century made before merging with Fox in May 1935, and is also the first film here to have the 20th Century-Fox logo on it (as it was released after the merger)

-If 1934 was the year of Claudette Colbert, 1935 was the year of Charles Laughton, who also starred in three Best Pictures nominees (including the winner) and was nominated for an Oscar; the only difference is that Laughton didn’t win. Additionally, Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester had parts in two nominated films (David Copperfield & Naughty Marietta) and of course was also in Bride of Frankenstein that year. Never since have any actors or actresses starred in 3 Best Picture nominees in the same year, although three had supporting roles in 3: Thomas Mitchell in 1939 (Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Stagecoach), Adolphe Menjou in 1937 (A Star is Born, Stage Door and One Hundred Men and a Girl), and John C. Reilly in 2002 (Chicago, Gangs of New York and The Hours).

Overall

I really enjoyed this movie because it did a remarkably good job of condensing this massive story into the length of a normal movie while still retaining most of what was needed. However, for those who are purists, this adaptation is problematic because of how much is altered for the sake of brevity, especially the ending.

Rating: B+

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)

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Starring: Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, Richard Cromwell, Sir Guy Standing

Director: Henry Hathaway

Summary: Three British soldiers in India fight invaders when not fighting each other

Other Nominations: Director, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Sound Recording, Film Editing, Assistant Director*

Positives

-I liked Franchot Tone’s character, who’s a deadpan snarker type character. He’s the only character who has much of a personality in the movie.

-The big ending battle is fun and exciting even if it lasts for under 10 minutes

Negatives

-Very much a pro-British imperialism theme throughout, with the Brit’s being portrayed as heroic noblemen who are superior and should be in charged over these barbarous Muslims natives. It isn’t as heavy handed as Trader Horn or some other films of the era, but it still has aged very poorly.

-I still don’t like Gary Cooper, who much like in A Farewell to Arms, is pretty lifeless and montone. I have no idea why was a huge star at this point, as he’s not charismatic, not a good actor and isn’t that handsome, at least compared to Flynn and Gable.

-The film really lacks fun and excitement for the large majority of its running time, and just kind of plods along with its uninteresting main plot being a relationship conflict between the regiment commander and his son fresh out of the academy who just joined under him. That plot could have been more interesting if the son or commander were more interesting characters.

Other Stuff

-This was apparently one of Hitler’s favorite movies, as he loved the “dominant imperialist gentiles deserve to rule over the unwashed others” theme of the film

-Originally, they shot a bunch of footage in India, but lost it due to the film stock melting from the heat. As a result, most of the movie was filmed near Los Angeles

-How do you determine who the Best Assistant Director is?

Overall

When the movie isn’t troublingly outdated, it’s boring. If Tone’s character wasn’t there, it would have been much worse, but it’s still a very forgettable movie.

Rating: D+