The Patriot (1928)

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Starring: Emil Jannings, Lewis Stone, Florence Vidor

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Plot Summary: An epic portrayal of political intrigue in Russia during the reign of Paul I (1796-1801)

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Stone), Adapted Screenplay*, Art Direction

Sadly, this film is lost except for a couple of short clips and its trailer, which can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrdCaqpbc70, and is the only Best Picture nominee with that status. Shame, as Jannings was one of the preeminent actors of his time (well, until he starred in pro-Nazi films in his native Germany) and Lubitsch was one of the top directors of the 20’s & 30’s. Reading the plot summary is hilarious though, as the film paints Paul as this crazed monster who needed to be put down, when he instead was assassinated because of his attempts to reform the Russian nobility and force better treatment of serfs.

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1928/29 in Review

Other notable films of 1928/29

The Passion of Joan of Arc: One of the greatest films of the silent era, with a legendary performance from Renee Falconetti; however, I can’t find any information about a U.S. release of the film before 1933 when it was released in a heavily cut form with narration.

West of Zanzibar: Another great collaboration between Lon Chaney and Director Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks, The Unknown), also with Lionel Barrymore and Warner Baxter. Wonderfully dark pre-code film with Chaney playing a crippled man out for vengeance against the guy who took his lover, with tragic results.

Blackmail: Hitchcock’s breakout movie and the first British all-talkie film

1928/29 Nominees in Review

The Broadway Melody: C (Won Best Picture)

Alibi: D+

In Old Arizona: D

The Hollywood Revue of 1929: D-

The Patriot: N/A (Lost Film)

A very poor year for Hollywood, as everything around this time became predicated around the novelty of sound picture, and everything else was deemed irrelevant. In light of this, the Academy made the right choice between the nominees, as The Broadway Melody was by far the best of the bunch, with its solid story and characters, as well as the best use of the new sound technology available.
Next up is the 3rd Academy Awards which covered films released between August 1929-July 1930.

7th Heaven (1927)

7thheaven

Starring: Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell

Director: Frank Borzage

Summary: A street cleaner saves a young woman’s life, and the pair slowly fall in love until war intervenes

Other nominations: Director for a Dramatic Picture*, Actress (Gaynor)*, Adapted Story*, Art Direction

Positives

-Very strong acting throughout, especially from Gaynor and Farrell who have excellent chemistry together; there’s a reason why the two would go on to co-star in 10 more films with each other. Gaynor won the first Best Actress Oscar partly because of 7th Heaven (the first Best Actor/Actress Oscars were given as a result of all movies the person was in in the given year-7th Heaven was the biggest hit, but she was also in the now better-remembered Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans as well as Street Angel that same year)

-The characters were good and felt organic and well fleshed out.

Negatives

-While the story structure works, the nuts and bolts of the plot have major problems. A couple of major plot points get introduced and then later get resolved with no real effort or drama in the most anti-climactic of fashion, there are pacing issues and the ending blindsided me with how inexplicable it was. Pretty much all the problems are with the screenplay (which somehow won the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay), but there are enough fundamental problems that crop up starting around the 45 minute mark that it really hurts the movie

Overall

7th Heaven is a well-acted film, especially for its time, and the first 30 minutes are great; after that however, the film feels like rushing from one plot point to the other with consistently poor results. It’s a pretty good movie that feels like it could have been great with a better screenplay.

Rating: C+

The Racket (1928)

racket

Starring: Thomas Meighan, Louis Wolheim, Marie Prevost

Director: Lewis Milestone

Summary: An honest police captain vows to bring down a powerful bootlegger who is protected by corrupt politicians and judges

Other nominations: None

Positives

-Meighan and Wolheim are both very solid as Rex Bannon and Mickey Rourke from Sin City (seriously-http://i88.photobucket.com/albums/k194/thesmark/racket.png)., they are solid

-Initially, I laughed at how much of a by-the-books generic movie this was; however, I think this is unfair, as this movie pre-dated the original Scarface, The Untouchables, etc. and probably helped establish many of the tropes associated with the gangster genre

Negatives

-I can forgive to some extent for its genericness, but you really do get everything you need to know about the movie from the one-sentence IMDB summary.

-This is the kind of movie you will forget about 5 minutes after you saw it, just nothing particularly memorable about it at all

Other Stuff

-The female floosy is named Helen Hayes for some reason-while she wasn’t a known film actress yet, she was well-established on stage, and they had to know that was a real person’s name. More of an oddity than anything

-The film’s producer Howard Hughes would later go on to have a biopic made about his life that will be covered later: The Aviator (2004)

Overall

This movie was believed lost until a complete version was found in the archives of Howard Hughes’ (who produced the movie), and was restored by TCM in 2004; there is no home release of this movie available. Although it’s a pretty easy watch at under 1 ½ hours, not much of a reason to seek this one out unless you really want to see an early gangster movie.

Rating: C-

*Wings (1927)*

Wings

Starring: Clara Bow, Charles Rogers, Richard Arlen, Gary Cooper

Director: William Wellman

Summary: Two young men, one rich, one middle class, who are in love with the same woman, becomes fighter pilots in World War I

Other nominations: Engineering Effects*

Positives

-The main draw is clearly the the air combat sequences, which would be the benchmark in that area probably until WWII films came out. Director William Wellman was a combat pilot in WWI and was hired to direct Wings for that reason-no one else could have possibly done a better job filming the dogfight scenes.

-I hadn’t seen any of Clara Bow’s movies before, but it was immediately apparent why she became a star. She has a natural charisma, good looks, and is immediately likeable; pretty amazing she was only 22 at the time. Also for a 1927 hollywood film, the half-second of toplessness from her was pretty surprising even if it was pre-code.

-There’s some great cinematography here-not only the fighter plane scenes, but also the ground combat scenes as well as a couple of other neat sequences that are well done

Negatives

-Acting in silent films can be spotty, and overall it’s not all that great (although Bow is entertaining enough). Very melodramatic and has not aged well.

-Apparently, this was the movie that kicked-off Gary Cooper’s career, which is funny because he’s in it for about 2 minutes, says that anyone can die at any time, and the literally 15 seconds after he walks off, dies which felt like something from a Final Destination movie.

-At 2 hours and 24 minutes, feels longer than it needs to be and the middle drops off a bit

-Clara Bow feels stapled on-they needed starpower for this big-budget war movie and wrote her part in after the first draft. Despite top billing, she’s only on-screen for about 25 minutes or so.

Overall

Up until The Artist (2012), Wings was the only silent film to win best picture. I have always been a fan of silent film, but for whatever reason had never gotten around to seeing Wings before; while I wouldn’t put it up there with the classics of silent film, it’s still a solid movie that served as an extremely impressive technical achievement at the time, even other parts of the movie haven’t held up as well.

Rating: B-

1927/28 in Review

Other notable films of 1927/28

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans & The Crowd: these two legendary silent films were not nominated for what is now called Best Picture, but instead were nominated for “Unique and Artistic Production”, a category that at that time was seen as equal to Best Picture (with Sunrise winning). The next year, the Academy eliminate the category and retroactively said that the award Wings won was the highest honor the Academy could give. Many argue that the films nominated for Unique and Artistic Production should be considered Best Picture nominees as well; I chose not to look at them for the purposes of this review because 1) I already have a long road ahead without adding 3 more films (the two above and Chang: A Drama in the Wilderness), and 2) I don’t think the academy considers them Best Picture nominees, which is the ultimate determining factor

Metropolis: although it’s one of those legendary silent films, it was only released in U.S. in a significantly shorter and simplified version in 1927, so its omission can be justified.

The Circus: while it received an honorary Oscar as a way of making up for it not being nominated for any awards, inexcusable for it to be ignored from competitive categories (of which Comedy Direction was one) despite being an excellent movie with one of the most emotional endings ever.

The Unknown: one of Chaney’s best films, with dark themes and a very early Joan Crawford performance as the love interest

The Man Who Laughs: tragic and morbid romance starring Conrad Veidt in a role that inspired the look of The Joker.

The Jazz Singer: first film with synchronized dialogue sequences

1927/28 Nominees in Review

Wings: B- (Won Best Picture)

7th Heaven: C+

The Racket: C-

I think the Academy got it right this year, at least in terms of picking between these 3 movies. Wings is one the earliest examples of a well-executed big hollywood epic with big action scenes, great cinematography and star power, although it suffers from over acting and a tacked-on love plot. 7th Heaven is a much more intimate film with great performances from its leads, but is ultimately doomed by its screenplay which has major problems when it gets beyond the two characters warming up to each other. The Racket is decent popcorn fair, but nothing particularly memorable.

Next up: the 2nd Academy Awards, which covered films from between July 1928 and July 1929.

Welcome to the Best Picture Nominees Project

I decided as a project that I will try and watch and review all (yes all) the previous Best Picture nominees, dating back to the first Oscars from 1929 (which honored films released between 1927 & July 1928). This is a daunting endeavor, but I’m going to try and stick with it for the long haul.

The reviews will be posted in alphabetical order for the given year-the best way to read them is click on a year from the bar on the right hand side. My letter grades will be based on a C being an average film, not an average BP nominee.

Alright, let’s get started!