Welcome to Year Four of the Best Picture discussion, concerning movies released between August 1st, 1930 and July 31st, 1931.
If only the movie was as good as the poster…
The Academy continued to nominate lackluster pictures, at the expense of true classics. Here’s what I had to say in V. 1 about the original slate of the winner Cimarron, East Lynne, The Front Page, Skippy, and Trader Horn: “Cimarron was the only Western to win Best Picture, for over half a century. Too bad it didn’t deserve the Oscar. But then, neither did East Lynne, Skippy or Trader Horn. You could drop all four of those movies into the trash can, and very few people would complain, least of all me. Cimarron is racist, empty spectacle…East Lynne is sheer Victorian melodrama, and what is worse, BAD Victorian melodrama; Skippy can be remembered primarily for the Peanut Butter named after it (basically, Skippy is a Little Rascals episode on steroids, and nowhere near as amusing as Spanky and Alfalfa); Trader Horn is only remembered for its live footage of Africa (which MGM would endlessly re-use in their Tarzan films); the film indulges the fascination Hollywood occasionally had for white hunter films, with all the racist implications. We even get a white goddess, ala H. Rider Haggard’s She (and played with B-picture camp by Edwina Booth, who picked up malaria and ruined her career…). In what may be the most ridiculous thing in the entire movie, the romantic lead carries around a guitar…for most of the picture. No case. No strap (until late in the film). He’s climbing a mountainside, and the guitar is in one hand. He’s hacking through jungle, and the guitar is one hand. Dumb. Thankfully, we seem to be past the moment in our cultural evolution in which watching two rhinos being shot and killed is seen as entertainment. And if Harry Carey says “lad” one more time, I am going to slap him. Most racist moment? “Don’t you understand? White people must help each other.”
The Front Page, on the other hand, is quite good.
But here’s what they ignored: James Cagney in The Public Enemy. Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar. Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (and again in Morocco). the Marx Brothers in Animal Crackers. Bela Lugosi in Dracula. Fritz Lang’s Die Frau im Monde (Woman in the Moon) — and Charlie Chaplin in City Lights.
Not to mention on a lesser level, Marie Dressler in Min and Bill, and Fredric March in Laughter. Walter Huston and Boris Karloff in The Criminal Code, Ricardo Cortez in the original version of The Maltese Falcon, and the goofy science fiction musical Just Imagine.
As always, I have much more to say in my book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OPEELH0
Have fun voting!