What Should Have Won the 1936 Best Picture Oscar?

Welcome to Year Nine of the Best Picture discussion, concerning movies released in 1936!

The Academy fell flat on their collective faces  this year, selecting the elephantine The Great Ziegfeld as Best Picture.

Here’s what I had to say about it in V. 1: “The Great Ziegfeld is one of the worst choices for Best Picture in the history of the Academy Awards. I love William Powell and Myrna Loy (even as Flo Ziegfeld and Billie Burke), and moments in this movie charm, but as one critic said at the time, The Great Ziegfeld was “an atrocious production…a picture false in biography, a glittering avalanche of legs and tinsel, a truer demonstration of the stupidity and rank barbarism of these times had never been more ably given.” Lavish budgets and overblown dance scenes do not a Best Picture make. The film is too long, at almost three hours with 23 songs. Too much of a not always good thing, and in a biopic, too much glossing over of the truth; the word “sanitized” comes to mind. The fun drains out of the picture as the hustler becomes the Great Man. Ray Bolger’s dance is the best of the movie; Fanny Brice has the best comic moments. We have to put up with blackface again. The Great Ziegfeld deserved neither Oscar nor nomination.”

The Academy didn’t do much better in their other nominees, since they ignored several classics in favor of mediocrities. To be fair, they did get a couple right. Here are their other nominees: Fredric March’s Anthony Adverse; the classic screwball comedy with Spencer Tracy, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow,  Libeled Lady; Frank Capra and Gary Cooper’s wonderful Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; the superannuated Romeo and Juliet with Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, and Lionel Barrymore all far too old for their roles; the original disaster porn film, San Francisco, with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Jeanette MacDonald; Paul Muni and the milk-lover’s The Story of Louis Pasteur; David O. Selznick and Ronald Colman’s A Tale of Two Cities; and Deanna Durbin in Three Smart Girls.

But here’s what they ignored! My Man Godfrey, with the sparkling William Powell and Carole Lombard at their best! And Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers in one of their best, Swing Time! And perhaps the best Sinclair Lewis adaptation, with Walter Huston, Dodsworth! And Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times!

And people wonder why I get mad…

Just for the sake of completion, they also ignored Humphrey Bogart’s The Petrified Forest; Charles Laughton’s Rembrandt; Irene Dunne’s Theodora Goes Wild; James Whale’s Showboat, with Paul Robeson; John Ford’s The Prisoner of Shark Island; Fritz Lang’s Fury, with Spencer Tracy; Laurence Olivier’s As You Like It; Errol Flynn and The Charge of the Light Brigade; the science fiction classic, Things to Come; and William Powell & Myrna Loy’s After the Thin Man, with an original treatment by Dashiell Hammett!

As always, I have much more to say in my book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OPEELH0

Well, here’s your chance to tell the Academy what should have happened! Please vote:


  1. I voted for Swing Time, but it was very close. I might have voted for Godfrey, only I’d feel like I was betraying my wife. I told her once that Carole Lombard was the only other woman I could see marrying. But when we come to 1942, I’m voting for To Be or Not to Be.

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