What Should Have Won the 1937 Best Picture Oscar?

Welcome to Year Ten of the Best Picture discussion, concerning movies released in 1937!

The Life of Emile Zola won this year, officially beating out one of the funniest movies ever made, as well as a classic behind-the-scenes theater piece. Unofficially, it also beat several more-deserving classics. Here’s what I had to say about Zola in V.1: “The Life of Emile Zola is yet another Paul Muni biopic. This time, the French writer of Nana and other socialist novels comes into Muni’s hands. The Warner Brothers seem to have intended the film as a sly attack on Hitler’s actions and attitudes towards the Jews by focusing on the Dreyfus Affair, which showed the French government to be anti-Semitic to the core at the turn of the century. But they tell the story without really letting the audience know why Dreyfus was being persecuted, which undercuts the entire point of attacking anti-Semitism; a finger points at his record, showing his religion to be Jewish, while the French military leaders ask how somebody like that could have made it onto the general staff. An inherently weakened picture, The Life of Emile Zola was far from the best made this year. The first half is mediocre at best, but the second half makes up for it, as the trial takes over to provide narrative drive. The nomination should stay, but not the Oscar.”

You may disagree with that assessment, but here are the other choices the Academy nominated: Leo McCarey, Cary Grant, and Irene Dunne’s The Awful Truth, Spencer Tracy and his bad hair day in Captains Courageous, Bogart and the Bowery Boys in Dead End, Paul Muni and Luise Rainer and their preposterous makeup in The Good Earth, Alice Faye and Tyrone Power fighting fires In Old Chicago, Frank Capra and Ronald Colman seeking paradise in Lost Horizon, Deanna Durbin in the oddly named One Hundred Men and a Girl, Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers go behind the Stage Door, and Janet Gaynor and Fredric March in A Star Is Born.

Overall, while there are some stinkers in there, the crop they named is a fair selection. But here’s what they omitted: Fredric March and Carole Lombard in Nothing Sacred; Ronald Colman in The Prisoner of Zenda; Laurel & Hardy’s best full-length film, Way Out West; Greta Garbo’s best dramatic role in Camille; Barbara Stanwyck in the weep-fest Stella Dallas; the forgotten little gem of a screwball comedy, Easy Living, with a screenplay by Preston Sturges; John Ford directing Shirley Temple in Wee Willie Winkie; and Disney’s ground-breaking Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

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

Which do you think should have won?

Please vote!


  1. This is a hard one. 3 of my all time favorite movies this year. Stella Dallas, A Star is Born and Captains Courageous. How could Barbara not have won for Stella Dallas? Plus Lost Horizon, I like the way this movie leaves you thinking did he leave or did he stay. Plus I think it’s a beautifully shot movie. I voted a Star is Born.

  2. @Laveda Friese

    Maybe you think this is hard, but I find it a no-brainer. This was a relatively weak year for movies, and one film TOWERED over the rest of the crowd. There is no excuse for not giving a Best Picture Award to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs except the stupid and irrational belief that Snow White does not deserve to win solely because it was an animated feature—and the first animated feature ever made.

    That being said, of all the other live-action films, The Awful Truth was probably the best. (I have not seen them all.) It is certainly much better than the film that DID win, The Life of Emil Zola.

  3. You can return to “The Awful Truth” again and again and it’s always fresh and funny. I wish I could see it right now. “The Life of Emil Zola”…boring.

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