For 1937, it’s deja vu all over again!
I skipped the exact same categories as I did the year before. Fortunately, the Best Assistant Director slot is about to disappear after this year (as did Best Dance Direction, which I did cover in WHO Won?!? V.1). We’ve still got the three short categories I ignored: Best Live Action Short Film (Color), Best Live Action Short Film (One Reeler), and Best Live Action Short Film (Two Reeler). Those three categories will eventually shift and change, but Best Editing and Best Sound Recording are with us still.
And so are you, apparently — thanks for stopping by and watching me check off every list — just like Santa, looking for who’s naughty or nice! Trust me — the Academy was often naughty, picking some real losers to be their winners, and ignoring some very deserving people and films.
Let’s start with the big one this year: Best Editing.
I want to start here because the winner seems like the least likely candidate, and the most effective editing seems (to me, at least) a fairly obvious choice.
Gene Havlick (His Girl Friday) and Gene Milford (Wait Until Dark) won for Lost Horizon, which is one of the most poorly paced, uneven films of the year, and easily, the Frank Capra film which least fits into what we want from a Capra film. Lost Horizon has been restored back to as close to the original release as we can get, using the original soundtrack, and still photos to replace some of the still missing footage. One of the reasons Lost Horizon fails to satisfy, despite some very good parts, lies in the editing, which Columbia boss Harry Cohn took over from Capra when Cohn wasn’t satisfied with what he was seeing. The Oscar has gone then to Cohn’s butcher boys, who took what might have ended up a far better film and essentially ruined any chances it might have had for greatness. Havlick and Milford should not have won (although they would each go on to much better work in the future). Here is the striking poster:
The other candidates were Al Clark for The Awful Truth, Elmo Veron (Boys Town) for Captains Courageous, Basil Wrangell (Min and Bill) for The Good Earth, and Bernard W. Burton (The Rifleman) for One Hundred Men and a Girl (which is not, despite the title, a stag film).
Captains Courageous and The Good Earth are competent adaptations of literary classics hardly anybody reads any more, which both suffer from miscasting (Spencer Tracy’s accent and hair simply do not work effectively, and neither do Paul Muni or Luise Rainer as Chinese peasants). One Hundred Men and a Girl is a pleasant little Deanna Durbin musical, which Miley Cyrus could have easily starred in before she lost control of her tongue and her mind.
The one movie in this bunch that runs purringly on all eight cylinders, perfectly edited and paced, is the screwball comedy in which Cary Grant discovers how to be Cary Grant, and Irene Dunne lets him. Al Clark served director Leo McCarey with sublime perfection here — and he should have won the Oscar for Best Editing. Al Clark would go on to further greatness with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Here is the original movie poster:
Best Live Action Short Film (Color):
Pete Smith and MGM pinched their way to the Oscar with Penny Wisdom, outspending Warner Bros. and The Man Without a Country, as well as Paramount and Popular Science J-7-1.
Penny Wisdom is another cooking show. This time, the cook quits on a night that the husband is bringing home guests, including his boss. The Thirties version of Martha Stewart, Prudence Penny of the Los Angeles Examiner, is whisked in to save the day for the poor wife (Smith doesn’t seem to have had much respect for wives). The entire thing is another version of Menu, discussed above in Year 6. Penny Wisdom can be found as an extra on the DVD release of both the 1937 and 1952 version of The Prisoner of Zenda. For those who wish to indulge in some misogyny and fast cooking, here is the short:
The Man Without a Country is a short adaptation of the story Edward Everett Hale, in which a young naval officer on trial for treason is punished for renouncing his country, and condemned to be kept aboard the U.S. Navy for the rest of his days without any news of America. The short can be found as an extra on the box set, The Tough Guys Collection. I caught it on TCM, and it’s serviceable, although I wish they hadn’t slapped on a sappy ending.
Finally, Paramount received another nomination in this category for Popular Science J-7-1. This time, I found a listing of the subjects involved: “Angora Rabbit Farm; Dollar Steamship Lines; Futuristic Kitchen; Hybrid Rose Grower; Modern Medical Extraction Instruments; and Hair Growing Machines.” Again, a grab-bag, but I’ve always loved these kinds of cutting-edge mini-features (even though the edge is long lost, this celebration of the future is inspiring). I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this one, but I’m ordering the Popular Science collection DVD because I have such nostalgia for these sorts of things (see link in Year 9, 1937).
Best Live Action Short Film (One Reeler):
The Private Life of the Gannets won, from Skibo Productions and Educational Pictures, over MGM’s A Night at the Movies and Pete Smith’s Romance of Radium.
The Private Life of the Gannets was a nature documentary filmed in Great Britain way back in 1934, and features the life of the gannet, a cliff-dwelling ocean bird. The gannet has a six-foot wing-span, and behaves rather like a salmon in that they return to the same small island in the Irish Sea after their ocean-bound flights. For those of you wishing to spy into their private business, here you go:
I’ve seen Robert Benchley’s A Night at the Movies many times over the years, as the unhappy habits of movie-goers are skewered. One wonders what Benchley would have made of cell phones. Here is a short snapshot reminding today’s viewers who Robert Benchley was:
During the Twenties and Thirties, Radium was indeed romantic, and seen as a potential cure for all our ills. Future horror and suspense master Jacques Tourneur directed Romance of Radium. Interestingly, much of the look of this short must have inspired the MGM Greer Garson vehicle, Madame Curie. This brief history ends on a highly positive hope for healing, which you can see here:
Best Live Action Short Film (Two Reeler).
MGM won with the provocatively named Torture Money, over RKO’s Deep South and Should Wives Work?
Torture Money follows in the footsteps of the previous year’s winner in this category, The Public Pays. Again, MGM pretends to be Warner Bros. with this little crime drama in the studio’s Crime Does Not Pay series, this time about staged accidents to get auto insurance money. The entire series of these morality plays — ironically, now released by Warner Bros. — can be found on Amazon:
Deep South sounds like a travelogue in the American South, but has left no footprint beyond the fact of its mere existence anywhere I could locate. UCLA has no archival record.
Should Wives Work? features a wife going back to work over her husband’s objections. Or so the IMDB says. Unfortunately, like Deep South, I could find no trace. UCLA has no archival record. In both these cases, we can see what happens when a studio’s demise leads to the frequent loss of their output, especially in the era before television. Short films in particular are at risk, since television has no commercial use for them. For those of you worried about my failures, I’m keeping a list of all the movies I haven’t been able to see due to a lack of availability. Someday I hope to delete that list completely, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. I have enough to give me insomnia without taking responsibility for your death as well…
Best Sound Recording:
The bloat in the number of nominees continues in this category. Fortunately, I only missed two films, and both of them quite obscure.
The winner was director John Ford’s The Hurricane, which isn’t surprising — disaster flicks tend to do well in the technical categories. Sound engineer Thomas Moulton and United Artists beat out John Livadary for Columbia’s Lost Horizon; A. E. Kaye and Grand National’s The Girl Said No; Elmer A. Raguse for Topper; Douglas Shearer and MGM’s Maytime; Loren L. Ryder and Paramount’s Wells Fargo; John Aalberg and RKO’s Hitting a New High; E.H. Hansen and Fox’s In Old Chicago; Homer G. Tasker and Universal’s One Hundred Men and a Girl; and Nathan Levinson and Warner Bros.’ The Life of Emile Zola.
Here is the poster for The Hurricane, which made Dorothy Lamour a star:
As is usually the case with Academy Award categories, certain patterns assert themselves (for example, if you want to win in the Best Actress category, start crying now). For Sound, disasters and musicals often dominate. A disaster musical (as opposed to a musical disaster) would probably win hands-down. The other disaster, besides The Hurricane, is In Old Chicago (the famous Chicago fire). The musicals include The Girl Said No, Hitting a New High, Maytime, and One Hundred Men and a Girl. The odd nominations are for Lost Horizon (probably for the snowstorm and flying sequence), Topper (because of the ghosts’ voices), Wells Fargo (bang! bang!). and The Life of Emile Zola (I would bet for recording Paul Muni and his beard orating).
The two I missed are Grand National’s The Girl Said No and RKO’s Hitting a New High.
The Girl Said No stars Robert “King Kong” Armstrong as a guy chasing a dame. When said dame turns him down, he concocts an elaborate scheme to promote said girl in a performance of The Mikado, and then ruin her. Needless to say, morality and romance intrude. Fortunately for our viewing pleasure — at least for Robert Armstrong or Gilbert & Sullivan fans — The Girl Said No is in the public domain under the alternate title of With Words and Music, and is available for free download here:
Hitting a New High stars singer Lily “Somebody stole a D from my last name” Pons and Jack “Dictator of Bacteria” Oakie. Raoul “One-Eye” Walsh directed. Oakie plays a character named Corny; Pons plays Oogahunga, the Bird-Girl. That should tell you all about the kind of comedy Hitting a New High presents. I enjoyed it because Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore show up. While I could appreciate some of the singing and comedy, overall, nobody but the Marx Brothers should combine opera and comedy. Here is the poster:
And a preview:
We’ll see you next year for more omissions!