1931-1932: Year Five

So, let’s start off with a correction, for Best Sound Recording for this year. In V. 1, I stated that only Paramount was nominated. The source I used at that time was apparently incorrect, and I had not yet gotten into the habit of checking the Academy Award Database as I generally have. What can I say? I was younger and more naive. Haven’t we all been that in our late forties?

Anyways, to set the record straight, Paramount indeed win in the category — for the second of three straight wins — but they beat out MGM, RKO, and Warner Bros. None of them had a single movie listed — “This nomination was not associated with any specific film title” is the usual refrain on the Academy Database. Paramount clearly was doing something right, whether it was in pulling strings behind the scenes, or in actually having better product, it’s hard to tell.

What Paramount movies could have been the subject of such love? My best guess is the Ernst Lubitsch musicals, The Smiling Lieutenant and One Hour with You. Both are wonderful pre-Code Lubitsch, at his naughty best. Here are my descriptions of these two risque joys from V.1 of WHO Won?!?: “The Smiling Lieutenant starts and ends with sex. Well, this is pre-Code Hollywood, and Ernst Lubitsch. It’s all off camera, but it does quickly establish Maurice Chevalier’s character: the girl leaves his front door with a smile, even though we never see him. He’s also a rogue, since a bill collector came to the door right before she did – guess which visitor got what she wanted? Throughout the film, there is a glowing sheen to these people, as if they were somehow animated. Lubitsch produces a beautiful look in his pictures, as always. The songs aren’t more than rhyming ditties, however. The Smiling Lieutenant is a lusty little piece of strudel. Not very filling, mind you; just dessert, and a frothy one at that. One Hour with You is yet another Ernst Lubitsch musical with Maurice Chevalier (George Cukor began directing this one, but Lubitsch took over). Sex, sex, and more sex. Except for when there’s sex. We meet Chevalier with a beautiful blonde on his lap, and a cop telling him to stop making love in the park: Cop: “You can’t make love in public!” Chevalier: “I can make love anywhere.” Cop: “No, you can’t!” Blonde: “Oh, but officer, he can! He can make love anywhere!” Chevalier, incredibly pleased: “Darling!” This is the Lubitsch touch, and here it is again: the blonde is Jeanette MacDonald, and they are, as Chevalier soon assures us with a look into the camera, actually married. So what we think is naughty and not allowed, is naughty and matrimonial: “I am married, and I like it. I’m sorry to disappoint you.” One Hour with You begins as a paean to wedded sexual bliss; temptation soon comes in the form of the wife’s amoral best friend (well, if temptation didn’t come, we wouldn’t have much of a movie). As Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist anything…but temptation!” Will Chevalier?”

Nothing like innuendo to get the talkies going!

As for what I omitted, I really didn’t leave out any categories, but I did glide over some of the nominees in the new short subjects, focusing entirely on the winners for Best Short Subject (Comedy), which was the immortal Laurel & Hardy The Music Box, the late career nod to Mack Sennett for Best Short Subject (Novelty), Wrestling Swordfish, and the groundbreaking exercise in Technicolor animarion from Walt Disney for Best Short Subject (Cartoon), Flowers and Trees.

So let’s kick the losers around, ok? They really like it when we rake them over the coals of their defeat, don’t they?

Best Short Subject (Comedy):

Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box won out over Mack Sennett’s The Loud Mouth and RKO’s Scratch-as-Catch-Can. The Loud Mouth stars the now-forgotten Matt McHugh in the title role, with Franklin Pangorn the only actor anybody remembers. The plot, such as it is, has McHugh being incapable of keeping a secret or keeping his opinions to himself. Much of the humor is definitely of the non-PC variety. Perhaps the most compelling reason anybody might want to see The Loud Mouth is that the Los Angeles Angels baseball team shows up. TCM has shown this, along with other restored Sennett shorts, in recent years.

RKO’s Scratch-as-Catch-Can features better-known actors, including Walter Brennan in an early role, and Laurel and Hardy’s best opponent, James Finlayson (he of the bald head and fabulous reaction shots). Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to locate a copy of this, and it may not exist. UCLA has no copy in any format. I’d really like to see it, if only for Finlayson, but does anybody really think there’s a chance in comedy hell it’s better than The Music Box?

Here’s a tribute to James Finlayson, from the Laurel and Hardy fan group, the Sons of the Desert!

Best Short Subject (Novelty):

Mack Sennett had a series called Cannibals of the Deep, of which Wrestling Swordfish is the second. I suggested leaving Sennett the Oscar, just because he’s Mack Sennett, of the Keystone Kops and the early films of Mack Sennett. But I had another reason — none of these nominees was available for viewing at the time of composition. Paramount’s Screen Souvenirs is in UCLA’s archive, but only in a nitrate copy, and not available (to me, at least — how about it, TCM?); MGM’s Swing High is one of producer and narrator Pete Smith’s series, who did over 150 of these shorts for MGM from the Thirties to the Fifties. This one about the acrobats, The Flying Cordonas, who were probably the most famous aerialists of the era (more can be found on them at http://www.circopedia.org/The_Codonas). Their star, Alfredo Codona, doubled for Tarzan in MGM’s series, as can be seen in this compilation:

Swing High has recently been included as a bonus to the DVD of Clarence Brown’s Night Flight. which was released after I completed the chapter. Swing High is well worth a look, especially for fans of acrobats.

Best Short Subject (Cartoon):

Walt Disney’s Flowers and Trees was the obvious choice here, outdoing even his own Mickey’s Orphans and Warner Bros. It’s Got Me Again. Mickey’s Orphans is in black and white, which would soon change in the Mickey series, once the Technicolor issues were worked out in the Silly Symphonies series. Mickey and Minnie prepare to celebrate Christmas when a mysterious woman deposits an endless supply of kittens on their doorstep. Pluto isn’t happy. The audience is, as the cats destroy Christmas.

It’s Got Me Again has a family of mice fighting off a hungry cat attack. Amusing, but minor — and clearly an attempt to cash in on Mickey Mouse’s popularity.

All three cartoons are widely available — as are my books, on Amazon! Just type in “who won” in the search engine, which will take you straight there.

We’ll see you next time; sooner or later, I’ve got some real work to do making up for these omissions!

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