Finally, I come to major gaps, and you can all start wagging your fingers at me and muttering “for shame, for shame.” Or not — I don’t see any of YOU trying to see every single film ever nominated for an Oscar!
1934 saw the introduction of the Best Editing category, which I’ve never covered at all. I also completely dropped Best Sound Recording, and Best Short Subject (Novelty). I did drop conversation about the official nominees and winner for Best Short Subject (Comedy), because the Academy once again completely ignored Laurel and Hardy, but I think I can be forgiven my lordly disdain on that one, right, fellow Sons of the Desert? I also continued to discard Best Assistant Director, which dropped to a far more reasonable three nominations and a single award (and I’ve seen all three of the nominees: Viva Villa!; Cleopatra; and Imitation of Life). I’m going to continue to do so here, because who’s to say what the AD did on those movies?
Overall, I don’t think I should feel too guilty, because I only skipped one major film, Eskimo, for which Conrad Nervig won the Oscar for Best Editing. You may feel differently, but only if you really love Eskimos. By the way, I’ve actually tried Whale gum, which has a slightly nutty taste, and whale blubber — it’s a miracle anybody ever managed to swallow that stuff, because it tastes like rancid bait. We’ll see if I feel the same way about Nervig’s editing — I’m sure I can find a spare harpoon or three if need be…
So, let’s go back through what I missed, and see what’s what.
Eskimo is an unusual film, and one I’m glad to have finally seen. Director W.S. Van Dyke saw this project as a followup to White Shadows on the South Seas; Nanook of the North had already proven a viable audience for documentary-style movies about the Eskimo. Eskimo is the first movie ever shot entirely in a Native American language, Inuit, as well as being the first feature shot entirely in Alaska. English intertitles explained the action. When the original release proved unprofitable, MGM retitled the movie “Eskimo Wife-Traders.” One of the lobby cards read “The strangest moral code on the face of the earth — men who share their wives but kill if one is stolen!”
Here is one of the original posters:
Editor Conrad Nervig would win a second Oscar for 1950’s King Solomon’s Mines, as well as another nomination for 1935’s A Tale of Two Cities. His work on Eskimo shows a man who knows how to keep a story moving, using fairly short scenes, which linger only long enough to set up a feeling of the action, then cutting to another view (from boat, to fish, to boat with man spearing fish). He also knows how to create a montage effect, as in the Eskimo village, with a rapid exposition of scenes showing the supposed oddity of the Eskimo way of life (including breast-feeding and scraping hides). The hunts in particular probably formed the basis for this nomination, as they are presented with more vitality and energy than most MGM films mustered.
As for the other nominees, none of them really recommend themselves as anything more artistically edited than Eskimo: Anne Bauchens for the sumptuous Cleopatra and Gene Milford on the forgettable One Night of Love. DeMille’s editor worked with him for over thirty years, leading editor Margaret Booth to lament the loss: “”Anne Bauchens is the oldest editor in the business. She was editing for years before I came into the business. DeMille was a bad editor, I thought, and made her look like a bad editor. I think Anne really would have been a good editor, but she had to put up with him––which was something.” Nervig is as good a choice as any would have been.
Best Sound Recording:
The opera sycophant One Night of Love won for sound recording, largely, I suspect, because the Academy wanted to show a sign of class whenever it didn’t interfere with the box office. Here is what the kiss-ups overlooked: The Affairs of Cellini, Cleopatra, Flirtation Walk, The Gay Divorcee, Imitation of Life, Viva Villa! and The White Parade. Of those, which one screams out to you, “Pick Me! Pick Me! I sound the best, eighty years later!” The Gay Divorcee, right? Sometimes this is so easy, I shouldn’t get paid. Actually, I should. Go buy a damn book, wouldja? Carl Dreher of RKO should have won the Oscar for Best Sound Recording, for recording a brilliant classic that still sounds fresh long after everybody involved danced off this Earth.
Best Short Subject (Novelty):
City of Wax initially won. No, this isn’t some kind of strange sequel to Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray’s Mystery of the Wax Museum. Rather, City of Wax is about the life of a bee, one of those up-close nature specials we see all the time at length now on Animal Planet. UCLA has a copy, available for viewing.
In addition to City of Wax, Skibo Productions also released Bosom Friends, but I could locate no information at all on this. UCLA has a nitrate copy, in their non-circulating division. I am making a list of these; given the right request, UCLA is willing to screen these under certain conditions.
Finally, MGM again got a nomination for their Pete Smith specialties, this time one on bowling: Strikes and Spares. Famous pro bowler Andy Varipapa shows off his tricks. Overall, and despite the slightly racist presentation of the pin setter, I would suggest Strikes and Spares should have won in this category, given the historical quality of seeing Varipapa in his prime.
You can go watch the pins toss yourself:
Best Short Subject (Comedy):
Once again, I have no idea why the Academy chose to completely ignore the masters of this form in the sound era. Laurel & Hardy released one of their greatest tit-for-tat battles, Them Thar Hills, which wasn’t even nominated — but should have won. What did the Academy use to display their lack of a sense of humor? La Cucaracha; Men in Black (which has nothing to do with Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, or space aliens); and What, No Men! La Cucaracha probably took the Oscar because it was one of the first short films to use 3-strip Technicolor, after Walt Disney’s cartoon Flowers and Trees was such a hit. La Cucaracha features Steffi Duna dancing…well, you probably saw that one coming. Some hijinks accompany the dance.
You can watch La Cucaracha here:
Men in Black is actually amusing — but then again, it’s the classic Three Stooges line-up with Curly (and some guys named Moe and Larry). I still find Curly amusing after all these years. This time, the trio are doctors who wreck one patient after another.
Here is a clip:
Finally, What, No Men! is also in color, featuring comic El Brendel (best remembered in Just Imagine?). El Brendel and the leads take a wild trip, courtesy of some mad scientists, to an all-female tribe. This short, and many others, can be found on the Warner Bros. collection of Vitaphone comedies: