Archive | August, 2011

The Academy Awards: Best Picture Winners During the 1930s, Part II

14 Aug

Mutiny on the Bounty 1935

“He doesn’t punish men for discipline. He likes to see men crawl.”

Mutiny on the Bounty tells the story of, you guessed it, a mutiny aboard a ship called The Bounty. Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable again!!!) leads the impressed crew in a revolt against the ship’s tyrannical, keelhaul-loving Captain Bligh. Just to make sure we know how evil he is, there are no less than 40 shots of him and his leering into the camera. Because Clark Gable is classy guy, they don’t kill Bligh – they just send him adrift in a rowboat with no food or water – before finding a tropical island full of hot native babes to marry. Unfortunately, Bligh is able to miraculously leer his way back to England, where he immediately gets a new ship and goes out for revenge. Most of the gang escapes with Clark Gable to another island where they burn their ship to hide their tracks, but some get dragged back to England and hanged.

Well, it’s not that uplifting of a story. The movie clocks in at over two hours, and not being a nautical-minded person I definitely felt that length. It takes a surprising amount of time for the mutiny to actually occur, so after a while I just wanted it to happen already. The crew are portrayed as simpletons, so it’s sad to see them tortured and abused. It’s also frustrating to see Captain Bligh succeed. However, it’s rewarding to know that Christian, who is Bligh’s real target, manages to come out of the ordeal unscathed.

I watched this movie around the time I watched Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and it was interesting to see the difference between the two sea-centered films. These days, we’re used to so much action (explosions, mermaid attacks, etc.), while Mutiny was more like a slow burn; a long buildup until what we today would call a scuffle. Granted, Pirates was about pirates, obviously, while Mutiny featured men bound by honor who are taken to their limits, but it’s an interesting juxtaposition nonetheless.

I give Mutiny on the Bounty 2 out of 5 golden nude men.

 

The Great Ziegfeld 1936

Another musical. The Great Ziegfeld follows Flo Ziegfeld, who has very meager beginnings, but is able to build a show business empire using his charms (even though I found him lacking in the looks department and his lines were made of cheese). He marries Anna, a beautiful French singer whom he catapults into fame by leaking to the newspapers that she bathes daily in milk. Anna is wildly successful, but it’s not enough for Ziegfeld. He has dreams of building the ultimate female-driven show which births The Ziegfeld Follies, a lavish production brimming with gorgeous women. It’s extremely successful, and more versions of the Follies are made. As you can only imagine, Anna is quite jealous of all the attention Ziegfeld pays to these ladies, particularly to Audrey, a singer with a love of booze. Anna divorces him, believing he will come back to her. Instead, he marries another Broadway star, Billie Burke. There’s a sad scene of Anna giving him a call to congratulate him, even though she is heartbroken. Time passes, and people wonder whether Ziegfeld’s moment is over. He vows to have four hits on Broadway at the same time, which he achieves. However, the stock market crash in 1929 leaves him bankrupt, and he becomes very ill over his stress regarding his finances and the growing popularity of films. In the final scene, he dies while reminiscing over the success of the Follies.

The movie’s tagline was “10 Big Shows in 1!” and let me tell you, you get those shows. This film is beastly long, coming close to three hours. There is song-and-dance number after song-and-dance number, including one very bizarre and extravagant song that includes hundreds of extras in outrageous costumes on a revolving staircase. For your viewing pleasure, the video of the aforementioned scene is below (the real action kicks in at about the 1:05 mark and keeps going).

 

If you love musicals and outrageous productions, then this film is for you. As I’ve mentioned before I’m not the keenest on musicals, so this movie began to feel like torture as hour after hour ticked by. I also base a lot of my opinion of a movie on whether or not I like any of the central characters, and it was obviously very difficult to connect with Ziegfeld.

I can’t mention this film without talking about one scene in particular left me a little unnerved. When he’s younger and starting out, he’s telling his father about how he’s going to pursue his dreams. Little Mary Lou, who can’t be more than six- or seven-years old and has had a crush on him for years, is distraught Ziegfeld is leaving and won’t say goodbye. However, to pacify her, he has a present, which he will only give to her if he gives her a kiss. He then tells her,

“Some people like beautiful paintings. Some people love beautiful flowers. Now, I love beautiful little girls like this one. You know what I’m going to do someday? I’m going to take all the beautiful girls like you and I’m going to put them together and make pictures with them.”

You definitely wouldn’t hear any lines like that in this day in age! And if you did, you can guarantee the man would be made to register as a sex offender.

The Great Ziegfeld earns 3 out of 5 golden nude men. (Given for production values, which were actually pretty impressive.)

 

The Life of Emile Zola 1937

In The Life of Emile Zola, unsurprisingly we follow Emile Zola, a struggling French writer who builds his career criticizing the government. He becomes very rich and very famous, and consequently very complacent in his new comforts. He is living comfortably when the Dreyfus Affair incident occurs, in which a secret agent steals a letter that is meant for someone in the German embassy. According to the letter, there is a spy within the top ranking officials in the French army staff. Without conducting much investigation, it is decided by these top officials that Captain Dreyfus is the spy. He is found guilty and is imprisoned on a tropical island in solitary confinement.

However, when a new chief is brought in, he discovers evidence that Major Esterhazy is the real traitor, but his superiors order him to remain silent about the issue as they don’t wish to be embarrassed about being wrong. The chief is quickly assigned elsewhere. Many years pass, and then Dreyfus’ wife confronts Zola to fight for her husband’s injustice. He’s reluctant to do anything to endanger his now pampered life, but he is curious by the information she has. His old passion for social justice once again inflamed, Zola writes an open letter in the newspaper that accuses the army of the cover up. He is accused of libel, and taken to a trial that is nothing but a sham. His lawyer isn’t permitted to address the Dreyfus Affair, and when the military witnesses are questioned, they lie. He is sentenced to a year in prison, but he escapes to England, where he continues to write about Dreyfus’ injustice. Finally, the new administration admits Dreyfus is innocent, and the officials that attempted the cover up are forced to resign. Esterhazy flees the country. The night before the ceremony for Dreyfus’ exoneration, Zola falls asleep in his study after the chimney blocks up and fills the room with carbon dioxide as he becomes second protagonist in a row to die alone in his chair.

When I watched the film, I was struck by what I perceived to be its strong political/moral stances. Government should be honest and transparent, be true to your country, seek injustice on behalf of those that are wrongly persecuted… etc. However, in reading online about the story, which really happened, I discovered that Dreyfus was Jewish, which was not touched on in the film whatsoever. In real life, the incident was viewed as being very anti-Semitic, and I’m very disappointed the movie failed to address that issue.

The Life of Emile Zola receives 2 out of 5 golden nude men.

 

You Can’t Take it With You 1938

“Sometimes you’re so beautiful it just gags me.”

In this old fashioned, Royal Tenenbaums-esque story, You Can’t Take it With You centers on Alice and her offbeat, happy-go-lucky family. Alice, the only normal person in her family, is a stenographer who’s engaged to her boss Tony (Jimmy Stewart!!!). Tony works for his money-hungry father, who is looking to purchase Alice’s family’s house in order to turn the neighborhood into a giant war munitions factory. Obviously, this leads to a clash between the two families that threatens to tear apart Alice and Tony’s relationship. One crazy event leads to another and the two families wind up spending a night in jail, where Alice’s dad is able to tell Tony’s dad what life is all about (a.k.a not money). While Tony’s family simply buys their way out of jail, they’re taken aback to see the entirety of Alice’s neighborhood collectively pony up the money to bail Alice and her beloved family out. Tony’s family comes to terms with the error of their ways, allowing Alice and Tony to be in love and be married. Hooray!

I appreciated this film’s attempt at quirk. It was refreshing to see such zany characters on screen, even if a few of them came across as being legitimately insane. It was enjoyable to see Jimmy Stewart be Jimmy Stewart, but I was also sad to see that his character didn’t stand by Alice during the trial and jail moments, though I understand family loyalty—to a point. I was hoping he would be the moral compass that would make his parents realize their wrongs, but instead it took Alice’s family to wake his father from his greedy stupor. Despite this, the film was still some much-needed light-hearted fare after The Life of Emile Zola.

You Can’t Take it With You is awarded 3 out of 5 golden nude men.

 

Gone With The Wind 1939

“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

(Note: Since Gone With The Wind is one of the 12 films in existence my moving-loving husband hasn’t seen, I asked for him to guest write the film’s entry in our documentation of our journey. His thoughts are below.)

I knew there was a reason there wasn’t a hole in my movie-loving heart due to avoiding this behemoth of garbage. In addition to being about 160 minutes too long and the utter lack of anything resembling a redeeming quality in any character, the dialogue was some of the most gruelingly bad stuff I’ve ever heard. I literally had to turn on the subtitles to be sure I was actually hearing the words correctly. I say all this fully knowing how dated the film is culturally, but also knowing that there were also some gems that had come before – like It Happened One Night – that prove cinema was actually capable of witty writing and decent plot composition.

The plot follows the saga of Scarlett O’Hara, who probably takes the cake in being the most unappealing character in my memory. After her crush, Ashley, marries her saintly best friend she spends her entire young adulthood marrying idiot suitors in an attempt to make him jealous – which works because Ashley totally makes out with her in secret all the time. Anyway, Clark Gable shows up and falls in love with Scarlett who won’t have him because A, he’s not Ashley and B, Clark Gable enjoys a good whore now and then. At this point in the film I still had full confidence that Scarlett and Gable’s Rhett would both overcome their shady paths, fall in love, and make honest adults out of each other.

Nope.

Scarlett eventually marries Rhett for his cash and then blames him for the death of their child, causing him to walk out on her and the film ends.

While it was fun to see the first full color Best Picture winner, as well as some really sweet jib and crane shots full of scenic beauty and hundreds of extras, nothing could overcome how bewildered I was that this plot is so beloved by so many people. Maybe I just watched too may episodes of Power Rangers as a kid, but I was bored and annoyed out of my mind.

Gone With The Wind gets 1 out of 5 golden nude men from me, while LC gives it 3 (she just likes to look at Clark Gable.)

The Academy Awards: Best Picture Winners During the 1930s, Part I

13 Aug

Cimarron 1930/1931

“You shouldn’t interfere when men are having a little friendly shootin’.”

How do I even begin? Cimarron is one of the most offensive movies I have ever seen. It’s been a couple months since I watched it, but I still can’t get over the idiocy of the film’s protagonist. The story is centered around a man called Yancy, a newspaper editor who decides to journey west during the Oklahoma land rush with his wife and child. Somehow, without explanation, Yancy knows just about everyone in their new rough-and-tumble town, enabling him to solve a murder without any evidence (outside the murderer’s greasy mustache and constant leering) and become the de facto mayor, pastor, and sheriff.  Admittedly, this does enable him to do some pretty cool things, such as shooting a criminal suspect in the face while giving his Sunday sermon. Not joking – that actually happens.

After a few years – and the film does an excellent job of making you feel like you’ve been watching that long – Yancy’s wanderlust kicks in and he bolts for another startup town, leaving his wife and son to hang out with the newspaper on their own. You read that correctly. He leaves without them and doesn’t return for years. When he does return – we’re talking the day he walks through the door – he’s upset to find that his wife’s been using the newspaper’s editorials to purge the town of criminals and hookers and adds the title of defense lawyer to his resume. With his beloved status throughout the town, he has little trouble crushing his wife’s cause after a couple courtroom speeches before he takes off to enlist in the first World War.

We never hear from him again until the day his wife is elected one of the first Congresswomen in history, when he’s found dead at an accident on a construction site in New York. No explanation is given for Yancy’s refusal to return to his family, but one can only assume it was to continue his tradition of not caring about his family.

Can you tell why I didn’t care for this film yet? I know “times have changed,” but that doesn’t make this one any easier to like. From the film’s glorification of Yancy’s horrible treatment of his family and NOT his wife’s evolution from pathetic sidekick to empowered woman, to the awful portrayal of African-Americans (there are no shortage of lines like “Please massa, take me to Okie-Homie!”) the film’s themes were unlikeable from start to finish. The only positive aspect of the movie was that it dealt with racism – unless your race was African American, with Yancy and his wife supporting the marriage of their son to a Native American woman.

I hated this film so much.

Cimarron gets 1 out of 5 golden nude men.

 

Grand Hotel 1931/1932

“Grand Hotel… always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”

The forerunner to Love Actually, Grand Hotel follows several characters whose storylines inevitably intersect while staying at a luxurious hotel. The one storyline that really matters is the one involving Baron Felix von Geigern, who has squandered his wealth and is now a common thief, and Grusinskaya, a Russian ballerina in the twilight of her career. One night, the Baron sneaks into Grusinskaya’s room to steal a strand of her pearls but gets caught in the act by the dancer, leading instead by a long night of flirtatious banter that evolves into a love affair in true Hollywood fashion.

Before they can run off together, the Baron has to settle his debts and decides the best way to do this is by attempting to rob the only nefarious character in the ensemble, a crooked corporate stooge called Preysing. As the Baron can’t even avoid getting caught by a ballerina, Preysing obviously catches him and decides to bludgeon him to death with a telephone. None of the other characters tell Grusinskaya what happened, so she rides off into the sunset thinking she was stood up. Fin.

It’s rather hard to like a movie where the romantic interest is literally killed with a telephone. That said, it was rather charming how the characters kept popping in and out of each other’s stories, a la Love Actually (though London is a tad more interesting than some hotel). Besides phone homicide and a couple inferences of the exchange of sexual favors for a job, my main irritation revolved around the Baron and Grusinskaya magically falling in love in just a few minutes. Then again, romantic comedy is believable? Apparently not even the first ones.

I give Grand Hotel 2 out of 5 golden nude men.

 

Cavalcade 1932/33

Like Wings, Cavalcade is not available on DVD. We weren’t able to locate it on VHS through our public library, nor are there clips on YouTube. L If anyone knows of a way to get a hold of this movie, please let me know, I would appreciate it! It’s also very bothersome “skipping” over a film on our quest.

 

It Happened One Night 1934

“Any guy that would fall in love with your daughter ought to have his head examined.”

I’d been looking forward to watching It Happened One Night, since I know it is one of my grandparents’ favorites. Right off the top I’ll tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed it in no small part because I consider this to be the first Best Picture winner I would call genuine comedy. The movie tells the story of Ellie, a spoiled heiress who has married a man called Westley against her father’s wishes. Before the marriage is consummated, however, her father finds and retrieves her. This leads her run away to be with Westley, which must’ve been crazy-scandalous for that time period. Fate however, has other plans. On the bus (yes, the little heiress takes the bus), she meets Peter (CLARK GABLE!!!), a newspaper reporter who’s just lost his job. He recognizes her and agrees to help her evade her father’s henchmen on the condition that she’ll give him an exclusive on her story. Knowing that if she refuses he’ll tell her father where she is and collect the large reward that has been offered, she begrudgingly accepts Peter’s help.

As the strain of the long travel gets to her, Ellie begins to become a more bearable human being while falling in love with Peter. One night, she confesses her love to Peter, who of course feels the same, and tells her his true feelings. After she has fallen asleep (don’t worry, they’re sleeping in separate beds and have a sheet hung between them – honor still intact), he leaves to buy her an engagement ring. As he didn’t leave any kind of note, she naturally thinks Peter’s gone to turn her in and collect the reward money so she does what anyone in her position would do and runs back into Westley’s arms. As they prep their wedding, a crushed Peter pays Ellie’s father a visit – not to collect the reward but to recoup the mere $40 he spent while taking care of his daughter. The dad obviously realizes Peter is a quality guy, and sees how miserable his daughter is without her so he of course waits until he’s walking her down the aisle to encourage her to run and meet up with Peter. She goes all Runaway Bride on Westley (who doesn’t care after her dad pays him off – what a champ) and all is well.

While a lot of elements in this film have been copied a hundred times by its romantic comedy successors, I was totally charmed by the film’s witty writing and the chemistry between the two leads. Then again, Clark Gable could’ve probably generated some serious chemistry with a tree. With the exception of perhaps Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable seems to epitomize the classic old-school movie star, and I could truly feel the star wattage power missing from the previous Best Picture winners. There were also some fun “wink-wink” scandalous moments, such as the famous hitchhiking scene which is below for your enjoyment.

 

Need I say anything more?

It Happened One Night gets 4 out of 5 golden nude men.