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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: