Tag Archives: The Life of Emile Zola

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.)

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