Bad Girl (winner)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
These early years of Oscar are so frustrating some times! There’s a good collection of movies eligible for this award for 1931/1932, but there are a mere three nominees. I could easily make two sets of three that I like a great deal more. Let’s start with Five Star Final and The Champ, two films good enough to be nominated for Best Picture but evidently not worth putting in this category. Also nominated elsewhere is Emma, which could have certainly stood a nod here. The big miss in terms of other nominated films, though, is Grand Hotel, which remains the only movie in Oscar history to win Best Picture while being nominated for no other award. Oscar’s bent against horror movies started early, leaving out both Frankenstein and Freaks. Early Oscar loved crime films, though, so I don’t know why Scarface was ignored. It’s also worth noting that La Chienne was released in this time frame and could have been eligible, but didn’t show up in an American theater until 1976!
Weeding through the Nominees
3. Just on a pure enjoyment level, I have no idea what Arrowsmith is doing nominated. I won’t go so far as to say that this is a bad movie, but it’s not a very good one. I remember little of it save that I was bored to tears by the whole thing. There are weird holes in the plot that evidently happened because John Ford was contractually obligated to stay sober for the duration of the filming, so he skipped swaths of the script. It shows, and for that reason alone, I have to wonder about the overall quality of the original script.
2. We’re evidently going to go in alphabetical order here, because Bad Girl is coming next. I understand why Bad Girl won in 1932, but it’s not a film I’d put on top today. The problem with it is that all of the issues of the two main characters could be solved at any time by an honest two-minute conversation. I give the film some leeway, though; talkies were still in their infancy at this point, and we were still learning how to tell stories this way. Much of this wouldn’t fly today, but for its era, I get why this took the prize.
1. This leaves us with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a rare horror movie nomination for this or any year. I like this version of it pretty well. It’s a good story, and I haven’t (yet) seen a version that I genuinely disliked completely. If anything, the problem here is that it rushes the story too much. This was a time when a lot of films ran around 70 minutes. The 96 minute running time of this must have felt like a marathon, but it could stand another 15-20. It’s a clear winner for the three nominees, but not my real winner by a longshot.
When you see the quality of films that were eligible for a nomination and see the three paltry nominations we actually got, it’s easy to be frustrated or saddened. I’ve decided to try very hard not to get outraged by this. I’d take most of the potential nominees I mentioned above over all three of these, and I wasn’t kidding when I said I could easily make two more slates of this size. Gun to head and forced to choose one? Frankenstein would be in the running, but so too would Scarface and Grand Hotel.