The Informer (winner)
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
Mutiny on the Bounty
I can’t say that I’m an expert from the films of this era, but I can say that I was quite surprised at some of the films that aren’t here. Specifically, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Les Miserables all feel like natural nominations, and none of them would be wholly undeserved. There are three others that I think could easily be here. By modern standards at least, The Bride of Frankenstein would be considered an adapted screenplay, and while it’s silly in places, it would still be a fine one. The 39 Steps was based on a novel, and is one of Hitchcock’s early great films. The other one I would think about including is Ruggles of Red Gap, a vastly entertaining film that should have gotten more love come Oscar time.
Weeding through the Nominees
4. I’m probably punishing it unjustly, but whenever I think of this version of Mutiny on the Bounty, I’m left thinking only of Charles Laughton and pretty much nothing else. I know the story, but it’s a story that I know at least in part because of other adaptations. Given the amount of acclaim the movie got at the time, I’m not surprised it was nominated, but there were other adaptations that I think could have been here and deserved it more. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it that much, either.
3. The thing that The Informer has going for it more than anything is the performance of Victor McLaglan. I don’t doubt that this is a faithful adaptation of the original story on which the film is based, but it’s the story that gives me the most problems here. Gypo Nolan, assuming he is portrayed accurately, was created as the sort of character who can’t find his own backside with two hands and a flashlight. That very much affects how much I’m going to like the film. I don’t mind characters who aren’t smart, but I do mind them when they are so dumb as to beggar description.
2. Technically, Captain Blood wasn’t actually nominated, but got a great deal of love for a write-in campaign. Of these four movies, this is the one I like the best and the one I’m the most likely to want to watch at any given time. It turns out to be pretty influential as a film, too. Really, though, it’s not the screenplay that recommends it, but the action and the great chemistry between Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. There’s a lot to love here and it probably should have been nominated, but it’s not my winner.
1. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer might seem like an odd choice for screenplay, but there are a few things in this movie that are quite surprising, given the era. This time in the movie industry still had a great deal of melodrama in a lot of the films. This is one that, despite being a war film, managed some subtle ideas, like a military colonel wanting to connect with his son but not being able to do so. That’s unexpected from this era, and that sort of delicate writing deserved some love. Even if it’s not my ultimate pick, it’s the one I’d pick based on the nominees.
Given a free choice, I think I’d probably go with either The Bride of Frankenstein or Ruggles of Red Gap. The first is arguably the best of the old Universal monster films, starting with an entertaining screenplay. The second is deliciously entertaining and still funny after more than 80 years. Both of them have better screenplays than all of the nominees.