Leo McCarey: The Awful Truth (winner)
Sidney Franklin: The Good Earth
William Dieterle: The Life of Emile Zola
Gregory La Cava: Stage Door
William Wellman: A Star is Born
Lots of interesting movies in 1937, but I think the five selected aren’t bad choices. It will be a shock to no one that I’m going to suggest King Vidor’s work on Stella Dallas might be worth a thought. I also think Victor Fleming’s work on Captains Courageous might warrant some love. It’s not my favorite film of the year by far, but there are some interesting problems created by filming something in 1937 that looks really conveys its being on the ocean and doing it well that makes him worthy of a nod. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs may not have been taken seriously enough…or having six different directors may just have been too much for the Academy.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I’m convinced that Stage Door doesn’t know what it wants to be, and that’s an issue. Certainly a part of that comes from the screenplay, but some of it necessarily comes from the direction as well. This is a film that is tonally strange. Is it a comedy? A drama? Is it meant to be taken seriously or should we be laughing? When a film doesn’t have a center—and Stage Door doesn’t—the responsibility for that falls at the foot of the person in charge. I’d have rather seen Victor Fleming here.
4: I’ve maintained in the past that The Life of Emile Zola isn’t a bad film; it’s just kind of boring. It’s a very interesting film for its time—produced while Jews were being persecuted across Germany and shortly before the full extent of the Holocaust, we have a film about anti-Semitism. It’s certainly interesting, but that doesn’t necessarily make it exciting. I like the film pretty well, but this is a case where the director could have made things more interesting than they are rather than simply filming the drama.
3: There’s a lot that I like about The Good Earth. From a directorial standpoint, the fact that the whole thing actually holds together is relatively noteworthy because it’s a big story with a lot going on. I genuinely appreciate the fact that the film tries very hard to be respectful of Chinese culture in a time when making China weird and strange—a spectacle instead of having a story about people—would be the norm. Ultimately, I like the other two nominations more, so the placement of The Good Earth is less about problems with it than it is about other directorial performances being ones I like more.
1: Most of the time when I do these Friday posts, I start from the bottom up. This time, I went top-down; The Awful Truth was my winner based on the nominations and really, based on the films released in 1937. I’ve taken a little heat in the past for not loving The Awful Truth as much as everyone else, and I maintain that the film is pretty lightweight. But it does work and it works as a comedy even if it is lightweight. A great deal of that can be placed at the feet of Leo McCarey’s direction. This was a good choice, and Oscar got this one correct.