Monday, October 23, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1932-1933

The Contenders:

Lady for a Day
Little Women (winner)
State Fair

What’s Missing

The Oscars for 1933 actually cover a year and a half of movies. This was the last Oscars ceremony that didn’t simply follow a calendar year for available films. The nominees were drawn from films released between August, 1932, and December, 1933. And in all of that, the Academy found only three movies they felt worth nominating for Best Adapted Screenplay (or Best Adaptation, as it was at the time). 42nd Street seems like a significant miss here, especially given the love of musicals at the time. Love Me Tonight seems to fall in the same category. On the romance front, we have Queen Christina. The missing dramas are The Most Dangerous Game, a great story with a solid adaptation, and I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, a further solidification of the talents of Paul Muni and a film that actually changed the legal system.

Weeding through the Nominees

3. I was not a huge fan of State Fair. I think it’s a cute film for its time, but there’s not really a great deal going on there that makes me want to recommend it to anyone else. Nothing much happens in the film. It’s a vehicle for a fairly tepid romance filled with overacting and a chance for Will Rogers to drop a few pearls of down-home wisdom. It’s completely harmless as a film and a story, but it’s also got virtually nothing to recommend it. It doesn’t belong here as a nomination, especially given what was left out.

2. I didn’t love Lady for a Day, either. It’s a sweet story, telling the tale of a woman separated from her daughter wanting to make a good impression on her, and a gang of criminals and thugs doing their best to help her. It’s sweet. It’s also got a lot of problems and a hell of a lot of loose ends that never get resolved. Again, I don’t think it deserves to be here based on the movies that were left off the list. There’s nothing terribly problematic about it, but also nothing that makes me think it’s worth a second look.

1. This means that Little Women probably is the best of the three nominations, so in that respect, Oscar picked the right movie and the right screenplay for this award. To continue the theme, though, there’s not a great deal here that I liked. In fact, I still haven’t seen the 1994 version of the story because I’m not sure I want to live through it again (even though I will eventually). Limited to three nominations, I still wouldn’t nominate Little Women. With five nominations…I probably still wouldn’t.

My Choice

Given the movies that weren’t nominated, I think the entire slate here needs to be dumped. I have a personal love for The Most Dangerous Game and am still mildly impressed that this much of a movie (despite how short it is) was made from such a short tale. 42nd Street is probably the most influential film in terms of the movies that followed it, and it is one of the ur-versions of the big backstage at a musical musicals. I’d give this to I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang as being not only a movie that stands up pretty well after 80+ years, but as a movie that caused real change in the world.

Final Analysis


  1. I can't argue against "I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang" or
    "Scarface." Paul Muni was one hell of an actor, and the directors weren't bad either.

    1. True. I consider myself a fan of Muni in no small part because of how versatile he was. Chain Gang still works for a modern audience in a lot of respects, and that in and of itself is impressive.