Friday, June 22, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1932-1933

The Contenders:

Frank Lloyd: Cavalcade (winner)
Frank Capra: Lady for a Day
George Cukor: Little Women

What’s Missing

What the hell, Oscar? I mean, I realize that you’ve only given yourself three nominations for this Oscar ceremony that bridges the end of 1932 and the start of 1933, but these three? I’m aghast and appalled. Let’s start with the guys who had close to career years…or half-years. Lloyd Bacon directed both Footlight Parade and 42nd Street, which I think earns him a mention. More impressive (to me) is Rouben Mamoulian directing both a musical in Love Me Tonight and a romantic drama in Queen Christina. The weirdest duo comes from Ernest B. Schoedsack. He directed The Most Dangerous Game with Irving Pichel and also directed King Kong with Merian C. Cooper. Also in the mix here should be Frank Capra for The Bitter Tea of General Yen instead of what he was nominated for and especially Mervyn LeRoy for I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.

Weeding through the Nominees

3. Truthfully, I didn’t like any of the nominations, which makes this a rush for the bottom. I’m putting Cavalcade here for a specific reason: I remember this as being almost entirely a series of scenes of people standing in a room talking about current events rather than actually doing anything. I’m not sure how much talent or skill it takes to do this. If someone could show me exactly what Frank Lloyd did here to get him the win, I’d be happy to shut up, but from what I can see, he directed a stage play and filmed it.

2. Little Women was my least favorite of these three movies, but I’m putting George Cukor in second here because he at least tried to do something to turn this into a movie. It’s a big, blustery story and it’s inhabited by a collection of actresses playing half their age—including a 23-year-old Joan Bennett playing a 12-year-old. I have no reason to put this second except for the fact that Cukor actually did something more than just plant his camera and walk away, which moves him into second place.

1. Giving this to Capra for what I think is a completely uninspired film is pretty sad, but based on the three nominees we have, this is where I’m going to end up. The reason for this is that Capra at least tried to do something a little interesting here. While I think it failed, Lady for a Day has elements of comedy and drama, and Capra does his best to combine them. This is a terribly weak endorsement on my part, though. I know that there are people who like this film more than I do, but I still don’t like this and don’t really think Capra should have won.

My Choices

What a miserable slate of nominees. I’d be willing to consider anyone I mentioned in my top paragraph. Rouben Mamoulian would probably ultimately be my choice here because of such a strong year with such varied films. Ernest B. Schoedsack would be an interesting choice as well, since his hand was in two classics. But I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, while very much a product of its time, is still a really effective film, and much of that comes from Mervyn LeRoy. In any event, any of these would be better choices than any of the three nominations.

Final Analysis


  1. I would have gone with Mamoulian as well - but for Love Me Tonight. The city awakening sequence and Isn't It Romantic? transitions are some of the most brilliant direction by anyone ever IMHO.

    1. I'm okay with that. I think you could give it Mamoulian for either film as an award for a stellar year.

      And yes, that's an opening sequence as good as you'll find in the decade.

  2. You mentioned Lloyd Bacon for 42nd Street and Mervyn Leroy. Either would be a better choice here. Also, Merian Cooper for King Kong or Michael Curtiz for Mystery of the Wax Museum among others. I think Cavalcade won Oscars because it had the feel of a high-brow prestige film to the Academy...but its not one that has stood the test of time too well.

    1. It's just so...dull! But I think you're right--it feels like it was prestige for the time, like it was the equivalent of an important film.

      The only reason I'd pick Mamoulian over Bacon is that Bacon made two musicals, albeit good ones. Mamoulian made a good musical with an iconic opening sequence and a solid, entertaining romance. He showed a lot more range.

  3. Hate is too strong a word for what I felt for Cavalcade, boredom and indifference are closer the mark, and I can see it being considered a prestige project at the time but geez has it aged badly. I find it incredible it managed to gather nominations let alone wins. It would be dead last for me as well since it had to be there at all.

    I don't mind Little Women, though the age thing sticks out like a sore thumb (I love Joan Bennett but she is so obviously a woman that holds true for Hepburn and Jean Parker as well), but Cukor directed at least two better films in this period alone.

    Similarly I like Lady for a Day (though I prefer Capra's remake of it Pocketful of Miracles more) but he also had a better film that he should have received a nomination for. I'd tend to choose this for the prize out of what's on offer but more because I'm a fan of May Robson, Warren William and Glenda Farrell than anything extraordinary about the direction.

    With these weird straddle years I'm never sure what falls in to them from one year or the other so these are the films from the two years that I think would fit and were more qualified to make the cut than all of what did.

    Lloyd Bacon-42nd Street
    Frank Capra-The Bitter Tea of General Yen
    Merian C. Cooper-King Kong
    George Cukor-Dinner at Eight
    George Cukor-What Price Hollywood?
    Tay Garnett-One Way Passage
    Mervyn LeRoy-I Am A Fugitive from A Chain Gang
    Ernst Lubitsch-Trouble in Paradise
    William Wellman-Heroes for Sale

    Of them all my vote would go to Cukor for Dinner at Eight (which received zero nominations! (How the hell did that even happen?) and if that didn’t fall within the parameters than Chain Gang would be my choice.

    As for Rouben Mamoulian I wasn’t crazy for either Love Me Tonight or Queen Christina (though Garbo was terrific in the latter) but while I wouldn’t include them in my list both directorial jobs are better than what was nominated.

    1. According to my research, Dinner at Eight was released in December, so it looks like it would be for the following ceremony.

      These early years are such a pain in the ass.

    2. I’d definitely go with LeRoy for I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang then.

      Yes these divided years are terribly confusing, thank goodness they adopted the linear year going forward the year after this ceremony.

      Whatever year it would fall into I’m perplexed by Dinner at Eight’s total absence of nominations. It was a popular success, came from the Tiffany of studios (that voting block alone should have gotten it in), its loaded with stars that would seem award magnets plus a director whose work the Academy obviously respected. I can see Jean Harlow being slighted even though she was deserving. Her comic skill was admired but she had the sex bomb tag against her being taken seriously. But John Barrymore? Or Marie Dressler? Or Cukor? And most strangely of all the film itself? I’d think that maybe because it was a comedy it was ignored but the year it was eligible is the year It Happened One Night won. Odd.

    3. I've got nothing for you on that, although there are plenty of movies that didn't get nominated for anything for no good reason. At least for 1934 we got not only It Happened One Night but also The Thin Man. A good movie might have been left out, but at least we got some legitimate nominations!

  4. I'm another who thinks Cooper should've been nominated for King Kong. I would also throw out Howard Hawks for the original Scarface. Have to confess, though, I haven't seen any of the actual nominees.

    1. Scarface is a great call, but since it was released in March of 1932, it would have been eligible the previous Oscar ceremony.

      I'm really okay with King Kong being nominated here. It's a huge achievement. As for the're really missing not a thing.