Monday, January 14, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1930-1931

The Contenders:

Cimarron (winner)
The Criminal Code
Little Caesar

What’s Missing

These early years are particularly interesting when it comes to screenplay. There’s a “Best Adaptation” category, which is what I use for this. There’s also a “Best Original Story” category which doesn’t quite equate to original screenplay…which is why I don’t use it. What that means, though, is that films like The Public Enemy or City Lights don’t really qualify as possible nominations for me. The Front Page certainly could be considered, though, since it does have someone listed as having done the adaptation. Min and Bill might warrant some consideration as well. The big miss for me, though, is Dracula. For what it’s worth Frankenstein wouldn’t be eligible until the next Oscars.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Holiday is not my least favorite of these movies, but it’s the one where I think the story is the biggest problem. Ultimately, it turns out to be a relatively decent story, but it takes a long time to get there. More importantly, at least for me, is that the characters are very much cookie cutters all the way through. To have this nominated and something like Dracula left off the docket is almost physically painful. Fortunately, as the art of cinema (especially talkies) matured, so too did the stories.

4. Along the same lines, Skippy wouldn’t place this low in a straight assessment of what I think the best film of this year is. In terms of the story, though, the movie has some real issues. There’s not a great deal of consequence here, for one thing. A much larger problem is that the film is extremely episodic in nature. That might well be in keeping with the original source material, but it doesn’t necessarily make for the most interesting movie adaptation. Skippy is fine, but it doesn’t really belong in this category.

3. I can’t for the life of me understand how Cimarron managed to win as much acclaim as it did. This is a movie that is filled with problems, but surprisingly, the story really isn’t one of them. I have far bigger problems with the characters than I do the story, and the story fits the flawed characters we’re given. Cimarron is, in many ways, surprisingly forward thinking for the time in which it was made, and I give it a lot of credit for that. I mean, I think the story could be told a lot better in a lot of ways, but there’s a good base from which to start.

2. Like many of the movies from this era, The Criminal Code has its problems, not the least of which is the level of the melodrama. It’s not a film that is easy to recommend by modern standards for what people expect from this kind of movie. And yet, for its time, there’s a hell of a lot going for it. And, despite the fact that a great deal of it is that sort of melodrama, it still has something in it that can surprise even the most jaded viewer. Of all of these nominations, this is the first one where I feel like I’m entirely behind the nomination.

1. So yeah, it’s going to be one of those Oscar categories that isn’t limited to the nominations. This is one that’s closer than a lot of those Oscar categories, though, because Little Caesar does just about everything right. In terms of the story, I have only a single complaint—it moves far too quickly, which is something it has in common with a great many films of this vintage. Of these nominations, it feels in many ways like the most fully realized story. But, as you’ve likely guessed at this point, it’s not my ultimate pick.

My Choice

As if there was a chance that this was going to be something other than Dracula. It’s important to remember that the film is not an adaptation of the novel, but of a stage play based on the novel, and it’s surprisingly accurate. It gets my vote, even if Little Caesar would have been a fine winner.

Final Analysis


  1. I think I would go with Little Caesar here. Not because it is great, but I liked it better than Dracula. It is true that Dracula is very true to the original story, but I as a really cool adaption I prefer Nosferatu.

    1. To be honest, had Oscar been active in the early '20s, I'd probably be fighting for Nosferatu for this same award.

  2. Of the nominees it's got to be Little Caesar all the way.

    I loved the book of Cimarron and was terribly disappointed with the hash the studio made of it-it's really one of the worst Best Picture winners ever and the adaptation is a large part of way though the whole thing is terrible.

    I don't love Dracula but then I'm not much of a horror guy, even this more subdued brand, however even though it wouldn't be my winner it definitely deserved a nomination far more than most of what did make it.

    1. I'm okay with that. I realize it's not a genre everyone loves, and to be honest, there are plenty of other vintage horror movies I like more. I do like how accurately it sticks to the stage production, though.

      Incidentally, Dracula is a hell of a good read. If you've never read it, I can't recommend it enough.