Monday, February 4, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1931-1932

The Contenders:

Bad Girl (winner)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

What’s Missing

These early years of Oscar are so frustrating some times! There’s a good collection of movies eligible for this award for 1931/1932, but there are a mere three nominees. I could easily make two sets of three that I like a great deal more. Let’s start with Five Star Final and The Champ, two films good enough to be nominated for Best Picture but evidently not worth putting in this category. Also nominated elsewhere is Emma, which could have certainly stood a nod here. The big miss in terms of other nominated films, though, is Grand Hotel, which remains the only movie in Oscar history to win Best Picture while being nominated for no other award. Oscar’s bent against horror movies started early, leaving out both Frankenstein and Freaks. Early Oscar loved crime films, though, so I don’t know why Scarface was ignored. It’s also worth noting that La Chienne was released in this time frame and could have been eligible, but didn’t show up in an American theater until 1976!

Weeding through the Nominees

3. Just on a pure enjoyment level, I have no idea what Arrowsmith is doing nominated. I won’t go so far as to say that this is a bad movie, but it’s not a very good one. I remember little of it save that I was bored to tears by the whole thing. There are weird holes in the plot that evidently happened because John Ford was contractually obligated to stay sober for the duration of the filming, so he skipped swaths of the script. It shows, and for that reason alone, I have to wonder about the overall quality of the original script.

2. We’re evidently going to go in alphabetical order here, because Bad Girl is coming next. I understand why Bad Girl won in 1932, but it’s not a film I’d put on top today. The problem with it is that all of the issues of the two main characters could be solved at any time by an honest two-minute conversation. I give the film some leeway, though; talkies were still in their infancy at this point, and we were still learning how to tell stories this way. Much of this wouldn’t fly today, but for its era, I get why this took the prize.

1. This leaves us with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a rare horror movie nomination for this or any year. I like this version of it pretty well. It’s a good story, and I haven’t (yet) seen a version that I genuinely disliked completely. If anything, the problem here is that it rushes the story too much. This was a time when a lot of films ran around 70 minutes. The 96 minute running time of this must have felt like a marathon, but it could stand another 15-20. It’s a clear winner for the three nominees, but not my real winner by a longshot.

My Choice

When you see the quality of films that were eligible for a nomination and see the three paltry nominations we actually got, it’s easy to be frustrated or saddened. I’ve decided to try very hard not to get outraged by this. I’d take most of the potential nominees I mentioned above over all three of these, and I wasn’t kidding when I said I could easily make two more slates of this size. Gun to head and forced to choose one? Frankenstein would be in the running, but so too would Scarface and Grand Hotel.

Final Analysis


  1. What a weird choice of movies. I have not seen any of them.
    This Christmas my wife gave me two books on the history of sci-fi movies and we agreed two watch them all (about 120 movies total)and rate them. We have just gotten to Frankenstein and rewatching this reminded me how watchable this movie is and how iconic. In retrospect it should have gotten a nomination, especially considering how narrow this selection is.

    1. I agree. Truthfully, Arrowsmith is dull as dishwater. Bad Girl isn't bad, but it's nothing like essential viewing for anyone. This version of Jekyll/Hyde is interesting and worth seeing, especially if you like this kind of early horror.

      If I'm limited to three nominations and I'm stuck with Oscar's nomination rules, my three are Frankenstein, Grand Hotel, and Scarface. I'd love to find a way to work in La Chienne, though.

    2. Oooh, any chance for you to blog about those sci-fi movies??? I'd love to know what they are and what you both think about them. At least drop me some replies on my blog if I've seen them.

      I actually love and adore Bad Girl. Steve and I disagree. I don't think this has an idiot plot. I think both characters have been burned so badly in previous relationships they are distrustful and reluctant to really open up. It rang realistic to me.

    3. I like Bad Girl a lot too. I don't think this is an idiot plot unless you're using a very broad definition of "idiot plot."

      I put it this way in the comments for Bad Girl - "People in movies are stupid. But people in real life are stupid too! This movie may have an idiot plot, but that doesn't mean people don't act this way."

      But I wouldn't mark Bad Girl for the win, even though I think Sally Eilers is GREAT and an undeservedly forgotten actress.

      Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde is actually a pretty good choice, but so are Frankenstein and Grand Hotel (the lack of a screenplay nomination for GH is baffling!).

      But in my heart, this one goes to the FREAKS!

    4. For the record, I do actually like Bad Girl, even if I think it's terribly misnamed. I rated it higher than I did films like Five Star Final. That said, I do think its biggest problem is the plot.

  2. I'd have tried to find a way to work in La Chienne myself. What a great movie! Have you caught Fritz Lang's remake, Scarlet Street, with Eddie G and Joan Bennett? Almost as great.

    1. That's one I really need to catch up to one of these days.

  3. Especially with just the three I'm surprised that Dr. Jekyll with its name brand recognition didn't win but I'm glad Bad Girl did.

    I also like the film quite a bit though it wouldn't be my winner in an open field. However it is a decent picture with the sadly and unjustly forgotten Sally Eilers and without this important Oscar win it would also more than probably be forgotten.

    I wonder why the category was so slender in number but the earliest years were so erratic I suppose that explains it. I don't think Freaks would have ever stood a prayer of getting a nod, not only because its so disturbing but it was an enormous bomb which even then with studio block voting still often killed a pictures chances. But Frankenstein made a fortune and was hailed at the time so its miss is odd.

    My choice for the win would be Grand Hotel with Frankenstein and Scarface as the other two if I were limited to three and Five Star Final and Freaks completing a list of five. I really have to make a point to see La Chienne. I love Scarlet Street so I'm surprised I haven't gotten to it yet.

    1. You and I are in opposite positions on Scarlet Street and La Chienne. I've been trying to catch up to a few older films each month on my own--I watched Nightmare Alley and Dark Passage in the last couple of weeks. Scarlet Street is one I really should get to.

      Frankenstein, Grand Hotel, and Scarface would be my top-three in some order, depending on the day. Freaks and possibly Dr. Jekyll would round out my five, but I'm not entirely sold on Jekyll.

    2. Love Nightmare Alley! Hope you blog about it some day.

    3. I gotta say, it was pretty great. So dark!