Monday, February 25, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1935

The Contenders:

Captain Blood
The Informer (winner)
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
Mutiny on the Bounty

What’s Missing

I can’t say that I’m an expert from the films of this era, but I can say that I was quite surprised at some of the films that aren’t here. Specifically, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Les Miserables all feel like natural nominations, and none of them would be wholly undeserved. There are three others that I think could easily be here. By modern standards at least, The Bride of Frankenstein would be considered an adapted screenplay, and while it’s silly in places, it would still be a fine one. The 39 Steps was based on a novel, and is one of Hitchcock’s early great films. The other one I would think about including is Ruggles of Red Gap, a vastly entertaining film that should have gotten more love come Oscar time.

Weeding through the Nominees

4. I’m probably punishing it unjustly, but whenever I think of this version of Mutiny on the Bounty, I’m left thinking only of Charles Laughton and pretty much nothing else. I know the story, but it’s a story that I know at least in part because of other adaptations. Given the amount of acclaim the movie got at the time, I’m not surprised it was nominated, but there were other adaptations that I think could have been here and deserved it more. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it that much, either.

3. The thing that The Informer has going for it more than anything is the performance of Victor McLaglan. I don’t doubt that this is a faithful adaptation of the original story on which the film is based, but it’s the story that gives me the most problems here. Gypo Nolan, assuming he is portrayed accurately, was created as the sort of character who can’t find his own backside with two hands and a flashlight. That very much affects how much I’m going to like the film. I don’t mind characters who aren’t smart, but I do mind them when they are so dumb as to beggar description.

2. Technically, Captain Blood wasn’t actually nominated, but got a great deal of love for a write-in campaign. Of these four movies, this is the one I like the best and the one I’m the most likely to want to watch at any given time. It turns out to be pretty influential as a film, too. Really, though, it’s not the screenplay that recommends it, but the action and the great chemistry between Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. There’s a lot to love here and it probably should have been nominated, but it’s not my winner.

1. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer might seem like an odd choice for screenplay, but there are a few things in this movie that are quite surprising, given the era. This time in the movie industry still had a great deal of melodrama in a lot of the films. This is one that, despite being a war film, managed some subtle ideas, like a military colonel wanting to connect with his son but not being able to do so. That’s unexpected from this era, and that sort of delicate writing deserved some love. Even if it’s not my ultimate pick, it’s the one I’d pick based on the nominees.

My Choice

Given a free choice, I think I’d probably go with either The Bride of Frankenstein or Ruggles of Red Gap. The first is arguably the best of the old Universal monster films, starting with an entertaining screenplay. The second is deliciously entertaining and still funny after more than 80 years. Both of them have better screenplays than all of the nominees.

Final Analysis


  1. I found Lives of a Bengal Lancer a real struggle to get through. I like this version of Mutiny especially compared to the bloated Brando one but I'd pick Captain Blood out of these four.

    In an open field I'd lean towards Ruggles of Red Gap, which is a wonderful film with a terrific screenplay punched across by a flawless cast but my vote would go to A Tale of Two Cities. Love this version of the story, Colman and company do great justice to the film which retains the spirit of Dickens story and Isabel Jewell breaks my heart every time as the doomed seamstress.

    1. While I didn't desperately love Bengal Lancer, it had moments that genuinely surprised me, and I give it a lot of credit for that.

      I'm not a fan of Dickens, but this version of A Tale of Two Cities ranks really high for me. Given the chance to make my own list of nominees, it's likely there.

  2. Not only have I seen all the nominated films, I've seen everything that's been mentioned as a contender! (So far.) I believe that's the first time that's ever happened.

    I go waaaay back with Lives of a Bengal Lancer. I remember seeing this when I was a teenager, probably about 1980, when I was branching out from monster movies and the obvious classics that my mother made us watch, like Gone with the Wind and Psycho and Singin' in the Rain. I remember watching It Happens Every Spring and Lady in a Cage and A Flea in her Ear.

    And so I caught Lives of a Bengal Lancer one weekend afternoon. It was probably my first Errol Flynn movie. I loved it! I've seen it a few times since, but not lately. I've been wanting to see it again for years!

    I saw Mutiny on the Bounty a few years later with my mom and my aunt, both film buffs from an early age who had seen Sunset Boulevard when it first came out when they were ten and eight. We had quite a time discussing Laughton and Gable.

    Sticking with the original four nominees, I'd have a hard time picking between Bengal Lancer and Mutiny.

    Despite my nostalgic attachment for Lives of a Bengal Lancer, I'd have to go with Bride of Frankenstein in an open field. I go way way back with the Universal monsters. I'm sure I'd seen Bride of Frankenstein at least twice before I saw Lives of a Bengal Lancer, and I've seen it a bunch of times since. I don't watch it every year any more, but I bet I see it every other year. It's awesome, and I'd give it the win.

    1. I don't really take issue with that vote. It's my favorite of the Universal monster movies, I think.

      Mutiny is what it is, but as I said above, I really only remember Charles Laughton, and of his movies from 1935, I prefer Ruggles.