Monday, March 18, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1936

The Contenders:

After the Thin Man
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
My Man Godfrey
The Story of Louis Pasteur (winner)

What’s Missing

It’s not a terrible collection of adapted screenplays for 1936, but I might suggest a few changes. It’s worth stating that it’s not always clear what counts for the Best Adapted Screenplay award in these earlier years. This is evidenced by the fact that The Story of Louis Pasteur won for both Best Adaptation (which became Best Adapted Screenplay) and Best Original Story (which disappeared in the mid-1950s). There wasn’t a category at this time for original screenplays, and movies were sometimes made based on stories that weren’t formally published. This means that I’m not sure of the eligibility of films like Swing Time and the charming Theodora Goes Wild, which would rank high for me were it eligible. Libeled Lady almost certainly qualifies, though, and I’d want it in the mix. I think I can make an argument for Things to Come as well.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I can’t call myself a fan of The Story of Louis Pasteur, so I won’t pretend I am, even for a film that eventually won this Oscar. There’s not a great deal here that excites me, even if it is the film that gave Paul Muni the Oscar he had deserved any number of times before. The problem is that it’s dead boring. The entire plot of the film is a repetition of Pasteur making a claim, everyone doubting him, and him then proving that his claim was correct. Do that for 80 minutes and wrap it up, and you’ve got this film.

4. It’s fair to say that I like My Man Godfrey a lot less than everyone else seems to. This was a film that, for whatever reason, managed to skip rope with my last nerve. Actually, I know exactly what happened—the studio forced a happy ending instead of going with what could have been a true social conscience-raising moment during the height of the Great Depression. Instead of the ridiculously wealthy people learning that other people literally have nothing, we end up with rich people getting married and forgetting the crushing despair of others.

3. There’s never a great deal of mystery with a Frank Capra film. It ends exactly the way you expect it to based on the opening scenes. He was never a subtle man with setting up the sappiest of happy endings, and in the case of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, there are no real surprises to be had. And yet, it’s mildly heartwarming if completely unrealistic. It’s cute in the way that we want it to be and ridiculous in the way we want it to be. If it could have been even mildly surprising, it would rise in my estimation, but would still probably finish in third.

2. Gun to my head, you could probably convince me that After the Thin Man deserves to be in the top position, because there was a great deal done well with the entire series. The truth, though, is that try as it might, it simply can’t get anywhere close to the whip-smart joy of the first film in the series. So, while it’s not entirely the fault of this sequel, it’s always going to be unfairly (and mildly unfavorably) compared with The Thin Man in every aspect, and it’s going to be wanting in every aspect as well.

My Choice

1. And so, my choice is Dodsworth, a film that I am still surprised that I liked as much as I did. I expected Dodsworth not to work at all, being about a ridiculously rich man dealing with a romantic crisis at the height of the Great Depression. And yet, the film works surprisingly well. The characters are interesting and worth caring about, and the story holds up by not being too maudlin despite when it was made. I’m continually shocked that I liked the film at all, let alone as much as I did. It’s my winner.

Final Analysis


  1. I can only agree on Dodsworth. I went back to it an watched it a second time and liked it even better. I suppose that it is because of the excellent adaption that this does not become maudlin.

    I liked My Man Godfrey a lot better than you do, despite the terrible ending, and that would be my second.

    1. It's the ending that kills Godfrey for me. It could have been great, but it turned into just a huge extended middle finger.

  2. Of these Dodsworth would be my pick too.

    Louis Pasteur was a trial! I liked My Man Godfrey but more for the chemistry of the cast than anything else, I can see your point about the ending.

    Deeds is a Capra I've never warmed to and as marvelous as the Powell/Loy team are Another Thin Man has nothing on the first.

    However if that other Powell/Loy collaboration-Libeled Lady-had scored a nomination here that would absolutely be my top choice. It's an endless enjoyable film. An awful lot of that is thanks to the cast, in particular Jean Harlow, but the screenplay supplies them with plenty to work with.

    1. Libeled Lady would almost certainly be my second place finisher. It's a joy of a screenplay.