Frank Morgan: The Affairs of Cellini
Clark Gable: It Happened One Night (winner)
William Powell: The Thin Man
I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of many of these earlier years is more limited than I’d like it to be. Where I have dozens of movies in my viewing list of later years, I’m desperately grasping to name 20 from 1934, and a number of those don’t have a worthy actor performance. So, beyond the three nominations, I’ve managed to pull together a few, and I’m not entirely confident on any of them. We can start with Warren William in Imitation of Life, whose nomination probably would have been for Supporting Actor had the category existed in 1934. He’s got a bit more pull here since he was also in Cleopatra along with Henry Wilcoxon. From there, we can talk about Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee, which is a puffball of a movie, but at least entertaining. Fredric March might be worth a nod for The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Evidence that Oscar has never really loved comedy that much, or at least certain brands of it, is that they’ve left of W.C. Fields in It’s a Gift. Also, before anyone goes there, the following are ones I thought of and dismissed: Dick Powell in Flirtation Walk, Will Rogers in Judge Priest, James Cagney and Pat O’Brien in Here Comes the Navy, Leslie Howard in Of Human Bondage (really, Bette Davis is the only thing worth seeing in that), both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in the fairly dismal The Black Cat, Wallace Beery in Viva Villa!, George Arliss in rich people propaganda film The House of Rothschild, and Michel Simon in L’Atalante.
Weeding through the Nominees
3. There’s not a great deal to say about The Affairs of Cellini. I kind of like that the nomination went to Frank Morgan rather than Fredric March, who played the title character. Morgan is a delight, even if, because of familiarity, it’s immediately going to feel like it’s Oz the Great and Powerful in period clothing. Truthfully, though, the absolute best part of this film is Fay Wray, who didn’t get the respect or the attention she deserved for a very funny, if breezy, performance. Hard for me to give you the win when you’re not the best thing on the screen.
2. I think it’s a good thing that Clark Gable won an Oscar. I think it’s also safe to say that had he not won this one, he would have almost certainly been awarded one five years later for Gone with the Wind. It Happened One Night is a fine movie with a great script and some memorably good performances from Gable and Claudette Colbert. In a lot of other years, I’d be satisfied with a win for Gable, but in 1934, I’m going to take this in a different direction. If you’ve paid attention to my 1934-centric posts in the past, this will not be a surprise.
1. William Powell is the one-and-only winner for this award for me. This comes in large part from the fact that I think The Thin Man is the best film of this year and one of the best of its decade. The on-screen pairing of Powell and Myrna Loy is one for the ages. Neither would be half of what they are without the other. When I covered actresses for this year, I was satisfied with Colbert winning (she’s the best part of that film), but said I would have happily accepted Loy. Ties go to the Academy, after all. There’s no tie for me on this one. It might be a close race, but Powell gets my nod.