Betty Compson: The Barker
Bessie Love: The Broadway Melody
Mary Pickford: Coquette (winner)
Corrine Griffith: The Divine Lady
Jeanne Eagels: The Letter
Ruth Chatterton: Madame X
This second Oscar “year” is a hard one—a lot of the movies I would want to talk about fall outside of the range of this specific 12-month period. As I’ll discuss below, I haven’t seen Betty Compson in The Barker, but I have seen her in The Docks of New York, and I could argue for her nomination there. There’s also Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc. For the record, I awarded her the Oscar for the previous “year,” but she really belongs in this one. You’ve been warned.
Weeding through the Nominees
N/A. I don’t really have anything to say about Betty Compson and The Barker other than the fact that this is a movie I’ve seen, at least in spirit. It’s been remade multiple times under different names. Clara Bow remade it as Hoop-La, and Betty Grable as Diamond Horseshoe. Notably, Yasujiro Ozu remade it twice—both versions of Floating Weeds are essentially this story as well. So, in that respect, it was probably at least decent, but I’ll likely never see Betty Compson’s take on the character.
5. I think this is unprecedented for me. As a sort of initial guide, I check my ratings on Letterboxd for the nominated films. In this case, all five have the same rating—1 ½ stars. Winner Mary Pickford is my last choice here because I can’t remember a single redeeming thing about Coquette. My gut is that Pickford won because she was Mary Pickford, and it made sense to put an Oscar in the hands of one of the greatest stars of the medium. She may well have been a great actor, but you’d never know from this movie.
4. Jeanne Eagels has the odd distinction of being the first person to receive a posthumous Oscar nomination. Eagels may have well had a promising career, but it was cut short by her death from heroin overdose. This is another case where the talent may have been there, but this isn’t a great indication of it. The Letter is ridiculously short and doesn’t really give Eagels that much to do. Her life was a tragedy, but even with that being true, I wouldn’t have nominated her for a performance that is forgettable except for it being her last one.
3. Corrine Griffith comes in third for me with The Divine Lady for a rather unimpressive reason: I can’t really remember anything she did to either bother me or impress me. The movie is pretty standard fare (actually, it seems like what the Gene Kelly character would make in Singin’ in the Rain) and Griffith is fine. It’s important to remember that this is an early talkie, and a film converted from silent to talkie mid-production. Even remembering that, though, this is no better than forgettable, which is also true of Griffith here.
2. My overriding memory of Madame X is that it was so melodramatic you could hear the violins even before the movie started. It is absolutely dripping with melodrama in every frame. Ruth Chatterton manages to make it all the way to second place for one significant reason: she gets better as the film goes on. I’m not sure she ever gets to great, but she at least gets to passable, and for this year and this award, that’s pretty much what we can expect. As a side note, Chatterton managed to turn in one of my least-favorite Oscar-nominated performances the following year.
1. Shockingly, for the nominees, I’m putting Bessie Love and The Broadway Melody first. This is shocking because The Broadway Melody is probably my least favorite Best Picture winner. So why is Love in first? Because she is the only thing in the film worth seeing. The characters are jerks and not worth the time…except for Bessie Love’s Hank, who brings a world weariness to the role that works and cuts through at least a little of the schmaltz and overacting. I don’t like the movie, but she’s at least moderately worth seeing.