Friday, January 30th, 2009


Greg and I are finally going to be recording the Kay Francis podcast soon, so everyone go ahead, be awesome, and fill out the podcast survey for us!

It’s that wonderful time of the year again! It’s nearing the Academy Awards. In less than a month, we’ll see who gets to take home the statue.

I always wonder, “Will anybody even remember some of these nominees 70 years from now?” There are certainly a lot of Best Picture nominees from the past that have completely left the public’s  memory. So I figured I’d try to help people remember. Here are some of the best obscure and forgotten Best Picture  nominees of the classic era.

The Racket (1928.)
The Racket was nominated for Best Production at the very first Academy Awards. John Cromwell (who directed some of the all time greatest melodramas) directed this crime tale, making it on of the definitive crime stories of all time. Because it was unavailable for so long, it’s been overshadowed by gangster classics like Public Enemy and Little Caesar, but it deserves to stand up there with the rest of them. Watching The Racket is almost like observing a little slice of the time. It lacks glamor, and it a downright gritty films that really captures the feel of the era it was made and set in.

The Big House (1930)
This prison drama was nominated for Best Picture the year that  the WWI masterpiece All Quiet on the Western Front took home the prize. The Big House, however, did earn Frances Marion a screenwriting award. It truly is a fantastic script and a beautifully told story about life behind bars. I think what really makes it great is its cast. Chester Morris, Wallace Beery, Robert Montgomery, and Leila Hyams all give top notch performances.

Bad Girl (1931)
One of Borzage’s Depression era masterpieces, Borzage took home his second Best Director Oscar for this film, while it lost to Grand Hotel for Best Picture. Raw and real, it’s a beautiful love story that ignores sentimentality and truly puts you in the time and place of its setting, the Depression

Five Star Final (1931)
This is a brilliant newspaper. Most of the movies you see about newspaper men are comedies (The Front Page, Platinum Blond). Five Star Final is an excellent drama starring Edward G. Robinson as a newspaper man who is struggling with morality and the guilt of a story gone wrong. It’s one of Robinson’s very best performances.

Smilin’ Through (1932)
This is one of my favorite love stories. There are two love stories going on at once, the past and present, bound together forever by desting and blood. Norma Shearer’s performance is top notch, and it’s told so meticulously, perfectly, beautifully, and emotionally. I wish love stories like this were made today.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)
This is definitely Norma Shearer’s finest dramatic performance. She plays the ill poet Elizabeth Browning, and the film tells the story of her relationship with her tyrannical father, and falling in love with Robert Browning. It’s a great love story, but the most interesting part of the film comes from the strange relationship between Elizabeth and he father, playing absolutely brilliantly by Charles Laughton.

Dodsworth (1936)
It isn’t often you find a movie like Dodsworth. Instead of focusing on young lovers, it tells the story of an older couple after the husband retires. Not only does it focus on older characters, it also deals with the characters facing their older age. Both Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton are amazing, not fearing playing these older characters.

Dead End (1937)
This is one of the strongest gangster films ever. It’s not about the life of crime.  It subtly shows the evolution of the gangster, a victim of circumstance. We see a young gang that will probably eventually turn into the character portrayed by Humphrey Bogart. Claire Trevor received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for a performance that’s only a few minutes long, but absolutely perfect and beautiful. The whole cast is amazing. It’s a brilliantly performance film.

Four Daughters (1938.)
This movie almost doesn’t seem like it fits among the other nominees (among them Jezebel, Pygmalion, The Grand Illusion) until you see that the winner was the small comedy You Can’t Take It With You. Four Daughters is a very quiet family drama that draws from its complicated and conflicted characters to form its story. This movie made John Garfield a star. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

To be continued…..

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1929
Director: Frank Borzage
Cast: Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan, Ivan Linow, Margaret Mann, Alfred Sabato, Bert Woodruff

Rosalee (Duncan) is the mistress of the wealthy Marsden (Sabato), who is sent to prison for murder. She meets Allen John (Farrell) while he’s swimming in the river by which she lives. Allen John wants to take care of the lonely woman, and while Rosalee at first finds his innocence and naive nature amusing, the pair begin to fall in love.

This reconstruction is one of the biggest reasons I was so excited about the Borzage DVD set. I’d seen it once a few years ago, and I couldn’t wait to see it again, becuase I remembered it being extremely romantic and sexy. No complete print exists. Several reels are missing from the film. What remains is most of the middle part of the film. The beginning and ending (and a scene or two in between) are shown through the use of stills. But what survives are the love scenes, which are among the best of all of silent film. Borzage was an incredible romantic director, and these scenes have a sort of ache to them that’s beautiful.

It’s definitely Borzage’s most sexual film. Unlike the innocents in his films with Janet Gaynor, Mary Duncan’s Rosalee is almost a vamp and a femme fatale. Certainly a woman of looser morals since she is allowing herself to be kept by a rich murderer.  That contrast with Allen John’s innocence is perfect. It’s almost like, through simply meeting Rosalee, he’s receiving his first sexual education.

It’s kind of hard to really get in depth about this movie since so much of it is missing. The reconstruction through use of still is very good, and we know exactly what the story is. But, like I said, what remains are the love scenes. And those scenes are beautifully atmospheric. There’s definitely more of a sexuality than most of Borzage’s films, but it’s also extremely spiritual.

Farrell is, as always with Borzage, very good and dependable. But it’s Mary Duncan as the troubled woman that makes the film shine. She’s sexy yet vulnerable, cruel but sweet. It’s her indecision about the relationship that drives the film.

The River may not be complete, but it sure feels like it is.

By Katie Richardson