Sunday, September 20, 2009
A Recap Of The Katie Award Winners For 1929-30 And The Year's Must-See Movies
Picture: All Quiet On The Western Front (prod. Carl Laemmle, Jr.)
Actor: Ronald Colman (Bulldog Drummond)
Actress: Louise Brooks (Pandora's Box and Diary Of A Lost Girl)
Director: Lewis Milestone (All Quiet On The Western Front)
Supporting Actor: Wallace Beery (The Big House)
Supporting Actress: Marie Dressler (Anna Christie)
Screenplay: George Abbott, Maxwell Anderson and Dell Andrews (All Quiet On The Western Front)
Special Awards: Hallelujah! (prod. King Vidor) (Best Picture-Comedy or Musical); Maurice Chevalier (The Love Parade) (Best Actor-Comedy/Musical); Jeanette MacDonald (The Love Parade) (Best Actress-Comedy/Musical); "Swanee Shuffle" (Hallelujah!) and "Falling In Love Again" (The Blue Angel) (Best Song); Arthur Edeson (All Quiet On The Western Front) (Cinematography); Rouben Mamoulian (Applause) and C. Roy Hunter and Lewis Milestone (All Quiet On The Western Front) (Special Achievement In The Use Of Sound)
Must-See: All Quiet On The Western Front; The Big House; The Blue Angel; The Cocoanuts; Diary Of A Lost Girl; Hallelujah!; Pandora's Box
"Must see" in this case depends on what you mean by must. If it means "boy, you're absolutely going to want to see it no matter whether you're a casual movie goer or a film fanatic," then we're talking All Quiet On The Western Front and possibly nothing else. It's not just an intense, insightful and historically important movie, it's also one of the most entertaining and watchable movies of the entire era. I've written about it at length here, here and here.
If, on the other hand, by "must see" you mean "what you'll need to see to get a real sense of this moment in movie history and prepare you for what comes next," then I'd say the movies on the above list would do you.
Pandora's Box and Diary Of A Lost Girl show Louise Brooks at her peak. The Big House was Hollywood's first great prison drama, it's packed with action and it features a career-making performance by Wallace Beery. The Blue Angel and The Cocoanuts introduced Marlene Dietrich and the Marx Brothers, respectively, to audiences for the first time. And Hallelujah!, the King Vidor musical starring an all-black cast gives you a chance to see talent, particularly Nina Mae McKinney, that thanks to Hollywood's racism you might never see again.
After that there are a handful of movies I'd give thumbs up to without necessarily calling them essential.
Anna Christie, Bulldog Drummond and The Love Parade I've written about, although in the case of the latter, not extensively. Judging by my readers' reaction to Maurice Chevalier, perhaps that's a good thing.
Our Modern Maidens, which along with Our Dancing Daughters and Our Blushing Brides forms what I'd call Joan Crawford's Flapper Trilogy, is a slight but amusing tale of rich kids in formalwear dancing, drinking and, in general, behaving badly. The only downside is that apparently the trilogy is nearly impossible to come by. None are available on DVD and Our Dancing Daughters, the best of the bunch, is selling for nearly fifty bucks as a VHS tape. I happened to catch all three one weekend on YouTube before they were deleted again, not knowing how lucky I was. If any of them show up again, I'll let you know.
Under The Roofs Of Paris is René Clair's oddball French comedy about a few weeks in the lives of four young Parisians—a street singer, the girl he fancies, her abusive beau and a pickpocket. Clair obviously hadn't quite made up his mind how he felt about the introduction of sound into movies and this is a combination musical, silent pantomime and slap-and-tickle love story that amounts to exactly nothing, like drinking and people-watching in an all-night café. But sometimes drinking and people-watching can be an awfully pleasant way to pass ninety minutes and, if you're like me and that's your idea of a good time, so is Under The Roofs Of Paris.
Raffles is an amusing caper flick starring best actor winner Ronald Colman as a retired safecracker who must elude the police one more time to save a friend from ruin. Raffles's nickname, "The Amateur Cracksman," makes him sound more like the star of a straight-to-video porn movie but it's actually a pretty nifty showcase for Ronald Colman and is readily available on YouTube.
You might also check out The Virginian, Gary Cooper's first talkie (which gave us the oft-misquoted line, "If you're going to call me that, smile!"), and Rouben Mamoulian's Applause, starring Helen Morgan as a stripper who reunites with her convent-raised daughter.
And finally, you may recall that I mentioned Man With The Movie Camera during my two-part discussion of the avant garde movies of the late 1920s. This experiment in film editing by Russian Dziga Vertov is highly regarded by some, including Roger Ebert. Not by me, though.
One problem with following the split-year format the Academy used for the first six years it handed out Oscars is that it obscures the fact that between the release of The Jazz Singer on October 6, 1927, and the premiere of Frankenstein on November 21, 1931, Hollywood only produced one truly great talking picture, and that was All Quiet On The Western Front. Everything else I've written about so far is either silent, foreign or flawed.
The next set of awards won't change things much—1930-31 pretty much shakes out as a three-way slugfest between Charles Chaplin's silent masterpiece City Lights and two foreign-language films, M, Fritz Lang's portrait of a serial killer, and Le Million, René Clair's delightful musical comedy—but at least the stars who eventually gave us the great movies of the Early Sound Era (Cagney, Robinson, Gable, Crawford, Stanwyck, Blondell, etc.) finally make their mark.
I, for one, am ready.