Looking Back at Oscar, #11

For the next LBaO feature, we’re looking back at the Picture + acting Oscar nominees of the year 1938:

Adventures of Robin Hood
Alexander’s Ragtime Band
Algiers
Angels With Dirty Faces
Boys Town
The Citadel
Four Daughters
Grand Illusion
The Great Waltz
If I Were King
Jezebel
Kentucky
Marie Antoinette
Merrily We Live
Of Human Hearts
Pygmalion
Test Pilot
Three Comrades
White Banners
You Can’t Take It With You

For my full length reviews of the following films, click here to see my Top 15 of the year post:
Adventures of Robin Hood
Angels With Dirty Faces
Grand Illusion
Pygmalion
Three Comrades

The following films are currently unavailable:
Kentucky (couldn’t find)

Now for the rest! I did give a few of the following films some positive attention in my 1938 Year in Review post.

Alexander’s Ragtime Band
Alexander’s Ragtime Band has the sort of title that makes you immediately realize that it is not particularly worth it if the music from Alexander and his musical organization is no good. In the end, there is so much music playing throughout the picture that it is hard to give a final verdict. I can safely say that it is a good movie for people with attention problems, with something new getting thrown at you every couple of minutes despite the fact that the plot and characters are the sort of thing you have seen a million times before, complete with anachronistic dialogue thrown into the mouth of gorgeous Tyrone Power (who is pretty charmless in this and thankfully does not have to carry as many moments as the protagonist notionally would have to). The main attraction is Alice Faye, who does the bulk of the singing and is perfectly reasonable at it. Mostly I’m just glad that it was not Deanna Durbin shrieking away in her operatic style. Henry King, never the most memorable of directors, makes it all look pretty and glossy enough to forgive some of the flaws, but I cannot claim to care for the songs or the plot too much in the long term, with a Hollywood ending that was the right fit but results in this going nowhere interesting and the lyrics all being way too simple to the point of idiocy. The best thing about the movie is that it stars Ethel Merman, best known for the funniest gag in Airplane and getting a few numbers to show off her brassy style, with the strongest vocal chops in the ensemble. Jack Haley also gets a number with a great title, “How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” that otherwise is not a moment particularly worth remembering. Worst part to put up with is the length, which is way too long for something with as delicately cliched a story as this happens to have. I assume this was pushed for Picture at the Academy Awards because it was a musical, but surely there was a better one for the studio to go for in the roster, or did people just go for the most basic option available to them? One can never tell, but the conventionality of it causes me to think that voters were, in fact, giving this the Durbin slot.

Algiers
My #14 film of the year prior, Pepe Le Moko, could not even make it a year before being remade by an American in the English language for English speaking audiences that could not handle something so French in its rhythms being, gasp, in French. Replacing Jean Gabin was Charles Boyer, who hated the entire experience because of director John Cromwell’s insane tendency to play the scenes from the original and doing it exactly the same way, resulting in plagiarism from the performance of someone who he considered one of the best. While it is truly impossible to fully copy another actor’s performance, Boyer’s work comes closer than he would have liked despite his dispassionate treatment of the romance material (which is not the right route) and the level of aggressiveness in the way that the crew takes the “he has an accent!” as a substitute for Gabin’s authentic Frenchness for such a clearly European story, and Hedy Lamarr in her earliest work with the American studios is more of an engaging presence than a great actress in her own right. Nominated in the supporting realm, Gene Lockhart as the informer is pretty much a nothing whose nomination feels pretty baffling and whose casting was likely a mistake considering how he was usually typecast. The producers took the mad route of purchasing all the copies of the original to make sure nobody in the United States ever saw it, but this mostly resulted in the remake looking worse, with Boyer never the kind of actor who was very good at playing characters that have to carry a whole movie, and the director not having Duvivier’s knack for the streets and rhythms of the area. Ultimately, no one cared about this once it went into the public domain, and the 1937 edition is still beloved for inspiring Casablanca and giving us the origins of this story on film to begin with. Most upsetting about watching this immediately after Pepe Le Moko is just how badly the dialogue has been translated over into sounding stupid and melodramatic, while the shots are such a ripoff that it is deeply upsetting to think of Duvivier working on a flop like The Great Waltz as his strongest creation was chopped up to appeal to a stupider form of the masses, with the main takeaway from the remakes as a louder and more obnoxious brand of acting.

Boys Town
I really cannot think of a recipe for a film more likely to trigger an allergy of the “I want to claw my eyes out while putting up with this shitty piece of corporate baiting” than the “how is this only 90ish minutes?” disaster that is Boys Town, which has Spencer Tracy playing a kind hearted and very boring preacher with a cute alliterative name (he won his second consecutive Oscar for some reason), Mickey Rooney playing an awful brat of a delinquent child who is reformed via good old fashioned Catholic guilt (cue the molestation jokes), and plenty of soppy feel good moments along the way which clash hilariously with Tracy’s refusal to give up his Oscar to the real Father Flanagan (and he had every right to keep it, but he sure as hell did not deserve it, as per usual with his performances). We do not even get the luxury of Rooney singing or dancing, not that any song he sang was going to enjoyable in a movie like this one, so count our blessings there, particularly with studio head Lewis B. Mayer calling this his favorite film produced at MGM (he was a Jew, for the record, which is deeply unsettling at worst and a lie designed to placate the middlebrow at best…or maybe I should swap worst/best in that sentence). “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” is a terrible line, Tracy’s performance is only better than his other winning one by virtue of not being obscenely racist and smug but the role is nothing more than a nice person who wants to help out boys who are causing problems and need some help, and he vanishes from the story for a while, to the point where you could argue for him getting the supporting nomination instead (which might have prevented a bad result in both male acting categories, especially if Cagney was the runner up for a much better role in a similar but far stronger work, Angels With Dirty Faces). Much like sugar that is in really bad desserts, you will slowly be poisoned and rotted out by watching movies such as this and treating them as the pinnacle of the art form, so let us be grateful that the country’s Catholic strangehold has been diminished ever so slightly so that this could not become a hit unless aggressively marketed to the South.

The Citadel
The Citadel opens with an unintentionally hilarious disclaimer, almost undoubtedly the highlight of the whole movie, saying that it is not opposed to the medical profession and appreciates all doctors have done to help humanity’s natural progress as a whole, before promptly spending two hours straight throwing the general profession under the bus for greedy overeducatedness with a glee that is hilariously malicious on King Vidor’s behalf. I guess he never did learn to trust urban professionals. Robert Donat plays a brand new Scottish doctor going off to help the Welsh miners in a town that is suffering from tuberculosis. Resistance is abundant right off the bat, with the miners biting the hand that feeds them so hard that it’s practically cannibalism, destroying his entire laboratory with all the notes he has taken in one of the most bizarre moments I can think of. No, it does not feel particularly warranted in context, even with an abundance of “God’s will” mentions, especially with how cheerfully the villagers are portrayed as idiots for doing things like not keeping measles victims isolated and quarantined properly. Eventually, he is seduced by an old classmate (played by Rex Harrison) into treating rich hypochondriacs for their problems while his wife (an awfully shouty Rosalind Russell) tries to lead him back onto the straight and narrow, but his best friend is killed at the hands of an incompetent surgeon who happens to be a social climber. Apparently the ending to the original novel was compromised, but I find it hard to believe that Vidor’s talents were being well applied here. This was a prestige project after the success of Stella Dallas, and where that obliquely teased out some truths about its character that had some mildly unfortunate class overtones, this just does not hold up thanks to the earnest speeches about ideals that make this borderline unwatchable nowadays in how they tell and do not show. It looks nice since it was shot on location, but that was a talent he developed very early on with works like The Crowd, and this has mannequins interacting and gesticulating in front of realistic looking backgrounds. The disillusionment, corruption, and cynicism is hollow and a cheap bag of tricks designed to fool the cheap seats into being horrified at the abundance of horrible things that the good then bad doctor undergoes during a running time that is obscenely long.

Four Daughters
Michael Curtiz’s career is a bizarre one considering how prolific he was and the variance in quality that resulted from the quality of the scripts he got his hands on and directed in ways that felt fairly straightforward, going from the highs of Casablanca to plenty of forgotten lows along the way. Despite the movie being entitled Four Daughters, the Academy fell hardest for John Garfield in a role that begs for attention, a cynical song writer in a work that up until that point had been filled with happy and cheerful musical numbers with a casually loving feud between the popular music loving daughters and the father who loves Beethoven (how fucking weird is it that this was a feud back in the 30s). Garfield’s character charms the Priscilla Lane character of Ann so much that she drops her previous engagement for him, but the two do not have much chemistry and he got a nomination for getting the best lines in a movie that appealed to their sensibilities, the easiest musical pill to swallow (along the lines of Three Smart Girls). It is pure surface level fluff in ways that do not reveal any depth. The women no doubt split the votes to prevent them from getting into the race, but Claude Rains’ snub is a bit of a mystery, outside of a generally decent leading man lineup that year. Clearly Curtiz was taking some cues from Little Women in the way to present this material, but this lacks almost all of the charm and liveliness of a Hepburn or her sisters, with all the ladies in this being like wax dummies who stand there and sing their songs, to be forgotten in the long run and outshined a little by their random aunt who shows up to provide some light comedic relief, played by May Robson in a thankless role compared to her essentially taking the same part in A Star is Born and finding the beating heart of the picture in it. Worst moment is a line from one of the sisters calling herself “the clever sister,” which would have only been excused if it had resulted in a metacinema take on the old trope of siblings only possessing a single identifying trait apiece to keep them apart. Watching this right after Lonergan’s nuanced take in You Can Count on Me was particularly painful in that regard.

Great Waltz
The combination of primarily Julien Duvivier but with some uncredited work done by Victor Fleming and, best of all, Josef von Sternberg all taking their turns in the director’s chair makes The Great Waltz sound much more exciting than it is. The end result is not bad, especially for the standards of biopics in that era, and deservedly won an Oscar for its very pretty black and white cinematography (I would expect nothing less skilled from that trinity of people in charge of the production, frankly), but the script is some real shit that drags them down to its level, a ball of standard biopic cliches that somehow manages to openly admit in the opening passages that it does not have much relation to the real composer’s life (“We dramatized THE SPIRIT of his life!” is basically a free pass to libel the man over whatever duration you so choose) and does not even have the decency to be particularly interesting beyond that brand of nonsense. Luise Rainer, despite winning the last two Best Actress awards, did not even get a nomination here and it’s fairly easy to see why to the type of person who thinks that the Academy would never honor such a bland supporting wife role, ever. (We know that they would, but…) Supporting Actress went to the technical lead in the form of Miliza Korjus, in her only major film role. She is pretty clueless and amateur about what to do (her voice is particularly strange compared to the identical accents that everyone happens to be sporting), but she also thankfully does not get a whole lot of material out of it. She simply hits the excruciatingly high notes and calls it a day. Good job, but that is not what I want to watch or listen to, which also includes the many scenes of Strauss doing nothing but composing and conducting his orchestra in his pieces that sound like every other orchestral piece from that era to someone like me, although the scope is exactly what you would expect from material handled by these three men in charge of such a sensuous, musical picture, with delirious overhead shots of swirling couples dancing the great waltzes across the floor, as we move down to their feet and then their full bodies, is impressive stuff that should have been fitted into a better musical or dance picture.

If I Were King
Is there a more hilariously depressing name and niche for a YouTube channel to be dealing in than the title of “Frank Lloyd Films”? He is widely remembered nowadays by a certain subset of cinephile for being competent at best (Mutiny on the Bounty) and giving us plenty of tedious Oscar bait and somehow receiving two Best Director trophies for it at worst. I am inclined to believe that the account is managed by the man’s ghost, desperately scraping to keep himself relevant by putting up movies that are only for insane Oscar buffs trying to watch everything in Picture and acting. If I Were King falls into the same vein, even with Preston Sturges doing the screenplay adaptation of a novel and play, yet still getting saddled with the tagline “His Love-Making Was as Dangerous as His Swordplay.” (Why not add another saying Those Are the Same Fucking Thing?) It took nine months if France to prepare this work, and none of them really show beyond the stunt work. Ronald Colman, who was beginning to really break out, was the lead and essentially plays a Manic Pixie Dream Man, a charming thief and poet who gets away with everything when plotting against Basil Rathbone’s darkly humorous king, going from a witty individual to someone completely mad in the blink of an eye. It is simultaneously precisely what the movie needs to keep it more watchable and a fairly lousy performance in terms of tying it all together thematically. Colman’s poet is like the trickster in a fairy tale, always getting away with murder and eventually becoming put in charge of something important. In this case, he winds up exiled but earns the love of a lady in waiting and is beloved by the people when he leads a revolution. Sturges’ writing would be translated through a much sharper pen and tongue in the future, so we can call this a warmup while other great comedic writers were truly starting to heat up around this time in the late 30s, but it is a shame that this is what got the high levels of praise and a YouTube channel desperately trying to fan the flames of Lloyd’s brief moment in the sun. With so few people caring about this and Preston’s works still showing up on so many All Time Film lists, we ultimately know who the real winner is here.

Jezebel
My Brief Year in Review piece for Jezebel: First act dissolves into pointless male codes of honor. Davis pretty great but Bainter the real star.

My father, upon viewing Jezebel, claimed that Vivien Leigh ripped off Bette Davis for her Gone With the Wind performance. This is bullshit, but at any rate, the comparison is an easy one to make thanks to not only the fundamental baseline of the story, with Bette playing a Southern belle who dresses inappropriately for the balls and is so strong willed as to drive everyone mad, but with William Wyler making something that feels fairly epic in scope to boot. It is not Bette’s strongest performance nor the best film in which she appeared (All About Eve for the former, not sure on the latter but it might well be the same picture), but it is what paved the way, and helped her get an Oscar that actually felt deserved this time around. Fay Bainter also won in the supporting category, and while Bette’s work is the one who everyone will remember, she gives the better work, sketching out a whole portrait of an agony aunt just by listening and being expressive while doing it. Remarkable, and I wish she had been the star in her own way. Wyler’s direction seems to be heading in the direction of his classics like Dodsworth for a brief moment when the opening act focuses on the red dress that attracts lots of attention, a gorgeously dark piece that looks black thanks to the monochrome but suggests a shade of scarlet(o’hara), inspiring the best moments from the cast in terms of reactions and scheming (the most fun parts of a Davis picture). Unfortunately, the early promises of duels that is foreshadowed when all this shopping and socializing is going on eventually pops up into the foreground after an amazing sequence of a couple dancing on their own. I do not need to watch a whole bunch of men reciting codes of honor at each other for what can occasionally feel like endless hours, with the arc of Juliezebel locking herself away only adding a bit more heft to a running time that needs a little trimming, even if she manages to find an abundance of angles to play in a script, finally figuring out her star persona in a way that justifies the Oscar even though she is not my top choice in her field. You absolutely need to see this movie if you have any interest in cinema, but it’s hopefully not your most appetizing prospect.

Marie Antoinette
My Brief Year in Review piece for Marie Antoinette: Way too fucking long but Shearer and Morley never cease being watchable underneath all the delightful fancies.

Marie Antoinette’s value as trying to give an interpretation of history is absolutely nonexistent. There’s giving a sympathetic portrayal to a woman who was notoriously not, and then there is THIS, which does not include the phony “let them eat cake” quotation but takes that small concession of niceness and amplifies it to obscene levels, a woman who may have made plenty of mistakes but is most certainly nothing more than a bit of victim to many circumstances over an epic running time. (There’s a scene where she is totally horrified that her courtiers are buying her JEWELS when there’s people starving outside, which…never happened.) For this is a film that tries to have its cake and eat it too (sorry), with a fucking parade of plots and subplots revolving around politics, comedy, romance, melodrama, and above all period costume opulence forever floating around. Poor W.S. Van Dyke, who was best suited for speedy Thin Man comedies, cannot lift something that is so gloriously corpulent, and mostly just makes sure the cinematography gets increasingly dark and gloomy as things go along and we leave behind the parties full of mean rich people and move onto the Revolution and the deeply grim politicking that comes along with it. None of this lifestyle porn is treated as the reason for the revolt, and you can only watch Norma Shearer flit about for so long. The good news is that even when the plot is idiotic, her work, plus that of Robert Morley as King Louis and Gladys George as her nemesis Madame Du Barry, never fail to do their damnedest to pump some oxygen into something that always seems to be leaking it. Even the slight moments of theatricality serve to make the sincere ones, like her vicious pathos in the final act, serve a grand purpose. That final act of tragedy as she knows her children are doomed to the guillotine and so is she is a real coup from a work that is otherwise a rather light way to kill two and a half hours (which is way too fucking long, but it does better than most prestige affairs at justifying it), and I am glad it pulled it off. It is the high point of Shearer’s career of roles that otherwise smelled a little too much of her getting lucky enough to be married to the boss. Certainly would’ve been a decent Oscar win.

Merrily We Live
Merrily We Live’s description on a certain YouTube file that I may or may not have watched it on claims that it was ahead of its time as a comedy, to which I say: that is total bullshit. This is a deeply rote movie as it is (the title is a lot less fun to roll around in your mouth than Merrily We Go To Hell) and the entire plot is such a blatant plagiarism of My Man Godfrey in how it takes a bunch of dotty rich people and makes one of them adopt a poor person as a servant (in this case, an intellectual chaffeur) while light hearted laughs and romance ensue and they end up together in the end, with the innuendo that worked so well two years earlier being vacuumed out with a suction hose. The poster had a tagline claiming it was much better than last year’s breakout comedy hit Topper, which made Billie Burke a supporting player instead of a little closer to the forefront (Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne are the leads…this was basically an excuse to give some supporting players the limelight), but this is not the case, with everything being bald plagiarism even with the material already having been established. Not even Bonita Granville, so great in These Three, gets anything worth playing for. Why so many Oscar nominations? Burke’s is kind of reasonable, but the cinematography and the art direction are big “what the hell were they thinking” nods, with sets and camera work that are pretty ordinary, with Norman Z. McLeod, never more than a competent worksman for lesser Marx Brothers works or a strong W.C. Fields vehicle, totally struggling to be original and floundering everywhere. The Best Song nominee, which shared the movie title, is an annoyingly catchy piece of nonsense that plays over some opening credits that blatantly rip off the opening of the much funnier Libeled Lady, with everyone happily joining hands and walking towards the camera. Copping the best bits of plenty of other movies is not the way to my heart, especially when the sympathies seem to be a bit more skewed towards the rich family than the poor man who gets used for Burke’s nonsensical purposes. What’s ahead of its time about this is the tendency for Hollywood to blatantly rip off works and recycle them for the purposes of getting the cheap laughs.

Of Human Hearts
Of Human Hearts’ plot summary is the sort that means it has to do a lot to win me over, especially knowing what I do about prestige vehicles from the 30s that managed to get Beulah Bondi nominated as opposed to her astoundingly realistic work in Make Way for Tomorrow. Walter Huston plays a preacher and James Stewart is a doctor, and the two are father and son who fight with each other over their ways of life, which results in Huston’s death and Stewart’s character neglecting his mother until she goes into poverty (this would not be the last time that Bondi was Stewart’s mother in a film, most notably in It’s a Wonderful Life). It’s very much what you would expect for Clarence Brown shortly after Garbo decided she needed someone new to work with and in the same vein as Gorgeous Hussy, except even more ridiculous and not possessing someone like Crawford to make all the drama seem, well, fun. Instead, we get Abraham Lincoln making a cameo to tell the son what an ungrateful child he has been, which is only interesting in the context of how 30s films were just as nostalgic about critical moments in history (that were frankly pretty uneventful until they weren’t) as we are now. The story is just too thin to really justify a full analysis, falling into the historical fiction trap of winking and nodding at each major event that happens to befalling this character, usually a bland construct. Every battle is The Big One, and so on. MGM threw plenty of money at the production, and it sort of shows, but I do not see the epic vibe of something like The Good Earth, which had plenty of problems but not in the realm of cinematography and production design. The title was chosen by a high school student, which fits right into a scene with broad writing along the lines of “Book learning is bad for children!”, said in the thickest country accent possible. Sometimes, in a day and age where one worries that the crappy Marvel movies are resulting in stupider adults, it’s nice to be reassured that thick brushstrokes and stock characters were always the rage, but with more unique looking construction in the realms of the professionals doing the scripting and camera locations, and justified gray skies thanks to the black and white film being used.

Test Pilot
Test Pilot’s top two stars are exciting: Clark Gable and Myrna Loy, with the latter as a brunette with a different hairdo than her usual! And then you see Spencer Tracy and Lionel Barrymore, and you stop giving much of a shit, because one was rarely good (mostly just Fury, I think) and one was only good when his hammy performances and mugging fit the mood of the project (Sadie Thompson, Devil-Doll). Worst of all, it’s two hours long, so you have to salvage what you can from the proceedings. It is admittedly a cute enough piece of work, and Victor Fleming is doing his best resume building for Gone With the Wind and Wizard of Oz, but the main crux here is actually Tracy’s utterly clueless performance, best viewed in the same vein as Charlton Heston totally not getting the gay subtext in Ben-Hur and playing everything so sincerely that he did not realize the campiness stuffed into his interactions with the hunky male. (No, this was not intentional on his end. He was too boring and sincere in everything. Gable’s character also replies to his, um, flirting with a vague sense of embarrassment throughout the ordeal.) As for Gable and Loy, well, you know perfectly well that the former is playing the cocky flyer in the title and the latter is the love interest with spunk, but the pair of them meet cute within half an hour of starting up a much too long movie and there is not a whole lot of relationship testing going on, with the other main attraction being a whole lot of pretty aerial photography that was done in a juicier melodrama in the original Picture winner Wings. All of this makes the movie a forerunner to a film that I rank among the most stupidly omnipresent pieces of pop culture ever created in the form of Top Gun. Can’t say I feel any urge to see a volleyball scene between our males here…well, half of them anyway. I can understand finding this an amusing enough way to kill some time, but pretending this was among 1938’s strongest strikes me as pretty ridiculous even if you narrow it down to just the American stuff (and Grand Illusion got plenty of richly deserved attention that year so there’s no excuse for that kind of behavior). It’s not even a particularly worthwhile piece of fun popcorn art.

White Banners
My Brief Year in Review piece for White Banners: Sweet and simple. Would be a decent kids’ movie if it wasn’t so insistently obscure.

Fay Bainter had a productive year in 1938, winning a well deserved Supporting Actress trophy for her part in Jezebel and getting a chance to take a leading part for a change in the lighthearted drama White Banners, which also earned her a nomination that she would lose to the more Southern film’s leading lady and breakout star in Bette Davis. A nursing drama of sorts (it was adapted from a Cosmopolitan article, which will never not be funny to me), with a housekeeper who shows up and makes life nicer for a happy family while searching for her own abandoned son in the area, the movie is decidedly minor and absolutely not required viewing unless you are…well, someone like me. What it does succeed at, however, is in making the performers comfortable and doing a good job earning their paychecks. Bainter is best in show, making her saintly individual seem like a real person, one who clearly loves her charges and wants to help them even if she can occasionally get a little bored or distracted or other little things (not to mention Edmund Goulding is way too willing to sideline her for long stretches before bringing her back to do something nice). Claude Rains is also very good here, seeming very nicely relaxed as the family man in a most untypical performance. Goulding was not a true talent, but this is definitely along the lines of Grand Hotel in how it makes a talented ensemble cast (Bonita Granville and Jackie Cooper play the children, both somewhere in between These Three and Skippy in quality, while Kay Johnson is the mother) clearly have fun. Everyone is coasting, but doing so reflects the movies values of being calmly diligent and working efficiently, without the stress of a megaproduction of Jezebel’s vein. It is so low risk as to be occasionally dull, but it goes down easily and with a pleasant flavor. I would happily recommend it as a movie you could watch with your children if it were more widely available, but it was one of the most difficult ones in this project to find, and it is not particularly needed. Certain parts recall a much better version of Lady for a Day with the poor woman and her apples that ekes out a better place in society, but this falls into the exact same vein of simple pleasures that are unnecessary viewing.

You Can’t Take It With You
My Brief Year in Review piece for You Can’t Take It With You: Aggressively reliant on quirk…although I guess it has its charms? This won a Pulitzer?

You Can’t Take It With You began life as a play that won the Pulitzer Prize, was adapted by Frank Capra at the top of his game in Hollywood (although it took this movie to get back into good graces thanks to Lost Horizon being so costly), and won Best Picture and scooped up plenty of other Oscar nominations alongside a Best Director win for Capra (including Spring Byington in a role that was fairly typical for her). It is also, to be perfectly frank, pretty average in every respect. The film winning Picture is no surprise as it was such a box office success and falls right into the middlebrow realm that the Academy is so fond of, but it really is bizarre that such a play could be considered great enough to win the Pulitzer. The material of a rich family and a poor family who have their children fall in love is really just a slight twist on Romeo and Juliet, with the Montagues trying to drive the Capulets out of the neighborhood by taking their house while they putter along eccentrically, dancing and playing the xylophone and setting off firecrackers. It trickles down the mind’s gullet easily, but with Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur getting arguably the blandest leading roles they were ever handed out, it’s all about the supporting cast, and no points for guessing where the bulk of the attention goes. Byington’s Supporting Actress nomination is an odd one considering how little she has to do, Barrymore hams it up as per usual (in this case it straddles the line between enjoyable and not), and everyone else is just loud in the background. It feels a little like “My Man Godfrey, but with poor people,” and the comedy is fun but at least a half hour too long, with the double climax of a jailhouse trial and Stewart’s father having a crisis of faith of destroying the lives of all the less fortunate people, combined with an earlier scene where not paying taxes is portrayed as a nice quirk, falls far too much into the Republican territory on the side of Capra’s usual attempts at being politically ambiguous when tackling the causes that his characters fight for (from something as vaguely gross as Bitter Tea of General Yen to the sheen of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). It looks rather dated in 2016, no?

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