Monday, January 28, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 1938-1942

Winner: You Can't Take It With You
Director: Frank Capra
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Frank Capra was a pretty good director, and by pretty good I mean that he was probably one of the best at that time. He won three out of the last five Best Director awards, the other two for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and It Happened One Night. He was a busy man to say the least. I haven't personally seen this version of the story, but I have seen the stage version. The story deals with a girl named Alice and her crazy family. She falls in love with Jimmy Stewart's character and Alice then decides to invite Stewart's family over. Too bad his family is a bunch of uptight jerks! Hilarity and awkwardness ensue! Capra likes to keep the same actors it seems, as this film has not only Jimmy Stewart, but Jean Arthur and Lionel Barrymore. Stewart and Capra are like Johnny Depp and Tim Burton today, except not overdone and unnecessary. Don't get me wrong, I like them both, but they both need to branch out. You Can't Take It With You went up against a few weak contenders, so it's easy to see why it won.

Winner: Gone with the Wind
Director: Victor Fleming
Distributed by: Loews Inc.

I really don't have to say much about this story because everybody knows about Gone with the Wind. It's a timeless tale and one that people still love today. Heck, my aunt and uncle named their cat Ashley after one of the characters! Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh star as the two leads and sparring lovers. I think this is my favorite Gable character, if only because he doesn't put up with Leigh's Scarlett O' Hara anymore. 1939 is an infamous Oscar year because of the huge amount of competition. Gone with the Wind had to go up against The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith goes to Washington, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Ninotchka, and Dark Victory. Not an easy choice, right? Well, because Gone with the Wind was already an incredibly popular book by Margaret Mitchell, and it made a ton of money right out of the gate, it probably helped it take home the prize that year. It's still holds the title of highest grossing film when adjusted for inflation. Not bad for a civil war movie. If you asked modern audiences what should have won, there are probably a lot that would side with either this film or The Wizard of Oz. I think more would lean on The Wizard of Oz, but that's just me. I know that Gone with the Wind has a huge following, so who knows. Gone with the Wind even almost won the "High Five" had it not been for Robert Donat winning Best Actor for Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Donaaaaaaat! *Shakes fists.*

Winner: Rebecca
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Distributed by: United Artists

Rebecca was Hitchcock's first American movie and the only one that he won an Oscar for, but not bad for a first try, right? The story, starring the hugely popular Laurence Olivier and future Best Actress winner Joan Fontaine (incidentally for another Hitchcock film), involves the usual Hitchcock fare of suspense, thrills, and murder. For me, it's a bit odd that a Hitchcock film is a best picture. I don't know, it just seems that Hitchcock wouldn't exactly be a hit with the Academy voters. This is not to say that I don't enjoy his films, as the ones I have seen have been very good. I can think of a bunch of other Hitchcock movies that probably deserved the honors over this one, but I honestly haven't seen this movie, so I can't really judge. Critics still enjoy this movie, though it's not one of the better known Hitchcock films. Rebecca won in another big year that had other films such as The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Dictator, and The Philadelphia Story. It seems hard to believe that this beat out all those classics, but it did. Since the inclusion of the categories for supporting actors and actresses, this is the only movie to win only for Best Picture, but not Director, Actor, Actress, or Screenplay.

Winner: How Green Was My Valley
Director: John Ford
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

This is an incredible heart-breaking, poetic tale of a Welsh coal mining family, the Morgans. Told through the eyes of the youngest Morgan, the trials and tribulations of this family seem endless. The members deal with the woes of a loveless marriage, with death, with a ever disintegrating family unit, and with the loss of innocence at an early age.  If you don't feel some sort of grief for this film's family than you must be a robot, and I don't mean the cool kind. Directed by the brilliant John Ford,( who took the helm over when original director William Wyler bowed out to direct The Little Foxes) magic was done under his control. Due to the bombing of Britain by Nazis and 20th Century Fox executives being nervous about the film's pro-union storyline, the idea of filming in Wales was scrapped and a masterful replica of a mining town was created on 80 acres of the Fox Ranch in Malibu Canyon ( which won the film an Art Direction- Interior Decoration Award at the Oscars). Surprisingly the film only took two months to shoot. This was probably partly due to the talented cast involved, which included: Maureen O'Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp ( won Best Supporting Actor), Walter Pidgeon, and Roddy McDowall. How Green Was My Valley was nominated for ten Academy Awards and walked away with half. It beat out the likes of Citizen Kane, which is now known for being one of the best films of all time. At the time though, it was a box office bust- maybe it was the whole last word of "Rosebud" that confused audiences or it could of been Orson Welles' war against studio executives who he called a bunch of "overpaid office boys" ( they retaliated by booing his Best Original Screenplay win). Welles wasn't bitter though when John Ford took home the win for Best Director. When asked which director he most admired, Orson Welles said, " I like the old masters, by which I mean John Ford, John Ford, John Ford."

Winner: Mrs. Miniver
Director: William Wyler
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

It's rumored that Winston Churchill said that this film had done more for the war effort than a flotilla of destroyers. FDR even ordered the film's final speech (Wilcoxon Speech) to be broadcasted on Voices of America and printed copies be dropped over Europe as propaganda. The director, William Wyler, did in fact admit that he made the film for propaganda reasons. Wyler was born in Germany and believed the United States should join the war against Nazism and not stick to isolationism as they had done in the past. So he made a film that showed Americans exactly what the British were doing in the war (remember that the U.S. didn't enter the war until December 1941).  Later, after joining the US Army, Wyler would say that his war experiences made him realize that the film actually portrayed war in too soft a light. Wyler won Best Director for his efforts, but incidentally was overseas serving, so his wife had to accept it for him. Too bad it was made out of plaster instead of the usual copper and tin. Rip off! Lousy academy getting into the war effort. Mrs. Miniver held a few firsts for the Academy Awards, namely that it was the first film to be nominated in all four acting categories. It took two home with Best Supporting Actress- Teresa Wright and Best Actress - Greer Garson. Garson was actually not the studios first choice for the lead role. Originally the role was offered to Norma Shearer but she refused to play a mother. Greer Garson didn't want the role either but was contractually bond to take it. I bet Shearer was kicking herself after that. Garson made history with her acceptance speech of the night, she began by saying,  "I am practically unprepared" and then went on for a record of just short of 6 minutes. Cue the interrupting orchestra! Thereafter the Academy imposed a 45 sec time limit on acceptance speeches. Mrs. Miniver went on to gross $5,358,000 in the US alone making it the highest grossing film for MGM at the time. If you haven't seen this film I highly suggest it - not just because it won Best Picture but for one scene in particular showing the courage of Mrs. Miniver dealing with an escaped Nazi hanging out in her kitchen.

 *Written by Little Orphan Annie


  1. I got rid of the videos because it was too buggy and took too long, so just click on the title of each film to see its trailer.

  2. Hahahahahaha You know you miss Ashley!