Best Picturesque: The 7th – One Night, One Night, Cleopatra

What makes an Oscar winner? I have no idea, really.  But I can take a guess by watching each Best Picture winner, regardless of if I’ve already seen it, at random years, and then watching the two nominees with the most Oscar nominations for that year to find out, in my pompous assessment, if the Academy made the right choice. If I’ve already seen the subsequent nominee, I’ll move on to the next most nominated for that year.

The 7th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: It Happened One Night, One Night of Love (6), Cleopatra (5)
bold = winner italics = losers (nominations) ]

When I watched these: December 3rd – 5th

The snacks: a lot of peanut butter M&Ms

The year: 1934.

Did I skip any of the movies?: The Gay Divorcee tied with Cleopatra for nominations.  I picked the latter because Claudette Colbert, and history.

So why did the other movies lose?

Almost ten years after the release of The Jazz Singer, Columbia Pictures looks to recapture the magic of the talkie, and the quasi-musical, in One Night of Love.  The film is about a woman who moves to Italy, moves the crowds with her absurd vocal talent, and moves the heart of a locally famous voice teacher.  The singer even manages to distract the landlady out of paying rent on time with her voice.  Clearly, we all need to hone our musical skills. We get the classic clash of personalities in Mary (Moore) and Giulio (Carminati), both infected with the pride bug, and then the love triangle thing occurs with Giulio’s former student — I guess he has a history, and despite denying it, at one point uses it as leverage to get a dejected Mary to sing one more time. Nasty.  It’s really a movie about manipulation and awkward romances, and about Grace Moore’s mezzo-soprano range, and less about something resembling a plot.

In one of two Claudette Colbert 1935 Oscar nominations, Cleopatra features the decade’s siren wearing minimal clothing, first coming at Caesar, and due to his untimely death, cancels this romantic venture and approaches Marc Antony as an alternative. I was really distracted by Colbert’s skin and the bombastic set design to notice what was going on, which really wasn’t much.  Caesar is played by Warren William, whose acting is like a petrified Charlton Heston. The ridiculousness of this film hits a crescendo when Caesar is assassinated. The betrayers line up with their respective daggers and take turns plunging them into Caesar’s chest, all of the assassins making a face kind of like this one:

Related image

Poor guy.

It’s a film symbolizing a bygone Hollywood era, complete with politically incorrect lines (“Is she black?” *collective forced laughter*) and pseudo-historical drama.

So why did It Happened One Night win?

Oscar winners have been considerably heavy-handed, but It Happened One Night proves to be a feel-good whimsical drama/comedy that you can’t get out of your head. Quick witted Peter Warne (Gable) meets his match in Ellie Andrews (Colbert), the former a jobless reporter, the latter a spoiled brat running away from pops after he tries to annul her marriage to King, some wealthy dude who we know from the start isn’t going to cut it.  Ellie and Peter trade barbs on a bus, while rooming together, in between some hay bales, while hitchhiking, and in a car Peter commandeers, and their dialogue is delivered with incredible deftness. Several scenes are laugh-out-loud funny: Peter’s bait-and-switch with Shapely outside the bus is some outstanding comedy. On a technical level, the film ; the sound quality exceeds the other two tremendously, and the cinematography rivals modern dramas.  One scene in particular caught my attention: often in black-and-white films, the night scenes are falsely produced with a darkening lens; when Peter carries Ellie over the river/threshold, the film takes advantage of the moonlight for a beautiful zoomed out shot.

The movie that should have won: It Happened One Night

The comparison is sort of unfair.  It Happened One Night is superior in every way; the others didn’t stand a chance.

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