- King Kong
- Duck Soup
- The Private Life of Henry VIII
- Dinner At Eight
- 42nd Street
- Baby Face
- Lady For A Day
- She Done Him Wrong
- The Eagle and the Hawk
- The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse
I know I should be respectful and stick with Oscar’s choice of Laughton as Henry VIII, but how were they to know that royal portrayals would become an awards-favourite staple? (though in his case it should be pointed out that the award was definitely deserved). In the years that have passed, Laughton has been memorialised for a whole host of other performances that followed in his Hollywood career (my favourite being Ruggles of Red Gap), while the 1933 performance that remains as fresh, funny and insouciant as the day it was made is Groucho Marx in his best comedy, Duck Soup. The mirror scene alone is worth watching a billion times.
Lots of great choices this year, including the role that won Katharine Hepburn her first of an historic four Academy Awards, but the one that I remember with the greatest fondness is Jean Harlow, at her gum-chewing best, in George Cukor’s hilarious Dinner At Eight. It might be Marie Dressler who delivers the film’s best-loved closing line, but Harlow drives the rest of it with her low-class, high-burn energy. I love to remember the days when being white trash was something to aspire to, even in the movies.
One of cinema’s best loved pairings was created in 1933, that of the dancing team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Flying Down To Rio. The film would have been melted down to make boots if it weren’t for their debut, which features them dancing “The Carioca” with Astaire, still not yet a star, as bashfully appealing as ever, and their dancing is absolutely divine right from the start.
Honour Roll: Henry Travers, The Invisible Man
I select Ginger Rogers in one of the year’s best films, 42nd Street. While star Ruby Keeler proves how far you can get being mediocre (it’s the Depression, and young women will definitely pay to watch you be so-so if it means they can aspire to be the same), Rogers steals her every scene with her whipcrack delivery of the film’s best lines: “Pardon me,” she says after she hiccups at a drunken party, “it must be the tight shoes.”
Honour Roll: Joan Blondell, Gold Diggers Of 1933
Despite having a marked interest in making documentaries (or at least the heavily interfered observations of foreign cultures that passed for documentaries in those days), Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack endure in film history not because of movies like Chang, but because of their little adventure about a big ape named King Kong. It actually does integrate their fact-based filmmaking (particularly the early scenes on the “native” island) with a healthy sense of adventure and a mammoth sense of wonder. Peter Jackson remade it decades later with exceptional effects and an overemphasis on emotional exploration, overstating the elements of dangerous eroticism and capitalist greed that this one only hints at.
Honour Roll: Frank Lloyd, Cavalcade