- My Man Godfrey
- Swing Time
- Show Boat
- Three Smart Girls
- Mr. Deeds Goes To Town
- Libeled Lady
- Modern Times
- San Francisco
Lots of good choices here, including Gary Cooper at his most delightful in Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, but the most impressive male performance of the year, and one of the best of the decade, is Walter Huston‘s towering work in one of William Wyler’s best films, Dodsworth. It’s a very grown-up drama that survives the ages, its style and morality not quite as dated as you would expect for a film made in 1936.
It’s not too surprising that screwball comedies of the 1930s were not appreciated enough in their time; it’s really only in retrospect that their political significance can be objectively packaged, not to mention the contribution they made to making movies the dominant artistic medium of the century. There is hardly a better example than Gregory La Cava’s masterpiece My Man Godfrey, in which Carole Lombard tears up the screen with her perfection (at that year’s Academy Awards, which was the only time she was nominated in her short life, she was passed over for the forgotten Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld). The same year she was also delightful in a lesser project, the romantic comedy Love For Breakfast.
Walter Brennan won the first Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Come And Get It,his first of three, but I liked his old coot turns in other films much more, so for this category I’m sticking to my favourite My Man Godfrey and putting the touch on Mischa Auer as Alice Brady’s goofy protege. When Lombard isn’t lighting up the screen with her zaniness or Powell with his sexy, upright decency, Auer monkies around the screen and gives it a lot of goofy fun.
Mary Astor had an interesting career, playing sexpot temptresses in the 30s, moving on to wholly pure mothers in the 40s before an early retirement following her last performance in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. The transference of roles is a classic example of the journey that women often undergo in movies, but Astor’s past as a dangerous siren gave her motherly roles in films like Little Women and Meet Me In St. Louis a low-burn verve that others playing those matronly roles didn’t often have. Wyler’s Dodsworth sees her halfway between these extremes, playing Huston’s sexy mistress but constantly concerned with the moral dubiousness of what she is up to, and it is one of her finest performances.
It’s a hard choice between La Cava and Wyler, both excellent films in very different ways that benefit so greatly from having strong filmmakers at their helm. Still, making comedy that lasts is a miracle to behold, so I’ll stick with Gregory La Cava and the wonderment of My Man Godfrey.