- The Adventures of Robin Hood
- The Lady Vanishes
- Four Daughters
- Alexander Nevsky
- Angels With Dirty Faces
- Alexander’s Ragtime Band
- The Citadel
- You Can’t Take It With You
- Bringing Up Baby
I haven’t seen this year’s Best Actor winner, Spencer Tracy in Boys Town, but I can hardly believe he comes anywhere near the vivacity that James Cagney brings to Angels With Dirty Faces. Cagney made himself a star for portraying the same level of manic (but strangely intelligent) energy in Public Enemy, and would have to jump genres in the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy in order to get the gold statuette, but it’s hard to imagine Michael Curtiz’s film about life among slum criminals without his brand of verve.
For this year I place the award upon a British actress whose nomination would have seemed unrefined at the time but whose performance gives such life to Shaw’s beautiful writing; as Eliza Dolittle, Wendy Hiller does the most superb job ever captured on film of transforming from a dirty Cockney flower seller into a real duchess in Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard’s adaptation of Pygmalion.
Four Daughters is one of the most charming comedies ever made, and what makes it even more memorable is that it launched the career of the short-lived John Garfield. In a film starring four gorgeous women as sisters, he shows up, steals hearts and blows everyone away with his soft-hearted tough guy bit.
Critics raved over Robert Donat’s performance in The Citadel and were incensed that he didn’t win the Academy Award (his win the following year for Goodbye, Mr. Chips is considered his consolation), but like many of Donat’s performances, his work comes off a bit mannered today. Much more impressive is the intelligent strength that Rosalind Russell brings as his wife, un-self-conscious and subtle in ways that her later career as a zany comedienne seems to have forgotten.
I should really go for Hitchcock on this one, especially as The Lady Vanishesis my favourite pre-Hollywood film of his, but he’ll get plenty of attention from me later. Instead it’s worth noting that Michael Curtiz not only had an impressive career in helping to build Warner Bros.’ reputation, but in 1938 he had an astounding year: Four Daughters, Angels With Dirty Faces and the greatest adventure film of all time, The Adventures Of Robin Hood (which he co-directed with William Keighley) all rank among the best of the decade.