Top Ten 1934

1. L’Atalante
2. Les Miserables
3. The Thin Man
4. It Happened One Night
5. The Barretts of Wimpole Street
6. The Scarlet Empress
7. The Black Cat
8. The Man Who Knew Too Much
9. A Story Of Floating Weeds
10. Cleopatra


Oscar knew what it was doing when it awarded Clark Gable his only Oscar for his delightful turn in one of Frank Capra’s best-ever comedies, It Happened One Night. It’s not just that he’s funny; he’s got incredible force and commands his every scene. It’s no wonder he so impressed audiences that men felt compelled to follow suit when he appeared in an evening scene without an undershirt beneath his lapels, and sales of the clothing item plummeted faster than a Sno-cone in hell.

Honour Roll: John Barrymore, Twentieth Century; Harry Bauer, Les Miserables; Leslie Howard, Of Human Bondage


I would happily follow suit with Oscar’s choice of Colbert in the same film but she was even better in movies like The Palm Beach Story and Midnight, so instead I happily hand the prize over to the fetching Dita Parlo in Jean Vigo’s enduring masterpiece L’Atalante.  Parlo is simultaneously innocent and sexual, and in this film she and co-star Jean Daste have some of the hottest chemistry ever put on film. It’s no wonder that her combination of freshness and dark curiousity led Madonna decades later to announce “My name is Dita” in her song “Erotica”, the inspiration taken directly from Parlo’s role in this film.

Honour Roll: Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night/Imitation of Life; Bette Davis, Of Human Bondage; Carole Lombard, Twentieth Century; Norma Shearer, The Barretts Of Wimpole Street


Owing in part to the still non-existent Supporting categories at the Academy Awards, one of the performances that is easily forgotten in It Happened One Night is that of Walter Connolly as Colbert’s hot-tempered father. He would be even funnier as even more hot-tempered fathers in later films, but here is where we can say that the unheralded legendary career of a master character actor began.


It’s partly my desire to have my cake and eat it too, but despite being the female lead in the film, it can easily be said that Myrna Loy occupies a supporting position in The Thin Man and its sequels; all the sleuthing work is done by co-star William Powell while she mainly looks pretty and keeps their precocious dog and, eventually, their son in line (and it is spoofed ever so hilariously by David Niven and Maggie Smith in Murder By Death). It’s the style, wit and class with which Loy deploys these empty duties that makes her role feel like so much more than just “the wife” and deservedly made her a Hollywood legend. Strangely enough, she spent her entire life and career completely untouched by Oscar (even for a nomination) until she was given a long overdue Honorary award in 1990.


After three short films which earned him the label of “controversial” in France for his highly politically charged content, Jean Vigo listened to well-meaning advisors and applied his incredible talents to a simple love story, which he made into something rich and haunting. L’Atalante, sadly, was to be his only feature as his lifelong struggle with tuberculosis would claim him not long afterwards. I still open my eyes underwater in search of true love, but nothing compares to the feeling of this gorgeous classic.

Honour Roll: Frank Capra, It Happened One Night; W.S. Van Dyke, The Thin Man