As part of the What a Character! Blogathon, I decided to take an extended look at Lew Ayres as Ned Seton in George Cukor’s Holiday because not only is Lew Ayres one of my favorite actors, but this is the film that made me fall so hard for him. I also thought I would take this time to remind y’all that Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector goes on sale on November 1st. If you will remember, I contributed the foreword to that book and it would mean the world to me if you pre-ordered it; you won’t regret it, I swear.
I am going to go through Lew’s performance as Ned almost scene-by-scene, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, there will be spoilers.
Featuring one of Hollywood’s most famous screen pairings – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – Top Hat was the duo’s most financially successful film; it was the second highest grossing film of 1935. At once a musical, a dance film and a screwball comedy, the film is non-stop fun from start to finish. Top Hat was nominated for four Academy Awards, though it didn’t win any: Best Song – “Cheek To Cheek”, Best Art Direction, Best Dance Direction (a category that only existed from 1935-1937) and Best Picture. The other films nominated that year were Alice Adams, Broadway Melody of 1936, Captain Blood, David Copperfield, The Informer (which, with four wins, won the most awards that year), Les Misérables, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Naughty Marietta, Ruggles of Red Gap and winner Mutiny on the Bounty (nominated for seven awards, it is the last film to only win Best Picture and nothing else).
This is one of those early transitioning to sound-era ceremonies where most of the films that were nominated for Best Picture are hard to watch by your average modern moviegoer. The technology was still catching up with itself and everything looks kind of raw. That being said, the stories were as great as ever. I chose The Front Page to discuss from this ceremony because its director Lewis Milestone was clearly trying to experiment with filming techniques regardless of the setbacks caused by the sound transition. The result is a film filled with really interesting camera movements and staging unlike most films made during this transitional era. Another interesting thing about this film is how many times this story was made into a film, this 1931 effort being the first. It’s based on a stage play of the same name by Ben Hect and Charles MacArthur, with the screenplay adapted by Bartlett Cormack and Charles Lederer. Hect and MacArthur’s play was later adapted into Howard Hawk’s 1940 screwball comedy His Girl Friday – with a screenplay by Lederer, Hect and MacArthur, actually – and again in 1972 by Billy Wilder under its original name and a fourth time in 1988 under the name Switching Channels. The Front Page was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning none: Best Actor Adolphe Menjou, Best Director and Best Picture.