Evelyn: Things can’t always be the same. Or people.
Professor Kantorek: And as if to prove all I have said, here is one of the first to go! A lad who sat before me on these very benches, who gave up all to serve in the first year of the war. One of the iron youth who have made Germany invincible in the field! Look at him. Sturdy and bronze and clear-eyed! The kind of soldier every one of you should envy! Paul, lad, you must speak to them. You must tell them what it means to serve your fatherland.
Paul Bäumer: No, no, I can’t tell them anything.
Professor Kantorek: You must, Paul. Just a word. Just tell them how much they’re needed out there. Tell them why you went, and what it meant to you.
Paul Bäumer: I can’t say anything.
Professor Kantorek: If you remember some deed of heroism, some touch of humility, tell about it.
Paul Bäumer: I can’t tell you anything you don’t know. We live in the trenches out there, we fight, we try not to be killed; and sometimes we are. That’s all.
Professor Kantorek: No, no Paul!
Paul Bäumer: I’ve been there! I know what it’s like!
Professor Kantorek: That’s not what one dwells on, Paul!
Paul Bäumer: I heard you in here, reciting that same old stuff. Making more iron men, more young heroes. You still think it’s beautiful and sweet to die for your country, don’t you? We used to think you knew. The first bombardment taught us better. It’s dirty and painful to die for your country. When it comes to dying for your country it’s better not to die at all! There are millions out there dying for their countries, and what good is it?
Professor Kantorek: Paul!
Paul Bäumer: You asked me to tell them how much they’re needed out there. He tells you, “Go out and die!” Oh, but if you’ll pardon me, it’s easier to say go out and die than it is to do it!
Paul Bäumer: And it’s easier to say it, than to watch it happen!
Students: Coward! You’re a coward! Coward!
Professor Kantorek: No! No, boys, boys! I’m sorry, Baumer, but I must say. . .
Paul Bäumer: We’ve no use talking like this. You won’t know what I mean. Only, it’s been a long while since we enlisted out of this classroom. So long, I thought maybe the whole world had learned by this time. Only now they’re sending babies, and they won’t last a week! I shouldn’t have come on leave. Up at the front you’re alive or you’re dead and that’s all. You can’t fool anybody about that very long. And up there we know we’re lost and done for whether we’re dead or alive. Three years we’ve had of it, four years! And every day a year, and every night a century! And our bodies are earth, and our thoughts are clay, and we sleep and eat with death! And we’re done for because you can’t live that way and keep anything inside you! I shouldn’t have come on leave. I’ll go back tomorrow. I’ve got four days more, but I can’t stand it here! I’ll go back tomorrow! I’m sorry.
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.
The Racket was long thought a lost film. After the death of Howard Hughes, however, one surviving print was recovered. It was restored with help from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. As you can probably tell from the date, it was one of the first Best Picture nominees. This is a tricky ceremony, as the Academy had two Best Picture categories, one for Best Production and one for Most Unique and Artistic Production. After they dropped the latter category, the Academy tends to count the former as the official “Best Picture” nominees. Thus I decided to write about a film that was nominated in that category, but I am going to list all six films that were nominated in both categories. It’s important that you watch them all because you can really see why a split category like this was necessary at the tail-end of the Silent Era. But with the invention of sound, artistry got lost in the mire while the industry struggled to get back to the basics, only this time with sound. The nominees for Best Production were: The Racket, Seventh Heaven and winner Wings and the nominees for Most Unique and Artistic Production were: Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness, The Crowd and winner Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.
I’ve waited a long time (nearly a year!) to write about 1939 as it is widely regarded as the “greatest year in Hollywood history.” I’d also not seen all ten of the nominated films into just recently (thank you very much, TCM and your 31 Days of Oscar!). So after having watched this films it came down to picking one to write about. This was also difficult because Gone With The Wind (the winner that year) is my second favorite film of all time. So this is definitely not an “Oscar got it wrong” post, but instead I decided to go with one of the least talked about films from the year. This has got to be the best adaptation of Steinbeck’s heartbreaking novel of the same name. Everything about the film is pitch-perfect. The film was nominated for four Oscars, but failed to win a single award: Best Sound Recording, Best Original Score, Best Scoring and Best Picture. The other nominees that year were Dark Victory, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Ninotchka, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights and winner Gone With The Wind.