Michael Curtiz: Captain Blood (write-in)
John Ford: The Informer (winner)
Henry Hathaway: The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
Frank Lloyd: Mutiny on the Bounty
When I dig into the earlier years of Oscar, I’m keenly aware that there are a lot of movies I haven’t seen. In this case, probably the biggest is David Copperfield, which means I don’t know if George Cukor belongs here or not. 1935 is the year where Hitchcock made his first really notable film (my opinion) with The 39 Steps, and I think he could be here. This is also an era that loved the musical, and Top Hat was a damn good one, which makes Mark Sandrich’s absence strange. Since hindsight is 20/20, it seems natural that James Whale should have been nominated for The Bride of Frankenstein. Finally, I’d love to suggest Leo McCarey and his work on Ruggles of Red Gap, although really that movie is all about Charles Laughton.
Weeding through the Nominees
4. There’s a reason that people wrote in a candidate for this category; it’s because there were some better choices than what they were given. Mutiny on the Bounty might have won the top honor, but I didn’t love the film. Much like Ruggles of Red Gap, Mutiny on the Bounty is all about Charles Laughton for me, and for a big, blustery nautical adventure movie, I found it mostly kind of dull. That’s not a good thing for an adventure movie, and I think the issues fall squarely on the shoulders of director Frank Lloyd.
3. The same is kind of true of winner John Ford’s The Informer. The issues I have with The Informer are that there’s not enough story here to really fill up an entire movie and, regardless of how well acted it is, Gypo Nolan isn’t an interesting enough character to need an entire film for his story. Not all of that is Ford’s fault, of course, but it is his name on the movie and he is at least in part responsible for making a movie that couldn’t sustain interest through its entire running time.
2. There’s a lot to like about The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. While the movie is very much a product of its time and those early years of Hays Code and talkie film, it does some really interesting things, including some surprisingly heartfelt scenes that are very modern and still play to a modern audience. Of the three directors officially up for the win here, I’d give this to Henry Hathaway for having a surprisingly deft hand in a time when overacting and playing to the back rows was still the norm.
1. Like I said above, the reason that people wrote in Michael Curtiz for this award despite his not being nominated is that there were better choices than the actual nominees. Curtiz should have been nominated and he should have won. A movie like Captain Blood is how you did action in 1935. Even today, there are moments of this that thrill and get the blood moving, something pretty exceptional for a movie that is 82 years old. It does the action right and it does the romance right. Hell, it does pretty much everything right. So, while the voting members of the Academy were correct to write him in, the Academy itself pantsed this up.