#111 The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

This next film was not only a Best Picture winner of 1937 but the second film of the Biography genre to win Best Picture with the first being The Great Ziegfeld. The Life of Emile Zola is the true story of a French author who decides to defend a Jewish army officer accused of being a spy.

French author Emile Zola lives a comfortable life as a successful author as he teaches readers that life is not 100% beautiful in gay old Paris. As his books become a success, it seems that Zola is living the life. Then a little drama kicks in when the wife of an Army officer asks Zola to help her husband, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who is facing anti-semitic charges against him. It is interesting how the title of this film is not called “Emile Zola and the Dreyfus Affair” considering when I first think of the title, I think it will start out with Zola as a young boy with a sharp focus on his start in writing. The film considers the most pivotal moment of Emile Zola’s life to be when he defended this man that the police knew was innocent but still wanted him put away. We have seen Paul Muno, who plays Emile Zola himself, in I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang and Scarface. We know he can give heart-wrenching performances and it is easily demonstrated in this film; especially during the trial scene in which he gives his testimony towards Dreyfus. Muno kept wanting to do retakes of that scene despite nailing it on the first take. What a perfectionist! What did you think of that scene?

The Life of Emile Zola was the first film to receive ten nominations. It’s unfortunate that Paul Muno did not win Best Actor that year as he gave a tremendous performance. On the bright side, Joseph Schildkraut won Best Supporting Actor for the role of Dreyfus and the movie won Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Oh well! You can’t win ’em all like they say. Schildkraut was convinced that the Academy was not going to pay attention to The Life of Emile Zola so he stayed away from the ceremony. He got woken up to discover by an Academy representative that he was to accept his award and he made it in time! Way to go! This is a great film to see as we witness a man do a life-saving favor to a man without asking for anything in return and just how terribly hard it is to fight for justice. This was a great story to tell.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a link to this film so here is the trailer and please comment what you think:

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#110 The Awful Truth (1937)

Here is yet another film on the hilarity that ensues with an impending divorce. Still a controversial subject at the time but that did not stop this film from being a classic rom-com. Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth is when a couple decides to divorce because they both accuse each other of infidelity but they learn that separating from your spouse is easier said than done.

I will admit that this film is personally not one of my favorites. Probably because I feel like it ends the way it begins. Actually, when you think about it, the ending reminds me of It Happened One Night when symbolism tells you whether or not they are sleeping together all because of The Production Code. It was just your ordinary screwball comedy. But I would also say that this is a good film to see if you want a laugh and something fun to see. We see a couple that is very untrustworthy of each other that they decide to divorce but for a mutual separation, it seems like they spend more time ruining each other’s hope for moving on than actually moving on. Custody of the dog, ruining new romances. It’s a funny situation when you think about it. For those of you who have been through a separation or a divorce, did you ever feel like taking revenge on your spouse? If so, remember why you wanted separation from that person in the first place!

Believe it or not, a big portion of this film is improvised! Director Leo McCarey would tell the actors to just say the first thing that popped into their head after a certain action. Like when Irene Dunne’s character opens the door, Grant replies “The judge says this is my day to see the dog.” Totally improvised! Some scenes were also written in at last minute such as when Irene Dunne is doing her cabaret act as she pretends to be Cary Grant‘s sister. It’s very rare that we see films from the 1930s that have a lot of improvisation to them. Cary Grant apparently did not want to be a part of this film so badly that he was willing to opt out for $5,000. All of the stress that McCarey put on Grant helped him with his character’s nervous persona. Well, for someone who did not want to be in the film, his fan mail after reached 200 to 1400 fan letters a week. The Awful Truth was nominated for six Academy Awards and won for Best Director. I would recommend this film if you want to see something fun and carefree that takes light of something as serious as divorce. Oh, and if you want to see this comedy duo again, you can see them again in My Favorite Wife (1940) and Penny Serenade (1941).

Unfortunately, I could not find the film online but you can rent it on Amazon for $3.99. Here is the trailer and please comment what you think:

 

#109 Captains Courageous (1937)

One genre that I have noticed so far that hasn’t been shown on this list yet is coming-of-age films or any movies where kids play the main roles…until today! Sometimes it takes going overboard (literally) to start growing up. In Victor Fleming’s Captains Courageous, a spoiled little boy goes overboard on a luxurious boat with his dad and ends up under the wing of a friendly Portuguese sailor’s boat.

When we first meet the character of Harvey, we see him as a spoiled, pampered brat who feels the need to buy everyone off in order to get anything he wants. When he falls overboard after tagging along with his wealthy father on a business trip, he falls overboard and is rescued by another ship. The crew on this ship are not able to return him back until they’re done with their job- forcing him to stay on the boat with them for three months. None of them give in to his demands to buy them off for an earlier return. Harvey learns things the hard way on this ship and no one will pamper him- especially Portuguese sailor Manuel. Harvey learns what it means to grow up as he is taught how to be a fisherman and the ways of life in the sea as he bonds with Manuel in song and laughter. The bond between these two makes you want to cry! Despite the fact that Harvey has a good father, Manuel tells it to him like it is and isn’t afraid of him. Harvey needed someone in his life like that to force him to work hard.

Freddie Bartholomew, who played Harvey, really impressed me! He was one of the richest child stars of the 1930s next to Shirley Temple. I loved how he demonstrated the character development of Harvey; showing him initially as a refined snob into a child who is still trying to make sense of his life. Believe it or not, Spencer Tracy, who plays Manuel, were very adamant about being in this film because of having to spend two hours curling his hair (such as Joan Crawford called him “Harpo.” People can be so cruel!) and for attempting a Portuguese accent. He met Portuguese sailors to better help him prepare for the role. Tracy did not have faith in himself the entire time playing the role. It was until he won the Academy Award for Best Actor that year that he changed his mind about his performance. Way to go, Spencer Tracy! This will teach any actors who don’t feel confident in themselves not to be their own critic. Do you feel that way about yourselves sometimes? Although one criticism I do have is that there was no point in Mickey Rooney’s character being in the film. He’s Mickey Rooney after all and he’s barely in the film!

**SPOILERS BELOW! SCROLL DOWN TO THE BOTTOM!!!!**


I’m sorry but I have to talk about this scene because it basically broke my heart! What about you? It was hard seeing Manuel drown to leave a heartbroken Harvey. Especially when Manuel completely changed Harvey and helped him turn into the child he grows up to be in the short time they knew each other. The lessons he taught Harvey, he will never forget. The chopping of the ropes reminded me of a clock. That as they were saying their goodbyes, the clock was ticking and then stopped. I couldn’t stop crying after! 

**************************END OF SPOILERS!*********************


This is a great story to see of a coming-of-age drama of a child learning that being a man is not about abusing their power but to work hard and be honest and decent.

Unfortunately, I could not find the film online but you could rent it on Amazon for $3.99. Here is a trailer for the Rudyard Kipling adaptation and please comment your reactions: