Best Screenplay (1930/31)

1927/28 through 1997

What was the best Adapted Screenplay of 1930/31?

Cimarron (Howard Estabrook)
No votes
The Criminal Code (Seton I. Miller, Fred Niblo Jr.)
Holiday (Horace Johnson)
Little Caesar (Francis Edward Faragoh, Robert N. Lee)
Skippy Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Sam Mintz)
No votes
Total votes: 10

The Original BJ
Posts: 4255
Joined: Mon Apr 28, 2003 8:49 pm

Re: Best Screenplay (1930/31)

Postby The Original BJ » Wed May 17, 2017 12:04 am

Taking a break from the implosion of America...

Interestingly, four of the nominees here were eventually remade, and the one that wasn't (Skippy), spawned a sequel.

In terms of genre/subject matter, Skippy is a really weird movie to have gotten major nominations across the board -- it's virtually impossible to imagine something this juvenile doing as well in most other decades of movie history. I think the story is kind of silly, and not even really all that much fun, with an ending that, as others have said, feels completely detached from actual human behavior.

There's some intrinsic appeal to the basic narrative of Cimarron -- as with Show Boat and Giant, stories that span many decades in the lives of their characters have a built-in emotional pull, and the movie's scope is certainly ambitious. But the execution here is pretty underwhelming, with a number of scenes that feel too jokey for their own good, and a plot that feels like it goes on forever.

Holiday has the basic plot line of a classic romantic comedy... but the whole thing just feels like it should be a bit funnier. On a scene to scene basis, I kept wishing someone had taken an extra pass on the script, to give the dialogue a bit more zing to it. Of course, this essentially DID happen eventually -- eight years later.

The Criminal Code has an interesting conceit at its core -- just as law enforcement and the judicial system have their code of conduct when it comes to treating criminals, so do those criminals have a moral code of their own. And the story here is engaging enough, though like a lot of early sound films, it doesn't quite have enough plot to fill its running time. A lot of the movie's more effective moments seem the result of Howard Hawks's staging, and it's worth examining as an early entry in his canon.

I went with Little Caesar, though truth be told, a lot of these '30's gangster movies sort of blur together in my mind. But it's the movie here that holds up best today, and if the plot by now feels pretty archetypal of the genre, it's solidly mounted and elevated by some good one-liners. And the ending is a genuinely vivid moment in early film history, the kind that pops up in clip reels all the time. Not a sparkling choice, but the most memorable of this lineup.

Big Magilla
Site Admin
Posts: 15836
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 3:22 pm
Location: Jersey Shore

Re: Best Screenplay (1930/31)

Postby Big Magilla » Thu Apr 13, 2017 7:57 am

It's probably unfair to use hindsight as a reason for not voting for something, but it's impossible not to think that Holiday suffers in comparison to the remake seven years later. Similarly, Cimarron suffers in comparison, not just to the great westerns that would come, but to other films made from Edna Ferber's works including the second version of Show Boat just five years later.

Similarly, no one could have known what lied ahead for Joe Mankiewicz in the day, but Skippy, as sweet as it was, was eclipsed many times over by his later work.

It's odd that W.R. Burnett, the author of the novel from which Little Caesar was made, wasn't asked to write the screenplay as he was soon courted by Hollywood. They later used someone else to adapt his even better The Asphalt Jungle, but he did receive an Oscar nod for Wake Island and a WGA nod for The Great Escape. The screenplay for Little Caesar was written by a committee that included Daryl F. Zanuck. The credited nominees are the continuity writer and the dialogue writer.

My vote goes to The Criminal Code which is my favorite of the many early talkie prison films. Although he was uncredited, it was directed by Howard Hawks and released during the same eligibility period as The Dawn Patrol.

It was remade as Convicted in 1950 with Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford, Millard Mitchell and Dorothy Malone in the roles played here by Phillips Holmes, Walter Huston, Boris Karloff and Constance Cummings. That the remake, directed by Henry Levin, holds up as well as it does is a tribute to the source material, a play by Martin Flavin who supplied the dialogue for The Big House. This nominated adaptation was by Fred Niblo, Jr. (who wrote Pete's Dragon) and Seton I. Miller. Miller also adapted John Monk Saunders' story for The Dawn Patrol for which Saunders won an Oscar and wrote the screenplay for the now better known 1938 version.
“‎Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” - Voltaire

Mister Tee
Posts: 6597
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: NYC

Re: Best Screenplay (1930/31)

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Apr 12, 2017 10:23 pm

Well, the writers' branch, if no one else, acknowledged the predominance of the gangster film, with five of its ten nominations this year going to the genre.

In so doing, they passed on a couple of films whose source material had a lot of cachet: Private Lives, An American Tragedy, and The Front Page. (How do you make The Front Page a picture/director contender and NOT nominate its screenplay?) All of them, along with Street Scene, have more business as nominees than some on this list.

I actually like the bare bones plot of Cimarron -- like much of Edna Ferber, it has a broad scope, and it's fun to watch that settlement grow gradually into a metropolis. And the film does deserve some notice for making an achieving woman its central focus (though of course it diminishes that by having her seemingly think less of her success because her man didn't stick around). But the movie's a chore to sit through, full of hammy scenes (and some embarrassing racism), and the script bears its share of the responsibility.

We've discussed Skippy multiple times. It feels like a Little Rascals movie blown up to full-length, and, in suggesting a captured/put-to-death dog can be easily replaced by a new dog, it shows no understanding for how children feel about their pets. Hard pass from me.

Holiday has that frothy Philip Barry dialogue, and is more watchable than the previous two. But it's not up to the later-in-the-decade remake.

The Criminal Code is one of the better, more complex early examples of the prison/crime genre, with nuanced characters and surprising plot turns. It holds up better than many films of its ilk.

But I'll take Little Caesar in this batch: a memorable rise-and-fall gangster movie, I guess sort of modeled on Capone (weren't most of the early gangster efforts?), with snappy dialogue, some of which has passed into the language ("You can dish it out but you can't take it", and of course "Mother of mercy -- is this the end of Rico?"). Not a great movie -- nothing here is -- but a nice piece of writing.

Big Magilla
Site Admin
Posts: 15836
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 3:22 pm
Location: Jersey Shore

Best Screenplay (1930/31)

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Apr 12, 2017 2:05 am

And now for the adaptations...
“‎Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” - Voltaire

Return to “The Damien Bona Memorial Oscar History Thread”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests