Best Screenplay 1936

1927/28 through 1997

What was the best screenplay from among the 1936 nominees?

After the Thin Man (Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett)
No votes
Dodsworth (Sidney Howard)
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Robert Riskin)
My Man Godfrey (Eric Hatch, Morrie Ryskind)
The Story of Louis Pasteur (Pierre Collings, Sheridan Gibney)
Total votes: 11

The Original BJ
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Re: Best Screenplay 1936

Postby The Original BJ » Fri Mar 03, 2017 4:48 pm

Among alternates, I agree that Libeled Lady merited inclusion. As did Modern Times, which I assumed was eligible only here, because it doesn't have a separate writer credited for story...

...but neither does The Story of Louis Pasteur! The same two guys won BOTH the Original Story prize and the Screenplay prize. At this point, I'm completely perplexed by the eligibility requirements for these early writing categories. One thing I know to be true: Louis Pasteur didn't even merit ONE writing award, let alone TWO.

After the Thin Man hews pretty closely to the structure and formula of the first film -- you really get the sense that no one wanted to tamper with the mix of ingredients that proved successful the first time around. As a result, there's no way it could come off as fresh as the earlier movie, though the suitably twisty plot and engaging Powell-Loy dialogue make it engaging enough.

It's a limitation of the auteur theory that Robert Riskin never gets much credit for shaping the worldview espoused by so much of Capra's filmography, when he wrote so many of the director's key films. And Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is certainly a worthy piece of writing, a thoughtful and human comedy exploring the filmmakers' favorite theme: the nature of class in America. But I've picked Riskin before, and (spoiler alert!) will do so again, and I don't think this script reaches the heights of the other two nominees.

Choosing between Dodsworth and My Man Godfrey feels pointless, given that both movies are excellent pieces of writing that are practically polar opposites. Dodsworth is a sad movie, but it's not one that wallows in despair -- there's too much bite to the scenes of marital discord, and too much complexity in its portrait of human behavior, to ever be ponderous. And the characters here behave like real people in a manner that puts many films of the era, even the better ones, to shame.

And then there's My Man Godfrey, one of the zippiest comedies of all time, full of laugh-out-loud dialogue, a consistently surprising plot, and subject matter that taps into Depression-era themes in a resonant way. It's clearly not as bitter a film as Dodsworth, but I could never dismiss Godfrey as lightweight either -- it's got too much on its mind for that, despite its robust sense of humor.

As I said, choosing between them feels like something that would depend on my mood on any given day, but today I'll say that the sparkle of Godfrey's dialogue and cleverness of its plotting gets a slight edge, in recognition of the numerous comic classics from this era that were underappreciated in their time.

Mister Tee
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Re: Best Screenplay 1936

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Jan 26, 2017 12:08 am

I've been lazy about catching up on these, and now I see BJ jumping in and almost literally saying all the exact things I'd have said about various films. get a chance to say something besides "Me, too", I've opted to hop in on one of the years he's not yet tackled.

Proving the Academy has been making incomprehensible decisions since the beginning: voters chose Libeled Lady one of the year's best films, but somehow decided its screenplay was not worthy of note -- when its often-hilarious script is far and away its most impressive aspect. There are so many wonderful, off-the-wall lines -- a personal favorite, Harlow during the fishing lesson: "Don't forget -- there's a man on second" -- that I'd rate this above several nominees.

For example, The Story of Louis Pasteur. Another in the series of nearly-indistinguishable "Paul Muni puts on a fake beard and accent" biopics. It's got some amusing incidents (the anthrax/sheep sequence works in a broad fashion), but it's history as concocted on the backlot, and even hokier than something like today's Imitation Game.

As I've said before, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town may be my least favorite Capra film of the era. It's not a bad premise (it better not have been, as Capra used it over and over), and there are moments to it. But the sanity hearing goes on way too long, and the film doesn't have the depth of feeling offered by Mr. Smith or It's a Wonderful Life.

After the Thin Man of course suffers a bit from sequelitis -- it's not as fully fresh as our first exposure to the Charles family -- but there are far worse characters to have multiple movies centered around them, and the Powell/Loy banter is a general delight here. Nothing I'd vote for, but a movie I might happily watch again if it turned up on TCM.

It kills me not to vote for My Man Godfrey, one of the great original comedies of the 30s. The "rich guy pretends to be a butler to expose the vanity of the rich" premise is terrific (and of course, then, timely), and the execution nearly flawless -- particularly how it weaves in its romantic thread. And there are great-funny bits and lines peppered throughout -- nearly everything Eugene Pallette utters is funny, and Carole Lombard has wonderful ditz lines (her explanation of what a scavenger hunt is gets the film off to a flying start). This is truly one of the great achievements of early sound films, and, as I say, it kills me not to cast my vote for it.

But I can't, because Dodsworth is here, and, as we've discussed multiple times, Dodsworth is one of the greatest and also one of the most perceptive of that early era. The film goes in directions one would never have expected in that period (directions, in fact, frowned upon by the Production Code): the rich industrialist is the good guy while his art-obsessed wife is the shallow figure; a man leaves his wife for an exotic mistress, and the film applauds him for the gesture. These were radical notions in 30s Hollywood, and it's credit to Wyler, his actors, and above all the script for taking an audience there with such delicacy. There are wonderful small moments -- when Ruth Chatterton says she hopes she looks as good as Mary Astor "when I'm your age", and Astor replies "I feel certain you will" -- and that perfect climactic one: "Love has to stop someplace short of suicide". This is beautiful, mature writing. So, with due deference to the many joys of My Man Godfrey, I give my vote to Sidney Howard.

Big Magilla
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Re: Best Screenplay 1936

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Nov 23, 2016 12:00 am

I voted for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in a close race with My Man Godfrey and Dodsworth.

Big Magilla
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Best Screenplay 1936

Postby Big Magilla » Sun Nov 06, 2016 3:36 pm

The poll is open.

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