The First Lady of MGM

As I am trying to focus on the early days of oscar history, there is a name that is always front and center; Norma Shearer. You can call her the Meryl Streep of the day in terms of recognition. In the first ten years of the Oscar she was nominated six times, and she would probably have been nominated more had she not retired shortly after. She is an early example of a studio star, and got the name The First Lady of MGM. I decided to watch her movies this week.

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929)
Well, not exactly off to a good start. It has just been six days since I saw this and I am having a hard time remembering anything, except Norma Shearer being kind of awkward and not seeming confident in her scenes. She had the tendency to be like this in some of the scenes in Their Own Desire too, but at least in that movie it suited the characters. I don’t know what may be the cause to this, because *spoiler* it would turn out she’s not like this in any of the coming films.
Nominated for best writing.

In Old Arizona (1928)
This is the first western talkie, and it is mostly shot outdoors, making it a bit of (literally) fresh air from the studio shot films of the day. And with sound, there has to be singing, hence the birth of the singing cowboy. Judging by other review on the internet I may be in the minority, but I rather enjoyed this film, mostly because of the cartoony characters through out.
Winner of best actor in a leading role (Warner Baxter). Nominated for best picture, best director, best writing and best cinematography.

Jurassic Park (1993)
I have seen this film before, many times, so it won’t count towards my oscar nomination total, but I had the chance to see it as it should be seen for the very first time; on 35mm. I never got a chance to see it in the theatres back in the days because I though it would be to scary. When I got it on VHS some months later, I realized I had made a huge mistake. It still holds up great and it is mind blowing that the effects in this film is better than most of todays films, including the new Jurassic World. That’s not how it is supposed to work.
Winner of best sound, best sound effects editing and best visual effects.

The Divorcee (1930)
Now this is more like it. Norma Shearer is confident and in total control. Interesting observation on relations between the sexes and social norms, something that would for some reason disappear more and more from movies in the following decades. In this film it makes a point of two different sexes doing the same taboo thing, but with different consequences and reactions based on what was the norm back then.
Winner of best actress in a leading role (Norma Shearer). Nominated for best picture, best director and best writing.

A Free Soul (1931)
A joy to watch Norma Shearer and Lionel Barrymore fantastic chemistry as daughter and father. Clark Gable is also in this establishing his role that he would embrace his whole career; the charming asshole.
Winner of best actor in a leading role (Lionel Barrymore). Nominated for best actress in a leading role (Norma Shearer) and best director.

Smilin’ Through (1932)
So charming and sweet of a film. Unlike the other films this week, this one tapped it’s toe into the fantastic, producing a highly effective dream like quality. Solid performances overall, and really good pacing.
Nominated for best picture.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)
Again, great performances, but unfortunately this film is quite dull and seems to overstay its welcome at 109 minutes. It doesn’t sound too long, but it would have been a lot better as a 60-70 minute film. But it seems we are now entering a period where short films are not good enough anymore, even though the material seems to be suited for it.
Nominated for best picture and best actress in a leading role (Norma Shearer).

The Birds (1963)
I will not making a habit of mentioning films I have already seen before, but this one was quite special. I saw this at a 100-year old cinema with a live performance by a full orchestra playing excerpts from various classical works suited for the film. It’s been a long time since I last saw the Birds, and I realized how much this reminds me of Night of the Living Dead, although the Birds has more of Hitchcock humour, of course. They both have the same feel of paranoia because an unexplainable threat that can strike at any given moment, and the feeling of helplessness against it.
Nominated for best visual effects.

Romeo and Juliet (1936)
Booooooooooring!
Nominated for best picture, best actress in a leading role (Norma Shearer), best actor in a supporting role (Basil Rathbone) and best art direction.

Marie Antoinette (1938)
The length of the film had me worried, especially after sitting through Romeo and Juliet, but it was fine. Kind of spineless (no put intended… okay, it’s intended) and safe, but the reason could be me becoming spoiled by the devil may care attitude of the pre-code films. But it is entertaining none the less and Norma Shearer is again delivering a solid performance. I want a sequel told by the point of view of the characters hairdo’s, who clearly live a life of their own.
Nominated for best actress in a leading role (Norma Shearer), best actor in a supporting role (Robert Morley), best art direction, best music-original score.

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