Finally to 1939. THE first great year in cinema, it is widely agreed.
“GONE WITH THE WIND”, “Dark Victory”, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”, “Love Affair”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “Ninotchka”, “Of Mice and Men”, “Stagecoach”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Wuthering Heights”
At least three different times I said, “I really MUST watch “Gone with the Wind”, the first time when it was on broadcast TV and was in the top dozen shows ever broadcast on prime time TV. But I got bored the then, and have yet to sit through the whole thing. (Yet I found the Carol Burnett parody inspiring.) It was the longest feature film released up to that point, and I’m not holding my breath to see if I’ll finally carve out nearly four hours to watch it, even though it won 8 awards out of 13 nominations, including Best Screenplay, Best Color Cinematography, Best Interior Decoration, and Best Film Editing, plus two special citations.
I definitely saw Mr. Smith, Stagecoach. I probably saw Mr. Chips, Of Mice and Men and Wuthering Heights. I almost certainly did not see Dark Victory, Love Affair (though I did see the remake, An Affair to Remember) or Ninotchka.
Then there’s The Wizard of Oz. When I was growing up in the 1960s, I watched it every year. I must have seen it seven or eight times on our BLACK AND WHITE TV. Scariest part? The damn trees. THEN we got a color TV for Christmas 1969 or 1970, and when I saw it again, it was like seeing it for the first time! What a treat! And I finally got the “horse of as different color” joke; in b&w, the horse is just different shades of gray. It got six nominations but only two wins – Best Song (Over the Rainbow – almost cut from the film!) and Best Original Score (including my favorite, music for Miss Gulch on her bicycle, which, as a bicyclist I’ve been tortured with. None of the actors got a standard Oscar, though Judy Garland received a special juvenile Oscar.
ROBERT DONAT in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”, Clark Gable in “Gone With The Wind”, Laurence Olivier in “Wuthering Heights”, Mickey Rooney in “Babes in Arms”, James Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”
A category where GWTW did NOT win. Donat probably won as much for earlier roles, such as in Hitchcock’s 39 Steps, as for this one. I don’t recall seeing Babes in Arms.
VIVIEN LEIGH in “Gone With The Wind”, Bette Davis in “Dark Victory”, Irene Dunne in “Love Affair”, Greta Garbo in “Ninotchka”, Greer Garson in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”
For the first time, both lead acting awards went to British performers.
THOMAS MITCHELL in “Stagecoach”, Brian Aherne in “Juarez”, Harry Carey in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, Brian Donlevy in “Beau Geste”, Claude Rains in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”
Mitchell’s sole Oscar came in a year he also played Scarlett O’Hara’s father Gerald in Gone With The Wind, a grounded flyer Kid Dabb in Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings and newspaperman Diz Moore in Mr. Smith, among other roles.
HATTIE MCDANIEL in “Gone With The Wind”, Olivia de Havilland in “Gone With The Wind”, Geraldine Fitzgerald in “Wuthering Heights”, Edna May Oliver in “Drums Along the Mohawk”, Maria Ouspenskaya in “Love Affair”
I suppose I should see the first African-American performer to be nominated and win. Shouldn’t I?
VICTOR FLEMING for “Gone With The Wind”, Frank Capra for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, John Ford for “Stagecoach”, Sam Wood for “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”, William Wyler for “Wuthering Heights”
A change Academy rules meant that directors could be nominated for only one film in a single year. Fleming also directed The Wizard of Oz, thus solidifying his already huge chances.
That year, the first Oscar for Visual Effects was given, not to Gone With the Wind and its burning of Atlanta sequence, or to the Wizard of Oz with the cyclone sequence or the flying monkeys, but to something called The Rains Came, which I’d never heard of. Disney won eighth consecutive Short Subject: Cartoon Oscar for The Ugly Duckling
Other 1939 films
The Hunchback of Notre Dame – believe I saw years ago
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex – no
Golden Boy – no
Intermezzo: A Love Story – no
Young Mr. Lincoln – yes
Midnight – no
Only Angels Have Wings – no
Destry Rides Again – don’t think so
The Women (being remade in 2008) – no
The Hound of the Baskervilles – I might have
Gunga Din – almost certainly I did