10 Oscar Snubs From The 1930s

Ah, the 1930s. America was mired in the Great Depression. FDR was plotting to pack the courts.  The American public, sick of playing by the rules and getting little in return, began to admire gangsters and outlaws.  The horror genre became the new way to vent about societal insecurity. In Europe, leaders were trying to ignore what was happening in Italy, Spain, and Germany. As for the Academy, it was still growing and developing and finding itself. With people flocking to the movies and the promise of an escape from reality, the Academy Awards went from being an afterthought to a major cultural event.

And, of course, the snubs continued.

1930 — 1931: Crime Doesn’t Pay For Little Caesar and The Public Enemy 

When people think about the 1930s, gangsters are probably one of the first things that come to mind.  In the 30s, audiences flocked to movies about tough and streetwise criminals who did what they had to do in order to survive during the Depression.  Unfortunately, the Academy was not always as quick to embrace the gangster genre.  Though The Public Enemy did pick up a nomination for its screenplay, both it and Little Caesar were largely ignored by the Academy.  Not only did the films fail to score nominations for Best Picture but neither James Cagney nor Edward G. Robinson would be nominated for bringing their title characters to life.  It’s a crime, I tells ya.

1930 — 1931: Bela Lugosi Is Not Nominated For Best Actor For Dracula

Admittedly, the 1931 version of Dracula is a bit of a creaky affair, one that feels quite stagey to modern audiences.  But Bela Lugosi’s performance in the title role holds up well, despite the number of times that it has been parodied.  Unfortunately, from the start, the Academy was hesitant about honoring the horror genre.

Frankenstein (1931, dir by James Whale)

1931 — 1932: Boris Karloff Is Not Nominated For Best Actor For Frankenstein

Again, the Academy snubbed an iconic horror star.  Not only was Boris Karloff not nominated for Frankenstein but the film itself was not nominated for Best Picture, despite being infinitely better than at least one of the 8 films that were nominated.  (That film, by the way, was Bad Girl.  When is the last time that anyone watched that one?)  In fairness to the Academy, they did honor one horror film at that year’s awards.  Fredric March won Best Actor for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Of course, he also tied with Wallace Beery, who was nominated for The Champ.  Obviously, the Academy still had to work out its feelings towards the horror genre, a process that continues to this very day.

1932 — 1933: King Kong Is Not Nominated For Best Picture

Oh, poor King Kong.  Film audiences loved him but the Academy totally ignored both him and his film.  Unfortunately, back in 1933, the Academy had yet to introduce a category for special effects.

1932 — 1933: Duck Soup Is Ignored By The Academy

King Kong was not the only worthy film to be ignored at the 1932-1933 Oscars.  The Marx Brothers’s greatest film also went unnominated.

1934: The Scarlet Empress Is Not Nominated For Best Picture

Josef von Sternberg’s surreal historical epic was totally ignored by the Academy.  Not only did it miss out on being nominated for Best Picture but the sterling work of Marlene Dietrich and Sam Jaffe was ignored as well.  How was the opulent set design ignored?  How did it not even pick up a nomination for costume design?  My guess is that Paramount chose to promote Cleopatra at expense of The Scarlet Empress.  Either the way, the Best Picture Oscar was won by one of my favorite films, It Happened One Night.

1935: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Are Not Nominated For Top Hat

Top Hat scored a best picture nomination but the film’s two stars went unnominated.

1936: My Man Godfrey Is Nominated For Everything But Best Picture

My Man Godfrey, a classic screwball comedy, was nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay but somehow, it was not nominated for Best Picture.  It’s a shame because My Man Godfrey, along being a very funny movie, is also a film that epitomizes an era.  Certainly, it’s far more entertaining today than the film that won Best Picture that year, The Great Ziegfeld.  (Interestingly enough, William Powell played the title role in both Godfrey and Ziegfeld.)

1937: Humphrey Bogart Is Not Nominated For Best Supporting Actor in Dead End

Dead End featured one of Bogart’s best gangster roles.  As a gangster who returns to his old neighborhood and is rejected by his own mother, Bogart was both menacing and, at times, sympathetic.  Like Cagney and Robinson, Bogart definitely deserved a nomination for his portrayal of what it was like to live a life of crime.  Unfortunately, Bogart was an actor who was taken for granted for much of his career.  It wasn’t until he played Rick Blaine in Casablanca that the Academy would finally nominate him.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, dir by Michael Curtiz)

1938: Errol Flynn Is Not Nominated For Best Actor In The Adventures of Robin Hood

This is truly one of the more shocking snubs in Academy history.  Errol Flynn’s performance as Robin Hood pretty much set the standard for every actor who followed him.  Russell Crowe is undoubtedly a better actor than Flynn was but Crowe’s dour interpretation of Robin could in no way compete with the joie de vivre that Flynn brought to the role.

Agree?  Disagree?  Do you have an Oscar snub that you think is even worse than the 10 listed here?  Let us know in the comments!

Up next: 1940s, in which Hollywood joins the war effort and the snubs continue!

Dead End (1937, dir by William Wyler)

Insomnia File #57: Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster (dir by Thomas Hamilton)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Ah, the mystery of Boris Karloff.

On screen, Karloff was a horror icon.  He brought Frankenstein’s Monster to life and influenced generations of actors and horror filmmakers.  He was also the Mummy and the first actor to play Sax Rohmer’s international criminal, Fu Manchu and, of course, he won over a whole new generation as narrator of How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  Over the course of his long career, Karloff appeared in movies both good and bad.  He worked for Mario Bava and Roger Corman and James Whale and Peter Bogdanovich.  He was also the host of Thriller, a much-beloved horror anthology series.  At the height of his fame, he was often credited by just his last name.  Everyone knew who Boris Karloff was.

Off screen, Boris Karloff was a quiet and rather dignified gentleman, one who was widely considered to be one of the kindest and most generous men in Hollywood.  Born William Henry Pratt, Karloff’s father was a diplomat and his family assumed that he would follow their career.  Instead, William Henry Pratt immigrated first to Canada and then to California and transformed himself into Boris Karloff.

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster is a documentary that both explores the mysteries of Karloff’s life and also pays tribute to him as an actor.  It attempts to answer the question of how such a kindly man could also be responsible for some of the greatest moments in horror.  Full of archival footage and interviews with those who worked with Karloff and also those who were influenced by his films (like Guillermo del Toro), the film presents a portrait of a talented actor who was as expressive onscreen as he was somewhat withdrawn in real life.  For Karloff, his roles became a way to escape from the troubles of the real world.  As the film makes clear, Karloff didn’t start his career planning to eventually become a horror actor and, occasionally, he did chafe a bit at being typecast.  However, regardless of what role he was playing, Karloff always gave it his best.  He may have appeared in some bad films but he never gave a bad performance.  The film not only includes clips from his films but also an examination of what made his performances so special.  The analysis of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Terror, and Targets is especially interesting.

If you’re a fan of horror, this documentary is for you.  It’s currently available on Shudder.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid
  53. A Nightmare on Drug Street
  54. Jud
  55. FTA
  56. Exterminators of the Year 3000

Horror on the Lens: The Terror (dir by Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Hill, Monte Hellman, Dennis Jakob, and Jack Nicholson)

Have you ever woken up and thought to yourself, “I’d love to see a movie where a youngish Jack Nicholson played a French soldier who, while searching for a mysterious woman, comes across a castle that’s inhabited by both Dick Miller and Boris Karloff?”

Of course you have!  Who hasn’t?

Well, fortunately, it’s YouTube to the rescue.  In Roger Corman’s 1963 film The Terror, Jack Nicholson is the least believable 19th century French soldier ever.  However, it’s still interesting to watch him before he became a cinematic icon.  (Judging from his performance here and in Cry Baby Killer, Jack was not a natural-born actor.)  Boris Karloff is, as usual, great and familiar Corman actor Dick Miller gets a much larger role than usual.  Pay attention to the actress playing the mysterious woman.  That’s Sandra Knight who, at the time of filming, was married to Jack Nicholson.

Reportedly, The Terror was one of those films that Corman made because he still had the sets from his much more acclaimed film version of The Raven.  The script was never finished, the story was made up as filming moved alone, and no less than five directors shot different parts of this 81 minute movie.  Among the directors: Roger Corman, Jack Hill, Monte Hellman, Francis Ford Coppola, and even Jack Nicholson himself!  Perhaps not surprisingly, the final film is a total mess but it does have some historical value.

(In typical Corman fashion, scenes from The Terror were later used in the 1968 film, Targets.)

Check out The Terror below!

Bela Lugosi As Henry Frankenstein?

When it comes to the 1931 film version of Frankenstein, the piece of trivia that everyone seems to know is that Bela Lugosi was the original choice to play the Monster.

As the story goes, Lugosi had just finished filming Dracula and Universal’s Carl Laemmle felt that it would only make sense for Lugosi to play the lead role in Universal’s second horror adaptation.  Not only would Lugosi be firmly established as Universal’s favorite monster but it would also reunite him with Edward van Sloan and Dwight Frye, both of whom played prominent supporting roles in Dracula.  However, the story continues, Lugosi turned down the part when he saw that the monster wouldn’t have any dialogue.

Well, the story is partially right.

The truth of the matter is that Frankenstein was one of several books to which Universal had the rights.  And when Lugosi learned that one of the studio’s directors, Robert Florey, was interested in directing a film based on Mary Shelley’s novel, he did meet with Florey to say that he was intrigued by the idea of playing the monster.  Lugosi even did a makeup test, one in which the proposed look of Lugosi’s monster reportedly owed much to 1920’s The Golem.  As a director, Florey was heavily influenced by German expressionism so it makes sense that he would look to The Golem for inspiration.

The Golem (1920, dir by Paul Wegner and Carl Boese)

Lugosi eventually lost interest in the role, not because of the lack of dialogue but because he felt that he wouldn’t be able to give a good performance while made up to look like the Monster.  His face would be barely visible and, as an actor, Lugosi naturally wanted to be recognized.  Lugosi had no objections to the script because the script itself hadn’t been written.  When Lugosi lost interest, so did Florey.

Instead, the project was taken on by director James Whale, who specifically asked for the project because he felt it would be a change-of-pace from the war movies that he had been directing.  Universal suggested John Carradine for the role of the Monster.  Whale, however, spotted Boris Karloff sitting in the studio’s cafeteria and specifically asked him to test for the role.  Karloff, with his imposing frame but gentle manner, more aligned with Whale’s version of the Monster as essentially being a child who is easily angered but ultimately more of a victim than a victimizer.

From the start, Whale also wanted Colin Clive to play Henry Frankenstein and Mae Clarke to play Elizabeth.  The studio, who wanted at least one star in the film, tried to convince him to go with Leslie Howard as Henry and Bette Davis (who, at that time, was just starting her career) as Elizabeth.  While the studio was willing to substitute the more glamorous Clarke for Davis, they were a bit less enthusiastic about Colin Clive as Henry.  If Whale was that opposed to Leslie Howard, the studio suggested, how about Bela Lugosi instead?

As we all know, Whale held firm and he eventually got Colin Clive.  Still, it’s interesting to imagine Frankenstein with Bela Lugosi, in the role of Henry, bringing Karloff’s Monster to life.  Personally, I think Whale made the right decision.  Lugosi would have been a bit too obviously sinister for the role of Henry Frankenstein whereas Colin Clive really nailed the characterization of Henry being an essentially good man who allowed his own obsessions to get the better of him.  Still, it’s interesting to imagine a Frankenstein that not only reunited the stars of Dracula but which included Boris Karloff as well!  Not only would it have been Lugosi and Karloff’s first film together but who knows?  Perhaps if a Lugosi-Karloff version of Frankenstein had been as successful as the Clive-Karloff version, Lugosi and Karloff would never have started their rivalry and Lugosi could have escaped the Dracula typecasting that hampered the rest of his career.

Though they didn’t share the screen in Frankenstein, Karloff and Lugosi would go on to appear in several films together.  Unfortunately, unlike the universally beloved Karloff, Lugosi’s career would be sabotaged by his own addictions and personal demons.  Lugosi would eventually get his chance to play Frankenstein’s Monster in 1943’s Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.  Unfortunately, that film is considered to be one of the weaker of the Universal horror films and Bela really didn’t get much of a chance to make a huge impression as the monster.  (He was right about the difficulty of being recognized under all that makeup.)

Bela Lugosi would die in 1956, at the age of 73.

Boris Karloff passed away 13 years later, at the age of 81.

Boris and Bela

Horror Film Review: The Terror (dir by Roger Corman, Monte Hellman, Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Jakob, Jack Hill, and Jack Nicholson)

Can you follow the plot of the 1963 horror film, The Terror?

If so, congratulations!  You’ve accomplished something that even the people who made the film have admitted to being unable to do.

The film opens in 19th century Europe.  Andre Duvalier is an earnest French soldier who has somehow gotten lost in Germany.  Andre is played by a youngish, pre-stardom Jack Nicholson.  Nicholson, that most contemporary, sarcastic, and American of actors, is thoroughly unconvincing as an idealistic Frenchman from 1806.  Obviously unsure of what do with the character, Nicholson delivers his lines stiffly and does what he can to downplay the naturally sardonic sound of his voice.  This is probably the only film where Jack Nicholson is a “nice young man.”

Andre meets a mysterious woman named Helene (played by Sandra Knight, who was Nicholson’s wife at the time).  Helene appears to live in a castle with the Baron (Boris Karloff) and his servant, Stefan (Dick Miller, who makes no effort to come across as being, in anyway, European).  However, Helene bears a distinct resemblance to the Baron’s long-dead wife, Ilse, who the Baron killed after discovering her with another man.  However, a witch in the village claims that Ilse’s lover was her son so she put a curse on the Baron and the presence of Helene is a part of that curse.  However, Stefan claims that the Baron isn’t actually the Baron and and that Ilse’s husband isn’t actually dead.  However….

Yes, there’s a ton of plot twists in this movie, which is probably the result of the fact that the film was shot without a completed script.  In fact, the only reason the movie was made was because Roger Corman had access to Boris Karloff and a castle set that he used for The Raven.  When he discovered that he could use the set for two extra days, he shot some random footage with Boris Karloff and then he tried to build a movie around it.  As a result, the cast and the directors largely made up the story as the filmed.

Yes, I said directors.  While Corman shot the Karloff scenes, he no longer had enough money to use a union crew to shoot the rest of the film.  Because Corman was a member of the DGA, he couldn’t direct a nonunion film. So, he assigned the rest of the film to one his assistants, an aspiring filmmaker named Francis Ford Coppola.  Coppola shot the beach scenes and, in a sign of things to come, he went overbudget and got behind schedule.  Coppola was meant to shoot for three days but instead went for eleven.

Though Coppola shot the majority of the film, he got a better job offer before he could do any reshoots.  Coppola suggested that a friend of his from film school, Dennis Jakob, take over.  Jakob shot for three days and reportedly used most of the time to shoot footage for his thesis movie.

Still feeling that the movie needed a few extra scenes to try to make sense of the plot, Corman then gave the film to Monte Hellman and, after Hellman got hired for another job, Jack Hill.  Hellman would later go on to direct films like The Shooting and Two-Lane Blacktop.  Jack Hill would later direct Spider Baby and several other exploitation films in the 70s.  Reportedly, on the final day of shooting, even Jack Nicholson took some time behind the camera.  It was Nicholson’s first directing job.  (Nicholson, for his part, has often said that his original ambition in Hollywood was to become a director and not an actor.)

So, yes, the film’s a bit disjointed.  The plot doesn’t make any sense.  Nicholson shows little of his trademark charisma.  But Dick Miller has a lot of fun as the duplicitous Stefan and Boris Karloff brings his weary dignity to the role of the Baron.  Oddly, even though the Baron’s scene were shot before the script had even been written, they’re the ones that make the most sense.  It’s a messy film but it plays out with a certain hallucinatory style.  It’s a piece of Hollywood history and a testament to Roger Corman’s refusal to waste even two days of shooting.  If you’ve got a star and a set for two days, you’ve got enough for a movie!

Horror Scenes That I Love: The Monster Meets The Bride in Bride of Frankenstein

Bride of Frankenstein (1935, dir James Whale)

Today’s horror scene that I love comes from 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein.   In this wonderfully acted scene, the Bride (Elsa Lanchester) meets the Monster (Boris Karloff) for the first time.  Both of their reactions reveal them to be far more human than the people who created them.


4 Shots From 4 Boris Karloff Films

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Since we yesterday paid our respects to the great Bela Lugosi, it only seems right that today, we should honor Boris Karloff.  By all account, Boris Karloff was a remarkably gentle and friendly man.  Perhaps that’s why he could find the soul in almost any character, even the ones who didn’t have one.

It’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Boris Karloff Films

Frankenstein (1931, dir by James Whale, DP: Arthur Edeson)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935, dir James Whale, DP: John J. Mescall)

Black Sabbath (1963, dir by Mario Bava, DP:Ubaldo Terzano and Mario Bava)

Targets (1968, dir by Peter Bogdanovich, DP: Laszlo Kovacs)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Boris Karloff Edition

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today, TSL pays tribute to the one and only Boris Karloff, born on this day in 1887 in London.

It’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Boris Karloff Films

Five Star Final (1931, dir by Mervyn LeRoy)

House of Frankenstein (1944, dir by Erle C. Kenton)

Black Sabbath (1963, dir by Mario Bava)

Targets (1968, dir by Peter Bogdanovich)


The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Madhouse (dir by Jim Clark)

In this 1974 film, Vincent Price plays Paul Toombes, a talented actor who, despite his formal training and his distinguished background, is best-known for giving hammy performances in low-budget horror films.

Hmmm …. do you think Vincent Price possibly could have related to this character?  I mean, one thing that people often forget is that Vincent Price did not start his career in horror movies.  Price started his career as a romantic lead and then he eventually moved into character parts.  He was tested and apparently quite seriously considered for the role of Ashely Wilkes in Gone With The Wind.  Price was also considered for the role of Mr. Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life and rumor has it that he would have gotten the role of Addison DeWitt if George Sanders had turned down All About Eve.  Before he became an icon of horror, Price had roles in big-budget Oscar nominees like The Song of Bernadette and Wilson.  He even appeared in the classic film noir, Laura.

It wasn’t until the 50s that Price started to regularly appear in horror films and soon, that was what he was best known for.  Price’s naturally theatrical style made him a perfect fit for the genre and it won him a legion of adoring fans.  The same can be said of Paul Toombes.

Paul Toombes is best-known for playing the role of Dr. Death.  He appeared in five Dr. Death films, the majority of which were written by his friend, Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing).  Unfortunately, the murder of his fiancée put a temporary end to Toombes’s acting career.  Even though Toombes was acquitted of the crime, everyone seems to assume that he did it.  Apparently, having a nickname like Dr. Death doesn’t do much to convince people of your benevolence.

However, Toombes finally has a chance to rebuild his career!  The BBC wants to produce a Dr. Death TV series and they want Toombes to once again play his most famous role.  The only problem?  People involved with the production are getting murdered, one-by-one.  Is Dr. Death responsible or is he being set up?

Madhouse is kind of an early slasher film, though, with its gloved killer and its whodunit plot, it has more in common with an Italian giallo than an installment of Friday the 13th.  The deaths are bloody but not too bloody.  In fact, for a film that’s full of murder and betrayal, Madhouse is surprisingly good natured.  The main appeal of the film, of course, is to see Vincent Price and Peter Cushing acting opposite of each other.  Though they were both known for appearing in horror films, Price and Cushing were two very different actors and each brought his own individual approach to Madhouse.  Price is his usual flamboyant self while Cushing is considerably more reserved and the contrast of their styles actually creates an interesting dynamic between Toombes and Flay.

Madhouse is also full of footage from previous films that Vincent Price had made for AIP.  (Of course, these movies are presented as being Dr. Death films.)  Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff both appear in archival footage, acting opposite Price.  It’s nice to see them, even if neither one of them was actually alive when Madhouse was filmed.  Paul Toombes actually gets a scene where he praises Bail Rathbone’s performance and one gets the feeling that the sentiments were being expresses as much by Price as by the character he was playing.

Madhouse is okay.  The plot’s not particularly challenging and the tone tends to go all over the place, as if the film can’t decide whether it wants to be a horror movie or a Hollywood satire.  However, the film works whenever Vincent Price is on-screen, which is often.  Price is just fun to watch, especially when he’s teamed up with an old pro like Peter Cushing.  For fans of Price and Cushing, Madhouse is an entertaining chance to watch two icons of horror go at it.