6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1920s

The Academy Awards, 1929

They’ve been giving out Oscars for 91 years and, since the beginning, good films have often been snubbed.

Sometimes, a film is snubbed because it was too groundbreaking to be embraced at the time of its initial release.  Sometimes, a film is snubbed because it was directed by the wrong person or it dealt with subject matter that was considered to be too controversial for the Academy to embrace.  Sometimes, a film is snubbed because of a lack of publicity or a studio that failed to launch an effective awards campaign.  And, sometimes, a good film is snubbed because it’s been a very good year and there’s only so many available slots.

There’s a lot of reasons but what it all come down to is that good films sometimes don’t get nominated for best picture.

So, in honor of those films, I’m going to take a decade-by-decade look at some of the best films that were not nominated for best picture.  We’ll start with the 1920s, with the founding of the Academy in 1927.  Here are 6 good films from the 20s that were not nominated for best picture!

It (1927, dir by Clarence G. Badger))

One of my favorite silent films of all time, It featured not only one of Clara Bow’s greatest performances but also a storyline that, at the time, was considered to be rather daring.  Clara plays a shopgirl who never allows her love for her boss to interfere with her efforts to protect both her roommate and her roommate’s baby from two meddling welfare workers.  Though It was not nominated for Best Picture, Clara Bow did star in very first film to win the top award, Wings.

Metropolis (1927, dir by Fritz Lang)

Having been released in the United States in January of 1927, this visionary German film was eligible to be nominated for best picture but it sadly went unnominated.  Science fiction was a genre that long-struggled to get any meaningful recognition from the Academy.  Fortunately, that appears to have changed a bit over the past few years.

The Jazz Singer (1927, dir by Alan Crosland)

The Jazz Singer has not aged particularly well and it’s impossible not to cringe when Al Jolson shows up in blackface.  However, it was the first commercially successful film to incorporate sound recording and, as such, it pretty much changed cinematic history.  In fact, it was such a game changer that legend has it that the Academy ruled it ineligible to compete for best picture because it was felt it would be unfair to all of the silent nominees.  Instead, The Jazz Singer was given a special honorary award.

The General (1927, dir by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton)

Though Buster Keaton’s Civil War epic was made and screened in 1926, it didn’t receive a wide release until 1927, making it eligible for the first Academy Awards.  However, since the initial critical and commercial reaction to the film was rather middling, The General was snubbed.  Only later would the film be reevaluated and recognized as a classic screen comedy.

The Road to Ruin (1928, dir by Norton S. Parker)

This low-budget, independently made and distributed film became the second highest grossing movie of 1928, therefore showing that a film made outside the studio system could be a success.  With its storyline about a teenage girl who gets caught up in a world of drugs, sex, and general decadence, it established many of the exploitation film tropes that are still in use today.  The Road to Ruin was a Lifetime film before Lifetime.  For that alone, it should have been nominated.

Pandora’s Box (1929, dir by G.W. Pabst)

G.W. Pabst’s classic melodrama is another film that wasn’t appreciated when it was originally released and therefore, both it and Louise Brooks were snubbed by the Academy.  It wouldn’t be until the 1950s that Pandora’s Box finally started to receive the acclaim that it deserved.

Up next, in an hour or so, the 1930s!

Clara Bow in It (1927)

An Appreciation of It

Annex - Bow, Clara (IT)_01

(Spoilers below)

If I could be any character from a silent film, I would want to be Betty Lou Spence, the heroine of the classic 1927 film, It.

As played by the beautiful Clara Bow, Betty has It.  What is It, you may ask?  That’s the question that this film sets out to answer.  The movie starts out with a title card that read, “That quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With ‘It’ you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man. ‘It’ can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.”  Throughout the film, every man who sets his eyes on Betty automatically says that she has “it.”   Though the film never explicitly says so, it’s pretty obvious that “It” is a combination of sensuality, intelligence, and inner strength.

It is sex.

And yes, since she’s played by Clara Bow, Betty Lou Spencer definitely has ‘it’ and she knows what to do with it as well.

However, one thing that Betty doesn’t have is a lot of money.  Instead, she’s a proud and poor shopgirl who sets her sights on her wealthy and handsome employer, Cyrus Waltham (played by Antonio Moreno).  Realizing that the uptight Cyrus will never notice her while at work, Betty accepts a date with Cyrus’s irresponsible best friend Monty (William Austin).  Knowing that Cyrus and his girlfriend will also be there, Betty asks Monty to take her to a fancy restaurant.  While Monty orders their food, Betty stares shocked at the high prices on the menu.  Why just the appetizers cost $2.00!

Ah, 1927.

Eventually, Betty does manage to get Cyrus’s attention.  After spending a day slumming with her down on Coney Island, Cyrus attempts to kiss Betty.  Betty responds by slapping him and telling him, “So, you’re one of those minute men — the minute you meet a girl, you think you can kiss her!”

The next day, things get a bit more complicated when Betty discovers that two social workers have shown up at the apartment of her best friend, Molly (Priscilla Bonner).  Molly is a single mother and the social workers have shown up to take away her baby.  Betty boldly steps forward, claiming that she is the baby’s true mother and that, since she has a job, the social works have no reason to take away her baby.

One of the snooty social workers (who, needless to say, does not have it) stares down here nose at Betty and asks, “And where is your husband?”

Betty stares straight back at her and replies, “That’s none of your business.”

Seriously, nobody tells Betty Lou Spence what to do.

Since this movie was made in 1927, everyone is scandalized.  Cyrus, obviously miffed that he couldn’t even get a kiss from an unwed mother, dumps her.  Betty responds by quitting her job.  A title card informs us that Betty may have needed the money but her pride was far more important to her.  What makes this movie unique, especially when compared to even some contemporary films, is that Betty is not punished for putting her pride before money or romance.  Instead, the film celebrates her independence.

The rest of the film deals with her getting her own brand of vengeance on Cyrus.  In the end, Betty gets her man but she gets him on her own terms.  Again, take a minute to consider that this film, made nearly 90 years ago, not only features a liberated woman but celebrates her as well.

After this film, Clara Bow became known as the “It Girl,” and it’s easy to see why.  In the role of Betty Lou Spence, Bow epitomizes the perfect combination of outward sensuality and inward strength.  Whether she’s sarcastically telling off a rude customer, defending her best friend, or saving the life of her romantic rival, Clara Bow epitomizes both sex and independence.  In the end, she pursues her man not out of obligation but out of desire.  When she does find her happy ending, she finds it on her own terms.

Those of us in 2013 have a lot to learn from the It Girl of 1927.