What's the Story (Morning Glory)?
As for the Best Picture lineup for 1932-33, for me the clear choice is 42nd Street, a watershed in the history not just of musicals and on-screen choreography but of coordinated movement more generally and of the tension between conventional pathos and formal exactitude. I love that the movie demonstrates such affinity for the geometric aesthetics of experimental and late-silent cinema, even as it carries sound pictures into new territory, and I love how it draws out the ominous aspect of mass coordination, in the figure of Warner Baxter's autocratic director, alongside the exuberance of artistry and the gratifications of emotion and pleasure. Complicated and dazzling. Second choice for me is Mervyn LeRoy's tough and good-looking I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, whose narrative twists and visual motifs only get more interesting as it finishes, and the easy pick for third place is George Cukor's mostly lovely screen version of Little Women. My enthusiasm dips notably for my fourth and fifth choices, which have opposite virtues: She Done Him Wrong yields a doozy of a star persona in Mae West's "Lou," and I appreciate how the film (by the same director as Morning Glory!) opens up the screen as a space for new kinds of saucy escape and identification...but the story and the visuals could really use a hand. Frank Capra's Lady for a Day moves along very comfortably and pulls some smart moments from actors like Warren William and Glenda Farrell, but there's little sense of taking risks or pushing boundaries, and as I've said a few times, the film doesn't invest what it could or should in Robson's ostensible lead.
He Done Them Wrong, aka The Private Life of Henry VIII, doesn't break much new ground, either. The whole thing is bitty and skimmy, with a final scene that makes the whole seem even more inconsequential, but Laughton plumbs quite a lot from the role, at least or especially given these circumstances, and Binnie Barnes and Elsa Lanchester do some good work. Plus, a film that offs Merle Oberon this early can't be all bad. Nearing the bottom of this list, Smilin' Through is fanciful and has an engaging fairy-tale look, though I doubt even the filmmakers themselves thought they had made something very consequential. Same for State Fair, which has the well-judged production design one expects from Henry King, but aside from a memorable Best Pickles competition, I couldn't think of any reason to commemorate its remarkable refusal to say anything or amount to much. Cavalcade, the winner, brings up the rear of the list for reasons that have been well-covered, and if I'm skipping over Frank Borzage's A Farewell to Arms, it's because I haven't seen it in entirely too long. In my dim memory, it looked good enough and moved well, and Helen Hayes was affecting enough to land this somewhere at or above She Done Him Wrong/Lady for a Day territory, but I really don't trust myself to know. Any thoughts?