Hollywood Select Video and Infinity Entertainment have come
up with an absolutely brilliant idea:
why not release a series of DVDs featuring movies that were
for a Best Picture Academy Award, but didn't win? Sure,
the winners are the movies that
everyone remembers (usually) but the other nominees are just about
top-notch productions that are just as enjoyable today as they were all
years ago. If you look back far enough,
you'll be able to find several films that have lapsed into the public
meaning you won't have to buy the rights too.
That's exactly what The
Envelope Please Volume One is, a collection of 8
films on 4 DVDs that were nominated, but didn't win, a Best Picture
Oscar. Spanning from 1928 to 1939,
includes an incredible group of rarely seen films, all of which are
excellent. The only rub is that they're
in the public domain, which means that no one has spent the money to
them. The audio and video quality is
mixed, and the only thing that keeps me from giving this collection a
This set includes:
Nominated for the first Academy Awards for "Best Picture,
Production" (which would be combined the following year with "Best
Unique and Artistic Production" into a single "Best Picture" category,
first big mistake) this film lost out to Wings.
Though largely forgotten now, it's a great gangster film that
influence the genre for decades.
Nick Scarsi (played by Louis Wolheim and obviously modeled
on Al "Scarface" Capone) is the head of the Chicago mob.
He's so powerful he fixed an election, making sure his
into office and making him totally untouchable.
That doesn't stop Police Captain James McQuigg (Thomas Meighan)
going after the crook, even if it means bending the law in places.
When Scarsi isn't able to scare McQuigg off, he has his
transferred out to the country, but even that doesn't stop the
cop. When Scarsi's younger brother Joe
E. Stone) gets into a hit-and-run accident McQuigg sees his opening to
crime boss behind bars for good.
This was a great cop-vs.-criminal film that had all of the
hallmarks that Warners would use in their Gangster movies of the 30's
40's. The police officer and mobster
have a grudging respect for each other, there's a lot of violence, and
dumb mol who is actually tough as nails on the inside.
This last is played by Marie Provost, the
tragic actress who starved to death after failing to make the
The acting was excellent across the board, and the directing
by Lewis Milestone was excellent. It's
easy to see why this film was nominated when watching the gang battle
beginning of the film.
This silent movie is accompanied by a rather generic piano
score credited to Penny Harville. Please
note that the film has been restored, but this is NOT the restored
version. It's a very old 16mm blow up
that is lacking detail and in generally poor condition.
I'm sorry, but this movie is unwatchable. I
was very interested in screening it, but
the image is blurry and the hiss from the soundtrack is louder than the
making it almost impossible to hear what is being said.
I gave up after 15 minutes.
The Front Page
One of the most famous screenwriters of the last century was
Ben Hecht. He worked as a reporter in Chicago in the
20's, and taught himself how to write well and rapidly.
In 1926 he received a telegram from his
friend and fellow writer Herman J. Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane,
Pride of the
Yankees) who had recently moved to Hollywood. It
read "Will you accept 300 per week to work
All expenses paid. 300 is peanuts. Millions are to be grabbed out here
only competition is idiots. Don't let this get around."
Hecht went and within a year was one of the
top writers in movies, a position he held on to until his death in 1964. While in Hollywood Hecht wrote the scripts
for Wuthering Heights, Scarface,
Hitchcock's Notorious and Spellbound. He doctored
(often without credit) Stagecoach, Guys
and Dolls, and Gone with the Wind.
he turned to his time as a Chicago
crime reporter and wrote a play: The Front Page. It ran on
Broadway for 267 performances and
in 1931 it was filmed and nominated up for an Oscar for Best Picture
with Best Director and Best Actor in a Leading Role).
It wouldn't win any of the three, but it's
still as fresh and funny as it was nearly 80 year ago.
Like many movies in this set, it would be
remade a few times, most notably in 1940 as His
Girl Friday with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
In the rough and tumble world of crime reporting in corrupt Chicago, Hildy
O'Brien) is one of the field's top reporters.
He works for the Tribune (one of the bigger newspapers in the
under brash editor Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou). Hildy's
had enough of the long hours, little
pay, and no respect that was a reporter's lot at that time and has
make a change. He's going to marry his
girlfriend, move to New York,
quit the newspaper business and make lots of money writing advertising
Mr. Burns doesn't want to see his star reporter go, so
through a series of tricks and deceitful acts convinces Hildy to cover
story before leaving on the midnight train to NYC:
the Earl Williams (George E. Stone)
execution. Williams was an out of work
man who shot and killed a policeman.
There are questions about his sanity, but the Mayor and the
Police have timed the execution right before the election in order to
their 'tough on crime' campaigns.
When Williams manages to escape, Hildy uses the money he's
saved for his honeymoon to bribe a guard to get the whole story. Things get even more interesting when he then
manages to capture the criminal and hides him in another reporter's
desk. It's up to Hildy and Burns to hide
criminal until they can break the story that the Tribune captured the
that the police couldn't. Oh yeah, and
isn't Hildy supposed to be on a train pretty soon?
This is a riotous comedy that works extraordinarily well
from beginning to end. I have to admit
that Adolphe Menjou is no Cary Grant, but he does a great job as the
editor who'll do anything for a good headline.
Pat O'Brien gives a great performance too. He
starts out mousey and a bit timid, but as
the movie progresses he turns into a top notch reporter and you can see
it's in his blood. Hilarious,
suspenseful, and intriguing, this is a great film.
(Though I prefer His Girl Friday which is even
A Farewell to Arms
Based on the Ernest Hemingway novel, this film stars Gary
Cooper at the peak of his career. He
plays Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an ambulance driver during WWI, who
love with a nurse, Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes).
It's an excellent meditation on war and
fighting, and Cooper does a magnificent job.
Helen Hayes is fine, but she doesn't have a lot of chemistry
Cooper. I could go on and on about the
but suffice to say that it's a very well executed piece that is worth
The Private Life of
Henry the VIII (1933):
This tongue-in-cheek drama (the ad copy promoting the film
read "He gave his wives a pain in the neck, and did his necking with an
the wonderful Charles Laughton in his most remembered role as the King
taste for the ladies. Starting just before
the death of Anne Bolyn, Henry's 2nd wife, it charts the
his other marriages, up until he maries #6.
While a bit plodding in parts, the performances are
magnificent. Laughton has an incredible
amount of screen presence and steals every scene he's in.
The movie also features Laughton's real-life
wife, Elsa Lanchester (Bride of Frankenstein) as Anne of Cleves,
This movie has also been released by Criterion as part of
their "Alexander Korda's Private Lives" collection.
The image quality in that set is very much
superior to what is offered here.
A Star is Born
Nominated for seven Oscars, this film would only win one
(Best Writing, Original Story). This is
the Janet Gaynor version, which is just as good, and arguably better,
more well-know Judy Garland version from 1954 (which would be nominated
Academy Awards and not win any of them).
This is the story of Esther Victoria Blodgett (Janet Gaynor)
who arrives in Hollywood
determined to make it big in the movies.
Her luck takes off after she meets, and eventually marries,
(Fredric March), a movie star. She gets
a screen test, does well, and after the studio changes her name to
she becomes the talk of the town. But
just as 'Vikki' is becoming popular, Maine's
star is fading, something he has a hard time dealing with.
This movie is simply wonderful. March
really does a magnificent job, giving a
vulnerable, touching performance. Gaynor
is great too, playing the wide-eyed farm girl to perfection, but it's
March's film. This story of love,
devotion, and how fleeting fame can be is a must-see.
This is the first time that George Bernard Shaw's famous
play was brought to the silver screen.
It didn't win the Best Picture Oscar, but it would be remade in
My Fair Lady and that film would sweep the Academy Awards with 8 wins.
This version was wonderfully co-directed by Anthony Asquith (The
Importance of Being Earnest, The
Browning Version) and star Leslie Howard and features Wendy Hiller
Professor Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) has spent his life
studying dialect and the way people pronounce words.
He impresses people on the street by telling
them where they were born after only hearing them speak.
He wants a greater challenge though, and
wagers with a friend that he can take a poor young lady with a strong
accent and pass her off as a noble woman, just by teaching her to speak
English. He finds the perfect candidate
in Eliza Doolittle, who would like, more than anything, to speak like a
lady. Higgins sets about teaching her,
hour after hour, day after day, and soon she learns to speak "real
but the Professor learns something about people too.
Another great film.
Though I had trouble not comparing it to the superior My Fair Lady, this is a wonderfully funny
and charming film, even if the musical numbers are missing. There were some changes from its more famous
remake, and surprisingly not all for the better. Though
I love the horse racing scene in My
Fair Lady in this movie Higgins takes Doolittle to a tea party at his
house as her 'test.' There she speaks
with the proper intonation and accent, but the topic of her
much her father drinks and how her grandmother's straw hat was stolen
mysteriously died of the flu, was anything but gentile.
It's a very comic scene that fits right in
with the rest of this funny and touching movie.
This movie would seem like a shoe-in for the Best Picture
award. This romantic dramedy was
co-written and directed by Leo McCarey who knew both comedy (he
Marx Brothers in their best film, Duck
Soup,) and touching drama (he was behind the camera and credited
story for the wonderful The Bells of St.
Mary's). This film also starts Irene
Dunne in what she would later describe as her favorite of her movies. Dunne was nominated for an Academy Award for
Best Actress, and the film garnered an impressive six nominations all
The only problem was that it was nominated in 1939, the year
that is almost universally acknowledged among film fans as the best
movies. Ever. It
went up against Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Jimmy Stewart, Stagecoach a movie
that not only made John Wayne but reinvented the Western, William
Wyler's Wuthering Heights with Laurence Olivier
and David Niven, and Of Mice and Men
based on the John Steinbeck play. The
real competition however was from The
Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind
(which won Best Picture that year, along with many other awards.) What difficult, competition.
It was a year when it really was an honor
just to be nominated alongside such movies that would become towering
classics. But I digress...
It comes as no surprise that movie itself is excellent.
Irene Dunne stars as Terry, a one-time lounge
singer who has been around the block a few times. She
managed to charm a rich man businessman
and she is now in his employ, as well as being his lover and
fiancé. Returning from a business
trip in Europe by herself, Terry runs
into Michel (Charles Boyer),
an international playboy. Though he has
no money of his own, he's managed to have several very public affairs
women and is on his way to New
to marry his latest conquest, the Marney heiress who has $25 Million.
The two spend some time together on the ship, trading witty
banter and drinking pink champagne, and end up surprising themselves by
something that neither of them planned or wanted: they
fell in love. With neither having any
means of support,
Michel even announces that he's never worked a day in his life, they
see if they can make it on their own.
The pair agrees to break off their engagements and earn their
livings for six months. If after that
time they decide that they're willing to live like ordinary people, and
willing to give up the furs, jewels, and luxury apartments they'll meet
designated date at 5 pm on the roof of the Empire State
building in the world and consequently the closest you can get to
They both work hard but their love for each other gives them
strength, and at the appointed day and time Michel is on the roof, with
rushing to meet him. A tragedy occurs
however that makes it impossible for Terry to keep their date, and
assumes that she wasn't able to give up the soft life for something as
This is an excellent film that would have made a much bigger
splash had it been released a few years later.
(As a matter of fact, Leo McCarey did remake it in 1957 as An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant
and Deborah Kerr.) The story is much
more sophisticated than the typical romance movie of the time. The movie presents Terry and Michel as
world-weary and jaded at the beginning without making their characters
dull or unappealing. Face it, it's hard
to make a woman who is marrying for money sympathetic, but McCarey
do it in this film.
The movie is also very surprising in its execution, and
that's a good thing. It starts out as a
typical romantic comedy but manages to reveal the main player's
expertly through a short excursion to meet Michel's grandmother. The tragic turn in takes about half way
through is very unexpected too, and places a realistic yet seemingly
insurmountable obstacle between the two lovers.
This builds to a tear-jerker ending that's not sappy in the
just heartfelt and well done.
In addition to the great script and Dunne's bravura
performance, this movie has some lovely cinematography and some
shots that you wouldn't expect to find in a romantic comedy. One of my favorites is when Terry is reading
a folded newspaper the contains the shocking headline "Marnay Heiress
to turn the paper over to reveal the rest of the announcement "...ding
The only aspect of the film that didn't quite work for me
was Charles Boyer. He wasn't quite
charming enough to fully convince me that women were falling in love
left and right, and he didn't have much screen chemistry with Irene
Dunne. He pulls off the role, but just
not with the style and grace that Cary Grant would show nearly 20 year
These eight movies arrive on four discs in a double width
Just about all of
these are in mono, and being public domain offerings the quality varies
rarely reaches the 'average' mark.
There's frequent background noise, pops, and some distortion in
these films. It's often hard to hear
soft dialog and in a few films you really have to concentrate to catch
everything. Just about every audio flaw
you can think of appears somewhere at some point in this set, but in
they are all acceptable (unless noted above.)
Like the audio, the full frame image quality is a mixed bag
but it's generally not too good. The
images are very soft as a rule and scratches and spots are frequent. None of these look great, which is why it's
so surprising that the entire set includes a soft water mark in the
hand corner. I can't imagine anyone
actually wanting to copy films of this quality, and if they do, so what? Just about all of these are available from
one source or another. If the image
quality was better this would get a much higher rating.
The only extras are a set of trailers from other Oscar
nominated films sprinkled across the discs.
Unfortunately each disc's offerings are run together on one reel
can pick and choose which one you want to see.
There's not even a list of trailers, which is a shame.
This could have been one of the best releases of the year,
but instead it's just good. While all of
the films are great, I'd be hard pressed to name another collection
movies this good, the low quality of the audio and video really knocks
a few notches. Still, the set is worth
picking up, all of the pictures are great, just don't set your