During the Hammett-fest for Noir City I was struck by something Eddie Muller didn’t mention in the little intro for City Streets from 1931. I believe I saw that movie circa twenty years ago, and it didn’t leave much of an impression.
Yeah, yeah, Gary Cooper has star presence, no question, but nothing much was done with it other than to put his image up on the screen (after all the trick shooting in the carnival, some slick Chow Yun Fat-style gunplay in the actual gangster world would have been very nice). Rouben Mamoulian’s direction was, as Eddie mentioned, a huge step forward cinematically from Roadhouse Nights in 1930 (but nothing compared to Mamoulian’s sleek remake of The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power in 1940). Overall, I didn’t mind seeing it again, as a refresher course on Hammett-in-film.
And I had forgotten that the Hungarian actor Paul Lukas appears as the gang leader Big Fellow Maskal. He walks woodenly into the frame, and all I’m thinking is, hey, why didn’t Eddie drop the dope that twelve years later, for the 16th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, Lukas would win the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Watch on the Rhine? Screenplay by Hammett (not just the screen story, but the full screenplay) from the stage play by his flame Lillian Hellman.
And Hammett’s script was nominated for best adapted screenplay, though it didn’t win.
Today the 84th annual Oscar extravaganza plays out. Usually, I wouldn’t have seen any of the movies up for Best Picture, but since I caught The Artist, this time I have a dog named Uggie in the race.
While the Oscars have been around since 1929, it is only in recent years that I noticed that Hollywood has been more actively promoting the winners, especially in trailers. Featuring Oscar Winner blah-blah, Oscar Nominee blah-blah. You’ve seen it.
We can do it, too — on a blog that features Oscar Nominee Dashiell Hammett. Too bad he didn’t win.
And as for Lukas copping the statue, his performance in Rhine is about as wooden as his gangster in City Streets. Nothing much is more dated than what Hollywood thought passed for award-winning drama a few years ago. Or today, for that matter.
At least Casablanca nabbed Best Picture in 1943. Who would argue with that?