I'm very happy to report that The Artist is a fantastic and innovative film, certainly worthy of its recent recognition. Thoroughly enjoyable, the film makes clever use of its genre and, let's face it, it's difficult not to be unique when you make a film in a genre that hasn't been around for 80 years. Anyway, you should do whatever you can to see The Artist. Undoubtedly, this clever film will be mentioned a lot in the coming months.
As we wind down the current year of review, don't forget to cast your vote for the next one. The poll is in the sidebar on the right hand side of your screen. But you knew that already.
The final film for us to have a look at from 1929/30's slate of Best Picture nominees is...
The Big House
Frances Marion, Joe Farnham, Martin Flavin
Chester Morris, Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone, Robert Montgomery, Leila Hyams, George F. Marion, J.C. Nugent, DeWitt Jennings
2 wins, including Best Writing
Kent (Montgomery) arrives in prison for his first day of a ten year sentence for manslaughter after a drunk driving accident. His cellmates are two hot shots of the block, the intelligent and level-headed Morgan (Morris) and the uneducated murderous thug Butch (Beery). Kent struggles to fit in at first and finds himself further ostracised when he sets up Morgan to take the blame for a hidden knife. The incident results in Morgan being sent to solitary the day before he is due to be released on parole. He vows to get even with Kent and, after cleverly escaping prison, he tracks down Kent's beautiful sister Anne (Hyams). However, his desire for vengeance slowly dissipates as he falls for Anne and realises how important Kent is to her and her family.
While an engaging story, The Big House has some pacing issues. Potentially gripping dramatic conflicts are often glossed over far too quickly, occasionally leaving the feeling that we are merely watching a series of plot points. It would be far more interesting to see the characters struggle with their decisions and actions but too often they are given a less than appropriate time frame to do so.
Chester Morris (pictured, with Beery) is the stand out among the cast with his confident presence as Morgan. Wallace Beery's constant "Who? Me?" catchphrase is mostly caricature but he is appropriately cast, earning the film's only acting nomination. And Robert Montgomery is effective as the foolishly naive Kent. Both Montgomery and Morris also appeared in fellow 1929/30 Best Picture nominee The Divorcee, playing roles with interestingly similar social statuses to their characters here. Incidentally, after I downloaded this film from iTunes, I noticed they had incorrectly listed the director of The Big House as George Roy Hill (famed for helming The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) rather than its actual director, known simply as George Hill.