By Alan Hurst
Both Myrna Loy in The Thin Man and Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage should have been Best Actress Oscar nominees in 1934. Let me explain.
In 1934 – the first time the Academy honoured films released within the 12-month calendar year – there were three nominees for Best Actress (five nominees always made more sense), which was also the case for the 1931-32 and 1932-33 awards. The nominees were Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, Grace Moore in One Night of Love and Norma Shearer in The Barretts of Wimpole Street.
Both Colbert and Shearer were deserved nominees, with Colbert the eventual winner for one of the decade’s best comedic performances. Grace Moore was an opera star who had some success in movies – One Night of Love was a major hit – but this isn’t a performance that warranted Oscar attention.
Bette Davis garnered major attention that year with her breakthrough performance in Of Human Bondage. There was major shock that her performance as Mildred was ignored – raw, unlikeable and all together fascinating, Davis deserved to be a nominee. Many others thought so as well, and Davis became an unofficial fourth nominee thanks to many people writing in her name on the ballot. Another nominee that would have made sense in retrospect was Marlene Dietrich in The Scarlett Empress, Joseph Von Sternberg’s over-the-top retelling of the story of Catherine the Great.
But one other performance that most certainly should have been on the list was Myrna Loy in The Thin Man. Loy wasn’t an actress of tremendous range, like Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck and some of her other contemporaries, but she was an excellent comedienne and dramatic actress with a sincere screen presence. The character of Nora Charles fits her like a glove and, opposites William Powell as her husband Nick, she’s perfect.
You would be hard pressed to find a more likably sophisticated performance. As Nora she was playful, sexy, smart and subtly managed to keep the upper hand with her detective husband (William Powell). The mystery that drives the plot of The Thin Man almost takes a back seat to the delightful depiction of the marriage of Nick and Nora and the elegant, funny sparring of the two leads.
Powell and Loy proved to be a love match as a screen couple and made many more films together over the next decade or so – including many more in the Thin Man series. But the first was the best and Loy deserved to join Powell (nominated for Best Actor) as an Oscar nominee. In addition to Powell’s nod, the film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (W.S. Van Dyke) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
One of the decade’s gems.
Hooked from a first viewing of Mary Poppins at four and after school reruns of I Love Lucy, Alan has been a movie and TV enthusiast ever since. A particular aficionado of films from the late thirties through the seventies, he enjoys helping others discover the joys of those films, directors and stars. His career has careened from journalism to public relations to marketing, always with one foot in the arts and with a unique ability to relate all work and life experiences back to a movie. Alan’s top five desert island films are Bonnie and Clyde, Sunset Boulevard, Cabaret, Mildred Pierce and, with no apologies, Mary Poppins. Alan’s focus will be on films from Hollywood’s first golden era (and a little beyond) as well as TV.