FRANK LLOYD FOR DRAG (1928/29)
The nominees (Cliff: 5.1 for 7)
Frank Lloyd for The Divine Lady
Lionel Barrymore for Madame X
Harry Beaumont for The Broadway Melody
Irvin Cummings for In Old Arizona
Frank Lloyd for Weary River
Ernst Lubitsch for The Patriot
Alas, I’ve come up empty-handed in my quest to find the stubbornly elusive Drag, or as the original herald card (thank you, Randy!) delightfully phrased it, “Richard Barthelmess in Drag!” I was afraid when I set out on this project that I would not be able to acquire this one elusive Warner Bros. talkie from 1929. Still, I held out hope that between the first-rate video stores and film archives that were so indispensable in the Best Actress Quest, and the many friends (Jonathan, J.Y., Randy, Alan, Andrew, Bob, Adam) who have tracked down the rarest of quarries, I might come up with a copy of the movie in the end. My best lead is that a reference copy of the film may exist at the Eastman House in Rochester, NY, and at my earliest convenience I plan to go there to find out. Until such a time, though, I must leave a few measly observations about a missing film, in lieu of the full post I will write one day.
The 2nd Academy Awards are a notoriously nebulous affair. Technically, I have seen all of the official Best Director nominees—that is to say, the one and only winner, Frank Lloyd’s The Divine Lady. All of other films listed under the Best Director heading are names known to have been under discussion when the Awards Committee convened to decide on the recipients. Still, the Academy considers these retroactively to be the nominees for the year, so they count in my book. Lloyd, alone among the directors, was apparently under consideration for three 1928 productions of his: a fully silent film (The Divine Lady), the part-talkie Weary River, and the all-talkie Drag. Of the three, you wouldn’t expect the all-talkie to be the one that’s so hard to find, yet it continues to elude the public. From what I can tell from the few who claim to have seen the movie, we’re not missing out on very much. Nobody was making good talkies in 1929, and Drag might have made the list simply because all of his output during the eligible period was automatically qualified for discussion, or because they respected Lloyd for attempting the effort to integrate the cumbersome new sound technology. In any event, it’s telling that the Academy chose to give the silent era one last ovation for Lloyd’s bravura directing of that film’s historic naval battles.
I will cast a provisional ballot for this, the most maddening of all years for Oscar completists. Talent was rather thin in this competition, as the sound films (Harry Beaumont’s stultifying Best Picture winner The Broadway Melody, Irvin Cummings’ stagebound Western revenge film In Old Arizona, and Lionel Barrymore’s insufferably hammy Madame X) were all still very rudimentary, and the one fully surviving silent film, Frank Lloyd’s winning film The Divine Lady, is a dud of a romance film with a few gripping battle sequences. The one other silent film under the Academy’s consideration was the famously lost Ernest Lubitsch production The Patriot. While I obviously cannot claim to have seen the whole film, I have seen every scrap of surviving footage, including the preserved nitrate fragment shown at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater back in 2011 and the film’s trailer, available here. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Lubitsch clearly had more talent in his little finger than the rest of his competition, and even the few available shots of the film elevate the film to a memorable status unmatched by any others. Unless someone can conclusively prove to me that the rest of The Patriot is an affront to filmmaking, my vote goes to Ernest Lubitsch for his dynamic examination of palace intrigue and creeping madness.