If the Academy was in the ballpark the first year it handed out Oscars, it completely blew it the next. This year the winners were chosen by a five-member panel—The Central Board of Judges—and while the previous year's smoke-filled room used the awards to settle scores and promote their own interests, at least they felt the need to pretend they were motivated by artistic concerns. This year the panel seemed interested only in handing out awards to the Academy's founders and the man who hand-picked them for the job, Louis B. Mayer.
It was not until the following year that the full membership of the Academy voted on the awards.
The Broadway Melody is one of the weakest best picture winners ever, and that's saying something. It's the story of two sisters who go to New York and fall for the same guy. As musicals go, it did feature the classic title tune, but the story is trite and the acting, especially among the supporting cast, is too awful to be believed.
At least the Board of Judges made Mayer happy—it was his studio, MGM, that produced The Broadway Melody.
Another two of the top awards went to co-founders of the Academy. Mary Pickford, who won the Katie as best actress in 1927-28, took home the best actress trophy for her first talkie, Coquette. Audiences flocked to see "America's Sweetheart" talk for the first time but critics reviled her performance and only the first Oscar campaign in history secured the award.
Likewise, best director Frank Lloyd, who won for the dull and overly-long The Divine Lady, was one of the founding members of the Academy and his win raised eyebrows among the press.
As for the best actor winner, I encourage you to go to Turner Classic Movies and watch some clips of Warner Baxter's performance as the Cisco Kid from In Old Arizona. If your head doesn't explode, you're made of sterner stuff than I am. Check out the clip entitled "Ham and Eggs." Ostensibly, the ham refers to the Kid's breakfast, but don't you believe it.
Two of the Academy's choices, best screenplay winner, The Patriot, an Ernst Lubitsch movie which also provided a best actor nominee, and The Bridge Of San Luis Rey, which earned MGM set designer Cedric Gibbons the first of eleven Oscars (he was nominated thirty-nine times), have both been lost. That is, unfortunately, an all too common story when it comes to the early history of motion pictures—Hollywood took no care when it came to preserving these early films and let thousands of movies deteriorate or vanish altogether. Aside from losing irreplaceable works of art, Hollywood's negligence makes my task of handing out coveted Katie awards all the more difficult. They have a lot to answer for.
Hopefully, this round of Katie awards will improve on the Academy's choices. At least I don't owe Louis B. Mayer anything.
The nominees for the 1928-29 Katie Awards are:
The Cameraman (prod. Buster Keaton)
The Docks Of New York (prod. J.G. Bachmann)
The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (prod. Société générale des films)
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (prod. Joseph M. Schenck)
The Wind (prod. Victor Sjöström)
George Bancroft (The Docks Of New York)
Douglas Fairbanks (The Iron Mask)
Buster Keaton (Steamboat Bill, Jr.)
Erich von Stroheim (The Wedding March)
Marion Davies (Show People)
Maria Falconetti (The Passion Of Joan Of Arc)
Lillian Gish (The Wind)
Bessie Love (The Broadway Melody)
Luis Buñuel (Un Chien Andalou)
Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion Of Joan Of Arc)
Victor Sjöström (The Wind)
Wallace Beery (Beggars Of Life)
Lewis Stone (A Woman Of Affairs)
Ernest Torrence (Steamboat Bill, Jr.)
Olga Baclanova (The Docks Of New York)
Mary Nolan (West Of Zanzibar)
Anita Page (Our Dancing Daughters)
Jules Furthman; story by John Monk Saunders (The Docks Of New York)
Joseph Delteil and Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion Of Joan Of Arc)
Frances Marion (The Wind)
I'll start handing out Katies a couple of days from now, beginning with Best Screenplay ...