12 March 2006 | MOscarbradley
Quantity - not quality
This gargantuan war-horse of a western epic won the Oscar as the Best Film of 1930/31 proving from the earliest days of the Academy it was quantity not quality that mattered and that big equalled best. Of course there wasn't much in the way competition, ("East Lynne", "The Front Page", "Skippy" and "Trader Horn"). Much better films like "Morocco", "The Criminal Code" and "Little Caesar" failed to make the short-list. But it is still surprisingly robust and enjoyable in the way that these kind of movies sometimes are, (it's certainly a lot less po-faced than the dire 1960 remake), and it has some really good things in it; a great church meeting sequence and a very well staged hold-up culminating in a great moment when a young black boy is killed and is ignored in the general mêlée and is a brave scene for the period, and a sequence probably deemed too contentious for the remake.
The acting, too, is a cut above the average for the time. A young, fresh-faced Irene Dunne is lovely and shows considerable promise here and Richard Dix has a kind of screen presence. It's ham and he plays to the gallery but he's very likable. Estelle Taylor is touching as the whore with the obligatory heart of gold and Edna May Oliver is very funny but in too small a role.
It runs out of steam before the end. It's top heavy in the plot department, (based, as it is, on an Edna Ferber door-stopper), and characters come and go without making much of an impression. Often listed in polls of the worst films to win the Best Picture Oscar it has vigour and a complete lack of pretension. I'll take it any day over "A Beautiful Mind".