As I’ve mentioned before on these pages, I always pay a visit to the IMDB trivia link after watching a movie. Often I will find a fun but ultimately trivial fact such as the one I discovered after viewing Beauty and the Beast. According to IMDB, Emma Watson was offered the Academy Award winning role of Mia in La La Land but turned it down because she was committed to Beauty and the Beast. Coincidentally, the heretofore non-musical Ryan Gosling was offered the role of the Beast and turned it down because he was committed to that other musical, La La Land. You really can’t fault either of their decisions. Both movies have been huge successes.
On Tuesday I watched the “really like” 1935 film classic Mutiny on the Bounty.My visit to the trivia pages of this film unearthed facts that were more consequential than trivial. For example, the film was the first movie of historically factual events with actors playing historically factual people to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The previous eight winners were all based on fiction. Real life became a viable source for great films as the next two Best Picture winners, The Great Ziegfeld and The Life of Emile Zola, were also biographies. Interestingly, it would be another 25 years before another non-fictional film, Lawrence of Arabia, would win a Best Picture award.
Mutiny on the Bounty also has the distinction of being the only movie ever to have three actors nominated for Best Actor. Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone were all nominated for Best Actor. Everyone expected one of them to win. After splitting the votes amongst themselves, none of them won. Oscar officials vowed to never let that happen again. For the next Academy Awards in 1937, they created two new awards for Actor and Actress in a Supporting Role. Since then, in only six other instances, have two actors from the same movie been nominated for Best Actor.
Before leaving Mutiny on the Bounty, there is one more non-trivial fact to relate about the movie. The characters of Captain Bligh and First Mate Fletcher Christian grow to hate each other in the plot. To further that requisite hate in the movie, Irving Thalberg, one of the producers, purposely cast the overtly gay Charles Laughton as Bligh and the notorious homophobe Gable as Fletcher Christian. This crass manipulation of the actors’ prejudice seemed to have worked as the hate between the two men was evident on the set and clearly translated to the screen. This kind of morally corrupt behavior was not uncommon in the boardrooms of the Studio system in Hollywood at the time.
Some other older Best Picture winning films with facts, not trivial, but consequential to the film industry or the outside world include:
- It Happened One Night, another Clark Gable classic, in 1935 became the first of only three films to win the Oscar “grand slam”. The other two were One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Silence of the Lambs. The Oscar “grand slam” is when a movie wins all five major awards, Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay.
- Gone with the Wind, along with being the first Best Picture filmed in color, is the longest movie, at four hours, to win Best Picture. Hattie McDaniel became the first black actor to be nominated and win an Oscar for her role in the film.
- In Casablanca, there is a scene where the locals drown out the Nazi song “Watch on the Rhine” with their singing of the “Marseillaise”. In that scene you can see tears running down the cheeks of many of the locals. For many of these extras the tears were real since they were actual refugees from Nazi tyranny. Ironically, many of the Nazis in the scene were also German Jews who had escaped Germany.
- To prepare for his 1946 award winning portrayal of an alcoholic in The Lost Weekend, IMDB reveals that “Ray Milland actually checked himself into Bellevue Hospital with the help of resident doctors, in order to experience the horror of a drunk ward. Milland was given an iron bed and he was locked inside the “booze tank.” That night, a new arrival came into the ward screaming, an entrance which ignited the whole ward into hysteria. With the ward falling into bedlam, a robed and barefooted Milland escaped while the door was ajar and slipped out onto 34th Street where he tried to hail a cab. When a suspicious cop spotted him, Milland tried to explain, but the cop didn’t believe him, especially after he noticed the Bellevue insignia on his robe. The actor was dragged back to Bellevue where it took him a half-hour to explain his situation to the authorities before he was finally released.”
- In the 1947 film Gentlemen’s Agreement about anti-Semitism, according to IMDB, “The movie mentions three real people well-known for their racism and anti-Semitism at the time: Sen. Theodore Bilbo (D-Mississippi), who advocated sending all African-Americans back to Africa; Rep. John Rankin (D-Mississippi), who called columnist Walter Winchell “the little kike” on the floor of the House of Representatives; and leader of “Share Our Wealth” and “Christian Nationalist Crusade” Gerald L. K. Smith, who tried legal means to prevent Twentieth Century-Fox from showing the movie in Tulsa. He lost the case, but then sued Fox for $1,000,000. The case was thrown out of court in 1951.”
One of the definitions of “trivia” is “an inessential fact; trifle”. Because IMDB lists facts under the Trivia link does not make them trivia. The facts presented here either promoted creative growth in the film industry or made a significant statement about society. Some facts are not so trivial.