Or maybe his disgust over Paramount's adaptation (he sued them for turning his novel into an "ordinary murder story") had snowballed by the end of the year.
The author was sixty when New Movie Magazine published this curmudgeonly article that tears apart some of the most popular releases from 1931.
In running down his six picks, which include winners of three Academy Awards (plus six more nominations), Dreiser finds Hollywood home of “the cheap sex story,” and berates it for having a “head as empty as its purse is full.”
The six films that especially disgusted Mr. Dreiser:
- Bought! starring Constance Bennett. Not realistic. “Society just doesn’t do those things, no matter how prince charmingly Hollywood arranges it.”
- The Road to Singapore. He really hated this one. Had a big problem with Doris Kenyon’s character leaving her husband, “a doctor, bent on research, investigation and discovery,” for ‘the suave sap,” played by William Powell.
- The Front Page. The classic newsroom drama “is not even melodrama; it’s just tomfoolery.” Three Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture.
- A Free Soul. Rips it as old-fashioned, a story already done to death. Also has a problem with Norma Shearer’s character not giving a whiz for her sweetheart until—conveniently—the very end. Lionel Barrymore won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Two additional nominations.
- Bad Girl, whose “only accomplishment … was having a child and that was an accident.” Starring Sally Eilers and James Dunn. Won two Academy Awards and was nominated for Best Picture.
- Alexander Hamilton, inaccurate. Goes so far as to begin pulling out dates of real life incidents that the film got wrong, bigger problem with overall presentation of Hamilton “as your ideal hero, honest, kind and true.”
Dreiser wrote, “America, with all of its prosperity talk, is luxury-starved. Hence the man with twenty-five cents, gazing rapturously at a pseudo-display of millions and all that that implies.”
Is it really a big surprise that people crave escapism during their leisure time? Especially at the end of 1931? Though I suppose it makes perfect sense that a novelist as brilliant as Dreiser is turned off by mainstream popular entertainment.
Also: “It is hokum that the public wants and hokum it shall have as long as the ‘long green’ can thereby be inveigled into the Hollywood cash-box.”
Yes, money wins. But if this is really how Mr. Dreiser felt, I hope he soon realized that the movies weren't going to be his thing. At least, beyond selling screen rights to his fiction.
I count one classic, two near classics, and two pretty entertaining pre-Code melodramas among his six worst of '31.
But then again, I love what Paramount did with An American Tragedy (and Jennie Gerhardt).