Sunday, February 12, 2012

Teddy the Rough Rider (1940)

1 Nomination, 1 Win

Win: Best Short Subject, Two-Reel - Warner Bros.

When I was in middle school, I used to take every opportunity possible to complete class assignments by making short films. Instead of a report about the Gettysburg Address, for example, I made a short movie recreating President Lincoln's speech in my living room. Instead of writing about Louis Leakey's work in developing our understanding of human evolution, I made a silly short film showing one of my 12 year old friends dressed Leakey digging a hole in my backyard. Little did I know that if we had made these films back in 1940, with only a bit more care we might have been able to win an Academy Award. At least, that's the lesson I learned from watching "Teddy the Rough Rider," the 1940 short that won the Academy Award for Best Two-Reel Short Subject.

"Teddy the Rough Rider" is one of those short subject biopics from the first half of the 20th century that attempts to tell the life story of a great individual through a series of short (usually less than 30 second) scenes representing key moments in the individual's life. These scenes almost always come across as goofy, as the short film just isn't the right medium for a biography. "Teddy the Rough Rider" is particularly silly, with Sidney Blackmer's Teddy Roosevelt spouting off several of his famous quotes in scenes representing key moments in Roosevelt's life, yet showing no depth of character or any subtlety whatsoever. The script was written by Charles L. Tedford, who wrote dozens of scripts for shorts, but it really comes across as only slightly better than the scripts I wrote for my ridiculous middle school films.

Aside from his constant squint, Blackmer's portrayal of Roosevelt is capable, and the resemblance is striking. He cannot be faulted for the lack of depth in his portrayal, as the script is incredibly shallow and ludicrous. Still, his performance is a bit manic, and though Roosevelt was certainly an energetic individual, the short could have benefited from Blackmer holding back a bit more.

I was excited to see "Teddy the Rough Rider" on Turner Classic Movies, as I have long been interested in the life of Theodore Roosevelt, but I was greatly disappointed, and I am baffled as to how this won an Academy Award.

Remaining: 3173 films, 868 Oscars, 5452 nominations

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