(All of our 1941 Retro Hugo Awards content is indexed here.)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, is well served in 1940. Not necessarily because there were a lot of worthy films, but only in comparison to Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, which has to settle for serial episodes and cartoons. Television shows were still almost a decade away.
However, when it comes to film there are a few interesting contenders, and, fortunately, the vast majority of eligible works are known and viewable, thanks largely to the Internet Archive, Youtube and copyright law.
Here’s as complete a list of feature films I’ve been able to compile over the past week or so:
Before I Hang
Doomed to Die
The Fatal Hour
The Ghost Breakers
The Invisible Man Returns
The Invisible Woman
The Mummy’s Hand
One Million B.C.
Son of Ingagi
The Thief of Bagdad
Weltshraum Shiff 1 Startet
Please note: while I am relying on YouTube’s intellectual property policy, some of these films may not be there legally and this post could bring them to the attention of the appropriate authorities. If you are inclined to watch some of these, it is probably best to do so sooner rather than later.
At first blush, there are a couple of stand-outs: Dr. Cyclops, Son of Ingagi and Weltshraumshiff 1 Startet.
The last may or may not be from 1940; some sources indicated it as having been shown in 1937. If it is eligible, it is almost certainly the first (and perhaps only) time that a NAZI propaganda film might be nominated for a Hugo Award.
The film itself looks pretty sophisticated for its time, even if the spaceship is very reminiscent of those you’ll see buzzing around in the Flash Gordon serial. Special effects are quite good, particularly the Earth Rise scene as the spaceship orbits the Moon. Certainly well worth checking out.
Dr. Cyclops was not only a hit in the theaters, it was also a short story and a novelization in the same year. Will Garth is credited with the novelization and none other than Henry Kuttner wrote the short story and it appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories. Fittingly (confusingly), in this particular case, the Thrilling Wonder Stories house name – Will Garth – is attributed to Kuttner’s use for the novelization. That there was deliberate intent on the part of Thrilling (Gernsback?) to make a connection is fairly well established by comparing Thrilling’s June 1940 cover with that of the film’s poster:
The film itself can be quite gruesome at times.
Son of Ingagi is, well, credited as the first all african-american science fiction film.
It has an all black cast and was written, directed and produced by an all black team. Most notable among them being Spencer Williams (Jr.), better known as Andy from the television show Amos n Andy. Williams wrote, directed and produced a number of “race” films (all black productions primarily distributed through black theaters) including the highly acclaimed Blood of Jesus.
Side note: if you’ve never heard of any of this before, it’s not surprising. Not even the NY Times mentioned anything about Williams other than his television role in their obituary. He’s got quite the fascinating bio on Wikipedia for those who want to start learning more.
The version of the film I watched on Youtube is of poor quality (I’ve linked to a better one above) and prevents one from getting a real handle on the story. However, what is available seems to demonstrate that Ingagi is at least as good as many B horror flicks produced by the major studios during the same period; the acting is more than competent and particularly well played by Laura Bowman as one of the main characters, Dr. Helen Jackson; the accompanying musical numbers are a treat and some of the scripting shows flashes of brilliance.
On the other hand, I must confess that I was reminded from time to time of some Three Stooges shorts, particularly Spook Louder, a 1943 production (perhaps someone saw Ingagi…); the monster is not that scary and it’s hard to tell (from this version) whether all the laugh scenes were intended for humor or not. On the third hand, there are indeed some very creepy scenes…
Fantasia probably needs no introduction – it was a tour-de-force at the time and I think everyone on the planet has seen at least a bit of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice number
not to mention the march of the dinosaurs and the dancing hippos.
Of additional note are the numerous films with Boris Karloff, several appearances by Bela Lugosi and, in his last film, Drew Barrymore (Invisible Woman). You might also want to catch the scene in One Million B.C. in which cavemen are treed by a mastadon. I’m pretty sure that there’s a scene in Quest For Fire that pays homage. There are also some quite good special effects in One Million.
Next Up – short subjects from 1940. Including the incomparable Flash Gordon. I’m voting for Ming.