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Honoring the 10 best picture nominees from 1935 to 1943

OSCAR ARCHIVES | SUSAN KING

Academy exhibition shows how varied the nominations were.

February 10, 2010

Everything old is new again for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Last summer, the academy startled movie fans when the organization decided to expand its roster of best film nominees from five to 10 to get more variety -- and more commercial films -- in the top Oscar race.

But it wasn't that innovative of a change, really. It was simply a return to form. From 1935 through the 1943 contenders, variety was the spice of the best picture nominations. During those nine years of nominating as many as 10 films, every genre made its way into the race, including swashbucklers ("Captain Blood," "The Adventures of Robin Hood"); Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' musicals ("Top Hat"); Deanna Durbin musicals ("Three Smart Girls," "One Hundred Men and a Girl"); fantasy ("A Midsummer Night's Dream," "The Wizard of Oz"), disaster epics (" San Francisco," "In Old Chicago") and even a foreign import ("Grand Illusion" from France).

To commemorate 80 films nominated during that era, the academy is offering a free exhibit, "The More the Merrier: Posters From the Ten Best Picture Nominees, 1936-1943," in the organization's Grand Lobby Gallery in Beverly Hills.

The majority of the posters come from the collection of producer Mike Kaplan, who has been acquiring movie posters for more than 30 years, with others provided by the academy.

Many of the posters in the exhibition are "reasonably" rare, Kaplan says, because "they were never available to the public." "Two or three of the Belgian posters were printed on maps because the films came out right after World War II and there was a paper shortage."

There's also the large French poster of "Casablanca," which won 1943's best picture Oscar. "There are probably two or three copies of that poster," he says. "That is the best ' Casablanca' poster. The artist is Pierre Pigeot. It's a stunning painting -- a profile of Ingrid Bergman takes the whole [right] side of the poster, and two-thirds of the poster is Sydney Greenstreet and Humphrey Bogart sitting in Rick's Cafe. There's kind of a graphic smoke throughout, which is representing their past memories and the whole nature of the film. It's a stunning piece in pinks, purples and golds."

With about half of the display being international posters, Kaplan notes their style is far different than the Hollywood-generated posters. "During this period, the foreign distributors -- whether they were different than the American distributors or foreign branches of American studios -- were much more free to develop their own campaigns," Kaplan says.

For more information on the exhibit, go to www.oscars.org or call (310) 247-3000.

susan.king@latimes.com

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