Three Years of Oscars and I – Another Clip Show

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Today marks three years since my first post here at Oscars and I. It started on a wicked pace, and within one year I was already posting on the 17th Academy Awards (1944), dotted throughout with trivia. Unfortunately my updates have slowed down considerably since then, as I am now two years later working on the 24th Academy Awards for 1951, but I hope to maintain this momentum and continue with weekly updates until I finally finish! As of this moment, I have seen all 182 extant films nominated for Best Picture from 1927-1951 (if anyone finds a copy of 1928’s The Patriot kicking around, let me know).

I should probably start watching more films from this year, since I doubt that the one I have seen (Logan), good though it was, will receive much Oscar attention. I eagerly await Daniel Day-Lewis’ swan song, which I’m sure will be both interesting and well-represented in the 2017 nominees. Until then, and as I mull over the nominees for 1951 (I’m beginning to think that An American in Paris really was the right choice, after all!), here is a collection of some of my favorite moments from the Oscars between 1944 and 1951:

Oh, I know this clip of Gaslight isn’t from the 1944 Ingrid Bergman-Charles Boyer version which was nominated for Best Picture at the 17th Academy Awards…but this one, the original British production from 1940, is just better. Not only because it stars two of my favorite actors, Diana Wynyard and (*sigh*) Anton Walbrook, but it has a much creepier, noirish feel throughout, full of unsettling close-ups and odd camera angles, and the final confrontation between Bella and Paul is tense and unforgettable.

I also wanted to show it because when MGM acquired the rights to remake Gaslight, part of the deal was a demand, thankfully ignored by BNF, that all of the prints of the 1940 version be destroyed so their own film wouldn’t have competition…so naturally I have to disseminate the original.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) was one of the first films to actually represent mental illness as something that could be scientifically studied and treated. Yes, we had Gaslight the year before, but the moral of that one was more how one can use mental illness as a weapon against a conniving, thieving husband who is stealing from you and cheating on you with Angela Lansbury. Arguably, Spellbound has the more universal message.

Even if the ideas of Spellbound are outdated today, it is full of great moments and fine performances by Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. This sequence, designed by Salvador Dali, originally ran over 15 minutes but was cut down by studio execs. You can see its influence on future dream montages, particularly the one towards the end of Father of the Bride (1950)!

William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (Best Picture of 1946) remains powerful in my memory despite the fact that it’s been nearly two years since I watched it. This scene is one of many that stand out in an almost perfectly-made film, and its imagery–an air force veteran wandering aimlessly through the rusted, dusty remains of thousands of disused aircraft about to be melted down and turned into cheap, mass-produced housing–is one of the best cinematic representations of the problems of the postwar world I have seen.

Olivier’s Henry V brought Shakespeare back to prominence after A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) and the curiously adult-filled Romeo & Juliet (1936) ruined it. From this magnificent opening he transported us back further and further in time until we were on the very battlefield of Agincourt, then guided us. with just as much grace, back to the present. Four years later he topped himself with Hamlet, but he would never have had the chance to make that film if it hadn’t been for his inspired genius with this one.

Ah, The Bishop’s Wife, the result of a $50 wager that no director could possibly make an uncharismatic film starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. Well, Henry Koster proved them all wrong. The above clip is pretty representative of the movie’s schlocky and misguided “wisdom”…here, Grant waxes poetic that “not everybody [grows old]. The only people who grow old were born old to begin with.” Which is why all of our nursing homes are filled with old 6-year-olds and why you find so many Korean War veterans in primary school.

The demise of Fred C. Dobbs at the end of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre isn’t the best scene in the movie by any stretch, but I still wanted to post it as an example of the well-crafted piece of tension-building that Huston did so well. You can see the reuse of the machete attack shot, since Huston decided against using the image of Dobbs’ disembodied head rolling into the water…though if you look closely you will notice the ripples in the puddle that it made in the originally conceived sequence.

Anton Walbrook continues to smash it in every role I’ve ever seen him in, and he never looked more at home than as the arrogant, charming, and thoroughly brilliant Boris Lermontov in The Red Shoes. His exchange with Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) here, in particular her response to his question, is one of my favorite moments in all of cinema.

I posted this clip of Twelve O’Clock High in the main article about the 22nd Academy Awards, but I wanted to show it again because it is such a wonderfully self-contained piece of filmmaking at its finest. Even though Hugh Marlowe (as Ben Gately) barely moves or speaks, he goes through all the stages of grief as his career dies under the relentless and calculating verbal blows from Gregory Peck…as I believe we all would.

One of the few memorable and resonante scenes of King Solomon’s Mines, a rumination on life in the jungle and, by extension, life everywhere. This, combined with some beautiful shots of African fauna, make the movie worth a watch, but it’s nothing to do with the story or the acting, all of which was old-hat even in 1950.

Nothing to add here…just a little preview of the Best Picture of 1951, An American in Paris!

And now I’ll leave you with this before we move along to the 24th Academy Awards…Anton Karas performing (with some accompaniment) his brilliant theme for The Third Man.

See you next week!

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23rd Academy Awards (1950) – Part II

(Part I.)

I apologize in advance for what will be a long entry, but there’s a lot to say about these next two films!

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Every so often at the Oscars, there is one film amongst the nominees that clearly stands above the rest. Occasionally, that film does win (Casablanca is one example from the years we’ve already covered, along with The Best Years of Our Lives and All Quiet on the Western Front), but more often, its genius isn’t recognized (enough) at the time and it misses out on the Best Picture award (e.g., Citizen KaneLa Grande Illusion, or all of the losing nominees in 1939). I love it when I get to talk about the former, because it means the Oscars were doing their job, but the flip side is that I get so frustrated when the superiority of a film is so obvious and the Academy swings and misses. 1950 is an example of the second one.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Sunset Boulevard deserved to win Best Picture this year…there’s no doubt in my mind that it would deserve to win in most years. A William Holden noir directed by one of the era’s great cynics, Billy Wilder, it is a wonderfully perfect film that captures the essence of Golden Age Hollywood, and how the studio system could be so magical from without, and terrifying from within. Working on dismantling the myth of Hollywood from the inside out, Wilder reveals how the industry destroys even its brightest stars, yet continues to attract multitudes of hopefuls desperately fighting for their close-up with Mr. DeMille.

It’s quite possibly the greatest movie about movies ever made, excluding perhaps only Singin’ in the Rain (1952), which is also about the struggles faced by silent stars in the transition to talkies.

e1af035e1b71e94aa8f68eec33d8924d--lina-lamont-hagen.jpg   Norma_Desmond_smoking.jpg
In fact, Singin’ works almost too well as a Norma Desmond origin story…

The film opens with its protagonist already dead, and is told entirely in flashback from the point of view of the very man we see floating lifeless in a swimming pool, Joe Gillis (William Holden). The story unfolds with tongue firmly in cheek, narrated by the dead man and following the unlikely series of events that led to his demise. Since the dead are notoriously unreliable narrators, we must take Gillis’ word for all that happens, but being deceased seems to give him such a sense of freedom and dark humor that one gets the feeling that he is not all that upset about being murdered. Though as the story proceeds, we find out why.

Gillis is a hack writer trying to make it in the cruel Hollywood system, but his almost total lack of talent continually prejudices studios against him. Fortune smiles on him, however, in the form of psychotic former silent film star Norma Desmond, who lives nearly alone in a decrepit mansion on…some street in LA, I can’t remember offhand. Anyway, she takes him in as her script doctor/gigolo as she plans her Big Comeback, and all she asks in return is his utter acquiescence to being a kept man.

born-yesterday-1950.jpgHe really couldn’t catch a break this year.

He puts up token resistance to the idea of being romanced by a 1,000-year-old woman trying desperately to look 600, but she wins him over with a few tweed suits and the prospect of not starving to death waiting for that big Paramount contract to come though. With the benefit of supernatural hindsight, Gillis-the-Narrator knows that the power dynamic shifts against him within minutes, but Gillis-the-Idiot-Protagonist takes a while longer to figure it out. Too long, in fact, though the moment when she has his car towed away, leaving him stranded and at her mercy in the middle of the Hills, should have been a big clue.

Their relationship grows in fits and starts, and he more than once considers flying the coup, but Norma is the master here, and soon they end up where we all knew they would…though the film has the good grace to fade to black before the heavy stuff starts.

article-1126430-0323044E000005DC-334_468x286.jpgGood, because it was about to get a little…yuck.

The whole arrangement ends about as well as you might expect, and I won’t spoil how Gillis ends up in the pool, but see it for yourself…it’s a wild ride. Gloria Swanson turns in a wonderful (and, in any other year, I would say Oscar-worthy) performance as Norma Desmond, able to act over-the-top and neurotic in a completely realistic and believable way. Of course, the character helps, since Desmond is slowly going mad and usually believes she is giving a performance in a silent film at all times, but Swanson manages to play a delicate balance, keeping the audience engaged with and sympathetic towards Desmond without making her (too) sad and pathetic.

Every performance in the film is solid gold, but the one who steals the show is silent film director Erich von Stroheim as Norma’s steadfastly loyal–and domineeringly Austrian–butler Max, who caters to her every whim to maintain the illusion of her solipsistic madness. He even finds the time to write her bogus fan mail every day, and Norma is so wrapped up in neuroses and feather boas that she never notices that they all have the same handwriting and come exclusively from fans in a zip code that only covers her house.

The casting of von Stroheim–a silent film giant whose monumental achievement, Greed (1924), is easily the greatest film of the pre-sound era and a strong candidate for the greatest film, period–was a stroke of genius; his very presence adds layer upon layer of complexity to an already rich plot. Von Stroheim imbues every line, every movement, with a gravitas that feels completely natural, a rock against which Norma’s histrionics crash and echo in their shared mausoleum. And when Gillis finally gets around to asking Max why he is so devoted to Norma, the answer is so dark, twisted, and perfect, and encapsulates everything that is great not just about Max, but also Norma, Gillis, and even Cecil B. DeMille…and the myth of Sunset Boulevard itself.

Add to the mix Nancy Olson as idealistic and aspiring screenwriter Betty Schaefer, a dead monkey, several hilarious Hollywood in-jokes (such as the producer who turned down Gone with the Wind), and an enchanting cameo by Buster Keaton, and Sunset Boulevard is pretty much a perfect film.

c0f4b008bd9b3450992591ffce0527d0--boulevard-.jpg“This is the most fun I’ve ever had without trains.”

Part of what makes it so perfect—aside from the biting satire, the flawless acting, and the moody black-and-white cinematography—is Billy Wilder’s penchant for injecting extremely dark and bitter themes with such acerbic and self-referential humor. We saw him do it five years ago with alcoholism in The Lost Weekend, and we’ll see him do it with adultery in about a decade with The Apartment, and here he does it while eviscerating the very system that was allowing him to make movies in the first place. Every scene in Sunset Boulevard is dripping with bitter irony, and it’s handled with such deftness that we are laughing, maybe a little uncomfortably, even as the situation spirals out of control towards an inevitably tragic climax.

Even for 1950, in the wake of the postwar cynicism and examination of society that Hollywood embraced, and even for a noir, it’s a remarkably nihilistic film. In the end there is no redemption, no justice, and certainly no optimism…everything remains as hopeless and cruel as it was before. The only difference is that there is one less failed artist wandering down Hollywood Boulevard desperate, destitute, and rejected. In other words, the film ends as organically and realistically as possible…like I said, a perfect film.

That said, however, it’s easy to see why it lost to All About Eve for the top Oscar. Sunset Boulevard is unrelentingly dark and cynical in its treatment of the studio system, laying the blame for Norma Desmond’s descent into irrelevancy and madness squarely at the feet of the executives and filmmakers who cast her aside when she stopped being profitable. Considering this was the exact same system still in place in 1950, it’s hardly surprising that the Academy offered it a bunch of nominations but couldn’t bring itself to lavish too much honor upon it—though it received the second-most nominations of the evening, its awards were limited mainly to technical categories, and its acting was completely shut out despite being nominated in all four categories.[1]

idqIv.jpg“Sure, we could give Best Actor to the performance that lays bare all the profit-driven selfishness and evil deeds of our industry…but how about we give it to this guy with the goofy nose? Sound good?”

That brings us to this year’s winner, a film that also examines the aging-actress theme, but which comes to an altogether dumber conclusion:

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As I stated in Part I, with All About Eve Joseph L. Mankiewicz repeated his double win in Directing and Screenwriting from 1949, becoming the first and, to date, only person to do so; he’s also one of three to win consecutive Best Director awards (the other two being John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath [1940] and How Green was my Valley [1941], and Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman [2014] and The Revenent [2015]). And, also as I stated in Part I, he probably didn’t experience a great deal of suspense on Oscar night.

Like A Letter to Three Wives before it, All About Eve is pure Oscar bait, starring big names and telling a story with a “wholesome” moral in which career and family are mutually exclusive concepts–for women, that is–and it is very obvious which one is best–again, for women. It is a propaganda film pure and simple, sending American women a very clear message: it was real cute when you all were working, but the war is over, the men have returned, now go back home.

Annex - Davis, Bette (All About Eve)_03.jpg“Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’m whipping out the answer to your ‘career’ problems right now.”

Before I get into all that, I must say that the film does endure as a classic, and the reason is the acting. Bette Davis is masterful as aging Broadway star Margo Channing, who finds her career stalling as she gets older but her roles do not. Enter Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a young, starstruck simpleton who worms her way into Eve’s lives and those of her friends.,.namely her director/boyfriend Bill Sampson, playwright Lloyd Richards, and his wife Karen Richards (Celeste Holm).

The plot is fairly simple. Eve appears in their lives with little fanfare or ambition, but as the story progresses, slowly reveals her true purpose: to replace Margo as the darling of the Broadway scene and be a great actress. She pursues this goal ruthlessly, abusing and throwing away everyone in her path…with one exception, veteran theatre critic and silver-tongued devil Addison DeWitt (George Sanders, in one of the most deserved Best Supporting Actor-winning performances I’ve yet seen), who sees through Eve in an instant but guides her along for his own amusement.


Which was his M.O. for everything, really.

Eve, so used to casually using everyone in her path, doesn’t see DeWitt coming until it is far too late. For his part, he gleefully strings Eve for yuks along until she goes too far, even for him, and then the gloves come off in truly glorious fashion. The climactic, almost triumphant scene in which he lays bare her sordid past is amazing, and is enough in itself to justify his Oscar. It is her well-deserved comeuppance, and is, thankfully, handled very realistically and doesn’t feel forced by the Code or by the story’s questionable morality.

Despite the film’s title, it is Margo, not Eve, who is the story’s true protagonist, the one whose decisions and agency truly move the plot. Her anger with Eve’s interference, which gradually morphs into outright manipulation, combined with her aforementioned frustration at not receiving parts commiserate with her age and experience, pushes her to her very limit. Davis, as ever, handles the role with grace and aplomb, and it’s a real shame she didn’t receive her third Best Actress award for her efforts.

Now for the bad stuff. Like I said, the film is a propaganda piece, one that, in its own way, is more over-the-top and offensive than the most forced and jingoistic wartime flicks we saw flood the Oscars a decade ago. All About Eve firmly and unambiguously tells women that they must choose between a man and happiness, or a career that leaves them crushingly empty and unfulfilled. What’s more, it is only immature, shortsighted women who choose the latter anyway…the film’s emotional climax comes when Margo Channing has an emotional epiphany in which she realizes that, in pursuing a career, she “gave up” being a woman, and that a woman is “nothing without a man.”

hqdefault.jpgThey also spelled it out in the trailer, presumably so women in the audience wouldn’t need to bother their husbands asking for an explanation.

In the end, Margo gives up her career and is instantly happy…Karen was always happily married, her only moment of unhappiness being when she’s worried Eve might steal her man…and then there’s Eve, at the top of her field due as much to her talent as her machinations, with a promising and still ascendant career ahead of her, dead inside. The men, meanwhile, never had anything to worry about, because they never had to make the choice between love and career…though I suppose they did have to grapple with the terribly difficult decision of whether to step out with Eve or not.

120715041019-celeste-holm-story-top.jpg“Dolls, I’d say you owe us a few drinks for keeping it in our pants.”

This message has, to put it mildly, not aged well, and as a consequence of this, combined with the story’s subtle but still icky treatment of homosexuality, the film is an uncomfortable one to sit through in 2017. In terms of dated stereotypes it falls short of Father of the Bride, but it is made worse by the fact that it tries so, so desperately to be taken seriously as a cautionary tale.

Still, as I said, the film abounds in great performances, particularly the lead actresses, all four of whom were nominated for Oscars (the only time one film received four female acting nominations). They are all rich and compelling characters, even taking into account the oppressive script, but unfortunately come Oscar season they were split evenly between Lead and Supporting Actress, and thus canceled each other out. The film could have taken three acting categories this year if Anne Baxter had been nominated for Supporting Actress instead of Lead Actress for her role as Eve Harrington. The role really was a supporting one, and if she’d be in the right category, I’m sure Bette Davis would have taken Best Actress and Baxter, even against Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter, Best Supporting.

But, this was not to be. As it stands, of the film’s five acting nods, only George Sanders, whose only real competition in the category was Erich von Stroheim, came away with a win. I can’t say I’m disappointed, either, that Josephine Hull took Best Supporting Actress for her role as James Stewart’s long-suffering sister in the classic comedy Harvey.

And thus, the 23rd Academy Awards were decided, and before we move to 1951 I’d like to leave you with a clip from the real best picture of 1950…a little British movie that came out in 1949–but premiered in New York and Los Angeles in 1950–and should have swept the awards this year.

See you all in 1951!


[1] It joined My Man Godfrey in having the distinction of receiving nominations in all four categories and not winning a single one; the next film to do this was American Hustle (2013), though that was justifiable.

23rd Academy Awards (1950) – Part I

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  • All About Eve, Joseph L. Mankiewicz*
  • Born Yesterday, George Cukor
  • Father of the Bride, Vincente Minnelli
  • King Solomon’s Mines, Compton Bennett & Andrew Marton
  • Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder

Once again, a dark and socially relevant Best Picture was followed by a much lighter year in which the Academy remembered that comedy films existed. Unfortunately, they were so out of practice they missed the good ones. The nominees for Best Picture in 1950 included two comedies, both moderately screwball; a Hollywood noir; and a location-shot, Technicolor adventure. None of these genres traditionally does very well at the Oscars, at least in terms of Best Picture, so the stage was set for a potentially precedent-setting year.

So it should come as no surprise that the winner was the only straight drama on the list, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve, which won him his second consecutive awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay. The film dramatizes all the ways career ambition is bad for women, and the only way for them to find true happiness is to devote themselves to their loving husbands. Such a happy and uplifting message could not go unrecognized by the Academy.

1950_view_directing_writing_Mankiewicz.jpgThey just handed him the Oscars when he pitched the script.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great movie, if somewhat dated and more than a little uncomfortable in its propagandistic intentions, but more on that next week. If I’m honest, aside from this film and Sunset Boulevard, I found 1950’s slate to be terribly, terribly weak, especially compared to the last couple of years…and it didn’t have to be. For example, if the Academy really wanted to nominate a Spencer Tracy comedy, they’d have done better to replace Father of the Bride with Adam’s Rib. Also, though it pains me to bring it up, I have to mention that The Third Man was released in the U.S. in 1950 and, unforgivably, was not nominated.

orson-welles-the-third-man-xlarge.jpgThis single smirk by Welles was better than any of the Oscar-nominated performances.

Oh well, what’s done is done. So without further ado, let’s have a look at the first three nominated films before getting to the ones that are, rightly, considered classics.

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King Solomon’s Mines, a Technicolor adventure set and filmed in Africa, was 1950’s Trader Horn, following a naïve American traveling with a grizzled, cynical British adventurer on a mission to save a white person lost in the uncharted wilds of central Africa. It also mimics T. Horn insofar as the story pauses at least four times in favor of lingering shots of African fauna and monologues about humanity’s place in the natural order, at the expense of consistent pacing and a satisfying climax. To its credit, King Solomon’s Mines contains a hell of a lot less racism and sexism than its predecessor (though it is still there, just more subtly woven), and at least as the courtesy to fake any on-camera human deaths.

I really could just copy-paste my review of Trader Horn here, because aside from being in color, I can’t think of much that sets King Solomon’s Mines apart. I could also lift from my assessment of Gone with the Wind, in that this film earned its spot in the Best Picture nominees by being lavish, expensive, and beautifully photographed, but featured a very dull and poorly-paced story. At least GwtW had a memorable climax…King Solomon’s Mines stumbles drunkenly over the finish line with a swift narrative collapse that suggests the director received word that his car was illegally parked on Hollywood Blvd. and he had to return and move it immediately.

_77368720_crushed.jpgNaturally, he was eager to receive word about his cube.

Credit where its due, though: the film does feature a strong environmentalist message, or at least strong for 1950. There are more than a few surprisingly insightful monologues by the grizzled veteran adventurer about respect for animals and the natural world, and how arrogant it is for humans to treat the Earth as nothing more than a resource for our pleasure. Unlike Trader Horn, the protagonists only kill animals when directly threatened, and every time they have to, the act genuinely affects them.

In the end, our heroes do not find, or even come close to finding, the titular mines, nor do they succeed in finding their lost white guy…but this turns out to be a blessing in disguise, since his wife falls for the aforementioned Grizzled Adventurer along the way, and by the end locating the husband would have really cramped their style.

cdfbdfe48629edcf0f1b8e2cc08e3b78.jpgOf course, they’ll still have to deal with his S.O. when they get back to civilization.

The best parts of King Solomon’s Mines can be condensed into a compilation of sweeping panoramas of the east African landscape and shots of the endemic animal species. I guess I’m saying you should just watch a David Attenborough documentary instead.

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Next was Born Yesterday, the earliest example I have found so far of the “smart is the new sexy” trope.

william-holden-judy-holliday-born-yesterday-1950-C8CKA4.jpgThough of course they their glasses off when it was time for romance. Smart isn’t that sexy.

When I told my older sister that 1950 was a weak year, and then proceeded to mention that Born Yesterday was among the nominees, her reaction–that it’s a great movie and Judy Holliday is wonderful–has me worried that the next decade or so of this blog could lead to a real falling-out between us. She’s already upset with me over my (anticipated) conclusion that An American in Paris didn’t deserve to win in 1951, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

I mean, it’s not a bad movie by any means…I found it funny, charming, and full of great moments. I laughed a fair amount, which is the chief criterion, perhaps the only criterion, for judging something a good comedy. But still, overall, the movie fell flat. Maybe it was because I watched it only a few days after All the King’s Men, and just wasn’t emotionally prepared the sight of Broderick Crawford shouting his way through a naïve romcom with delusions of insight.

Unknown.jpegOr maybe it was the four-minute, dialogue-free scene where they sit and play gin. That’s not a joke.

But I don’t think that’s the whole story. I think what really goes wrong with Born Yesterday is the fact that it tries to be more than what it is. It’s not satisfied with being a romantic comedy…it clearly has grander political and social points on its mind, and the script consistently fails to deliver.

The plot, basically, is this: millionaire junk dealer Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford, essentially playing Willie Stark in an alternate timeline) arrives in Washington, DC with the idea of “buying” a senator. He comes with his fiancée Billie (Judy Holliday), an ostensibly dumb blonde, and hires William Holden (William Holden) to teach her how to behave with class. Billie and William quickly fall in love, and he transforms her, Flowers for Algernon-like, into an intelligent person.

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You can tell when it happens because she starts to wear glasses. You know, like smart people do.

Combining the one-two punch of love and intelligence, they show Brock who’s boss–by leaving him free from their meddling and with all of his money and properties…yay?–and ride off into the sunset.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t just stop there…instead it has points to make about the American political system, and brother, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington it ain’t. It is adorably innocent even in its “cynical” moments…for instance, positing that 95% of Congress is made up of upstanding, moral, hardworking patriots, and only a “few bad apples” are vulnerable to outside interests. And even with Harry Brock written and performed as the world’s most ignorant straw man, the movie still can’t manage to demonstrate this idea convincingly.

The film’s idea of “getting serious” is having William Holden deliver several speeches about political responsibility and the importance of an educated populous, speaking of a level of participation in the political process that I don’t think America has ever had. I can’t judge the film as a simple comedy when it tries so hard to be something more, and then shits the bed so miserably every time it tries to address anything deeper than “general corruption.”

born-yesterday-05.jpg“Hm, we’d better cut to Broderick yelling at somebody. I’ve run out of Thomas Jefferson quotes.”

I haven’t even mentioned Billie’s “transformation” from dumb to smart, which the film’s Wikipedia article assures me happens at some point. Even in the end, when she is fully intelligent, her lines are nothing but paraphrases of William Holden and Thomas Paine, delivered with the intonation and conviction of someone reciting a list of Latin verb conjugations. However, I think Judy Holliday did a great job with what she had, and it’s a funny, if shrill, performance (though I don’t think she deserved to win Best Actress).

And even with all of that, it wasn’t the worst comedy nominated this year. That would have to be…

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Father of the Bride should have been amazing…a screwball comedy about the trials and tribulations of putting on a wedding starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor, directed by Vincente Minnelli. It sure did well in 1950, and still enjoys a pretty favorable reputation…but I kind of hated it. Even at 92 minutes it seems stretched and ill-paced, and almost every joke is based on one of two tired, hackneyed stereotypes: a) men are wearied, stoic victims of emotional women, and b) women be crazy, amirite?

elizabeth-taylor-03--4821219-.jpgFortunately, the 1950s knew how to handle the problem with dignity and class.

The “story” is told in flashback by Spencer Tracy, who from his very first line–delivered directly to camera, to “the fathers out there”–looks bored and out of place. This could have been great for his character, who is both of those things and more throughout the film, but every aspect of Tracy’s lackluster performance just screams that he took the role based on a dare.

Anyway, he plays Stanley Banks, whose daughter Kay announces her surprise engagement to some schmuck with the unlikely name of Buckley Dunstan. This comprises the entirety of the film’s first act. From then on we are treated to an hour of mishaps, misunderstandings, and tomfoolery leading to the wedding, all of which are solved with some hugs and soft words, until the movie just sort of ends. I kept waiting for the payoff for this ordeal, but the movie offers nothing…it was as rewarding as playing solitaire. In the back of a night bus. To Stockton. And the aces are missing from the deck.

Along the arduous path of clichés and instantly forgettable scenes, the movie tries to muscle in some “heartfelt” moments that are meant to remind viewers that fathers and daughters share a very special bond (see above photo) that not even marriage can destroy.

19eef20c28ffe16dd5b48f85412b0ece--joan-bennett-father-of-the-bride.jpgWhile the bond between a husband and wife remains separated by twin beds forever.

There’s only one moment in the film that was interesting, and only because it was completely different from everything that comes before and after it. It’s a short dream sequence Stanley endures on the night before the wedding, encapsulating all his fears and trepidations, and it’s actually very avant-garde and well-done. Unfortunately, it does its job too well, since it does in two minutes what the rest of the film can’t do in ninety. After watching it here, you can safely ignore the rest of the film.

I’ve seen some bad movies in this project, but this was the first one in a while whose inclusion in the list of nominees genuinely baffled me. It’s hard for me to believe that even in 1950 was this film considered anything more than a project cobbled together by bored professionals who should know better and who had an afternoon to kill. In fact, just to be sure I wasn’t missing something or being unfair to a classic, I even watched the 1991 remake of the film, to see if there were any substantive differences between a Best-Picture nominated movie starring, I must restate, Spencer goddamn Tracy and Elizabeth frigging Taylor, and a cash grab family flick starring Steve Martin–who hasn’t made a good film since the Reagan administration–and Diane Keaton.

And goddamn it, the remake is better. It’s still pretty bad, but at least the lead actor actually makes sense in the role, and it just seems to make far more sense as a light ’90s comedy. So that is the legacy of Father of the Bride: a bad film that eventually got remade as a mediocre one.

So there is the start of 1950…not promising, but as I said, it ends with two undisputed classics. And like 1934 before it, the strength of the great films compensates for the weakness of the bad ones. Part II coming soon!