Edward Anhalt for Becket, from the play by Jean Anouilh
It works so smoothly as cinema that it's hard to believe this was a play...in French! The action is opened up seamlessly, allowing for a great use of horses (horses!), coronations, discovery of dead bodies...you know, stuff that is probably only discussed on stage. It's wickedly funny, too.
Stanley Kubrick, Peter George and Terry Southern for Dr. Strangelove, from the novel Red Alert by George
Strangelove's strength is in taking a very serious book on a very serious subject and playing it for sardonic laughs. You're giggling at the absurdity of the American President and the Russian Premier discussing how little or often the other calls just to chat, and before you know it you realize that the world really does rest on the shoulders of people who are just as insecure and fallible as any of us. It tells a joke to tell the truth.
Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi for Mary Poppins, based on the books by P.L. Travers
This could have been just a series of vignettes, but the creation of Bert, the emphasis on Mr. Banks, and the development of that moderation/balance theme make the story flow more naturally. They've done a swell job making Mary both stern and kind, Mr. Banks strict and loving, and Bert just the coolest guy on Earth. And it cannot be stressed enough how great it is that they wrote kids who act like kids.
Alan Jay Lerner for My Fair Lady, based on the musical by Lerner and Loewe and the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
As much as I love the movie, I can't really award its screenplay in good conscience. It's the full libretto for the stage version, but instead of "ACT ONE - SCENE 3: HIGGINS' STUDY" we get "INT. HIGGINS' STUDY - DAY". Hardly a challenge. Give it a Tony, but not an Oscar.
Michael Cacoyannis for Zorba the Greek, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis
Zorba has a lot of interesting things to say about life, love, humanity, war, sex, etc. The characters are strongly developed and consistent. There's some subtle work here -- look at the silent characters of the widow and her admirer's father. Good stuff, though I will ding it points when it comes to Basil. I don't get his romance with the widow or his laughter at Madame Hortense or his behavior at all.
Oscar gave Becket its only win in this category, and while that screenplay is certainly high-fiveable, there can be only one...
WALSH & DAGRADI
a spoonful of talent helps the competition GO DOWN