Tuesday, July 1, 2014

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1953 Retro Hollmann Awards: Part 3 -- The End!

Here endeth my month-long celebration of the films of 1953. Of the twelve categories we've seen so far, eight films have been honored: The Cruel Sea (Sound), The Importance of Being Earnest (Costume Design, Ensemble), Man on a Tightrope (Makeup), Mogambo (Actor), Pickup on South Street (Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Editing), The Robe (Score, Production Design), Titanic (Supporting Actor) and War of the Worlds (Visual Effects).

Now, we come to the Big Four -- Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay -- plus Cinematography, and just to mess with ya, Original Song.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
5. "Kid's Song/Because We're Kids" from The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Music by Friedrich Hollaender
Lyrics by Dr. Seuss


3. "The Deadwood Stage" from Calamity Jane
Music by Sammy Fain
Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster


2. "Just Blew in from the Windy City" from Calamity Jane
Music by Sammy Fain
Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster

4. "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo" from Lili
Music by Bronislau Kaper
Lyrics by Helen Deutsch


1. "The Blue Pacific Blues" from Miss Sadie Thompson
Music by Lester Lee
Lyrics by Allan Roberts


Weren't that lovely? Continue after the jump, as we wrap up 1953...


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
3. Beneath the 12-Mile Reef
Edward Cronjager
Till Gabbani, underwater



From my profile: Bold colors and the beauty of the outdoors -- with some underwater photography, to boot. Beneath the 12-Mile Reef is a world all its own, with the bright white of the sun, the dark blue of the water beneath, the crazed magenta of fire! Wheee!

2. Man on a Tightrope
Georg Krause



Absolutely shimmering -- and inventive! Secret meetings held in sparsely-lit trailers; lamps blast Fredric March's face during interrogation; a friend-turned-foe turns on our hero, masked by sheer curtains.

1. Mogambo
Robert Surtees/Freddie Young



Shot on location in Africa. This must be one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen -- the shadows, the way the light dapples in through the leaves, the hazy lamplight...kiss me, Mogambo, you're beautiful.

4. Niagara
Joe MacDonald



Even in images grabbed from the faded-as-hell trailer, you can tell that this exceptional work, a color noir working with angles, shadows, and slats hypnotically, horrifically.

5. Titanic
Joe MacDonald



Those are some deep damn blacks, used beautifully in scenes both romantic and horrific.


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
5. All the Brothers were Valiant
Harry Brown
from the novel by Ben Ames Williams

Adventure! Romance! Whaling! Sibling rivalry! The pulp is embraced, the characters well-drawn: the responsible yet quiet brother, who may not showboat, but he's still a damn courageous soul; the extrovert, greedy, impulsive, a braggart; the woman who comes between them, secretive, childish, doubtful, yet loving. Brisk, educational (again - whaling!), and above all -- fun!

4. The Cruel Sea
Eric Ambler
from the novel by Nicholas Monsarrat

From my profileBeautifully subtle and precise -- we get to know much of the ensemble in moments, both on the ship and, though less so, while on leave. The failing marriage of one is summed up in two brief, wrenching scenes; the blossoming romance of another, similarly. The relationship between the Commander and his First Officer grows, but not by leaps and bounds, or in huge moments. You know these people.

2. Man on a Tightrope
Robert Sherwood
from "International Incident" by Neil Paterson

Unpretentious speechifying, surprising revelations, genuine suspense -- and even if it's not the choicest example of how male-female relationships should work, at least it's convincing in its portrayal of these specific relationships. No matter how noble the efforts are, these are still circus folk -- and bless the writer for not ennobling them more than necessary.

3. Mogambo
John Lee Mahin
from the play Red Dust by Wilson Collison

Adapted from both the play and the previous Clark Gable film (hey-oh!), Mahin's adaptation updates the surroundings, is a little more coy about Ava Gardner's profession -- but man, oh man! This a romantic, serious film about adults, adults who've kept themselves locked in their own perceptions of themselves until -- BLAMMO -- life occurs! Sexy, witty, smart.

1. Shane
A.B. Guthrie, additional dialogue by Jack Sher
from the novel by Jack Schaefer

From my profileThe whole scene where cattleman Ryker arrives at the Starrett ranch with his hired gun -- he makes his case for his rule of the land, Jean Arthur strikes back -- that alone would merit a nod. But I'm also a huge fan of any film that employs a large ensemble, with each character distinctly their own. No excess. Just perfect.



BEST DIRECTOR
2. John Ford
Mogambo

Boy, this movie really could have gone up in smoke, perhaps as delightful or dull trash. Not under Ford's watch. His characters behave like people, with all the little flaws and foibles that complicate the already-complicated. And the love scenes? Baby, it'll get hot as deepest Africa in your living room. The movie's got a pulse, and Ford's keeping it going.

1. Samuel Fuller
Pickup on South Street

He elevates the crime genre: if the actual machinations of the plot are simple, the characters are not. That's what makes him stand out. His movies are about people, and surely there is not a more fascinating group of people than the ones that inhabit Pickup on South Street. The film is just one part of their story: they had lives before, and they'll live on long after the final fade-out. Anyone who can make you feel that is more than deserving of being named The Best.

5. Harry Horner
Vicki

Horner's making the best damned thriller he can, taking the material seriously enough -- but not so seriously that there isn't some macabre fun to be had. He balances the tone perfectly, resulting in a film that's both a blast and skin-crawlingly disturbing. The first interrogation, the revelation, the finale, and all scenes with Jean Peters -- top-notch. This is how it's done, boys.

3. Elia Kazan
Man on a Tightrope

Kazan makes the kind of movies I want to live in -- sweaty people having conversations in suits and shirt sleeves, with the kind of Important Conversations that easily roll off the tongue. All his characters speak sincerely, from the heart, sometimes Big, but never more than human. It's the kind of filmmaking that makes you want to toss aside your toys and change the world.

4. Charles Walters
Lili

From my profileI cannot believe this guy directed Torch Song (pictured)! That movie was plodding, shaky, awful; this one is breezy, delightful, with a firm, assured hand guiding the action. It's Amelie before Amelie, a romantic, very Hollywood vision of France, a fairy tale with dark overtones. I applaud Walters for nailing the tone, the colors, for getting that performance out of Leslie Caron.


BEST ACTRESS
2. Jean Arthur as Marian Starrett
Shane

Life got you down? Let the reassuring warmth of Jean Arthur come comfort you. She's a woman who's followed her husband, kid in tow, to the West, and while she's a loyal, loving wife, she knows he's biting off more than he can chew. Proud, scared, and wondering why violence is the only solution these men can come up with, Marian just makes the most sense. And she speaks up, softly, but definitely.

1. Doris Day as Calamity Jane
Calamity Jane

Can we revoke Debbie Reynolds' nomination for The Unsinkable Molly Brown and give it to Doris Day instead? This is how it's done -- rough-and-tumble Calamity is more than just a screaming, singing Force of Nature, and Day is smart enough to hint at this early on, even while twanging lyrics like, "The Windy City is mighty purty." And it's a performance, that even as she becomes more feminine, isn't going to compromise her Calamity-ness: she's a woman, not a lady. And that's fine! Why, oh why, were the Oscars more fixated on Audrey and Leslie than on this???

4. Ava Gardner as Eloise Y. Kelly
Mogambo

From my profileYes! Gardner's performance would be among the best in any lineup, proof once again of her undervalued thesp skills. With a throaty chuckle, boozy mouth, and knowing eyes, Gardner keeps the pulse going, but she's also added the layers that some of her fellow nominees are missing. She's jealous and empathetic, cynical and romantic, rough and tender. It helps, of course, that she's been asked to play more than just Harlot with a Heart, but I feel she'd add that anyway. Ava never disappoints.

5. Celia Johnson as Maud St. James
The Captain's Paradise

A film-stealing, hilarious turn as the captain's first, very English wife. He wed her for her solidarity; she secretly yearns for adventure, or at the very least, a night out dancing. Johnson's eagerness is heartbreaking at first, but as the film develops, so does Maud -- and she will go dancing, dammit! A spirited, vivacious performance!

3. Jean Peters as Candy
Pickup on South Street

Yes, Peters is a double nominee this year. The actress was disappointed when asked to play romantic leads, feeling more at home in rougher, more "normal" roles -- like Candy, the unwitting link between common criminal Skip McCoy and a Communist spy ring. She's just delectable here, with a husky New Yawk drawl and rough beauty that tells of years of being used and abused. But she's softer than she seems...

We've one category left -- what did I choose for Best Picture of the Year? Before we get into that, why don't we take a brief look at the five films that just missed out on the honor -- in other words, the bottom half of my Top Ten?

10. The Captain's Paradise: An amusing bigamist comedy.
Nominated for Best Actor, Alec Guinness; Best Actress, Celia Johnson; and Best Original Screenplay, Alec Coppel/Nicholas Phipps

9. All the Brothers were Valiant: Sibling rivalry on the high seas!
Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Harry Brown; and Best Production Design

8. Beneath the 12-Mile Reef: A family- and Florida-based adventure!
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay, A.I. Bezzerides; Best Original Score, Bernard Herrmann; Best Cinematography, Edward Cronjager/Till Gabbani; and Best Visual Effects

7. Shane: A thoughtful Western.
Winner, Best Adapted Screenplay, A.B. Guthrie/Jack Sher
Nominated for Best Actress, Jean Arthur; Best Original Score, Victor Young; and Best Production Design

6. Vicki: A clever, chilling thriller.
Nominated for Best Director, Harry Horner; Best Supporting Actor, Richard Boone; Best Supporting Actress, Jean Peters; Best Editing, Dorothy Spencer; and Best Ensemble

And now, our nominees for....

BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR, 1953
5. Calamity Jane
William Jacobs
A deceptively simple musical-comedy that could have gone wrong in so many areas -- instead, it sticks the landing at every possible turn. One of the best of the genre.

4. Man on a Tightrope
Robert L. Jacks

I think I said it with my director tribute, but really, it is the kind of film that makes you want to get up and do something important, be part of a movement, help others, save the world.

3. Titanic
Charles Brackett

Romantic, heartbreaking, intimate and epic. Like the '97 version, it surpasses its All-Star Disaster trappings to deliver something more moving...even more spiritual?

2. Mogambo
Sam Zimbalist

It almost won this whole thing. Truly. I feel like I know the people -- they're exquisitely, empathetically, realistically drawn. Gable had me in tears; Gardner, in heat; the cinematography, in awe. A masterpiece.

1. Pickup on South Street
Jules Schermer

Fuller's films fill me with awe. They're tough, adult films, but no matter how much grit and grime there is, there's a glimmer of decency underneath. They're also spectacularly well-made. Bravo, sir.

[UPDATED: Producers nominated for Best Picture, as of 1/13/2017]

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1 comment:

Andy Bueno said...

Loved all those 1953 films. Seen them all on TV. Liked Jean Peters best. She was a terrific actress -quite under-rated. Pick Up is one of my favorite films. My favorite in the Film Noir genre and Peters my favorite of 1953