Wednesday, July 11, 2018

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Day Two: Original Screenplay

We began our 1959 adventure yesterday with the nominees for Best Actress; today, we look at Best Original Screenplay. Long the place to honor comedies and foreign films, the 1959 roster is made up entirely of just such films. Oh yes - according to the WGA Awards, which at this point divided nominees by genre and not by whether they were original or adapted, even North by Northwest is a comedy. Do we agree? Did it deserve to lose to Pillow Talk? Check after the jump, will ya?

The 400 Blows
Fran├žois Truffaut

Briefly Put: A boy left to his own devices finds trouble at school, on the streets, and at home.

Truffaut's genuine understanding of childhood cuts through the romanticizing of youth in favor of an often amusing, ultimately melancholy portrait of a bored boy with no outlet. The mutual love and resentment between parent and adolescent is complex; Truffaut respects this, with neither party coming out the victim - instead, you kind of understand why each drives the other crazy.

North by Northwest
Ernest Lehman

Notes: WGA Awards Nominee for Comedy

Briefly Put: An ad exec goes on the run when he is mistaken for a spy by hostile foreign agents.

A spoof of spy thrillers, or the genuine article? It sure is! Tightly plotted while laughing at its own contrivances, its witty repartee as clever as its unlikely twists and strange locales. Suspenseful, funny, even genuinely sexy.

Operation Petticoat
Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin
story by Paul King and Joseph Stone

Notes: WGA Awards Nominee for Comedy

Briefly Put: A submarine turns co-ed after rescuing a contingent of single, beautiful nurses.

Structured around an unnecessary framing device, takes too long setting up the stern commander/layabout lieutenant tension, never develops the female characters in any significant way, ends on a series of revelations that are simultaneously predictable and false. I laughed, certainly, but was it from the actual writing, or from the way it was directed? Frankly, I'm inclined to think the latter.

Pillow Talk
Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin
story by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene

Notes: WGA Awards Nominee for Comedy

Briefly Put: A man and a woman sharing a party line aggravate each other over the phone but fall in love in person.

Same writers, different results: zippy, funny double entendres, not all of which have necessarily aged well within a sociopolitical context, but many of which are just hilarious. Do I think the alcoholic maid is mostly filler? Yes. Do I find the presumption that Doris Day's successful interior decorator can't possibly be fulfilled because she hasn't got a man to be archaic? Sure, but them's the times, this is the story, and she's never pushed into anything against her will...or her character. It's a blast!

Wild Strawberries
Ingmar Bergman

Briefly Put: On his way to collect an honorary degree, a cold professor reflects on his life.

For a bit, I wondered why we kept hearing about Dr. Borg's lifelong frigidity but never really saw it in action. Where is the evidence? Even in the flashbacks, he's nowhere to be seen, just observing in a modern context what went on without him, never taking part in the arguing, teasing, loving, hating - never among the riled passions, but instead always at a distance, and - oh. Oh, I see. That's the, uh, that's the whole point. Well done, Ingmar.

As for the other screenplays in the conversation....

  • The Five Pennies (WGA Awards Winner for Musical) - Organically sets up dynamite musical numbers that also build character and narrative, effortlessly creates a devoted yet troubled family. ****
  • A Private's Affair (WGA Awards Nominee for Musical) - Slight, and not very funny besides. Also, there are only two songs! *
  • Say One for Me (WGA Awards Nominee for Musical) - Can't seem to remember its own plot threads - or why it's juggling any of them. *
  • Sapphire (BAFA Awards Nominee for British Screenplay) - A genuinely puzzling mystery, plotted with respect for the audience's intelligence, populated by people instead of archetypes. *****

The Academy chose Pillow Talk, a big moneymaker at the time (thought not as much as Operation Petticoat, curiously enough).

My vote, meanwhile, goes overseas....


Tomorrow - a music break, as we listen to the nominees for Dramatic/Comedy Score (Ben-Hur, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Nun's Story, On the Beach, Pillow Talk) and Musical Score (The Five Pennies, Li'l Abner, Porgy and Bess, Say One for Me, Sleeping Beauty).

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