Sunday, November 17, 2019

Day Ten: Best Picture, 1954

The 1954 Academy Awards gave nominations to several stone-cold classics: On the Waterfront, Sabrina, Rear Window, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Star is Born, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. As usual, the Best Picture lineup does not 100 percent reflect that, though The Caine Mutiny is, I suppose arguable (just because I don't like it doesn't mean it's not a classic).

So, what do we have? The Caine Mutiny, in which a Navy crew rebels against their captain after he shows clear signs of mental instability. The Country Girl, in which a hot-shot Broadway director hires a washed-up alcoholic actor for a show, only to lock horns with, and inexplicably fall for, exhausted wife. On the waterfront, in which an ex-boxer working the  waterfront must choose between naming names of corrupt union bosses...or keeping quiet and allowing innocent men to die. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a musical about wild mountain men getting tamed by their brother's wife. And Three Coins in the Fountain, about romance for three American women living in Rome.

For the Academy, and many others, was clear:

As for me? Follow the jump....

Friday, November 15, 2019

Day Nine: Best Actress, 1954

In 1940, at the ceremony honoring the films of 1939, Hattie McDaniel made history as the first black performer to be nominated for an Academy Award. She also made history as the first black winner, receiving the plaque for Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind.

It would take another 15 years for a second black performer to be nominated for an Oscar, which would be history-making anyway (when an industry does its utmost to ignore or handicap you, every step is a milestone). But Dorothy Dandridge's nomination for playing the titular role in Otto Preminger's adaptation of Carmen Jones carries an extra significance: it was the first ever for a black woman in Best Leading Actress. She would never be nominated again, a fact that some blame on Preminger, who during their four-year affair advised her against taking supporting roles in high-profile films, since a Best Actress nod meant she should only take star parts from then on. He was not necessarily wrong, but nor was he some altruist; Preminger had a history of taking actresses under his wing, rocketing them to stardom and Oscar nods, then controlling their careers into oblivion.

To this day, only ten women have repeated the feat, with Ruth Negga being the most recent for 2016's Loving. Monster's Ball's Halle Berry is still the only black winner for Best Actress, and she did so just two years after winning the Emmy equivalent for playing the title role in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Funny how things work out...

Of course, just as I'm crossing my fingers for a three-peat repeat in the supporting categories (ahem, Parasite), I'm also hoping that this year, we can add a few more names to the roster. Earlier this year, I predicted that this would be the first time since 1972 when more than one black actress got a Best Actress nomination, and although the names I have in mind may have changed (Lupitaaaaaaa!), I still expect it to happen. 

But you never knowith Oscar. Sometimes he does the right thing. Other times, he surprises you in unpleasant ways:

The nominees were....

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Day Eight: Best Supporting Actor, 1954

And then there were three...nominees from a single movie, that is! On the Waterfront holds the distinction of being the first film to take up 60% of the Best Supporting Actor category. A rare enough feat that it only happened again twice: for 1972's The Godfather (Caan, Duvall, Pacino) and 1974's The Godfather Part II (De Niro, Gazzo, Strasberg). Please note all the overlap: the Best Actor winner for both 1954 and 1972 was Marlon Brando, for On the Waterfront and The Godfather, respectively; Michael V. Gazzo made his film debut in a bit part in On the WaterfrontLee Strasberg was director of the Actors Studio from 1951-1982, an organization co-founded by Waterfront director Elia Kazan that boasted among its alumnae...basically everyone I just named. 

As I say, On the Waterfront was the first and The Godfather Part II was the last to go for three-for-five in Best Supporting Actor. But it did happen once before in the Best Leading Actor category. In 1935, all three male leads for Best Picture winner Mutiny on the Bounty were nominated: Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone. The next year, separate categories for supporting players were introduced. Oh, and in 1963, Best Picture winner Tom Jones got three supporting actress nominations: Diane Cilento, Dame Edith Evans, and Joyce Redman.

This much we can take to the bank: three acting nods in one category means your movie's winning Best Picture. But it also means one of the other two nominees is going home with the Oscar. Only once has a nominee from the threesome won, and that was Robert De Niro speaking Italian while "doing" Marlon Brando. In 1954, the honor went to Edmond O'Brien of The Barefoot Contessa - the only nominee from a film not up for Best Picture:

The nominees are:

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Day Seven: The Scores, 1954

Is there any branch more exclusive than the Music one? In looking up the usual trivia of previous nominees, past winners, etc., I found that of the thirteen composers nominated - and I'm including both Musical and Non-Musical categories - all but two were either previous nominees, previous winners, or on their first of many nominations. Only Larry Adler and Leonard Bernstein, both up for Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, were one-and-dones, though it's worth noting that Saul Chaplin, a co-winner for Scoring of a Musical Picture, would once again triumph in that same category for co-adapting Bernstein's West Side Story compositions for the cinema.

The nominees after the jump, starting with the non-musicals....

Monday, November 11, 2019

Day Six: Best Story and Screenplay, 1954

The screenplay categories always have room for surprises. On the Waterfront being nominated is no surprise, and nor, I think, is it particularly shocking that the latest Joseph L. Mankiewicz joint The Barefoot Contessa or a hit biopic like The Glenn Miller Story have spots here as well. But in what other category could you find these three Oscar-friendly titles up against a quaint British comedy about marriage and classic car aficionados like Genevieve, or a Danny Kaye comic thriller about a ventriloquist entangled with spies like Knock on WoodWriters love weird shit, and God bless them for it.

Let's take a look, after the jump.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

More of the Same

Tomorrow, we continue covering the Oscar nominees of 1954 (in select categories). The categories of November 11th - 15th are, in this order: Story and Screenplay, Score (both Musical and Non-Musical), Supporting Actor, Actress, and Best Picture of the Year. The nominated films are:

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Saturday, November 9, 2019

Films of '54: Eight

Next week, we'll delve fully into the Best Picture nominees. But while we have the weekend, let's take a closer look at some of the films discussed earlier this week that weren't up for Best Picture...

The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
nominee - Best Actor (Dan O'Herlihy)

My only exposure to this story was a comic adaptation (I think Classics Illustrated) I read in either fourth or fifth grade. I barely remembered any of it except that Crusoe's deserted on an island and then Friday eventually appears and is more or less adopted, so I was prepared for some problematic times. But wow, I was not ready for such a beautifully-shot satire about stubborn imperialism and white supremacy, in which a spoiled idiot almost dies, spends thirty years trying to recreate a parody of western society, before realizing there are other, non-white people on "his" island. It's hilarious.

Eight more, after the jump......

Friday, November 8, 2019

Day Five: Best Actor, 1954

I have no way of knowing this for certain - I wasn't there, I don't have access to archives - but historians tell us that Bing Crosby was the favorite to win for his performance as a recovering alcoholic in The Country Girl. It seems bonkers now, considering Crosby was already an Oscar winner for Going My Way in 1944, while Marlon Brando was not only in the Best Picture frontrunner, but had been accumulating momentum with three previous, unsuccessful nominations, all in consecutive years: 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire, 1952's Viva Zapata!, and 1953's Julius Caesar. Not to mention it was a rematch against Humphrey Bogart, whose win for The African Queen came the same year as A Streetcar Named Desire. Plus, he had already swept what we now call "the precursors." But there you have it - the results were a shock, an upset:

Just another example of how times have changed as far as Oscar narratives, momentum, and expectations go. Anyway, the nominees were:

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Day Four: Best Supporting Actress, 1954

In both Damien Bona and Mason Wiley's Inside Oscar and John Harkness's The Academy Awards Handbook, the 1954 Best Supporting Actress race is heralded as the first instance of category fraud successfully resulting in a win.

At a time when the studio decided category placement, with no wiggle room for Academy members to decide for themselves (as when Kate Winslet won lead for The Reader when she was campaigned supporting), Columbia's decision to campaign Eva Marie Saint as supporting rather than lead was a surprise to many. It was also smart - it kept her out of the bloodbath happening between The Country Girl's Grace Kelly - named Best Actress of the Year by the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics' Circle and the Golden Globes (in the Drama category) - and A Star is Born's Judy Garland, giving a ferocious performance that netted her the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy. Saint's performance was earning her magazine covers and praise from critics and audiences, but as a newcomer making her film debut, a win, hell maybe even a nomination, seemed a far-off bet. So, Saint was declared Supporting....where she was nominated....and eventually....

And so was born one of Oscar's favorite traditions! From Tatum O'Neal to Viola Davis, Jack Albertson to Mahershala Ali, there's always at least one winner whose category placement seems...suspect. Then again, supporting is often in the eye of the beholder - I think Davis is absolutely supporting in Fences, and Saint's case is a little less clear-cut than its reputation would suggest.

Still. All that really matters is - does the performance deserve the gold? Let's talk about that, and more...

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Day Three: Original Song, 1954

The nominees for Best Original Song are:

"The High and the Mighty" from The High and the Mighty
music by Dimitri Tiomkin
lyrics by Ned Washington
** / disqualified

Like "Jean", a nominated song that doesn't even appear in the film! Not for us, anyway - Elmer Bernstein was reportedly so intent on repeating the Score/Song double dip of 1952's High Noon, he had a special print featuring his original song booked for one week in a Los Angeles theater, thus meeting the standards for qualification. A cheap stunt, if you ask me - and for a song that mars his own beautiful score with stupid, stupid lyrics!

"The Man That Got Away" from A Star is Born
music by Harold Arlen
lyrics by Ira Gershwin

The song that convinces Norman Maine that Esther Blodgett is star material. Goosebumps! The song was shot a number of times with different outfits, background, etc. The one above made the cut, but no matter the look, the song - and Judy's performance of it - is perfect.

"Hold My Hand" from Susan Slept Here

Completely forgot about this moment, this song - but not the movie. It's a romantic-comedy about a 35-year-old screenwriter who weds a 17-year-old transient to keep her out of trouble. Lord have mercy. The song's not bad, though. It's fine.

"Three Coins in the Fountain" from Three Coins in the Fountain
music and lyrics by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn

we;ll talk more about the movie when we do Best Picture (oh, how we'll talk!), but this tune, performed over the opening titles by an uncredited Frank Sinatra, is....cute! It's certainly memorable. Very nice, very nicely done.

"Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)" from White Christmas
music and lyrics by Irving Berlin

Oh wow, watching this movie for the first time in four years was a great reminder of why it's a classic. what a gem! As for the song, I love it, even if the lyric where it's implied his "blessings" are his kids make absolutely no sense in this context.


"Three Coins in the Fountain" was a bona fide radio hit, so you better believe it won. Here's Dean Martin performing it on the broadcast:

For me, it's not even a question, no thinking required, my vote goes to


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Supporting Actress: Nina Foch (Executive Suite), Katy Jurado (Broken Lance), Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront, Jan Sterling (The High and the Mighty) and Claire Trevor (The High and the Mighty)

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Day Two: Best Screenplay, 1954

Until 1957, the Academy Awards had three writing categories: Best Motion Picture Story honored original stories (obviously) as written in the treatment stage, but not the final screenplay; Best Story & Screenplay honored original works where the story and screenplay came from the same writer or writing team; and Best Screenplay honored the work of writers either adapting another work, such as a play or novel, or writing the script from the original story. Often it was more the former than the latter, and this year is no exception: two Broadway shows, two short stories, and a novel that was simultaneously adapted into a Broadway showhile the film version was in production.

The nominees are...

Monday, November 4, 2019

Day One: Best Director, 1954

As I mentioned earlier, musicals brought me to 1954, particularly the Actor-and-Actress-nominated A Star is Born and Best Picture nominee Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - stellar cinematic works whose directors (George Cukor and Stanley Donen, respectively) went un-nominated. You'd think Seven Brides would have a better shot here, but 1954 was one of those odd years where only 2/5 of the Best Director roster helmed Best Picture nominees: On the Waterfront's Elia Kazan and The Country Girl's George Seaton.

The three "lone" director slots went to Alfred Hitchcock for the unassailable thriller Rear WindowBilly Wilder for the influential rom-com Sabrina, and William A. Wellman
 for the execrable-but-profitable disaster flick The High and the Mighty. For Hitchcock, it was the second of three times that he would be up for a film that wasn't a Best Picture nominee, the other two being Lifeboat and Psycho. For Wilder, it was the second time in a row, having been nominated just the previous year for Stalag 17 - he'd be a lone director nominee again for Some Like It Hot in 1959For Wellman, it was a first, his previous nods having come from Best Picture nominees Battleground...and the original A Star is Born! Funny how things work out...

Was their 1954 output worthy of a nomination? Let's check after the jump....

Friday, November 1, 2019

Give Thanks...

...because the Retrospectives are back! Starting Monday, we're looking at the Academy Awards honoring the films of 1954! 

I have to thank Screen Drafts and hosts Clay Keller and Ryan Marker for inspiring this one. My best friend and I recently guest-starred to draft the seven greatest original American musicals of all time (reactions run the gamut from "I think this is my favorite episode" to "this is objectively wrong and bizarre"). The viewings introduced me to, among others, 1954 releases There's No Business Like Show BusinessSeven Brides for Seven Brothers and A Star is Born - and from there, I simply had to see the rest of the slate.

As in the past, each weekday covers an individual category, ranking and rating the nominees and deciding who my vote goes to. This time, I shan't be doing categories where I have not seen the full roster of nominees - I've previously abstained from rating a film I didn't get to, but it feels unfair to decide a "winner" when there's a gap. So, sorry, Motion Picture Story - unless I can find a copy of Bread, Love and Dreams in time, you shall have to sit this one out. I'm also not doing every category (though I will for my Retro Hollmann Awards at month's end), but keeping it to writing Awards, Acting Awards, Music Awards, Director and Picture.

November 4th - 8th covers, in this order: Director, Screenplay, Song, Supporting Actress, and Actor. The nominated films are:

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