Tuesday, November 5, 2019

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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...

The Caine Mutiny
Stanley Roberts
adapted from the novel by Herman Wouk
first and only nomination

Apparently a bastardization of Roberts' original script, the final screenplay, with contributions from Michael Blankfort, is a disappointment. Its last-minute attempt to insert moral grey areas would work better had it not been a showcase for surface-level characterizations throughout. Even worse, it's dull, with a plodding romantic subplot that could be cut completely. Should've just been the court-martial!

The Country Girl
George Seaton
adapted from the play by Clifford Odets
past winner, third and final nomination in this category; WGA Awards nominee for Best American Drama

Its depiction of addiction - the compulsory habit of it, the self-destructiveness, the sometimes cunning manipulations of those who suffer from it - is well-observed, believable, and without a cozy resolution. Its depiction of a Broadway director taking a chance on a boozy has-been is less convincing, particularly given his impatience. Not sure all the dynamics play out convincingly.

Rear Window
John Michael Hayes
adapted from the short story "It Had to Be Murder" by Cornell Woolrich
first of two nominations; WGA Awards nominee for Best American Drama

Thoughtful in its portrayal of observed behavior and how we project on to what we see. The way Jeff and Lisa speculate on his neighbors is used at various times for distraction, bonding, or as a means to discuss their own relationship. That attention to character only adds to the deliciousness of the mystery, a real humdinger: logical, chilling, hilarious, making great use of its single location setting.

Billy Wilder and Samuel Taylor and Ernest Lehman
adapted from the play Sabrina Fair by Samuel Taylor
ninth of twelve writing nominations for past two-time winner Wilder, first and only nomination for Taylor, first of four writing nominations for Lehman; Golden Globe winner for Best Screenplay, WGA Award winner for Best American Comedy

Pays off a lot of jokes/narrative details in surprising ways - like Sabrina learning how to properly crack an egg, or Larrabee père's struggles with the olive jar, or the full details of a tennis court seduction, or even what to do with an umbrella. And sorry, I died laughing at, "The 20th century? I could pick a century out of a hat, blindfolded, and get a better one."

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich and Dorothy Kingsley
adapted from the short story "The Sobbin' Women" by Stephen Vincent Benet
fourth and final nomination for Hackett & Goodrich, first and only nomination for Kingsley; WGA Awards winner for Best American Musical

As witty, romantic, and horny as the songs, convincingly tracking the unconventional courtship of the title without jeopardizing its heroine's challenge to, and adjustment of, the patriarchy, or compromising audience affection for the brothers. Really, there are a lot of ways this could have gone wrong or "aged poorly", but it avoids all pitfalls without breaking a sweat.


The Oscar went to The Country Girl, in a rushed-for-time sequence that had Audrey Hepburn panicking and George Seaton irritated:

I do not agree with this at all, and handily award my vote to:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Original Song, featuring tunes from The High and the MightyA Star is Born, Susan Slept Here, Three Coins in the Fountain and White Christmas.

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