Sunday, May 3, 2020

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The 1956 Retro Hollmann Awards, Part One

The first nine winners.

Best Director 
Elia Kazan
Baby Doll

2. Cecil B. de Mille for The Ten Commandments; 3. Akira Kurosawa for Seven Samurai; 4. George Stevens for Giant; 5. Henri-Georges Clouzot for Diabolique

In Elia Kazan's hands, Baby Doll transcends its scandalous, trashy premise, but does so without looking down its nose at the material. There's dark comic energy, feverish sexuality, characters who are so comically alive, they must be real. Kazan understands the Southern Gothic appeal way better than most other filmmakers who try their hand at it.

In second, de Mille's incredible scope. In third, Kurosawa's understanding of human drama serving the action. In fourth, Stevens' assured hand over scenes both expansive and intimate. In fifth, Clouzot's claustrophobic grip.

Eight more categories, including Best Original Song, Best Actress, and both screenplay categories, after the jump.

Best Actress

Elizabeth Taylor as Leslie Benedict

2. Bette Davis in The Catered Affair; 3. Anne Baxter in The Ten Commandments; 4. Carroll Baker in Baby Doll; 5. Katharine Hepburn in The Rainmaker

This was always going to be Taylor's to lose, from the moment she challenged the Texans on their "men talk." Great chemistry with Dean and Hudson - you see why they'd fall in love with her, just as you see her calculating how far to go with her flirting. Underplays some scenes brilliantly, so that the moments where she explodes (as in the aforementioned men talk scene) hit harder. Doesn't over-do the aging, but shows a woman becoming more comfortable in her skin, more confident in the battles she chooses to fight - and, often, more tired in the repeated problems she has to face.

In second, Davi's weary Aggie. In third, Baxter's vampy Nefretiri. In fourth, Baker's naive Baby Doll. In fifth, Hepburn's hopeful Lizzie.

Best Visual Effects

The Ten Commandments
John P. Fulton, special photographic effects
Gladys Hallberg / Ann Lord, visual effects animation supervisors
Tim Baar / Harry Barndollar / Romaine Birkmeyer / Ivyl Burks / Charles Davies / Doug Hubbard / Milton Olsen / Chester Pate / Bob Springfield / Lee Vasque / Barney Wolff, special effects

2. Forbidden Planet; 3. Godzilla, King of the Monsters; 4. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers; 5. Moby Dick

Act One mostly impresses with its impressively-scaled construction of a city, happening thanks partly to miniatures, largely to separate footage coming together to give the impression of non-stop, simultaneous action; it ends with Moses coming to the burning bush. And then comes Act Two: staffs become snakes, plagues descend, a mist announcing the Angel of Death, a Pillar of Fire that protects the Israelites before writing the Ten Commandments in stone; most impressive of all, the parting of the Red Sea: it parts, they cross, it returns, and you can't see the seams.

In second, the Forbidden Planet is vividly realized through mattes - and so is the Krell's monster of the id. In third, Godzilla, King of the Monsters wreaks havoc throughout Japan. In fourth, witness the battle of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. In fifth, Moby Dick destroys the Pequod and all its crew.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Baby Doll
Tennessee Williams
from his one-act plays "27 Wagons Full of Cotton" and "The Long Stay Cut Short"

2. Giant, 3. Nightfall, 4. The Searchers, 5. The Ten Commandments

Just as Baby Doll should have won the Oscar, it wins the Hollmann. Two three-character one-act plays provide the spine; out of it comes a drama about a dying town and the good ol' boys desperately trying to maintain it...desperately trying to keep up...desperately trying to keep the interest of their young bride.

In second, Giant's intimate epic. In third, Nightfall's deceptively straightforward thrills. In fourth, The Searchers' portrait of a post-war Man. In fifth, The Ten Commandments' monumental drama.

Best Supporting Actor

Yul Brynner as Rameses II
The Ten Commandments

2. Patrick Adiarte in The King and I; 3. ToshirĂ´ Mifune in Seven Samurai; 4. Fredric March in Alexander the Great; 5. Seiji Miyaguchi in Seven Samurai

Rameses II could just be a villain, straight up, especially since this version of the Exodus story has him and Moses as arch rivals for the throne and Nefretiri from the get-go. Get the exact same script, you could play Rameses this way. Or do what Brynner does: infuse the character with a sardonic sense of humor, frustration in being constantly passed over by a father he seems to love; let the jealousy come from a relatable place, so that we get Rameses before the Angel of Death visits the firstborn. Brynner's portrait of pride, weakness, envy is the gold standard for Pharaoh on film.

In second, Adiarte's Prince Chulalongkorn has the weight of a kingdom on his shoulders (bonus points for his appearance in "The Small House of Uncle Thomas"). In third, Mifune's Kikuchiyo goes from comica slob to unlikely hero. In fourth, March's Philip of Macedonia as conqueror...and drunk. In fifth, Miyaguchi's Kyuzo is cool.

Best Costume Design

The Ten Commandments
Arnold Friberg / Edith Head / Dorothy Jeakins / John Jensen / Ralph Jester

2. Alexander the Great; 3. Invitation to the Dance; 4. Seven Samurai, 5. The King and I

The modern iconography of the story of Moses and the Exodus can be traced back to this movie. The Levite robe Moses wears as he leads the Israelites, the specificity of royal headgear donned by Rameses II. Then there's the epic fabulousness: the translucent gowns seductively donned by Nefretiri, that golden dress of Bithiah, the revealing loincloths of Joshua. And I have not yet mentioned the details that delineate the Goshen Jews from the Egyptians from the desert shepherds from the Ethiopian royal house. Details, people!

In second, Alexander the Great presents Athenian togas, Macedonian battle armor, Persian robes. In third, Invitation to the Dance showcases Medieval clown costumes and circus silks, Navy whites and harem pants, swinging duds and femme fatale skirts - all to dance in! In fourth, Seven Samurai tells its tale of class and struggle through the robes and daily wear of its ensemble. In fifth, The King and I's hoop skirts and royal "robes" - and insistence on showing off Yul Brynner's chest and legs.

Best Original Song
1. "The Searchers" from The Searchers
music and lyrics by Stan Jones

2. "Little One" from High Society
music and lyrics by Cole Porter

3. "The Girl Can't Help It" from The Girl Can't Help It
music and lyrics by Bobby Troup

4. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" from High Society
music and lyrics by Cole Porter

5. "Somebody Up There Likes Me" from Somebody Up There Likes Me
music by Bronislau Kaper
lyrics by Sammy Cahn

Best Original Screenplay
The Court Jester
Norman Panama & Melvin Frank

2. Seven Samurai; 3. The Ladykillers; 4. Alexander the Great; 5. Stagecoach to Fury

Yes, I give the edge to screenplays that make me laugh! Especially if they do so while executing plot threads that would be boring, under most circumstances, but use those cliches ingeniously! I'm thinking specifically of the witch with hypnotic powers, the joust for the hand of the princess, even the cliche of a final, surprise battle - all tweaked and adjusted for maximum comic effect...and suspense! I love it. I love it!

In second, the detailed recruiting, training, and battles of Seven Samurai. In third, murder and comedy in The Ladykillers. In fourth, a son becomes a rival becomes a conqueror becomes a tyrant in Alexander the Great. In fifth, several stories become one in Stagecoach to Fury.

Best Editing
Moby Dick
Russell Lloyd

2. Seven Samurai; 3. Giant; 4. Baby Doll; 5. The Ten Commandments

Of course a movie is its editing, but I can't think of another movie this year whose effectiveness is so completely the product of that skill. The dreamlike stretch where Queequeg is convinced he's going to die as the crew sweats in a windless sea; the impact of Father Mapple's sermon; the grand finale that feels like chaos let loose on a fevered sea...those rhythms are all Russell Lloyd's. You can feel the cult of Ahab coming through the screen....

In second, Seven Samurai's meditation and action. In third, Giant's march through time. In fourth, Baby Doll's games and oneupmanship. In fifth, The Ten Commandments' indefatigable energy.

Tomorrow: 1956, the finale!

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