Wednesday, October 26, 2022

1946: Supporting Actor

Even the Academy didn't expect this year's winner to triumph! 

Harold Russell did not pursue the acting life. He was living the modest life of customer service, enlisting in the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Serving as an instructor at Camp McKail, a freak accident during demolitions training took both his hands. Now outfitted with hooks, Russell was featured in a documentary short about his rehabilitation, "Diary of a Sergeant." It was seeing that film that inspired William Wyler to cast Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives - that, and Wyler's determination to fill the cast and crew with as many veterans as possible. Russell was lauded for his performance, but when the Oscar nominations came out, he was seen as a longshot. After all, he was up against a number of older, more experienced performers, only one of whom had ever won. It is said that that was why the Board of Governors bestowed on him an Honorary Award, separate from the competitive nod, in recognition of his "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in The Best Years of Our Lives."

And then he actually won the damn thing, making him the first non-professional to win an Oscar and the only actor to win two Oscars for one performance.

What was the competition like? Here 'tis:

Monday, October 24, 2022

1946: Screenplay

We're getting to the end of 1946! This is the third writing category, this one honoring works adapted from other works. You notice I don't say other mediums: that's because one of the nominees is not from a short story or play or novel, but from an Original Motion Picture Story. That is to say, it was always meant for the cinema, just that the credited screenwriters weren't all necessarily the original conceivers of the tale. We've covered the distinction before, you get it by now.

The nominees: 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

1946: Original Story

How does one rate a story? Screenplay, you can judge the dialogue, the little details; and then, of course, the performers bring their own interpretation to a character, a scene, a moment. Story, you have to really just look at the broader chain of events, the structure - can you see the whole movie just by the blueprint? Can you judge such a thing objectively even if you only have the movie to go on?

Me, I honestly think to myself, "If they remade this today, would I go see it?" Which I know is still tough to go by, but I think it's usually sound. You know what you like. Would you see an evil twin whodunnit, a small-town corruption crime-romance, a Nazi-hunting thriller, a motherhood epic, a wartime rom-com? Are those stories strong enough to hold you today?

Here's where I wound up on that question:

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

1946: Song

I love these nominees for Best Original Song. Many of the nominees we heard in Musical Score, and gosh, isn't nice to see them back? The nominees:

Monday, October 17, 2022

1946: Director

The 1946 Best Director lineup is made up of two first-timers...and three sixth-timers! There's Clarence Brown, who this year officially became the record-holder in this category for Most Nominations Without A Win. There's Frank Capra, whose five previous nods resulted in three wins! And there's William Wyler, who won his first Oscar four years previously, his third 13 years later, and his second...well, this was his second!

Do we agree with that win? Should it have gone to one of the other sixth-timers? Or another nominee entirely? Let's talk...

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

1946: Musical Score

Back in the 40s, musical films were so ubiquitous, they needed their own category to honor the underscore! The category has gone through a lot of name and qualification changes since, from Adaptation and/or Treatment Score (like Marvin Hamlisch doing Scott Joplin riffs for The Sting) to Original Song Score (like Yentl) to its current designation, the unused Original Musical. 

In 1946, it was simple: Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture was the category name. And these were the nominees:

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

1946: Supporting Actress

I've been doing these retrospectives since 2011. In that time, there have been nominees that left me in awe, nominees whose inclusion baffled me, and entire categories where any of the options would be the right choice, so strong a lineup is it. Best Supporting Actress 1946 is the first time I've encountered a category that is the opposite. One can choose the best of this specific set of five, but how on earth did any of these five make it to the top of anyone's ballot? 

What about Virginia Mayo in The Best Years of Our Lives? Margaret Rutherford in Blithe Spirit? Doris Dowling in The Blue Dahlia? Maria Casares in Children of Paradise? Spring Byington in Dragonwyck? Angela Lansbury or Virginia O'Brien in The Harvey Girls? Ruth Nelson in Humoresque? Gloria Grahame in It's a Wonderful Life? Constance Collier in Kitty? Madame Konstantin in Notorious? Glynis Johns in Vacation from Marriage? Hell, keep Gale Sondergaard, but honor her work in The Time of Their Lives instead! How did we wind up with....these?

"These" being:

Monday, October 10, 2022

1946: Original Screenplay

It's 1946, which means - for those of you who've been here before - the writing categories are divided into three. Best Motion Picture Story honors original works by writers who wrote the treatment but not the screenplay; Best Screenplay honors works adapted by writers from material they did not originally write, including someone else's Motion Picture Story; and Best Original Screenplay honors works by writers who actually got to bring their own original ideas to fruition, from pitch to picture. It's the latter we concern ourselves with today:

Sunday, October 9, 2022

1946: Original Score

Well, now that we've discussed most of the films screened, let us move on to the Academy Award nominees! Starting with Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, which includes two films up for Best Picture - and one film that must content itself with this lone nod:

Friday, October 7, 2022

1946: Back-Loaded

Henry V came out in April. The American studios, after almost twenty years at the game, knew too well that a late-in-the-year release bettered the odds of getting a Best Picture nomination. They weren't wrong: the other four Best Picture nominees all made their LA debuts within seven days of each other.

Beginning with The Yearling, which wound up becoming the #10 film of 1946. Based on the novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, it's the story of a farming family in a remote area of South Florida - Cross Creek covers Rawlings' time at the place that inspired the book. The protagonist is a boy who befriends a deer; Pa allows him to still a boy in some respects while teaching him to be a man in others; Ma is the unhappiest woman in Christendom. Although it wouldn't hit New York until after the new year, it debuted in LA on December 18th.

The rest of the slate all dropped within 24 hours of each other. On Christmas Eve, holiday favorite It's a Wonderful Life made its LA debut, four days after its NYC bow. The very next day, Angelenos finally got to see The Best Years of Our Lives, a three-hour drama about veterans adjusting to life at home, which had played in New York since November. It wound up as the #1 movie of the year - and the Best Picture Oscar winner. The Razor's Edge also came out on Christmas Day: the heady drama about a man seeking enlightenment amid the tragedies of the friends around him ended its run as the #7 movie of the year - yes, higher than It's a Wonderful Life, which was not an immediate success!

The only other films that competed with them those days were Humoresque (December 25) and, at the very last minute, Duel in the Sun (December 31). Those two and the rest of the Fall-Winter programming, right now:

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

1946: Some Spring, Some Summer

It's Spring now in 1946, and with the new season came the first nominee for Best Picture - Henry V.

Produced in Britain in 1944 as a way to rally the fighting spirit of the UK, Henry V is Laurence Olivier's directorial debut, adapted from the Shakespeare play of the same name. For the uninitiated, it's the story of a once-frivolous prince who's now King of England and finds himself in conflict with France over that country's throne. The nations go to war, though the invading English are ridiculously, hilariously outnumbered, and don't stand a chance. Oh, ho-ho, so you think! This is the play from which come the lines "Once more unto the breach" and "We band of brothers" and "O God, thy arm was here," so it's a compelling drama about war, about overcoming odds, about the uncertainty of leadership. 

Olivier's approach is a true adaptation. He opens at the Globe Theatre, with audience members laughing and talking throughout, actors going in late for cues, a thunderstorm interrupting proceedings, performers in obvious wigs and wardrobe acting on a bare stage. But as the narrative unfolds, the setting changes, becomes more cinematic - we see them land at the beach, we see the battle play out with horses thundering and spears impaling, we see Henry wander a campsite lit only by fires and the moon. This is not just a practical choice to give us spectacle where cinema demands, but an illustration of the transportive power of the Theatre, and that is a timeless thing.

Many European films did not receive a US release until after the War, for obvious reasons. And so Henry V came to our shores in 1946. IMDb puts its first American screening on April 3 in Boston, Variety's review ran April 24, the New York Times' June 16, and Manny Farber's review for The New Republic is dated July 8. Somewhere in there is its Oscar-qualifying date, surely. We'll discuss it more in two weeks' time, but we just wanted to note that it came out among these films:

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

1946: Winter Into Spring

Isn't this something? Yesterday, we talked about 1945 films that somehow qualified for the 1946 Oscars; today, we talk about the first three months of 1946 cinema. And I say "isn't this something" because, between the two, they give us nine of the 36 nominees eventually up for Academy Awards, a full 1/4 of the whole lineup. With few exceptions, these days we rarely discuss films released before October!

January through mid-March, here are a baker's dozen of 1946 flicks:

Monday, October 3, 2022

1946: The Early Worms

The year is 1946, and things are getting interesting. Around the world, of course, the war that's kept all continents occupied since 1939 has finally ended. More wars will come in its wake, some direct responses to those "peace" treaties. In the movie world, long-delayed flicks are finally seeing the light of day, whether they be imports like the British drama Henry V or just long-held studio fare like the Barbara Stanwyck vehicle My Reputation - both filmed in 1944.

I watched 67 films from 1946, including the 36 Academy Award nominees. Traditionally, I've done an overview of those films and their respective categories over two weeks, then presented the rest of the films screened. This time around, I'll do something I haven't done in a while: this first week, I'm reviewing all the films - all but the five Best Picture nominees - in order of release, before deep-diving into their individual, nominated elements. Because, hell, just like any other year, these films' releases weren't separated by Oscar Time and Everything Else - winners came out alongside footnotes. We wanna see the full context, don't we?

Of course, because nationwide releases weren't quite a thing back then, that means some of the films of 1946 had their first US releases before 1946. How so? Well, remember, to get an Oscar nomination, you have to play a week in Los Angeles. You don't have to be released in Los Angeles first, though, and so New York, Chicago, Baltimore, they debuted many a film well before 1946. I'm beginning 1946 with nine such films, films with no known LA release date that I could find, but with initial US releases in 1945.

Beginning with....