Monday, October 10, 2022

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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:

The Blue Dahlia
Raymond Chandler
second and final nomination

Chandler's original screenplay was compromised by the studio and the government, so a new solution had to be written in. I'm of two minds on this one. On one hand, the entire film seems to be leading up to the original solution, not even bothering to hide it, and it's a great statement about the damage done to our men fighting overseas and the outburst of general hatred with no outlet. On the other, what we get is a good twist. Is it believable that the hero immediately goes on the run and incriminates himself? I don't know that it is, nor is his evasion of police particularly believable. Love that it takes time to focus on the crooked widower, and the romance is solid - not a whirlwind happily ever after, but a solid foundation for something.

Children of Paradise
Jacques Prévert
first and only nomination

Perhaps the most interesting choice it makes is leading us to a suspenseful scene of murder and false accusations, intermission, and act two begins...a decade later, it's all been solved. Or at least "solved." I'm getting ahead of myself, for before that is this vivid, character-rich dramedy about artists and artistes finding their form of expression, polishing the act, and crisscrossing each others' love lives - amidst class and money issues, of course. And after that, the tragedy of having your prayers answered. An array of distinct characters worthy of Dickens or Hugo, meditations on happiness that strike too deep, and a finale that manages to be heartbreaking without anyone committing suicide!

Ben Hecht
past two-time winner, sixth and final nomination

A great thriller, perfectly directed and performed, but the writing? Also perfectly done. The dialogue alone is great, the love interest hits the right balance of cold and concerned, the heroine's impossible journey makes emotional sense, the wordless moments are vivid and specific in action. It's almost - maybe it is! - a masterclass in suspense writing, right down to an ending that just ends. The right question are left unanswered, and the MacGuffin (which, I suppose in this case, is the uranium?) is brilliantly dealt with. And when it feels like it's doing too much, too soon, it makes enough of a turn to get you gasping and ready for more.

Road to Utopia
Norman Panama and Melvin Frank
first of three nominations for Panama [1954], first of four writing nominations for Frank

Joke-a-minute style, but the structure is pretty interesting. The whole thing is played as a flashback as remembered by the now elderly Bing-Bob-Dorothy trio. There's a narrator, ostensibly to fill plot holes and explain how a poorly-written movie can still win an Oscar (prescient, as it turns out), but mostly to make sure there isn't a single scene that goes by without a laugh. The mistaken identity plot - Bing and Bob are thought to be a pair of brutal killers and hellraisers - provides ample opportunity for funny lines ("I'll take a lemonade - in a dirty glass!"). Solid comedy writing.

The Seventh Veil
Muriel Box and Sydney Box
first and only nomination for both

I think I hated everything about this screenplay. The framing device is this: a woman gets into an accident, will not speak, and a psychologist at the hospital she's in undergoes treatment with her to lift the "seventh veil" (such a bizarre Salome reference!) of her subconscious. It's mostly inconsequential. The flashbacks that make up the bulk of the story are hardly fractured or memory-like, and it turns out the seventh veil is her choosing the man she really loves, which is...I don't know, stupid? Stupid. Especially since the person she chooses is a piece of shit (also, why are there so many English films about falling for your ward, is it a consequence of boarding school?). "Such great work for such a trash script," I kept thinking.


Naturally, the worst won one. The Seventh Veil was big at the box office, launching James Mason's career, and I suppose this was the most logical place to honor it. Why you'd want to honor it is a different mystery. My own vote goes to:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Supporting Actress: Ethel Barrymore (The Spiral Staircase), Anne Baxter (The Razor's Edge), Lillian Gish (Duel in the Sun), Flora Robson (Saratoga Trunk), and Gale Sondergaard (Anna and the King of Siam). 

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