Wednesday, October 19, 2022

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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:

The Dark Mirror
Vladimir Pozner
first and only nomination

Gilda, Johnny in the Clouds, The Jolson StoryRome, Open City. All of these were eligible in this category. But we get The Dark Mirror, where a headshrinker turns sleuth and seducer by dating twin sisters to determine which of them murdered a doctor. Never mind the good twin/bad twin dichotomy (A Stolen Life is better at this, anyway), I just don't buy the plot machinations. Did they not have conspiracy or obstruction options back in 1946?

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
John "Jack" Patrick
first and only nomination

Even if the movie sucked (it doesn't), I would love this story. Girl kills her rich aunt in a fit of rage, thinks two boys saw it, marries one, gets nervous/aroused when the runaway one returns home a decade later. So simple, not much more plot than that: it's all about the people and their personalities, their insatiable greed, their dishonesty, their wounds. Were this a paperback, you'd read it in a single night.

The Stranger
Victor Trivas
first and only nomination

The movie isn't great, but the story's an effective creepshow. A Nazi escapes to a Connecticut town under a pseudonym and becomes betrothed to a senator's daughter; he's tracked down by an agent and a former colleague who's found God. The mounting suspense, the increased risks this man is willing to take, and the challenge of exposing him for what he is...a genuinely well-crafted, taut thriller. On the page.

To Each His Own
Charles Brackett
previous winner, fourth of seven writing nominations

Great movie, standard story. Girl has a child out of wedlock, gives it up to another family but tries to remain in his life while building one of her own. The story has genuine surprises, and even the twists you do see coming wind up in places you might not. Third act piles it on a bit (though in the film itself, they get away with it, so artfully is it done).

Vacation from Marriage
Clemence Dane
first and only nomination

The idea of War being a "vacation" from marriage is pretty funny: how else are perfectly respectable introverts supposed to get out of their comfort zone and meet people? And this, too, is of our grand- or great-grandparents' era, where everyone seemed to have a two-week whirlwind romance and never saw each other except for the weekends. Not that the story is trying to defend war as exciting, but it's a clever way to comment on the social mores that force husband and wife to be virtual strangers. 


Vacation from Marriage won the Oscar, leading some culture writers of the time to wring their hands over Britain's dominance over American films (see also: The Seventh Veil). My winner, meanwhile, is All American!:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Actress: Olivia de Havilland (To Each His Own), Celia Johnson (Brief Encounter), Jennifer Jones (Duel in the Sun), Rosalind Russell (Sister Kenny), and Jane Wyman (The Yearling).

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