Tuesday, July 18, 2023

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1948: Best Screenplay

The closest equivalent to Adapted Screenplay at the 1948 Academy Awards is just plain Screenplay, differentiating itself from Original Story by honoring the writers of the script itself - the dialogue, the stage directions, the INT./EXT., all that. For some reason (and we mentioned this before) the people who wrote both the story and the screenplay did not get their own category his year, so the writers of The Search found themselves winning one category and being nominated in the other. Here it is, alongside another original (albeit with three screenwriters working off a fourth person's story) and three direct adaptations. But you can see that for yourself:

Charles L. Brackett / Billy Wilder / Richard L. Breen
story by David Shaw
Brackett's fifth of seven writing nominations; Wilder's sixth of twelve writing nominations; Breen's first of three nominations; WGA Awards nominee for Best Comedy

Cheeky, this whole premise! A rascal of an army officer with ties to the black market swanning about with a nightclub singer who's secretly in league with the Nazis, romancing a prim and proper congresswoman who's appalled by the constant sexual harassment and exploitation thrust upon the local German women by American GIs? International relations, physical and spiritual fallout from the War, desire both communicated and implied, all wrapped in a socially relevant rom-com package? This is cinema, baby!

Johnny Belinda
Irma von Cube and Allen Vincent
from the play by Elmer Blaney Harris
only nomination for either; WGA Awards nominee for Best Drama

Always shocked when I see it's based on a play, you wouldn't know it. The screenplay takes advantage of the premise of unspoken conversation not just with Belinda and the doctor, but in allowing the small town's hierarchy and prejudices to play out sometimes wordlessly - a barn dance where jealousy and history is etched in glances, a group prayer that brings people together in tragedy, and, of course, clifftop fights. Screenplays aren't just good dialogue, they're knowing when to let the visuals do the work.

Richard Schweizer and David Wechsler
Schweizer's third and final nomination; Wechler's second and final nomination

Interesting, its balance between the mother and son stories, their struggles with language barriers and general post-war confusion. Brings it all together without feeling contrived. Vivid characterizations even in the briefest of scenes. What can I say? It's good work!

The Snake Pit
Frank Partos and Millen Brand
from the book by Mary Jane Ward
only nomination for either; WGA Awards nominee for Best Film Concerning American Scene and Best Drama

A great first act, dropping us right in the midst of our heroine's stay at the asylum. Despite its best efforts to be progressive, responsible, and informative, I'm not entirely sure its denouement bears up to scrutiny. Its depiction of a health care system split between people abusing power, people who want to genuinely help, and people who are just clocking in and out, is, of course, timeless, that latter detail harrowing in its matter-of-factness. Flashbacks...eh.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
John Huston
from the novel by B. Traven
fourth of eight writing nominations

Sees its protagonists' journeys convincingly, the greed and paranoia of one coming through gradually, fulfilling the old-timer's prophecy of gold-madness without ever feeling structured so - it's just natural. The things left unsaid are as clear as the things said outright, trusting its audience to understand a glance between business partners, a swing of an arm, a suddenly full wallet (quickly emptied). Fine plotting and characterizations.


Once again, Oscar and I agree on the winner of this category:

(adapted from the novel by B. Traven)

Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Supporting Actor: Charles Bickford (Johnny Belinda), José Ferrer (Joan of Arc), Oskar Homolka (I Remember Mama), Walter Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), and Cecil Kellaway (The Luck of the Irish).

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