Monday, July 10, 2023

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1948: Motion Picture Story

Last week, we discussed the films of 1948 in general - well, 75 of them, at least. For the next two weeks, we look at what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences deemed, specifically, the best of the best. Starting today with Best Original Motion Picture Story.

In 1948, there is no Best Original Screenplay category or even a Best Story & Screenplay category. There is merely Original Story - made up of, yes, original storylines - and Screenplay - made up of screenplays based either on pre-existing work or aforementioned Original Stories. This is slightly unusual because although this delineation between writing a story (or treatment, outlining the events and arc of the plot) and writing a screenplay (the script itself with dialogue and all that) existed for some time, a category for writers who wrote both Story and Screenplay existed both before and after 1948. I'd love to know why, this one year was the exception.

Anyway, here's who they nominated:

story by Frances H. Flaherty & Robert J. Flaherty
first and only nomination for either

Story follows a Cajun boy in the swamps, running wild with bare feet and his pet raccoon. His and his family's lives are forever altered by the arrival of oil wildcatters. There's a lot I liked about this movie, but story? What story? There are films with invisible arcs, character studies, no-plot-all-vibes - but they have stories. What's going on here besides using this kid as an observational tool to learn how oil wells operate and what kind of critters can be found in Louisana?

story by Malvin Wald
first and only nomination

The police procedural follows two NYPD cops as they investigate a murder, following leads, tracking clues, tediously following up every scrap of a hint to find their man - and his motive. Always moving, this story, with a calculated monotony that, despite the excitement, reminds you that this is a job and the important parts are sometimes dull office work and research, while the exciting parts are sometimes red herrings. Interesting twists, of course, as it depicts how some people lie to the police not because they're guilty of murder, but because they're not totally innocent of other things.

story by Borden Chase
first and only nomination

A rancher and his adopted son butt heads during a cattle drive. Simple enough, but this story is about how to command, whether as a boss or a father. What does it mean to exhibit strength: the ability to show mercy, or the willingness to punish? Does the woman the Son meets during a shootout resemble, more than resemble a tougher, rougher version of the gal Dad left behind decades ago? An interesting story about the ambition and the sacrifices that built the West. However - the film itself credits Borden Chase's Saturday Evening Post story as the source material. This is not an original Motion Picture Story. I love it, but I disqualify it.

The Red Shoes
story by Emeric Pressburger
past winner, fourth and final nomination

Yes, this is an original story - Hans Christian Andersen's short story is the basis for the ballet central to the film, but this is the tale of a new ballerina, a new composer, and an old impresario. He spotlights their work, chains them to him - and this story carefully establishes that this is something he does, obsessing over and possessing "his" stars. How it gets where it's going is surprising, and the final touches from train whistle to spotlight just hit.

story by Richard Schweizer and David Wechsler
Schweizer's second and final win, second of three nominations; Wechsler's only win and first of two nominations

While army and social workers try to help a mother find her son, a soldier has already taken him in. A story that both demonstrates the efforts of the Allied forces in putting Europe back together and tells a sweet story of family, be it biological or found. This is the kind of meandering but carefully crafted story that I think some thought Louisiana Story was. Every aside of this movie reinforces the horror of World War Two and the Nazis especially on children. And reinforces the possibility of hope and peace in this post-war world.


The Oscar went to The Search. My vote - and, remember, this may not necessarily be my favorite film of the bunch, just the one that best executes the assignment of Original Motion Picture Story - goes to:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Supporting Actress: Barbara Bel Geddes (I Remember Mama), Ellen Corby (I Remember Mama), Agnes Moorehead (Johnny Belinda), Jean Simmons (Hamlet), and Claire Trevor (Key Largo).

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