Friday, June 21, 2024

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Oscars 1941: Best Director

Today, we look at Best Director of 1941, which John Ford won, accomplishing two rare feats: the three-time Oscar winner and the back-to-back Oscar winner:

Ford was not the first to pull off three: Frank Capra was when he won in 1938 for You Can't Take It with You, following his triumphs for It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. He was, however, the first to get two of them back to back, a feat only accomplished by two other filmmakers: Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Ford of course deserved the Oscar for The Grapes of Wrath and The Informer - but what of How Green Was My Valley? My thoughts:

John Ford for How Green Was My Valley
past two-time winner, fourth of five nominations; NYFCC Awards winner for Best Director

One really can sense when Ford is feeling it. The tone is so well-balanced, effortlessly allowing for sequences that are both harrowing (the mine!) and funny (visiting the schoolteacher!), even if the latter is always also tinged with anger or a feeling of injustice. His performances are universally great: even if I do have my favorites, it's an ensemble unit that meshes perfectly, they feel like a family and a community. And the look of it - oh my goodness, it's gorgeous!

Alexander Hall for Here Comes Mr. Jordan
only nomination

It's a reliable group of comic actors assembled, sure, but Hall has brought out their strengths: they're not doing bits and no one is a forgettable background player, instead, they all have the balance to play each scene for maximum laughs, romance, and bittersweet reflection (I think so, anyway). His scenes of the afterlife are ethereal, his direction of Claude Rains is perfection, and the film overall is a triumph.

Howard Hawks for Sergeant York
only nomination

The man knows what he's doing! Whatever I think of the film - and, remember, I'm not a big fan - Hawks delivers a handsome production. He never makes sense of the screenplay and the performances are self-consciously sketchy with fleeting grabs for depth, but I don't get the sense he's not getting what he wants. I just happen to not like it. (Still, considering his pedigree, it is surprising this is his only nomination and, again, I'm shocked Sergeant York did not sweep)

Orson Welles for Citizen Kane
only nomination in this category; NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Director

Why is this movie so good? Because the visuals are astonishing: Kane reflected infinitely down a hall of mirrors, Kane lumberingly towering over us in his wife's room, Kane reflected in the window dancing while his friends and companions discuss him. Because the sound is astonishing: dialogue overlapping, important lines almost muffled by the cacophony of natural environment, a bird shrieking, a woman screaming off-screen, a bad soprano getting thinner and thinner as we rise above her. Because the performances rule! Because all of it is so expertly crafted and guided by Welles!

William Wyler for The Little Foxes

Great performances, a haunting finale, and a seamless inclusion of original scenes not found in the play. He makes Richard Carlson - a dependable performer you can't really get excited for - into an actor worth watching. I don't think what he does here is as exciting as The Letter, but it's solid, straightforward work - he doesn't need to do more than the story dictates.


John Ford is a great winner, but he's my second choice. My vote goes to:


Next week, I present my personal picks of 1941, starting Sunday with the Top Ten!

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