And the Winner Isn’t…   13 comments

bill

Despite the fact that two of the five best picture nominees for 1957 took place in courthouses, there was no justice for quite a few filmmakers at the RKO Pantages Theatre that year. I started to write this piece about the snubbing of a particular film, but after researching the story I found many glaring omissions for that year. We think of Oscar snubs as a modern phenomenon, but even in the 1950s, filmmakers found fault with the Academy’s choices. In fact, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas sang a duet during the awards ceremony called “It’s Great Not To Be Nominated”. Who did grab the glory that year?


“It’s Great Not To Be Nominated”

In 1957, for the first time in Academy Award history, the five nominees for best director came from the five nominees for best picture. Here are the nominees.

alec

The Bridge on the River Kwai
1957 was David Lean’s year. The Bridge on the River Kwai got eight nominations and won seven Oscars including best picture and best director. Full of strong performances from Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, William Holden, Sessue Hayakawa, and the entire cast, Lean’s epic on the futility of war scored big and deservedly so. I think there were other films that could easily have won or at least grabbed a nomination in a few categories, but no matter. Kwai plowed through all of them.

witness

Witness for the Prosecution
Billy Wilder’s incredible courtroom drama boasts a great story written by Agatha Christie and adapted for the screen by Wilder, Harry Kurnitz, and Lawrence B. Marcus, and stellar performances from its cast. Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Marlene Dietrich, and Tyrone Power create memorable characters in this legal drama full of fun plot twists. Witness received six Oscar nominations, but won none.

12 men

12 Angry Men
Sidney Lumet’s claustrophobic drama about jury deliberations that will decide the fate of a young man was nominated for three Oscars. 12 Angry Men’s playlike blocking and intelligent script keeps the audience rapt and the memorable performances by Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, Jack Warden, and the rest of the jury still hold up.

sayonara

Sayonara
Joshua Logan directed this socially conscious drama about American servicemen stationed in Japan who had to battle military regulations and racial prejudice to marry Japanese women. Paul Osborn wrote the screenplay based on the James Michener novel. Michener based the book on his own experience in marrying a Japanese woman after his deployment to Japan during World War II. Nominated for ten Oscars, Sayonara won four. While the topics of miscegenation and prejudice are worthwhile, the film isn’t all that great. The main reason to watch this film is Miyoshi Umeki’s poignant Oscar winning performance.

peyton
I don’t get to keep the clothes?

Peyton Place
Don’t get me started. Grace Metalious’ wildly popular tale of small town hypocrisy and scandal received a whopping nine Oscar nominations, but was shut out anyway. Thank goodness. Peyton Place boasts some of the stiffest acting of the 1950s. The trite script written by John Michael Hayes allows Lana Turner and Lloyd Nolan to over-emote while remaining as wooden as Hope Lange’s woodpile. Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the occasional bad film. I just don’t expect it to get nine Oscar nods. Clearly someone wasn’t paying attention.

I agree with the academy about nominations for The Bridge on the River Kwai, Witness for the Prosecution, and 12 Angry Men, but I take issue with some of the Sayonara nods and all of the Peyton Place nominations. What other films deserved attention from Oscar? I’m glad you asked. 1957 saw some terrific films that were all but ignored come award season.

3:10 to Yuma
Delmer Daves western nail-biter ramps up the suspense and Glenn Ford gives his best performance. Zero nominations.

Desk Set
In this charming romantic comedy, Spencer Tracy plays an efficiency expert hired by a television network to study Katharine Hepburn’s department. The script, written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron and based on William Marchant’s play is clever, realistic, and warm and you can’t deny the chemistry between the two leads. Zero nominations.

Edge of the City
Martin Ritt’s gritty noir deals with racism, loyalty, and personal integrity. Sidney Poitier, John Cassavetes, Ruby Dee, and Jack Warden deliver powerful performances. Zero nominations.

The Enemy Below
This taut war thriller pits U.S. Navy Captain Robert Mitchum against U-boat commander Curd Jürgens in a game of sea chess. Dick Powell produced and directed this suspenseful WWII film. The Enemy Below won its only nomination for best special effects.

Fear Strikes Out
Anthony Perkins hits it out of the park (sorry) as Boston Red Sox player Jimmy Piersall who battles pressure from his domineering father, played by Karl Malden, and mental illness to play in the majors. Robert Mulligan directed and Perkins and Malden are wonderful in this true story. Zero nominations.

Gunfight at the Ok Corral
The John Sturges directed western starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday is just fun to watch. Rhonda Fleming, Jo Van Fleet, John Ireland, Dennis Hopper, and Whit Bissell round out this great cast. Two nominations (sound and film editing).

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
John Huston’s sweet love story has a tough Marine (Robert Mitchum) falling for Deborah Kerr’s nun as they duck Japanese soldiers on a Pacific island during WWII. Two nominations for best actress and adapted screenplay. Zero wins.

Three Faces of Eve
Nunnally Johnson directed Joanne Woodward in her Oscar-winning role as a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. Lee J. Cobb and David Wayne add their tremendous skills as character actors to this gentle psychological study. One nomination. One win.

ymir
Peyton Place? Are you kidding?

Oscar ignored some other good films that year. 20 Million Miles to Earth and The Black Scorpion boast effects by Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien and Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man comes from a Richard Matheson story. Zero nominations, not even for special effects. The noir sleeper The Burglar, based on a story by David Goodis and starring noir fave Dan Duryea got zero nominations. Fred Zinnemann’s tale of addiction, A Hatful of Rain received one nomination for best actor. Jailhouse Rock, Elvis’ best film, wasn’t even nominated for music or set design. Budd Boetticher’s suspenseful western The Tall T has some lovely cinematography, a tight story by Elmore Leonard, and Randolph Scott! Zero nominations. While these omissions may surprise a film fan, the three I have left will probably baffle you. They did me.

griff

A Face in the Crowd
Budd Schulberg’s prescient look at the power of fame, television, and manufactured celebrity has direction by Elia Kazan, and a talented cast which includes Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, and Lee Remick. It also boasts a stunning performance by Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes, the southern ne’er-do-well whose homespun wisdom and charisma lifts him from obscure slacker to national power broker. It’s absolutely criminal that Griffith wasn’t nominated for best actor.

kirk

Paths of Glory
Really? This one kills me. Penned by Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson, and Humphrey Cobb and based on Cobb’s novel, Paths of Glory serves as a searing indictment of hypocrisy, politics, and war. Kubrick’s promise as a director showed in his earlier films Killer’s Kiss and The Killing, but Paths of Glory elevated him to another level entirely. Georg Krause’s gorgeous cinematography and those long Kubrick shots of the trenches show the contrast between the squalor of the front lines and the officers’ palatial digs. In this fact-based story from WWI, Kirk Douglas dominates the screen, but the supporting players offer stellar performances too. Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Wayne Morris, Timothy Carey, and especially Ralph Meeker more than hold their own alongside the dynamic Douglas. Zero nominations.

tonyburt

Sweet Smell of Success
Alexander Mackendrick’s gorgeous, vicious story of a ruthless newspaper columnist and the people he manipulates captured exactly zero nominations. Zero. Zero nominations for the brilliant screenplay written by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman based on Lehman’s novella. Zero nominations for James Wong Howe’s amazing noir camera angles and lush black and white cinematography. Zero nominations for Elmer Bernstein’s dramatic, jazzy score. Zero nominations for Tony Curtis’ clever, nuanced performance. Zero. If you judge the quality of a film by the number of quotable phrases, you’d have to place Sweet Smell of Success near the top. Of course, the same goes for Jaws, Caddyshack, Die Hard, Casablanca, and Pulp Fiction. Actually, that’s a pretty cool crowd. Success has some real zingers. After Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) makes a particularly nasty crack J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) says, “I’d hate to take a bite out of you, Sidney. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.” Later, Falco commits a crime which will frame someone Hunsecker dislikes and reports to him, “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river.” I’m not the only one who finds this dialogue memorable. Barry Levinson has a character in his film Diner who recites the dialogue from Sweet Smell of Success throughout the entire film. Clifford Odets (Bigger Than Life, Clash by Night) and Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) wrote sparkling dialogue for a gritty tale of power, ambition, and manipulation. The cinematography, music, and direction combined with a powerhouse cast including not only Curtis and Lancaster, but also Sam Levene, Martin Milner, and the highly underrated Barbara Nichols make for a film that stays with you long after it’s over. The fact that Oscar bypassed Sweet Smell of Success strikes me as the biggest of gyps.

light

I wrote this piece for the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon hosted by Paula of paulascinemaclub.com @Paula_Guthat,
Aurora of aurorasginjoint.com @CitizenScreen, and Kellee of kelleepratt.com @IrishJayhawk66

Thank you, ladies! You run a fun blogathon.

bob hope

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13 responses to “And the Winner Isn’t…

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  1. Pingback: OSCAR SNUBS for the #31DaysOfOscar Blogathon | Once upon a screen…

  2. Pingback: 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon 2015 | Once upon a screen…

  3. Reblogged this on clawkent.

  4. Fun post!! Incredible to see the names of what wasn’t on Oscar’s agenda that year all in one listing! Bring to the forefront the fact that while we rant and rave – and I do that as much as anybody – it really IS such a tough choice!! WOW. Thanks so much, Kerry for this terrific post!

    Aurora

  5. Just to see that video was worth the price of admission. thanks so much!!

    You could do this type of analysis for almost any year. but this was an apt one to choose. Glad you brought up stuff like Sweet Smell of Success and A Face in the Crowd. Too often the “popular” choice doesn’t have staying power, and the afterthought films are the ones that stay with you.

    I’ll say it again – Great post!

    • Thanks, Jeff! It started out as a post about Sweet Smell of Success’ injustice, but as I did more research I was amazed at how many terrific films were all but ignored by the Academy. Thanks for reading my post!

  6. Wonderful post. It’s always interesting to see what ‘flash-in-the-pan’ films get all the nominations only to be forgotten by the passage of time and the ones that stand the test of time. I just don’t get how Sweet Smell of Success and Paths of Glory wasn’t nominated for a single Oscar. Amazing.

  7. Sometimes I’m glad I’m not an Academy judge. I’m not sure I would’ve been able to make a decision this particular year (or many others, I’m actually pretty indecisive!) As much as I love Three Faces of Eve I’m glad you highlighted Sweet Smell of Success, it’s my favourite Lancaster role. Then again, my indecision will change my mind I’m sure 😉

  8. Excellent Write up and analysis – I don’t get choked up on A.A. snubs because a lot of films, in a historical context, don’t often times win let alone nominated – and that doesn’t take away their lasting power or legacy i.e. like you said the caustically brilliant Paths of Glory (No noms) or even Rear Window.(4 noms Best Director for Alfred Hitchcock, Best Screenplay for John Michael Hayes, Best Cinematography, Color for Robert Burks) but no wins.

    • Thanks. Every so often a performance or film really hits me and I get bugged if they’re ignored, but as a rule I don’t get that into it either. It just struck me when looking into 1957 that there were a bunch of good films that year and many got gypped. Thanks for reading!

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