– My Parents Were Born
– Elvis Presley Releases 1st Single
– Video Tape Recorder Invented
– U.S. Interstate System Construction Begins
– Fidel Castro Begins Cuban Revolution
– Egypt Takes Control of Suez Canal
– “de-Stalinization” in USSR
Winner: Around the World in Eighty Days
– Friendly Persuasion
– The King and I
– The Ten Commandments
Director: William Wyler
Starring: Gary Cooper, Anthony Perkins, Dorothy McGuire
Nominations (6): Picture, Director, S Actor (Perkins), Adapted SP, Original Song, Sound Recording
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
This film begins with a young boy chasing down a relentlessly trolling duck; a step that is taken with the wrong foot. It is after this strange introduction that we follow a family of Quakers who, at the start of the Civil War, attempt to maintain the neutrality. It is becoming more and more difficult to do so due to the battles and fighting that moving ever closer to this family and their town. The head of the family, Jess, played by Gary Cooper, along with his wife, Eliza (Dorothy McGuire) is steadfast in their belief to not participate in any sort of violence; a stance very much stemming from their religion. His son, Josh, played by Anthony Perkins, being a young man ripe with vigor and bravery is intrigued with the idea of war and wants to fight for the Union cause. One Sunday, their peaceful church service is interrupted by a Union officer who challenges the male members of the congregation on why they are not fighting. This bold soldier lathers his paintbrush thick with the red sheen of guilt and paints broadly a picture of the horrible way of life that will come if the Union doesn’t win the war. Eventually, the fighting gets too close for comfort, Josh, against his mother’s wishes, joins the fray and is caught in a bit of trouble when he’s surrounded his fellow Yanks, now dead, and by live Johnny Rebs, who have hammered his battalion. As if we somehow knew all along, his father, Jess, busts out an old musket, perhaps something he used in a previous war and, not in the least bit unfamiliar with a gun and hand-to-hand combat, goes to save the day. Yes, Jess has been in this situation before, but struggled with the idea of picking up this mantle once again. However, his mind and limbs remember easily how to don it once more, but it was his conscience that was reluctant. Friendly Persuasion did not win any Oscars, but Perkins received a Supporting nomination and the film itself was nominated for Song, Sound, Adapted Screenplay and a Directing nomination for the great William Wyler.
Director: Walter Lang
Starring: Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner
Wins (5): Actor (Brynner), Musical Score, Sound Recording, Art Direction (Color), Costume Design (Color)
Nominations (9): Picture, Director, Actress (Kerr), Cinematography (Color)
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
It’s basically the story of a Welsh schoolteacher, Anna (Deborah Kerr), who travels to Bangkok to teach the many biological children of the King Mongkut (Yul Brynner). It’s not on the list of my favorite musicals because there’s really not much to it from a narrative perspective and the music itself doesn’t strike an emotional chord with me. The same can be said for the story, which is a simple one and does nothing to stir any sort of feeling within me at all. Anna has a hard time adjusting to the job and the demands of the pompous and arrogant king. Likewise, the king himself has to learn to be a little more compromising with this new teacher, who is herself strong-willed and confident. The King and I is quite boring and one of those musicals where, though the music is decent, the vocals are all too operatic and falsetto and left me squinting and grating my teeth. Both Brynner and Kerr give very good performances with Kerr getting a nomination and Brynner the win. The King and I has a big-budget look and most of the film takes place in just a few really great set pieces that work to make it a very colorful and beautiful film. Indeed, the film’s artistic value does a lot to make up for its boredom. The King and I won the awards for Sound, Art Direction and Costume Design for Color films.
Director: Cecile B. Demille
Starring: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter
Wins (1): Visual Effects
Nominations (7): Picture, Sound Recording, Art Direction (Color), Cinematography (Color), Costume Design (Color), Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Cecile B, Demille makes a point of making clear to the audience his intention of adapting the story of Moses and the children of Israel and he does a great job of putting this epic story on the screen in a way that no audience had ever seen before. Demille expands the early life of Moses a great deal and spends a large amount of time on this section. Though we know very little about his early life, this development makes for a great payoff upon Moses’ return to Egypt to negotiate the release of his people. The effects, sets, costumes and art direction are simply stellar, though the film only won the Oscar for Visual Effects. Charlton Heston, who rightfully was not nominated for lead actor, seems to give it his all and then some in every single frame and that wears on me a bit. There’s only so much grinning and gritting once can take from Heston. Another complaint I do have is that Demille spent so much time expanding the unknown that is Moses’ early life that he had to cut some major corners in the second half to the point of altering the story itself, like when the people built the calf and wandered in the wilderness. The expanded storyline at the beginning came at the expense of what actually happened towards the end. This coupled with Heston’s pomp and animation sort of turned me off by the time the film was over. I really have no complaints about the running time since the film as a whole was most engaging.
Director: George Stevens
Starring: Rock Hudson, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Mercedes McCambridge
Wins (1): Director
Nominations (10): Picture, Actor (Dean), Actor (Hudson), S Actress (McCambridge), Adapted SP, Drama/Comedy Score, Art Direction (Color), Costume Design (Color), Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Giant is the epic story of Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson), heir to a very rich Texas family, who travels to Maryland to buy a horse, but who actually ends up marrying Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor), the daughter of the horse’s owner and . So, Bick and Leslie marry and settle down on the humungous Benedict Ranch that they call ‘Reata’, and start their lives together. James Dean plays Jett, a lowly young farm hand who was given a very small piece of the Benedict land and who is in love with Leslie and not very subtly makes it known to her. I found that Leslie didn’t do much to shun his advances. Jett strikes oil on his tiny plot while Bick is intent upon devoting his incredibly ridiculous stretch of land to making money the old-timey ranch way. Jett quickly becomes filthy rich and buys up more land and becomes an alcoholic oil tycoon whose riches has surpassed that of even the Benedict family, which now includes two children. Eventually, the Benedicts agree to drill for oil on their land and they too become ever richer. To add a little drama to the mix, Jett dates the Benedict daughter. It’s a really well-made film and the running time isn’t much of a distraction due to all of the nice things going on. In case the title of the film didn’t get the point across, I’ll do so here: “Texas is big, y’all.” This is made manifest with the striking cinematography which showcases the vast and never-ending dessert, rocky and dusty land that those Texans find so special. George Stevens won the Oscar for Director, but that was the only award that Giant took home. Both Hudson and Dean were nominated for acting, but I do find it interesting that there was no nomination for Cinematography (William C. Mellor). Giant calls to mind a couple of other films: Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, an oil film and Martin Ritt’s Hud, a cattle film. What’s more, the house on Reata is extremely similar to the one in Malick’s Days of Heaven.
Director: Michael Anderson
Starring: David Niven, Cantinflas, Shirley MacLaine
Wins (5): Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Drama/Comedy Score, Cinematography (Color), Film Editing
Nominations (8): Director, Art Direction (Color), Costume Design (Color)
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
This film started out fairly strong. It seemed almost to be a parody of the stiff, pomp and proper behavior, mannerisms and speech of that of the English upper class in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s and that also exist in those English movies from the current time period. From the get-go, the art direction and set design had my attention as did the humor and self-awareness that the film exhibited. However, Around the World in Eighty Days quickly became a sort of tour of the world and it is for this very reason that it is quite easy to understand why the film won best picture. Audiences are able to see, in color and on the big screen, parts of the world that most people had only seen in their dreams. The humor and creativity was brushed aside and way was made for a travelling rich man with his little sidekick to go around the world in eighty days, which began by a bet he made with his other rich friends. They’re in hot air balloons over Europe, in trains across the Wild, Wild West and sailing across the sea in ships. It certainly is a production and certainly wears out its welcome due to its exhibitive nature. The film won Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematograph, Score and Editing, though not for Director. This Picture/Director split looks to be a situation where the film was enjoyable, but perhaps, not the best t in the bunch; the real award for achievement going to George Stevens for GIANT.
SHOULD HAVE WON
Director: John Ford
Starring: John Wayne
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
The Searchers was one of my first really great experiences where it’s just me and the film becoming both riveted and mesmerized by the story and scale of it. We quickly become attached to a family who is savagely murdered by a group of Comanche Indians. Their uncle Ethan, played by John Wayne, is a rogue cowboy often leaving for years at a time, on the run and who has nothing to do with the Texas Rangers. His mission is to find his niece, Debbie, whom the Indians have captured. We join Uncle Ethan on this relentless and tiring quest up and down the range that seems to never end, discovering clues and vetting hints and theories as to Debbie’s whereabouts. The film spans a length of five whole years and not once did Ethan dream of giving up his mission. However, the quest does end and the payoff, a really great scene, is more than worth it. The grown-up version of Debbie is played by Natalie Wood while her real-life little sister, Lana, plays the younger Debbie. The Searchers (1 hour 59 minutes in length) is shorter than any of the Best Picture nominated films, (all greater than 2 hours in length and 3 of the 5 were more than three hours long.) yet the story is gripping, epic and satisfying nevertheless. John Ford really has us in his clutches from the very beginning in what I consider his best film. The cinematography stands out as one of the greatest pieces of camera work in movie history. The Searchers did not receive a single nomination.
The running them this Oscar year seemed to be lengthy running times. As was mentioned earlier, 3 of the 5 Best Picture nominees exceeded 3 hours in length and the other 2 films were over 2 hours long. The one film that didn’t receive both a Picture and Director nomination was Demille’s The Ten Commandments. It’s replacement? King Vidor’s War and Peace. It’s running time? 3 hours and 28 minutes. Suffice it to say that this year consisted of very long films. Anyone who has read my posts in the Wizard of Oscar journey might note that I tend to have a problem with longer films and that a year of this nature might drive me mad. However, that is not the case, interestingly enough. On some level, I enjoyed all of these films, running time and all, though the overall score of the year falls near the bottom.