Winner: The Apartment


– Elmer Gantry

– The Alamo

– Sons and Lovers

– The Sundowners

The Apartment **** out of ****

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Jack Lemon, Shirley MacLaine

Wins (5): Picture, Director, Original Screenplay (Wilder), Art Direction Black & White, Film Editing

Nominations: Actor (Lemon), Actress (MacLaine), Supporting Actor (Kruschen), Sound Editing, Cinematography Black & White

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

The Apartment is Billy Wilder’s best film.  The film is written very well and the acting proves that point.  The Apartment is serious, but you laugh with it.  It’s comedic, but with dark undertones.  The film never takes itself too serious.  It takes us to the dark side briefly without selling out its lighthearted tone.  It also helps that the chemistry between MacLaine and Lemon is perfect.  The Apartment is completely timeless in every aspect; from script to cinematography, from direction to fashion.  In 50 years, people will be watching this film and appreciating it just as much as I am now and as the public did 50 years ago.

 Favorite Scenes/Shots

There are a few scenes that standout to me, mostly those that take place in the closed space of the apartment where Joseph LaShelle’s cinematography really stands out.  One of the more entertaining scenes shows a sick Baxter, after double-booking his apartment, at work as he tries to take his temperature and restructure his entire calendar at the same time.  A little over the top, perhaps, but that’s Jack Lemon (see Glengarry Glen Ross).  Another favorite of mine is in the end; the camera moves parallel with Fran as she runs down a New York sidewalk towards the Apartment.  Her head is back and short hair blows in the wind as she runs and smiles with the sweeping score playing in the background.

Elmer Gantry  ***1/2 out of ****

Director: Richard Brooks (not nominated)

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, Arthur Kennedy, Shirley Jones

Wins (3): Actor (Lancaster), Supporting Actress (Jones), Adapted Screenplay (Brooks)

Nominations:  Dramatic/Comedy Score

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

Elmer Gantry is a religious man, but he’s also a drunkard and a fornicator. Elmer shares drinks and dirty jokes with the patrons of a bar one minute and then jumps on his soap box, preaching to his drinking buddies the very next. But Elmer is a hypocrite. In fact, he’s a traveling salesman who’s overly sincere and wears a constant smile that wouldn’t waver if you slapped him in the face with Gutenberg’s Bible.Elmer, whose manner is somewhat Kramer-esque.  Elmer manages to sneak his way on to a passenger train of a revival group led by the famous, Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons).  Elmer schmoozes his way on to her good side. Sharon sees right through him, but still takes quite a liking to Elmer.  Burt Lancaster gives a great, Oscar winning performance. The writing and directing of Richard Brooks (based on the Sinclair Lewis novel) are great, yet subtle, allowing for the performances and the film itself to shine through.  LuLu Baines (Shirley Jones) plays a prostitute in the town where the revival is being held and a past victim of Elmer’s womanizing.  She is in the film very put was nominated for Supporting Actress.  Elmer Gantry is a study of those money-hungry individuals who see a church as a thing to exploit or a way to make money. It is a character study on a very clever, very flawed individual who knows his Bible and, as the film leads us to assume, truly believes what it says. However, he doesn’t seem to care enough to apply it to his own life. Unlike most character studies, our main character changes little from beginning to end, yet he manages to accomplish quite a lot.

Favorite Scenes/Shots

Elmer Gantry slowly strolls down the aisle between pews of a packed, attentive audience, shaking his Bible, sweating, red-faced and, with a forceful eloquence, shouts his angry sermon and demanding repentance. This is the best scene of the film and reminiscent of Paul Dano’s sermon in P.T. Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.” Gantry slowly walks just feet in front of the camera, which rolls backwards as he goes forward as if he’s coming after us, the viewers.

The Alamo **1/2 out of ****

Director: John Wayne (not nominated)

Starring: John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey

Wins (1): Sound Editing

Nominations:Supporting Actor (Wills), Dram/Com Score, Song, Cinematography, Film Editing

Rotten Tomatoes: 54%

John Wayne turns out to be a pretty decent director with this film.  The cinematography (William H. Clothier) was one of the better things about the movie.  Anything with wide open landscape always helps but one can definitely tell that some thought went into the shooting of this film.  The Alamo is a typical Western film that one might find coming out of the 50’s and 60’s.  The genre hasn’t really survived since then, except for a few obvious films (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Unforgiven, No Country For Old Men).   In my opinion it’s the times that changed, and not the Western.  Back then, a good Western with shootouts, dames and saloons seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.  Things are different now.  It’s a realism thing.  Being a Western, some things are naturally exaggerated.  However, since The Alamo was based on an actual event, one would assume that we would get a little more reality out of the deal.  But again, this was 1960, not 2010.  1960 had different notions and needs.  Perhaps escapism was the purpose back then.  The Alamo (film) notoriously created myths regarding the actual events that took place and the heroes that participated in them.  The film focuses on Davy Crockett (John Wayne), Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark) and William Travis (Laurence Harvey), three of the more familiar names in history and their apparent struggle to both get along with each other and hold off the Mexican army from going further into Texas.  Being a Hollywood film in the early 60’s, naturally the actual story is altered to become more interesting, but I think that the real story itself would’ve been fine.  The film could’ve been just as entertaining and even more fascinating if it were more honest.  It didn’t need the fluff.  The film is too long and takes quite a while to really get going.  Characters are introduced and not developed.  Scenes exist for no other reason than to further acknowledge the existence of Davy Crocket and Jim Bowie.  And there are too many speeches.  The score doesn’t match the tone of the film.

 Favorite Scenes/Shots

However, the last 25 minutes of this film were extremely emotional.  In setting up for the final battle scene, where the soldiers all but know they will not make it out alive, we hear an appropriate dramatic score and see various scenes of soldiers sitting in quiet recollection or exchanging thoughtful words.  In one moment, Crocket and Bowie are sitting against the wall in the evening before the final battle.  Bowie asks Crocket what he’s thinking about to which Crocket replies, “Not thinking, just remembering.”  I completely buy into the fact that this would be how people would spend their final moments of life if they knew they probably would not live.  The last 25 minutes of the film are by far the most real.  Nothing is fabricated here.  It’s all sincere; full of great acting and great lines.

The Sundowners  * out of ****

 Director: Fred Zinnemann

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov

Wins: None

Nominations: Director, Actress (Kerr), Supporting Actress (Johns), Adapted Screenplay (Lennart)

Rotten Tomatoes: 78%

 The Sundowners is a lame film set in Australia about the Carmody family who roam the Outback in search of different odd jobs.  Things seem to happen for no reason.  Effects occur despite the fact that there may have been no cause.  Reactions take place without there being neither an equal nor an opposite action to put it into motion.  Actors laugh at sad things and the audience doesn’t laugh at all.  All of this must be chalked up to bad writing, even though it got an Adapted Screenplay nomination.  Not only that, but the story has no flow.  The film never goes anywhere but the characters are constantly on the road.  It’s editing is choppy.  Zinnemann made great films like From Here to Eternity, High Noon & A Man For All Seasons, but this one should definitely be left off of that list. Being “epic” and set in Australia, one would think that the film would find a way to grab nominations for Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Editing and Original Music, but The Sundowners received no such nominations.  Movies on as grand a scale as The Sundowners attempts to be, must grab some of these nominations, especially given that the film was a Best Picture nominee.  Deborah Kerr and Glynis Johns managed to take nominations for Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively.  Isobel Lennart was nominated for Adapted Screenplay for her efforts in turning the book into a movie, which seems a regrettable effort now.  Fred Zinneman, who won four Oscars in his career, managed to find himself nominated for director.  So I have watched this film in 2010 and did not like it, but I have to ask myself, “How was the film relevant in 1960?”  Was it the fondness of the actors by the public that earned the film its nomination?  Was it Zinnemann’s track record of making so many great films that it came to the point where he just had to throw something together in order get nominated?  Was it the fact that it showcased the Outback, which gave the audience a rare glance at this foreign land?  Perhaps, but this film does not stand the test of time.  The Sundowners…Australian for suck.
Favorite Scenes/Shots: None.  There were no good scenes in this film

Sons And Lovers  **1/2out of****

Director: Jack Cardiff

Starring: Trevor Howard, Mary Ure

Wins (1): Cinematography (Freddie Francis)

Nominations: Picture, Director, Actor (Howard), Supporting Actress (Ure), Adapted Screenplay (Lambert), Art Direction, Cinematography

Netflix finally put this movie on Watch Instantly!  Sons and Lovers is based on the D. H. Lawrence novel.  It definitely has that stage-like feel which explains the several acting nominations.  It’s a very small film with a set design and art direction that gives it a depressing and cold atmosphere.  Sons and Lovers involves a young artist, named Paul, who is supported by his mother and resented by his father, who works in a coal mine.  It’s an odd home life.  The father, played by Trevor Howard, resents Paul being an artist and not working in the coal mine.  The father must be bi-polar as he can come home from work either happy or angry, but always drunk.  Paul goes on a journey of sexuality and breaks up with his girlfriend to prey on a Clara (Mary Ure), a married woman.  Paul gets bored easily and after his mother’s death, he realizes that freedom is what he desires most.  Sons and Lovers is an incredibly small film and belongs in the Best Picture discussion of 1960, thought it’s nothing special.  Some good acting and cinematography can go along way.  The cinematography nomination is very much earned, but I find it odd that Sons and Lovers beat out The Apartment and Psycho.


Psycho **** out of ****

 Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles

Wins: None

Nominations: Picture, Director, Supporting Actress (Leigh), Art Direction Black & White, Cinematography Black & White

Rotten Tomatoes: 99%

What can be said about Psycho that hasn’t already been said?  Psycho should be studied as a brilliant showcase of cinematography and storytelling.  Every bit of every scene was shot for a purpose.  The film is a perfect example of efficiency.  There’s not a single shot or line in the film that should or could be removed.  There’s no telling how many lines of dialogue are left unsaid due to the fact that Hitchcock was able to communicate the suspense and tone to the audience with the camera alone.  Psycho seems to be the go-to film horror reference.  It is the godfather of everything horror although the film itself is more suspenseful.  It’s easy to think of dozens of films that were inspired by Psycho.  I can understand how, in its time, the film was shunned.  People probably didn’t want to award such a shocking film like that even though, in hindsight, it’s one of the greatest films ever made.

 Favorite Scenes/Shots:

The whole film, but to just mention a few I would have to say the seen with the cop pulling Mariane over and then letting her go.  The same cop following her and then getting off on another exit.  We see this through Mariane’s rearview.  The same cop showing up to the car dealership and parking across the street, leaning against his car and just staring at her until he finally starts walking towards her.  Renders the whole buying a new care virtually useless, but it’s too late.  The camera speaks volumes to the audience just by it’s cuts and pans.  The numerous camera shots of the cash keep us on edge, making us think it will be forgotten or left behind.


 Should Have Won:   The Apartment

Left Out:                    Psycho

The Apartment rightfully won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1960.  The Sundowners should have been left out without question.  Instead, I would have nominated Psycho.  That seems to be the only big snub for this year.  Rumor has it that it was actually the heavy campaign of The Alamo, that got it a nomination and kept Psycho out, but I see The Sundowners as the clear weak link here.  Without having seen Sons and Lovers, I would have to keep it in.  I have seen Spartacus, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier & Jean Simmons, but not for the purpose of this project.  In my opinion, Spartacus does not deserve to be nominated for Best Picture in 1960.  I find it both slow and interminable.  It’s better than The Sundowners, but that’s not saying much.  I can see how it’s a classic; it’s epic and has a great cast, but I just really don’t like it.

Overall Year Score – 68%


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