Joseph L. Mankiewicz: 5 Fingers
Cecil B. DeMille: The Greatest Show on Earth
Fred Zinnemann: High Noon
John Huston: Moulin Rouge
John Ford: The Quiet Man (winner)
One of the great tragedies of the Oscars is that An American in Paris won Best Picture in 1951, which pretty much prevented Singin’ in the Rain from garnering nominations. Okay, I don’t have any proof that that’s true, but it is true that Singin’ in the Rain was only nominated for music and a deserving Jean Hagen in a supporting role, but I think I can make a case for many more nominations, including one for director Stanley Donen. I might also suggest that Vincente Minnelli deserved one for The Bad and the Beautiful. On the foreign front, Akira Kurosawa is never a bad choice, and in 1952, his film was Ikiru, which is truly great. Other names of note are Rene Clement for Forbidden Games and Vittorio De Sica for Umberto D., but I think Kurosawa deserved the nomination more.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I’d normally feel guilty putting Cecil B. DeMille on the bottom of any list, but in this case, it’s deserved. There’s a popular hypothesis that plenty of folks in the Academy thought that DeMille’s career needed to be rewarded in some way. But The Greatest Show on Earth didn’t deserve any of the accolades it received. This is a big, ponderous film that has some great production numbers and a great train crash toward the end. But it’s also bloated and has a number of pointless subplots that don’t go much of anywhere and don’t really matter. Kudos to DeMille for getting it made and keeping in coherent, but he didn’t manage to make in interesting, which counts against him..
2: John Ford won this Oscar for The Quiet Man, and I’d be hard-pressed to suggest he didn’t deserve it. At first blush, this looks like a case similar to John Huston and Moulin Rouge. What exactly did Ford do here that deserved even a nomination? For one thing, he dragged one of the truly great John Wayne performances out of an actor who struggled his whole career with the knock that he couldn’t do more than play himself. The Quiet Man isn’t my favorite John Wayne performance, but it demonstrates that he could play someone who wasn’t riding a horse or carrying a machine gun. And that comes from Ford.