Friday, August 5, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1965

The Contenders:

Cat Ballou
The Collector
Dr. Zhivago (winner)
Ship of Fools
A Thousand Clowns

What’s Missing

As much as I hate The Sound of Music, I admit to being a little surprised that it wasn’t nominated here. I mean, I wouldn’t pick it for the win had it been nominated, but it’s still a shock that it was ignored. I think another that I’m surprised by is The Pawnbroker based on its reputation; it’s one I still have yet to see. Of those I have seen, Chimes at Midnight would have been an interesting pick, but the Academy had all but written off Orson Welles by 1965. The twisty ouroboros that is The Saragossa Manuscript was probably just too weird. No, if I had to pick one that I’d like to see here, I’d choose Von Ryan’s Express.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I can’t say that I didn’t like A Thousand Clowns, but I still am not sure what the heck that movie was supposed to be. For me, the entire film comes down to the performances of Martin Balsam and especially Jason Robards, who was badly snubbed. The screenplay, though, doesn’t do a great deal for me, and I wouldn’t mind putting Robards in for a nomination and dropping the film here. It’s not bad, but it feels like it was nominated for being kooky and off-kilter from the norm and for trying to express something about the futility of the modern world. Other films have done that better.

4. Cat Ballou is a fun little lark, but it’s another nomination in this category that leaves me scratching my head. It’s entertaining, but it’s not a film that would rank high for me as a comedy or as a Western for its decade. Again, it’s the performances that sell the film to me more than anything else and the screenplay, while well-written, isn’t anything I consider that special. Other people seem to like Cat Ballou a lot more than I do, so I suppose someone can tell me below why it deserves to be higher than 4th place.

3. Of the five films nominated for this category, Dr. Zhivago is the one I’m the least likely to rewatch any time soon, and probably my least favorite of the five films. I can’t deny a good and accurate screenplay, though. If I had to guess, I’m thinking it probably won because it’s an adaptation of a classic piece of literature, and Oscar loves to pat itself on the back with how erudite and literate are its members. Seriously, I could probably be argued into dropping this one lower, but not in bringing it any higher than here.

2. Ship of Fools is a film that surprises me in some ways. It’s an interesting drama filled with a lot of good characters well-portrayed. I’m not sure why the film seems to have been so completely forgotten. Just as I like Cat Ballou less than most, I seem to like Ship of Fools more than most. There are a lot of moving parts to the screenplay here, and it never gets confusing or trips over itself. That requires a lot of careful work in the screenplay, and it’s work that really pays off in the final product. The players are all great here, but they started from a great place.

My Choice

1. No shock here, but The Collector is the film from 1965 that I wish more people knew. This is a tight little thriller, pared down to just a couple of characters and it works for me in every frame. When the cast is this small, we need to have strong characters defined for us, and The Collector does just that. We need to e able to see every decision that the characters make as being consistent with them, and again, that’s what we get. There’s not a moment here that isn’t tense and there’s not a frame that feels out of character or out of place. It’s scripted within an inch of its life, and the whole thing works for it. I’m shocked (but happy) that a film of this style even made it to the nominations, but once it was there, I think it was clearly the best of the bunch.

Final Analysis


  1. A stunning nomination miss in my opinion is The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, a tight adaptation of Le Carre's grim cold war novel.

    1. It's one I've seen, but was not enamored with. A little Richard Burton goes a long way for me in a lot of cases.

  2. Of these, I've only seen Dr Zhivago. Your first and second choice seem interesting.

    1. They're both worth seeing. The Collector is one I've been mentioning to people since I saw it.