Monday, January 23, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1964

The Contenders:

Becket (winner)
Dr. Strangelove
Mary Poppins
My Fair Lady
Zorba the Greek

What’s Missing

It’s rare that I find a year with such odd nominations. The Adapted Screenplay nominations for 1964 are identical to those for Best Picture and Best Director and almost the same as those for Best Actor. I think there’s room for improvement. The first one I’d add is the chilling Séance on a Wet Afternoon. The same could be said for the disturbing Woman in the Dunes. I’ll toss out a nod to Roger Corman’s version of The Masque of the Red Death, which makes a lot of hay with a very short story.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I know it isn’t popular to suggest that Mary Poppins isn’t that good, but I don’t like it that much. I find it too maudlin and drippy, and while a few of the songs are good, it’s not a story that I find charming or interesting at all. In fact, Mary, who is supposed to be this figure of magic and joy, is actually pretty nasty from a certain point of view. I think the problem may simply be that it hasn’t aged very well, and for me, it’s a film that no longer has an audience. I’d rather see the ones I mentioned above here instead.

4. I want to move My Fair Lady higher than this, but I can’t. The truth is that I like the Pygmalion story pretty well, but I like the musical aspects of this far less than the original version by Shaw. Yes, some of the songs are very good—some are legendarily good. But I prefer this story without the music. It’s a fine adaptation of the original story. Really, though, the main reason I’ve put this fourth is that My Fair Lady changes Eliza. It may simply be Audrey Hepburn’s performance here, but this Eliza comes across as much weaker and less ballsy than other versions. I don’t like that much.

3. I’m not sure how to approach Zorba the Greek. I expected this to be a joy-filled romp with a good-natured Greek man (played by a Mexican actor) and it’s really not. This is a film that I respect a lot more than I like it. I guess my real problem is that Zorba the Greek travels in a very large circle; we pretty much end up exactly where we started. It feels like a long way to go to get nowhere. I find that frustrating. It’s well-written and good for what it is, but I don’t love it as much as I’d like to.

2. Of the five nominations, Becket is the first one here that I’d probably keep with my own list. Were I to create my own list, Becket would be there, but would probably come in fifth place. There’s nothing specifically wrong with the film. It’s very cerebral, the sort of film that needs to be taken with a large dose of caffeine. It also turns mostly on the performances of Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton more than it does on anything else. I get why it won, but it didn’t really deserve to, and really only deserved to be nominated by a slim margin.

My Choice

1. I’m conflicted at the top here. Based on the actual nominated films, I hand this to Dr. Strangelove 10 out of 10 times. With my own list of nominations, it probably wins 7 of 10, with the other three being taken by Séance on a Wet Afternoon. That said, my rule here has always been that ties go to the Academy. A tie in this case means that at least they nominated something worthy of winning, and so they get partial credit for getting the nomination right if not the actual winner.

Final Analysis


  1. While it wouldn't be my winner I love Mary Poppins and the Poppins of the film is an absolute softie compared to the snappish disciplinarian in the book.

    I agree about My Fair Lady. It's a lovely pageant of a film, lavish and for the most part enjoyable but some of the stuffing has been knocked out of it from the original film and Shaw's work.

    I DETEST Zorba the Greek, it was torture to get through even once. I found nothing special about it and Quinn drove me right up the wall. The only positive I can think of is that I loved Alan Bates's white suit, hardly a ringing endorsement for a film.

    I love Becket for the performances and history involved but it is very stately and if the adaptation had been tighter and the editing a bit crisper it could have been an even better film but I'm not sorry it won either.

    Dr. Strangelove is more beloved by others than by me but despite that I'll readily admit it is the most inventively original and daring of the five and should have come out ahead.

    Seance on a Wet Afternoon is a good suggestion and would make a good substitute for Zorba but I'm surprised you didn't mention The Night of the Iguana which would be my winner had it been nominated.

    1. Sadly, I haven't seen Night of the Iguana. It's a hole I should fill one of these days.

      I think Dr. Strangelove is a film that many love and that many are ambivalent on. I do love it, and one of the reasons I do is for how inventive it ultimately is. It's a smart parody, and those are in short supply.

      I agree on Becket as well. It's a lot of film for what is an important historical story, but one that is ultimately a personal story. Knock 20-30 minutes out of it and bring it in around two hours and I'd move it higher.

  2. I respectfully disagree with your placing of Mary Poppins, I'd swap it with Zorba the Greek. I haven't yet seen Beckett, but it sounds like it has a similar feel to A Man For All Seasons.

    But really, nothing beats Dr Strangelove, and not just at the Oscars.

    1. These posts every few days are just my opinions and nothing more. It would be unfair of me to expect that everyone will agree with me. Also, each time I do one of these (or almost every time) I guess that one of my placements will be the most controversial. Sometimes I'm right and sometimes I discover a wellspring of agreement I never knew existed. In this case, I knew the moment I put Mary Poppins last I'd be in a small minority.

      I'm fine with a disagreement. If we always agreed, one of us would be unnecessary.

  3. Reading Red Alert by Peter George is an interesting experience After seeing Strangelove a half dozen times or so like I have before I read it makes the book just seems so damn serious! Nuclear war treated seriously? Who knew you could do that? It made me appreciate what a creative adaptation Strangelove really was. It certainly would have gotten my vote.

    1. I've been told I need to watch Fail-Safe. From what I understand, it's the straight version of the same story.

      One of these days, right?

    2. I watched Fail Safe a couple of months ago and really enjoyed it. I had a few quibbles with the plot, but it's tense and even though it tells the same story as Dr. Strangelove, the tone is different enough that it's worth seeing.

    3. I've come close to watching it a couple of times, but have never pulled the trigger on it. One of these days...