Friday, April 21, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1964

The Contenders:

Father Goose (winner)
A Hard Day’s Night
One Potato, Two Potato
The Organizer (I Compagni)
That Man from Rio (L’homme de Rio)

What’s Missing

I don’t have a lot to add to the nominations for Best Original Screenplay for 1964. Most of the films that I really like from this year, including Woman in the Dunes and Séance on a Wet Afternoon are based on published works. Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss isn’t the kind of film that gets Oscar nods, but I love Sam Fuller, so I’m putting it here. My other suggestions are all non-English language in a year when we’ve already got 40% of the nominations being in something other than English. Blood and Black Lace doesn’t really belong here at all because the problems with that movie are in the screenplay. However, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg most certainly does belong here. I think I can make a case for Onibaba as well.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Of the five movies nominated, A Hard Day’s Night is the one I like the best, the one I’ve seen the most, and the one I’m the most likely to rewatch. So why is it last? Because it doesn’t belong here. There are plenty of places where A Hard Day’s Night excels, but the screenplay isn’t one of them. Much of the film feels adlibbed and a lot of it appears to be cobbling together moments to put the Beatles on stage. I love the film and I love its influence on many things that have followed it, but screenplay? Not screenplay.

4. Father Goose is a perfectly serviceable film and one of the first times I’ve actually liked Leslie Caron in anything. Again, my biggest problems with this film come in the screenplay. It’s not bad, but it’s also not that interesting. There aren’t a lot of places here that turn out to be surprising or different or anything other than what you expect is going to happen half an hour before it does. A good version of a very old story doesn’t seem to me to be something that deserves an Oscar. I think I can understand why it won, but I’m not convinced that it should even be here.

3. The Man from Rio is a lot of fun and it has a great deal of fun playing a riff on the spy genre. There are some very good action sequences here and also some comedy that genuinely works. The characters all come across as pretty flat, though. I admit that I’m judging this from a modern perspective, but the character of Agnes is terribly retrograde by modern standards. I like the nomination quite a bit. It’s a clever film that holds up a good five decades after it was made. That’s rare, and rarer still for a comedy. It’s just not the best original screenplay of its year.

2. The biggest problem with One Potato, Two Potato is that it’s a film that has outlived its importance. A film about an interracial couple in 1964 would have been shocking and important. Today, an interracial couple isn’t that noteworthy or interesting aside from the few (and decreasing) vocal racists who still object to such things. Even though the film is no longer as culturally relevant as it was 50+ years ago, there’s still a lot to like here, and the screenplay is the best part of the film. I love that it was nominated, but it’s not the one I’d put at the top.

My Choice

1. The biggest issue with The Organizer is that it’s the sort of movie that makes you want to stick your head into the oven when it’s done. It’s relentlessly depressing, the sort of thing that made Italian neorealism what it was. It is, however, a masterful film. It works its way to its climax with a certain level of inexorability while still leaving us with hope that things might actually change for the better. That the film manages to avoid falling into the Hollywood happy ending trap only speaks to its strength and quality. It’s what should have won.

Final Analysis


  1. I have to be honest and say I'm shocked that a flyaway nothing of a film like Father Goose ever won anything. I didn't even find it charming, something that seems incredible considering it starred Cary Grant and Leslie Caron. It just laid there as far as I'm concerned.

    I haven't seen The Organizer unfortunately so my valuation is limited but my ranking of the other four would be similar to yours...though Father Goose would be dead last.

    How painful to realize that Umbrellas of Cherbourg didn't receive a nod in this category. If it had my choice would have been easy, it would have taken it in a stroll.

    1. Yeah, that was my problem with Father Goose as well. I think I probably liked it a little more than you did, although I can't imagine I'd want to watch it again any time soon. The screenplay, which is what was nominated, was the weakest part of the film for me. Since I'm not a fan of Leslie Caron, that's saying something.

      I'd love to see The Umbrellas of Cherbourg here. It would likely be my second-place finisher. The Organizer is not a lot of fun, but it's great.

  2. Wow, I don't think I've seen ANY of the films nominated for this year and I'm STILL shocked. There were a lot of fine films in 1964 with great screenplays. Were they all adapted? Seems so from a very brief look through.

    1. They were. Seriously, just about everything I would have considered turned up as an adapted screenplay. Even the fun stuff, like Roger Corman's version of Masque of the Red Death.