The Exorcist (winner)
The Last Detail
The Paper Chase
There are some really interesting choices for Best Adapted Screenplay for 1973, and a couple that I’d consider seriously as winners in this and other years. Still, as always, there’s some room for improvement. It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention a few that aren’t typically Oscar contenders, so we’ll start with The Legend of Hell House which is great until it trips at the end and Soylent Green which excels specifically in its ending. Don’t Look Now would have been an interesting choice, and arguably a classier horror-ish entry than winner The Exorcist. I’d seriously consider The Long Goodbye as an entrant here, and one that I might want to have on the block. The biggest miss, though, is Papillon which should be here ahead of at least two of the nominated films.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. As I look back on these five films, I think I liked The Paper Chase as much as I did for nostalgia reasons more than anything else. There was a television show based on the movie and my mother loved it. I also like John Houseman a lot, and he’s great in the film. But there’s not a lot to the screenplay that really recommends the film from what I remember. That’s a problem when that’s the category I’m looking at. I don’t know that this is a film I want to watch again, mainly because it contains characters who I generally didn’t like much and don’t want to spend time with a second time.
4. I also reviewed The Last Detail favorably, but I commented that it’s not a film I feel the need to see a second time. Oh, it’s a fine movie to be sure, and well acted, but two of the three characters—the two that I’m supposed to find interesting and compelling—are the two I don’t really like It’s only the voice of reason in the person of Otis Young’s Mulhall who I find really interesting and worth spending time around. It’s a fine movie, but again, I don’t love this nomination for this category.
3. This leaves me with a quandary. I feel like there are two films that belong in third and nothing in second place. I’m going to stick Serpico here strictly because the strongest part of the film is Al Pacino’s performance. This comes from a time when he was slowly building up to his trademark histrionics but hadn’t quite achieved the “it’s over 9000” level of them. Serpico is worth seeing for Pacino. The screenplay itself is good and compelling because it’s based on a true story. If it weren’t based on a true story, though, it would feel very much like a Hollywood fable.
2. Paper Moon has some of the same problems as Serpico. The best part of the film is the interaction of the characters, not the screenplay itself. In fact, the screenplay in many parts comes across as something we’ve seen before. There’s really only one place for the story to go, and it goes there. That it manages to stay compelling despite this and despite its episodic feel (it is a movie of three literal acts), but it does so specifically because of the characters and because of the performances in those roles. It’s good, but I’m not convinced it’s great.
1. The Exorcist was a daring choice for the Academy because of the nature of the film, but it was also clearly the right choice. Horror movies don’t generally get a lot of play come Oscar time, but The Exorcist needed to be nominated and needed to win. This is one of those rare occasions where the Academy managed to look into the future and pick the film that would carry the most influence into the future. A good pick, and the right pick. Well done, Academy.