Bad Day at Black Rock
East of Eden
Love Me or Leave Me
Every now and then, you get a year that is an embarrassment of riches in a particular category. In the case of Best Adapted Screenplay for 1955, we’ve got that situation. I understand the five nominations, although I don’t agree with them all. There are a number of films I’d rather see nominated over at least part of our five nominees. We can start this off with Oklahoma!, a film that I liked more than I thought I would, and one that translated to the screen very well. Kiss Me Deadly is probably a little too odd and gritty for Oscar in 1955. Sadly, The Night of the Hunter wasn’t recognized for the genius film it is in 1955, which left it out of contention. The three that I think are seriously missing, the three that I’d argue for at least, are (in some order), the tragi-comic Mister Roberts, the Hitchcockian Les Diaboliques, and the brutal The Man with the Golden Arm, which gets extra points for having the main character named Frankie Machine.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. East of Eden may be a great adaptation of its story, but it’s not a film that I liked much. It’s easily my least favorite of James Dean’s movies. The characters are flat and the relationships that the film displays are two-dimensional as well. For a film to really have a chane to win a screenplay award, it needs to have characters that are interesting and developed enough that I can extrapolate some things from what I’ve been shown. I can’t do this with any of the characters in this film, and for that reason I wouldn’t even want this to be nominated.
4. The problem with Blackboard Jungle is that it hasn’t aged well at all. I probably would have liked this a lot more in 1955 than I like it now because of how poorly it has aged. The plot is drawn in very broad strokes, substituting anything resembling subtlety for hammer blows of capital-M Meaning and capital-I Importance. I fully understand why this was nominated in 1955, but were this award to be decided today, I can’t really see many people wanting to nominate something that seems to generate a plot by bashing together concrete blocks.
3. I liked Love Me or Leave Me a lot more than I thought I was going to. The truth, though, is that the main reason I liked it is because it is probably the most James Cagney performance since White Heat. Cagney is so good in this, playing a Napoleonic little man who still has a real human heart and real human feelings that he overshadows just about everything else in the film. The story is a good one, but it’s not an exceptionally new one, being kind of a riff on A Star is Born. Good, but not great in terms of the story.
2. There’s a hair’s breadth difference between the top two spots for me here. I completely understand why Marty won, even though it’s not my choice. There’s a bit of genius evident when you can create a movie that puts big, overweight, gap-toothed, blocky Ernest Borgnine in as a romantic lead and have the damn thing work. Yes, the performances are great. But those performances started from such a strong place and the story is so carefully put together to make everything work that it’s the first of these nominations I really like being here. I get why it won. It just wouldn’t get my vote.
1. The only thing I don’t like about Bad Day at Black Rock is that it’s too damn short. Everything else works. While it’s true that it is carried by a number of tremendous performances, those characters come from a script that does everything right. Bad Day at Black Rock is one of those rare films that attempts to blend multiple genres and pulls it off. It’s a Western, a film noir, a message movie, a thriller, and despite the cast, dips into B-movie territory, and it all fits together. This would be a tighter race with the last three I mentioned in the first paragraph in the list of nominees, but this would still be my winner more often than not.