Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Defiant Ones
Looking at the nominees for 1958, it would seem like an off year. It really, really wasn’t, even if it was an off year for nominations, and I’m not talking about the stuff that I love, like The Blob and The Fly that wouldn’t sniff a nomination in a thousand years. Based on the sort of movies that were nominated in 1958, Some Came Running, I Want to Live! and Inn of the Sixth Happiness are better nominations than two or three of the actual nominations. On the foreign front, Mon Oncle is a stretch, but films like Cairo Station, The Music Room, and Elevator to the Gallows are worth a second look. Worth an additional look beyond that is Ashes and Diamonds. But let’s get serious for a second here; there are three movies that genuinely should have been nominated that were left off the list. The first is The Vikings, which has everything that the Academy looks for in a Best Picture film. The biggest misses, though, are Vertigo and Touch of Evil, the absence of which is absolutely insane.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I really hate Gigi. I can recognize that the film is well made and the production values are top of the line. I can see that it’s a film of particular quality. And I hate everything else about it. It is ugly in terms of character and plot and intent. This is a film where two matronly aunts more or less train their niece to be a prostitute, scam men for jewelry and other gifts, and are then disappointed when she’d rather not do that. It’s misogynistic, and it starts with an old man singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” to people a quarter of his age. Ick. Just ick.
4. Auntie Mame has some of the same problems for me. I get that it’s a fine performance from Rosalind Russell, she’s a character that doesn’t deserve a movie or anyone to like her. She’s the sort of person who regularly creates massive amounts of problems for other people (she essentially sets up a situation that gets her assistant pregnant outside of marriage in a time when that was social death) for her own convenience. There are weird, pervy moments here that are supposed to be wacky hijinks and just aren’t. I like Roz Russell just fine, but I don’t like this movie at all.
3. Separate Tables is the first nomination I understand, even if I wouldn’t nominate the film. This is a good, human drama about real, flawed people, and I understand why the Academy found it to be worthy of putting on the docket. The biggest problem I have with Separate Tables is that, several years after watching it, I don’t have much in the way of memory of it. It’s gone right out of my head, and a movie that could win Best Picture should be more memorable than that. I get its inclusion, but I don’t think it belongs here.
2. Assuming that we’re going with the conventions of the time and not nominating foreign language pictures, The Defiant Ones is the first nomination I’d actually keep. I like a lot of this movie, and I particularly like the characters and the situation. It’s an old formula (a road movie with two characters who start out hating each other) with a few significant twists and updates, and the whole thing works. I think it’s gutsy for its time, and I respect not only that it was made, but the way the characters work in the film. It’s a fine nomination.
1. Of the five nominees, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the best of the lot. In fact, in an open field, I wouldn’t object too much if someone suggested that it really is the best film of its year. Multiple great performances, a good story well told…it’s got pretty much everything I want in a Best Picture, and had it won, I can’t say I’d be terribly upset. It’s not my choice in an open field, but of the five we got, I don’t know that there is really a different place to go. It should have walked with the statue given the nominations, even if I wouldn’t settle there myself.
I’d go back to the two movies I put at the end of my first paragraph. Vertigo got mixed reviews upon its release, and it wasn’t until some years later that it was recognized as being one of Hitchcock’s great films, eventually being voted as the greatest film of all time in 2012 in a Sight and Sound poll. But my vote goes for Touch of Evil, almost certainly ignored because the Academy had decided that Orson Welles wasn’t worth the time of day. This was Welles at or near his best, though, a truly magnificent film in all respects, and it’s what should have been nominated and what should have won.