Here Comes Mr. Jordan (winner)
Hold Back the Dawn
How Green Was My Valley
The Little Foxes
The Maltese Falcon
I don’t have a lot of complaints about this list of nominees. While I don’t love all of the movies, I don’t know that any of the five are shocking or terrible nominations. If I could add one, I might consider The Devil and Daniel Webster but that mostly comes from Walter Huston’s wonderful performance and not really from the screenplay. I Wake Up Screaming would be an interesting addition. High Sierra was also from this year, but I’m not convinced it’s a better choice than the five we already have.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. It’s very easy to hate on How Green Was My Valley when it won Best Picture over Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon. Putting its screenplay in fifth might feel like me doing exactly that. I don’t really hate the screenplay, though, and I’d have been shocked if it had not been nominated. I like the other screenplays we have here more, though. I don’t understand the acclaim for this one, and it’s not a screenplay that I love. I might put something in its place, but even then, this isn’t a terrible nomination.
4. Winner Here Comes Mr. Jordan has as its greatest strength a plot that works in spite of itself. There are some real problems, though. The biggest problem I have with the film is that it doesn’t take long enough to really address all of its plot points. Too much is smashed into the sack and the sack is too small, so resolutions of problems don’t always work. I can get that people were enchanted by this and it does have its charms, but in a year with screenplays that take enough time to work everything out satisfactorily. Here Comes Mr. Jordan shouldn't be here.
3. I like Hold Back the Dawn and I liked it more than I thought I would. It’s a Billy Wilder screenplay, and that generally means good things for the movie in question, but it’s also an earlier Billy Wilder screenplay. It ends up being pretty melodramatic. While I appreciate that it focuses on the idea of a romance rather than a romantic comedy, it also goes over the top in that respect. It’s a movie to watch more for the performances than for the story it tells. It’s not bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. It’s just not a winner.
2. The Little Foxes is a film where I initially find the screenplay difficult to judge because of everything else the film has working for it. It contains a monster performance from Bette Davis, for instance, and some truly magnificent work behind the camera. If the film came with more of a resolution, I might like it a little bit more and allow it to contend for the statue, but it doesn’t quite get there. It’s a great screenplay, though, and one that I was happy to see nominated. In a film where pretty much everyone is kind of awful, that's pretty amazing.
1. There are a few movies that I think are the template for film noir. The Maltese Falcon is one of those films. It is a near-perfect adaptation of the tense and muscular book and one that holds up now as a film. It’s smart, it all makes sense, and there’s not an ounce of filler here anywhere. This is a film that stays completely true to its source material, something that is in and of itself noteworthy. That it’s a great story and filmed within an inch of its life makes it all the better. I have no qualms about putting the statue in this direction.