Richard Brooks: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Stanley Kramer: The Defiant Ones
Vincente Minnelli: Gigi (winner)
Robert Wise: I Want to Live!
Mark Robson: Inn of the Sixth Happiness
When you look at the nominations for Best Director 1958 and compare them to the film releases of 1958, you have to wonder what the hell the Academy was thinking. There are enough great non-English releases to make a complete slate of movies that would certainly be worthy in terms of direction for this year, starting with Louis Malle and Elevator to the Gallows. Similarly, Satyajit Ray’s work in The Music Room and Andrzej Wajda’s directorial performance for Ashes and Diamonds rank among the year’s best. On the same foreign language front, Youssef Chahine and Cairo Station is probably the biggest miss, while Jacques Tati and Mon Oncle is probably the biggest stretch. But really, we don’t need to go here when Alfred Hitchcock was ignored for Vertigo and Orson Welles was skipped over for Touch of Evil. Seriously, what the hell, Academy?
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I know what you’re thinking, and while there’s definitely a temptation here, I’m not putting Gigi in last place. No, I’m going with Mark Robson and Inn of the Sixth Happiness for the bottom spot. Beyond the whitewashing problem, the issue I have with the film is that it spends entirely too much time on a romance that isn’t that great and not nearly enough time on the long journey to escape the Japanese invasion. The film is too long and focused in the wrong place. Sure, that’s partly the screenplay’s problem, but Robson should have dealt with it better.
4. Of these five movies, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is probably the best actual movie and almost certainly the one with which I’m the most impressed. So why is it fourth? Because no matter how hard Richard Brooks tries, he can’t hide the fact that this is based on a stage play. All the effort in the world doesn’t turn this completely into a movie, and that has always been and remains a problem for me. Some of the dialogue simply doesn’t work, and Brooks can’t completely separate this from the stage and into its own entity. It’s a great film in many ways, but this is its weakness.
3. There’s a great deal to love in The Defiant Ones, and Stanley Kramer’s direction is a part of that. I love that this movie feels so much like a film noir without really quite being one. It has that same vibe to it, though. I seem to be the only blogger who has ever classified the film in that way, and that noir-esque feel to it is something I genuinely like about what Kramer brought to the production. As good as Kramer was, though, the film is really all about the performances of Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier. I like the nomination pretty well, but I won’t give it the win.
2. I really hate Gigi. I find it disturbing, creepy, and unpleasant. But, as much as I want to hate everything about it, I have to give credit to Vincente Minnelli: it’s beautifully directed. There is a great deal of style here, and while the story itself is reprehensible and immoral in almost every respect, it is gorgeous and wonderful to look at. I kind of hate that it is so beautiful because of this—I really want to hate everything about it. Based on the nominations, I understand Minnelli’s win, because the story (such as it is) is told with such style and beauty. I hate the movie, but credit where credit is due. I understand the win even if I don’t agree.
1. Even limited to the five nominations, handing this to Robert Wise for I Want to Live! seems strange on the surface. Wise’s nomination almost certainly came not for the dynamite performance from Susan Hayward nor because of the film’s moral ambiguity. No, Wise earned this nomination almost certainly for the closing half hour of the film as our morally dark gray protagonist awaits her execution, with each tick of the clock, each potential stay, each moment closer to the gas chamber causing that tension to inexorably creep up to the breaking point. This is all on Wise and it’s damn near perfect. He’s my winner for the nominations, but not my winner.
Seriously? To have both Hitchcock’s insane work in Vertigo and Welles’s monumental Touch of Evil ignored here is almost criminal. Both films are still frequently cited as masterpieces of the cinema, and both of them are absolutely central to the canon both of their creators and of film in general. I won’t pick between them. I’ll only say that both of them should be here, and both of them deserved to win. Having both of these directors snubbed for these films borders on the offensive.