Blossoms in the Dust
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Hold Back the Dawn
How Green Was My Valley (winner)
The Little Foxes
The Maltese Falcon
One Foot in Heaven
You’d think that with ten nominations, there wouldn’t be a lot of room for fixes, but I’ve got plenty I’d rather see here. In fact, I’d likely bump at least the bottom five. High Sierra might get a little consideration from me, as might Sullivan’s Travels, which I did not like as well on a rewatch. The Devil and Miss Jones is perhaps too flighty and lightweight, although it’s tremendously fun. I can say the same about The Lady Eve, while I Wake Up Screaming may have been too tawdry for Oscar’s tastes. It’s clearly genre considerations that keep The Wolf Man off the ballot. Admittedly, the best part of The Devil and Daniel Webster was the grinning performance of Walter Huston, who was nominated for the role. And, of course, my love of Barbara Stanwyck will not let me ignore a mention for Ball of Fire.
Weeding through the Nominees
10. I really hated One Foot in Heaven for the smarmy, faux-righteous pain in the ass it turned out to be. Filled with sanctimony and “blessed” with a main character who expresses more concern over his books than his children during a house fire, there was nothing in this movie I liked. That’s sad, considering it stars Fredric March. If you’d like to be preached at by someone who is smugly convinced he is better than you (and willing to bribe people to prove it), be my guest. There’s no reason this should be here.
9. I can respect a good bit of ultimate winner How Green Was My Valley, but there isn’t a way to get me to like the film. It’s not merely depressing; it’s willfully so, with virtually every character repeatedly making the worst choices possible at every opportunity. That this won the Best Picture Oscar over so many better and unnominated films feels tragic and sad. Time has not been kind to this film or to this choice. It’s not a terrible movie, but there isn’t much call to say it’s a great one, either.
8. Blossoms in the Dust is a social issues movie, the issue in this case being the fate of illegitimate children. I like Greer Garson well enough and the issue isn’t a bad one, but this plays out as melodramatic in the extreme. Not even being the only nominee on color can change the fact that this is really filmed in the soft, pastel tones of emotional manipulation. There appeared to be enough real drama in the real story to make a movie; The clearly manufactured moments therefore don’t sit too well.
7. Sergeant York is a fine biopic, but it hits a couple of danger areas for me. First is that it feels very glurgey in the sense that our eponymous sergeant goes from raucous wild man to pious soul after a conversation. This seems to be historically accurate, but it’s still grating. A much bigger problem is that the film takes a stance that seems to glorify war. I know we were on the cusp of war in 1941 and such films can have value, but seriously, this film comes across as thinking that glory on the battlefield is all to which we should aspire.
6. The biggest problem I have with Suspicion is that Cary Grant is terribly miscast. It would be possible for Grant to play a true rogue and possible killer, but it would require a lot more work in the early part of the film to set that up. Being suspicious of Grant isn’t enough, because we’ll always give him the benefit of the doubt. The plot works, or at least could, but with someone other than the too-easily likable Grant in the main role. It’s not bad, but I’m not sure it’s anything more than mildly good.
5. Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a fun film, a cute little goof that isn’t very serious and plays out sweetly without being saccharine. There are massive plot problems, though, and when I say this, I am not referring to a soul being transplanted into a new body. No, it’s the real-world aspects of this film that stretch the story’s credibility more than anything else. It’s fun and harmless, and good enough to make it to the top half here, but no further. It might make my list of nominations, but it would do so in tenth place.
4. I liked Hold Back the Dawn almost in spite of itself. It’s nicely cast and the story is interesting, even if it tends a bit toward the melodramatic. It could have easily become incredibly drippy, though, but Billy Wilder was a smart enough screenwriter to prevent that from happening. There are some good ideas here and some good overall moments. With 10 nominations to play with, I don’t think this makes my top-five, but I think it’s likely to sneak in toward the bottom of the stack.
3. With The Little Foxes, we’re getting a film that could potentially contend in a different year. This plays to all of the strengths of Bad Bette Davis, and there are good performances around her throughout. But the best performance here might well be that of William Wyler and his deft use of camera to force the audience to pay attention to precisely where he wants us to moment by moment. In another year, I’d give this serious consideration, but sadly for The Little Foxes, it was released in a year with two of the greatest films ever made.
1. That said, Citizen Kane is clearly the most important and significant film of its year and probably the greatest achievement in film of its decade. I know there are people who don’t like it, and I suspect there are those who say they don’t like it to seem hip, trendy, or iconoclastic. Well, they’re wrong. Citizen Kane--and I don’t say things like this often—is objectively a great film from start to finish. It’s fine to not like it, but that doesn’t diminish exactly what Welles was able to accomplish with it. It’s what filmmaking should be, and while I’d have been happy with The Maltese Falcon winning, the statue really belonged here.