The Greatest Show on Earth (winner)
The Quiet Man
This is going to be one of “those” years again. Give me a chance to choose the nominations here, and chances are near 100% that I’m going to dump three of the ones we have. The only times I’m not getting rid of three, I’m getting rid of four. This is especially true when you consider what films were release in 1952. I’m a fan of such films as Sudden Fear and The Bad and the Beautiful, but I’m not sure these earn a nomination from me (although it’s possible). This year includes both the incredible Forbidden Games and Kurosawa’s astonishing Ikiru. But the big miss? Singin’ in the Rain. Oscar, how could you?
Weeding through the Nominees
5. One has to wonder how, given the nominees and the releases from 1952, The Greatest Show on Earth managed to come out on top. To put it lightly, I’m not a fan. Several years ago, I ranked the Best Picture winners, and this just missed being in the bottom-5. It’s too long, completely episodic, and not nearly as interesting as a Best Picture nominee should be, let alone a winner. I’ll grant that the train crash at the end is pretty impressive. But I think it says something that James Stewart played the film in clown white rather than show his face.
4. Ivanhoe desperately wanted to be The Adventures of Robin Hood and really, really wasn’t. The battle sequences are by far the best part of the film. It suffers greatly from having Robert Taylor in the lead, since the man could not possibly be more snore-inducing. Truthfully, the film isn’t bad; it’s just not that interesting, and in a world where you could choose to watch this or Errol Flynn in green tights, there’s simply no contest. Watch it if you think you need to be complete on these nominations, but there does not exist a reason to watch it twice.
3. I could say something very similar about Moulin Rouge. The truth is that it’s again not a bad movie, but one that is perhaps a little too dull to be really in consideration for Best Picture of this or any year. There are aspects of the film that I genuinely like. Jose Ferrer is quite good as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and I like the statement the film makes about his station and why he decided to spend time at the Moulin Rouge. But the romance here is dead on arrival, and since this is from an era that required romance in every film, there’s an issue right away.
2. I like The Quiet Man well enough, but it has some serious issues as well. There are significant issues with the character of Mary Kate and how she both deals with others and is dealt with in return. That said, this is a beautiful film to look at, and one that serves as a counter to the argument the John Wayne was only capable of playing himself, or of playing cowboys and marines. Give me the chance to renominate for this year, and The Quiet Man might make the list, but it might not.
1. Of the five nominees, the only one I am guaranteed to carry over into my own set of five nominations is High Noon. I might get some blowback for that opinion, but I think it’s one of the finest westerns in Hollywood history. And, while it’s not going to win in my world, even if I’m making the list of nominees, it’s not dropping lower than third place. It’s a gutsy story well and efficiently told, and sometimes that’s enough. That it’s one of Gary Cooper’s best roles is just icing. But still, it’s not going to be my pick. It says something for the year when one of the greatest films of its genre can't get higher than third in an open field.
Ikiru is a thing of beauty, one of Kurosawa’s most thoughtful and contemplative films. It has humor but also real pathos and depth. But it’s unlikely that the Academy would consider a film from Japan in 1952. They could have just as easily gone with Singin’ in the Rain, which is objectively the greatest movie musical in history. My guess is it wasn’t nominated in part because of the success of An American in Paris the year before, and that’s a damn shame. It’s about as close as you’re going to get to perfection for that genre…or any genre.