Friday, April 12, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1954

The Contenders:

The Barefoot Contessa
The Glenn Miller Story
Knock on Wood
On the Waterfront (winner)

What’s Missing

This is once again one of those cases where most of the movies I thought I might want to mention here belong in the other category. I can’t say I love all of these movies and think the list would be better with some changes, but there’s really only one that should be here that isn’t. Both Creature from the Black Lagoon and Godzilla would be entertaining to see here. White Christmas not being here is actually a little shocking. The big one, though, is Seven Samurai, which got its nominations in 1957.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Of all of these, The Glenn Miller Story is the one that I’m most sure doesn’t really belong here. There’s nothing really terrible about the movie, but there’s also nothing that much to really recommend it. It’s almost too nice and too hagiographic to be that believable, and does make me wonder what Miller was like in real life…because I’m pretty sure he couldn’t be the James Stewart version depicted here. Ultimately, the music is the best part of this movie, and that has very little to do with the screenplay.

4. I struggled with what to put third and fourth here, but ultimately went with Genevieve for a one simple reason: there’s not a great deal of plot here. It’s a cute movie, don’t get me wrong. It’s entertaining and funny and while the two male main characters are frequently frustrating, it’s hard not to like it. But there isn’t a ton of story in this, and that seems to be a bit of an issue for an award that is based at least partly on the story being told. I don’t hate that it’s nominated, because I wouldn’t have seen it otherwise, but I’m really not sure it deserves it.

3. Knock on Wood managed this position by the thinnest of margins over Genevieve. There are some very good moments in Knock on Wood, which might be why it got nominated in the first place. But the big issue here is that this is the sort of comedy that makes sure that the audience knows that something is funny by making everything as extreme as possible. So many of the jokes are telegraphed that, while I did enjoy the movie, I don’t know that I can say I need to see it again.

2. I went into The Barefoot Contessa cold, knowing pretty much nothing about it, and left having enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. This is a very good story, one that has a number of surprises in it that aren’t worth spoiling because of how they work. I admit to being jaded in a lot of ways when it comes to movies, so if someone is capable of surprising me in a good way, it’s something that registers with me as significant. I could see this winning in some other years, and wouldn’t complain too hard had it actually won.

My Choice

1. But this is a case where Oscar did the right thing in giving the statue to On the Waterfront. There’s a reason this is thought of as highly as it is. Sure, a lot of that comes from the amazing cast and performances headed by Brando at the absolute height of his skill in front of the camera. But they had a lot to work with here, and while I don’t want to (and won’t) take anything away from those performances, those actors had a nice boost up from a screenplay that is interesting, poignant, smart, and quotable. It was the right choice.

Final Analysis


  1. What I remember most from The Barefoot Contessa was Bogart playing against character. That was awesome. The story I do not remember so much. On the Waterfront on the other hand is still with me several years later. A good screenplay is very much a part of that.
    The other night I watch Seven Samurai again again. Such an awesome movie.

    1. Seven Samurai really is great, but in this case, since it was eventually nominated, I'm not sure I can justify it winning here.

  2. I don't think there's anything that could have beaten On the Waterfront this year but that's not a bad thing since it was the proper winner.

    I'm surprised Barefoot Contessa rated so high for you. I wasn't that fond of it but it has been many, many years since I've seen it, I should give it another look and see if I feel the same about it.

    I love The Glenn Miller Story but would never have thought it was nomination worthy. I agree Jimmy Stewart's take on him is too good to be true though, Miller was apparently a decent, but just like everyone else, flawed man with an immense musical gift.

    Both Genevieve and Knock on Wood are pleasant films but when I think about them its Kay Kendall and Danny Kaye I recall not their stories.

    The big miss for me is the Judy Holliday/Jack Lemmon lead It Should Happen to You which is both clever and trenchant and even today says something about the desire for fame for fame's sake and the emptiness of that pursuit. Nothing would top Waterfront but had it been nominated it would be a close second.

    1. I like The Barefoot Contessa well enough, and I think the story is one of the best parts of it. Truthfully, it's in second here because, while I like the movies ranked lower as well or almost as well, they're all either weak in the screenplay or just fluffy and not that meaningful.

      But yeah, it's all about On the Waterfront here. I don't think it was possible for it to lose.