The Bishop’s Wife
Gentleman’s Agreement (winner)
Miracle on 34th Street
When we go back to these earlier years (although this is admittedly about 20 years into Oscar’s history), I don’t have as many movies watched. On the positive side, that means fewer possibilities for substitutions. On the negative side, it means I’m far more likely to leave worthy films out. There are a lot of movies I liked well enough from this year==The Farmer’s Daughter, Boomerang, Smash-Up, Odd Man Out--that I wouldn’t nominate, but are pleasant enough. I feel the same way about The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, which is harmless and sweet. It really does feel like a year of harmless films, or ones that are good while falling shy of great. The Lady from Shanghai (I’m in the minority in not finding it great, I think), Mourning Becomes Elektra, Dark Passage, Possessed…the list goes on. If we want to talk about real contenders, though, we can start with Black Narcissus, which I’m calling ineligible since it earned nominations in 1948. Body and Soul seems like a solid miss here, especially with Oscar’s love of boxing movies. Nightmare Alley was probably too dark for Oscar’s crowd. The snub of Out of the Past is unconscionable.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I’m not going to pretend that I like the work of Charles Dickens outside of A Christmas Carol, and Great Expectations isn’t going to change my mind. I’m likely in the minority here, but I just can’t stand the man’s work. One of the problems is that I don’t much like his characters. Our main character here, Pip, has the overriding character trait of being extraordinarily lucky. That’s the sort of character trait that should serve as a warning to beginning writers that the character isn’t that interesting.
4. I really wanted to like Crossfire a lot more than I did. It’s a film that very much wants to be a gritty noir, and it kind of is except for the fact that huge parts of it don’t work at all. The whole thing seems just a bit off-kilter. There are subplots that don’t go anywhere and entire chunks of the film that could be cut or reduced to a tenth of their running time without affecting the plot in the least. The film also manages to underuse Robert Mitchum and replace him for a large part of the running time with the humanoid beige carpeting of Robert Young.
3. Where Crossfire had a plot that involved violent anti-Semitism, eventual winner Gentleman’s Agreement was a much more subtle story of the anti-Semitism still rife in the U.S. despite the ending of the Holocaust. This is a good movie, but I’m not ready to call it a great one. The cast is good and the story is pretty gutsy for the time, but it falls into a lot of cliché by the time the final credits roll. I like the film well enough and I don’t hate the nomination, but it wouldn’t come close to winning in my world.
2. My only real problem with The Bishop’s Wife is that it’s pretty much a fluff piece. It’s a great showcase for the comedic talents and stylings of Cary Grant, though, a good reminder of just how good he was in light comedy. It’s a hard film to dislike, even for a heathen like myself. It’s perhaps limited in the sense that it feels odd to watch this outside of that month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Still, I enjoyed this a great deal, and it’s one that slips easily into the yearly holiday rotation.
1. Of the nominations, I like Miracle on 34th Street the best. It’s also pretty fluffy and it’s also a Christmas movie, but it does absolutely everything right. There’s not a moment here that is out of place, and it features such a sweet and heartfelt performance from Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood is a pure charmer. Don’t bother with a remake and don’t you dare sit through the colorized travesty. Watch this in its glorious original black-and-white. I love this as a nomination and it would be my vote limited to these five, but in an open field, it just barely gets clipped.
I’ve not been shy in the past about my love for Out of the Past, which I think might be the perfect example of film noir. It’s not necessarily my favorite film noir and it may not quite be the best noir ever made, but it is very much the one that hits every aspect of noir as well as it can be hit. Robert Mitchum is perfectly cast and there is no better femme fatale than Jane Greer. Sure, I might rather watch Double Indemnity or The Maltese Falcon, but Out of the Past could serve as a perfect template for the style.