The Grapes of Wrath
The Long Voyage Home
The Philadelphia Story (winner)
This is a year where I think a lot of the actual nominees fall squarely in the middle of my opinion; I like them well enough without liking them a lot. 1940 was far too early for anyone in Hollywood to consider a movie like Pinocchio for any sort of Oscar, but it’s a dandy animated film. The Mortal Storm may have been too politically charged for much consideration, but I like it better than most of the actual nominees. They Drive By Night was probably not “serious” enough for actual consideration. I’m surprised at the misses on Our Town and the Shop Around the Corner, both of which seem like they are naturals for this award. His Girl Friday seems like the same sort of film, and is perhaps the biggest miss along with The Letter.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Of the five nominees, The Long Voyage Home is the film that I didn’t really like that much. The screenplay is a big part of that. This is a movie that plays as more of a series of short films with the same cast—there’s not much of a full story here as there are simply a series of episodes that feature the same characters. Additionally, it’s one of those movies that has very specific beats throughout. If you’ve seen a few movies before, you’ll be able to pick up plot points long before they happen. You’ll be able, for instance, to determine who is going to die with surprising accuracy. That’s a problem when we’re looking to award one of the best screenplays.
4. Kitty Foyle is a fine enough film, but I’d be hard-pressed to call it a great one, or even a really good one. The plot that we’re given almost certainly played better in 1940 than it does today, in part because of the massive melodrama and in part because of the significantly reduced stigma of having a child outside of marriage. It’s a movie that hasn’t really aged that well, and because of that, it’s hard to rank higher than this. It might well have ranked higher for me had I seen it 80 years ago. For today, though, it’s not one I’d even nominate.
3. I like Rebecca well enough, but it’s a story that is far smaller than the movie that tells it. Hitchcock didn’t often do films that needed a serious trim, but Rebecca is one of those films. Its 130-minute running time is at least half an hour too long for the story it wants to tell, and possible more than that. There’s a Victorian feel to the affair, and perhaps that lends a little bit of permission to be slower and statelier, but this takes that license far further than it should or needed to, and it hurts the movie because of it. For a screenplay, being bloated is a problem.
2. There is a comic history of The Grapes of Wrath in my family. Evidently, my father likes Steinbeck a lot more than everyone else in my family, and this was a book that he wanted everyone to read…and I’m not sure any of his kids ever did. It’s a fine movie, though, and from what I understand a good adaptation of the book. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the story, which is what gets it all the way to second place, but it’s still a case where I’m not sure it even earns the nomination. It’s fine. It’s good. But that’s not enough for a win, and it shouldn’t be enough for a nomination.
1. The Philadelphia Story won this Oscar, and it was the right pick. With a different cast of nominations, we could talk about any number of possibilities for the other places, but even with movies I really like--The Shop Around the Corner or His Girl Friday--I’m probably going in this direction. Why? Because it does everything the other movies do and more. It’s very funny in places, but also gets very serious. There are lessons here mixed in with the laughter and real emotions. It’s a comedy that takes itself very seriously in places, and because it does this seamlessly, it’s my clear choice. Oscar picked this one correctly.