Monday, January 13, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1942

The Contenders:

49th Parallel
Mrs. Miniver (winner)
The Pride of the Yankees
Random Harvest
The Talk of the Town

What’s Missing

As is often the case with many of these earlier years, it can be hard to tell what would qualify as an original screenplay and what would be original. Typically, I’ve decided that when a story from this era lists someone has having written the story, I consider that an original screenplay. In a lot of cases, these are unpublished stories more or less written on spec to be turned into films. I’m not sure if that’s the case with Went the Day Well?, which was written by Graham Greene. If it’s eligible here, I’d love to see it here. While Road to Morocco was not based on published work, it was the third film in the series, so that puts it here. Kings Row would have been an interesting, if melodramatic, choice. I’d really like to see I Married a Witch in this category; it’s a film more people should know. The biggest miss, though, is The Magnificent Ambersons, which absolutely should be here despite being destroyed by the studio.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. While the first half of Random Harvest has some interesting ideas, the second have is a melodramatic mess. In fact, only the skill of director Mervyn LeRoy saved this from being a complete mess. In other words, the biggest problems with this movie come directly from the screenplay, and the only thing that saves the movie is the skill of the people involved. Truthfully, I don’t hate Random Harvest, but all of the problems come from the screenplay, and that’s going to be a problem when the award is for the screenplay.

4. The biggest problem with The 49th Parallel is that during World War II in a country on the Allied side, this is a movie where the main characters are German sailors. It’s a weird choice and one that is hard to understand. The most interesting thing about it is probably the series of cameos that appear in the film, which has nothing to do with the screenplay. I like this movie, but it is a very strange one in a lot of respects, at least when it comes to a screenplay nomination. In an open field, I’m not sure I nominate this here.

3. So what can I say about The Pride of the Yankees that doesn’t specifically refer to Gary Cooper? Cooper is the best part of the film, even if he really only works in the role in the second half of the film. This is perhaps a bit of hagiography, but it’s completely understandable given the subject. Cooper has the sort of easy likability necessary for this role, and Lou Gehrig was an easy man to want to like. In that respect, this movie does what it sets out to do as well as it can. It’s good, but it’s better placed in other categories.

2. I like The Talk of the Town, but I have to admit that it is pretty much fluff. It’s difficult for me to take this really seriously in a screenplay category when the film itself is a mild comedy. Then again, I’ve suggested nominating I Married a Witch, so take that with a grain of salt. I will say that one of the most interesting aspects of the film is that one of the secondary characters is an African-American butler. Sure, he’s a servant, but this is a man of elegance, taste, and class. That’s surprising for 1942.

1. Mrs. Miniver is absolutely the movie the world needed at this time, so I fully understand why it won pretty much every Oscar it was nominated for. It is, in fact, a very well-written piece of propaganda. In fact, it might be one of the better pieces of propaganda from World War II. The biggest issue I have with it is that it reflects the psychological reality of the British home front but not the material reality of it. I like most of the other nominees better, but when it comes to the screenplay, there’s a lot to like here.

My Choice

So, while the Academy did as well as it could with the movies that were nominated, it should have nominated better. For as abused and ripped apart as the final version was, and for as much as the Academy hated Orson Welles, we should be talking about The Magnificent Ambersons here and nothing else.

Final Analysis


  1. Not having The Magnificent Ambersons (despite being tampered with) in that list is bullshit. While I do like 49th Parallel and The Pride of the Yankees (despite my disdain of sorts for the team). Oscars fucked up big time.

    1. They certainly seem to over and over, don't they?

  2. I agree that Magnificent Ambersons is a terrible miss. I Married a Witch is another and the same holds for This Gun for Hire which is a great example of making a story lean but still retaining its feeling. But I'm most surprised you didn't propose Now, Voyager since I know you love it so. True much of its power comes from Bette Davis's performance but it's a good adaptation of the book.

    I'd pick any of them, with a preference going to Witch, over Mrs. Miniver-even though I love that film-but since none were nominated I'd agree with the Academy this time.

    1. I honestly thought Now, Voyager was an original screenplay. It's a completely worthy addition, but I think The Magnificent Ambersons is still going to be my choice.