Friday, January 31, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong: Best Adapted Screenplay 1943

The Contenders:

Casablanca (winner)
Holy Matrimony
The More the Merrier
The Song of Bernadette
Watch on the Rhine

What’s Missing

There probably aren’t going to be a lot of surprises here with Best Adapted Screenplay for 1943. That said, there are a couple of surprises when it comes to potential snubs. A B-movie like I Walked with a Zombie would never get an Oscar nomination, but it’s a great story, much better than its budget. I’m not a Hemingway fan, but For Whom the Bell Tolls feels like a miss for this category. I evidently like Madame Curie more than just about everyone else, but I do like it, and I could see it here. Five Graves to Cairo feels like a real miss in the war years. Finally, I’m not sure if the novel or the screenplay for The Human Comedy came first, but if it was the novel, it almost certainly belongs here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I really disliked The Song of Bernadette. Some of that almost certainly comes from the fact that it stars the perpetually-wooden Jennifer Jones (who actually won an Oscar for this mess). A great deal of it comes from the story itself, though. This is pure religious syrup, the kind of story that the religious will hold up as evidence of a higher power when it’s really little more than fairy tales and a couple of coincidences. “Hate” is a strong word, but that’s close to what I felt for this gloopy pile.

4. It seems strange, perhaps, to put a homefront war film in a war year this low on the count, but Watch on the Rhine has a significant problem with it. The biggest issue it has is that it breaks one of the cardinal sins of any film—it’s far too long for the story it wants to tell. This is a film that could stand a good half hour trimmed out of it. While certainly that can be the fault of the director or the editor, it seems like that’s an issue that comes primarily from the screenplay that had all of those extra pages.

3. Holy Matrimony is blessed with a snappy script and a really entertaining situation. Sure, it’s little more than fluff, but it’s pretty entertaining fluff. The real joy of the movie is the curmudgeonly performance from Monty Wooley, but much of that comes from the screenplay. There is a great deal to like here, but of the nominated screenplays, it’s my second-favorite of the comedies. I actually like the nomination. Given an open set of nominations, I might nominate it and I might not; it’s right on the edge for me.

2. The More the Merrier is absolutely a pleasure to watch. Much of this comes from a dynamite cast in Joel McCrea, Jean Arthur, and an Oscar-winning performance from Charles Coburn. But, while much of the charm does come from these players and the performances, it al starts with a very charming and entertaining screenplay that gives us these characters to enjoy. In a lesser year, this might win for me, and I’d definitely want it in the nominations. But in this year, it’s not getting above second.

My Choice

1. I’m not going to kid around here: Casablanca is damn-near perfect. Of the many films that have won Best Picture, it’s my clear favorite, the one that so obviously deserved the win more than any other film that ever has won. Sure, it’s loaded with stars and with performances to kill for, but that screenplay is perfect. On the AFI list of 100 greatest movie quotes of all time (of American movies, at least), fully six come from Casablanca. If nothing else, the fact that it’s that quotable gives it the win.

Final Analysis


  1. Where's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp? I have no problems with Casablanca as it is a great film but no Powell/Pressberger?

    1. It's an original. I did that one some time ago, and Colonel Blimp features prominently.

  2. "Casablanca is damn-near perfect". Yup, that is all we really need to say.

  3. I love four of the nominated films, the exception being the deadly dull Bernadette, but the choice isn't even close as to who the winner should be. Casablanca even though it was cobbled together from the work of many hands is just so tight and smoothly composed it's a no-brainer for it to have come out on top.

    The only picture that could have given me pause in that decision, The Ox-Bow Incident, wasn't nominated. I probably would still go with Casablanca but Ox-Bow is a powerful adaptation of the novel.

    1. I would absolutely call The Ox-Bow Incident a miss...except that I have it as a 1942 film. That means it was a miss the last time I did Best Adapted Screenplay.

      And yet, it was nominated in this year for Best Picture. It's a clear miss on my part in that respect.