12 Angry Men
The Bridge on the River Kwai (winner)
Witness for the Prosecution
When you talk about great years for movies, 1957 should be one of the first ones you mention. In addition to having two of the greatest films of its decade, there are a bunch of films from this year that certainly could have been nominated and have held up over the past 65+ years. Right off the top, Paths of Glory is one of the great war films in history. It’s possible that Sweet Smell of Success hit a little too close to home for the Academy at the time. And while it’s a B-movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man is better than its genre. But it’s on the foreign front that 1957 really sings. What was released? Throne of Blood, Wild Strawberries, Nights of Cabiria, The Cranes are Flying, and The Seventh Seal, which didn’t even grab a nomination for Best Foreign Language Feature.
Weeding through the Nominees
4: Peyton Place suffers from some of the same problems as Sayonara. It goes further in a lot of ways than films of its time did in dealing with sex and scandal, but by today’s standards it’s so tame that it feels almost sanitized. It succeeds in everything it tries to do. It manages to not get confusing despite the large cast and it never really slows down despite its length. It’s an easy movie to appreciate, but in the crop of films that we’re offered for this year, it’s nowhere close to the best picture of the year, and given the chance, I’d nominate something else in its place.
3: Witness for the Prosecution is, for my money, the best of the also-rans in this group of five films. I’d nominate something else in its place, too, but this is a film I actually enjoyed quite a bit. If we limited the nominations to English-language films, it would make the cut for me, but it would be on the bottom behind Paths of Glory and Sweet Smell of Success. It loses points for its unrealistic ending, but it gains a lot of points for a great performance from Charles Laughton and a really fun one from Elsa Lanchester.
2: This is a year where I can easily make a case for two different films. I’m putting 12 Angry Men in second place because in the case of a tie, the tie goes to the Academy. The biggest issue with 12 Angry Men is that it’s really not very realistic at all. And with that said, no one watching this film gives a flying rat’s ass that it’s not realistic. This is a gripping drama perfectly cast and perfectly performed by the entire cast. Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb are the two most memorable, but there’s not a person out of place here, or a moment that doesn’t work perfectly. This is a film that is still well-known today for all the right reasons.
1: But for all that, I love The Bridge on the River Kwai like few other films. The first time I watched it, I thought it was too slow and I was also completely wrong. For me, the entire film turns on the performance of Alec Guinness, which is one of the greatest performances in film history. It works as a story about a man who realizes what his life has been. It also works as a hell of a good military adventure movie with Jack Hawkins and William Holden. As much as I may love 12 Angry Men, I can’t see taking away the award from Kwai. The Academy did right.
I just have to give it to 12 Angry Men here. Kwai is great--as is Guinness' performance--but there are few other films that are as perfectly paced and performed as 12 Angry Men. It's only of my all-time favorites.ReplyDelete
I also find it hard to fault 12 Angry Men as unrealistic and not Kwai. The film version of Kwai is actually largely dramatized with some huge changes between film and reality. Though, interestingly, the film did help re-write history as the bridge in Thailand (which I've been to) was put up for tourism reasons and is not only NOT the actual bridge, but it's not even on the Kwai (though the section of the river it is on was renamed the Kwai for, again, tourism purposes). Regardless, as is, the film tells a largely fictionalized version of the events. Still, I quite liked the film. I just love 12 Angry Men a whole lot more and feel it's a far more solid, tight film.
I don't really have an objection. Had 12 Angry Men won, I'd have them reversed here. Like I said above, the tie goes to the Academy.Delete
Also, it's worth noting that I think there are two kinds of non-realism. Kwai is unrealistic in the sense that it doesn't follow the actual history of anything that happened, but the story itself is one that is believable. 12 Angry Men is a great drama, but that sort of jury room showdown exists only in a world very different from the one we live in. At least in my mind, Kwai could happen, even if it really didn't.Delete
Out of the nominees, I would pick 12 Angry Men, but I haven't seen Bridge on the River Kwai for a long time. And I've never seen Sayonara or Peyton Place.ReplyDelete
But get past the Academy's choices and WOW! My list has The Seventh Seal as my favorite movie from 1957 but I could have put Wild Strawberries if I had made the list the day before or the day after. And almost as good are Sweet Smell of Success, Throne of Blood, Nights of Cabiria and Paths of Glory. The academy couldn't find room among the nominees for Paths of Glory?!?!
You could come up with a list of five different movies for this category and few people would deny that it's as valid as the choices the Academy came up with,
You could pretty much do a Best Foreign Feature list with the films I mentioned above. Give me the chance to pick the five nominees, and I'd go with The Bridge on the River Kwai, 12 Angry Men, The Seventh Seal, Throne of Blood and Paths of Glory, with Wild Strawberries just edged out.Delete
Who knew this year was that strong?
From the list of actual nominees, I couldn't agree with you more. I'd probably also put Nights of Cabiria and Sweet Smell of Success on your alternates list, but what to leave out? Truly an oustanding year.ReplyDelete
I admit, Sweet Smell of Success was not easy to leave out.Delete
Good point about how many great films there were that year. Paths of Glory, Throne of Blood, and Sweet Smell of Success are all top notch. And Nights of Cabiria is my favorite Fellini film.ReplyDelete
Kwai is certainly more epic, and therefore more in keeping with Best Picture winners, but my choice among the nominees would be 12 Angry Men. I agree on Guinness' performance being the heart of Kwai.
I'd have Sayonara higher, certainly more so than Peyton Place, but I agree it wouldn't make my list of five nominees. I'd probably go with 12 Angry Men, Paths of Glory, Throne of Blood, Bridge on the River Kwai, and Sweet Smell of Success for my top five.
I agree with you on Nights of Cabiria. I don't love Fellini, but I do like that film quite a bit.Delete
In a perfect world, neither Sayonara nor Peyton Place would get within shouting distance of a nomination for this year.
I was just looking at a list of films from 1957 and I saw a couple of movies that I like a lot but don't quite measure up to the heavy-hitters we've listed so far - Gunfight at the OK Corral and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?ReplyDelete
But I also noticed A Face in the Crowd, a great film which certainly should merit a little attention as a great film from 1957.
I am not a fan at all of Gunfight at the OK Corral. It simply doesn't work for me at all.Delete
More really good films from 1957 not yet mentioned:ReplyDelete
3:10 to Yuma (the original with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, directed by Delmer Daves)
An Affair To Remember (classic romance with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in top form)
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (often overlooked WWII romance-on-deserted-island with Kerr and Robert Mitchum, directed by John Huston)
Love In The Afternoon (Audrey Hepburn at her best, with Gary Cooper, directed by Billy Wilder)
Silk Stockings (maybe the last great Fred Astaire musical, with the incomparable Cyd Charisse)
What a year!
I haven't seen Kwai for a while (it's currently sitting on my PVR!), but I'll probably agree with your top two once I do see it again.
I haven't seen the last two you mentioned. 3:10 to Yuma is absolutely one I should have mentioned, even if I don't think it measures up as one of the five best of the year. It's definitely one I like better than my bottom two.Delete
I like the other two films relatively well and thought about putting An Affair to Remember on the top but decided against it.
I have actually only seen Kwai and 12 Angry Men from the 5 nominees. I would pick 12 Angry men, easy. To me it's just the better film. Kwai has a great performance from Guiness, but it feels very bloated and overlong in places. The pacing of 12 Angry Men is fantastic.ReplyDelete
I completely agree with you on Throne of Blood, Seventh Seal, and Paths of Glory. Those films are probably all better than the ones nominated.
As always great analysis.
I'm not really that surprised by the 12 Angry Men love. When I started doing these wrap-ups, I knew right away that this award for this year was going to be a tough one.Delete
I cannot comment on your bottom three as I have never seen them, but they would have to be damn good to replace at least a handful of other movies. I keep finding great movies from 57 and so many have best picture qualities.ReplyDelete
Witness for the Prosecution is really good and worth seeing. I might be able to argue it into a nomination, but with all of the great movies released in 1957, I'm not sure it would make it. The other two you can safely skip, although they aren't terrible.Delete