Friday, July 10, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1954

The Contenders:

The Caine Mutiny
The Country Girl (winner)
Rear Window
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

What’s Missing

The Adapted Screenplay nominations for 1954 are generally solid, but there are a couple I’d happily switch out and a few I think would qualify as snubs. One film that I could see being argued for a place in the list is Carmen Jones, although it’s not one that I would choose. A Star is Born has a much stronger case, as does Dial M for Murder, which was probably left off because Hitchcock already had Rear Window nominated. On the foreign front, Sansho Dayu would have been a very strong contender, but not nearly as strong as Les Diaboliques, a potential winner in my mind.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It’s possible that my putting Seven Brides for Seven Brothers on the bottom stems directly from the fact that I dislike this movie intensely. It’s almost certainly a solid adaptation of the original musical, but it really don’t like this story or any of the characters. With this category, I focus far more on the story than the accuracy of the adaptation, which means that a film using the rape of the Sabine women as a guide for conduct is going to fail and fail hard. We got this instead of Les Diaboliques?

4. Sabrina is a movie that I like quite a bit, so I feel a little guilty sticking it in fourth place. I mean, this is a Billy Wilder film starring three people (Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, and Audrey Hepburn) who I tend to love in everything they do. The problem is that the reason I like the film is the actors and not so much the story. Oh, the story is fine, but it’s hardly exceptional, even if the dialogue is good. It’s not the worst nomination, but there were others left out that would have been stronger players.

My Choices

3: It’s been some time since I’ve done one of these with multiple possible winners. I stared at the top three films for a long time and switched the order around a lot. The Country Girl, the eventual winner, is a film that plays with a lot of expectations and in character and with the way the plot works. While I wouldn’t have chosen it for Best Adapted Screenplay, I fully understand why it won. It’s not the best choice in my opinion, but its winning doesn’t upset me in the least. Hell of a fine movie, and a lot of that comes from how it was written.

2: I have a deep and abiding love for The Caine Mutiny for a lot of the same reasons I like From Here to Eternity. In its own way, The Caine Mutiny is an expose on military culture, although this film deals more with ideas of cowardice, duty, and honor. The bad guys here aren’t evil but pitiable while the good guys turn out to be petty almost to a man. There’s virtually nowhere to put our loyalties by the end. It’s the sort of film that engenders conversation afterwards, and that’s always the sign of a smart screenplay.

1: Rear Window gets my vote, though. In a year where I’d be just about equally happy with any of the top three, or four with Les Diaboliques tossed into the mix, it’s the one that comes out on top. There is huge potential here for Rear Window to fall apart completely because of the limited number of sets, but the whole thing works, slowly building up tension from scene to scene. Part of this comes from Hitchcock’s wizardry behind the camera, but a great deal of this comes from Hitchcock having a hell of a good place from which to start. The ultimate winner isn’t a bad choice, but Rear Window was the best choice.

Final Analysis


  1. First, I agree on Seven Brides being last. I like this film a lot more than you do, but it has almost no story when you come right down to it.

    Second, Rear Window is easily my favorite FILM among the five nominees, but I wouldn't pick it for the win because it's more about the mood, not the story, which again is relatively simple when you get right down to it.

    I would go with The Caine Mutiny for the best screenplay among the nominees.

    1. I came really close, like cutting and pasting things back and forth close, to putting The Caine Mutiny first. There's a hair between them in my opinion. That said, I get what you mean about Rear Window. A lot of why it works comes from how Hitchcock handled it. Of course, a lot of why The Caine Mutiny works is from how the characters are realized.

  2. Since I am right in the middle of 54 I cannot really comment much on who should be nominated and I can see a few of the nominated are not on the list. However I do not need to see it all to agree on your top or bottom here. In fact I think I disagree with Chip here, this is a hell of a good story that is begging for a movie. Yes, Hitchcock handled it expertly, but the core idea is just genius. Voyeurism and judging people essentially gossip.

    1. The other three aren't on the list. I recommend all three of them as being worth your time, especially The Caine Mutiny. The Country Girl is a surprising film, though, and one that I'd possibly argue for inclusion on the list, although I'd argue for The Caine Mutiny a lot harder.

  3. The Caine Mutiny has always been a classic film I've liked since I first saw it years ago.
    I got around to reading the original Herman Wouk novel only a couple of years ago and thought it was really stunning. So stunning that it gave me second thoughts about the film! I do think the screenplay is a pretty good adaptation overall. One thing it does wisely is end soon after the court martial. The book continues the voyages of the Caine well past that point.

    1. One of the things I love about The Caine Mutiny is Bogart's performance. I love Bogart in general, but I really love him when he plays cowards and bad guys. I haven't read the book; that's a pretty common theme for adapted screenplays for me, so I really have to go based on the story itself.

  4. I'm going to suggest La strada as a possible contender.

    But Rear Window is a great choice!

    Off topic, I hope everyone takes note of the Barbara Stanwyck marathon on TCM on Wednesday. She made some great movies in the early 1930s. I've seen about half of the movies TCM is showing on Wednesday, and I hope readers of 1001plus who haven't seen many of Stanwyck's early 1930s films will take the time to watch one or two of them.

    My favorite Stanwyck film is Night Nurse. It appeals to me personally because of it weird sensationalist energy. It's barely an hour, Joan Blondell is Stanwyck's roommate at nursing school and Clark Gable is an evil chauffer.

    Personal preference aside, I think I will have to suggest Baby Face as the must-see film from this batch. I'm surprised it isn't as highly revered as Double Indemnity or Stella Dallas. Stanwyck is so cynical and manipulative in Baby Face. I saw it a few years ago and I could hardly believe what I was seeing. One of the best films of the 1930s.

    Ladies They Talk About stars Barbara Stanwyck and it's a "women in prison" film and one of the other prisoners is Lilian Roth! That should be all the incentive you need to want to see this one!

    Annie Oakley is a very entertaining biopic, and a fun look at Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. I love it! But I don't often hear anybody mentioning this as one of Stanwyck's best films, so maybe it's just me.

    They're also showing Illicit, which I've seen but I'm not a big fan. It's OK. It's a lot like the kind of movie Norma Shearer was making at the time. As much as I love Barbara Stanwyck, I'd much rather see The Divorcee or A Free Soul.

    I'm trying to decide what to watch from the other films TCM is showing on Wednesday. Too bad they aren't showing The Miracle Woman!

    1. I thought about La Strada, but didn't include it. The first, minor, reason is that Fellini is very hit-and-miss with me, and La Strada was mostly miss.

      The second is that it was nominated two years later.

      The third, and really the critical one, is that it's an original screenplay and not adapted from anything. That is the biggest issue I have with these two categories. I'm never sure of the criteria for what makes something adapted or not, but in this case, it was considered an original.