Friday, March 18, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1950

The Contenders:

Adam’s Rib
The Men
No Way Out
Sunset Boulevard (winner)

What’s Missing

I’m not hugely upset with our nominees for this award. Films like Ace in the Hole, In a Lonely Place, Winchester ‘73, and Roshomon were all adapted from stories or novels, which leaves them out. Gun Crazy, too. This may be a first, but I’m taking the five I’ve been given. Someone may have a suggestion or two, but I don’t have anything to add.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: If I did have a film I wanted to replace, the one I would replace is Adam’s Rib. This was supposed to be a movie I liked, and there are things to like here, but what I dislike about it is specifically related to the plot. Ostensibly, this film is about equality between the sexes, and yet it gives in to allowing the main female character to use every “feminine wile” and dirty trick possible to get to the resolution. I have a difficult time respecting a film that establishes a premise and then does everything it possibly can to work against that premise. The ends don’t justify the means, even in a film script.

4: I liked The Men pretty well, and some of that comes from the screenplay. More of it comes from the performances, though, particularly from Brando in a very early role and the no-other-films-in-his-filmography Arthur Jurado. The Men does a lot right, and even gets the ending right, which goes a long way in my book. It just feels too short. There feels like there should be more here for a topic that’s as potentially serious as this one. It’s worth seeing. It just doesn’t feel substantial enough; just when it gets going, the film is over.

3: No Way Out is one of those race relations films from back when that meant having people living under Jim Crow laws and seeing a black man as a doctor would be like seeing a Zulu warrior walking down the streets of New York. The issue is that a lot of things seem to happen not organically out of the characters or the events, but because a certain event needs to happen to move things toward the desired conclusion. It’s a bit of shame, because there’s a lot here that’s really good.

2: The only real problem I have with Caged is that it’s pretty melodramatic. Everything else about it clicks, though. The characters all have real personalities and the plot is grim. The best part of the movie is Eleanor Parker, but despite the melodrama problems, the screenplay doesn’t come too far behind. Its tight and well-written and gives us real characters with real growth (or at least change) between the opening minutes and the closing ones. I like most of these nominations, but I really like this one.

My Choices

1: Sunset Boulevard takes this in a walk. There’s really no other choice possible for this Oscar, and the Academy was correct to place the statue here. Sunset Boulevard is not merely the best original screenplay of its year, it’s one of the best screenplays of its decade, and one of the best of the past 75 years. Sometimes the right people get rewarded, and for as good a year as this was and for as good as these nominations were, there is no other possible winner for this Oscar.

Final Analysis


  1. I agree that there isn't really a contest here. Sunset Blvd is a masterwork that would be hard to top in any year.

    As for the rest I might flip Caged and No Way Out but both are equally good. As with Caged much of the power in No Way Out comes from the performances in the service of strong scripts. I think Linda Darnell did particularly strong work, a pity it came in such a competitive year though there might have been some confusion whether she was lead or supporting...I think the same issue that seemingly screwed her out of a deserved nomination the year before in A Letter to Three Wives.

    1. When I laid this out originally, that was how I had them. As I looked back over them, I remembered that No Way Out felt too plot driven to me, although I still think it's a good and worthy film.

  2. No suggestions. There is no contest whatsoever.

  3. I think even with the adapted screenplays Sunset Boulevard would come out far ahead. I knew instantly this would be yours (and anybody's) pick.

    1. I thought the same thing initially until I remembered that All About Eve won for Adapted Screenplay and both Born Yesterday and The Asphalt Jungle were nominated. It was a really good year for screenplays evidently.

  4. I have't seen enough of these to comment on their relative merit, but I find it hard to think I'd say anything else should beat Sunset Blvd.

    1. Caged and No Way Out are worth your time. They're both a bit lurid, but really interesting and well made.

  5. Caged and Eleanor Parker totally got boned by coming out in 1950! Caged is great, but it was up against All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard in too many categories. Eleanor Parker was competing with Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Gloria Swanson AND Judy Holliday.

    The Academy spread the Oscars around a bit, with All About Eve winning Best Picture, Judy Holliday winning Best Actress and Sunset Boulevard winning Best Original Screenplay.

    With poor Caged ending up with three nominations and no wins.

    1. I think Caged is sadly forgotten. It's a better film than its lack of reputation.