Friday, September 30, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1944

The Contenders:

Hail the Conquering Hero
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
Two Girls and a Sailor
Wilson (winner)
Wing and a Prayer

What’s Missing

While 1944 was a decent year for film, it was a dismal year for original screenplays. In fact, of the Oscar categories I care about, the only film that might be considered an original screenplay (maybe) from the nominated films is Lifeboat. If eligible, it definitely should have been here, because it’s a pretty good film, even if it’s second-tier Hitchcock. Virtually everything else from this year I looked at--Going My Way, Double Indemnity, The Uninvited, Murder My Sweet, Aresenic and Old Lace, To Have and Have Not all the way down to films like Mr. Skeffington came from books or plays. Even The Curse of the Cat People would probably be considered based on the first film, even though that relationships is pretty tangential. And seriously, I don’t even know if Lifeboat would qualify.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. The presence of Two Girls and a Sailor as a nominee is the best evidence I have that this was an incredibly thin year. There’s actually a lot of really good music in this movie, and that’s pretty much it. The plot could fit inside a fortune cookie, and that it’s evidently one of the five best original screenplays of the year is kind of depressing. If you consider the appearances of a lot of musical acts and performers as a part of the screenplay, it raises it in some respects, but it’s still an indictment on the year that this was even in the running, and that I could only find a single movie that might be eligible to replace it.

4. Wilson won this award, and looking back, I’m not really surprised that it did. This was a war year, after all, and a hagiography that was more or less a patriotic explosion of the previous war president would certainly get a great deal of play come Oscar-time. Looking back at it now, though, Wilson is bloated, overlong, and not very interesting. It’s well-made, well-acted, and dull as white paint. So, I understand why it’s here and I even understand why it won, but I can’t really support this taking the statue. I get it, even if it doesn’t make sense any more.

3. Wing and a Prayer is a pretty effective propaganda film for what it is, and as with Wilson, it’s not much of a shock to see propaganda films peppered through the war years. There are some aspects that work directly against its success, though. There’s a huge cast, which means that when men fail to come back from missions, we’re not always sure which guy we’ve lost. Still, it’s a well-made film and it’s effective at what it does. Based on the year, I’m actually not too upset that it was nominated. It probably wouldn’t be nominated in most other years, but it’s not bad. It tries to show the frustration of the men in battle, and for that, it’s pretty interesting.

2. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is a comedy, and the plot wouldn’t support the weight of a fly, but it’s actually a lot of fun. It’s a silly little film that manages to touch just a little on the war but focuses more on the social mores of the time and has a great deal of fun at the expense of Betty Hutton and Eddie Bracken. This isn’t the sort of film that’s ever going to be someone’s favorite movie, but it’s pleasant and entertaining, and still pretty funny more than 70 years after the fact. I actually like this nomination pretty well. In a stronger year, it would likely come in fifth, but it would still be on the ticket in all but the strongest years of this era.

My Choice

1. If we assume that I could slip in Lifeboat, my winner would still be Hail the Conquering Hero. Much like The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, this is a Preston Sturges film starring Eddie Bracken, but this one has some serious bite to it, especially coming in the middle of a war. This film plays with the concept of heroism and hero worship and how quickly we are prone to following someone simply based on not merely reputation, but our impressions of them. There’s a great deal here that is still relevant today, and it was completely relevant in 1944. It’s a hell of a movie and worth tracking down. It’s clearly the best screenplay from its year, and I’d have put it in the running in a lot of other years.

Final Analysis


  1. Though I like The Miracle of Morgan's Creek a lot more than you do I can't disagree with your ranking. Wilson is a bore and at least part of it is due to the inability of the writers to stop writing or the producer and director to curb them.

    1. You must like The Miracle of Morgan's Creek a lot, then, because I like it pretty well.

  2. A rich year with most everything pulled from existing literature is a good thing in every aspect but this one category.

    Lifeboat was based by Steinbeck on an original Hitchcock idea so I would think it would fit, unfortunately it didn't make the cut. I love that film but I'd still would have rather of seen either Morgan's Creek (my preference) or Conquering Hero win.

    Wilson was disastrous financially for Fox but it was Zanuck's pet project and I suspect he pulled in favors and exerted his considerable influence to get it as many awards, and therefore prestige, as he possibly could to try and save face. It is an incredibly handsome film but duller than dishwater.

    1. Lifeboat might (might) beat Morgan's Creek in my world, but I like just how snarky Hail the Conquering Hero is. I'm actually a little surprised Sturges got away with it in 1944 during the war.

  3. Wilson is a stiff, it's hard to think it was up for anything, much less actually winning 5. Script was very pedestrian. Hail the Conquering Hero seems like it should have been the winner.

    1. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it completely. It's absolutely worth its short running time and almost guaranteed to put a wicked smile on your face.