Friday, January 27, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1943

The Contenders:

Air Force
In Which We Serve
The North Star
Princess O’Rourke (winner)
So Proudly We Hail!

What’s Missing

It’s not a massive shock that for the 1943 Oscars, all of the Original Screenplay nominees are essentially propaganda films. The biggest miss that I see was a miss almost certainly because it was an anti-propaganda fil: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The only other addition I’d want to make is Shadow of a Doubt. It was based on an “original story,” though, but I don’t know if it was published, so I don’t know if it’s eligible. The other films that I’d want to bring up, like I Walked with a Zombie, Five Graves to Cairo, Madame Curie, and even The Leopard Man are adapted from other works.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Original Screenplay for 1943 is one of those years where it feels like almost everything belongs in third or fourth. I’m dropping Air Force first because of all of these, it seems like the least developed of the five films nominated. Air Force doesn’t include characters, but character types. It’s standard propaganda with not a great deal to recommend it. You can not only guess the events that will happen before they do, you can sometimes guess the actual lines of dialogue. With the two that didn’t get nominated, there’s no reason for this to be on the list.

4. The North Star comes in fourth because it’s a step above Air Force, and a small step at that. Again, this is pure propaganda made interesting because it takes place in Eastern Europe rather than on a Western home front. Again, though, we can tell what’s going to happen before it does and there aren’t a lot of surprises here. It’s nicely cast and I appreciate that it eventually pissed off HUAC greatly, but I can’t think of a reason I’d want to watch it again, and that means it can’t rise above this position.

3. I didn’t expect a lot going into So Proudly We Hail! beyond pure Americana and patriotism glurge. It’s fortunately a bit better than that, and ultimately I’m not completely upset about the nomination, but only because this seems like a very week year in the category. This is perhaps a better movie than it needed to be for what it was trying to do, and I appreciate that. It’s just not anywhere close to the other two nominations or the two I mentioned above. I’d keep it, but it would definitely come in fifth.

2. Princess O’Rourke is a film that is virtually unknown, and that’s a shame. Of the five nominations, this is the furthest from a propaganda film, and also the only one that is very much a comedy. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it won because it was so different from everything else on the list. That said, it’s a great nomination because it’s a genuinely funny film. It’s also a smart one, and it uses the comedy well, not trying to milk things too much, but making the point and moving on. I can’t completely be upset with this winning, because it’s a hell of a fine screenplay.

1. Of the nominated films, In Which We Serve is the best of them, even though I did like Princess O’Rourke. This is a war film that focuses on the life and death of a ship during the war. But it also gets us involved in the lives and passions of the men on the ship. We know who they are. We care when something happens to them. When a character we like is gunned down by a strafing enemy fighter, it’s genuinely sad and infuriating. In Which We Serve does everything right, and given the nominations, it should have won.

My Choice

I’m not entirely convinced that Shadow of a Doubt was eligible for this award. If it was, it was absolutely the clear winner as the best screenplay of its year. This is an exposé of small town life, the sort of nail that David Lynch has spent his career hammering. If it’s not available, I would give this to In Which We Serve, with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp coming in a respectable second place. So, for now, this is a complete wash by Oscar that could be updated to simply being wrong.

Final Analysis


  1. It is so difficult with this category to know if a movie is actually eligible. Often the boundary is blurred in the sense that somewhere there is a publication, but the script has changed it into something else. It is my impression that this is how Hitchcock usually worked, and so he might or might not be eligible even if there is a text somewhere. If it was eligible I would not mind it winning this award, it is a brilliant story.

    1. Yeah, I struggle with what is eligible in this category and in Adapted every time I do one, particularly with older films when there were other awards (like for Best Story). All I can do is the best I can.

  2. I'd pick In Which We Serve among those five as well. Though I like both So Proudly We Hail! and Princess O'Rourke I don't see either of them as Oscar winning stories. For that matter I enjoyed Air Force but it's the purest propaganda.

    I looked up some info on Shadow of a Doubt and the backstory seems to be the head of the Selznick story department mentioned to Hitch that her husband had an idea for a novel based on a real life murderer and she thought it would make a good film. He had even come up with a title "Uncle Charlie". But it appears that at that point either Hitchcock or Selznick purchased the idea and the script was commissioned so it would have certainly qualified and if it had been nominated it would have been my choice by a mile.

    1. Looks like I won't have to update this, then. How Shadow of a Doubt was overlooked for a nomination when we got films like Air Force and The North Star is completely beyond me. It's clearly the best screenplay of the year, which is no knock on the very good In Which We Serve or The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.