Monday, June 19, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1955

The Contenders:

Bad Day at Black Rock
Blackboard Jungle
East of Eden
Love Me or Leave Me
Marty (winner)

What’s Missing

Every now and then, you get a year that is an embarrassment of riches in a particular category. In the case of Best Adapted Screenplay for 1955, we’ve got that situation. I understand the five nominations, although I don’t agree with them all. There are a number of films I’d rather see nominated over at least part of our five nominees. We can start this off with Oklahoma!, a film that I liked more than I thought I would, and one that translated to the screen very well. Kiss Me Deadly is probably a little too odd and gritty for Oscar in 1955. Sadly, The Night of the Hunter wasn’t recognized for the genius film it is in 1955, which left it out of contention. The three that I think are seriously missing, the three that I’d argue for at least, are (in some order), the tragi-comic Mister Roberts, the Hitchcockian Les Diaboliques, and the brutal The Man with the Golden Arm, which gets extra points for having the main character named Frankie Machine.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. East of Eden may be a great adaptation of its story, but it’s not a film that I liked much. It’s easily my least favorite of James Dean’s movies. The characters are flat and the relationships that the film displays are two-dimensional as well. For a film to really have a chane to win a screenplay award, it needs to have characters that are interesting and developed enough that I can extrapolate some things from what I’ve been shown. I can’t do this with any of the characters in this film, and for that reason I wouldn’t even want this to be nominated.

4. The problem with Blackboard Jungle is that it hasn’t aged well at all. I probably would have liked this a lot more in 1955 than I like it now because of how poorly it has aged. The plot is drawn in very broad strokes, substituting anything resembling subtlety for hammer blows of capital-M Meaning and capital-I Importance. I fully understand why this was nominated in 1955, but were this award to be decided today, I can’t really see many people wanting to nominate something that seems to generate a plot by bashing together concrete blocks.

3. I liked Love Me or Leave Me a lot more than I thought I was going to. The truth, though, is that the main reason I liked it is because it is probably the most James Cagney performance since White Heat. Cagney is so good in this, playing a Napoleonic little man who still has a real human heart and real human feelings that he overshadows just about everything else in the film. The story is a good one, but it’s not an exceptionally new one, being kind of a riff on A Star is Born. Good, but not great in terms of the story.

2. There’s a hair’s breadth difference between the top two spots for me here. I completely understand why Marty won, even though it’s not my choice. There’s a bit of genius evident when you can create a movie that puts big, overweight, gap-toothed, blocky Ernest Borgnine in as a romantic lead and have the damn thing work. Yes, the performances are great. But those performances started from such a strong place and the story is so carefully put together to make everything work that it’s the first of these nominations I really like being here. I get why it won. It just wouldn’t get my vote.

My Choice

1. The only thing I don’t like about Bad Day at Black Rock is that it’s too damn short. Everything else works. While it’s true that it is carried by a number of tremendous performances, those characters come from a script that does everything right. Bad Day at Black Rock is one of those rare films that attempts to blend multiple genres and pulls it off. It’s a Western, a film noir, a message movie, a thriller, and despite the cast, dips into B-movie territory, and it all fits together. This would be a tighter race with the last three I mentioned in the first paragraph in the list of nominees, but this would still be my winner more often than not.

Final Analysis


  1. I agree completely on Bad Day at Black Rock. It is a gem. Even with those movies missing mentioned in your header. In know you like Les Diaboliques, but for me the true miss here is Night of the Hunter. As sweet as Marty is, The Night of the Hunter is just brilliant and the only that could make me waver on Bad Day.

    1. Night of the Hunter might contend with Marty, but with my own nominations, I think The Man with the Golden Arm would come in second.

  2. The Night of the Hunter, Les Diaboliques, and The Man with the Golden Arm should all be here, yes. Of the nominees, Marty would be my choice, but I haven’t seen Bad Day at Black Rock. Though your description of it makes me want to see it right away.

    1. Bad Day at Black Rock plays like a film noir and is just gritty enough to feel like a B-movie, except that the cast list is staggering. It's also really short, so you're not investing a lot of time even if you don't like it. However, I can't imagine you not liking it.

  3. I did Bad Day at Black Rock on a DemPod with Joel (I can't remember if you were co-hosting with me at the time...) like 6 years ago. I can't remember if I liked it or not, but I do remember seeing it. I wanna say I liked it... but I have no idea.

    1. I was on that one, because it was my choice (and I don't remember what the other movie was). I think you liked it well enough, but didn't love it, if I'm remembering correctly.