Monday, August 21, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1950

The Contenders:

All About Eve (winner)
The Asphalt Jungle
Born Yesterday
Broken Arrow
Father of the Bride

What’s Missing

Well, it’s not a bad collection of nominations for Adapted Screenplay for 1950, but I would still like to improve it a little. I think a case might be made for Cyrano de Bergerac, and I do prefer it to one of the nominations, but it’s not one that I’d add. I’d be much more inclined to nominate the screenplay for Harvey, which is about as feel-good as a movie screenplay can be. If I can add only a single movie, though, the one I’m going to add is Rashomon, a script so good it’s spawned a host of imitators.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Of the five nominations, the one that I think belongs the least is Father of the Bride. Oh, it’s a harmless little film, of course, but that’s kind of the point. It’s a harmless little film. There’s a lack of substance here, and I think that might well be a problem for something that we might want to consider as a legitimate contender for an Oscar winner. I admit that Harvey is fluff, too, but it’s better, funnier, and more entertaining fluff. If we need to have something lightweight in the category, that’s a better choice.

4. My main problem with Broken Arrow is that it feels unresolved at the end. There’s a little bit of a sense of that with Rashomon as well, but Rashomon does it better and would be a better selection. Honestly, I don’t have serious issues with Broken Arrow as a film or as a screenplay. The truth is that there are three nominations I like better and two movies without nominations that I like better, too. It wouldn’t make my list of five, even if it’s a pretty good western.

3. On a different day, I might flip second and third place, but today, I’m putting Born Yesterday in third. I like this movie quite a bit, and I love the screenplay for it. Of course, the main draw here is the near-perfect work of Judy Holliday, but a lot of her comes from that screenplay. There’s a darkness to this screenplay below the humor, though, and I appreciate that because on the surface, it shouldn’t work. It does, though. The whole thing works and it works very well. In another year, I might well have it winning.

2. At first glance, The Asphalt Jungle doesn’t look that impressive. It’s certainly not nearly as quotable as many other films noir, which very much seems like a downgrade in terms of what we expect from a good noir. But that’s the point. The characters here come across not as movie stereotypes but as real people in a real situation and their dialogue reflects that reality. It’s far more natural than a lot of films. It’s not upping the pretense and giving our characters cool things to say to look cool. It strives for reality and comes very close to achieving it. .

My Choice

1. But if we’re going to talk about all-time great movies with all-time great screenplays, All About Eve is difficult to top. The plot of All About Eve is a good one, of course, but it’s the characters that truly make this one of the great movies of its decade. There’s even a strange similarity to Rashomon in the sense that we get the story from multiple viewpoints. This is about as close as you’re going to find to a perfect screenplay perfectly performed. It was the right choice.

Final Analysis


  1. I saw All About Eve several times in the late 1980s and I loved it, of course! I had a somewhat-daft, movie-loving friend who would talk like Margo Channing for hours after seeing All About Eve. It might be off-putting to some people but I thought it was hilarious. (And I knew if he'd been watching Ingmar Bergman because he would talk with a Swedish accent for several hours.)

    I watched All About Eve for the first time in 25 years a few weeks ago. My God, it's so wonderful! Even the lines I totally don't get (like "You're too short for that gesture. And besides it went out with Mrs. Fisk.") are wonderful coming from people like Bette Davis, George Sanders, Anne Baxter and etc.

    What surprises me is the number of GREAT QUOTES from (or about!) Marilyn Monroe as Miss Caswell despite her limited screen time. "I can't just say "Butler!" Somebody's name might be Butler!")

    Another tiny little moment that just stays with me is Phoebe at the end, played so well by Barbara Bates who really steals the ending. I love it where she says "I call myself Phoebe."

    An awful lot of Father of the Bride annoys the heck out of me.

    Asphalt Jungle is pretty awesome.

    1. Yeah, the thing about All About Eve is that it's timeless in so many ways. I don't think the movie has lost a step since the day it was released. There aren't a lot of movies that can say that (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is another), but All About Eve is one of them.

      I didn't love Father of the Bride. I didn't hate it, but it's not one that I think is anything like essential viewing.

    2. I should add that 1950 is an Oscar year that I'm kind of obsessed with because of the Best Actress category and I decided to see all the films from the top categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and the screenplay categories). All I have left is a few films from the screenplay categories - Broken Arrow, No Way Out and The Men. I'll got to them.

    3. There are far worse years with which to be obsessed. Broken Arrow is good, but not amazing. The Men is pretty interesting, especially as an early Brando film. No Way Out is pretty great, though.

  2. There really couldn't be any other winner besides All About Eve few films are so clever and literate. While I enjoyed all these other films the only one I'd definitely retain is Asphalt Jungle. I thought Gun Crazy, Night and the City and The Furies were all more accomplished adaptations than the other nominees and that would comprise my list.

    Unfortunately Rashomon is still the biggest hole in my viewing for this year though I'll be filling it soon.

    1. I do love Gun Crazy, but for some reason I always forget about it as a 1950 movie. I think it's because it's classified as a 1949 release in my list from the 1001 Movies. I could definitely see adding it.

      When you do see Rashomon, my guess is that it will bump one of those movies for you. It may not take the top spot, but it would certainly rank for you.

      If I had to have five, my five would be:

      All About Eve
      The Asphalt Jungle
      Gun Crazy
      (thank you for reminding me it belongs in this year)
      and either Harvey or Born Yesterday.

  3. It's hard argue with Mankiewicz or your ranking. I might consider adding The Breaking Point as a nom. It is from the same source material as To Have and Have Not with a more Hemingway feel. I know that's not exactly a selling point for you but it makes for some cracking dialogue here. John Garfield and Patricia Neal are also superb in the leads.

    I'm supposing Sunset Blvd and In a Lonely Place were original?

    1. Sunset Boulevard was absolutely an original screenplay. I'm not entirely sure about In a Lonely Place. It is adapted from a story, but I don't know if the story was ever published, so I don't know where it might qualify.

  4. I've only seen All About Eve so I'm glad to hear that it's a worthy choice. It really is a fantastic film.

    1. The Asphalt Jungle is a very good noir and worth your time. I really like Born Yesterday as well, but I think I might like it a little more than most people.

  5. Cannot argue on All About Eve. Had Sunset Boulevard been adapted there would have been true contention. Still Rashomon is a very strong and innovative adaption. If All about Eve had not been such a great movie on all accounts I could have went with Rashomon. Instead Kurosawa may be my pick for direction.

    1. Sunset Boulevard won for Original Screenplay. Were there only a single screenplay award, it would be a hard call.