Monday, September 11, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1948

The Contenders:

A Foreign Affair
Johnny Belinda
The Search
The Snake Pit
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (winner)

What’s Missing

Oddly, 1948 does not feature a Best Original Screenplay category, instead going with simply “Best Screenplay.” I’m not sure if that means that original screenplays were included in the category, but I suspect they were not, meaning that films like Red River, The Red Shoes, Bicycle Thieves and Rope may or may not have been eligible. Had they been, I think a case could easily be made for any of them. I’m not sure how the screenplay for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein would be classified, since the story was original, but many of the characters were clearly not. The Fallen Idol could certainly be here, but it was nominated in 1949. Sorry, Wrong Number, based on a radio play, certainly seems like it could fit here nicely. This is also the year that Hamlet won Best Picture, which makes it strange that the adapted screenplay wasn’t nominated. Finally, I feel like I should mention Call Northside 777 even though I’ve never seen it; I’m pretty sure it will get a mention from someone if I don’t, though.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Johnny Belinda was a film that I avoided for months before I finally watched it because I wasn’t sure how I would approach the film’s subject matter. I did end up liking the film pretty well, but it has a significant problem in its story structure. The last hour or so of the film could be entirely avoided with a short conversation, and that always strikes me as a weakness in the writing. I get that that can happen, but in this case, I can’t see a good reason for the character in question not to have the conversation other than that it would end the movie. That’s a problem.

4. A Foreign Affair is a film where I feel like I have a difficult time separating the screenplay from the actual movie. I get the plot, but the story is hampered severely by the presence of John Lund as the male lead, since he’s about as interesting as oatmeal. With a more vibrant male lead, this film might have a story that works better, but as it’s presented, it’s a story that I simply don’t buy. I think it’s a better film on paper than it is in reality, and while that might not be fair to the screenplay, it’s simply true.

3. Of all these films, The Search feels like it’s the one that is the most obscure. It’s a pretty good film, though, and one that I found engaging while I watched it. The best thing it has going for it is that it genuinely feels like a real story, like something, to coin a phrase, ripped from the headlines, or at least from the human interest pages. The problem is that it’s just too simple. It doesn’t ever really deviate from its main story and drives a straight line from the opening scenes to the closing. It could use a better epilogue as well.

2. Of all the movies discussed so far, The Snake Pit is the first that I’m really likely to want to watch again. This is a nasty film with one of the great performances in Olivia de Havilland’s career. It does succumb to the Hollywood Ending problem, although that’s expected from a film made in 1948. It also ends too quickly. We deal with a woman’s severe mental illness for the bulk of the film and in the space of little more than a flicker on the screen and a few sweeps on a harp, she’s cured. This needs 10 more minutes worked into the ending, but it’s still a hell of a ride.

My Choice

1. If all of the problems listed in the films above could be fixed, my winner would still be The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. This is a film that has not lost a single step in terms of how it works and how an audience will react to it. This is a rare film that never needs to be remade because this version of the film is as good and as powerful now as it was when it was filmed. The damn thing hasn’t aged. Much of that comes from the direction and a great deal comes from the powerful performances top to bottom, but mostly that comes from a screenplay that is timeless and nearly flawless. It was the right choice, and Oscar got this one right on the nose.

Final Analysis


  1. The Treasure is such a strong movie that it could win most categories. I feel sorry for The Snakepit. Well, at least there was no chance it would win Best Actress.

    1. True enough. It's hard to vote against a movie that has not aged a day since it was released, though.

  2. Totally agree that Treasure of the Sierra Madre is the clear winner whatever the category. What an odd break down of the writing awards for 1948, though! Two that I am missing from the roster for either of the writing awards are Fort Apache and Unfaithfully Yours.

    1. As is often the case with suggestions in the comments, those are two movies I don't know.

      Still, I can't think of another movie from this era that I would put over Sierra Madre.

    2. I would totally recommend Fort Apache for your un-list. I can't understand why it's not on the Big List. Agree Treasure is the clear winner against all competition.

    3. It's on the unlist. Thanks for the recommendation.