Around the World in 80 Days (winner)
Lust for Life
While I do follow a patter for which award I look at on a given day on this blog, I pick the years somewhat at random. I seem to have had a bunch in a row recently where I look at the nominations and I look at the films ignored and I wonder what the hell was going on. That’s entirely random, I assure you. For Best Adapted Screenplay 1956, even removing the films that didn’t have a chance at a nomination, I can find more than a full slate of legitimate should-be contenders. Those films that wouldn’t be considered in 1956 include Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Forbidden Planet, and The Burmese Harp, since Oscar didn’t tend to look outside of the English language at this time. We don’t have to look a lot further than nominations in other categories to see some genuine misses for this one. The King and I and The Ten Commandments head that list, quickly followed by The Bad Seed. I also love Written on the Wind as a potential nomination here. Film noir wasn’t nearly as prevalent in 1956, but The Killing is one of the better examples around. Westerns had just started to come back, and they got a huge helping hand with The Searchers, arguably the greatest film in the genre ever made. I’m not sure if Bigger than Life would qualify here since it was based at least in part on an article, but were it available, I think I’d consider nominating it.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. The draws to winner Around the World in 80 Days are the travelogue aspect of it and the chance to see just about every star in Hollywood for a couple of seconds. As far as I’m concerned, it gets just about everything else wrong. It is almost literally a travel movie, just showing us one exotic location after another while David Niven has a drink and talks about whist. It’s never been a film I’ve thought I needed to revisit, nor one that has a story that interests me much. There’s not enough actual plot behind the locations to make it worth considering, let alone winning.
4. Friendly Persuasion has a glaring problem at its core: it has no idea what tone it wants to set. Much of the film is light-hearted and fun, but just as much of it is deadly serious and dealing with issues central to the Quaker beliefs of its main characters. It seems to be attempting a sort of slice-of-life tone, but it never really settles on anything. There are long sequences here that just seem unnecessary to tell the story it wants to tell. Not having a real focus left me wondering what I was supposed to think most of the time, so ultimately, it didn’t work for me at all.
3. The best part of Lust for Life is Kirk Douglas’s on the edge portrayal of Van Gogh and Anthony Quinn’s force of personality as Gauguin. Well, that and the glorious artwork. But in terms of the story, Lust for Life edges very close to straight histrionic melodrama. That this screenplay managed to get all the way up to third place for me suggests something about the nominations as a whole. For anyone interested in the life of Van Gogh, this isn’t a bad place to start, but for anyone who doesn’t really care, this movie isn’t going to make you care.
2. The best thing going for Giant is the sweep of the story and the fact that it manages to all stay coherent. This wouldn’t have been a terrible choice for winner based on the nominations, and I’m a little surprised it didn’t win. It has everything that Oscar wants in a screenplay. It’s big and blustery, contains a bunch of large personalities facing off against each other, there’s money and power and greed, and all of it makes sense and stays coherent by the end. It’s a good screenplay and not a bad nomination.
1. Of the five nominations, I’m giving this to Baby Doll for a few reasons. I’m shocked that it managed a nomination in 1956 because of its subject matter, which means that it had to be damn good to even get a look. This is all about sex and infidelity, and there are not subtle call outs to Lolita throughout. It’s prurient and dirty and puts us smack in the middle of characters who are pretty much unredeemable and still makes us want to see what happens. That it did this in 1956 is remarkable, and based solely on its chutzpah, it would be my pick of the nominations.
I might be tempted to keep Baby Doll and possibly Giant in an open field, but I think I could come up with a list of five nominations that would be better than the five we’re given. Of all of those, The Searchers is the one that strikes me as having everything that a movie in the western genre should have and doing it perfectly. All of this starts with a story that, with its themes of both family and racism, is still relevant today. It should have been nominated, and there isn’t another film from this year that I think can touch it.