Friday, October 27, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1958

The Contenders:

The Defiant Ones (winner)
The Goddess
The Sheepman
Teacher’s Pet

What’s Missing

1958 is a great year for adapted screenplays. No, really—pretty much every movie I thought about bringing up for 1958 Original Screenplay turned out to be adapted. This includes things like Touch of Evil, The Vikings, Ashes and Diamonds, and Elevator to the Gallows that I was almost positive were original screenplays. Even The Fly is based on a previously published story. In fact, of the movies I’ve seen from 1958 that have unnominated original screenplays, I can find exactly three, none of which were likely nominations. The first is The Blob, which is a lot of fun, but hardly in Oscar’s wheelhouse. The second is Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle, which would be a very strange inclusion here. Finally, there is Cairo Station, which was almost certainly off the radar for Oscar.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I really didn’t think much of Houseboat, which is shocking when you consider it stars both Cary Grant and Sophie Loren. There’s so much opportunity for something great here, but the stars are truly hampered by the story. In fact, it’s the story that is my biggest problem with the movie, which means that I can’t really understand why it would get nominated. For as odd as it is, I like the story of The Blob better. It almost feels like we could have done with just four nominations instead of the normal five if it meant this got nominated.

4. I liked The Sheepman more than I thought I would, and the story is pretty good. It’s a movie that might appeal to people who are not typically fans of westerns in general because it’s fairly unusual, even if the ending falls right in line with a lot of the tropes. If there is an issue here, is that the Glenn Ford comes across as perhaps too perfect. He’s kind of a Mary Sue. Make him a little bit more realistic and there’s more here to recommend it. Still, it’s a pretty good movie with an entertaining story and I don’t hate it as a nomination.

3. Teacher’s Pet could have been filled with some serious problems, but it avoids a lot of them. The biggest potential problem is the potentially unpleasant May/December romance between Doris Day and Clark Gable. While there are moments of this, the film concentrates instead on the story being told. It’s charming almost in spite of itself. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. The only reason it’s fallen to third place is that I like the other two nominated screenplays better.

2. The Goddess is an unpleasant movie, but it’s supposed to be. It’s one of Kim Stanley’s best performances and the screenplay doesn’t pull any punches in making her both disturbed and disturbing. It will be a long time coming for me to say that I enjoyed watching the film, but I was impressed with it, and impressed with the story it tells. In a different year, I might be persuaded to give it the statue. In this year, though, there’s a better nominated screenplay that’s going to get my vote.

My Choice

1. It doesn’t happen often, and it seems particularly rare of late, but this is one that Oscar got right. Even if I put my other possible nominations into the mix, I’m still giving this to The Defiant Ones ten times out of ten. 1958 was a much better year for adapted screenplays, but for originals, this was the best of its year. It handles relevant issues (that are still relevant) and does it well, giving us genuine characters who are interesting. It holds up. It was the best of its year in 1958 and it still is.

Final Analysis


  1. I think you're a little too hard on "Houseboat." It was doomed by Cary Grant's affair with Sophie Loren long before the cameras ever started rolling which also doomed the original screenplay by his wife at the time, Betsy Drake. Also, the film was my first introduction to the joys of the harmonica, and that I wasn't alone with those same occasional thoughts as a child. Of course, I didn't realize the technical term for the instrument is doohickey according to John Doe and The Colonel, until I fell for Barbara Stanwyck and had to see all of her films when I was a bit older.

    1. Whatever goes on behind the scenes, it's always the movie on the screen that concerns me (or at least 99% of the time that's the case). Houseboat's issues off camera may have doomed the film and I may be to harsh on it, but it's a film with real problems in the screenplay. When it's a screenplay award in question, that's generally going to have it end up on the bottom.

  2. Yes, it's hard to make a romance film work when the actors bitterly hate each other throughout its entire on screen run time, but film contracts in those days were nearly impossible to break once signed.

    1. Right, but that's on the actors, not the screenplay itself. Certainly a good screenplay can e terribly damaged by feuding actors or bad performances, but in this case, I have problems with what's on the page before we even get to filming.

      What I said in the review is that everything in the film is too easy. There's no real consequence for anything. Cary Grant's character never has to work that hard to win over his children, which is ridiculous. Any problems he or Sophia Loren's character experience are glossed over almost immediately and made right. Not much conflict, not much tension, and thus not much interest. It wants to be light and breezy, and it ends up insubstantial.