Monday, November 13, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1941

The Contenders:

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (winner)
Hold Back the Dawn
How Green Was My Valley
The Little Foxes
The Maltese Falcon

What’s Missing

I don’t have a lot of complaints about this list of nominees. While I don’t love all of the movies, I don’t know that any of the five are shocking or terrible nominations. If I could add one, I might consider The Devil and Daniel Webster but that mostly comes from Walter Huston’s wonderful performance and not really from the screenplay. I Wake Up Screaming would be an interesting addition. High Sierra was also from this year, but I’m not convinced it’s a better choice than the five we already have.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It’s very easy to hate on How Green Was My Valley when it won Best Picture over Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon. Putting its screenplay in fifth might feel like me doing exactly that. I don’t really hate the screenplay, though, and I’d have been shocked if it had not been nominated. I like the other screenplays we have here more, though. I don’t understand the acclaim for this one, and it’s not a screenplay that I love. I might put something in its place, but even then, this isn’t a terrible nomination.

4. Winner Here Comes Mr. Jordan has as its greatest strength a plot that works in spite of itself. There are some real problems, though. The biggest problem I have with the film is that it doesn’t take long enough to really address all of its plot points. Too much is smashed into the sack and the sack is too small, so resolutions of problems don’t always work. I can get that people were enchanted by this and it does have its charms, but in a year with screenplays that take enough time to work everything out satisfactorily. Here Comes Mr. Jordan shouldn't be here.

3. I like Hold Back the Dawn and I liked it more than I thought I would. It’s a Billy Wilder screenplay, and that generally means good things for the movie in question, but it’s also an earlier Billy Wilder screenplay. It ends up being pretty melodramatic. While I appreciate that it focuses on the idea of a romance rather than a romantic comedy, it also goes over the top in that respect. It’s a movie to watch more for the performances than for the story it tells. It’s not bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. It’s just not a winner.

2. The Little Foxes is a film where I initially find the screenplay difficult to judge because of everything else the film has working for it. It contains a monster performance from Bette Davis, for instance, and some truly magnificent work behind the camera. If the film came with more of a resolution, I might like it a little bit more and allow it to contend for the statue, but it doesn’t quite get there. It’s a great screenplay, though, and one that I was happy to see nominated. In a film where pretty much everyone is kind of awful, that's pretty amazing.

My Choice

1. There are a few movies that I think are the template for film noir. The Maltese Falcon is one of those films. It is a near-perfect adaptation of the tense and muscular book and one that holds up now as a film. It’s smart, it all makes sense, and there’s not an ounce of filler here anywhere. This is a film that stays completely true to its source material, something that is in and of itself noteworthy. That it’s a great story and filmed within an inch of its life makes it all the better. I have no qualms about putting the statue in this direction.

Final Analysis


  1. This is a good crop though I love the suggestion of I Wake Up Screaming. That's such a terrific trim little film.

    I'm all in for The Maltese Falcon winning this but I'm sort of happy that Here Comes Mr. Jordan won the actual prize. Falcon needs no help with its legacy but Mr. Jordan is a charmer which isn't anywhere near the other film in acclaim so its winning an Oscar might encourage others to seek it out who might not have otherwise.

    1. It is a nice little film, although I think it has its problems. I'm always happy to watch a Claude Rains film, though, so it has that going for it.

      The Maltese Falcon, though, is one of those movies that refuses to age. It's as good now as it ever was.

  2. I would have added The Lady Eve to the list; according to Wikipedia it is adapted from a story by Monckton Hoffe (what a great name). It would be serious competition for The Maltese Falcon for me, though I might still give it to Falcon: it is a great film in its own right, and a brilliant adaptation too.

    1. I considered putting The Lady Even in the running, but I have no idea if it would be eligible. It's based on the story, but was the story published? Or was it one of those stories like we get in Sunset Boulevard that is written specifically as sort of a pre-treatment for a film? If the former, I could see it nominated. If the later...could it even be nominated?

      This award is admittedly difficult in many of these earlier years.

    2. Who can fathom the decisions of the Academy? They seem to just make it up as they go along.

      I think it similar to Sunset Boulevard; I don't think it was published, but Preston Sturges certainly read it and wrote his film as a result.

    3. Right...but I guess I don't know how the award is nominated. If you can't actually see the original source material, does it count as being adapted?

  3. The Maltese Falcon is one of those movies I can go back to again and again and still find new things. It is an awesome film and an awesome adaption.

  4. The benefit of Hindsight always makes judging these films interesting. That being said, you have to go with The Maltese Falcon.

    1. Yeah, I think it's about perfect. In some ways, the screenplay is hard to judge because of how good everything else is. It looks right, sounds right, feels right, and the performances are perfect start to finish. That dialogue, though, seals it for me.

  5. Replies
    1. I knew my winner as soon as I typed in the movie names.