Friday, December 29, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1946

The Contenders:

The Blue Dahlia
Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradis)
Road to Utopia
The Seventh Veil (winner)

What’s Missing

This is another one of those years where it feels like a small number of films really belong in the nominations, and even then, Oscar didn't nominate all that well. Starting off, based on the five we've got, I wonder why Gilda didn't rate consideration. A bigger miss to me would be A Matter of Life and Death, a film that beautifully flips the script on Here Comes Mr. Jordan and makes it work. I also think that It's a Wonderful Life belongs here. It may not have gotten its just due in 1946, but it's certainly lived up to any expectations had for it since then.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’m very much in the minority in thinking that The Seventh Veil is nothing but problems, most of which come from the screenplay. This film is made up of ugly elements. It’s true that a compelling screenplay can be made from ugly social elements like misogyny and abuse, but this isn’t it. The fact that it’s laden with psychobabble doesn’t help, either. We’re forced to endure 36-year-old Anne Todd playing a 14-year-old, and to have the abuse and incest problems in the script solved through Freudian analysis. It hasn’t aged well at all.

4. The Blue Dahlia would be an interesting film if it didn’t commit what I think is one of the mortal sins of a movie, especially a noir: it punks the ending. It’s a gritty film, something I genuinely appreciate in most cases, but when it goes for an ending that it hasn’t really earned and that doesn’t really fit with the story, I feel let down. It also doesn’t help that Veronica Lake is terribly miscast in the film. I think it’s not a bad film, but the biggest issue it has is with the part of the film that was nominated for an Oscar.

3. I was completely surprised at how much I enjoyed Road to Utopia, it being my first Bing and Bob “Road” movie. It’s mostly fluff, which doesn’t work to its benefit here, but it’s also really good, funny, and entertaining fluff. It helps tremendously to have the always-likable Bing Crosby in a major role, but even with a lesser light, there’s a lot here that would still work. It’s clever, and that goes a long way. That it’s not really substantial is the biggest problem here, and while I like the movie and even the nomination, I can’t give it the win.

2. Hitchcock is often labelled as relying on twist endings, which isn’t entirely true. In fact, while many of his movies turn on a moment that happens late in the film, in most cases, that turn comes in full view of the audience and the tension is not about what happened, but how it will turn out. Notorious is a good example of this. This is a smart screenplay that doesn’t depend on gimmicks to work. Instead, it works purely on human nature and the personal demons that infect the various characters. It’s a solid nomination, and I might see it winning.

1. Children of Paradise is where I would put my vote were I to vote on the five movies that we are given. That this film was made in Paris during the Nazi occupation is amazing. That it was done with a number of Jewish crew members is staggering. That it’s a sweeping historical costume drama is completely beyond the pale. The fact that this movie even exists is amazing to me. That it was done this beautifully is a thing of wonder. But none of that speaks to the screenplay—but it’s the screenplay where all of this starts and why all of the rest of the film’s existence is so amazing.

My Choice

But, of course, I get to pick my winners from an open field on this blog, and in a completely open field, I’m moving outside of the five nominations. Either It’s a Wonderful Life or A Matter of Life and Death would be my choice here, and I think my pick between them might depend on my mood at the moment or a coin flip. Both deal beautifully with fantasy elements, weaving them into the real world in a seamless and wonderful way. Both should have been nominated, and either would be my choice.

Final Analysis


  1. My vote would go to Notorious which I think is clever and tense, true it has one of the best overall casts of any Hitchcock film but even with lesser lights I think it still would have been one of his best films.

    I admired Children of Paradise but Arletty and the costume design were my major takeaways but the nomination is deserved and good to see.

    While I'm suffering from long term It's a Wonderful Life burnout-it just showed TOO many times when it was in public domain-I appreciate it as an excellent film that I just can't watch anymore or at least not for a couple more years and it does belong here. I don't think I would have objected if it had won though it wouldn't be my choice.

    You love A Matter of Life and Death a whole lot more than I do.

    1. I admit that I might well be swayed by the story behind Children of Paradise, but I do love the movie and never felt like it ran too long. Some of that has to come from the story.

      And yeah, I find A Matter of Life and Death absolutely enchanting. I get the opinion on It's a Wonderful Life, though. I haven't watched it in some years to avoid exactly that problem.

  2. I think the story behind Children of Paradise is far more interesting than the movie itself, which I find pretentious and annoying. Notorious is better, but not a favorite Hitchcock. It has problems as well, particular on the script side. There is something off in the relationship between the two lead, which I put down to screenplay.
    No, this would be between A Matter of Life and Death and It's a Wonderful Life. My vote goes to A Matter of Life and Death for sheer inventiveness.