Monday, April 9, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1958

The Contenders:

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Gigi (winner)
The Horse’s Mouth
I Want to Live!
Separate Tables

What’s Missing

It happens that 1958 was a solid year for adapted screenplays. There are plenty that are worth of consideration in the context of being better than at least one of the actual nominees. Admittedly, since one of those nominees is Gigi, that bar is quite low. I do have almost two entirely new slates. As is often the case, I’ll move through the foreign films first, launching The Music Room, Ashes and Diamonds, and Elevator to the Gallows all of which could be easily argued onto the short list. Hammer’s Horror of Dracula was never going to get any love, but it’s a find version of the story. There are three films that I could argue here based on them being better than my last-place finisher, but I’m not convinced that any of these three really belong on the final set of nominations. These are Some Cam Running, Inn of the Sixt Happiness, and Auntie Mame. For the record, I genuinely dislike Auntie Mame, but I can’t deny that it’s entirely reliant on its screenplay and follows it well. The big two misses here are the big two misses from this year in most categories: Vertigo and Touch of Evil. The absence of both is absolutely mind-boggling.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It will be no shock to anyone who has read this blog at all that I am putting Gigi, the eventual winner, in last place. I hate this movie and I hate everything about it. Oh, it’s a fine production and there’s a lot of money on the screen, but the story itself is so awful and hateful. I’m not going to apologize for hating this movie. For as beautiful as it might be on the screen, it is ugly in its soul. There’s no coming back from a movie that is focused on two women teaching their niece how to be a high-priced prostitute. Just no.

4. Of the remaining four movies, I Want to Live! is one that I like more than several of the other nominees, but that comes mainly from Susan Hayward and not from the screenplay. The screenplay, while not terrible or even an awful nomination, isn’t that interesting. It’s very straightforward and doesn’t contain a great deal of nuance. That’s not always a problem, but in a year where there’s plenty of intricate and interesting screenplays, that is something that’s going to keep you off the pedestal.

3. The Horse’s Mouth is a comedy that works kind of in spite of itself because it features one of the most awful and hateful main characters of its decade. There is a great deal here that is worth seeing, though, and the fact that some of the jokes still work 60 years after the fact is pretty interesting and worth noting. That said, though, there is a lot of unpleasantness to get through to get to the end of the film, and most of that comes from the character of Gulley Jimson, and a good deal of that comes from the screenplay.

2. I can’t say that I loved Separate Tables a great deal, but I can say that what I liked about it more than anything was the screenplay. What it does so well is something that seems so natural and easy in the watching but is absolutely brutal to do in practice. In very short order, over and over, we get exactly the information we need to know everything that we need to know about characters incredibly quickly. Some of that is in the performance, of course, but most of it is in the script—these are clear, well-drawn characters who show us who they are immediately.

1. Over and over again when I have looked at Oscar races from 1958, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has come out on top of those nominations only to have the Oscar cruelly taken away and handed to a movie that wasn’t nominated. That’s going to happen again. Of the five nominations, it’s clearly the winner. It’s the most interesting screenplay, the one with the deepest and most interesting characters, and the one that demands to be watched. It’s a great movie and, while I’d ultimately like to put the Oscar elsewhere, given the group of five movies we have, it’s the winner.

My Choice

No shock here—I’m going with either Vertigo or Touch of Evil depending on my mood. Of the two movies, I’m more partial to Touch of Evil as something I’d rather watch, but I think Vertigo, which goes to some very strange and dark places in ways that make sense and stay interesting, might well have the better screenplay. In any event, these movies are one and two in some order.

Final Analysis


  1. I'd switch I Want to Live! and The Horse's Mouth but otherwise I'd agree with your lineup. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof really is one of the best Williams adaptations.

    I like the suggestion of Some Came Running which becomes more complex with repeat viewings. I happen to love Auntie Mame, I know you don't, but as delightful as I find the film it is very much a filmed stage play so I don't think it would rate a nomination.

    The only other suggestion I'd make is No Time for Sergeants which is a terrific take on the light-hearted book. But again I'd come down to the two choices you did, Vertigo and Touch of Evil with my pick going to the latter.

    1. As is often the case, my original lineup was very different. In this case, places 1 and 5 were decided immediately and the middle three moved around a lot.

      I don't take any issue with Touch of Evil winning. I do think that Vertigo (I film you're not a huge fan of, if I recall) has a margially better screenplay, but that's clearly debatable. Having both of these on the outside looking in feels criminal, doesn't it?

  2. it would be Touch of Evil for me. OF course there are many elelments here that combine to make it great, but the screenplay is definitely one of them. The trouble with Vertigo is exactly in its screenplay that does not always make sense, but it is still lightyears ahead of Gigi. I share your loath of that pile of dung.

    1. We'll disagree on Vertigo making sense. I think a part of the film's genius is that it all holds together despite going to places that make sense only in a sort of fugue mental state.

      But yeah, we're in lockstep on Gigi. To hell with that movie.

    2. I'm no fan of Vertigo but it sure doesn't make me ANGRY the way Gigi does. It's been 30 years since I saw it, but I still regret not yelling at the screen more.

    3. Yeah, I get that. It's an infuriating plot.

  3. Can't disagree with you on your rankings or your "real" winner. I was glad to see your mention of Elevator to the Gallows which I think has one of the most clever screenplays ever.

    1. I think it's likely that if I came up with my own list of five, Elevator to the Gallows would almost certainly make it. Such a cool film, although I'd most likely want to see it nominated for its score.

    2. Elevator to the Gallows is my favorite movie from 1958, and a lot of it is the screenplay, so I'm glad to see it recognized here. Touch of Evil and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are also great movies.

    3. As I've said above, Elevator to the Gallows would almost certainly make my shortlist for ths year and this award.