Monday, May 21, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1946

The Contenders:

Anna and the King of Siam
The Best Years of Our Lives (winner)
Brief Encounter
The Killers
Rome, Open City

What’s Missing

It’s actually embarrassing how good 1946 is in the Adapted Screenplay category. I have pretty much no objection to three of the five nominees, and the objections I do have are only because there are a bunch of worthy films left out. We can start with the classics and the miss on Great Expectations. Similarly, while we may not have an original author for it, I can’t imagine that Beauty and the Beast wouldn’t be eligible in this category. Humoresque seemed to manage to avoid most nominations, and missed this one as well. The Razor’s Edge might be a little too moralizing to be taken too seriously. And while I like them both pretty well, neither The Big Sleep nor The Spiral Staircase seem to pack the Oscar gravitas.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I think it’s worth saying that the only reason I’m not thrilled with the nomination for Anna and the King of Siam is that I think there are a few unnominated screenplays that deserve to be here more. That’s pretty much it. It’s a fine movie and worth watching once. It’s substantially darker than you might expect. It is also missing all of the pageantry you might expect from a film with the same source material as The King and I, although that has nothing to do with the screenplay, admittedly.

4. With Rome, Open City, the problem isn’t specifically that there are issues with the screenplay, but that there isn’t a great deal of screenplay at all. The story is quite simple and depends entirely on the characters to sell what is happening. It’s a fine movie, and an important one with important stories to tell in the years immediately following World War II. But because so much of it seems so simple, it doesn’t feel like it has the same sort of weight as the other screenplays in the category.

My Choices

3. This is where things start to get difficult, because I could genuinely see any of the remaining three films winning. My placement of The Killers in third is not because I like it less than the other two nominations, but because it almost feels like category fraud. The first 10-15 minutes are based on the Hemingway story of the same name; the rest is a complete extrapolation. This is so much the case that the main character from the story is an uncredited role in it. I love the movie and the screenplay, but it almost feels like an original.

2. I understand completely why The Best Years of Our Lives won this Oscar and I don’t entirely object to the win. It’s not my favorite movie from 1946, but I think it’s clearly the most important film of this year and very much the film that the States needed at this time. In fact, my only real objections are that it feels a touch long (not that I know where to cut) and the ending feels too pat. But everything else feels real, and the characters really feel like they are trying to adjust to what life is like after the war. It’s a healing movie, and the country needed that in 1946. I get it, and I think it’s a good choice, but it’s not the best choice.

1. Brief Encounter is my winner. A big part of the reason for this is that it’s a movie that is wonderfully and beautifully of its time. It’s not a movie that would or could be easily remade today because of how much social mores have changed. The romance here is achingly tender and achingly sweet, and the entire movie turns on this fact. Career performances from Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard certainly help make this one of the great films of 1946, but they started with a screenplay as good and sweet and gentle as you could ask for. It’s my winner in a strong year.

Final Analysis


  1. As good as some of these are - I especially love The Killers - I'm going to have to give the Oscar to The Big Sleep. THAT is a special screenplay. I don't know how many times I've seen it over the years. For a while, I was DVRing it off TCM and then watching it twice before deleting it. And one of the things that keeps me coming back is the script.

    You made a mistake. Mrs. Rutledge didn't send for me.
    I make many mistakes.

    She's too big for ya.

    She tried to sit in my lap when I was standing up.

    You're cute.

    That scene where Agnes is talking about Canino gives me chills.

    1. I think it's likely that The Big Sleep would get a nomination from me, but I don't know that it's going to break into the winner's circle.

  2. I'm with Tony. The Big Sleep is one of the all time greats, and the screenplay adaptation of Raymond Chandler's book captured the story's insane bravado. Brief Encounter is also an excellent script, but The Big Sleep is just such a perfect mix of bad people behaving badly.

    1. I get that, but for me, Brief Encounter is a perfect mix of people behaving just morally enough to be compelling. It's hard to do a good romance that stands the test of time, and while our moral positions have changed, Brief Encounter still works beautifully.

  3. We are spoiled for choice this year. So much to pick from.
    I am very happy to see you go with Brief Encounter for top spot. Romantic movies are not usually the one who make a big impression on me, but this one got it exactly right. And yes, you could not make a remake of it today.
    I will join the choir to give The Big Sleep a nomination, but it would not be the winner for me.

    1. It is a hell of a year. It's such a mixed blessing when something like this happens. On the one many great screenplays! On the other hand, it seems a shame that only one can get the statue (hence three potential winners from me).

  4. I can't fault Brief Encounter as the winner though I think I'd stick with the amazing The Best Years of Our Lives to come out on top but by a whisper thin margin. A tie would be the best result.

    As for the others in contention it really was a rich year, but that holds true in every category-a very strong year. While there are a few others I'd rather see nominated there are no head scratchers as there are many years. I was so surprised when I watched Anna and the King of Siam having been raised on the candy coated King and I. A very dark vision especially in regards to Tuptim.

    I'm not as enamored of The Big Sleep as everybody else. It's got style to burn, Bogie and Betty ooze chemistry and Martha Vickers is phenomenal but I thought its story a confusing mess. Love the suggestion of The Spiral Staircase but I think the bigger miss is the John Garfield/Lana Turner original version of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

    1. It's the difference between the endings that make the difference for me here. With The Best Years of Our Lives, we get the ending we want but it's too pat. With Brief Encounter, we get the ending we don't want, but that works for the film.

      I agree that a tie might be the best way forward, though. It's why they are both listed as potentially appropriate winners here.

      All of that said, there's a part of me that will always be loyal to The Killers from this year.