Friday, June 1, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1943

The Contenders:

Michael Curtiz: Casablanca (winner)
Ernst Lubitsch: Heaven Can Wait
Clarence Brown: The Human Comedy
George Stevens: The More the Merrier
Henry King: The Song of Bernadette

What’s Missing

You might think that in 1943 it would be understandable if the movie industry wasn’t what it once was. And yet, there were a surprising number of great films in 1943 and a surprising number of snubs when it comes to the director’s chair. It’s going to be another one of “those” years, where Oscar nominated poorly with one or two exceptions. We can start right out of the gate with the snub of Alfred Hitchcock and Shadow of a Doubt, one of the truly great films of these middle war years. I’d also be quick to mention both the Powell/Pressburger collaboration on The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and William Wellman’s powerful and moving The Ox-Bow Incident. Five Graves to Cairo is a propaganda film, but it’s a fun one, and Billy Wilder might have deserved some love. Jacques Tourneur had a good 1943, even if films like The Leopard Man and I Walked with a Zombie are not the sort that get nominations. Finally, I genuinely appreciate how much Mervyn LeRoy really focuses on the science in Madame Curie, even if I’m not convinced that he really deserved a nomination.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I desperately hated The Song of Bernadette and every dripping, ridiculous frame of it. From the stereotypically wooden performance of Jennifer Jones to the maudlin idea of magical waters that save people from death, there wasn’t a bit of this film that I enjoyed. Certainly not all of this is the fault of Henry King, but as the director, it’s his job to make the film interesting and worth watching, and he clearly falls down on the job. With the other films ignored for this year, having this film nominated for literally anything is a joke.

4. If I put myself in the mindset of 1943, I can understand the nomination for The Human Comedy. This was a film about the home front, and was less a plot than a series of connected events. I really try as much as I can to watch movies with the mindset of the time, but The Human Comedy is a film that makes that difficult. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Clarence Brown’s work on this, but there’s also nothing particularly noteworthy about it as well. There were better choices from this year that should be hear instead.

3. I like Ernst Lubitsch as a rule, and for whatever reason, Heaven Can Wait left me cold. With the exception of the performance of the taken-too-soon actor Laird Creegar, there wasn’t a great deal here that I enjoyed. So how did it move into third place? Well, this is about the director, and Lubitsch does everything he can with a story that, in my opinion, was barely worth filming. His stamp is on just about every frame, and so, while I don’t like the movie or the story that much, I find it difficult to fault the guy who made it as presentable as he could.

2. Gun to head, I’d have to think very hard whether or not I’d nominate The More the Merrier and George Stevens in an open field. I might, and if I did, it would probably be on the bottom of the five nominations. That said, this is a completely charming film that works in large part because of what Stevens manages to get out of his cast. It spends too much time aiming for the central romance, something that damages the second act. Stevens brings together a great first and third act, though, which is what gets him to second place.

My Choice

1. This is another one of those years where I think Oscar has nominated terribly and still managed to get the right winner. Of the five nominations, there could be no other winner aside from Curtiz and Casablanca, and in an open field, I’m going the same way. Curtiz’s film is a masterpiece in every aspect, and there isn’t a single part of if that I would want to change. From the performances down to the smallest moments, Casablanca is near-perfect, and in every frame, Curtiz has his camera point exactly where it needs to be and shows us exactly what we need to see. There were a lot of snubs for Best Director 1943, but they’d still be taking a back seat to Michael Curtiz.

Final Analysis


  1. Yes to all you said about Casablanca and Curtiz. He was able to handle any genre with ease, a rare gift that even most of the best directors didn't possess but Casablanca is his pinnacle. Especially impressive when you consider the movie was compiled as it went along.

    I also agree about most of the other nominations, Song of Bernadette!!? WTH, but I am much more fond of Heaven Can Wait than you and it would be the only other I'd retain. Though it would be fourth or fifth on my list.

    Couldn't agree more about Wellman and The Ox-Box Incident and especially Hitchcock and Shadow of a Doubt. Shadow isn't among my top favorites of his films but its a terrific movie and brilliantly directed.

    I was going to suggest Day of Wrath as an alternate but see that it didn't open in the States until 1948. I'd consider Busby Berkeley's The Gang's All Here which may not be the best picture but his control of the elephantine production, The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat alone must have been a logistical nightmare, was a special skill that Berkeley seemed to have a unique aptitude for. Since we're looking at direction not overall film his work is certainly more assured than at least two who made the shortlist.

  2. Wellman and Hitchcock would be in my list of five nominees. I'd have to think hard about the other two--Powell/Pressburger are likely because Colonel Blimp is a doozy of a film.

    Doesn't really matter, though, because Curtiz is taking this every time.

  3. I agree in with you in every possible way except I'd reverse the places of Bernadette and Human Comedy on your nominees list.

    1. I can live with that. For me, the difference is simple. I at least marginally liked The Human Comedy and I flat hated The Song of Bernadette.

  4. As Casablanca is the only one of the nominees I have actually seen commenting on the order seems rather stupid. I would say though that for any competition to Casablanca to be relevant it would have to be phenomenally good and I expect such a movie would have had a place on the List.

    1. I enjoyed the hell out of The More the Merrier. It's fluff, but it's really entertaining fluff.