Friday, November 9, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1949

The Contenders:

Battleground (winner)
Jolson Sings Again
Passport to Pimlico
The Quiet One

What’s Missing

1949 appears to be one of those years where the screenplays were heavily weighted to the adapted when it comes to the best ones. That doesn’t mean that there’s no room for improvement. What it does mean, though, is that the movies that I’ve seen are either not good enough for a nomination or are adapted and not original. So, while I don’t love all of the nominations for Best Original Screenplay for 1949, I don’t have a lot of suggestions. In fact, the only one that might qualify for me is White Heat. Seriously, even goofs like Whiskey Galore! come from a novel.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. While White Heat is my only suggestion and I’m not entirely sure it’s eligible, I’d rather have a non-eligible film here than Jolson Sings Again. I don’t have a great deal to say about this film, since it feels like a cash grab after the first film, something cobbled together to catch a little bit of a popularity wave. This is especially true when you consider that the making of The Jolson Story is literally included in the middle of this one. It’s inventive; I’ll give it that. It’s just not that good.

4. The other nomination I simply don’t understand here is The Quiet One. This isn’t a bad movie; it’s just one that I’m not sure knows what it wants to be. I think it really wants to be a documentary but can’t quite get there. It’s a movie that has its heart in the right place, but because of that, it comes off a lot like a long advertisement for a children’s charity. I wanted to like The Quiet One a lot more than I was capable of liking it. I don’t honestly know if the 65-minute running time helps it or hurts it.

3. I’d honestly love to Passport to Pimlico higher than third place. It’s such an entertaining little film. The idea is loads of fun and it’s executed beautifully. Sure, it doesn’t take itself very seriously, but it’s not intended to. In truth, it’s such a lightweight film that getting nominated at all is kind of its Oscar. Up against much more serious films, it’s not one that had much of a chance of winning. Still, if you can find this, it’s worth seeing. Don’t expect it to change your world; expect instead to have a nice time with an amusing romp.

My Choices

2. So it’s the two war movies that end up sitting at the top for me, and while I will pick one of them for first place, I’m not terribly upset at the actual winner. Battleground is a hell of a good war movie if you like a good war movie. The biggest problem with it is that the characters never really get beyond the cardboard cutout stage. With a little more characterization, perhaps fewer named characters to really deal with, this is a film that would rise in my estimation. Since I’m saying it was a good choice as a winner, that’s really saying something.

1. My choice, though, is Paisa, a film that was actually released in 1946, but took three years to make it to the States. Paisa is essentially an anthology film about war. What it does is something that almost no other war movie does. Propaganda films make war look heroic and thrilling. Anti-war movies make war look like hell and evil. Paisa just makes war look like war. It’s terrible and awful, but it’s also mundane. It strives for not thrilling realism, but actual realism, and it hits it. It’s my choice, and it’s a damn good one.

Final Analysis


  1. My copy of Paisa was in Italian only. I did find a version with random subtitles which helped only marginally. Despite that I cannot liking Paisa. It is such an antidote to the heroic genre, but not as depressing as these things can be. This was the era where Italian Neorealism worked well. That ended eventually.
    Your description of Passport to Pimlico is spot on. It is a very nice Sunday afternoon movie.

    1. That's a really nice way to define Passport to Pimlico. It's fun, and sometimes that's all you need.