Friday, November 30, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1951

The Contenders:

Ace in the Hole
An American in Paris (winner)
David and Bathsheba
Go for Broke!
The Well

What’s Missing

With some years, the vast majority of the movies I’ve seen hit one or two categories and not another. That’s clearly the case for 1951, which appears to be an under-viewed year for me. I can’t say I love all of the nominations here, but I at least like most of them. The problem is that most of the 1951 movies I like are adapted screenplays. The two that I think would be worth adding here are the brilliant The Lavender Hill Mob and the surprisingly effective Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It’s probably fair to suggest that I’m putting David and Bathsheba last because I’m an apostate and this is a Biblical epic. That’s fair, but I don’t think it’s true. There are some big-budget Biblical stories I’ve enjoyed. I think the biggest problem for me is that this just isn’t that good of a story. If you want to promote the idea of Christianity as a good and moral system, a story where everybody gets punished except for the guy who transgresses probably isn’t your best choice. This felt like an excuse for big sets and costumes.

4. It would also be completely within my character to both slag off on An American in Paris because it’s a musical and because it won this Oscar. Again, that’s an easy place to go, but it’s not the truth. In this case, the problem is that the story is a complete nothing. This is a by-the-numbers romance with a few good songs and Gene Kelly’s impeccable dancing. It’s a fine movie as a spectacle, but as a story, there’s a lot to be desired. I understand why it was nominated and even why it won; it just shouldn’t have.

3. Go for Broke! is a really interesting nomination, one that demonstrates that while Oscar does a lot of posturing, it actually does sometimes manage to be socially ahead of its time. This is a movie about racism, and specifically about the racism that occurred (and was still occurring) against Japanese Americans. That’s the most interesting thing about it; it’s otherwise a pretty bog-standard war movie. Our main characters shift from being an anti-Asian racist to being less of one is expected, but not really that believable. Still, it’s not bad.

2. The Well is another film about racism, and one that is in many ways a lot more interesting because it comes across as being a lot more real than Go for Broke! The biggest issue with this film is that it feels like two films inexpertly joined together. The first part deals with racism, and that seems to completely ignored once we get to the third act and a little girl having fallen down a well. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch, but it’s a good one, and I’m happy I got a chance to see it.

My Choice

1. There’s clearly only one choice both from the nominations and from the 1951 films in general, and that’s Ace in the Hole. This is one of those unique films that was interesting when it was made and seems more and more relevant every year since it was made. Like Network and Nightcrawler, this is an incisive indictment of the news industry, one that is both fascinating and terrifying with its implications. It’s a brilliant, hard-hitting script, one of the best of its decade and clearly the best of its year. It should have won in a walk.

Final Analysis


  1. There was really no other choice among the nominees. Haven't seen David and Bathsheba or Go for Broke.

    1. Go for Broke! is interesting, but not required viewing. David and Bathsheba is less and less.

  2. I second that. Ace in the Hole would stand out in any Year. When the Thai football team got stuck in a cave earlier this year, it was Ace in the Hole I was reminded of.

  3. I haven't seen Go for Broke! and while I'm sure it's a fine film I just can't envision anything topping Ace in the Hole.

    I'm a huge musical fan but I actively detest An American in Paris with its nothing story and that pretentious endless ballet at the conclusion.

    Likewise I adore Susan Hayward, like Gregory Peck and take great pleasure in a good Biblical epic but I struggled through David and Bathsheba. The best I can say about it was that Susan was breathtaking in it.

    Of your two alternate suggestions I wasn't as captivated with Pandora as you but agree about Lavender Hill Mob.

    I have many films that I love from this year, Strangers on a Train, The Mating Season etc., but they all seem to be adapted from elsewhere. The only suggestion I have is Westward the Women which Frank Capra wrote for the screen. It's a terrific film and would make a good substitute but nothing can best Ace in the Hole. Incredible that it lost.

    1. I agree--I absolutely can't fathom how a complete cipher of a story like An American in Paris walked away with this when the Academy had a complex, deep, and riveting story. Turn all of these into short stories or novellas, and Ace in the Hole is the one you recommend to people.

  4. I love biblical epics just for being so epic and gaudy and overblown. Like Samson and Delilah! Or The Ten Commandments. Or The Prodigal for making no sense whatsoever. Or The Big Fisherman for Howard Keel as Paul, Herbert Lom as Herod and Susan Kohner for whatever she was supposed to be doing.

    But David and Bathsheba is just DULL. DULL DULL DULL! The other one I don't like is Solomon and Sheba. Watch any other Gina Lolabrigida movie if you want to stare at Gina Lolabriigida.

    1. Yeah, it's a snorefest. I was so happy to have it in my rearview mirror.

      I like The Ten Commandments, for the record. The only thing I'll say in favor of David and Bathsheba is that it's not nearly has ridiculously histrionic as The Robe.