Monday, April 8, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1974

The Contenders:

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
The Godfather Part II (winner)
Murder on the Orient Express
Young Frankenstein

What’s Missing

This is once again a case where all of the films that I would normally think of for this award are eligible for the other version. The 1974 movies I tend to like are all evidently based on original screenplays. There are a couple I might put out there, though. The Night Porter would be an interesting choice if it’s actually eligible for this award. Celine and Julie Go Boating is probably too French for consideration, since it evidently requires a great deal of cultural knowledge to truly grok. The Towering Inferno was nominated in several other places, and I’m a little surprised it didn’t get nominated here. The one I’d personally like to bring in is The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Of these five films, Murder on the Orient Express is the one that is in some ways the most impressive and in others the least. There are a lot of people in this movie, and that’s pretty interesting in its own right. But it’s also a movie that doesn’t really give the audience a real chance to solve the mystery that is being presented. There’s virtually no characterization; there’s just characters. While it’s undoubtedly faithful to the original story, to tell the story in a way that’s really interesting needs a lot more time. This would be a better miniseries.

4. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz isn’t a great film and isn’t a film that I’ve ever thought of wanting to watch a second time. The most impressive thing about it is the casting: Richard Dreyfuss’s annoying giggle fits the character so perfectly that Duddy is impossible to imagine without it. But the story itself struggles a great deal to remain interesting. It feels like, as opposed to Murder on the Orient Express, that this is a tale that could be told in about half the time. It’s a morality tale that feels like it’s got some padding in it.

3. Lenny, a film that covers at least part of the career of Lenny Bruce, is perhaps the biggest surprise for me here. It’s a brilliant film in a lot of ways, and its nomination is completely appropriate and deserved. In fact, my biggest complaint here is that we don’t get enough of Lenny Bruce’s monologues and comedy routines, focusing instead on the drama that was his real life. It’s a minor quibble, and in a lot of years, I’d be happy to push Lenny higher than I have it here. It’s just had the bad luck to be stuck in a year with two classics.

My Choices

2. The Godfather Part II is almost certainly going to be the consensus choice for this award, and was the clear choice of the Academy. Far be it from me to say that they made a poor choice on this. The truth is that I don’t really have a suggestion of what could be or should be better with this movie. There’s not a lot of room here for improvement. My putting it in second place is entirely a personal choice. The truth is that I never really want to watch any of the movies in this series. It’s not that they’re not great; it’s more that they just don’t always appeal to me.

1. And so, I’m giving my vote to Young Frankenstein. That seems not unlike a popular choice in a lot of ways, and I suspect that there are some who might vote the same way just because it’s a very funny movie. For me, it’s much, much deeper. Young Frankenstein is funny, of course, but it’s also exactly what a parody should be. It’s true to its source material in the best way it can be. It’s so evident that Mel Brooks loves the material he’s working with because there’s no way the homage could be this complete without it. It works on every level, and that’s what makes it work, and also why it’s my choice.

Final Analysis


  1. I'm not going to say it should have won over Godfather II or Young Frankenstein (because... no), but I think this version of Murder on the Orient Express absolutely deserves to be in the conversation:
    - The opening sequence (with the news/filmreel compilation covering the Daisy Armstrong incident) is NOT from the book, and is an artful (and very creepy) way to convey a whole lot of exposition quickly.
    - Contrary to what the Kenneth Branagh version would have you believe, this is a story with no action sequences, fights or chases. Easily 80% of the story is Poirot interviewing passengers, which should be dull as dirt... and never is.
    - I don't think that giving the audience a chance to solve the mystery has ever been Christie's strong suit -- unless you solve it the way I used to solve episodes of "Murder, She Wrote" and "CSI" back in the day (it's the unassuming person that the episode ignored after the first 15-20 minutes of the show). Having said that, this version or Orient Express does do a good job of calling out when a suspect slips up -- though that might be the direction more than the screenplay.

    1. You may be right and I may be harsher than necessary, but it's not a screenplay that does a lot for me. I realize it's a function of the story, but there are a lot of characters here, and not a one of them--including Poirot--has any more depth than a saucer.

      It's fun, but I'm just not that impressed by it.

  2. That's a great lineup of nominees. I love Murder on the Orient Express but in this grouping I'd probably put it fourth. Duddy would be last and the one I'd take out and replace with Pelham 123, a fantastic movie and had it been included it would rank high for me.

    Of the three that are left it's a hard choice. Lenny is a tough watch but it's brilliant however when I think about the film it's the performances of Hoffman and Valerie Perrine that I remember. I like Young Frankenstein more but I'd go with Godfather II even if like you those films are ones I never rewatch.

    1. I can't say I object to that placement. When I started this, I had Duddy Kravitz in fifth originally, but ultimately moved it up a notch.

      I also can't really complain too much about choosing The Godfather Part II for the win.