Friday, May 3, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1957

The Contenders:

Designing Woman (winner)
Funny Face
I Vitelloni
Man of a Thousand Faces
The Tin Star

What’s Missing

1957 is one of those years that had a ton of great screenplays, but virtually all of them were adapted rather than original. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some original screenplays that I love dearly; there just aren’t a lot of them. The nominations here aren’t terrible even if they also aren’t that inspired or inspiring. There are couple I’d consider slipping in. The nomination of I Vitelloni almost certainly left out a slot for Wild Strawberries, which I think is a better film all the way around. The big miss for English-language films (in my opinion) is A Face in the Crowd.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I don’t really dislike a lot of the movies on this list, but I think Funny Face is the one I like the least. I’ll admit that a huge part of that problem is that I don’t like the fact that it’s a film that centers on a romance between a nearly-60 Fred Astaire and a pre-30 Audrey Hepburn. It also seems to highlight the problems of the fashion world and industry and hold those faults up as strengths. It’s a movie where the sexual politics have long since died off, or should. And while there are things to like here, it lacks to joy of the early Astaire musicals.

4. I Vitelloni is a very good movie, and is also one of the rare Fellini movies where I like it much more than I typically like Fellini films. The problem with it is that it’s essentially a movie about slackers, albeit one that follows that plot long before the term “slacker” was anything like common parlance. That’s not an inherently bad thing, but it does make for a movie that doesn’t really go anywhere. Movies like this always seem like they go on too long for the plot because there isn’t a great deal of plot. Given my choices, I’d rather have Wild Strawberries as the foreign language entry.

3. Man of a Thousand Faces is a damn fine biopic. The best part of this, though, is the performance of James Cagney, who bites into this role with everything he has and never lets go. I could potentially see a nomination for him in the Best Actor category, although he’d be a long shot in a year this good. The problem with the screenplay is that a lot of the characters here who aren’t our title character aren’t that interesting or even that three-dimensional. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not a great screenplay.

2. Deciding between first and second place for this year is surprisingly difficult. Do I pick the excellent Western that has a few problems with cliché or do I pick the ripping comedy that is ultimately light and fluffy? I thought about it for a few minutes, and I’m sticking Designing Woman in second. There’s not a lot wrong with this film; in fact, the biggest issue I have with it is that it doesn’t suit the talents of Gregory Peck at all. It’s a trifle of a screenplay, but it’s a very good one. If it’s your pick, I won’t argue with you too much.

1. I am not a huge proponent of the Western, but The Tin Star is one of those that is right in the sweet spot of the Western resurgence. While it does have some clichéd elements (most Westerns do), it manages to be interesting and go places that are genuinely unexpected. A good cast doesn’t hurt, but it really is the screenplay that makes it worth watching. Any story that can do something new in a tired genre is a good thing. It’s not my ultimate pick and I don’t really object to Designing Woman winning, but my actual pick is elsewhere.

My Choice

A Face in the Crowd is one of those movies that I think is eligible. It has a screenplay and a story, but they were written by the same person. Knowing that there were plenty of movies that ended up being written based on unpublished stories, I’m thinking that might be the case here, which would make this eligible. If that’s the case, it’s my clear winner. A Face in the Crowd was damn good in 1957 and it’s only more relevant now.

Final Analysis


  1. Wild Strawberries is one of the better Bergman movies, one of those where the screenplay is very strong and not weird enough to push the general public away. I could definitely see it nominated, especially when the actual nominations are this lackluster.

    1. Yep--exactly that. If you haven't seen A Face in the Crowd, it's worth tracking down.

  2. I'm a Western fan and Tin Star is a good one but I think of the list of nominees I'd go with Designing Woman. It gets its idea of how two radically different people in a relationship struggle to get along, not always smoothly, because they love each other and remains light and airy. I agree about Gregory Peck though, Rock Hudson would have been a much better fit.

    But in an open field it wouldn't come close to winning. It would be a choice between the two you mentioned though A Face in the Crowd was based on a short story that is available in a collection but I'm not sure if it was published before the film was released or not. It would be very tough to pick between it and Wild Strawberries, I love both films but they are so different. Perhaps for its more wide world view I'd lean towards Face in the Crowd.

    Another very good screenplay that would be worth consideration is the one for the Jeff Chandler/Orson Welles Man in the Shadow. I wouldn't be my winner but it's certainly better than some that made it in.

    1. I don't object to the win for Designing Woman that much, or really at all. I prefer The Tin Star, though.

      Rock Hudson would've been great in Designing Woman. Cary Grant would've absolutely killed it.