Monday, June 17, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1947

The Contenders:

The Bishop’s Wife
Gentleman’s Agreement (winner)
Great Expectations
Miracle on 34th Street

What’s Missing

When we go back to these earlier years (although this is admittedly about 20 years into Oscar’s history), I don’t have as many movies watched. On the positive side, that means fewer possibilities for substitutions. On the negative side, it means I’m far more likely to leave worthy films out. There are a lot of movies I liked well enough from this year==The Farmer’s Daughter, Boomerang, Smash-Up, Odd Man Out--that I wouldn’t nominate, but are pleasant enough. I feel the same way about The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, which is harmless and sweet. It really does feel like a year of harmless films, or ones that are good while falling shy of great. The Lady from Shanghai (I’m in the minority in not finding it great, I think), Mourning Becomes Elektra, Dark Passage, Possessed…the list goes on. If we want to talk about real contenders, though, we can start with Black Narcissus, which I’m calling ineligible since it earned nominations in 1948. Body and Soul seems like a solid miss here, especially with Oscar’s love of boxing movies. Nightmare Alley was probably too dark for Oscar’s crowd. The snub of Out of the Past is unconscionable.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’m not going to pretend that I like the work of Charles Dickens outside of A Christmas Carol, and Great Expectations isn’t going to change my mind. I’m likely in the minority here, but I just can’t stand the man’s work. One of the problems is that I don’t much like his characters. Our main character here, Pip, has the overriding character trait of being extraordinarily lucky. That’s the sort of character trait that should serve as a warning to beginning writers that the character isn’t that interesting.

4. I really wanted to like Crossfire a lot more than I did. It’s a film that very much wants to be a gritty noir, and it kind of is except for the fact that huge parts of it don’t work at all. The whole thing seems just a bit off-kilter. There are subplots that don’t go anywhere and entire chunks of the film that could be cut or reduced to a tenth of their running time without affecting the plot in the least. The film also manages to underuse Robert Mitchum and replace him for a large part of the running time with the humanoid beige carpeting of Robert Young.

3. Where Crossfire had a plot that involved violent anti-Semitism, eventual winner Gentleman’s Agreement was a much more subtle story of the anti-Semitism still rife in the U.S. despite the ending of the Holocaust. This is a good movie, but I’m not ready to call it a great one. The cast is good and the story is pretty gutsy for the time, but it falls into a lot of cliché by the time the final credits roll. I like the film well enough and I don’t hate the nomination, but it wouldn’t come close to winning in my world.

2. My only real problem with The Bishop’s Wife is that it’s pretty much a fluff piece. It’s a great showcase for the comedic talents and stylings of Cary Grant, though, a good reminder of just how good he was in light comedy. It’s a hard film to dislike, even for a heathen like myself. It’s perhaps limited in the sense that it feels odd to watch this outside of that month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Still, I enjoyed this a great deal, and it’s one that slips easily into the yearly holiday rotation.

1. Of the nominations, I like Miracle on 34th Street the best. It’s also pretty fluffy and it’s also a Christmas movie, but it does absolutely everything right. There’s not a moment here that is out of place, and it features such a sweet and heartfelt performance from Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood is a pure charmer. Don’t bother with a remake and don’t you dare sit through the colorized travesty. Watch this in its glorious original black-and-white. I love this as a nomination and it would be my vote limited to these five, but in an open field, it just barely gets clipped.

My Choice

I’ve not been shy in the past about my love for Out of the Past, which I think might be the perfect example of film noir. It’s not necessarily my favorite film noir and it may not quite be the best noir ever made, but it is very much the one that hits every aspect of noir as well as it can be hit. Robert Mitchum is perfectly cast and there is no better femme fatale than Jane Greer. Sure, I might rather watch Double Indemnity or The Maltese Falcon, but Out of the Past could serve as a perfect template for the style.

Final Analysis


  1. With the exception of Great Expectations which I liked although I think the 1980s miniseries version with Anthony Hopkins as Magwitch is the one I prefer. I haven't seen any of the films nominated as my pick would've been Black Narcissus which I just love as it's my 2nd favorite Powell/Pressburger film with The Red Shoes in first.

    I haven't seen Out of the Past yet as it's one of many films that I hope to see but I do love The Lady from Shanghai (then again, I've become a big fan of Orson Welles after going through his body of work last year) yet I think it's another project Welles had involvement in that is a better film and that is Monsieur Verdoux by Charles Chaplin which is such a delightful and slimy suspense-comedy.

    1. I love Black Narcissus, and it wouldn't be a pick I would disagree with in any respect. Since it got nominations the following year, though, I classify it (at least here) as a 1948 film, where it would probably come in second for me, following The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. That would be a close call. I recommend Black Narcissus to people all the time. Nine out of ten look at me like I've lost my mind ("Really? A movie about nuns in the Himalayas?"). The tenth person has never failed to come back to me and gush about it. It probably is my favorite Powell/Pressburger, but that would be a tight race with a lot of other films.

      I didn't love Monsieur Verdoux, and I realize I'm in the minority on that. I should probably like The Lady from Shanghai more than I do--it's one I ought to watch again one of these days, but I found Welles's accent distracting in it. It goes in a lot of directions, and by the time it got to the ending, I had started to lose focus. Admittedly, that ending is one of the great noir endings of all time--quite possibly the best noir ending ever conceived.

      I can't recommend Out of the Past highly enough.

  2. Despite having missed out on every single nominated movie (47 is slim on the List) I would certainly call it a fail to not at least nominate Out of the Past. It is indeed the measure against which all other noir are compared.

    1. Right--it's the absolute template for the style. If you want to know what noir means, that's the film to watch.

  3. Sticking to these five I would probably land where you did with Miracle on 34th Street (completely agree about the colorized version-though that holds for ANY colorized movie!). The film is such a lovely view and would stay in my nomination list even in an open field but it wouldn’t win there.

    Of the others Crossfire would be much higher, my number two, and Bishop Wife’s would drop to third-Grant is his usual terrific self but I have an aversion to the mechanical actress that Loretta Young became post pre-code and she sours most films for me from this period. I guess the fact that she didn’t totally ruin it says something for the strength of the picture.

    1947 was one of the glory years of noir and there are SO many good ones-The Man I Love, Repeat Performance, Lured, Dark Passage, They Won’t Believe Me, Ride the Pink Horse, Born to Kill, Possessed, Dark Passage, The Devil Thumbs a Ride, Body and Soul, Desert Fury, The Macomber Affair, Whispering City, Nora Prentiss, The Unsuspected and Riff-Raff among others-but the only two that would make an alternate list for me are The Web and Nightmare Alley but the only winner this year should have been Out of the Past.

    Perfectly cast and expertly directed but lacking the prestige of Crossfire it probably suffered from coming from RKO as well which surely threw its weight (and voting power) behind the film with the bigger names-at least at the time. Also unlike Casablanca which was instantly recognized as something special and not just another assembly line picture as planned Out of the Past while well-reviewed and successful didn’t strike that same chord until decades later. But it’s a major goof on the Academy’s part in retrospect.

    1. So what do you think of the idea that Nightmare Alley was just too dark and too ugly for a nomination? Made today, I think it might get somewhere, but it goes to some really ugly places, and that ending is a gut punch.

      But yeah, Out of the Past is the class of this year in just about every way I can think.

    2. I think the sordidness of Nightmare Alley surely hurt its chances but I think a bigger factor was that it tanked hugely at the box office so 20th Century Fox abandoned it.

      Did you know there is a planned remake with Guillermo del Toro directing Bradley Cooper, who stepped in when Leonardo DiCaprio bowed out?

    3. I did not, but I certainly do now.