Monday, February 17, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1945

The Contenders:

The Lost Weekend (winner)
Mildred Pierce
Pride of the Marines
The Story of G.I. Joe
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

What’s Missing

With some of these earlier years, it’s hard for me to know what is adapted and what is original. A lot of films from this era were based on stories by authors other than the screenwriter, but it’s not always clear whether or not those stories were actually published. Discretion being the better part of valor, I tend not to include these films in the Adapted Screenplay category. An exception might well be Dead of Night, at least in part, since the film contains a total of six stories. Spellbound could have made an interesting addition here, but it is also not clearly from a published work, being only “suggested by” a previously published novel. And Then There Were None would have been a fascinating addition even if it played with Agatha Christie’s original ending. I’d be much more interested in seeing The Picture of Dorian Gray in the list. As for Brief Encounter, it was nominated the following year.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Despite the generally stalwart presence of John Garfield and the fact that it’s probably the first post-war film (since it came out while the war was ongoing) Pride of the Marines has some real issues. Some of these, like the fact that it’s consistently over the top in terms of the acting, have nothing to do with the screenplay. The fact that virtually everything is telegraphed and the story itself is incredibly melodramatic is the fault of the screenplay. It has its moments, touching on anti-Semitism and racism while dealing with the military wounded, but it’s not enough.

4. I like The Story of G.I. Joe in part because of both Robert Mitchum and Burgess Meredith. When it comes to the screenplay, though, there are some things that make it hard to recommend for this particular award. The biggest issue is that there isn’t really a plot here. Instead, there’s a series of events that, when added up, equate to something like the experience of a soldier on the front lines in Europe. It’s a fine film and one worth watching, but it’s hard to justify that it belongs in this particular set of nominations.

3. I struggled with putting A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in third not because of its particular fault, but because of the fault of the film I put in second. The only real issue A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has is that, much like The Story of G.I. Joe, this is a movie that is much more concerned with the characters than it is with telling a story. This is episodic, and it’s very good for what it is. In fact, it’s one of my favorite movies from 1945. But in the screenplay department, it’s impossible to say that it’s the best one out there.

2. I like The Lost Weekend a great deal, and I love Ray Milland’s performance in it. I like that it so clearly wants to depict the darker side of alcoholism, especially since before this film, most of the screen depictions of drunks were of the comic variety. My problem with it is one that is endemic to movies of this period: it cobbles together a happy ending when, no matter how good it has been up to this point, it hasn’t really earned it. A darker ending is what it really needs, and because of that, it’s not getting the top position.

My Choice

1. Of all of these movies including the ones that I added as potential nominees, none does more with its story than Mildred Pierce. There’s a great deal to love with this movie, but all of that starts with a story that is gripping, interesting, and doesn’t cut any corners. I honestly can’t think of a single thing I would want to change in this screenplay—not a character and not a line spoken by any of them. It’s not a perfect film, but the story is pretty close to bulletproof, and that’s more than enough for me.

Final Analysis


  1. Having only seen 2 of the 5 films nominated, I do think The Lost Weekend is the better film but Mildred Pierce had the better script yet Brief Encounter would've been my choice for Best Adapted Screenplay.

    1. I don't disagree with you on Brief Encounter, but since it earned its nominations the following year, it belongs more to the 1946 Oscars.

  2. I tend to think of Mildred Pierce as a Joan Crawford vehicle because of how awesome she is in it, but really, the screenplay is top notch as well. When I reviewed it I called it is the perfect film noir and I stand by that. Reversing the gender roles was brilliant and draping the noir feel over the story a strike of genius.

    1. It really is good. For me, the quintessential noir is Out of the Past, but Mildred Pierce ranks pretty high.

  3. I've read the source novel for Mildred Pierce and have to agree it was a brilliant adaptation.

    1. Even not knowing that, it's a hell of a good story. Knowing that it's accurate to the story only improves it.

  4. Mildred Pierce would always come out on top for me as well. Not only is it an excellent adaptation of the novel but it manages to sharpen the focus and impact of the story while adhering to the restrictions of the Code and packing a punch. A tough balancing act.

    I'd drop the same two that you ranked at the bottom, not bad films but far better choices were out there, and replace them with two that would rank as my second and third place picks.

    The black-hearted Leave Her to Heaven would be a tight third with Lost Weekend just behind. Then there's Scarlet Street, a super film that for some bizarre reason received no nominations at all, which would be an extremely close second.

    Looking at all of these together it really was the year of film noir.

    1. Leave Her to Heaven is a miss on my part. I'd want it in my list of nominations, but I wouldn't put it in first. Scarlet Street is still embarrassingly on my unseen list.