Monday, March 23, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapated Screenplay 1960

The Contenders:

Elmer Gantry (winner)
Inherit the Wind
Sons and Lovers
The Sundowners
Tunes of Glory

What’s Missing

1960 is one of those film years that has a few surprises. That’s definitely the case for adapted screenplays, were some truly deserving films were inexplicably left off the docket. The explainable ones are the science fiction and horror movies--The Time Machine, Village of the Damned, and especially Eyes Without a Face. Who knew that last one was an adapted screenplay? The best contender for a foreign language movie would have been Two Women. The Entertainer would have been an interesting choice, even if I wouldn’t make it. I have a certain fondness for Sink the Bismarck even if I know it doesn’t truly belong. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a huge hole in the nominations, but Spartacus not being here is actually staggering.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I really didn’t like The Sundowners much. It was one of those movies about people who are poor but happy but troubled but spirited but this but that, and I tired of it very soon. Compared with many of the film s that were not nominated, it clearly doesn’t belong in this list. The story might be interesting in the sense of what the characters ultimately have to decide, but this is not a movie that we haven’t seen before in general. There’s not much original here, and I found it difficult to care. That’s a bad endorsement for a film.

4. I liked Tunes of Glory for what it was, but what it was was a film that trades entirely on its performances rather than its rather thin plot. Rather than a fully scripted movie (which I’m sure it actually was), it feels like a couple of pages of a treatment and a few character studies. I think it’s interesting to put this kind of story on the screen, and I’m impressed in that sense that Tunes of Glory got made. But the screenplay seems weaker than the people in the screenplay, and that bodes ill for this award..

3. Sons and Lovers, on the other hand, is entirely serviceable as a film. The truth is that I’m going to be slightly biased against it here because I don’t really like the story it is trying to tell. I didn’t actually hate this movie more than I just didn’t really care for it much or care a great deal about it. Well, I have to admit that I find the Freudian stuff to be more than just a little bit ridiculous. Nobody takes Freud that seriously anymore in terms of actual science of the mind, but boy, Sons and Lovers sure as hell wants to.

2. I don’t really have a huge problem with Elmer Gantry except once again that I don’t really like the story that much. There’s nothing specifically wrong with the adaptation as far as I know, although as is normally the case, I’m not incredibly familiar with the source material. In truth, based on the nominations that we got, I don’t entirely hate this movie as the win, but it’s not even close to my choice. In an open field, this might well make my list of five, but it’s not getting that close to the win.

My Choice

1. Inherit the Wind is the only right answer here, and even in an open field with much more tight competition (like Spartacus), I’m still putting the trophy in the hands of this films screenwriters. This is how you do a courtroom drama. The film is absolutely oozing ith tension, and for a story that is bound to heat up creationist/evolution debates, it’s surprisingly even handed and doesn’t really even make anyone a villain. The whole thing is good, but the last 20 minutes or so are all-time great. It’s my easy choice for the win.

Final Analysis


  1. OK, I have seen none of these films that were nominated and the fact that Spartacus didn't get nominated is insulting. Maybe because of Dalton Trumbo. Also... HOW THE FUCK DID THEY NOT NOMINATE Psycho? The Time Machine, Eyes Without a Face, Two Women, and Village of the Damned were also robbed of a nomination. Where's Purple Noon? Rocco and His Brothers? Swiss Family Robinson? I would also make a mention for The Bad Sleep Well since it was partially-based on Hamlet.

    1. First, Psycho is a miss on my end. I have no idea why I skipped over it when I went through what I've seen from this year, because I try to be very careful for screenplay awards.

      Second, track down Inherit the Wind as soon as you can. While most of these can ignored without great loss (Elmer Gantry is worth your time), Inherit the Wind is best-of-its-decade great.

  2. Am ashamed to admit I've never seen "Spartacus."

  3. Weird, none of these movies are on the List. Or maybe that is simply an expression of how poorly the Academy did in this category. Psycho and Spartacus looks like obvious misses.

    1. I said it above, and I'll say it here, too--track down Inherit the Wind. It's a clear miss on the list.

  4. I completely concur with the choice of Inherit the Wind. I didn't hate Elmer Gantry though I think a great deal of its power comes from its performances and direction moreso than the story. Inherit has that too but tied to a rock solid base.

    The lineup could be stronger but it wouldn't matter what else was here my choice would always be Inherit the Wind.

    1. Yeah, that's pretty much where I am. It does have those powerful performances (who knew Gene Kelly could act without dancing?) led by Spencer Tracy and Fredric March, but ably supported by Dick York, Claude Akins, Harry Morgan, and the easily-forgotten Florence Eldridge as Brady's compassionate wife Sarah. With a different cast, it might not be as good, but it would still likely be damn good.

    2. First I LOVE what Florence Eldridge does with Sarah! Her combination of gestures and inflections to her line reading make a character that could easily fade into the sidelines an important piece of the story.

      I've seen two other versions done for TV-one with Kirk Douglas & Jason Robards in the Tracy/March roles and Darren McGavin as Hornbeck and the other with Jack Lemmon & George C. Scott (it was his final performance) as Drummond and Brady with Beau Bridges as Hornbeck (he was the weakest of the actors I've seen do the part) and they have both been very fine indeed because of the story's main book but nothing has ever matched this film.

      There was one other production done in the 60's for the Hallmark Hall of Fame (back when that meant and guaranteed quality entertainment) with Melvyn Douglas as Drummond, Ed Begley as Brady and Murray Hamilton as Hornbeck that I would dearly love to see especially since Begley created his role in the original stage production but so far my search has been in vain.

    3. Both of the instances you mention appear to have able casts, which absolutely lends credence to the idea that this is a script that would work with a competent set of actors.

      Sarah is one of my favorite characters in this movie. If Brady and the various townspeople, especially the Reverend Brown, are the violent and ugly side of religion, Sarah is that rare person who is its good and beneficent side. That scene where she and Drummond share a quiet dinner while her husband pontificates is one of my favorites in the film, not just because of the true joy they have in each other as people with a long past, but also because of her explanation of how she sees the world.