Friday, March 6, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1947

The Contenders:

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

What’s Missing

You wouldn’t really know it based on the nominations or from the 1001 Movies list, but 1947 was a solid movie year. Best Adapted Screenplay is one of the categories that brings that to the forefront. While I probably wouldn’t nominate The Farmer’s Daughter and it may not even be eligible, it would be an interesting addition here. Others I could mention as possibles that probably wouldn’t make the cut for me are Mourning Becomes Electra, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and Dark Passage. For the real suggestions I’d bring up, we can start with Black Narcissus. This was a year with some great Christmas movies, and the one that didn’t show up in this category is The Bishop’s Wife. I’m always going to bring up Nightmare Alley in any category where it is appropriate. Finally, this was the year of release for Out of the Past, which is not my favorite noir, but might be the one that most perfectly defines the style.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It’s almost certainly my own personal prejudice against the writings of Charles Dickens that is going to have me put Great Expectations on the bottom of this list. One of the issues for me is that I genuinely don’t like this story. Dickens often relied on coincidences to move his plots along, and in this case, the plot requires a number of coincidences to work at all. That, at least to me, means shoddy writing. So, if I don’t like the story itself, no matter how good the adaptation, it’s going to have a hard road here.

4. Crossfire is a film that has some problems that go to the heart of problems with screenplays for me. The sin that it commits is that, for a film that runs just about 90 minutes, it feels very padded. It’s clear early on where we are going, and when there’s half an hour left, it’s not a question of where we are going, but how it’s going to take that long to get there. There’s a huge red herring featuring Gloria Grahame that could be removed entirely, shorten the film by 15 minutes, and not affect the plot in the least. That’s an issue.

3. I like the noir style, and of all of the film noir I have seen, Boomerang might well be the oddest, or at least the one that has the most tenuous attachment to being a part of the style. This is far more a courtroom drama than it is a noir. There’s no real action. There’s no real femme fatale. And while I found the film entertaining, a lot of that entertainment comes from the scenery chewing of Arthur Kennedy. The story is fine, but it seems to me like this is a movie that makes promises it can’t (or won’t) deliver on.

2. What makes Gentleman’s Agreement interesting from a plot standpoint is that just a couple of years after the end of WWII and the discovery of the Holocaust, it was necessary for there to be a film about anti-Semitism in New York and the United States in general. In fact, it’s a solid film and a good story. My biggest problem with it is that Gregory Peck’s character clearly ends up with the wrong woman by the end of the film. It’s a worthy nomination and I like it being here, but it’s never going to be my winner.

1. Once again, we have a case where the problem isn’t the winner based on the nominations, but on the nominations themselves. Given the five screenplays nominated here, Miracle on 34th Street is the clear winner and the best choice. Sure, it might be a little sappy or a little maudlin, but it’s sweet and genuine and a lovely little film. It’s enhanced by the near-perfect presence of Edmund Gwenn, of course, as well as a wonderful performance by Natalie Wood. But it’s the magic of the screenplay that makes it all work. I love the nomination and in the circumstances, the win, but it’s not my choice.

My Choice

Given the chance to name my own group of nominations, I’d keep my top two from the actual five and more than likely add Nightmare Alley, Black Narcissus, and Out of the Past. I honestly don't know how I would rank 2-5, but I know where my winner is going. Out of the Past, as a near-perfect noir that comes with a template for the style, has the screenplay that should have been nominated and should have won.

Final Analysis


  1. I really like Black Narcissus, but you are right, Out of the Past would have been the right winner in terms of screenplay.

    1. They could battle it out, and that would be an argument I'd love to have. I think a very good case could be made for either of them.

  2. I haven't seen Out of the Past (which I hope to see soon) but how can you not have Black Narcissus? Seriously Oscars, you fucked up big time!

    1. There may not be a more quintessential noir. That's at least the case for me right now--it's like a template for how the style should work. And, honestly, seeing Robert Mitchum in this role is the biggest selling point. Mitchum never got the love he deserved from the Academy, and never got anything for this film.