Friday, October 9, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1956

The Contenders:

The Bold and the Brave
The Ladykillers
The Red Balloon (winner)
La Strada

What’s Missing

1956 is one of those years where, despite the number of films I have seen, most of the movies that I like have adapated screenplays. This is true to the point that when I went through what I had seen from 1956, I actually had three of the nominees on my list of potential misses. The Wrong Man might be one I’d consider for a moment or two, but not much longer than that. Bob le Flambeur is one I would think about for quite a bit longer. My choice for a replacement would be Bigger than Life, although it was based in part on an article, so I’m not entirely sure it would be eligible.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Let’s talk for a minute about the trainwreck, or perhaps plane crash, that is Julie. I desperately wanted to like this, since I tend to enjoy Doris Day’s movies for what they are (ugly hats and all), but this is one that wants her to be a damsel in distress. Actually, I like that idea—she had good qualities for that, and the first two acts of this put her in a lot of distress and in believable and terrifying ways. And then we get the third act, which has her landing a plane by herself as a flight attendant. It could have been great, but it ends up just being ridiculous.

4. Of all of these movies, The Bold and the Brave was the hardest to find, and boy, it sure wasn’t worth it. We’re given a trio of characters in this film, two of whom are at least interesting and worth following. The problem is that the movie decides that the third character, a religious dullard whose stupidity and shitty moral system gets other people killed, is the guy that we’re supposed to follow and spend most of our time with. Follow the other two characters and this turns into a movie I like instead of a giant collection of wasted potential.

3. I’m not a fan of Fellini. I find him endlessly self-indulgent and narcissistic, and I simply don’t like the spectacles that he creates in virtually every case. But I really wanted to like La Strada; I simply don’t. It’s a compelling story, though, and the story is probably the best part of the film, at least in my opinion. That this is a movie I don’t like that has still managed to make it to third place says something either about the weakness of this field or the strength of the story underlying this film. Possibly (even probably) both.

2. The Red Balloon is a special film in a lot of ways, and as a short that actually won this Oscar, it’s pretty interesting. It’s also the first of the films nominated for this award that I actually like. My only real issue with it is that it seems ultimately very dark for what is essentially a children’s film. There is a way to read this as a Christ metaphor, but it’s still pretty awful. My much more existential reading of the film is wholly depressing. I think it’s a good story, but it makes me want to jump off a building.

1. Given the five nominees, I’m going to go with The Ladykillers. The reason for this is simple—while it’s certainly not as important a story as that of The Red Balloon, this puff piece of comedy and silly crime has the benefit of not making me depressed. It’s cute and fun and silly, and it’s also clever and entertaining. Should it happen that my actual choice isn’t one that qualifies for this award, The Ladykillers would be the one I would be the happiest choosing. I wouldn’t (and won’t) complain too much about The Red Balloon, but I’d much rather rewatch this one.

My Choice

As I said at the top, I’m not entirely sure that Bigger than Life would be eligible for this Oscar. If not, I’d be satisfied with The Ladykillers or possibly Bob le Flambeur. If this does fall into the Original Screenplay category, there’s no contest. This is a gripping story that has the benefit of a great cast, but also has a tremendous starting place for that cast to go from. Assuming it’s eligible, it’s my choice in a walk.

Final Analysis


  1. I agree the pickings are slim especially if that hootenanny "Julie" made the cut! I've never been overly fond of The Ladykillers (though its a masterpiece compared to the woefully remake) so my vote would go to The Red Balloon.

    It does seem almost all the best films of the year were adaptations but Bigger Than Life is a good alternative suggestion if it qualifies. The only alternate I have is the Jack Hawkins British film "The Long Arm" (in the US it was known as The Third Key) but it would only be a sub for Julie or Bold and the Brave never a winner. But it's better than either of them.

    1. I don't think The Red Balloon is a bad choice. It's just so existentially bleak for me that I find it really depressing.

      "Better than either of them/never a winner" is pretty much how I feel about The Wrong Man.

  2. I probably would've agreed with you on The Ladykillers as that is just a great film. I would've vouched for Bob Le Flambeur as well while I have no issues with The Red Balloon nor La Strada (a favorite of mine). I would like to have Early Spring in consideration from Yasujiro Ozu.

    1. Early Spring is a very big gap in my viewing, and somehow managed to avoid being suggested to me, so on the giant list it goes.

  3. Early Spring would not be a bad nominee, though I have no idea if it would have been eligible.
    I can certainly see Bigger than Life having Oscar potential, it has that pathos and drama, but my go to movie it The Ladykillers, because beside bring funny it does have a pretty good screenplay.

    1. According to a quick search, Early Spring was released in January of 1956. Since those searches tend to reveal American release dates, I'd say it's pretty safe.