Directed by George Stevens
Screenplay By Michael Wilson and Harry Brown, based on the novel “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser, and the stage play “An American Tragedy” by Patrick Kearney
Starring Montgomery Clift, Shelly Winters, Elizabeth Taylor and Raymond Burr
George Stevens is an interesting character. He started his film career as a cinematographer for Laurel and Hardy, then moved on to directing comedy, his big break being Katherine Hepburn’s Alice Adams. After that it was on to Astaire/Rogers movies, and even the classic action/comedy, and obvious inspiration for Indiana Jones, Gunga Din. By 1940 he had a nice little thing going, and could have gone on doing it forever, had World War II not intervened and changed it all up.
In the war, Stevens was a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, contributing to various war documentaries, and shooting footage of D-Day and the concentration camps. By all accounts he saw many harrowing things, which is why when he came back, he didn’t have the taste for comedy any longer, turning instead to straight drama. Some of his post-army films were weepies, some were not, but none had anything in them resembling comedy. Continue reading
Directed by George Cukor
Screenplay by Albert Mannheimer, from the play by Garson Kanin
Starring Judy Holiday, William Holden and Broderick Crawford
It was only a few short weeks ago I mentioned the sorta-coincidence of doing back-to-back entries in this series on Best Picture losers starring William Holden. I also speculated it was likely we’d soon see another, given Holden starred in a good number of Best Picture losers in the 1950s. Well, whaddaya know – my prediction came true! Meaning we’ve now gone three-out-of-four with Best Picture losers starring William Holden.
So here, I give you Born Yesterday.
Directed by Sam Wood
Written by Dudley Nichols, based upon the book of the same name by Ernest Hemingway
Starring Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Akim Tamiroff and Katina Paxinou
Hollywood has a long, distasteful history of white actors playing ethnic characters. Rock Hudson played a Native American in Winchester 73, Luise Rainer won an Oscar playing Asian in The Good Earth, and in perhaps the most odious example, Mickey Rooney donned bucked-teeth to play the Japanese photographer, Mr. Yunioshi in the otherwise-charming Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In some instances, the portrayal is largely benign – H.B. Warner plays a beatific Tibetan in Lost Horizon – while others are far more rotten, see Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Continue reading
Directed by Joshua Logan
Screenplay by Daniel Taradash, based on the play by William Inge
Starring William Holden, Kim Novak, Betty Field, Susan Strasberg and Rosalind Russell
The method by which I choose the films to cover in this series is pretty low-tech. I simply look up the streaming availability for films for a given set of years – lately it’s been the 40’s and 50’s – and if they’re not streaming, then I check to see if they’re on DVD/Blu-Ray at my local library. In this way, I can usually find something to write about, because – no surprise – Best Picture nominees are generally available in some way.
In some sense, the movies chosen are random, in that I pick the ones most interesting from the most readily available. But in another, given I tend to look for a bunch of years all at once, then watch those films, then move on to others, the randomness is confined to small slivers of time. So, even while it’s somewhat random what I choose, it’s also not. The point I make here? There’s no real serendipity to me managing to go back-to-back in this series with Best Picture losers starring William Holden. The first, Our Town, was from early in his career, back before cigarettes and booze did a number of his voice. This one, Picnic, came later, from his peak years of 1950-1957. I’d really love to take on one from his later years, to maybe get a Three Stages of William Holden thing going on, to see how he was as a young man, an old man, and somewhere in between. Unfortunately, he only had two late-career Best Picture Also-Rans – Network and The Towering Inferno – and since I’ve already seen them, you’re out of luck if reading my takes on them, and his career, appealed to you. But even if you don’t get a long piece on that, I will sum up what I think my assessment would have been: Continue reading
Directed by Sam Wood
Screenplay by Thornton Wilder, Frank Craven and Harry Chandlee, based on the play by Thornton Wilder
Starring William Holden, Martha Scott, Fay Bainter, Beulah Bondi, Thomas Mitchell, Guy Kibbee, Stewart Erwin and Frank Craven
The notion seeming to underlie the “Make America Great Again” slogan is a desire to return to a different, simpler time in our history, when the grass was always greener and everybody was prosperous and people knew their place. In other words, it years for a fictional time in our history where life was never tough for anybody, especially for white people.
In other words, it desires the world of Our Town, minus the tragedy. Continue reading
Directed by John Schlesinger
Screenplay by Frederic Raphael
Starring Julie Christie, Laurence Harvey and Dirk Bogarde
When it came up as a Best Picture Project subject, I might’ve made some statement to the effect that 1969’s Midnight Cowboy was the first Best Picture winner of the 1970s. No, the statement doesn’t make the logically-inept conclusion that because 1969’s Best Picture Oscar was awarded to it in 1970 it is somehow a 70’s film, because all Oscars are awarded in the actual calendar year following their release. Rather, the statement was all about sensibility. Continue reading
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay by John Paxton, based on the novel “The Brick Foxhole” by Richard Brooks
Starring Robert Mitchum, Robert Young, Robert Ryan and Gloria Grahame
Chances are you’ve never heard of William Phipps. Until I saw Crossfire, I’d never heard of him either. Of course, given he had a largely undistinguished screen career it makes sense to not hear of him. Probably his most-widely seen role was as Prince Charming in Disney’s original Cinderella, but given that was voice work and you never actually saw his face, does that even count? That said, his IMDB page does list some 229 acting credits, stretching from 1947-2000, none of which were what you’d call memorable roles. Still, that’s a pretty robust career for a guy whose name you do not know.
It’s sad he’s not more well-known, given he was easily the standout of Crossfire, his feature-film debut. Cast as the dumb, scared and cowed Leroy, who seems to exist only as a punching bag for Robert Ryan’s Montgomery, he brings a level of reality to the role the others in the film fall short of. Sure, they do credible work, but Phipps truly has something extra and even if he’s in the film for maybe 10 minutes at most, those 10 minutes make a mark. Continue reading
Directed by Garth Davis
Screenplay by Luke Davies, based upon the book “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierly
Starring Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham and Nicole Kidman
Fact: Authenticity matters. If there is nothing else we value more in this world than authenticity, I don’t know what it is. After all, we live in a world where posers are shamed, “fake news” is openly scorned (even when the news itself is not fake and the idiot screaming “fake news” just doesn’t have any substantive response to the reporting), and ‘Trolls” are called “Trolls” for a reason.
And why do we value authenticity? Because when somebody is not authentic they are, in essence, lying to the world. And nobody likes a liar. Continue reading
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Guy Bolton and Ernest Vajda, based upon the novel “Le Prince Consort” by Leon Xanrof and Jules Chancel
Starring Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Lillian Roth and Lupino Lane
First, a confession – I have no history with Ernst Lubitsch. Yes, I know Billy Wilder wrote for him and revered the so-called “Lubitsch Touch.” And I know William Wyler also held the man in high-esteem. But as I’m neither Billy Wilder, nor William Wyler, I have no background with him. At this point the most I’ve seen from the Lubitsch filmography is about 30 minutes of To Be Or Not To Be, which I recently tried but gave up for failing to engage me. Continue reading
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison and Alma Reville, based upon the Novel “Before the Fact” by Francis Iles
Starring Joan Fonatain, Cary Grant and Nigel Bruce
Alfred Hitchcock arrived in Hollywood in the late-1930’s, after more than a decade of success in British films, determined to find new worlds to conquer. The move had been contemplated for years, held up by a variety of factors, not the least of which was no studio wanted to pay top dollar for the most successful director of British films, because who the hell watched British films? Continue reading