Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 1943-1947

Winner: Casablanca
Director: Michael Curtiz
Distributed by: Warner Brothers

For all the praise this movie has gotten, it was complete hell for the cast and crew. The stars of the film, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, were quoted in saying, "this is the worst film we've ever come across"and" it's just a fright"(I'll get into all this fuss later). A story of yet another love triangle and of war. Set during WWII, club/bar owner Rick ( Bogart) must choose between his love for a woman he had a "fling" with in Paris and helping her Czech Resistance leader husband escape from the Vichy-controlled Moroccan city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis. Oh, what is Rick to do?!? Will Bergman's character leave her husband to hang out in Rick's Bar to hear Sam play "As Time Goes By" again ("Play it again Sam" was never said in the film)? Or will she be faithful to her husband and get on that fake plane? Of course, she gets on the plane. A wife leaving her husband was a big No-No in Hollywood. Now a husband leaving his wife that's a different story. Now, why all the hate on set? Well, for starters the script was not complete- there was constant rewrites and the actors never quite knew what was going to happen next. Next, Bogart was five centimeters shorter than Bergman, so he was forced to stand on blocks to look taller. Yep, that's not degrading at all. The harassing of Bogart didn't stop there; one of his cast-mates (Henreid) said his acting was mediocre. That's OK, because Bergman came back and called Henreid a "Prima Donna." That's right you tell him, Ingrid! Casablanca was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three. More drama came on Oscar night for the film. When Casablanca was named Best Picture, Watch on the Rhine (one of the other nominees) director Hal B. Wallis said in an interview years later, "I had no alternative but to sit down again, humiliated and furious... almost forty years later, I still haven't recovered from the shock." Drama, Drama, Drama! "Here's Looking At You Kid!"

Winner: Going My Way
Director: Leo McCarey
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Going My Way is a musical dramedy about priests. Yes, you heard me correctly. Bing Crosby plays the young priest, and Barry Fitzpatrick plays the old curmodgeon of a priest. Together they drive around the United States exorcising demons and singing classic Bing Crosby tunes the whole time! Oh wait...I've got this movie and some other one mixed up again. No, this one is just about the two butting heads after Crosby's character is supposed to take over the parish. Oh, and they are both incredibly Irish. The filmmakers apparently wanted the audience to know that without a doubt by giving both the main male leads the last names O'Malley and Fitzgibbon. The movie's main competition was Double Indemnity but America was in the middle of a war and the noir film was a little to dark for them at the time. Though Double Indemnity should certainly have taken home the prize, the Academy decided to go with the feel good musical about Irish priests.

Winner: The Lost Weekend
Director: Billy Wilder
Distributed by: Paramount

You may have seen a Billy Wilder film like The Apartment or Some Like It Hot. They're good movies and pretty funny. So seeing that this movie is directed by Wilder may lead you to think that this movie is funny. It isn't It's about a man struggling with alcoholism and the four day binge that he goes on. Ray Milland's Don Birnam is a writer with an alcoholic problem, and Wilder isn't playing it for laughs like drunks usually were. This is probably one of the first films to really look at alcoholism and its effect on the individual and those around them in a serious way. The shocking story beat out movies like Anchors Aweigh, The Bells of St. Mary's, Spellbound, and Mildred Pierce. The Lost Weekend is still considered a quality film and almost achieved the "High Five," had Jane Wyman been nominated for Best Actress.

Winner: The Best Years of Our Lives
Director: William Wyler
Distributed by: MGM

Another film to almost get the "High Five" sans Best Actress, The Best Years of Our Lives details the story of three soldiers as they attempt to piece their lives back together after WWII. Notice the year this was released and when WWII ended. MGM didn't want to waste anytime apparently. The film ends up being extremely popular, becoming the highest grossing film since Gone with the Wind, probably because it was so relateable for all the returning troops. Picture this movie as a big pat on the back for the troops, and you'll see why it ended up winning. I wouldn't go so far as to call this movie Oscar bait, but they certainly knew how to relate to the masses at that point in time. The Best Years of Our Lives beat out It's a Wonderful Life, Henry V, The Razor's Edge, and The Yearling. Yes, it beat out the classic Christmas tale. Seems hard to believe now, but apparently audiences wanted to watch soldiers coming back home and not Jimmy Stewart stammer for three hours.

Winner: Gentleman's Agreement
Director: Elia Kazan
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Oh man, it's getting hard to make any jokes with any of these films because they all deal with such serious subject matter. Gentleman's Agreement is about a man that pretends to be Jewish so he can gather research for an expose about antisemitism in New York City and the town of Darien, Connecticut. So yeah, pretty serious. Something that is a bit funny is that there was another film about antisemitism nominated for Best Picture, Crossfire. With the late war realization of the concentration camps, it all of a sudden became very unpopular to be an antisemitic in America. Gentleman's Agreement and Crossfire were part of the proof that America was shifting into a more tolerant mode, at least to the Jewish population. On top of the subject matter, the movie was helped by Gregory Peck taking on the main role. You can't go wrong with Gregory Peck. Audiences loved the film, but the House Un-American Activities Committee felt a little different about it. The political nature of the film led to the HUAC asking several people from the main cast except Gregory Peck to testify before the committee. The HUAC's purpose was to weed out communists, though they did not have any connection with Joseph McCarthy and his "witch hunt." Anne Revere refused to testify and John Garfield refused to "name names" so they were both placed on the Hollywood Blacklist. Yikes.

*Written by Little Orphan Annie.

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