What Should Have Won the 1958 Best Picture Oscar?

Honestly, I do love musicals. I really do! But every time the Academy actually picks one for Best Picture, I scratch my head and mutter to myself, “What were they thinking?!?” In my defense, Top Hat and Singin’ in the Rain got well-deserved love and applause when I revisited those years, but Gigi left me cold for long stretches.

Here is part of what I had to say in v. 3 of WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars, 1953-1963:

“In Gigi, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe took a play by Anita Loos, based on a story by Colette, and turned it into this last gasp of the MGM musical. Gigi stars Leslie Caron as a young girl raised to be a courtesan by her family; family friend Louis Jourdan finally realizes he wants her contracted to him – but can she be more than a kept woman? Maurice Chevalier narrates the tale as Jourdan’s uncle. Lerner and Loewe had just finished creating My Fair Lady when they turned to this project (inevitably a letdown from that height). What’s wrong with Gigi? The stars. Jourdan and Caron just aren’t the charming, sophisticated people they need to be, despite their accents. Audrey Hepburn created the title role on Broadway; to define the term “lost opportunities,” imagine Gigi with Hepburn instead of Caron, who is about as sexy as a Popsicle stick. Dirk Bogarde was originally supposed to be cast as the male lead, but a lack of availability gave the part to the lackluster Jourdan. Fortunately, Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold bring enough charm to their characters to give Gigi a little staying power, along with some moments of joy and a couple of minor classic songs (“I Remember It Well”; “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”). Even so, what we get is a pile of fluff, followed by piffle, baffle, and boff. What we never get is any depth of feeling or passion. Watching Gigi is like being force-fed cotton candy for several hours. Not bad, if you like spun sugar, but a bit much for every course.”

The other official nominees were Rosalind Russell as the best aunt ever in Auntie Mame, Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman as the poster children for sexual frustration in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier chained together in their racist fury in The Defiant Ones, and an all-star cast trapped in a small inn in Separate Tables.

The Academy ignored Orson Welles coming back to the studio in Touch of Evil, Alfred Hitchcock setting Jimmy Stewart on Kim Novak in Vertigo, as well as Jimmy going for Kim in Bell, Book, and Candle, Spencer Tracy and very fishy special effects in The Old Man and the Sea, Susan Hayward and bad gas in I Want to Live!, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin watching Shirley MacLaine panting in Some Came Running, Ingrid Bergman in her missionary position in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston going mano-a-mano in The Big Country, Clark Gable setting Doris Day’s copy in Teacher’s Pet, William Shatner hiding behind Yul Brynner in The Brothers Karamazov, Cary Grant hankering for Sophia Loren in HouseboatGlenn Ford hankering for some ewes in The Sheepman, Alec Guinness going whole-hog for his art in The Horse’s Mouth, Marlon Brando, Dean Martin, and Montgomery Clift going to war in The Young Lions, Gwen Verdon going balling it from hell in Damn Yankees!, Rodgers and Hammerstein Bali’ing it in South Pacific, Anthony Perkins incesting it over his stepmom Sophia Loren in Desire under the Elms, Rock Hudson and Robert Stack going Faulknerian in The Tarnished Angels, Gary Cooper going bad again in Man of the West, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman adulterating in Indiscreet, Spencer Tracy on his way out of politics in The Last Hurrah, fiends without a face in Fiends Without a Face, Ray Harryhausen’s genius on display in the fantastic The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, the deathless chess match with death in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Satyajit Ray’s quiet masterpiece Pather Panchali, Jacques Tati’s comic classic Mon Oncle, the Italian heist spoof, Big Deal on Madonna Street, and Otto Preminger’s sexual teasings in Bonjour, Tristesse.

Feel free to add other choices, but for foreign films, please use the AMERICAN release date, as that is how the Academy runs things.

As always, I have much more to say in my book:http://www.amazon.com/WHO-Irreverent-Look-Oscars-Volume/dp/069232318X

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