What Should Have Won the 1954 Best Picture Oscar?

I’m not angry at the Academy this year — On the Waterfront may have its flaws. but overall, a classic film well worth watching, especially for the performances. They did nominate their usual ratio of stinkers — Three Coins in the Fountain?!? — but they didn’t do so bad…except when they left out Rear Window, which should been a contendah…

On-the-Waterfront-1954-USA-Movie-Poster-Starring-Marlon-Brando2

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

“The Academy chose the most earnest of films as their Best Picture. On the Waterfront is deadly serious about its portrayal of corruption and the need for a man to find his conscience and do the right thing. The movie is unrelenting in its seriousness, and that, I think, is its undoing. A little more humor, a little more leavening, and the bread would have been a much richer loaf. Marlon Brando tries to lighten the tone, at least in some of the scenes with Eva Marie Saint, which is part of why he transcends this shortcoming. What is odd is how badly some of the characters have aged. The gangsters are all caricatures, speaking the way movie gangsters always have. There is little difference between Lee J. Cobb and a typical Edward G. Robinson mob boss from the early Thirties, despite a quarter-century of deepening violence and corruption (Robinson’s revisionist take in Key Largo shows how much richer the figure of the gangster could have been). Karl Malden’s priest is even more in line with Pat O’Brien’s depiction in Angels with Dirty Faces and any number of other movie clergy (with the exception of the scene in the hold). Only Brando and Saint rise entirely above the stereotypes in On the Waterfront, which is why Brando’s iconic “contender” speech and the romance is what we remember. The ending plays as a bit too much melodrama, as if what Brando does would actually work; it cheapens Brando’s sacrifice by making it look too easy (the crucifixion metaphor is also a bit too much).”

The other official nominees were Humphrey Bogart obsessing over ball bearings and strawberries in The Caine Mutiny, Bing Crosby going alkie and Grace Kelly going frumpy for The Country Girl, a bunch of brothers dancing like mad for some prospective spouses in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and three American women wishing for men in Three Coins in the Fountain.

Here are some other possibilities, beginning with the unforgivable mistake of ignoring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window; Judy Garland and James Mason in the best version of A Star Is Born; Dorothy Dandridge at her best in Carmen Jones; Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman going over the top in Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession; Audrey Hepburn at her most radiant in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina; John Wayne going for The High and the Mighty; the campy The Barefoot Contessa; William Holden getting all business-like in Executive Suite; Jimmy Stewart blowing his horn in The Glenn Miller Story; the Merm going large in There’s No Business Like Show Business; Gene Kelly going Scottish in Brigadoon; Andrew Sarris’ favorite film, The Earrings of Madame de…; Montgomery Clift going for Jennifer Jones in Indiscretion of an American Wife; Disney submerging 20,000 Leagues under the Sea; the last great Universal monster in The Creature from the Black Lagoon; Hitchcock doing double duty in Dial M for Murder; the quiet complexities of Diary of a Country Priest; one of the first great post-WWII Japanese films, Ugetsu; and the campy role-reversals of Johnny Guitar.

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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