What Should Have Won the 1940 Best Picture Oscar?

Welcome to Year Thirteen of the Best Picture discussion, concerning movies released in 1940!

David O. Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca won. As Bob Hope joked when he saw the table of Oscars, “What’s the matter, did Selznick bring them back?” (Selznick having won big with Gone with the Wind the previous year).

Here is some of what I had to say about Rebecca: “David O. Selznick was on a roll, winning the Best Picture Oscar two years in a row as an independent producer. In Rebecca, he scored another triumph, bringing Alfred Hitchcock to America for his first American picture, and despite interfering endlessly with Hitch, ending up with this film to his credit as a producer. Selznick was going to have Hitchcock film a story of the Titanic, and even purchased an entire ship to double for it! Instead, Selznick assigned Hitchcock to a property the director wanted anyways: Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic novel, Rebecca. Rebecca is the “Cinderella story, gone terribly wrong,” as well as a version of Jane Eyre, with Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) as the Prince/Mr. Rochester, and the unnamed narrator (Joan Fontaine) as Cinderella/Jane [see the DVD Special Features for more on this idea].  Set in the mysterious mansion of Manderley, a home haunted by the memory of the first Mrs. de Winter (Rebecca) and the creepiest housekeeper in film history, Rebecca turned out to be wildly successful commercially and critically. Watching it today, I am struck by the depth and brilliance of the film, even as I am, after multiple viewings over the years, still unhappy with the butchered ending (as I have been with next year’s Suspicion). Still, Rebecca is a wonderful movie, and well worth a nomination – in this category as in many others below. But the Oscar should have gone elsewhere.”

Do you agree? Disagree? Before you vote, here are the other options for the year:

The original nominees included Charles Boyer and Bette Davis in the melodrama All This, and Heaven Too; Alfred Hitchcock and Joel McCrea’s  Foreign Correspondent; John Ford and Henry Fonda’s masterful adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath; Chaplin’s slap at Hitler, The Great Dictator; Ginger Rogers and Kitty Foyle; Bette Davis and William Wyler’s The Letter; John Ford going arty and John Wayne badly miscast in The Long Voyage Home; the adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, and Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart telling The Philadelphia Story.

You might prefer what didn’t make that cut:

First and foremost, Howard Hawks, Cary Grant, and Rosalind Russell working the screwball comedy to another peak in His Girl Friday; Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan in the oddball The Westerner; Ernst Lubitsch, Jimmy Stewart, and Margaret Sullavan in The Little Shop Around the Corner; Conrad Veidt and Sabu in The Thief of Bagdad; Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart, and George Raft in the trucking They Drive By Night; Disney’s greatest animated masterpiece, Pinocchio; Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, My Favorite Wife; Robert Taylor actually can act — with Vivien Leigh — in Waterloo Bridge; Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in Strike up the Band!; Errol Flynn in the classic swashbuckler, The Sea Hawk; Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Claudette Colbert in the oily Boom Town; the special-effects laden Dr. Cyclops; Victor Mature running from lizards with fins in One Million Years, B.C.; W.C. Fields at his best in The Bank Dick; Tyrone Power buckling an old swash with Basil Rathbone in The Mark of Zorro; Raymond Massey being noble in Abe Lincoln in Illinois; Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour in their first pairing in The Road to Singapore; Preston Sturges’ directorial debut, The Great McGinty; Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; Spencer Tracy going frontier in Northwest Passage; and Walt Disney going classical in Fantasia.

As always, I have much more to say in my book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OPEELH0

Please vote!

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