What Should Have Won the Best Song Oscar for 1943?

Well, the song film fans are most likely to remember from this year is “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca, but the song isn’t eligible, having been written before the film was made. At least Bogie won’t have to hear Sam play it again…

The official winner was Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s “You’ll Never Know” from Hello, Frisco, Hello,:

Here is a tribute to Hugh Hefner’s star crush, Alice Faye, with the song playing over it:

“You’ll Never Know” won, from Hello, Frisco, Hello. A very good song indeed, but one that Hello, Frisco, Hello pounds on one too many times. “You’ll Never Know” has a very simple lyric and melody, but fittingly speaks of the kind of deep emotional longing so many found difficult to express in the Forties in America – and often still do today, although I don’t think it’s a cultural experience as it was with my parent and grandparent’s generation. Alice Faye puts it across fairly well.

The other official nominees were Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe” from Cabin in the Sky; Jimmy McHugh and Herb Magidson’s “Say a Pray’r for the Boys over There” from Hers to Hold; Jules Styne and Harold Adamson’s “A Change of Heart” from Hit Parade of 1943; Charles Wolcott and Ned Washington’s “Saludos Amigos,” from Saludos Amigos; Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “My Shining Hour” from The Sky’s the Limit; Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” from Something to Shout About; James Monaco and Al Dubin’s “We Mustn’t Say Goodbye” from Stage Door Canteen; Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “That Old Black Magic” from Star Spangled Rhythm; and Arthur Schwartz & Frank Loesser’s “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” from Thank Your Lucky Stars

In “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe,” from Cabin in the Sky, Ethel Waters sings a paean to her sinner husband, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. A confusing thing at best, and while not one of this brilliant team’s best creations, the song still lets us know how important (and blind) love can be.

Here’s Ethel Waters giving it all she’s got:

Hers to Hold is yet another Deanna Durbin vehicle, this one has her fully as an adult, and romancing Joseph Cotten, of all people. The nominated song, “Say a Pray’r for the Boys over There,” means well, in patriotic support of the war and our soldiers, but does so in solemn forgettability. The song does have an occasional resurgence in choirs needful of a song to laud our troops.

“A Change of Heart” from Hit Parade of 1943 is a completely non-entity of a song, a syrupy mix of chorus oohing and sappy lyrics.

“My Shining Hour,” by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer from The Sky’s the Limit was nominated, but how could they have omitted “One for My Baby?”  The saccharine “My Shining Hour” should have been dumped in favor of the far better, richer, and more nuanced “One for My Baby,” which later reached its apotheosis in the hands of Frank Sinatra, who, like Fred Astaire, knew this song’s capacity to express the ennui and rage at the failure of love. Arlen and Mercer reached deep for this one, and they should have been nominated for it.

Saludos Amigos has the sad distinction, like Bambi, of having a really bad song nominated for this category. The title song is utterly forgettable claptrap, without a trace of musical snap to it.

Cole Porter provided the wonderful standard “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” for the not so wonderful Something to Shout About. Porter’s song didn’t make the impact it might have, being sung by Janet Blair and Don Ameche, but they do a fair job bringing the song to the audience. A paean to domestic love, written in the midst of war breaking up and separating many couples, “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” has persisted to resonate, despite the shifts in domestic expectations since its composition.

“We Mustn’t Say Goodbye,” from Stage Door Canteen is a completely forgettable song. I had just finished watching this movie when I turned to this category, and I had absolutely no memory of it from the previous two hours. I suspect it gave me amnesia.

A very good nomination, however, for “That Old Black Magic,” from Star Spangled Rhythm, by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. The only thing wrong with this song is the nobody they ask to sing it: Johnny Johnston. No, I’d never heard of him either; although he has a pleasant enough baritone, his complete lack of rhythm wrecks the song. Somehow, Johnston did have a big hit in 1944 with “Laura.” After the vocal, they bring in a dance by Vera Zorina, who is best known today for her stage work and being married to George Balanchine at the time. She’s not bad, but doesn’t add much to the performance. Giving the song to Crosby might have won it the Oscar.

Like so many other WWII musicals, Thank Your Lucky Stars has only enough plot to justify showing us as many Warner Brothers stars as possible, including Humphrey Bogart, Eddie Cantor, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and others. The proceeds went to support the Hollywood Canteen. We also get some great footage of Spike Jones and His City Slickers. Believe it or not, Flynn does a comic song and dance in Cockney dialect, and Davis actually belts out “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old.” She doesn’t do a bad job, but we just don’t expect her to sing. The lyrics have a touch of humor that helps Davis put it across, and for those moments, the song is worth nominating (that, and seeing Davis mug).

 

And that completes all the Best Song categories for Volume One, 1927-1943! Thanks for coming by — hope to see you for Volume 2: 1944-1952!

You can find more in WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars: 1927-1943: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OPEELH0

And now, please vote!

 

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