What Should Have Won the Best Song Oscar for 1946?

Sometimes, the Academy confuses the frosting for the cake — or put another way, the production values lathered onto the racehorse they’re supposed to be following. Or listening to…yes, I’m mixing my metaphors. At least I know when I’m breaking the rules of good taste…unlike certain cinematic organizations devoted to selecting candidates to receive handheld statues of naked men bearing swords and no genitalia…

I do enjoy the song that won this year: Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer, “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” The Harvey Girls. And star Judy Garland really nails it in the big number from the movie! But as I said in v. 2 of WHO WON?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars: 1944-1952, “Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer gifted Judy Garland with “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” in The Harvey Girls. Mercer and Garland had been intensely in love, beginning an affair in 1941 which almost led to the breakup of Mercer’s marriage.  The only problem I have with the song Mercer wrote for Garland is that it simply copies Garland’s big hit “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me in St. Louis rather than striking out on its own musical grounds.”

You may disagree (heck, you generally do!), so let’s start with a revisit to the number:

Here’s the song itself:

Spectacular production values, no?

The other official nominees included Irving Berlin’s “You Keep Coming Back Like a Song” from Blue Skies; Hoagy Carmichael and Jack Brooks’ “Ole Buttermilk Sky” from Canyon Passage; Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “All Through the Day” from Centennial Summer; and James V. Monaco & Mack Gordon’s “I Can’t Begin to Tell You” from The Dolly Sisters.

“You Keep Coming Back Like a Song” is by Irving Berlin, from the Fred Astaire-Bing Crosby Blue Skies. Crosby gives this ballad everything he’s got, which is far more than considerable, but the song never really takes hold of the heart and mind. Part of the problem is that the song is surrounded by Berlin at his absolute best: “Blue Skies”; “Puttin’ on the Ritz”; “All by Myself”; “Heat Wave”: and “Always.”

Here’s Crosby singing the song:

Canyon Passage is a western love triangle. We’ve never seen one of those, right? Well, maybe not this morning, but dozens of them over the years. Unusually, this one was directed by the gifted Jacques Tourneur (Cat People), who makes this Technicolor western worth watching. Canyon Passage stars Dana Andrews, Susan Hayward, and Brian Donlevy. The great Hoagy Carmichael (who also appears) and the minor Jack Brooks (“That’s Amore”) contribute “Ole Buttermilk Sky,” a prayer to the sky to help the singer when he proposes to the woman he loves.

Here’s the inimitable Mr. Carmichael doing the song:

Centennial Summer offers up Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell lusting after Frenchie Cornel Wilde at the 1876 centennial fair in Philadelphia. The unlikely director of all this is Otto Preminger, who tends to be known for tougher stuff like Laura and Anatomy of a Murder. Alfred Newman offers up decent orchestrations of Jerome Kern’s music, but with no solid singers in the cast, this musical falls flat on its Victorian face – as well it should, as it was a blatant attempt to capitalize on the success of Meet Me in St. Louis. “All Through the Day” is by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II from Centennial Summer, which makes me wish we’d never made it to a hundred years as a nation, so they never would have made this movie. “All Through the Day” is pleasant enough in a minor way, as long as you don’t listen to the version from the movie.

Here’s the long-forgotten Larry Stevens offering up a magic lantern show from the movie (you might want some strong stimulants in place before clicking on this snoozer version…):

The Academy’s track record is further damaged by the nomination for “I Can’t Begin to Tell You” by James V. Monaco (“You Made Me Love You”) and Mack Gordon (“You’ll Never Know”) from The Dolly Sisters, a Betty Grable programmer about sisters in vaudeville. The movie is as forgettable as the song…

Here’s the movie version (more strong stimulants may be called for!):

So here’s what the Academy ignored: “You Make Me Feel So Young” from Josef (“Keep Cool, Fool”) Myrow and Mack (“Chattanooga Choo Choo”) Gordon, from Three Little Girls in Blue, which has three sisters on the hunt for rich husbands. Vera-Ellen and June Haver star as two of the three sisters. Frank Sinatra would later turn “You Make Me Feel So Young” into a standard for the ages, but the movie version is clearly wonderful:

You can find more in WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars: 1944-1952:http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PKK8MBY

And now, please vote!