What Should Have Won the 1951 Best Picture Oscar?

1951 saw the rare moment when a musical wins the Best Picture. Now, I love musicals, and I love Gene Kelly, but this may not be the best choice:

An American in Paris poster.jpg

Here’s part of what I had to say about this movie in v. 2, WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars: “In another one of the infamous split votes by the Academy which allowed a lesser nominee to win, An American in Paris snuck past the favorites A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire to win Best Picture. I love Gene Kelly and the music of George Gershwin, but An American in Paris is not anywhere near the level of either intensity or depth of the two dramas (okay, one of them, anyways). As time has gone on, the luster of An American in Paris has faded in comparison with the masterpiece which followed on its heels: Singin’ in the Rain, widely regarded today as Gene Kelly and MGM’s greatest musical – and rightfully so. As Rudy Behlmer points out, “Singin’ in the Rain at the time of its initial release in the spring of 1952 did not do quite as well commercially as An American in Paris, but over the years it has transcended by far the somewhat fleeting glory of its predecessor.” I am not suggesting that An American in Paris is not a very fine musical, but I am suggesting that the glamour is not quite that of the Best Picture. The movie has aged poorly in spots, particularly in the casting of lackluster and overly mannered Georges Guétary and the less than charismatic Leslie Caron (when she isn’t dancing). A better female lead would have made all the difference, as we can see with the marvelous Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain; Cyd Charisse was originally cast, but her pregnancy prevented her participation, unfortunately. The ballet sequence isn’t as original as it once might have seemed, particularly in comparison to The Red Shoes – which Kelly used as a model to convince MGM to let him do this movie. Ambitious, yes; successful, yes; Best Picture? Not even close. Film historian and critic David Thomson agrees: “It’s as empty at its heart as the love affair between the Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron characters is flimsy…It is a film about a situation, not a drama.” The nomination should stay, for Gene Kelly’s dancing alone, and because Kelly was right when he said “There is a strange sort of reasoning in Hollywood that musicals are less worthy of consideration than dramas. It’s a form of snobbism, the same sort that perpetuates the idea that drama is more deserving of Awards than comedy.” So true, Gene – but it’s just not as true of An American in Paris. Your turn is coming. Soon.”

Not that I wouldn’t like to someday be an American in Paris — keep buying those books if you’d like to see me get the hell out of the country too!

The other nominees that year were: Richard Basehart turning Germans into spies in Decision Before Dawn; Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift getting glandular in A Place in the Sun; Robert Taylor getting stiff (and not in a good way) in Quo Vadis; and Marlon Brando yelling and Vivien Leigh depending on the kindness of strangers in A Streetcar Named Desire.

The Academy (and you!) could have chosen other movies: leading that list is Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn showing true star power in The African Queen; Arthur Kennedy being blind — both literally and figuratively — in the anti-racist Bright Victory; Fredric March as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman; Kirk Douglas being a tough cop in Detective Story; Jane Wyman in the unavailable (due to copyright) The Blue Veil; Gig Young in the equally unavailable (for the same reason) Come Fill the Cup; Max Ophuls’ La Ronde; Gregory Peck going Biblical in David and Bathsheba; the plea against racism, The Well;  the story of the Nisei Battalion in Go for Broke!; Billy Wilder and Kirk Douglas at their most savagely satirical in  The Big Carnival (Ace in the Hole); nuclear terrorism in Seven Days to Noon; Robert Stack wants to fight the bulls to woo the lady in Bullfighter and the Lady; MGM puts on a Show Boat; Danny Kaye goes On the Riviera; Disney tries hard to make Alice in Wonderland;  Fred Astaire dances on the ceiling in Royal Wedding; Powell and Pressburger try to outdo their own The Red Shoes in Tales of Hoffmann; Alfred Hitchcock sets Robert Walker loose in Strangers on a Train; we try to escape Earth in When Worlds Collide; Ethel Barrymore suffers at the hands of a con man in Kind Lady; Irene Dunne is Queen Victoria in The Mudlark; the amusing fantasy Angels in the Outfield; Alastair Sim in the best of all the versions of A Christmas Carol; Michael Rennie makes The Day the Earth Stood Still; James Mason as Rommel in The Desert Fox; James Arness is The Thing; Jean Renoir flows down The River; Alec Guinness and David Lean return to Dickens in Oliver Twist; James Mason loves Ava Gardner in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman; Michael Redgrave goes educational in The Browning Version; John Huston shoots Audie Murphy in The Red Badge of Courage; Samuel Fuller tackles the Korean War in The Steel Helmet; Bette Davis wants a Payment on Demand; and Nicholas Ray directs Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan in On Dangerous Ground.

As always, I have much more to say in my book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PKK8MBY

Cast your votes here, please!

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