What Should Have Won the 1949 Best Picture Oscar?

1949 may not be the amazing year that 1948 or 1950 would prove to be, but as you will see, this is no sloucher.

The big winner this year was All the King’s Men, an adaptation of the Robert Penn Warren classic.

All the King's Men (1949 movie poster).jpg

Here is part of what I had to say about the movie in v.2, WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars: 1944-1952: “All the King’s Men tells the fictionalized story of a man who could have become the American Hitler: Huey P. “Kingfish” Long, who ran Louisiana as his personal property until he was assassinated. Broderick Crawford stars. From the opening scene, we are in a very special kind of movie, one which purports to show the truth, as so many of the problem pictures did in the late Forties. In this case, the subject is machine politics at their dirtiest. While All the King’s Men shares some of the same territory as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in that respect, All the King’s Men will have nothing to do with Frank Capra’s idealism. Rather, Lord Acton’s dictum about the tendency of power to corrupt is at play. Crawford begins as a crusader against corruption; by the end, he is the corruption himself. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t always sustain that level of intensity or invention. The parts with flunky John Ireland’s family and love life really lack spark…With All the King’s Men, Broderick Crawford never had a better role, movie or performance. In the beginning, his earnest desire to stop the evils of graft excites us. When he becomes aware of how to wake people up and anger them into following him, Crawford becomes electric. Unfortunately, he then goes overboard and stays at the same broad level for far too long. When he reins it back in, the performance works far better.”

Here are your other choices for the year, starting with the Academy’s choices: the ground-breaking WWII combat picture, Battleground; Olivia de Havilland’s finest moment as an actress in William Wyler’s The Heiress; Joseph L. Mankiewizc’s surprisingly misogynistic A Letter to Three Wives; and Gregory Peck bombing the hell out of the Nazis in Twelve O’Clock High.

Other choices include: John Wayne recruits for the Marines in Sands of Iwo Jima; Kirk Douglas has his first great role as a boxer in Champion; Ronald Reagan is a wounded veteran in The Hasty Heart; Jeanne Craine passes for white in Pinky; Carol Reed directs Ralph Richardson as a butler accused of murder by a child in The Fallen Idol; Italian neorealism produces a world cinema masterpiece in The Bicycle Thief; James Cagney goes Oedipal and nuts in the gangster classic, White Heat; Roberto Rossellini directs two neorealist classics in Paisa and Germany Year Zero; Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra go out On the Town; June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor get small in Little Women; Errol Flynn buckles one last swash in Adventures of Don Juan;  John Ford and John Wayne produce the stunning She Wore a Yellow Ribbon; Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers team one last time in The Barkleys of Broadway; Tyrone Power and Orson Welles go Machiavellian in Prince of Foxes; Ray Harryhausen produces his first classic stop-motion animation in Mighty Joe Young; Burt Lancaster goes film noir again in Criss Cross; the best Faulkner adaptation of all time, Intruder in the Dust; Steinbeck gets the treatment in The Red Pony; Robert Mitchumand Jane Greer re-unite in the film noir, The Big Steal; Charles Laughton in The Bribe; Sidney Greenstreet in Flamingo Road; Nicholas Ray directs They Live By Night; director Max Ophuls is Caught; Cary Grant gets fashionable with Ann Sheridan in Howard Hawks’ I Was a Male War Bride; Robert Ryan is a washed-up boxer in Robert Wise’s film noir, The Set-Up; Gary Cooper goes Ayn Rand-ish in The Fountainhead; and Anton Walbrook stars in The Queen of Spades.

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

Please vote on your choice for the Best Picture of 1949!


  1. A lot of great films but Intruder in the Dust brings our racial harmony on the Deep South before the Civil rights movement really got moving. A film that is way ahead of its time, with an outstanding performance by Juano. I was surprised at the end to discover who the murderer actually was–played by a well-known character actor in one if his last roles.

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