What Should Have Won the 1950 Best Picture Oscar?

1950 has a fair claim to being one of the greatest years in the history of motion pictures, as you will soon discover when you try to choose what should have won.


All About Eve was the original winner, and still remains on top with a stunning 14 nominations (not matched until 1997 and Titanic).

Here is part of what I had to say from v. 2, WHO WON?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars: 1944-1952 about this often remarkable but deeply flawed film: “All About Eve is about the cult of the theater, of the lives spent in the limelight, and of the tragic damage they cause in that pursuit. Do these people ever stop pretending they’re on the stage? Apparently not. All About Eve has been called by author Sam Staggs “the bitchiest film ever made.” Perhaps my momma just raised me without a love for that kind of dramatics, and perhaps I’ve had more than my fair share since childhood, but I’ve never found All About Eve to be more than a melodrama with poor staging, weak cinematics, and central characters who display the worst stereotypes of a misogynist screenplay. Granted, All About Eve has some of the best one-liners of the Fifties, a hellacious performance by Bette Davis, and some pretty clothes, but the movie’s flaws have only become more apparent with time…Playing a master manipulator, Anne Baxter is the title characterHer first appearance is after she has tricked her way to the top; her next is at the bottom, literally hiding out in an alley. I may not be able to perceive her the way an unaware audience did, having seen the movie several times over my life, but it seems to me her attempts to trick people into trusting her are artificial and obvious. Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz may have had her do this deliberately, so the audience would have been subtly aware something was wrong, but I find it off-putting. The breathiness and pat relation of her back-story has my bullshit radar pinging loudly every time. On the other hand, we are so much more familiar with the cult of celebrity and the stalker phenomenon, it may not be possible to assume the naiveté necessary to perceive the film as it once was. Baxter’s performance bears the brunt of this inherent loss of innocence, to the point of making me question Mankiewicz’s judgment of her “bitch virtuosity.” She simply doesn’t hold the kind of resonance she might once have (and watching her in The Ten Commandments in one of the campiest turns of all time leads me to suspect she may never have). We never see the moment at which she convinces everybody what a magnificent actress she is. Nada. Zip. Zilch. What else can that be but a lack of confidence in her ability to portray that kind of transcendence?…As for Bette Davis, she almost didn’t get the role, having ended her career at Warner Brothers, which almost ended her career completely, for all practical purposes. But when the original choice Claudette Colbert hurt her back, Davis leaped at the chance. Davis’ performance centers on what remains the central dilemma of American actresses: when they reach 40, the movie industry tends to discard them in favor of younger starlets (like those portrayed in the film by Anne Baxter and Marilyn Monroe)…Davis was, as always, completely willing to be unattractive on the screen. Her scenes in the dressing room are no exception, her face covered in cold cream. Davis on a jealous rage at her boyfriend’s birthday party is the highlight of the film, as she unleashes every ounce of venom she’s ever learned – and does it all knowing she’s got the chance of a lifetime here to reclaim her place as a box-office star. Davis realized what was at stake: “As I told Mankiewicz, he resurrected me from the dead.” All About Eve is clearly Davis’ movie, particularly given how weak Baxter’s performance has proven to be. Davis is a buzzsaw, ripping through every scene and every line, producing the archetype of the stage actress on the movie screen.”

The other original nominees are: the Pygmalion and Galatea update of Judy Holliday, William Holden, and Broderick Crawford in Born Yesterday; Spencer Tracy as Elizabeth Taylor’s exasperate father in Father of the Bride; Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger seeking King Solomon’s Mines; and Billy Wilder vivisecting Hollywood in William Holden, Gloria Swanson, and Erich von Stroheim in Sunset Blvd.

Other choices include: Jose Ferrer playing with his sword and picking his nose in Cyrano de Bergerac; Louis Calhern getting judgmental in The Magnificent Yankee; James Stewart in the effervescent fantasy of a drunken rabbit in Harvey; Eleanor Parker going wild in prison in Caged; John Huston perfecting the heist film in The Asphalt Jungle; Carol Reed at his top as a director and Orson Welles in his most famous moment as an actor in The Third Man; Jeff Chandler playing Cochise to Jimmy Stewart’s scout in Broken Arrow; Burt Lancaster chasing Edmund Gwenn’s bumbling counterfeiter in Mister 880;  Richard Widmark stopping Panic in the Streets;  Gregory Peck as a Beatle in The Gunfighter; the Italian neorealists serving up Bitter Rice; John Ford at less than his best in When Willie Comes Marching Home;  Ricardo Montalban on Mystery Street; Victor Mature showing Hedy Lamarr who has bigger breasts in Samson and Delilah; Burt Lancaster buckling a swash in The Flame and the Arrow; Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn perfecting the romantic comedy in the proto-feminist Adam’s Rib; Betty Hutton chewing up the scenery and Howard Keel in  Annie Get Your Gun; Jimmy Cagney and Doris Day dancing in The West Point Story; Disney returning to form with Cinderella; Marlon Brando as a paraplegic in The Men; Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier in the anti-racist diatribe No Way Out; Robert Heinlein shows the way to Destination Moon; Barbara Stanwyck outdoes The Furies; Errol Flynn and Greer Garson in That Forsyte Woman; Tyrone Power and Orson Welles in The Black Rose; the film noir classic DOA; Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in the dark Nicholas Ray classic, In a Lonely Place; John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara join John Ford out west in Rio Grande; Alec Guinness plays eight parts in Kind Hearts and Coronets; Tennessee Williams lets Kirk Douglas, Jane Wyman, and Gertrude Lawrence see The Glass Menagerie; Cocteau goes Greek in Orphee; Jimmy Stewart goes nuts in Winchester 73; Kirk Douglas goes blotto in Young Man with a Horn; Joseph Lewis produces a stunning low-budget Gun Crazy; Jules Dassin goes film noir in Night and the City; Ingrid Bergman makes love to a volcano in Stromboli; Anna Magnani goes diva in L’Amore.

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

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One comment

  1. Here I thought I was going to be the contrarian, pointing out what a flawed film EVE really is and you’ve made every single point I would have made, precisely.

    For me, the choice amongst ASPHALT JUNGLE, SUNSET BLVD, and THE THIRD MAN is virtually impossible, so I went with JUNGLE, the one that leaves me most emotional and fulfilled at the end. Tough call, though.

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