Welcome to Year Seventeen of the Best Picture discussion, concerning movies released in 1944!
The war raged on, and Hollywood chose to play it safe and select Going My Way as Best Picture. Well, when the Nazis are on the rampage and life is uncertain, the warm blanket that is Bing Crosby (who won Best Actor) and Going My Way makes sense. I still love that movie, but in what I think is one of the most obvious blunders in Academy Awards history, they overlooked a work of sheer genius in favor of a big Catholic hug.
Normally, I don’t primp for one choice over another in these polls. But allow me a soapbox for a moment. Here’s my choice, and what I had to say about it in V. 2 of WHO Won?!?:
“Take one sleazy insurance salesman – is there any other kind? Add one bored sexy housewife, lust, greed, and murder, and what do you get? Double Indemnity, which brings us the film noir in its fullness, pulling together the strands of German Expressionism, the gangster genre, the hard-boiled detective of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, the cost-cutting innovations of B-movies, and a growing sense of cynicism and dissatisfaction with the Hollywood picture as made by the major studios under the Production Code, which mandated restrictions on subject matter (particularly sex and the punishment of immoral behavior). Director Billy Wilder had long resented what the studio system did to his scripts; having helmed two hits with The Major and the Minor and Five Graves to Cairo, he took up this adaptation of the James M. Cain novel, and set himself – and the movies in general – on the path to greater artistic freedom. Double Indemnity is the first studio picture that everybody agrees is film noir, with outstanding performances in Barbara Stanwyck’s iconic femme fatale, Fred MacMurray’s greedy, lust-driven salesman, and Edward G. Robinson’s unrelenting insurance investigator (other films this year contributed to film noir’s development as well, including Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet and Dana Andrews in Laura). Add in Wilder and Raymond Chandler’s brilliant script, John F. Seitz’s stunning cinematography, and Wilder’s masterful direction, and Double Indemnity emerges as one hell of a movie – literally. The characters in Double Indemnity are trapped, bound by their desires, their greed, and their sense of the limits placed on their actions by the bad decisions they have made. Double Indemnity is a landmark film, and the Academy made an excellent choice in this nomination.”
They just failed to hand it the Academy Award.
Do you agree? Disagree? Is there another choice you think deserves the big nod even more? Here are the other original choices, besides Der Bingle in Going My Way, and Billy Wilder, Edward G. Robinson, Fred Mac Murray and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity: Charles Boyer driving Ingrid Bergman nuts in Gaslight‘; Claudette Colbert and Jennifer Jones with stiff upper lips in David O. Selznick’s Since You Went Away; and the biography of a president in Wilson.
Other possibilities the Academy ignored include Cary Grant going all serious with Ethel Barrymore in None But the Lonely Heart; Bette Davis breaking Claude Rains’ heart in Mr. Skeffington; Greer Garson and Mr. Greer Garson (Walter Pidgeon) in Mrs. Parkington; Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, and Clifton Webb in Otto Preminger’s Laura; Alfred Hitchcock and Tallulah Bankhead adrift in that Lifeboat; Spencer Tracy fleeing the Nazis in The Seventh Cross; Katharine Hepburn horribly miscast as a Chinese revolutionary in Dragon Seed; Preston Sturges’ two comic masterpieces with Eddie Bracken, Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek; Judy Garland wishing you a Marry Little Christmas in Meet You in St. Louis; Spencer Tracy as an angel in A Guy Named Joe; Fredric March hamming it up in The Adventures of Mark Twain; Gary Cooper and a baby in Casanova Brown; John Wayne fighting WWII — and jitterbugging! — in The Fighting Seabees; Bob Hope having a ball with Virginia Mayo, Walter Brennan, and Victor MacLaglen in The Princess and the Pirate; Marlene Dietrich’s gold-painted legs in Kismet; Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth in the musical Cover Girl; Danny Kaye’s first big appearance in Up in Arms; Ray Milland in the atmospheric ghost story, The Uninvited; Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson fighting the Japanese in Thirty Seconds over Tokyo; Fritz Lang’s The Ministry of Fear; the film noir The Phantom Lady; Cary Grant in his most over-the-top performance in the goofy Frank Capra Arsenic and Old Lace; Charles Laughton in the charming The Canterville Ghost; Boris Karloff in The House of Frankenstein; Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine and a very young Elizabeth Taylor in Jane Eyre; and Dick Powell reinventing himself in Murder, My Sweet.
As always, I have more to say in my book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PKK8MBY
Here’s your chance to vote for what you think is the Best Picture released in 1944 (feel free to nominate your own choices if I’ve omitted them):