What Should Have Won the 1946 Best Picture Oscar?

Welcome to Year Nineteen of the Best Picture Discussion, concerning movies released in 1946.

The war is over, and slowly but surely, Hollywood is trying to get back to normal. But the new normal would not be what it had been before. Too much suffering, too much experience, too much tragedy had occurred for business as usual. America was astride the world, but between the new terrors of atomic weapons and a too-powerful Soviet Union, nothing could quite be what it had been. Hollywood would continue the trend started by Billy Wilder with Double Indemnity in 1944, and explore more sexual and dangerous themes and problems for a brief time, until television and McCarthyism drove them back to safer ground.

The Best Years of Our Lives film poster.jpg

Leading the pack this year is the original Best Picture winner, The Best Years of Our Lives. Here’s what I had to say about it in V. 2 of WHO Won?!?: An Irreverent Look at the Oscars, 1944-1952:

The Best Years of Our Lives was widely embraced by both America and the Academy as a way to summarize the experience of WWII, and to accept the troubles the returning servicemen experienced. The Best Years offers a sailor, a soldier, and an airman as our representative veterans – all from one typical American town. They bring back with them all the scars of the war: physical (Harold Russell’s loss of hands), psychological (Dana Andrews’ nightmares), and spiritual (Fredric March’s loss of innocence and belief in the capitalist system he serves). All of them bear the emotional burdens of the war and the terrible problems of returning to civilian life. None of them do so easily, but all of them find a way to a degree of peace. For moviegoers in 1946, I suspect watching The Best Years of Our Lives was a way to put the war behind them and find a community of understanding – and probably more for the families and friends of veterans, who felt left out of the interior life of those they loved. Men of my father’s generation were notoriously close-mouthed about their feelings, as it just wasn’t manly to admit or discuss weakness. The movie still plays well today, and on a very high level of meaning – but another film reached past it, to achieve a level of perfection even the exceptionally fine The Best Years of Our Lives cannot.”

Perhaps you feel the same way about one of the other choices the Academy could have made in 1946 — an embarrassment of riches, as you will see. Here are the candidates for you to select from, starting with what the Academy nominated: Laurence Olivier made what may be the best Shakespearean adaptation of his career with Henry V; Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart returned to top form with It’s a Wonderful Life; Tyrone Power went serious with The Razor’s Edge; and Gregory Peck, Claude Jarman, and Jane Wyman going rural with a deer in The Yearling.

Other possible choices include:  Al Jolson got celebrated in The Jolson Story; Olivia de Havilland got soapy with To Each His Own; the British pretended to be naughty in Brief Encounter; David O. Selznick went waaaaay over the top putting his sex life on display in Duel in the Sun; Rosalind Russell went noble against polio in Sister Kenny; Hemingway was served well by Burt Lancaster in The Killers; Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, and Ingrid Bergman hit what may be their career best in Notorious; John Ford and Henry Fonda returned to the Western with a cinematic vengeance in My Darling Clementine; Ethel Barrymore went gothic in the thriller The Spiral Staircase; Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne pave the way for Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr in Anna and the King of Siam; Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake go film noir in The Blue Dahlia; Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour go back on the Road to Utopia; the French get their act together and re-enter world cinema with Les Εחfaחts dυ Ρaradis/Children of Paradise, as do the Italians in Roberto Rossellini’s Rome (Open City); Barbara Stanwyck and Kirk Douglas have a very odd marriage in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers; Joan Crawford goes wild for John Garfield’s instrument in Humoresque; Edward G. Robinson chases down Nazi Orson Welles in The Stranger; Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby sing and dance in Blue Skies; Judy Garland goes turn-of-the-century in The Harvey Girls; Cary Grant pretends to be a straight Cole Porter in Night and Day; Claude Rains tries to be imperial in George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra; Bette Davis plays twins after Glenn Ford in A Stolen Life; Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall have a romp in the most confusing plot ever filmed in The Big Sleep; Eisenstein goes medieval with Ivan the Terrible; Rita Hayworth strips off one glove and infuriates Glenn Ford in Gilda; and Lana Turner makes John Garfield burn in The Postman Always Rings Twice.

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

What is your choice for Best Picture of 1946? Here is the poll:

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