Welcome back to tracking down the categories I haven’t yet pontificated upon. I know you can’t stand not knowing what I have to say about everything, so I’m glad to be here to make you happy once again.
Either that, or you really enjoy seeing me make a fool of myself hunting these last loose beasties.
Works for me, whatever brings you here. Admiration, ridicule, or your own obsessive need to finish things.
1955 still sees me omitting the Secret Six from my book: Best Documentary (Feature and Short), Best Short Subject (One-Reel and Two-Reel), Best Sound, and Best Editing.
Let’s go to the categories with the most chance to still be available.
Best Sound Recording:
Oklahoma! won this year, as musicals so often did in this category. I’m sure those of you who still like your surrey with a fringe on top are happy about this one, and I have no objection to the Oscar remaining here.
Another musical was nominated this year, the much darker-toned Love Me or Leave Me, with Doris Day as the Twenties singer Ruth Etting, and James Cagney as her abusive stalker, husband, and manager. Again, a fine choice, as Day digs into this often uncomfortable skin, as well as belting out some Twenties’ standards.
I do wish they’d ignored Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, which not only features a ridiculously sappy song that grates on my ears like rocks in a blender, but is a very silly movie besides, unless your glands are hot for a Eurasian Jennifer Jones and her lover William Holden. If that’s the case, have fun slipping off your seat today…
They also nominated Mister Roberts, for reasons I can’t quite fathom. War pictures are often nominated for the ka-booms, but this doesn’t really have many. Perhaps they liked the silly sounds of the laundry scene. I’m not a fan of Mister Roberts, because I find myself in the Henry Fonda camp on this one — he hated the movie for many reasons, not the least of which was John Ford turning it into a Jack Lemmon vehicle, and the fistfight he and Ford had which ended their long collaboration.
Finally, they nominated Not As a Stranger, which was the only film of the five I haven’t seen before. Stanley Kramer made his directorial debut here, with Robert Mitchum as an amoral doctor who married the older Olivia de Havilland in order to afford to finish medical school. As is so often true in a Kramer film, there’s an all-star supporting cast, including Frank Sinatra, Broderick Crawford, Gloria Grahame, Lon Chaney, Jr., Lee Marvin, Charles Bickford, and Harry Morgan. A weepy melodrama disguised as a Serious Picture, Not As a Stranger isn’t much of a movie and hasn’t stood the test of time. I suspect the nomination is for the sounds of the operating room, which includes open heart surgery. I didn’t find them all that convincing, but then, my wife has forced me to watch every season of Grey’s Anatomy…
As I’ve said repeatedly, editing is probably the greatest, most indispensable art of film-making, with cinematography its closest rival. I’ve gotten braver (or more foolhardy) about discussing this, although I still think knowing what they left out is probably the only real way to judge this one properly. I do know a great editor can save a film, or turn a good one into a great one.
The winner this year was Picnic:
Picnic is one of those movies that certain people’s glands fall in lust with. I’m not one of them, although both William Holden and Kim Novak are worth looking at. Unfortunately, Picnic isn’t — either a picnic, or worth looking at. The ants from Them! should have invaded this picnic. Director Joshua Logan has a proscenium arch stapled to his forehead. He may have been one of the great stage directors, but he was a phenomenally dull film director. Those of you yelling at me right now should just put your glands back where you found them, and take another look at the movie from an artistic standpoint, which renders the whole proceedings dreadfully dull. On top of that, the editing is pedestrian at best. No award; no nomination. But you may go right ahead and watch to your glands’ content!
The next nominee was Blackboard Jungle, which has the virtues of a far more energetic soundtrack (“Rock Around the Clock”), a far more cinematic director (Richard Brooks), and a considerably tighter editing style from Ferris Webster (who would go on to even better work in The Manchurian Candidate and The Great Escape). An excellent nomination.
William Holden was having a heckuva year, at least in terms of having commercial hits. The Bridges of Toko-Ri adapts James Michener’s Korean War novel, complete with a final aerial assault full of special effects models and explosions. The editing is competent, and works to keep the pace fast, particularly in the attack scenes. I suspect George Lucas had this one in mind for the attack on the Death Star in Star Wars. Decent nomination, if a bit uninspired.
Oklahoma! picked up a nomination for editing as well, and in several of the musical numbers, we can see why — although I think the film as a whole needs some tightening up.
The final official nominee was for the sultry and twisted Tennessee Williams adaptation, The Rose Tattoo. Lancaster is trying again to be taken seriously as an actor — and failing as a giant ham sandwich — but Magnani is finally getting to play the role Williams wrote for her. The editing is occasionally inventive, jumping into interesting perspectives and serving cinematographer James Wong Howe’s shadows effectively.
The Academy should have considered one more nominee: Charles Laughton’s magnificent gothic American folk tale, The Night of the Hunter. Editor Robert Golden, better known for his work on the Lassie movies, reaches his absolute career peak in showing off Stanley Cortez’ cinematography, the acting by Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish, and Shelley Winters, and the wonderful sense of humor and the surreal of Charles Laughton. Golden should have been nominated, and there’s a serious case to be made that he should have won.
Best Live Action Short, One-Reel:
Let’s get short! Actually, I’ve already shrunk almost two inches since high school, which makes it much less likely I’ll hit my head going through a door these days. I’m also more likely to stick around longer than the winner in this short category, Survival City, which has not only physically vanished, but finding out what the short was about, much less actually seeing it, was a struggle. Anthony Muto directed; Edmund Reeker produced. Let me know if you can find out anything about any of these people, or this short. The most likely candidate is this one, about a test city built to explore the impact of a nuclear explosion on a variety of building materials, dummies, food supplies, and live troops and tanks. Perhaps the most famous cinematic use of this event was in the fourth Indiana Jones movie, the one with the old skulls…you know, Harrison Ford and Karen Allen?
The next three nominees — 3rd Ave. El, Gadgets Galore, and Three Kisses — are all in the same boat. Lost at sea, struck by icebergs, boarded by pirates, scuttled by their own captains, sunk by storms, and rotting away in an ocean of oblivion. 3rd Ave. El is probably about the elevated train, but who knows? Carson Davidson directed and produced; Robert Fleury and other forgotten actors “starred.” Gadgets Galore is probably about a buncha gadgets, but who knows? Three Kisses might be about kisses, or it might be about the chocolate candies, or it might be about left-handed Bulgarian nut wrenches, but who knows?
Actually, I lied. Here is 3rd Ave. El, thanks to the Academy, who have increasingly looked to preserve the history of the movies.
Actually, I lied again. Gadgets Galore did leave some footprint behind. The short is about the impact of the automobile on American society. Robert Youngson wrote and directed it. Youngson is best known today for his role in returning attention to the silent film comedians, producing two full-length films of clips that did quite well in the theater, The Golden Age of Comedy in 1958, and When Comedy Was King in 1960. Here is his comic short on cars:
I didn’t lie about Three Kisses. You’re welcome.
Best Live Action Short, Two-Reel:
The Face of Lincoln shows the sculptor Robert Merrell Gage sculpting…well, do I have to say it? Gage went on to become an art professor at USC (hey, nobody’s perfect…not everybody can teach at UCLA…). Fascinating short.
Here is Part One:
Here is Part Two:
The other nominees included The Battle of Gettysburg, shot on the actual battlefield with no human actors, using Technicolor, and narrated by Leslie Nielsen (in his pre-Airplane days). The camerawork is original and compelling. Here is part one:
And part two:
And part three:
The next nominee turns to a Victorian Christmas. The title is On the Twelfth Day, after that song to rampant commercialism and mostly useless presents (really, who wants twelve lords a leaping?). Set in the Edwardian era, a man gives his love all the gifts in the song. Wendy Toye — aptly named — directed. Here we go!
Disney and Ben Sharpsteen offered another entry in their travelogue series with Switzerland (a country Disney apparently loved, as one can see from the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland. and one of my childhood favorites, The Swiss Family Robinson). Near as I can tell, the short has never been released, although it was broadcast as part of a tv episode on the Wonderful World of Color.
24-Hour Alert is AWOL. I suspect it’s something to do with nuclear war, but if so, they’ve buried it in a bomb shelter somewhere.
Best Documentary Feature:
The winner, Helen Keller in Her Story, features the real Helen Keller, who lived until 1968. Actress Katharine Cornell narrates while Keller meets with celebrities such as President Eisenhower and choreographer Martha Graham. Also known as the Unconquered, Helen Keller in Her Story is still uplifting, as we see how Keller lived her life every day. In 1957, the play The Miracle Worker premiered, and I would suggest this short was the inspiration for playwright William Gibson. Here are two clips:
The other nominee was Heartbreak Ridge, also known as Crèvecoeur. Anybody want want some imperialism, colonialism, and French patriotism? Then watch this celebration of French troops fighting in the Korean War. It appears to be a full-length film, so I suspect the American release was edited from this longer version:
Best Documentary Short:
Walt Disney continued to dominate this category with another entry in his People and Places series, this time with Men Against the Arctic. Winston Hibler narrates this still-exciting story:
As another sign of how fluid these categories could be, the aforementioned The Face of Lincoln and The Battle of Gettysburg were nominated here as well.
And that wraps up another year of missed opportunities and second chances. My personal favorite of the unseen shorts and movies was The Face of Lincoln, which combines two of my favorite topics, art and history.
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