The boys are home, the bad guys are dead, and the stars who served are ready to make movies again!
The Academy decided to make my life (and guilt) a little easier by dropping the Best Documentary (Feature) category, keeping things short. I’m not sure why, unless they decided the only features worth watching were the ones that told a fictional story. Hollywood has always been more interested in telling stories than telling the truth, to the point of leading me to believe that any time the words “base on a true story” appear, we’re about to hear some enormous whoppers. If Hollywood was Pinocchio, there would be a huge forest instead of studios.
Actually, that might just solve the paper shortage I’d like to see occur with sales of my books…
By the way, if there had been this category, and if the Army had consented to release it, the hands-down winner would have been John Huston’s brutally honest documentary on the psychiatric problems of American soldiers due to their combat duty in WWII, Let There Be Light. The movie was not seen by Americans until the military finally dropped its restrictions in the 1980s, and it should be seen be every single Congressman and President and military commander before deciding to go to war. You can see it here at the National Archives: https://archive.org/details/gov.ntis.ava04168vnb1
Let’s also celebrate that the Academy stopped handing out nominations in the Best Sound category like they were lollipops at a baby-kissing contest (no, I don’t know what that means either, but it sounded funny in my head…)
Finally, let’s celebrate that I’ve seen all the feature films this year already! Yay! I’m not so guilty after all! And no, my nose is NOT growing!
Best Short Subject (One-reel):
Facing Your Danger won, giving us a trip down the Colorado River to Lake Mead, shooting the rapids and seeing the sights along the way. The short is available on the DVD release of Dangerous, starring Bette Davis.
Dive-Hi Champs probably has high divers. Either that, or pelicans fishing. Either that, or stoned guys pretending to be Jacques Cousteau. As it is, the short is unavailable.
Golden Horses may be about horses, but it also might be about art, kinky equestriennes, or heroin addicts. Not sure — couldn’t find it…
Smart as a Fox is a Warner Bros. short about the life of a fox from birth on, with a scene where the mother gives up her life to a dog for the baby. I’m not going to give up my life to find it, because it’s unavailable.
Sure Cures is a Pete Smith comic short, showing home remedies for different problems, with Smith’s usual mild humor. The short can be found on the first Esther Williams DVD Box set.
Ok, now they’re just getting nostalgic! The Jolson Story won for John Livadary (Columbia) — harking back to Jolson’s role in the transition to sound two decades earlier. If you’re in the mood for a series of Jolson songs and blackface, this may be just the movie for you. I do think this is a knee-jerk Oscar, handing it to the only musical nominated. Something much more subtle was at hand.
No, it’s not The Best Years of Our Lives (Gordon Sawyer / Samuel Goldwyn), although that would be a better choice, if only for the more tonal variety.
I think It’s a Wonderful Life, from John Aalberg (RKO), has a number of set pieces that are quite unique, and were challenges to capture appropriately. Most of them have to do with Jimmy Stewart’s voice, always a remarkably supple tool when he cared to use it for more than his often-imitated halting patterns. I’ve found myself listening to It’s a Wonderful Life many times over the year, and the subtlety is quite astounding. Listen to the love scene on the phone, or the honeymoon night, or the despair in the bar — all of it recorded with delicate fidelity. Aalberg should have won the Academy Award for Best Sound.
The Best Years of Our Lives won for Daniel Mandell, which is indeed a classic, but personally, I’ve always found there’s a bloat towards the end in the romance between Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright. William Wyler came to feel that as well, wishing he’d cut off the film after the scene in the junkyard in the bomber.
The Killers (Arthur Hilton) has much to recommend it, particularly in the best part of the movie, the opening scenes. Hemingway always said that this was the one movie that didn’t betray his work. I agree — good nomination.
I could have done with a considerably shorter The Jolson Story; William Lyon should have snuck out half an hour.
The Yearling (Harold Kress) keeps what might have been a maudlin, painfully boring story on the right side of narrative drive. Good nomination, although I find myself wanting venison every time I see it.
William Hornbeck’s editing on It’s a Wonderful Life should be the model for how to edit in studio Hollywood: every moment is perfectly timed, and there’s not a single boring second in the entire film. Everything is balanced, effective, and convincing. Hornbeck should have won the Academy Award for Best Editing.
Best Documentary (Short):
Seeds of Destiny won for the United States Department of War. By that title, you’d think they were proving that you just can’t keep a good war down. In fact, this is a heartbreaking plea for aid for the children left homeless by the Holocaust and WWII. The call for help was enormously successful, bringing in more than $200 million, at a time when few movies made more than a small percentage of that. Best to keep a box of kleenex and a checkbook handy; you may need them:
The March of Time presents the potential of Atomic Power, a historical recreation of the creation of the atomic bomb, with many of the real scientists re-enacting their roles, including Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, and Robert Oppenheimer. Here’s a section of it:
Life at the Zoo presents communist animals enjoying the good life in a cage in the Soviet Union — just like millions of human beings trapped by the monstrous dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. I have no idea if the firing squads ever show up — I couldn’t find this Russian short.
Paramount News Issue #37 (Twentieth Anniversary Issue! 1927…..1947) is a newsreel series from Paramount — which have vanished into archives. I have no idea what retrospective clips they used.
Traffic with the Devil isn’t a story about Faust, Robert Johnson, or Miley Cyrus — it’s about traffic in Los Angeles, and can be found on the Katharine Hepburn 100th Anniversary DVD box set. Think of this as an early, less-graphic version of the infamous Red Asphalt we used to be shown back in high school driving classes — be warned that there are dead people, including children, shown in it.
Best Short Subject (Two-reel):
A Boy and His Dog won –and as always, we have to be worried the dog will die. He does go through some substantial abuse at the hands of his original owner, until the boy saves him (more than once, with some help). Will the mutt have a happy ending? I’m not telling — and I can’t show you, although I saw this on TCM years ago.
College Queen is probably not about a young man with a flamboyant fashion sense. There is a young fella who likes to tap dance, though, but he seems to be looking for a girl. I just don’t know how it turns out, although I suspect there’s a happy ending — but I couldn’t find a copy.
Hiss and Yell isn’t about cheerleading snakes — but I’d have paid to see that! What we get is a woman who thinks she’s seen a murder — when what she really saw is a magician practicing on his assistant. Fortunately, I found this one:
The Luckiest Guy in the World is me, but apparently, they chose to film somebody else. Golf humor, actually. Ooh. Ah. Don’t mind missing this one — clearly, the film wasn’t so lucky.
Well, I feel lucky — I didn’t miss hardly anything this year that was available. Makes me feel better about skipping these topics. Probably won’t last — there’s more left to go!
If you’re interested in the more mainstream categories, please see my book! http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PKK8MBY