1948: Year Twenty-One

1948 was the year of the British Invasion, when Laurence Olivier and Hamlet were anything but indecisive at the Academy Awards. John Huston had a banner year, with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Key Largo. I did fairly well, except for the six categories I’ve been regularly omitting: Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Documentary (Short, Feature), and Best Short Subject (One-Reel, Two-Reel). I may not be Olivier or Huston, but by the end of this, I’m willing to do a Walter Huston happy feet dance while I plot against anybody who stands between me and the throne of Denmark…

Let’s kick it off with the cutters — and no, not those Emo people. Those kids scare me…

Best Editing:

I’ve seen all of the nominees. The first one is the winner, and given the documentary style of the cinematography, I’m inclined to wonder how often the cinematography carries the day for the editing category:

A very fine crime drama, and a good nomination.

Joan of arc (1948 film poster).jpg

A colossal turkey, with almost nothing to recommend it — staring at the poster for three hours would be considerably more stimulating. Ingrid Bergman’s career in Hollywood was interrupted for years because of her affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, but I suspect the massive failure of Joan of Arc may have had something to do with it as well.


A unique story, with a solid silent performance from Jane Wyman. Edited quite carefully to avoid actually portraying the rape scene, while making it as clear as the Production Code would allow at the time.


I have no idea what “only three” the poster is blathering about — but Red River is a classic Western, which desperately needed a real ending instead of the taurine fecal matter we’re handed instead.

The Red Shoes (1948 movie poster).jpg

If I had to choose an alternate to win in this category, it would be The Red Shoes, a visual feast from cinematographer Jack Cardiff, with editing that helped create the magical feel of the fairy tale center of this most famous of all ballet movies. Far better than The Black Swan, a film that clearly has watched The Red Shoes in envy, repeatedly and often.

Best Sound:

We have three very odd choices for this category, leading me to suspect that the technical categories are all too often consolation prizes.

Snakepit1948 62862n.jpg

Apparently, the Academy likes to hear women moan and cry in hysterics and mental illness. The Snake Pit isn’t quite the enduring film one hopes for, but then, most problem pictures don’t have a long shelf life. Caged, A Child Is Waiting, and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest are all considerably more touching. Not a particularly good choice in this category.

Johnny Belinda is better known for its lack of sound, in the mute character Jane Wyman plays. I suppose for the ambient silence, the nomination should stay.


Moonrise has its fans; I’m not among them. Actually, Frank Borzage’s movies as a whole leave me cold, with little artistry behind them, especially in the sound era.  Again, I suspect Borzage’s presence brought this nomination rather than any inherent quality of the sound.

Three better candidates occurred to me immediately on looking at the list of films released this year, two of them for the quality of their location sound, and one for the musical quality: Red River, for the cows, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, for the winds, and Easter Parade, for the wonders of the voices of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. Any one of them would have been a good win here.

Easter Parade poster.jpg

Best Short Subject (One-Reel):

The Swedish production Symphony of a City won for its images of Stockholm. Don’t confuse this with the better known 1927 model about Berlin, Symphony of a Great City, which is what searches reveal. I wasn’t able to locate it at all.

Annie Was a Wonder is another of the nostalgic Passing Parade series, this one looking back at hiring immigrant girls to be maids. Annie is from Scandinavia, and works hard and without complaint. I can just hear the rich folk now: you just can’t get good help these days!

Cinderella Horse is presumably about horse racing, and some amazing animal. I wouldn’t know, since whoever owned this short sent it to the glue factory long ago.

So You Want to Be on the Radio — sure I do! People tell me all the time I’ve got the voice for it. But this short won’t help me achieve that dream — it’s a comedy short about always losing on radio contests, and can be seen on the DVD box set, The Errol Flynn Signature Collection.

You Can’t Win from Pete Smith is about the failure of a guy to relax at home. Mildly amusing, at best.

Best Short Subject (Two-Reel):

Seal Island is a documentary from Walt Disney that almost everybody who grew up watching Disney’s Wonderful World of Color on Sunday evenings has seen. Seal Island was the first of Disney’s True-Life Adventures, and the result of Alfred and Elma Milotte spending a year in the wild filming. Here’s a clip about it:

Calgary Stampede shows the Canadian City celebrating its western past with a rodeo — in color, no less. The short can be seen on the DVD box set, The Errol Flynn Signature Collection. It’s worth a look for the historical value alone.

Going to Blazes shows the Los Angeles Fire Department displaying fire safety, as well as some behind-the-scenes footage. I saw it years ago in high school, I think. Made me (and the other guys) want to be a fireman. Made the girls want to date a fireman — nothing’s changed, has it?

Samba-Mania has a boogie-woogie girl meet a Latin lassy. Or so it seems — we’ve all lost the beat on this one.

Snow Capers is about water sports (no, not those kind, you filthy savage). Actually, other than that, I have no idea (but you’re still wrong about this being that kind of blue movie…or yellow, even).

Best Documentary (Feature):

The Secret Land FilmPoster.jpeg

Admiral Byrd takes a naval expedition to the Antarctic, with appearances by James Forrestal and Chester Nimitz. Robert Taylor, Robert Montgomery, and Van Heflin — all naval officers in WWII — narrate. Worth a look, especially for those interested in the Navy or what the ice looked like before it all melted…Here is the entire film:

The Quiet One was also nominated for Best Writing (Story and Screenplay). Here’s what I had to say about it in v.2, WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars, 1944-1953: “The best way to explain The Quiet One is ‘American version of Italian neorealism’ meets the ‘problem picture.’ Much of the movie was shot in Harlem, with a pick-up cast of non-actors filling out a highly realistic story with a documentary feel. The protagonist is a young 10-year old black child who has been rejected by his family, only to be rescued by a school psychiatrist and a counselor. Film critic and author James Agee wrote the commentary, which makes me wonder why he wasn’t included in the list of nominees, except for the apparent argument that he didn’t come up with the story (one of the reasons why this category eventually disappeared is that it leaves out major contributors). The Quiet One belongs to that class of film dedicated to correcting social ills by pointing out the problem in a dramatic fashion. The school the young boy eventually attends was a real place, the Wiltwyck School for Boys, begun in the Thirties as a religious charity. Eleanor Roosevelt and other leaders endorsed Wiltwyck as an intensive effort to address the needs of young disadvantaged boys with serious family problems who needed counseling and education to prevent their fall into juvenile delinquency. The Wiltwyck School was highly successful, and its alumni include the boxer Floyd Patterson and the writer-reformer Claude Brown (Manchild in the Promised Land). The school collapsed in the late Seventies as part of New York’s infamous bankruptcy, despite attempts by Johnny Carson and Harry Belafonte to keep it open. Seen today, The Quiet One is both heart-breaking and hopeful, as the young black and white boys in the school are there primarily because ‘nobody has ever wanted them.’ The problem persists, and losing such a successful school is a tragedy for many reasons, not the least of which is that when we help the young, we prevent the cascading effect of broken children becoming broken adults. The children are treated with absolute dignity, and their problems presented with compassion and insight. If there are villains, they are the family members who have abandoned and abused the child, although a subtext of the movie is that poverty is the issue creating these conditions. An argument could also be made that The Quiet One is a prime example of liberal guilt at play, and that racism is also at work, because the focus is on a black child, even though those who help him are both black and white. I would suggest The Quiet One is far more than that, and could still be a powerful aid to teachers and parents who want to understand the inner life of a child and student. Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb and Sidney Meyers deserve their nomination.”

Judge for yourself:

Best Documentary (Short):

Toward Independence won for the U.S. Army, but what it’s about, nobody seems to know. Perhaps one of the postwar occupations was nearing an end? Perhaps a colony was becoming free? Perhaps teenagers were learning to clean up their rooms? No clue…

Heart to Heart is just depressing: they warn us about the bad effects on your heart from lack of exercise and poor diet. Here we are six decades later, and the problems are the same. And no, I didn’t have a cheeseburger and fries for lunch…that was dinner, last night….

Operation Vittles has the U.S. Army Air Force feeding somebody. Who could it be? Stray cats? A rampaging group of preschoolers armed with machetes and dirty diapers? Who knows?!? Actually, I do — it’s about the Berlin Airlift, and here’s the short!

One of the great achievements in the Cold War, and a signal event in human history. Well worth watching!

As is this blog, as I return for more penance!  Just call me the Pirate of Penance…

“I am the very model of a critic cinematical,

whose focus on minute detail comes close to the fanatical,

I write reviews in weekly news for editors piratical,

whose cuts and trims of my best gems leave my words quite ungrammatical…”

Many thanks to my friend Kenneth Spell for the Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche!

If you’re interested in the more mainstream categories, please see my book! http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PKK8MBY

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