The Fifties were a difficult, complicated time for Hollywood. Foreign films — particularly those from England, France, Italy, and Japan — were all starting to do very interesting things in the late Forties and early Fifties. Television was tearing down the wartime audience boom, as were all those babies being born. White flight to suburbia was cutting deeply into urban audiences as well. Hollywood would soon begin experimenting with wider screens, 3-D, and even Smell-o-Vision to try and get keisters back into theater seats.
But 1950 would be a hallmark of classic cinema, including Sunset Blvd., All About Eve, Harvey, The Asphalt Jungle, Adam’s Rib (which was released in 1949 in New York, but 1950 in Los Angeles), and the American debut of The Third Man.
As for me, I shall keep doing my duty here to cover the Lost Six categories I didn’t cover in the published books of WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars. As I’ve said before, the lack of availability of most of these definitely justified not having repeated categories of me essentially shrugging my shoulders and looking as confused as I do when trying to figure out why my teenage daughter acts as she does…
Let’s start with a tough one: Best Editing.
First of all, deciding that the winner shouldn’t have won in this category isn’t tough. I mean, really — Best Editing for King Solomon’s Mines?!?
A decent adventure flick at best, with pedestrian cutting. The best explanation, as it so often is in the Forties and Fifties, is studio block voting. MGM maintained the largest personnel on staff for a longer period than almost any other studio, and they wielded that sword regularly.
So, no. Neither a good win nor a good nomination.
Ditto with All About Eve, which may have some fabulous dialogue and solid acting, but visually and editorially, it’s a snooze, as most of the theatrically inclined Joseph L. Mankiewizc;s movies were. We watch this one for the bitchiness and the snappers, not for how it’s edited or filmed.
And this one?
MGM block voting, again.
But now we get down to the meat of the year, and outstanding editing for our final two nominees:
Choosing between these visual and editing masterpieces is next to impossible. Ultimately, I think The Third Man may have the edge on what should have won for editing, because of the fervent pace and intensity of the chase through the sewers, which is cut brilliantly. Either way, those wanting to learn what the best editing of the year looks like should watch these two — repeatedly!
Best Documentary (Feature):
The winner this year is the American revision of the German production, The Titan: Story of Michelangelo. Fredric March narrates. As with Alain Resnais’ short from last year, Van Gogh, my only complaint is that it’s filmed in black & white. I’ve always been inordinately fond of The Agony and the Ecstasy because we get such first-rate color footage of Michelangelo’s works, and I suspect that movie may have been inspired by this documentary. The Titan is available as a special feature of the DVD release of the 1989 Robert Snyder film, Michelangelo: Self-Portrait.
The other nominee is With These Hands, a recreation of the seminal 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire tragedy, which led to such dramatic change in urban laws governing the workplace. A fire broke out in a garment sweatshop, whose doors the management had locked to prevent the women working there from sneaking out for breaks. There were no fire escapes. The women had to choose between leaping to their deaths or being burned alive; most chose the fall. There are photographs I’ve seen of them in mid leap, and the bodies lying where they landed. This is the reason New York City buildings have fire escapes now. Here is a clip:
Best Documentary (Short):
WWII was such good business for Hollywood, one suspects they had high hopes for the Korean War as well. That (and the Cold War) explains the Oscar for Why Korea? Unfortunately, as is so often true of the shorts, no copies remain available for viewing (outside of archives). So let us phrase our formal response in terms the young folk of today will understand. Why Korea? “For reasons.”
The other nominees are The Fight: Science Against Cancer and The Stairs. Given how many diseases we’ve eradicated since the Fifties — vaccinate your kids, people!!! — I think a doctor from 1950 would be surprised that we haven’t beaten cancer yet. As a cancer survivor, I was interested in seeing this one. The National film Board of Canada may oblige us soon: http://www.nfb.ca/playlists/nfb-oscar-nominations/viewing/fight-science-against-cancer
The Stairs lead nowhere. I can find no trace of this short whatsoever.
Best Short Subject (One-Reel):
Grandad of Races is about a horse race in Siena, Italy, on the Piazzo del Campo. The jockeys are allowed to use whips on each other. Try not to get too excited! The short can be seen in its entirety here:
Blaze Busters is presumably about firefighters fighting fires fiercely. I suspect this short got burned up somewhere along the way, because I can’t find a trace of it.
Ditto with Wrong Way Butch, which I suspect is about dogs doing it the wrong way. I leave those of you with fertile, twisted imaginations to ponder what “it” is. [Correction: Wrong Way Butch turns out to be about a guy breaking things in a store. I’m sure the ASPCA can put down their torches now…]
Best Short Subject (Two-Reel):
In Beaver Valley is not some euphemism for watching ladies of negotiable virtue either. Disney won for the next entry in his True Life Adventures. Sometimes a beaver is just a beaver, people. Here is a clip:
Grandma Moses is about the folk artist Grandma Moses…sometimes titles actually help. Here is the entire short:
My Country ‘Tis of Thee is one of those patriotic histories of America, hitting all the expected images and scenes in living color. The entire short is here:
So now you can give a dam about art and America!
I’m not sure why All About Eve won for sound, except that the Academy really liked those zingers! Fasten your seatbelt, it’s going to be a bumpy night…because I don’t think this one deserved the Oscar. Here’s a foreign movie poster I really like:
Cinderella is a good choice, what with all the different sorts of voices, along with the music and sound effects. Sound on animation is somehow more important than sound on live action pictures, partly because we’re already being challenged with the animation to believe something drawn is real.
Louisa is a pleasant, forgettable comedy I saw years ago on TCM. AARP folks probably should start showing this one again, because the silver-haired crowd has their very own love triangle. Charles Coburn and Edmun Gwenn vie for the love of Spring Byington, whose son Ronald Reagan objects. Given that I’m now eligible for AARP benefits, I should probably watch this one again…
Our Very Own is melodramatic claptrap for which I shall always be grateful, for one night many years ago a TCM showing ended my insomnia through the utter boredom I experienced. Ann discovers she’s adopted; complications ensue before the obligatory happy ending.
Trio is one of those anthology movies popular in this period, this time of three Somerset Maugham short stories. Maugham isn’t the literary lion he used to be, and these aren’t particularly good renditions. I saw this in 2013, and was unimpressed. The sound was so mushy I had to keep replaying scenes. No nomination for what I suspect was just an American love of British accents.
If I had to pick one movie for memorable sound, and more than just the dialogue (Sunset Blvd. is just as worthy as All About Eve here), I would choose The Thin Man. Not only is it the best recording of Orson Welles’ voice, in his most famous speech, but the ambient sounds of the street, as well as those of the sewers, is matched by the eerie score.
Enjoy the great year! There are going to be some real stinkers in the Fifties!
If you’re interested in the more mainstream categories, please see my book! http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PKK8MBY