Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Some Like It Oscar

Simone Signoret:
Best Actress for

Room at the Top


The 32nd Academy Awards gave us a true record-setting feat: Ben-Hur won 11 out of its 12 nominations (its only loss for Adapted Screenplay probably due more to resentment about who actually wrote the screenplay and who ended up with screen credit than a desire to reward Room at the Top).  Though it failed to make a clean sweep Ben-Hur's massive haul would make it the winningest film in Academy history until both Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King equaled Ben-Hur's 11 Oscars.  However, note that Titanic lost both its acting nominations and Return of the King didn't get any acting nominations at all.  Granted, Return of the King did get a clean sweep, winning in all the categories it was nominated for, but I've always thought it was rewarding the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy than Return of the King itself, but that's for another day.

History records were set not just with Ben-Hur's massive triumph.  Hermione Baddeley, a Best Supporting Actress nominee for Room at the Top, had a total screen time of 2 and a half minutes, making it the shortest acting nomination in Academy history (no pun intended).  It actually isn't the shortest nomination I've heard of (Ellen Burstyn's Outstanding Supporting Actress nomination for the TV movie Mrs. Harris was a simply astonishing 14 SECONDS long).  However, this very peculiar circumstance for people either being nominated or in some cases actually winning for what basically amounts to a cameo appearance will crop up again and again (I'm looking at YOU, Anne Hathaway). 

As always this is just for fun and should not be taken as my final decision. I should like to watch all the nominees and winners before making my final, FINAL choice. Now, on to cataloging the official winners (in bold) and my selections (in red). Also, my substitutions (in green).



The Best of Everything: The Best of Everything
The Five Pennies: The Five Pennies
The Hanging Tree: The Hanging Tree
High Hopes: A Hole in the Head
Strange Are the Ways of Love: The Young Land

Well, we got yet another set of rather sappy love songs that I venture to say few if any actually remember today.  One of the requirements I have about the winner is whether the song has lasted in the popular mindset.  For example, while A Kiss to Build a Dream On is still remembered, the song it lost to, In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening, isn't.  The movie doesn't have to be well-remembered (neither the former's The Strip or the latter's Here Comes the Groom are on regular rotation), but I'm not judging the film.  Given that, the only song that has entered the consciousness is High Hopes.  Then again, Sinatra is the one selling the song, which he reworked to make the campaign theme of John F. Kennedy's Presidential run.  I might go for The Hanging Tree, since it seems to be the only other song to have any kind of energy and not sing to a syrupy conclusion, but again...Sinatra.  

From Pillow Talk, Pillow Talk.  Music and lyrics by Buddy Pepper and Inez James.

The Best of Everything: The Best of Everything
The Hanging Tree: The Hanging Tree
High Hopes: A Hole in the Head
Pillow Talk: Pillow Talk
Strange Are the Ways of Love: The Young Land

Oh, I ended up liking The Hanging Tree (Marty Robbins...I'm so there).  However, I'm highly partial to Doris Day and Pillow Talk (film and song).  People forget how risqué the whole thing was for 1959: the suggestion of virginal Doris Day seduced by rakish Rock Hudson pretending to be gay...it's all so out-there.  Definitely, the Eisenhower Era was coming to an end. 


Jack Clayton: Room at the Top
George Stevens: The Diary of Anne Frank
Billy Wilder: Some Like It Hot
William Wyler: Ben-Hur
Fred Zinnemann: The Nun's Story

Look, Ben-Hur was the Titanic of its time, a monster hit that rammed through just about every other nominee.  The question becomes whether Ben-Hur is the best acted film.  I know a lot of people who detest Charlton Heston's performance, and I'm no fan of some of the others in the film either.  However, give Wyler the credit he so deserves: Ben-Hur is a massive production and he kept it flowing to where you don't notice just how long the whole thing is. 

Alfred Hitchcock: North By Northwest
Douglas Sirk: Imitation of Life
George Stevens: The Diary of Anne Frank
Billy Wilder: Some Like It Hot
William Wyler: Ben-Hur

I'm pretty sure no one will mind if I replace Clayton with Hitchcock, though perhaps substituting Sirk for Zinnemann might raise objections.  However, Sirk knew what kind of world he was shaping, and I can't fault the man for that.  Still, no one will top Wyler this year.


Hermione Baddeley: Room at the Top
Susan Kohner: Imitation of Life
Juanita Moore: Imitation of Life
Thelma Ritter: Pillow Talk
Shelley Winters: The Diary of Anne Frank

Sorry, but two minutes screentime doth not an Oscar-winning role make.  Neither does Ritter being Ritter.  I feel for how often she lost, sometimes deservedly, sometimes not.  While it's no surprise that Kohner and Moore cancel each other out (again, it is almost a given that every time two actor/actresses are nominated in the same category from the same film, neither will win), and as much as I liked Winters in Diary of Anne Frank, there's just something so tragic about Moore's noble black housekeeper both shamed by and ashamed of her fair-skinned daughter who constantly rejects her true heritage (and her own mother's love).  Few women have been so hurt by love as Moore's Annie, and she gets a death scene which is quite moving. 

Haya Harareet: Ben-Hur
Susan Kohner: Imitation of Life
Juanita Moore: Imitation of Life
Lee Remick: Anatomy of a Murder
Shelley Winters: The Diary of Anne Frank

I again marvel at how the Academy makes certain choices.  It nominates someone for two and a half minutes of screentime, but an actress with a much larger and more substantial role gets overlooked.  Harareet's Esther, the slave who finds freedom in love and in Christ is the moral core of Ben-Hur.  Messala is evil, Judah Ben-Hur filled with vengeance, but Esther is love and compassion.  No one can accuse Harareet of overacting or being broad.  She actually is one of the more quiet performances (give or take a few scenes that called for more drama), but I am always moved by her performance.

Two and a half minutes, please...


Hugh Griffith: Ben-Hur
Arthur O'Connell: Anatomy of a Murder
George C. Scott: Anatomy of a Murder
Robert Vaughn: The Young Philadelphians
Ed Wynn: The Diary of Anne Frank

We tend to forget that Robert Vaughn, whom I last saw in Superman III or in commercials for local attorney Michael Gopen (one of which was in an embarrassingly bad Spanish) is an Oscar nominee.  Oh, look...two actors from the same film cancel each other out.  I understand Scott's anger at having lost so enraged him that this was the impetus for him always rejecting any other nomination (and his win later on).  I have never liked Griffith's Sheik Ilderim, finding him so over-the-top and embarrassingly miscast (the make-up job alone should have disqualified him).  Furthermore, after the chariot race, Ilderim disappears from the screen, so I never understood why he was nominated, let alone, won.  That leaves us with Wynn, best known as a comic actor, here going straight drama.  For that, I'm giving him the prize.

Stephen Boyd: Ben-Hur
James Mason: North By Northwest
George C. Scott: Anatomy of a Murder
Orson Welles: Compulsion
Ed Wynn: The Diary of Anne Frank

If there had been any sense this year, it would have been Boyd, not Griffith, who would have been the nominee from Ben-Hur.  At least with him, we see the evolution of Messala from friend to foe.  If there was a homosexual undertone to Messala and Judah that caused the Roman to go all crazy I cannot say I saw it when I first saw Ben-Hur.  All I saw was a man consumed by anger and pride to turn on those he once loved, and the terrible price he paid for his arrogance.  Boyd constantly holds your attention, sometimes coming close to going overboard but still reining himself in. 


Doris Day: Pillow Talk
Audrey Hepburn: The Nun's Story
Katharine Hepburn: Suddenly, Last Summer
Simone Signoret: Room at the Top
Elizabeth Taylor: Suddenly, Last Summer

I'm not sure, but this seems to be the third category out of four where you have two actors/actresses from the same film cancelling each other out.  Is that an Academy record?  I once wrote a punk-rock type song called I Love Doris Day, mercifully lost.  I do remember one lyric that went "Who's Simone Signoret/Anyway?".  Day's nomination now I concede to being a bit oddball, especially when she gave better and stronger dramatic and comic performances in other films.  I think the fact she was the most popular star of the time helped.  Now, I'm not going to say Signoret didn't deserve to win, but for the moment I'm leaning towards Hepburn's sister act.

Ava Gardner: On the Beach
Marilyn Monroe: Some Like It Hot
Millie Perkins: The Diary of Anne Frank
Eva Marie Saint: North By Northwest
Lana Turner: Imitation of Life

First, I do wonder how one could fail to nominate the title character in The Diary of Anne Frank, for Perkins was so gentle and wise as the gentle and wise Holocaust chronicler, doomed to die for no reason. 

In one of those terrible twists, Marilyn Monroe received news of her failure to be nominated for Best Actress for Some Like It Hot while working with Yves Montand, whose wife was...Simone Signoret.  People were very nervous on the Let's Make Love set when Monroe appeared, worried that being overlooked for her best on-screen work would cause problems for her costar (already nervous about making a film in English, a language he didn't understand and was learning while making the film), and his wife (who had no control over her nomination and/or Monroe's failure at receiving one).  However, to her great credit, Monroe boldly walked up to Signoret and graciously congratulated her on her nomination, a touch of class for someone so shabbily treated.  Monroe simply never got the credit she deserved for being a good actress, and her Sugar Kane was not just funny, but vulnerable and tragic.  She might have been a nightmare on the set, but on-screen, she was pure magic.

Good night, honey... 


Laurence Harvey: Room at the Top
Charlton Heston: Ben-Hur
Jack Lemmon: Some Like It Hot
Paul Muni: The Last Angry Man
James Stewart: Anatomy of a Murder

I am fully aware that Charlton Heston has undergone a pretty negative reevaluation in terms of his screen performances.  However, I think Heston was a pretty competent actor (you can't remain a star for fifty years and still be in the popular consciousness if you're THAT bad).  Also, part of the current dislike for Heston in terms of acting I think stems less from the actual work than from a distaste for his politics, particularly with regards to his long-time association with the National Rifle Association.  I don't support Heston's views, but I don't support Barbra Streisand's views either and am still able to respect their enormous talent.  If we look however, at Heston's performance in Ben-Hur, we have to remember that the role did require a certain grandiosity, but you can see moments when he is able to convey pain, hurt, and loss.  Heston has to carry the entire film, and the fact that he does so is a testament to his actual acting ability.  Hopefully, Charlton Heston will get the credit he deserves as an actor, and his politics will be a footnote to his career.

It should be noted that Heston was never always right-wing.  He proudly marched for Civil Rights in the March on Washington, one of the few major stars to do so at the time. 


Cary Grant: North By Northwest
Charlton Heston: Ben-Hur
Rock Hudson: Pillow Talk
Jack Lemmon: Some Like It Hot
James Stewart: Anatomy of a Murder

Cary Grant was simply too good in just about everything he did.  He just made it look too easy, which is probably why he received two Oscar nominations in the whole of his career (which, incidentally, puts him at the same number with Jonah Hill.  Just remember: Jonah Hill has the exact number of Oscar nominations as Cary Grant).  In North By Northwest, Grant is the perfect man-on-the-run, equal parts flummoxed and resourceful, romancing and escaping with equal grace...and looking so good at it too.  The man plays it all so straight and natural to where you can honestly believe he could be mistaken for a spy.  North By Northwest is such a fantastic film for many reasons, but at the top is Cary Grant: dashing, daring, light and brilliant.


Anatomy of a Murder
The Diary of Anne Frank
The Nun's Story
Room at the Top

I really can't object to the slate of nominees, but I think we all know which one was the clear winner.  Ben-Hur was such a massive production that if it had flopped, it would have taken MGM down long before its final collapse.  Fortunately, the remake of the 1925 film was a major hit.  The stars aligned: iconic performances, Wyler's strong directing, Miklos Rozsa's score, and that chariot race all conspired to make one of THE Great Films.  As good as the others are, none can pull down the Judean prince's tale of the Christ.


The Diary of Anne Frank
Imitation of Life
North By Northwest
Some Like It Hot  

It is astonishing that Some Like It Hot, the formerly funniest movie ever made (thanks, Supreme Court...your same-sex marriage ruling just took the humor out of that film), was not nominated for Best Picture.  With even that in the mix, along with Douglas Sirk's final weeper and one of Hitchcock's lightest films, again, it is Judah Ben-Hur who rides to the winner's circle.  

Next Time: The 1960 Academy Awards


  1. Great read! :)
    But I have to say: I probably would give Hermione the win in her category. I think she did extraordinary work in her two minutes and when I watched the movie the first time, I remembered her performance vividly and only realized later that she was the Oscar-nominee (I assumed it was the girl with whom Joe has an affair).

    1. Thanks for reading.

      Short performances like Baddeley, Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) and Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) are a difficultly when it comes to nominations/wins. Compare her two minutes versus Maggie Smith's supporting but much larger role as Desdemona in Othello. Do we go by length of screen-time or importance to the film's story?

      Still, it must have been a very good two minutes to leave such a lasting impression on viewers and the Academy.


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