Tuesday, April 12, 2016

They Made A Desert And Called It Oscar

Gregory Peck: Best Actor for
To Kill a Mockingbird
Joan Crawford: accepting Best Actress for
Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker


The 35th Academy Awards had perhaps one of the most petty moments in Oscar history, revealing just how ugly the beautiful people can be. 

Bette Davis was confident she would win her third Best Actress Oscar for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, but her costar, Joan Crawford, who was not nominated, was not about to let this happen without a fight.  The bitter hatred Davis and Crawford showed in the film took a wild turn after the nominations were announced.  While never substantiated, the legend goes that Crawford went to the East Coast and campaigned heavily against Davis to the Academy members living there.  It is confirmed that Crawford did, however, write letters of congratulations to the other nominees, even graciously offering to accept on their behalf should they not able to attend. 

As it so happened, one Best Actress nominee (Anne Bancroft) was in a Broadway play and unable to attend the ceremony.  Bancroft was delighted to have Crawford represent her on the off-chance that she would win for The Miracle Worker

Davis was backstage when the Best Actress nominees were being read.  Convinced she would win, Davis was ready for her moment...until Maximilian Schell announced Bancroft's name.  Crawford was also waiting in the wings, and with a dramatic sweep she brushed past Davis and remarked, "Step aside, I have an Oscar to accept".

Bitch-Slap of All Bitch-Slaps!

Davis was never to win a third Academy Award, though she did manage to outlive her hated rival, one she hated so much that she declared, "I don't know if there's a Heaven, but if Joan Crawford's going then I'm NOT!"   Davis claimed that Crawford held on to the Oscar for a year, touting it as practically her own.  In truth, Crawford presented Bancroft her Oscar in due course (though reports have it from a week to a month later, hardly the year-long hostage crisis Davis mocked 'The Widow Steele' for). 

This War of the Divas went unnoticed by the viewing public, which focused on some other historic moments.  Patty Duke won Best Supporting Actress for The Miracle Worker, becoming at 16 the youngest person to win a competitive Oscar until Tatum O'Neal won twenty-two years later at age 10.  Incidentally, Duke, O'Neal and Anna Paquin (all of 11 when she won for The Piano) all won in the Supporting Actress category.  Lawrence of Arabia became the first (and so far only) film to win Best Picture with an all-male cast and it was the first of a record-setting eight Best Actor nominations for Peter O'Toole, losing each time (sometimes to better performances, sometimes to Cliff Robertson).

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).



Days of Wine & Roses: Days of Wine & Roses
Love Song from Mutiny on the Bounty (Follow Me): Mutiny on the Bounty
Song from Two for the Seesaw (Second Chance): Two for the Seesaw
Tender is the Night: Tender is the Night
Walk on the Wild Side: Walk on the Wild Side

Here we go again: selecting perhaps the most square choices to nominate.  Granted, we're still in the early 1960s, so we're not going to get a lot of rock music (then again, we still don't get a lot of rock music nominated in the 21st Century either).  Don't let the title fool you: Walk on the Wild Side is not THE Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed.  That was written ten years later. 

Walk on the Wild Side is a pretty good song, a mix of jazz and gospel.  From the sound of it, Walk on the Wild Side is the most adventurous number nominated that year.  However, I have to give it to Mancini (again, him having won the year prior for Moon River).  It's interesting that Days of Wine & Roses is such a tender ballad when the film itself is about alcoholism and its dire effects.  The dichotomy is striking, but Days of Wine & Roses has stood the test of time, something that both Follow Me and Second Chance have not.

Still, I favor another song from that year, one that is jaunty, fun, and I think still stands up well all these years.

Days of Wine & Roses: Days of Wine & Roses
If A Man Answers: If A Man Answers
The Little Things in Texas: State Fair
Tender is the Night: Tender is the Night
That Touch of Mink: That Touch of Mink

From If A Man Answers, If A Man Answers, music and lyrics by Bobby Darin.

Don't let my unabashed love for Bobby Darin make you think it played ANY influence in my decision.  Don't let the fact I consider Darin a musical genius make you think I'd make him an Oscar winner.  I won't even dignify the suggestion that just because I'd name one of my sons Darin in his honor it would make me think of him as my choice for the Best Original Song of 1962.

It's just a good song.


Pietro Germi: Divorce, Italian Style
David Lean: Lawrence of Arabia
Robert Mulligan: To Kill a Mockingbird
Arthur Penn: The Miracle Worker
Frank Perry: David and Lisa

OK, who here has hear of David and Lisa, let alone SEEN it? There are some great directors here, who did great work in their respective films.  HOWEVER, there is clearly one who towers over them.  Few directors find themselves ranked among the Great Directors of All Time, but out of these five, David Lean is the one who made EPIC films that are also highly intimate.  Lawrence of Arabia is a massive film of one man's soul, and there is simply no one who could equal Lean's extraordinary achievement.

 Robert Aldrich: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
John Ford: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
John Frankenheimer: The Manchurian Candidate
David Lean: Lawrence of Arabia
Robert Mulligan: To Kill a Mockingbird

Again, while there were great directors who didn't make the cut, even if they had been nominated, none of them would have matched the brilliance of Lawrence of Arabia.


 Mary Badham: To Kill a Mockingbird
Patty Duke: The Miracle Worker
Shirley Knight: Sweet Bird of Youth
Angela Lansbury: The Manchurian Candidate
Thelma Ritter: Birdman of Alcatraz

I will not speak ill of the late Patty Duke.  She gave a brilliant performance as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker (recreating her Broadway performance).  After all, if Eddie Redmayne has taught us anything, it's that "illness ALWAYS wins".  I'd also be thrilled if Badham had won for her Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, an iconic performance of an iconic character.  However, for me there is no other choice but Lansbury as the wicked, evil, demonic Mrs. Iselin, one of the most monstrous creatures to ever walk the earth.  She is the living embodiment of Satanic monstrosity, one who is frightening in her evil.  Pure Evil, and with the added horror of the suggestion of incest with her son, whom she has no problem making the man to assassinate a candidate for President.

Without giving too much away, my only disappointment with The Manchurian Candidate was that Mrs. Iselin's end wasn't graphic enough.  I wanted a much more brutal, all-encompassing finale to this demonic creature. If I ever did a remake, I'd dwell lovingly on her demise.  

Mary Badham: To Kill a Mockingbird
Joan Crawford: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Patty Duke: The Miracle Worker

Shirley Jones: The Music Man
Angela Lansbury: The Manchurian Candidate

I agree with Joan Crawford: she SHOULD have been nominated.  Still, there's no one who could touch Lansbury's Mrs. Iselin, one of the American Film Institute's Greatest Screen Villains. It's a greater performance given that in real life, Lansbury was a mere three years older than Laurence Harvey, who played her son.

I understand Frank Sinatra wanted Lucille Ball to play her, and I think she would have been great in the role.  However, Lansbury was the brilliant choice.

She's THAT good...and she was robbed.


Ed Begley: Sweet Bird of Youth
Victor Buono: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Telly Savalas: Birdman of Alcatraz
Omar Sharif: Lawrence of Arabia
Terence Stamp: Billy Budd

Nothing against Ed Begley, whose performance might have been absolutely brilliant, but I venture to say it isn't well-remembered.  That cannot be said of Omar Sharif's turn as Sherif Ali, the advisory turned friend and moral conscience to the brilliant but troubled T.E. Lawrence.  I think Ali has exactly one costume throughout the picture, a remarkable fact given the length of Lawrence of Arabia.

I find it more fascinating that a host of European actors were considered for the part of Ali before anyone hit upon the idea of casting an actual Arab in the part.  Come to think of it, the Egyptian Sharif is I think the ONLY actual Arab in this film about Arabia.  Sharif had the advantage of being able to speak English and speak it extremely well, but he also had the advantage of being a brilliant actor.  His Ali is a determined figure, one who is no one's fool but who has the reverse journey of Lawrence.  Lawrence starts as essentially a man of peace who grows in his bloodlust, while Ali is a tribal man concerned with inter-tribal warfare who grows to see that killing for killing's sake is true barbarism. 

It's a brilliant performance...that was robbed.

Laurence Harvey: The Manchurian Candidate
Karl Malden: Gypsy
Lee Marvin: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Mickey Rooney: Requiem for a Heavyweight
Omar Sharif: Lawrence of Arabia

There were other great performances ignored that year, particularly Harvey's turn as the tragic Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate.  For some time I had him as my winner, but I went back to Sharif.



Anne Bancroft: The Miracle Worker
Bette Davis: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Katharine Hepburn: Long Day's Journey Into Night
Geraldine Page: Sweet Bird of Youth
Lee Remick: Days of Wine & Roses

There is not one bad or illegitimate performance in this group of nominees.  Each of them would have been worthy of the award.  I can see why Bancroft won for her recreation of her Broadway triumph (The Eddie Redmayne Rule), but my money goes to the flat-out bonkers performance of Bette Davis as the unhinged, delusional, and ultimately tragic Baby Jane Hudson.  In turns sad, comic, and crazy, you are left pretty stunned by Davis as Hudson.

No Substitutions.


Burt Lancaster: Birdman of Alcatraz
Jack Lemmon: Days of Wine & Roses
Marcello Mastroianni: Divorce, Italian Style
Peter O'Toole: Lawrence of Arabia
Gregory Peck: To Kill a Mockingbird

My mind is split on Gregory Peck.  His Atticus Finch is an iconic performance, but isn't Peck essentially playing himself?  That moral rectitude, that lofty manner, isn't that Peck in real life?  Oh, and the fact that he'd lost four times prior to To Kill A Mockingbird, so perhaps that played a role in his winning on his fifth try.  No, I'm not taking away from Peck's win, but I think that O'Toole's dynamic, ferocious, brilliant, and terrifying performance as the conflicted T.E. Lawrence is one of THE greatest screen performances.   In my view, it tops Peck's Atticus Finch, whom we find out in Go Set A Watchman had turned bigot (if he hadn't been one to begin with).

Talk about heroes going down in flames.  What would Gregory Peck say about Atticus turning out to be a racist?

Tom Courtenay: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner
Peter O'Toole: Lawrence of Arabia
Gregory Peck: To Kill a Mockingbird
Robert Preston: The Music Man
John Wayne: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

I am simply astonished that Robert Preston was not nominated for his signature role as the shady Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man, recreating his Broadway performance.  The Academy I think has shrunk from recognizing musical performances for acting Oscars, with some exceptions.  For the longest time I had Courtenay's turn as the bitter schoolboy in The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner as my winner, and perhaps I will revisit it.  However, O'Toole WAS Lawrence of Arabia.  So what that in real life, O'Toole was close to a foot taller than the real T.E. Lawrence.

Details, details...


Lawrence of Arabia
The Longest Day
The Music Man
Mutiny on the Bounty
To Kill a Mockingbird

Oh, Mutiny on the Bounty.  What are YOU doing here?  I don't know if this is the first remake of a Best Picture winner to be nominated for Best Picture, but we do have three epics among the nominees.  The other two are shall we say, more intimate films (if The Music Man can be considered 'intimate'.  Well, it isn't as BIG as The Longest Day anyway).   Out of all of them, there can be only one, and the Academy made the right choice when it named Lawrence of Arabia the Best Picture of 1962.

Advise and Consent
Lawrence of Arabia
The Manchurian Candidate
To Kill A Mockingbird
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Lawrence of Arabia is one of the greatest films ever made, a feat more remarkable when you consider there is not one woman in the cast.  Well, technically there are...veiled Arab princesses and folk-women waving the men off to war.  It's a credit to the film's brilliance that we never notice there are no girls in the film (not even a librarian).   There were brilliant films released in 1962, but let's face it, none would ever come close to matching the spectacular brilliance of Lawrence of Arabia, my Best Picture of 1962.

Next Time, the 1963 Academy Awards.

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