Sunday, July 23, 2017

Brock Peters

Artist: Brock Peters
LP: Sing'a Man
Song: "Venezuela"
[ listen ]
Song: "Down By the Riverside"
[ listen ]

Along with a pair of early '50s Peggy Lee albums in mint condition, this brilliant and beautiful 1959 Brock Peters LP is one of the things I paid cold hard cash ($3) to remove from Doug's Used Records in Yakima last weekend. Born in New York City in 1927, Brock played violin and studied classical voice—as well as physical education and psychology—before going on to stardom on both stage (Porgy and Bess; Anna Lucasta; Body Beautiful) and screen (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD; STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME). He also evidently recorded a few LPs. You can read more about Brock here, and in the liner notes written by Sidney Poitier and DeDe Daniels (who I'm not able to find any info about—unless she's gone on to become a professional yoga and fitness instructor in the L.A. area), included below.

[ Brock Peters: July 2, 1927 — August 23, 2005 ]

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Tigers

Artist: The Tigers
LP: 7" single
Song: "Mona Liza's Smile"
[ listen ]

Last weekend I returned to the place of my birth to attend my (ahem!) 30-year high school reunion. While driving around town late at night on my way to the Bali-Hai Motel, I was sad to see that the main record store in town, Off the Record, had finally closed its doors. The next day I went to Doug's Used Records in the heart of downtown Yakima; it's connected to Ron's Coin and Book store, a junky place that sells comics and DVDs...and coins, of course. And probably books. Doug's is a little disorganized, but I usually find something I like. 

While I was there some guy went up to the counter and asked if the other record store was still in town on Summitview Ave. The clerk said that they were still around, but that they'd moved west a few blocks into the plaza at 16th and Summitview. So Off the Record hadn't actually closed its doors, someone just moved its doors up the street a little ways! (If you know Yakima, Off the Record is in the plaza right across from Fiddlesticks, next to a Japanese restaurant.) Their new space even has an area for live in-store performances!

I arrived with about 90 minutes to browse and found several neat things, including four singles by The Tigers, a Japanese group that was popular in the late 1960s. They were basically the Bee Gees of Japan. I was awfully glad that I'd chanced to overhear that Off the Record was still around. It was almost as if fate was guiding me toward those vintage Japanese singles—knowing full well that I simply musn't leave town without them! You can read about The Tigers here

Oh, and the reunion. It was fun, and a little weird of course. We all attended a country music concert at the Apple Tree Resort and Gold Course and I ate pulled pork nachos. Yakima was sweltering. It got up to 97º while I was there.

[ The Tigers ]

[ Off the Record — Yakima, WA ]

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Oscar Project: 1949


So when I finally finished watching the last of the Oscar-nominated films of 1935 a few months ago, I was excited to set myself down in front of a cinematic something that was NOT from the year 1935. I picked out Carol Reed's THE FALLEN IDOL, a British film from 1949. The story of a young boy caught up in a nightmare world of deceitful adults whose behavior he can't fully comprehend, the film is filled with suspenseful twists and turns that must have had Hitchcock turning green with envy—especially since 1949 was the year "the master of suspense" released one of his biggest duds, UNDER CAPRICORN (I know; neither have I).


In THE FALLEN IDOL, Bobby Henry stars as young Philip, who lives in the grandiose French embassy in London with his parents. When his father heads out of town to fetch his mother from the hospital, Philip is left in the care of the embassy servants—namely the butler, Baines, who the young boy idolizes, and the butler's cold, cruel wife, Mrs. Baines, who has no tolerance for kids. There's also a pretty young blonde thing on the embassy staff who lately seems moody. Mrs. Baines begins to suspect her husband and blondie have been having an affair. Philip soon stumbles into the middle of a private and personal conversation that he's asked to deny having heard, thereby becoming a pawn in a deadly love-triangular chess game played throughout the empty, shadow-filled embassy. (The building's expansive entryway features a large chessboard-like floor upon which the adults make their moves, as Philip observes from the balcony above.) 

The film explores what happens when all sorts of various untruths—children's wildly enthralling adventure yarns; the ones people accidentally tell when they don't have all the facts; lies told to protect someone you love; the ones that are used to hide true feelings—all get mixed up in the mind of an inexperienced child who is faced with situations he intuitively knows are serious, but doesn't fully understand. The film creates tension and dread from the simplest of images—wasps crawling on a plate of pastries in a bakery window; a hairpin dropping onto a pillow next to a sleeping child—carefully calculated to casually send shivers down your spine. 

THE FALLEN IDOL is one of the best films of 1949. A brief-but-memorable turn by Dora Bryan as Rose, a "lady of the night" Philip encounters at the local police station (and, again, doesn't quite fully comprehend) is worth the price of the rental all by itself! When the film ended, I looked it up on my list to see if anyone at the Oscars had paid any attention. Sure enough, Carol Reed was up for Best Director, and Graham Greene was also nominated for his terrific screenplay. I figured I might as well see what other films had been nominated that year, and voilá—The Oscar Project of 1949 was underway. 
  

Interestingly, THE WINDOW was the last film I watched from my list of 1949 nominees, and it has a theme very similar to the theme of the film I watched first. Basically a top-drawer b-picture thriller, like THE FALLEN IDOL, this film also involves a naive young boy living in a world of lies. But since THE WINDOW is an American film instead of a European one, it's much less nuanced and it beats you over the head a little more often than THE FALLEN IDOL.

Young Tommy (Bobby Driscoll, appearing "by special arrangement with Walt Disney") lives with his working-class parents in a NYC tenement and is always running around the neighborhood telling lies. He's constantly reprimanded by his exasperated ma and pa, but they really are at their wits end and just don't know what to do with the boy. Naturally, Tommy then witnesses a grizzly murder, but when he excitedly reports what he's seen, nobody will believe him—nobody, that is, except for the seemingly normal upstairs couple who committed the heinous crime. An exciting game of cat-and-mouse is set into motion that manages to generate some thrills and suspense. THE WINDOW was up for the year's Best Editing award, though nothing about the editing stood out to me in particular. Admittedly, the events in the film did seem to have been assembled in a logical order.  


By 1949 Hollywood had began churning out a number of quality pictures exploring the experiences of American soldiers in WWII. Nominated films set in the midst of the war include SANDS OF IWO JIMA, BATTLEGROUND, THE HASTY HEART and TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH. I'm normally not particularly drawn to war films, so I hadn't seen any of these before. 

The best of the bunch is TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH—though I'm embarrassed to admit that, from the title alone, I thought I would be watching a fairly dated teen drama set in an inner-city high school, with Gregory Peck as the new history professor on campus who struggles to connect with a ragtag bunch of misfit students (he eventually succeeds!). But now that I think about it, I wasn't actually that far off. The film is set not in a high school, but at the English base of the U.S. Army's Eighth Air Force, with Gregory Peck's General Savage taking over command of a ragtag group of young American airmen after Colonel Davenport (Gary Merrill, excellent) is deemed unfit to lead because he's grown way too fond of the boys. That sounded dirtier than it actually is. Basically, he was just too nice a guy.


The film's opening title card reads, "This Motion Picture is humbly dedicated to those Americans, both living and dead, whose gallant effort made possible daylight precision bombing. They were the only Americans fighting in Europe in the fall of 1942. They stood alone, against the enemy and against doubts from home and abroad. This is their story." And what an incredible story—and motion picture— it is. I had a tub of popcorn in my lap and was geared up for heroics and patriotism, but the film has more in store than that. Though TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH does offer heroism, the message, ultimately, is that people aren't made for war. Men can be brave, sure, but war will break and destroy them just the same. Gregory Peck deservedly received a Best Actor nomination, the film was up for Best Picture, and Dean Jagger took the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Even Hugh Marlowe, who usually seems to be made out of dried driftwood, stirs the emotions with his performance here. 

Another terrific film I'd never heard of before is BATTLEGROUND. A fellow contender for Best Picture, the film offers a different look at American troops in Europe. According to Wikipedia, "The film is notable for portraying American soldiers as vulnerable and human. While they remain steadfast and courageous, each soldier has at least one moment in the  film when he seriously considers running away, schemes to get sent back from the front line, slacks off, or complains about the situation he is in. BATTLEGROUND is considered to be the first significant American film about WWII to be made and released after the end of the war." 


Filmed entirely on Hollywood sound stages, BATTLEGROUND immerses the audience in a nightmare. We follow a company of soldiers as they roam through villages and forests, all shrouded in thick fog. People appear briefly from the fog and then disappear again. Was that the enemy, or a friend? The film is loaded with great dialogue, including an exchange where two companies of seemingly American troops gauge each other's authenticity (they could actually be Germans!) by running through a series of rapid-fire tests involving the latest Hollywood gossip and up-to-the-minute American slang. There's also a brilliantly bizarre thread that runs through the film involving a set of false teeth. The film doesn't shy away from the horrors of war, the grim realities, the feeling that you're stuck in a horrible dream from which you cannot awaken. Not even Ricardo Montalban's devastating handsomeness guarantees him safety here.

William A. Wellman was nominated for directing; the film also received nominations for Best Supporting Actor (James Whitmore) and Best Editing, and took home full-on awards for Paul Vogel's foggy black and white cinematography and for Robert Pirosh's excellent story and screenplay. 

John Wayne earned the first of his two Best Actor nominations for SANDS OF IWO JIMA, a picture that seems to have been constructed primarily to give a backstory to the American Marines in the South Pacific who were immortalized by the monument showing the raising of the U.S. Flag on Mount Suribachi. The film even features, in small roles, three of the ex-Marines who were involved in the IWO JIMA flag-raising event—and with all due respect, fellas, I can pick the three of you non-actors out of the crowd the instant you open your mouths to deliver your lines. Sorry, but yikes!


Though IWO JIMA includes some intensely realistic warfare, someone also decided to throw in plenty of wartime racism! Wayne keeps referring to his foes as "nips," and at one point calls them "those little lemon-colored characters" who may be laying in wait for them. Lots of jokes too about the soldiers kissing and marrying each other, and there's even a scene of the men admiring each others' physiques. It's weird. 

But the award (not an Oscar) for Most Homoerotic War Film of 1949 goes to THE HASTY HEART. I'd never heard of this one either, but Richard Todd was up for Best Actor, so I sat down to check it out. 


The story is pure corn. When military doctors at a Burma outpost for wounded Allied soldiers discover that an ill-tempered Scottish soldier (Todd) is dying and only has 30 days to live, they decide not to tell him and instead stick him in a hut with bunch of other recovering soldiers from around the world. (They don't want to transfer him home to Scotland, since he has no family and would surely die alone.) They hope that the grouchy Scot will finally learn the true meaning of friendship before he dies. Patricia Neal is on hand as the nurse who takes care of the ailing men, and of course she develops romantic feelings for the man who's about to die. 

I know that probably doesn't sound very gay-sexy, but there's more. First of all, Richard Todd cuts a fine figure, and he keeps running around inside the hut without his shirt on! 


And then there's also a scene where future U.S. President Ronald Reagan helps the nearly-naked Scotsman learn about the true meaning of friendship by giving him an intimate massage while discussing highly personal things!


I realize it could still be said that all of this is just my overly-active dirty gay mind at work, and that I'm full of wishful thinking, but wait! The film also includes an ongoing gag that involves the Scotsman's bunk-mates constantly scheming to get a look up the underside of his kilt! The pretense is that they want to find out whether or not he's wearing any underwear, but I ask you: When engaging in this sort of kilt-peeping, has anyone ever really had their heart set on getting a peek at a pair of men's boxer briefs? If you ask me, it's pretty clear these fellows are hoping for a glimpse of a hairy Scottish arse, penis, or ball-sack. They've all been away from their wives and girlfriends for way, way too long.


For sporty audiences who were growing weary of war, there were a couple of Academy Award-nominated baseball movies at the local cinema in 1949; both were nominated for Best Motion Picture Story of the year. THE STRATTON STORY, an earnest yawn-inducer that somehow actually won the Oscar, tells of Monty Stratton (a too-old-for-this-role Jimmy Stewart), who pitched for the Chicago White Sox from 1934-1938, but then had to work super hard for a comeback after losing a leg in a hunting accident. June Allyson is cast as his impossibly pert cheer-leader wife. She's even over-acting on the movie poster:


The other baseball movie, IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING, is a bit of barely risible wackiness about a scientist who inadvertently creates a formula you can soak things in to make them repellent to wood. He's a baseball fanatic, so you can guess where this is going. He soaks a baseball in his new fluid, then pitches it at some fellas who have rotten luck trying to whack at it with their wooden bat. (I wonder if this is when aluminum bats were invented.) The scientist goes undercover with his discovery and ends up making headlines as a major-league pitcher. To be honest the film put me to sleep (I'm just not that into sports), but I did rouse long enough to see a gag where someone accidentally used the formula as hair tonic—a funny device that was promptly overused—and then I awoke again a while later to see everything fall perfectly into place for a happy Hollywood ending. 

WHITE HEAT would have taken the Oscar for Best Motion Picture Story if I'd had my pick among the five nominees. One of my favorite 1949 discoveries, the film is a thrilling and bizarre gangster movie that stars James Cagney as Cody Jarrett, head honcho of a band of outlaws that includes his girlfriend, the saucy Virginia Mayo, and his extremely protective ma, played to perfection by Margaret Wycherly. It's a shame Ms. Wycherly isn't listed among the Best Supporting Actress nominees of 1949. 


The film begins with a brutal train robbery-murder, and then we watch as the police try to track down Cody and his notorious gang using the most modern police methods available—including late-'40s cordless phones that are as big as toaster ovens. Both Cody and the police adapt to ever-changing plots and plans in an effort to outsmart one another. In the DVD bonus materials, one critic called WHITE HEAT "one of the best gangster films ever made." Another revealed that director Raoul Walsh loved trashy, independent women, which is why he had the glamorous Virginia Mayo make her film entrance disheveled, half-asleep, and snoring. Audiences of the era were shocked. Glamorous women in the films of the '40s simply did not snore. The tension in the film is ratcheted up a notch in scene after scene, culminating in an ending that is positively explosive. Though one of the best films of the year, WHITE HEAT was nominated only for this one Oscar. 


The list of Best Color Cinematography nominees is basically made up of films the Academy had to scrounge around for among those that weren't otherwise on their Oscar radar. The award went to SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, a fairly standard John Ford western lensed by Winton Hoch. Filmed on location in Monument Valley, the film features some truly striking images, some of which seem to have been obtained within a humongous vat of cotton candy.
 

SAND is another western up for the same award; the film evidently has something to do with a runaway horse. Since SAND has never been released on video or DVD, it's one of two nominated films I wasn't able to see. 

Featuring a lead performance by June Allyson—once again so perky you just want to slap her—the 1949 version of LITTLE WOMEN was also up for the Best Color Cinematography award.


There are better LITTLE WOMENs out there, to be sure, but this one is of interest because it features a brilliant young cast—including Peter Lawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh, and also an old Mary Astor. Plus, Rossano Brazzi is irresistible! He deserves better than to end up with June Allyson, who just might have a drug problem, if you ask me. A Color Cinematography nomination also went to THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY, yet another pairing of Fred & Ginger, this time as a bickering song and dance couple who perform in musical comedies. The Technicolor saturation is so intense, Ginger Rogers' red nails and lipstick seem to leap at you from the screen. It borders on trashy, or maybe just like she's trying too hard. For some reason, as I watched, Melanie Griffith kept coming to mind.

[ Ginger Rogers' Technicolor nails & Fred Astaire in THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY ]

Nominated for Best Story and Screenplay, as well as for Best Color Cinematography, JOLSON SINGS AGAIN gets my vote as the worst motion picture up for an Oscar in 1949. "One of the most memorable musicals ever!," indeed.


Some films are so bad they put you right to sleep, but this one is so awful it will keep you awake! The movie evidently begins where THE JOLSON STORY left off. A prologue tells us that Al Jolson stopped performing after he was given an ultimatum by his wife, Julie: "It's either the music or me, buddy. The choice is yours." Well, he chose Julie and vowed never to sing again. Then, while out at a swanky supper club one evening, someone recognized Al and insisted he perform a number for them. His ego just wouldn't let him say no. He performed, and so Julie got up from the table and walked out of the restaurant and out of his life for good. At this point, audiences might well be thinking, as was I, "What a horrible ultimatum! That Julie is a selfish and insecure bitch!" 

But then, about eight minutes into the film, you start to slowly realize that this Al Jolson fellow is a real dick. As played by Larry Parks, he is a self-centered egotist who surrounds himself with a bevy of well-dressed older gentlemen that he's constantly ordering about: "Tom, put some things in a bag for me. I'm going to New York." "Steve, go get my car. You're taking me to the airport!" And then, in New York, when we finally get to see Jolson perform, our sympathies shift entirely over to Julie. Her ultimatum suddenly makes perfect sense! Jolson's performance, from which I've included photo excerpts below, is pure 100% honey-cured ham. It's excruciating to watch. Nobody should ever exchange marriage vows with a person who does this sort of thing in public unless they have first made a solemn promise to stop.


...and then at one point in the film we have to sit through what feels like an entire third of the first Jolson Story movie—so of course, unfortunately, we get to see this:  


Watching JOLSON SINGS AGAIN made me hate Al Jolson. And now I hate Larry Parks too. Throughout the film, Jolson is a whiny, insecure has-been who is striving for relevance in a world that has already come to terms with the fact that he sucks. The job of all those who flock and flutter around him is to constantly massage his ego to keep it robust, to make sure he doesn't accidentally catch a glimpse of his sad reality. He's like a giant penis that everyone has to keep feverishly stroking so that he doesn't ever go limp.


I can't tell you much about PRINCE OF FOXES, except that it's set in Rome in the year 1500, stars Tyrone Power and Orson Welles, and it makes a fine sedative. I remember hearing some romantic and political finagling going on and, at one point when I woke up during a battle scene, someone poured boiling black oil directly onto the camera lens, thereby earning a nomination for Best Black and White Cinematography. 


Speaking of Rome, a couple of Italian flicks were thrown into the mix of nominees to shake things up a bit. PAISAN, nominated for Best Story and Screenplay, is actually a set of six short stories that each depict the effects the war has had on Italy and on Italians. The film is directed by Roberto Rossellini; my favorite of the episodes is #3—the one about innocence lost and how the war and its devastation turned everyone into drunkards and whores. THE BICYCLE THIEF, directed by Vittorio de Sica, was nominated for Best Screenplay and took home a special Oscar for Outstanding Foreign Film (there was no competition, as there wasn't yet a category for Best Foreign Language Film).


I'd originally seen THE BICYCLE THIEF back in my first year of college at BYU in 1988. I only remembered it as an old Italian film about a guy whose bike gets stolen and so he and his kid spend the entire film running around town trying to get it back. And while yes, I guess that's true, the film is so much more than that. The screenwriters fill the story with rocks and hard places for our everyday, down-on-his-luck protagonist, Antonio, to get stuck between. Difficult, even impossible, decisions must be made as Antonio tries to find and retrieve his bike so he can remain employed and feed his wife and boy. And all the while, Antonio's son follows and observes, taking note on what it means to be a man, looking to his father as the unfailing example. The film is absolutely heartbreaking.

A few other films from overseas also received Oscar nods in 1949, like PASSPORT TO PIMLICO, a British political farce up for Best Story and Screenplay that comes to life only in the few minutes that Margaret Rutherford prances across the screen. There's a documentary feature called KENJI COMES HOME, but nobody seems to remember anything about it, aside from the fact that it was nominated for an Academy Award. Unfortunately, it's probably been lost to the sands of time. I couldn't find it available anywhere. The only other Best Feature Doc nominee—and the winner of the award—is DAYBREAK IN UDI, one of those fascinating and uncomfortable British documentaries where they show how much they're all working to help the people in Africa try to become more British-like. It's all narrated by the Brits and all the Africans are treated like funny, naughty children. Not available on DVD or video, but you can watch it online here.

 [ DAYBREAK IN UDI ]

None of the fine ladies who were up for the Best Actress Oscar of 1949—Deborah Kerr; Jeanne Crain; Susan Hayward; Loretta Young— really ever stood any chance against Olivia de Havilland as Catherine in THE HEIRESS. De Havilland is commanding in her role as an insecure, naive, and awkward young (but not that young, you know) woman who couldn't...oh, I don't know...couldn't command a mouse to eat cheese. Her father (played expertly by Ralph Richardson, up for Best Supporting Actor) has been chipping away any at any self-esteem she might have developed over the course of her life as he constantly compares her to his beloved beauty of a wife who died when Catherine was born. "Only I know what I lost that day she died, and what I got in her place," he offers disdainfully at one point as an explanation for his cruel behavior. He feels certain his ugly duckling of a daughter will never marry. The only quality she has that men might find attractive is her vast inheritance, but father isn't going to let her fall for THAT one.  


Enter Montgomery Clift. (Yes, please!) He's just returned from Europe, he seems genuinely interested in Catherine, and he's totally hot shit! Sure, he's yet to settle on a particular career, and he sorta' loafed around in Europe with the money he got from a deceased relative (or something), but, hell...he's Montgomery Clift! It all seems too good to be true, but Catherine decides to go ahead and believe in it, and so does her gossipy busybody of an aunt (Miriam Hopkins, wonderful). But Catherine's father just doesn't trust the guy. Drama, confrontation and scenes loaded with terrific dialog ensue. Catherine finally decides to cut ties with her disapproving father and run off with Montgomery Clift, since she is sure he would love to have and to hold her with or without her stupid inheritance. Right?

 [ Montgomery Clift and Olivia de Havilland in THE HEIRESS ]

It's impossible to talk about the brilliance of this film any further without including, or at least suggesting at, some spoilers. If you haven't seen THE HEIRESS before and you'd like to watch it without any spoilers, please skip to the next paragraph. 

No, not this one. The NEXT paragraph. Okay, if you're still with me, let me just say this is such a beautifully sad movie. It's the kind of film that, if it had been released today, the critics on Rotten Tomatoes would give it raves, whereas the "regular people" would say it was just awful, since nowadays the general movie-going public can't handle (or even understand) anything on a movie screen unless it brings them to orgasm right before the closing credits. 

THE HEIRESS is about choosing to believe in the goodness and beauty of others, and in the possibilities of wild, romantic love...and then having to face the fact that that's just not something that's in store for you in life. Time passes, and you reach a point where it would be foolish to even consider hoping for such a thing. As a matter of fact, you're actually rather embarrassed when you think of how you once threw yourself toward romance, body and soul, though you do still recall the feelings, and the longing, with fondness. Okay, this is starting to sound way too much like one of my own diary entries. Anyway, let's just say the film is mesmerizing, and I felt a personal connection to the story. Olivia de Havilland, who turned 101 earlier this month, is mesmerizing. Montgomery Clift's moustache is mesmerizing. Give this film an Oscar! 


Susan Hayward was granted a Best Actress nomination for playing in something called MY FOOLISH HEART, which I saw several weeks ago and now couldn't tell you a thing about, even if I wanted to. But I do want to, so let me get my notes. Ah, yes. It was an ultra-modern melodrama involving scandalous sex out of wedlock, illegitimate pregnancy, that sort of thing. I remember Susan Hayward seeming kinda' badass in the first ten minutes, but then we're suddenly sucked into a feature-length flashback that takes pains to convince everyone in the audience that she's really just as boring and conventional as they are. Keywords: pains; boring; sucked.


Deborah Kerr earned the first of her six Best Actress nominations for EDWARD MY SON, another melodrama, this one about really bad parenting. Kerr actually has more of a supporting role in the film until about halfway through, when she's suddenly cut loose and begins a fascinating downward spiral, eventually turning into a kind of refined variety of Baby Jane Hudson. She's fun to watch.


One of the most interesting and surprising films of 1949 is PINKY, directed by Elia Kazan and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. The film is an early attempt by Hollywood (20th Century Fox, anyhow) to explore race relations in the American South. Best Actress nominee Jeanne Crain plays Pinky, a nurse who has been living—and passing for white—in the North. She even has a white boyfriend who isn't aware of her roots! Now she's returning to her backwater Southern hometown to visit her mother (Ethel Waters), a poor, uneducated black woman who cares for a wealthy and ailing neighbor, played by Ethel Barrymore. The Ethels are terrific. Both were up for Best Supporting Actress and both outshine the lead performance by Crain. (Kazan, who inherited the film when Zanuck fired director John Ford after a week of shooting, reportedly was unhappy with Crain, saying, "She was a sweet girl, but she was like a Sunday school teacher...she didn't have any fire." Sadly, I'd have to agree.) Still, the film is startling for its confrontation of issues of race in 1949 in an intelligent and meaningful way. In fact, it was so meaningful and intelligent it was banned from being shown in theaters in some stupid town in Texas. 

Another trio of actresses received nominations for their work in the thoughtful and enjoyable comedy-drama COME TO THE STABLE. Loretta Young stars, with Elsa Lanchester and Celeste Holm offering delightful support, in this obscure gem about a pair of good-natured nuns (Young and Holm) who travel from France to build a children's hospital on a particular plot of New England soil, thus fulfilling a promise they made to God for helping them and a bunch of kids survive a round of bombing during the war. They shack up with a zany local religious artist (Lanchester) and set to work laying out their plans. Some thought-provoking NIMBY (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) issues are presented which, I'm sad to say, speak to struggles that communities here in Seattle continue to wrestle with today. Loretta Young is darn good as Sister Margaret, but the role just isn't flashy enough to wrest the Oscar from de Havilland's grasping hands—especially since Young had just received the statue for THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER in 1947. 


With PINKY and COME TO THE STABLE hogging—and dividing votes between—four of the five Best Supporting Actress nominee slots for the year, Mercedes McCambridge had pretty smooth sailing to the win for her forceful and somewhat bizarre turn as a ruthless political campaign strategist in ALL THE KING'S MEN. 

 [ Mercedes McCambridge in ALL THE KING'S MEN ]

The film, which traces the rise of a small-town politician named Willie Stark from grass-roots activist to powerful and corrupt bigwig, also won Best Picture, and Broderick Crawford took the Oscar for Best Actor. (The Willie Stark role had been offered to John Wayne, but he turned it down, saying he felt the picture was 'un-American.') The film is exciting and potent—and seems more relevant now than ever. Thank god it doesn't star John Wayne.

Director Robert Rossen didn't snag an award for ALL THE KING'S MEN though, since Best Director went to Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A LETTER TO THREE WIVES. The film offers a smart, fun look at three women friends who receive a letter from the fourth member of their circle, Addy Ross (voiced by Celeste Holm—it was a very good year for Celeste), just as they're setting out by boat for an all-day island camp-out with a bunch of kiddos. Addy's letter informs them that she's run off with one of their husbands. Far from the nearest pay telephone and without any cell service, the wives contemplate their relationships in turn and wonder which of the three won't have a husband to go home to at the end of the day. Mankiewicz also took the Best Writing, Screenplay award for his work. My favorite line is this, "Oh, let's stop this sudden bickering. We're beginning to behave like some movie about a women's prison."

[ Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, and Jeanne Crain in A LETTER TO THREE WIVES ]

None of the film's actors (wives Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell...or husbands Jeffrey Lynn, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas) has enough total screen time to snag a Best Acting nomination. (Thelma Ritter might have been considered for Best Supporting Actress for her hilarious turn as Ann Sothern's put-upon housemaid, but she isn't even listed in the film's acting credits!) Jeanne Crain at least had her nomination for PINKY to console her, and Kirk Douglas was nominated as Best Actor for a sweaty boxing drama called CHAMPION.
 

Douglas is brilliant in this dark and seedy film that follows a...well, let's just say it: He's a low-down heel. But he's got a talent for fighting, is discovered on the streets, and works his way to boxing fame, developing an affinity for scheming blondes somewhere along the way. 

Last, but not least, we have THE QUIET ONE. Nominated for Best Story and Screenplay, I had expected this one to be another western, probably getting it mixed up with this movie...which, now that I look at it, doesn't seem like a western either. Anyway. What I found instead of a western was a beautiful and surprising cinematic treasure—one of the loveliest films of the year. 
 

This small indie film, narrated by Gary Merrill, seemingly under heavy sedation, was filmed in a NYC school for troubled boys. Or, as the film puts it, at a school for boys who have "reacted with grave disturbance of personality to neglect in their homes and in their community, and who for various reasons of age, religion, race, or special maladjustment, are not cared for by other agencies." Gary introduces us to Donald, the young black boy who is the film's protagonist: "In all these months, Donald has made no friends. We've never seen him smile. He has hardly spoken. He is one of the quiet ones." 

THE QUIET ONE is incredibly insightful and forward thinking for the late 1940s; it feels like a prequel to MOONLIGHT, but made 70 years before. The fact that filmmakers chose to examine the life of a troubled young African-American boy is remarkable. There were troubled white boys too at the school where this was filmed; the producers could easily have decided it would be "safer" to follow one of them for their story instead. I love this film. It's simple, poetic, and moving. It is essentially a silent, and the images are stunning.


As always, thanks to Scarecrow Video for not going out of business and for making all these films available for viewing. If you live in Seattle and you watch movies but you don't go to Scarecrow Video, you suck. Just so you know. 

Check out past editions of The Oscar Project here: 1953, 1936, 1935.

These are the Oscar-nominated films of 1949, with the winners in pink:  

Best Picture:
All the King's Men
Battleground
The Heiress
A Letter to Three Wives
Twelve O'Clock High

Best Director:
Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A LETTER TO THREE WIVES
Carol Reed for THE FALLEN IDOL
Robert Rossen for ALL THE KING'S MEN
William A. Wellman for BATTLEGROUND
William Wyler for THE HEIRESS

Best Actor:
Broderick Crawford in ALL THE KING'S MEN
Kirk Douglas in CHAMPION
Gregory Peck in TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH
Richard Todd in THE HASTY HEART
John Wayne in SANDS OF IWO JIMA

Best Actress:
Jeanne Crain in PINKY
Olivia de Havilland in THE HEIRESS
Susan Hayward in MY FOOLISH HEART
Deborah Kerr in EDWARD, MY SON
Loretta Young in COME TO THE STABLE

Best Supporting Actor:
John Ireland in ALL THE KING'S MEN 
Dean Jagger in TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH
Arthur Kennedy in CHAMPION
Ralph Richardson in THE HEIRESS
James Whitmore in BATTLEGROUND

Best Supporting Actress:
Ethel Barrymore in PINKY
Celeste Holm in COME TO THE STABLE
Elsa Lanchester in COME TO THE STABLE
Mercedes McCambridge in ALL THE KING'S MEN
Ethel Waters in PINKY

Best Writing, Story and Screenplay:
Sidney Buchman for JOLSON SINGS AGAIN
T. E. B. Clarke for PASSPORT TO PIMLICO
Alfred Hayes, Federico Fellini, Sergio Amidei, Marcello Pagliero, Roberto Rossellini for PAISAN
Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb, Sidney Meyers for THE QUIET ONE
Robert Pirosh for BATTLEGROUND

Best Writing, Motion Picture Story:
Harry Brown for SANDS OF IWO JIMA
Virginia Kellogg for WHITE HEAT
Clare Boothe Luce for COME TO THE STABLE
Douglas Morrow for THE STRATTON STORY
Shirley W. Smith, Valentine Davies for IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING

Best Writing, Screenplay:
Carl Foreman for CHAMPION
Graham Greene for THE FALLEN IDOL
Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A LETTER TO THREE WIVES
Robert Rossen for ALL THE KING'S MEN
Cesare Zavattini for THE BICYCLE THIEF

Best Cinematography, Black & White:
Joseph LaShelle for COME TO THE STABLE
Franz Planer for CHAMPION
Leon Shamroy for PRINCE OF FOXES
Leo Tover for THE HEIRESS
Paul Vogel for BATTLEGROUND

Best Cinematography, Color:
Charles G. Clarke for SAND
Winton C. Hoch for SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON
Robert H. Planck, Charles Edgar Schoenbaum for LITTLE WOMEN
William E. Snyder for JOLSON SINGS AGAIN
Harry Stradling, Sr. for THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY

Best Film Editing:
John Dunning for BATTLEGROUND
Harry Gerstad for CHAMPION
Frederic Knudtson for THE WINDOW
Robert Parrish, Al Clark for ALL THE KING'S MEN
Richard L. Van Enger for SANDS OF IWO JIMA

Best Documentary Feature:
Daybreak In Udi
Kenji Comes Home

Special Foreign Language Film Award:
The Bicycle Thief