The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1939
1939. The “Golden year.” This one will be a quick one. I think we can all agree that — whomever the “director” was — Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood or David O. Selznick, that Gone With the Wind was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, directorial achievements of all time. Nothing was going to beat it, as nothing should have. I also think it should be mentioned — do you see this Murderer’s Row of directors we have here? That’s impressive, isn’t it?
Also, for context’s sake, Gone With the Wind won Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress this year, while Best Actor was Robert Donat for Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and Best Supporting Actor was Thomas Mitchell for Stagecoach.
BEST DIRECTOR – 1939
And the nominees are…
Frank Capra, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Victor Fleming, Gone With the Wind
John Ford, Stagecoach
Sam Wood, Goodbye, Mr. Chips
William Wyler, Wuthering Heights
Capra — I think we all know how great Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is. And how Jimmy Stewart should have won an Oscar for it. Capra also did a great job directing it, and had he not been up against Gone With the Wind, I’d have said that he might have deserved this (you know, assuming he hadn’t already won three). His time was over, though. Three was enough for him, and no matter what he directed, unless it was Citizen Kane, he wouldn’t have earned another statue. Plus, even Citizen Kane didn’t win Best Director.
Fleming — You have to give it to him. He also directes The Wizard of Oz this year as well. The only difference is, just like Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz had multiple directors. Many of which were the same. Fleming left Oz when he went on Wind. And, as the story goes with Wind, George Cukor was the original director, but was fired three weeks into production. Fleming took over and directed most of the middle of the picture, which is said to be from the siege of Atlanta on through the end. After suffering a nervous breakdown midway through, he was replaced by Sam Wood while he recovered.
Despite all this shifting of directors, however, it’s clear that the vision behind the film was David O. Selznick’s and his alone. So really it didn’t matter who the director was because it was a producer’s vision. Either way, it’s such a great vision that whoever the credited director was deserved an Oscar.
Ford — This is a great film, isn’t it? To see what Ford does with limited locations is just great. It’s a film that I’d be voting for if not for the elephant in the room. I like Capra’s film more, but, he won three times, and at this point we didn’t know Ford would win four times. They must have liked the job he did, because he won in back-to-back years after this (though the second one was almost certainly an anti-Kane backlash). Great, great film.
Wood – I do like those movie, and I like how he (sort of) took a page out of John Ford’s book by hiding the fact that the set was limited in size by adding lots of fog. Plus it takes place in England, so, it fits. The film looks great, and Wood should certainly have been nominated. But not everyone can win, and, sadly, he’s the weak link on this list. Shame, but, it happens.
Wyler – This film looked gorgeous. I mean it. It’s like a romantic film noir. Everything is so dark and sultry — it’s really a thing to behold. In fact, I think it’s the direction that lead to me enjoying the film in the first place. Because movies based on classical literature are things up with which I will not put. I just don’t do them. It’s rare for me to find one I like. And I liked this one. Mostly for the atmosphere. Once the atmosphere shifts about halfway through, I lost interest. But, it still looked nice. And it was a forebearer of things to come, since Wyler went on to win two Best Director statues himself. So, great job here, but, obviously, no vote.
My Thoughts: There’s really nothing else to say here. They chose Fleming as the primary director, therefore he’s the one I vote for.
My Vote: Fleming.
Should Have Won: Fleming.
Is the result acceptable?: The only just decision that could have been made this year. Apologies, John Ford.
Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Gone With the Wind, you’re dead to me. If you haven’t seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, you’re dead to me. If you haven’t seen Stagecoach, you probably should. Goodbye, Mr Chips, as I’ve said, is quite good. And Wuthering Heights looks very pretty.