The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1943

1943 is another one of those years. You can’t really fault their choice, because it’s widely regarded as one of the best films of all time. And even if you did want to say, “Well, it’s not that great,” there’ not really another nominee you could point to as being more worthy. Which is great, because, less I have to write.

The Best Picture of 1943 was Casablanca. Best Actor — surprisingly — went to Paul Lukas, for Watch on the Rhine. I believe this is widely considered to be one of the worst choices of all time. Raise your hand if you know who Paul Lukas is. No cheating.

Best Actress was Jennifer Jones for The Song of Bernadette. Best Supporting Actor was Charles Coburn for The More the Merrier, and Best Supporting Actress was Katina Paxinou for For Whom the Bell Tolls.

I’ll sum up 1943 by saying, when Casablanca is involved, is there really any question what should win?


And the nominees are…

Clarence Brown, The Human Comedy

Michael Curtiz, Casablanca

Henry King, The Song of Bernadette

Ernst Lubitsch, Heaven Can Wait

George Stevens, The More the Merrier

Brown — This is a great film I’m happy I discovered. What’s great about the film is that it’s largely plotless. And by not having a plot we just get to see these characters existing, and get to know them, and then when stuff actually happens, it resonates.

It’s about Mickey Rooney, the eldest son of a family whose patriarch is off at war. And he takes a job at a telegram office to help the family raise enough money to get by. Or rather, I think both the father and brother were off at war, and the father is dead. So now the brother is the main person at war. And Rooney works at the telegram office, which is run by Frank Morgan (aka The Great and Powerful Oz), an old man who often falls asleep unless he has his coffee. And Rooney rides his bike around and delivers the telegrams, and we see a nice portrait of a small town affected by war, and just simple small town living. And everything culminates to the end of the film, where, in one fell swoop, Morgan’s character dies (he and Rooney were good friends), and Rooney finds out his brother died in the war. I really enjoyed it, probably due to the plotless nature of the film. I tend to like when I get to immerse myself into an on-screen environment by just seeing it exist rather than getting thrust into the plot of a film.

As for the direction, it’s pretty standard. Very — MGM, at the time. If there’s one thing I’m learning from seing all these films, it’s that there were definitely house styles. But, the direction is fine. I wouldn’t vote for it unless they were all fairly standard jobs. Because then it comes down to which one I liked the best. Here, there’s definitely a clearcut winner. So, sorry, but no vote. Great film, though.

Curtiz — God, what a perfect movie. Everything about it is perfect. I also figure I don’t need to explain about it, since, it’s Casablanca. If you haven’ it — seriously, what’s wrong with you? This is as “no contest” as I’ve ever seen an Oscar race.

King — This is a film that’s — strange. It’s a David O. Selznick again. The man seemed to just know what films would go over really well. He was like the Harvey Weinstein of the 30s and 40s. He just knew what would go over and win Oscars. Plus the film was a star vehicle for his (insert number here) wife, Jennifer Jones.

The reason the film is strange is because — it’s really overtly religious. Like, really so. It’s about a poor peasant girl, who’s not very bright (book-wise, that is), who, one day, is in the city dump, and sees the Virgin Mary appear before her. And she sits and prays. And then it becomes a whole thing because, she claims she’s seeing this woman, and people are either outraged or buy into it. And she has to stand up to the church to fight for what she believes in, and it’s a big deal and all that. And basically it’s about her becoming a saint figure and then dying because — well, she was willingly exposing herself to radiation and toxic waste and shit, and the vision was probably (though the film keeps it real ambiguous) a delusion.

The direction is actually not bad. It has a kind of prestigious feel to it, while also seeming very contained. It’s a good job. I won’t vote for it on the grounds that there’s a better choice and because of the subject matter. Just, way too overt.

Lubitsch — Ernst Lubitsch is one of those directors who certainly makes entertaining films. They have that Lubitsch touch to them. This one is no different. It’s about a dude dying and trying to get into hell. Yes, you heard that right.

The dude dies and goes down to hell, and they have to review his entire life to make sure he’s amoral enough to get into hell. And he’s like, “Oh yeah, I’ve been amoral,” and they go over his entire life. And we see him as a child, being a dick, flirting with his french tutor and getting her to get him drunk and then getting her fired (indirectly, of course. The parents found out he was drunk and fired her). And we see him doing all this stuff that, as we see it, we realize, he’s much harder on himself than he should be. He says he’s amoral, but really, he’s actually not that bad, and any wrong he’s done he’s redeemed himself for. So at the end, they’re like, “Fuck, I’m sorry, we just can’t accept you into hell,” and they let him go to heaven. It’s very entertaining. But, I should warn you, it’s not entirely a comedy. There are lots of dramatic elements to it. So don’t go in expecting a laugh riot.

As for the direction, it’s quite good. The sets are nice and big and colorful. The film has a nice Technicolor look to it. It’s mostly a standard job, other than the nice sheen to it, so I’m not gonna vote for it, but it is a very good job.

Stevens — George Stevens. The man who would go on to win two Best Director statues. Here he’s nominated for a straight comedy. A straight, straight comedy. Like, full on comedy. This is a nomination that could only occur at this point in history. It certainly wouldn’t happen now.

The film is about the wartime housing shortage, and how an old, retired millionaire, coming into town to meet an acquaintance, finds out his hotel room won’t be ready for a few days. So, he finds an add in the paper about a room for rent. And he goes, and meets the woman and rents the apartment. And she’s very ordered, very organized — she has specific routines she asks him to follow. Right down to the minute. Like, “7:35, I get up. 7:37 I go into the bathroom. 7:45 I’m out making coffee. You go in the bathroom at 7:45 and be out by 7:53, because I need to go in and do my hair. And while I’m doing my hair, you can go have coffee and make breakfast…” and so on and so forth.

However, shortly after, he meets a soldier on leave looking for housing. And he just up and takes him in the apartment. Which she isn’t a fan of, but can’t really do anything about because of the housing shortage. And the old man’s goal is to get the two together. And the movie becomes him trying to get them together and play matchmaker. And hilarity ensues. It’s a very, very funny movie. It helps that the old man is Charles Coburn and the woman is Jean Arthur. It’s a really great film. But, like I said, there’s a clear winner here, and I can’t vote for it. A shame. But, the film is still great.

My Thoughts: Nothing comes close to Casablanca.

My Vote: Curtiz

Should Have Won: Curtiz

Is the result acceptable?: Hell yeah. It’s compounded by the fact that Curtiz was wrongfully passed over in 1938.

Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Casablanca, you’re dead to me. I highly suggest you see The More the Merrier. It’s a great comedy that works in any era. I guarantee most people would enjoy it. Heaven Can Wait is a great film, in that Lubitsch way. The Human Comedy is good too, but probably won’t have as much appeal as the first two, and then the third.


5) Brown

4) King

3) Stevens

2) Lubitsch

1) Curtiz

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