The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1950
This one hurts. A lot. On the surface, you could look at this category and be like, “Oh, of course, All About Eve.” But if you look closer, you see it beat Sunset Boulevard and The Third Man. How could All About Eve have been a better directorial effort than those two? Especially the latter, which is considered one of the top ten or twenty (top five for me) best directorial efforts of all time? As you can see, I won’t even hide my contempt for this decision.
The rest of this year was — well, not very good. I don’t really like it all that much. All About Eve wins Best Picture, which I guess is okay. I prefer Sunset Boulevard, but, meh. Not gonna quibble that much. Best Actor was José Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac, a rather forgettable decision. Especially when you had William Holden in Sunset Boulevard and Jimmy Stewart in Harvey as the other choices. Best Actress was Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday, which, I liked as a performance, but am not totally sure about as a decision. After all, she beat Gloria Swanson for Sunset Boulevard (not to mention Bette Davis and Anne Baxter — more so Anne Baxter — for All About Eve). Best Supporting Actor was George Sanders for All About Eve, which is a pretty good decision (it was between him and Erich von Stroheim — a much more historical decision). And Best Supporting Actress was Josephine Hull for Harvey, which I think is pretty good.
So, in all, I find this to be a bad year. Even the okay decisions are very questionable, and it’s all topped by this horrendous cherry on top.
BEST DIRECTOR – 1950
And the nominees were…
George Cukor, Born Yesterday
John Huston, The Asphalt Jungle
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, All About Eve
Carol Reed, The Third Man
Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard
Cukor — Born Yesterday is a very enjoyable film. The problem is, it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and won Best Actress (over two All About Eve nominations and Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. All that seems to detract from people’s enjoyment of it. But, if you take away all personal feelings about the decisions, what’s left is an immensely enjoyable film.
It’s about a gangster — or rather, corrupt businessman — played by Broderick Crawford, fresh off his Oscar win in All the King’s Men, who goes to D.C. to start buying politicians. He brings along his mistress — Judy Holliday — and the two of them are very much sore thumbs. They’re not very cultured or polite at all. It’s like Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, going down south where everyone has all these manners and stuff. That’s what these two are like. Holliday is loud and brassy and — the epitome of the gangster’s moll. And Crawford himself isn’t much better, though he thinks he is. But he doesn’t like her manner, so he hires William Holden to tutor her.
The film is basically about Holliday and Holden pulling off a Pygmalion of sorts, and they fall in love. And while this is going on, Crawford is trying to maintain his corrupt empire without coming under the scrutiny of the law. So he and his corrupt lawyer put all the businesses under Holliday’s name. So now, since she’s being tutored, she becomes more intelligent, and she fights her way from under his thumb, and eventually uses the fact that all the property is in her name to gain independence from him. She says she’ll hold all the properties and slowly give them back little by little as long as he leaves her alone. And that’s the film.
It’s a very enjoyable film, and it works because Holliday’s performance carries it. What we’re here to discuss though is Cukor’s direction of the film. And honestly — no fucking way I’m gonna vote for him. At best he’s a fourth choice. And that’s only because Huston had just won an Oscar (two, actually) and Cukor was very overdue as a director and had never won one. But, this was by no means a Best Director winning effort. Just looking at the nominees, you could see that.
Huston — The Asphalt Jungle is a classic noir, and, being directed by John Huston, you almost don’t need to state the classic part. It’s pretty much implied. The film is about a criminal mastermind who is released from prison and plans an elaborate heist. If you’ve seen Rififi, this is basically an American version of that. It’s pretty clear Rififi took a lot of inspiration from this film, the way Kurosawa emulated American noir with Stray Dog.
Sam Jaffe — Oscar-nominated for the role — plays the mastermind, released from prison and planning to perform the heist he planned with his cellmate. And the whole film is him assembling the team and them pulling off the heist. Then the centerpiece of the film is the heist itself — about ten or so minutes long — which isn’t as brilliant as the Rififi heist, but very good in its own way. Like all heists, something goes wrong. Here, their explosion of the safe sets off alarms in nearby buildings, and a security guard they get rid of drops his gun and one of the men is shot. So then a manhunt begins, and the men slowly start getting caught. One of the men gives up the rest, and they have to get out of town. The final two are sam Jaffe and Sterling Hayden, and Hayden dies just as he reaches the farm he’s been trying to buy back with his share of the money, and — in true noir fashion — Jaffe makes it all the way out of town and to a diner, and is caught by the police after he stays just a second too long. Such is the life of a noir protagonist.
The film is good. It’s a very good noir. Huston did a great job with it. But, honestly, there’s a better noir on this list, and Huston won in 1948. So I’m not voting for him and he’s my #5. And that’s purely because Cukor hadn’t won yet. So, still — he’s no better than a #4 here for me. Tough year.
Mankiewicz — All About Eve is a brilliant film, a classic film, wonderfully acted, written and directed. The only problem is, Mankiewicz should not have won Best Director. That’s my only gripe with the film. I’m even okay with it winning Best Picture. Both it and Sunset Boulevard were great choices, and while I’d have gone the other way, it was still a good choice.
In case you don’t know (and if you don’t, why don’t you?), the film is about Bette Davis as a famous theater actress who takes on a protege, Eve, played by Anne Baxter. They find her outside Bette’s dressing room (she plays Margot in the film), and Eve says she’s a huge fan and has come a long way to become an actress. She says she’s been at every performance and loves Margot. So they bring her in to meet with her, and pretty soon, she gets a job as Margot’s assistant. And all the people around Margot tell her they don’t like Eve, but Eve always seems like this sweet and innocent young girl. But pretty soon, things start happening, all of which point to Eve as being much more than she seems. Basically — she’s connived to get in the position she’s in, and has been undermining Margot the entire time so as to take her place. Like, Margot goes on an outing one day, and runs out of gas, which would make her unable to get to the theater in time to go on. And Eve, who has become her understudy, coincidentally goes on instead. Things like that.
It’s a fucking great film. It’s really great. You should have seen it by now, and if you haven’t, you need to go out and do so immediately, because it’s so wonderfully bitchy. Everyone is at the top of their game here, none more so than Anne Baxter and George Sanders.
Honestly, if it weren’t for Carol Reed being on this list, I’d be okay with Mankiewicz winning here (sort of). I still would have gone against him, and I wouldn’t have been happy with him winning back-to-back Oscars, but, I’d have understood. He directed the Best Picture winner. The bad decision therefore would rest with the year before, when he won when he shouldn’t have. But, since Carol Reed is on this list, there’s no way I can accept him winning here, no matter how good a job he did with the film. At best this is a second choice. At best. For me, it’s no better than third. Come on, now.
Reed — I will try not to overstate my feelings for the film. I rank it as one of my top five favorite films of all time. I’ll leave it at that. Also, the British Film Institute voted it the greatest British film of all time, AFI had it on their Top 100 films as #57 on their original 1998 list, they ranked it #5 in their Top Tens list in the mystery genre, and — well, I think you understand. If you’re even remotely interested in film, I can’t imagine you don’t know this already or have seen this already. And if you have, you know what I’m talking about.
The film is a noir in the truest sense of the word. Holly Martins, an American writer of cheap pulp fiction novels, travels to Vienna after receiving a telegram from his old friend Harry Lime. Martins is played by Joseph Cotten and Lime by Orson Welles. Martins arrives in Vienna only to find Lime is dead. At the funeral, he sees four people — two men, a woman and a cop. The cop is curious as to why he’s there, and wants to talk to him. He, instead, wants to know more about how Harry died. He finds the two men and the women who were at the funeral. He finds out from the men that Lime was hit by a car. The two men who were there saw this and carried his body to the curb, whereupon he died. However, there was a sighting of a “third man” who also helped bring the body to the curb, but neither of the men admits to this (but it’s clear they might not be telling the truth). Martins goes and meets with the girl, who is Lime’s former girlfriend, and tries to find out what happened to Harry. The whole time, the police are trying to talk with him (and he’s blowing them off and not helping them at all) and some other stuff happens that’s your standard noir fare — I don’t want to ruin it for you if you haven’t seen it. Then, one night, as Martins is up at Lime’s girlfriend’s apartment, drunk, he stumbles out up the street and sees a person standing in the shadows. He starts shouting at the person, because he’s drunk. Then, as a woman in an apartment upstairs opens her window to yell down at the shouting man, we have the single greatest entrance in the history of motion pictures.
The rest of the film, I leave to you to see. It’s absolutely perfect.
As for Reed’s direction — this is seriously one of the most gorgeously shot films of all time. Every single image can be clipped and hung on a wall. If I had to rank films that were as beautifully shot as this, it would be a very small list. 8 1/2, Black Narcissus, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Roert Ford — films like that. Every single image is gorgeous.
I’m really not underestimating at all when I say — no one except Carol Reed deserved to win Best Director this year. And based solely on what won over what didn’t, this might be considered the worst Best Director decision of all time. Coincidentally, 8 1/2 might actually be #2, and 1968, where Carol Reed eventually got his Oscar, in the process beating Stanley Kubrick for 2001: A Space Odyssey, is sadly and ironically #3. (I’m sure there are others just as bad, but you get where I’m going with this.)
This man deserved this Oscar, and you will never, ever convince me otherwise. This is one of those things where I will never be able to understand anyone claiming otherwise. I refuse to believe anyone could even think that Carol Reed did not deserve this. Just watch the films if you don’t believe me.
Wilder — Sunset Boulevard is a film that, if you haven’t seen it, and you’re a fan of classic films, you should probably just stop trying. If there were a list of 100 essential films, this would probably be on it. If I went through all the Oscar nominees and created a list of essential films, this would be on it. How the fuck can a fan of cinema get by without having seen this film? I think you understand the situation.
The film is about Joe Gillis, a hack screenwriter, who we first meet face down dead in the pool. The rest of the film shows us how he got that way. He’s unable to get anything sold at the beginning, then, while being chased by men trying to repossess his car, ends up in the mansion of Norma Desmond, a former silent film actress (played by Goria Swanson, a former silent film actress), who is old an delusional and wants to be in pictures again. She hires him to write a script for her that will allow her to become a star again. And the rest of the film is him working with her, then, eventually, trying to get away from her. It’s a great film, and, I’m about 80% certain you’ve already seen this film, which is why I’m not bothering to summarize it any further.
It’s a perfect film, and, honestly, if it weren’t for Carol Reed, I’d say Billy Wilder should have won this award. Wilder’s direction is perfect, but it’s not top five directorial efforts of all time perfect. Which is really the only thing that could keep me from voting for him. As for him vs. Mankiewicz, I’d vote for him, but, if it were between just the two of them, I wouldn’t like the decision, but I’d be able to understand and accept it more than I do now. Either way, I say, if they weren’t gonna give it to Carol Reed, Billy Wilder was the better alternative choice.
My Thoughts: Reed is the only vote here. The ONLY one. To even think anyone else comes close is insane. The Third Man is so far and away the best directorial effort it’s amazing that it didn’t win. It really boggles the mind.
My Vote: Reed
Should Have Won: Reed. And only Reed.
Is the result acceptable?: For my money one of the worst five decisions ever made. It’s not that All About Eve was a bad film — far from it — it’s that The Third Man‘s direction is so good, there’s no way it can’t win in an unbiased year. Of course, unbiased year is the biggest oxymoron in the world when it comes to the Academy, but still. This is like 8 1/2. The direction is so good, anything that beat it would have been a terrible decision. And All About Eve was almost the absolute worst choice in this category. (Well, third or fourth. Which, it’s still terrible.)
Ones I suggest you see: You MUST see The Third Man. I will not say anything more. If you don’t (or haven’t) seen it, we’re done here.
You MUST also see Sunset Boulevard. Seriously, if you’re a film fan and haven’t seen The Third Man or Sunset Boulevard, you really need to reorganize your priorities. You’re doing it wrong.
Same goes for All About Eve. You NEED to see this film. If you haven’t, honestly, how can you even consider yourself a fan of film?
And then, Born Yesterday is really entertaining, topped by a really great Judy Holliday performance. It’s a really great film. Highly recommended. And The Asphalt Jungle is a good noir. John Huston. Well done. Worth checking out if you like noir, John Huston, or heist films in general.