The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1952
Ah, the big fuck up. Which isn’t really a fuck up in hindsight, because they fixed their mistake in post. But, in this category, it’s a fuck up.
Actually, 1952 in general is a fuck up year. The Greatest Show on Earth wins Best Picture in a copout decision because the Academy didn’t want to vote for High Noon. Terrible decision, but despite what you may have heard, the film really isn’t that bad. It’s just not a Best Picture winner. Then Gary Cooper wins Best Actor for High Noon (talked about here), which really makes you wonder why they bothered to not vote for it in the first place. Why not just make it uniform, like you did with Citizen Kane? Either way, Krik Douglas should have won here.
Then Shirley Booth wins Best Actress for Come Back, Little Sheba (talked about here), which I don’t like as a decision at all. At best it’s a forgettable choice. Best Supporting Actor was Anthony Quinn for Viva Zapata! (talked about here), which I’ve come to accept as an okay decision, but is one I wouldn’t have made. And Best Supporting Actress was Gloria Grahame for The Bad and the Beautiful, which, as I discussed here, I’m sort of okay with, because the film got some attention, but she really wasn’t the best performance in the category, and the whole thing is just kind of fucked up and confusing.
That’s what 1952 is. A year that’s fucked up and confusing. Nothing makes sense, none of the decisions are all that great, and everyone just kind of walks away from it going, “What happened?” Kind of like a party at my house.
BEST DIRECTOR – 1952
And the nominees were…
Cecil B. DeMille, The Greatest Show on Earth
John Ford, The Quiet Man
John Huston, Moulin Rouge
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 5 Fingers
Fred Zinnemann, High Noon
DeMille — The Greatest Show on Earth is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. It’s not. Don’t confuse “Bad Best Picture winner” with “Bad film” — unless we’re talking about Chariots of Fire.
The film is about circus people. Charlton Heston runs a circus, and they travel from town to town by train. And we see all the many things that happen. Like, Heston is sleeping with Betty Hutton, who is the trapeze star, but another star trapeze act (Cornel Wilde) shows up and Heston promotes him as the star over Hutton, regardless of the fact that they’re sleeping together. And she’s upset because he won’t tell her he loves her — that sort of thing. And then Jimmy Stewart is a clown who is also a convicted felon on the run from the police. He’s a doctor who mercy killed his wife, and is wanted for it. A bunch of stuff like that. And it’s a fascinating film. I really enjoyed it. It’s nice and epic and ensemble — I liked it a lot.
As for a vote, I wouldn’t put it more than third. But the thing is — it doesn’t matter. This isn’t a normal year. Honestly, to make things less confusing, if the Academy wasn’t voting for Fred Zinnemann, they should have voted for De Mille.
Ford — The Quiet Man is a pet project of John Ford’s. He made Rio Grande for the studio just so they’d allow him to make this.
The film is about John Wayne, an American boxer, fleeing the country because he accidentally killed a man inside the ring, going back to his childhood village in Ireland in order to get away from it all and get back to his roots. And he gets there, meets Maureen O’Hara, and falls in love with her. The thing is, O’Hara’s brother, Victor McLaglen, is unmarried. And the way it works is, she can’t get married unless he does. He refuses to let her get married. And this upsets Wayne, but, what happens is, the town bands together and decides to create a little ruse. What they do is, they make it so a local widow pretends she’s interested in McLaglen. And he’s over the moon and allows Wayne to marry O’Hara (for the dowry, of course). But then, after Wayne and O’Hara are married, McLaglen finds out it was all a ruse, and demands the dowry back. And it leads to him and Wayne having a big fistfight/brawl all over the town. And then, afterward, they decide they like each other and everything’s okay again. That’s it. That’s the film. It’s so awesome. There’s something so great about it it can’t be put into words.
The film was shot on location in Ireland, which really makes it look gorgeous. I honestly almost voted for Ford myself. based purely on directorial effort, I can see why he’d be their choice. Subjectively, though, I’m still voting for Fred Zinnemann.
Huston — Moulin Rouge is a great film. This is essentially the Baz Luhrmann movie, told from a completely different perspective. And not happy, either. It’s a really great companion piece. It’s about Toulouse-Lautrec, the painter and dwarf, played by John Leguizamo in the Luhrmann version.
Here, he’s played by José Ferrer. He’s an alcoholic, and spends all his time drinking in the cabarets around Paris, and trading paintings for drinks. And he basically just goes around doing that for a while and slowly dying. That’s really all there is to say about this film. It’s about slow death. And yet, it’s utterly captivating at the same time, because Ferrer is so fucking good as Toulouse-Lautrec. It’s a really great film that most people won’t see because they either think it won’t be as good as (or is the same film as) the Baz Luhrmann version.
This film is incredibly well-directed. It’s so colorful — it looks gorgeous. It’s a really gorgeous-looking film. The thing is, though, Huston won an Oscar already, and that really takes him out of the race for me, because Fred Zinnemann did such a great job with High Noon.
Mankiewicz — 5 Fingers is by far the most likely film on this list that people would not have seen. By far. And it’s actually a really good film. Not as good as the rest of them, but, look at the company it’s in.
The film is about an English ambassador, who is essentially a butler, working as a spy for the Germans. And James Mason plays the dude, and he’s the last person anyone would expect to be a spy, and he sneaks around, taking photographs of all these important documents, and no one can figure out how the Germans are getting all this information. And Mason is doing this for clemency in Germany as well as a lot of money. He’s also in love with a German countess, and plans on running away with her. And what happens is, the British find out about him, and he goes to Germany. But, the Germans decide they don’t want him, so he ends up having to run from both sides. It’s a well-made film. Highly recommended. It’s very entertaining.
The directorial effort is fine. But, in a list like this, you can’t help but put it at #5. Not just because it was the weakest, but because Mankiewicz had two Oscars by this point. And he wasn’t getting the third off this effort. He just wasn’t. (Not to mention that I don’t agree with either of his wins. That makes it even less likely that I’d even consider voting for him here.)
Zinnemann — Here’s your winner. It’s not even close for me. This is your winner, cut and dry, give him the statue. The Academy must have agreed with me, because he was an easy winner the year after this for From Here to Eternity in a category that should have been a bit more competitive.
Anyway, the film is about a sheriff who once cleaned up a town of all its corruptive influences who is now getting married and retiring. However, after the wedding, they find out that the main dude who the sheriff put in jail is about to get released, and is getting his old gang back together in order to come back and kill the sheriff. And what happens is, the people tell the sheriff to leave, they’ll handle it, so he doesn’t get killed on his wedding day. But he can’t do it. He goes back, because it’s the right thing to do. But the thing is, when he goes back to round up a posse to help him, everyone turns him down. They all refuse to help him. he ends up having to face all the men by himself.
It’s a great film. Seriously — this is a masterpiece for all time. There’s no way you can tell me Zinnemann shouldn’t have won here, all things considered. He’s definitely the vote. And if not him, it’s DeMille. So, take your pick.
My Thoughts: I just don’t understand this category. It’s pretty clear that High Noon was the choice they wanted to make, otherwise they wouldn’t have tried so hard to not notice it. It’s like when Danny runs into Sandy in front of all of his buddies, and he has to act like he would around them so as not to be thought of as less of a man by them. The fact that they voted The Greatest Show on Earth for Best Picture and not here tells you that their only concern was not voting for High Noon.
But what I don’t get is — why not just give The Greatest Show on Earth both awards? At least then you can say, “Well, it won both Picture and Director, so while they’re both not good decisions, you can at least understand the sync up.” This is why, as bad of choices as The English Patient, Dances with Wolves, The King’s Speech and Out of Africa are as Best Picture, you can at least understand why they also won Best Director. Plus, John Ford has, until now, won Best Director three times, for The Informer, The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley. Why did he need the fourth one? And on the other hand, the man who directed The Greatest Show on Earth is Cecil B. DeMille, a Hollywood legend. By now, the dude is synonymous with great director — the motherfucker is part of one of the most famous scenes with one of the most famous lines in Hollywood history! The line isn’t “All right, Mr. Mankiewicz, I’m ready for my close-up.” It’s Mr. DeMille. Everybody knows Cecil B. DeMille. Why wouldn’t you also give him this award?
And on the opposite side, why not just give The Quiet Man Best Picture? It makes no goddamn sense!
And then, the biggest monkey wrench of them all is the fact that Gary Cooper wins Best Actor for High Noon. Well if you’re not voting for it, why give it any award at all? And don’t give me any of that, “Well, they were voting for the man and not for the film,” bullshit. The man knew what kind of film he was making. The man stands for the film. Do you think he didn’t know the film was an attack on the anti-communist witch hunts? So if you’re gonna give it that award, why not give it Best Director too? It seems as though you don’t want to reward the film itself because of the controversy of its message, but you’re perfectly willing to reward those who worked on or in the film because of their standout work. So why not give Fred Zinnemann this award? You can still give The Greatest Show on Earth Best Picture. We’d have understood that. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever how they went about making this decision.
By the way, it’s pretty clear that Fred Zinnemann gave the best effort here and deserved to win. In case you didn’t know who I was voting for.
My Vote: Zinnemann
Should Have Won: Zinnemann
Is the result acceptable?: No. And I hate to say it, since John Ford directed the hell out of the picture. But he had three statues already, and he just didn’t need the fourth. Fred Zinnemann should have won. Okay, but even if you don’t want to give it to Zinnemann, why not just give it to DeMille, a legend in his own right who never won an Oscar? It makes no sense. So simply based on the fact that they could have made a better decision and still not given it to the most deserving person, I say the decision is not acceptable. John Ford winning for The Quiet Man on its own is fine. Just, not in context.
Ones I suggest you see: High Noon. You need to see it. End of story.
Actually, let’s open the book back up for a second. If you like film, you need to see this. No complaining, you need to see it. And even if you don’t like westerns, there are about five or six westerns you need to see as a film person. This is one of those movies. Genre aside, you need to see it.
The Quiet Man is a great film. I think it might be essential too. If it isn’t, it’s damn close. So, just see it and don’t chance it.
The Greatest Show on Earth is also a really good film. It’s not as bad as you were led to believe. It’s perfectly watchable and is actually quite an entertaining movie. Just don’t go into it expecting something better than those first two films and you’ll be fine.
Moulin Rouge is also a great film. Just don’t expect the other Moulin Rouge!, because you won’t get it. But still, I recommend this film very highly. It’s really, really amazing.
5 Fingers is also a good film. It’s the weakest in the category, but overall a strong film, and one of those, if you watched it in the middle of the day on TCM, you’d have really enjoyed it. So see it. I bet you’ll enjoy it.