The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1941
We can all agree that 1941 is one of the biggest travesties in Academy history. How Green Was My Valley, a good film but not a great film, wins Best Picture over Citizen Kane. It’s bad, yes, we know. No need to repeat the obvious.
Donald Crisp also won Best Supporting Actor for the film (talked about here), beating my personal choice, Sydney Greenstreet for The Maltese Falcon. Best Actor this year was Gary Cooper for Sergeant York (talked about here), which, as much as I love the film and as iconic as the character is, I don’t like as a decision. I think Orson Welles should have won for Citizen Kane. But I’m not that upset about it, since Welles really should have won for Screenplay and Director. I could have lived with Cooper winning if Welles had won those other ones. But it’s fine. Then Best Actress was Joan Fontaine for Suspicion, which is a total makeup Oscar for the year before this, where she probably should have won for Rebecca. My personal choice in this category would have been Greer Garson for Blossoms in the Dust, but Fontaine was a good choice considering she didn’t win the year before this. And Best Supporting Actress was Mary Astor for The Great Lie, which on the surface, doesn’t sound like an Oscar-worthy performance. She was fine in the film, but, the real clincher is the fact that she was also in The Maltese Falcon this year. Plus she’s an actress who definitely deserves an Oscar. So that was a great decision.
So, really, 1941 is a great year, outside of Best Picture and Best Director. The rest of the decisions are at worst acceptable and understandable. So, really, we blame William Randolph Hearst for this one, since he single-handedly torpedoed Kane‘s chances. Someone should make a film about Rupert Murdoch, see what happens. (I bet he doesn’t have a pet name for his mistress’s vagina.)
BEST DIRECTOR – 1941
And the nominees were…
John Ford, How Green Was My Valley
Alexander Hall, Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Howard Hawks, Sergeant York
Orson Welles, Citizen Kane
William Wyler, The Little Foxes
Ford — How Green Was My Valley is about a family of Welsh coal miners. That’s basically the story. We see them and what happens to them over a couple of months or years. The young boy is paralyzed after saving his mother from an accident, the father is stern and drives his sons away because of his stubbornness, the daughter has a relationship with the town priest that ends badly. Lots of stuff. It’s a strong film, and has a lot of the John Ford touches that make his films so special. The only downside to it is that it should have won Best Picture and did. If you can get past that, you’re in for a hell of a good movie.
As for the direction — it was very strong. I didn’t expect it to be as strong as it was. It’s shot in glorious black and white. It’s crisp, clean, and beautiful. Thing is — Ford had two Oscars and won the year before this for a far better film. He didn’t need this, and Citizen Kane was a better effort. I get why he won (Hearst), but he shouldn’t have. That’s all there is to it.
Hall — I must have talked about this film like six or seven times already in all, given how many times the story has been nominated for Oscars. This one will be quick.
Have you seen Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty? Have you seen Down to Earth with Chris Rock? Well, this is that same film, just, the first version of it.
A boxer dies in an accident. Problem was, he wasn’t supposed to die. The dude from heaven sent to extract the souls of the dead pulled him out early to save him the agony. They go to put him back, but he’s already been buried. So now, they need to find him a body. They give him a loaner body. A millionaire whose wife and lover poisoned him in his bath. He becomes this guy. He gets in touch with his manager (convincing him that it is him based on his shitty saxophone playing), who helps him train for the big fight. Meanwhile, he falls in love with a woman — as this millionaire guy. But, the body was only a loaner, so, just as he’s getting his life in order, he has to leave that body. But, he’s put in the body of the dude who was to take his place in the big championship fight. So he becomes that guy and wins the fight. And, to top it off, at the end, he meets the girl, and it’s hinted at that they’ll end up together anyway.
It’s a great story, told several times. This version is the second best version (behind the Beatty version). This version has Claude Rains. He’s awesome.
As for the direction — it’s pretty standard. Some camera tricks and such, but, overall — nothing even close to what was achieved with Citizen Kane. This is a no-brainer, people, let’s not waste time talking up stuff that clearly shouldn’t win. The film is amazing, though.
Hawks — Sergeant York is a very famous movie. Gary Cooper isa backwoods country hick who is good with a gun. Most accurate shot for miles. He’s also kind of a fuck up. He drinks, wrassles, gets into trouble. But, one day, he’s struck by lightning and repents. He becomes a religious man. But, war breaks out. He enlists, but is deeply against fighting. He goes and fights anyway, and ends up becoming a war hero.
That’s the film, it’s really amazing, you should see it, it’s a classic. As for the direction — as much as I love Howard Hawks — this being his only nomination — he shouldn’t have won. He was up against Citizen Kane. Shit happens.
Welles — Citizen Kane. ‘Nuff said.
Wyler — The Little Foxes is a film about Bette Davis being a southern bitch. That’s pretty much it. She tries to be independent, but has trouble doing so. And we see her berating her sickly husband, whom she eventually kills by getting him so worked up he has a coronary. And her children are there, and all this other stuff. Quite frankly, the film wasn’t very good. I watched it twice, and was bored both times. Not a fan of Bette Davis and definitely not a fan of this movie.
As for the direction — Wyler would win this award three times, and this film doesn’t hold a candle to some of his other directorial efforts. If he didn’t win for Wuthering Heights (which he shouldn’t have), he shouldn’t have won for this. Clearly the weak link in this category.
My Thoughts: It’s Orson Welles. Come on, now.
My Vote: Welles
Should Have Won: Welles
Is the result acceptable?: No. No matter which way you look at it. John Ford won four of these. This is the one he didn’t need. (And the one after this.) Welles really should have won this.
Ones I suggest you see: Citizen Kane. If I have to say anything, you’re dead to me.
Sergeant York is a great fim and a classic. If you’re serious about loving movies, you need to see this one.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a wonderful story and one you need to see. You need to see one version of this story that isn’t Down to Earth (just because, that’s like seeing Attack of the Clones only and saying you saw Star Wars. No you didn’t). I recommend the Beatty version first, then this one. That’s only if you’re gonna watch one. I say you watch them both, because the story is so good, why wouldn’t you watch them do it different ways? So, highly recommend this one.
How Green was My Valley is a fantastic film. If you can watch it objectively, making peace with the fact that it won, you’re in for a real treat. It’s great. Really well-done, and really engaging. It’s only fault is that it’s not a Best Picture winner.