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The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1947

1947 is a pretty weak year, I feel. Gentleman’s Agreement was the obvious choice for Best Picture, but the nominees felt really weak. The Bishop’s Wife is weak, Crossfire is a B movie, and, in a stronger year, it would be more awesome that it got nominated. Here, it brings the rest of the nominees down. Great Expectations also doesn’t help make the nominees any stronger, even though it’s a great film. And Miracle on 34th Street also doesn’t help make things stronger. So, while they made the right choice, I can’t help but feel the year is a blank in history. The other categories don’t help matters much.

Ronald Colman wins Best Actor for A Double Life, which is a career achievement award. The category was really weak. Gregory Peck gave the best performance, but he won one later, so the Colman win works. Though, again, it doesn’t help this year seem stronger. Best Actress went to Loretta Young for The Farmer’s Daughter, which is considered by many (but not me. You know my preoccupation with 1970) to be the worst Best Actress decision of all time. Rosalind Russell really should have won that for Mourning Becomes Electra. Then Best Supporting Actor was Edmund Gwenn for Miracle on 34th Street (talked about here), which makes perfect sense, since he played Santa Claus. The lone strong decision of this this year (outside of this category). And Best Supporting Actress was Celeste Holm for Gentleman’s Agreement (talked about here), which is a good decision, but the category was really shitty. It doesn’t help the year any.

And the year is capped off by this decision, which — what the hell did you think they were gonna do?

BEST DIRECTOR – 1947

And the nominees are…

George Cukor, A Double Life

Edward Dmytryk, Crossfire

Elia Kazan, Gentleman’s Agreement

Henry Koster, The Bishop’s Wife

David Lean, Great Expectations

Cukor — A Double Life is about an actor who can’t differentiate between life and art. Ronald Colman is a great stage actor who gets really immersed into his roles. And now he’s playing Othello. And it starts to cause him to have blackouts, and go into fits of rage. And one day, with his mistress, he kills her, as if he’s reenacting a scene from the play. And he starts to slowly lose his grip on reality, wondering whether or not what happened was real (kind of like an actor version of American Psycho), which culminates with him, at the end of Othello on the stage, stabbing himself for real (kind of like Black Swan).

I have mixed feelings toward this film. I had read a synopsis of it a long time ago, and loved it. I’ve always loved the idea of this. And I was always very excited to see this movie, yet somehow never got around to it. Then I watched it for this Quest, and — I have to say, the film really underwhelmed. It was very theatrical and histrionic. It seemed like it fulfilled none of the promise of the original concept. Of course, this may have a lot to do with my expectations for the film, but even so, the film was just underwhelming in general to me. I didn’t even like Colman’s performance, even though I thought it seemed like a slam dunk best actor choice given what the role entailed.

As for the direction — it’s fine. Cukor does an okay job with it. I found it kind of theatrical. But even so — it’s up against Gentleman’s Agreement, and I can think of no reason why I’d vote for this effort over that one, so, that’s really all the reasoning I need, isn’t it?

Dmytryk — Crossfire is a film I respect very much, even though I’d probably never watch it on a regular basis.

It’s a B movie about the killing of a Jewish man by a soldier. And it’s a procedural, with the police questioning all the people involved who were seen with the man and trying to figure out who did it. And they discover that it was an Anti-Semitism thing, and the film is basically just them figuring out who did it. There’s really not much to say by way of a plot except — it’s the only B movie ever nominated for Best Picture, which is a pretty big deal. It almost certainly got nominated because Anti-Semitism was the big issue of 1947. Them tagging this on the Best Picture list is both a product of a weak year and the fact that they really wanted Gentleman’s Agreement to win. It’s like when Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx were nominated in both lead and supporting categories. You know they were gonna give them lead, it’s jut the extra nomination confirmed the fact. Like the Academy saying, “So we’re all on board on this one, right?”

I can’t in good conscience for this effort for Best Director. It’s a programmer. There’s nothing groundbreaking or outstanding about it. It’s just there. No one in their right mind (unless they specifically like the idea of a B movie winning Best Director) would ever vote for this. No way.

Kazan — Gentleman’s Agreement is about Anti-Semitism. But in a movie way.

Gregory Peck is a reporter who is tasked to write a magazine article on Anti-Semitism. And he decides he needs an angle. So what he does is, he decides to start telling people he’s Jewish. So that’s what he does. He decides to start saying he’s Jewish and see how people respond. And he starts noticing that people treat him differently when they think he’s Jewish. He starts being discriminated against, and starts to realize just how pervasive Anti-Semitism is in society, right down to the simple act of not speaking up when someone makes a hurtful comment in the presence of non-Jews. It’s a really strong film. The film obviously had more of an impact back when it was released, but the ideas behind it are universal and absolutely right. It’s message, while specific to one area of discrimination, is still a good message. And that’s what makes this a great film.

The direction on the film wasn’t the best effort in the category. It wasn’t. David Lean did a much better job. But, it was the Best Picture winner, and Lean would win two Best Director statues after this. And this was Kazan’s second (even though it was the first of the two, chronologically), so, to me, it works out with him winning here. Him and Lean were both amply rewarded by the Academy.

Koster — The Bishop’s Wife is a Christian fairy tale made less religious by Cary Grant.

David Niven is a bishop who wants to build a new church. But he can’t get the money. So he prays for help. Along comes Cary Grant, an angel, to help him out. And Grant basically comes in and makes Niven’s life better. He helps him become a better person. And no one can see Grant except Niven and his family. And Grant helps them all out. There’s even a scene (that they used in Elf) where Grant, with his otherworldly strength, helps their kid win a snowball fight against the other kids (it’s exactly the same scene). And that’s pretty much the film. It’s uplifting, feel-good, and it’s Cary Grant. It’s a great film and a classic story. It’s been remade at least twice (most recently with Denzel in the Cary Grant role). This and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir are the two great fantasy films of 1947. Oh, and Miracle on 34th Street. These all coming the year after It’s a Wonderful Life. Says a lot about the post-war years, doesn’t it?

Anyway, it’s a good film. I wouldn’t even dream of giving it Best Director though. Especially if Frank Capra didn’t win for It’s a Wonderful Life. You can’t give this light entertainment Best Director over Gentleman’s Agreement. You just can’t. The only thing that beats that film is sheer quality. Which…

Lean — Great Expectations is such an amazing film. I was so surprised at how much I was drawn into this one. I remember when I read the book in high school, I loved the first bunch of chapters, with Pip and Magwitch and Joe and all that. And even the early scenes with him as a kid with Miss Havisham. But after that, once he got older, I completely lost interest in the novel. I did like the end, once Magwitch came back, but even then — not as much. That and, I read it in high school, and it just had an overall negative connotation to it. And I don’t have a very high opinion on classical literary adaptations to begin with. I always find them either really boring (because they just follow the novel and are all the same), or just really pointless (again, just remaking the same thing over and over). Though, with books or plays or whatever like this, there’s always one version of them that stands out as the best. All Quiet on the Western Front — it’s the 1930 version. Phantom of the Opera — the 1925 version. This film? This version. No other film version compares.

The film, in case you didn’t go to high school, is about Pip, a young boy, who, at the beginning of the book, encounters a convict. He gets him food and helps him get rid of his shackles. He is eventually recaptured, but he respects Pip’s attempts to help him. Pip then goes to Miss Havisham a crazy old white woman who was left at the altar, and now sits in her house, with her clocks set to the exact time of day when she was left, has the house exactly as it was on that day, and sits there in her wedding dress. She’s crazy. And she basically uses him to exact revenge on the male gender. She has a young ward, Estella, who she sees Pip really likes. And she raises Estella to basically draw in Pip and get him to love her, then continually spurn him. And the film is basically about Pip becoming a gentleman. It’s a really great film.

Lean shoots the hell out of it. It’s just a gorgeous, gorgeous film. Every shot is just beautiful. This, hands down, was my favorite directorial effort. But I won’t be voting for it, because, well — you can read it right now…

My Thoughts: To me, this is an easy decision, between Lean and Kazan. Lean won two Oscars after this, so while I liked his effort the best, I’m taking Kazan. He directed the Best Picture winner, and, between this, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, East of Eden, Splendor in the Grass and America, America, he earned two Oscars (at least. So this is really easy, cut and dry, great decision. Elia Kazan. All the way.

My Vote: Kazan

Should Have Won: Kazan, Lean

Is the result acceptable?: Absolutely. The ‘My Thoughts’ section covered it pretty effectively, so if you’re just skimming and looking for just this part, the reasoning is up there.

Ones I suggest you see: Gentleman’s Agreement is probably an essential film. I don’t really know why it wouldn’t be. It’s great, it’s a Best Picture winner, and it’s about a big issue. So, if it’s not an essential film, I’ll put it like this — if you haven’t seen this film and don’t want to, you hate Jews.

Great Expectations is the best screen version of the novel, and it’s really well done by Lean. The film is just gorgeously shot. And wholly engaging too. I remember tuning out of the novel once Pip became a teenager, but here, I was with this film all the way. It’s amazing. You should definitely see this movie, especially if you’ve ever read the book. This is definitely the best version that’s out there.

The Bishop’s Wife is a great film. Nice and fun and family friendly. It’s a film you watch around Christmas time. It’s a very famous story, too. I know they’ve remade this at least once, and it’s probably been used as the template for a bunch of episodes for TV kids shows. You should absolutely see this movie. It’s awesome.

Crossfire I recommend because it’s the B movie version (sort of) of Gentleman’s Agreement. The only B movie ever nominated for Best Picture, and a pretty good film. Just, don’t expect an A picture here. B movies were kind of like straight to DVD features are now, only classier. But this is a good film. I recommend it. It’s worth putting in as the first half of a double feature with Gentleman’s Agreement.

A Double Life is a film I don’t really like, except the concept is something I’m in love with. I love the idea of the actor who can’t differentiate between his role and himself, and it causes him to go crazy, and (in this case), stab himself on stage. This is actually like the male version of Black Swan in a way. Also an Oscar winner. That would be an interesting double feature. Anyway, I don’t love the film, I think it’s too — I don’t know, histrionic — but I love the concept. That alone is probably worth checking it out.

Rankings:

5) Dmytryk

4) Koster

3) Cukor

2) Kazan

1) Lean

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