1954 is a very simple year to recap, so I’ll use this introduction to talk about the widespread changes in the film industry during the 50s. (I’ll save HUAC for 1952.) The Paramount Decision took effect by January 1, 1950. So the 50s as a decade was the first decade where the studios did not have a monopoly on production, distribution and exhibition. They no longer controlled the theaters. So during the 50s was the rise of independent cinema. Drive-Ins. Exploitation movies. Where people like Roger Corman got their start. This thinned out the profit for studios, because they had to fight to get people to come see their movies. Not to mention the other thing that threatened the studios in the 50s —
Television. The rise of television was a huge threat to the studios. The studios needed to find a way to get people back into the theater. So you saw these gimmicks start to pop up. Cinerama, Todd AO, Cinemascope — which were all essentially widescreen. You also saw 3D — things like that. Things you could only see in the theater. They also increased “runaway production” in the 50s, shooting more films on location in other countries (Quest examples are Summertime and this year’s Three Coin’s in the Fountain), to give them that feeling that only the movies could.) This also lead the studios into that corner they’d be in during the 60s, trying to use big budget movies to get people into the theater, like Cleopatra and The Sound of Music. Not to mention, the 50s were also huge culturally, with the rise of the “younger” culture. Elvis, rock ‘n’ roll, movies like Rock Around the Clock and The Girl Can’t Help It. (And you saw this reflected in movies when the children of the 50s, like Lucas and Coppola and Spielberg, started making movies.)
As for 1954 as an Oscar year: On the Waterfront basically sweeps. Best Picture, Best Director for Elia Kazan (talked about here), Best Actor for Marlon Brando (talked about here) and Best Supporting Actress for Eva Marie Saint (talked about here). All perfect decisions. Other winners were Grace Kelly as Best Actress for The Country Girl (talked about here), perhaps the most contested Best Actress decision of all time (one I feel was a good one), and Edmond O’Brien as Best Supporting Actor for The Barefoot Contessa (talked about here), which was good based on the actor but not so much based on the role. Though with three Waterfront nominees in the category, it stands to reason why it happened.
So that’s 1954. A strong Oscar year, not a single bad decision. This is definitely one of the better years in Academy history.
BEST PICTURE – 1954
And the nominees were…
The Caine Mutiny (Columbia)
The Country Girl (Paramount)
On the Waterfront (Columbia)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Three Coins in the Fountain (20th Century Fox) (more…)