The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1954
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)
The Caine Mutiny — The title is pretty self-explanatory. Humphrey Bogart takes over as captain on a Navy ship and starts showing signs of mental instability. So the men, in order to prevent him from getting them killed, mutiny. And then they have to defend themselves via court-martial. It’s a perfect film.
This is a film that, were it not for On the Waterfront, might have won here. It’s that good.
The Country Girl — I love this film. This is one of my favorite films I saw on this Quest that I knew nothing about beforehand.
William Holden is a playwright who wants to cast Bing Crosby, a fading alcoholic star, in his new play. He knows it’s perfect for him and will lead to him having a big comeback. Though the backer of the show is worried that Crosby is a drunk and won’t be able to handle it. But Crosby auditions and does a great job and seems like he could do it. But it also seems like he’s lacking confidence in himself. So Holden goes to see him (since he skipped out right after the audition) and meets his wife, played by Grace Kelly. And she seems like a cold woman. So then Crosby agrees to be in the play and starts rehearsals. And all the while, he starts making these comments to Holden about his wife, and, added to her demeanor, it makes it seem as though she’s sapping his confidence and trying to keep him dependent on her. And Holden starts to hate her, because he feels like she’s responsible for his condition. And then he starts making these demands, which seem to clearly be coming from her. So Holden confronts her about it, and then their passions of course take over and they begin an affair. And then it’s revealed that it’s not actually her that’s doing it. It’s Crosby. He’s actually a very demanding alcoholic who is good at manipulating others. And she’s stuck by him because she loves him, and in fact it’s him that’s been ruining her. And then the play goes off and is a hit, and Holden tries to get Kelly to run away with him, figuring that now Crosby is a star again, he doesn’t need her. But she says no, because she loves her husband, and goes back with him.
It’s an amazing film. The performances here are superb. It’s so good. I’m so glad this got nominated so that more people have the chance to see it. It shouldn’t have won, of course, but it should definitely be here.
On the Waterfront — You need to know what this is about. You don’t get a synopsis. It’s On the Waterfront. Come on, now.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers — Oh, this film. This is — and I can say this with the uttermost confidence — the single best musical about Stockholm Syndrome ever created.
The film is about a mountain man with seven brothers. They live in a cabin deep in the woods and know nothing about civilized society. So the oldest brother decides he wants a wife. So he goes into town in order to find a woman. Only his younger brothers — they decide they want wives too. So they all go into town. And while in town, they decide they want certain women. So what do they do? Kidnap them. They take the women and bring them back to their cabin. And, as they go there, a big storm his and causes an avalanche on the road, blocking the path of the townspeople who are chasing after them (because they kidnapped their daughters!). So the women are stuck in the cabin with the men for the winter. And, over the course of the winter, the men learn to behave civilized (manners and stuff), and the women warm up to the men. Literally — Stockholm Syndrome. They were kidnapped, and now they’re all madly in love. And of course, the winter ends and the townspeople come to kill the brothers, and there’s a big screwball scene, and eventually, all the brothers get married to all the girls.
It’s amazing. I’m seriously not kidding here — this is one of the most fun movies I’ve ever seen. And the Stockholm Syndrome bit makes it even better. It’s so good. If it weren’t for On the Waterfront, I might vote for this film on principle. I love it so much. See this movie right now. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.
Three Coins in the Fountain — This is one of the weakest films I’ve ever seen in the Best Picture category. I understand why it’s here, but that still doesn’t change the fact that it’s weak as hell.
The film is about three American girls in Rome who find romance. And it’s shot on location in Italy, and there are all these great Technicolor shots of the country and all that — it makes sense. But the film is nothing more than a simple romance, and not a particularly entertaining one at that. It’s just — there. It’s nice to look at, but there’s no substance here whatsoever.
It’s clearly the #5, no matter how you look at it. This is the only film on this list that shouldn’t be here.
My Thoughts: Let’s not even waste time. On the Waterfront. Nothing else even comes close. It’s a top five or ten decision of all time.
My Vote: On the Waterfront
Should have won: On the Waterfront
Is the result acceptable?: One of the top five or ten best decisions of all time.
Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen On the Waterfront, you should stop watching movies, because you’re doing it wrong.
I highly, highly, highly, highly recommend Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. If we were friends, I would make you sit down and watch this one, because it’s impossible to not enjoy it. It is such a rip-roaring good time, and is without a doubt, the single best musical about Stockholm Syndrome there has ever been.
The Caine Mutiny is a classic, and you need to see it. End of story.
The Country Girl is a terrific film, that I cannot recommend highly enough. William Holden, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly — it’s amazing. I think you need to see it. Plus, you get to throw your hat in the ring on the Grace vs. Judy decision. It’s one of the better films on this Oscar Quest, and considering how low profile it is, I consider it a real hidden gem.
Three Coins in the Fountain is okay, I guess. Basically a romance with nice shots of Rome. The film is of absolutely no substance whatsoever. Maybe you’ll enjoy it. I’m mostly indifferent toward it.
5) Three Coins in the Fountain
4) The Country Girl
3) The Caine Mutiny
2) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
1) On the Waterfront