The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1952
Well, since I discussed HUAC and the blacklist in 1951, it’ll save me a lot of trouble here. Most people consider High Noon to be the film that should have won here, but the fact that it was clearly an allegory for standing up to HUAC made them skittish about voting for it. So that explains (sort of) what happened here.
Instead of High Noon, they went with The Greatest Show on Earth for Best Picture. Like An American in Paris the year before this — the film didn’t win anything else (major). That points to it being a compromised decision. It’s like them saying they didn’t want to vote for it either, but they had to play it safe until the heat was off. Gary Cooper did win Best Actor for High Noon, though (talked about here), which is interesting. I guess Gary Cooper transcends communism. Best Actress was Shirley Booth for Come Back, Little Sheba (talked about here), her first film, after many years on the stage. I don’t particularly like the decision (Julie Harris was so much better in The Member of the Wedding), but I can accept it. Best Supporting Actor was Anthony Quinn for Viva Zapata! (talked about here), which is acceptable. Anthony Quinn is awesome. Best Supporting Actress was Gloria Grahame for The Bad and the Beautiful (talked about here), which, while I wouldn’t have voted for it, is a nice way to show the film (which really should have been nominated for Best Picture. It’s actually the film with the most Oscar wins in history without being nominated for Best Picture) some love. And Best Director — which really points to them admitting compromise — went to John Ford for The Quiet Man (talked about here), which was actually a good decision and very well could have happened even if High Noon won Best Picture.
So, the year makes sense, even though it’s not particularly strong. And while I understand the hesitance in voting for High Noon, my big question about it is — so why not just vote for The Quiet Man then? I don’t get it.
BEST PICTURE – 1952
And the nominees were…
The Greatest Show on Earth (Paramount)
High Noon (United Artists)
Moulin Rouge (United Artists)
The Quiet Man (Republic)
The Greatest Show on Earth — This is a movie about circus people. That’s really pretty much what it is. It’s an ensemble set in the Ringling Bros. Circus. Charlton Heston is the manager of the circus, and he’s sleeping with Betty Hutton, a trapeze artist. And there are a bunch of different subplots that happen over the film, like Cornel Wilde as another trapeze artist coming in and vying for Hutton’s affections, and then one with Jimmy Stewart as a clown who is also a wanted fugitive (he was a doctor who mercy killed a woman and is now being sought in connection to it) — there are a bunch of stories and we follow them over the course of several months of their tour.
It’s actually a really strong film. I don’t know why people don’t like it. It’s a really good film. Plus, when you realize why it won, I don’t see why that doesn’t make it an understandable bad decision. Sure, you can still call it one of the worst decisions of all time, but do it the way you do with Citizen Kane, which is, “One film should have won, but it lost because of these outside factors.” The amount of vitriol that’s out there for this film is insane. It’s not that bad! It might have won anyway! Sure, then we’d all really hate on it, but still — yes it’s a bad decision, but no, it’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just a bad Best Picture winner. That’s all. (P.S. If you want to talk shit about this film, see it first. Otherwise your opinion is invalid.)
High Noon — It’s a very simple film, actually. Gary Cooper is a town marshal who is getting married to Grace Kelly, a Quaker, who doesn’t approve of violence. So he’s about to turn in his badge and retire to a peaceful life, until he finds out that Frank Miller, a man who he put away, is getting released from prison and is on the noon train into town to come and kill him with his gang. And Cooper has to man up one more time to take him down, only he discovers that the rest of the town won’t help him. So he has to go into it alone. It’s a great film.
To me, this is the film that should have won here, and I think most people would agree with that.
Ivanhoe — Ivanhoe is like The Adventures of Robin Hood but without all the fun.
I wrote that over a year ago after I saw it. I knew I was starting the blog and would eventually have to talk about this, so I wrote down my opinion of the film so I’d be able to remember it easily. That — that about sums it up, what I wrote. It’s not a bad film, it’s just — not particularly interesting.
The film is about Ivanhoe, a knight under Richard the Lionheart, who goes searching for him when Richard goes missing during the Crusades. And he finds him being held under ransom, which his brother, Prince John, is doing nothing about. (If you’ve seen Robin Hood, you know the basic premise.) So Ivanhoe returns home and tries to raise the ransom money. And he gets some of the money from a Jew, who gives it to him in return for better treatment of the Jews. And then the man’s daughter (Elizabeth Taylor), falls in love with Ivanhoe. And there’s a big joust in the middle of the film, which Ivanhoe also wins but loses in the final match. Then Ivanhoe ends up in the forest with Robin Hood for a while, and there are fights and stuff. Eventually they raise the ransom money, but Prince John captures Elizabeth Taylor and puts a ransom on her. So they have to decide between Richard or her. And they go to get Richard, with Ivanhoe saying he’ll rescue her anyway. And he goes and fights the dude he lost to earlier in the film, and beats him, and then Richard shows up and reclaims his throne. And Ivanhoe ends up with another woman and not Liz (since he’d always loved the other woman).
It’s not a bad movie. In fact it’s quite good. But next to Robin Hood, it’s just not as fun. It feels serious. It doesn’t have that playful quality the other film had. Which I guess could be blamed on Robert Taylor. I don’t know. Either way, it’s a fine film, but definitely should not have won here. At all.
Moulin Rouge — Ah, Moulin Rouge. If you’ve only seen the musical, do yourself a favor and see this too. Be prepared though, it’s vastly different. As much as that one is happy and upbeat, this film is literally a film about a man killing himself slowly.
The film is about Toulouse-Lautrec, the dwarf painter. He’s basically a drunk, and does paintings for these cabarets in order to get free drinks. And he’s sleeping with a prostitute, who is essentially using him for money that she’s gonna use to go get married to another guy. It’s — the film is about the hardships of this man’s life. And it started from birth with him, since the reason he’s so short is because he fell down a flight of stairs as a child and just stopped growing. And we follow him over this existence, and we see him slowly deteriorate until he dies. Which, I’ll admit, sounds depressing. But the film is just so good. José Ferrer is incredible, and John Huston’s direction is incredible — the art direction here is great. You remember how colorful the Baz Luhrmann film is? Well, this is just like that. Which provides a great juxtaposition with the subject matter. It’s amazing.
The film is really good, and definitely should be here. Though it’s no better than a fourth choice. Maybe a third choice. Either way, it was never going to win.
The Quiet Man — Another simple, yet brilliant film.
John Wayne is an American boxer who moves to Ireland after he accidentally kills another man in the ring. And he goes to the town where his family is from. And while there, he meets Maureen O’Hara and falls in love with her. The only thing is, her brother, Victor McLaglen, is unmarried, and won’t let her marry until he gets married. So the town (I love how, in Ford films, the town is a major element of the story) creates this ruse where they convince him a local widow wants to marry him, which gets him to relent and allow his sister to marry Wayne. But then he finds out about the ruse and refuses to give his sister her dowry. And Wayne doesn’t care about that, but, to O’Hara, that’s a big deal. She wants Wayne to confront her brother about it, but he refuses to, since he doesn’t want to fight anymore. Though eventually Wayne does confront him and they have this huge knock-down-drag-out fight all over the town, which is just this great brawl. And eventually they come to terms and everything ends up happy. It’s such a simple and brilliant film. With great shots of the Irish countryside.
The film is amazing, and this is the other film outside High Noon that was well within its rights to win this year. It would have held up just fine. I still can’t see why, if they didn’t want to vote for High Noon, they wouldn’t just go with this.
My Thoughts: For me, it’s High Noon. It’s High Noon all the way. The Quiet Man got some consideration, but I love High Noon too much.
My Vote: High Noon
Should have won: High Noon, The Quiet Man
Is the result acceptable?: No. Definitely one of the poorer choices in Oscar history but not one of the worst. It’s only bad because of what it beat. It’s actually a fine film. It’s competition was just better, which makes it a bad choice. Plus when you take it in context, you can understand it. So, while it’s not acceptable, you can’t call it one of the worst decisions if you can understand why it happened. Example: which is worse, this film winning or Chariots of Fire winning? I rest my case.
Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen High Noon or The Quiet Man, you’re dead to me and what the hell is wrong with you?
I highly recommend The Greatest Show on Earth. In fact I insist that you see it. Just so you can see that it’s actually not a bad film and is only maligned because it won (which isn’t even its fault). It really is a good film.
Moulin Rouge has about a dozen reasons why you should see it. It’s a John Huston film, it’s colorful, it features an amazing José Ferrer performance, it’s a great film, and it directly lead to the other version. If you know the musical, I highly suggest you see this one too. Luhrmann was clearly influenced by this film, and it shows. The two go great together, and would make a terrific double feature. It’s a really terrific film. I highly recommend it.
Ivanhoe — meh, it’s okay. t’s probably worth seeing. I say see Adventures of Robin Hood instead, but, it’s worth a watch. It’s fun enough.
4) Moulin Rouge
3) The Greatest Show on Earth
2) The Quiet Man
1) High Noon