The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1948
I consider 1948 to be the single worst Best Picture decision in the history of the Academy Awards. With good reason, too. Take a look at those nominees. The fact that they went the way they did, while wholly unsurprising, is still just terrible. Maybe I make a bigger deal out of it than it is, but I feel strongly about it.
Outside of Best Picture, Hamlet also won Laurence Olivier a well-deserved Best Actor (talked about here), which was a good decision aided by a horribly weak category (the snub for Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra Madre is horrendous). Best Actress was Jane Wyman for Johnny Belinda (talked about here), which I consider to be a top five decision for all time. I love her performance so much. Best Supporting Actor was Walter Huston for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (talked about here), which he’d had coming for a good twelve years by this point. John Huston also won Best Director for the film (talked about here), which he greatly deserved. And Best Supporting Actress was Claire Trevor for Key Largo (talked about here), which, as much as I love the film, I don’t like as a decision. Though seeing the film there is nice.
So, in all, 1948 is a really strong year. And when you look at these Best Picture nominees, you’d think you couldn’t lose. And then they went with Hamlet. Hamlet? Seriously? From this field?
BEST PICTURE – 1948
And the nominees were…
Hamlet (J. Arthur Rank-Two Cities Films, Universal International)
Johnny Belinda (Warner Bros.)
The Red Shoes (Rank Organisation, Powell & Pressburger, Eagle-Lion Films)
The Snake Pit (20th Century Fox)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Warner Bros.)
Hamlet — There’s really not much to say here in the way of a synopsis. It’s “Hamlet.” On screen. Starring Laurence Olivier.
It’s a great film. My only real issue with it is that it won. Otherwise, it’s great. Probably the seminal Shakespeare film.
Johnny Belinda — This is one of the best films I discovered on this Quest. I love this film so much.
The film begins with Lew Ayres as a country doctor who meets Jane Wyman, a mute woman. She lives with her father and aunt (Charles Bickford and Agnes Moorehead), who think she’s dumb and can’t understand anything. Her father’s taught her to do very simple work, believing she doesn’t have the capacity to do anything more. But Ayres realizes she’s actually very intelligent, and teaches her how to speak sign language. And there’s this great moment where her father realizes she can communicate and gets really excited. It’s like that moment in My Left Foot when Christy writes on the floor in chalk, and his father brings him to the pub for a pint.
But anyway, Ayres teaches Wyman sign language, and she falls in love with him, because he’s the only one she’s ever communicated with. And she becomes more integrated in society, and one night, at a town dance, one of the guys in the town drunkenly rapes her. And then she ends up getting pregnant. And the town thinks the doctor did it (since she never says anything about the rape, nor does she know about the pregnancy until the doctor tells her about it). So Wyman has the baby, and starts raising it. And then the guy who raped her comes to see the child, and the father sees him and realizes he’s the father, and goes to town to tell everyone, and there’s a struggle, and the father falls of a cliff to his death. Then the guy gets his wife to rally the town to get Wyman to give up the baby. And they go to get the baby, and Wyman refuses to give the baby up. And the guy tries to get the baby, but Wyman shoots him. And then there’s a trial (because of course there’s a trial), and the doctor testifies for Wyman, but eventually the guy’s wife says she knows he was the father, and Wyman is eventually cleared of all charges.
It’s an amazing film. Wyman’s performance is just incredible. I really fell in love with this one. And, in another year, I might even vote for it. But against The Red Shoes, and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, this can’t be more than a third choice for me.
The Red Shoes — Oh, this film. It’s perfection. Powell and Pressburger were truly artists.
The film is — you know what? You don’t get a synopsis here. I was gonna give you one, but this film is so good (and so essential) that you need to just experience it. Just know that it’s perfect, and it was never going to win here. Hollywood would never let a film like this win. I’m amazed it was even nominated and am ecstatic that even happened. (It was totally good enough to win, though, even though they’d never do it.)
The Snake Pit — This might be the first film I saw on this Quest. Definitely one of the first ones. I remember thinking of this idea in the first week or so after I got home. Or, at least that I was gonna do it. And I remember, it must have been a Saturday afternoon or something, and this came on TCM. So I’ll always remember it for that. And I’ll also always remember it because it’s fucking terrific.
Olivia de Havilland wakes up in a mental hospital and doesn’t know how she got there. She meets a man, who says he’s her husband, but she doesn’t remember him. And the film cuts back and forth between the flashback of how she got there and the treatment her doctor is providing her in order to help her get better.
This film is one of the most realistic and clinical films about mental illness I’ve ever seen. Especially considering it’s 1948. It’s like The Lost Weekend but for mental illness. It’s a little melodramatic, but that’s to be expected from the time period. It’s an amazing film. It really is. It’s very realistic in that — the scenes in the hospital with de Havilland interacting with the other patients — it feels very real.
In terms of this category — it’s a #4 at best, and probably a #5 for many people. Either way, it really had no shot here.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre — You need to have seen this film. You don’t get a synopsis.
The film is perfect. Pretty sure most people, looking back at this year, will say this should have won.
My Thoughts: This is a tough, tough field. I knock Hamlet right off the top. This isn’t 1935. I also knock The Snake Pit off. I love it, but it’s the weakest film on this list. Then, Johnny Belinda has to come off as well. I love it, but it shouldn’t have won. So, between the remaining two — Red Shoes and Treasure of the Sierra Madre — I have to take Sierra Madre. It’s an American film, and it won Best Director. It’s just the better choice for Best Picture. The Red Shoes didn’t need it. So I vote Sierra Madre. It’s a perfect film.
My Vote: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Should Have Won: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Red Shoes
Is the result acceptable?: This, to me, is the worst Best Picture decision of all time. That’s just how I feel about it.
Ones I suggest you watch: If you haven’t seen The Treasure of the Sierra Madre or The Red Shoes, you’re dead to me, and we can’t be friends.
You need to see Johnny Belinda. This was maybe my second favorite film I discovered from this Quest. It’s so amazing. This is my quintessential hidden gem, because I knew nothing about this film when I saw it, and it’s so amazing. This has become one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s so good.
The Snake Pit is amazing. It’s like The Lost Weekend but for mental illness. It’s so good. Another hidden gem. Definitely watch this one.
Hamlet is also a classic. I only give it shit because it shouldn’t have won. It’s still an amazing film that you need to see. It’s essential. You need to see the best Shakespeare films, because they make you a better person.
4) The Snake Pit
3) Johnny Belinda
2) The Red Shoes
1) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre