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The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1941

I don’t have to say anything about 1941. We know Citizen Kane should have won. Let’s not dwell on that. (Though for a very quick history, it’s thought that the reason the film didn’t win is because William Randolph Hearst made huge threats against Hollywood simply because the film was even coming out. So it’s thought that people deliberately didn’t vote for it because they feared him. So if that’s the case, we can’t be angry at this decision. We can only understand it, and be disappointed.)

Since Kane wasn’t being voted for, How Green Was My Valley won Best Picture, Best Director for John Ford (talked about here), and Best Supporting Actor for Donald Crisp (talked about here). None should have happened, though the Crisp win is the closest to being okay (and it probably is. I just love Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon). Best Actor was Gary Cooper for Sergeant York (talked about here), which, as an alternative to Orson Welles, it’s fine. Best Actress was Joan Fontaine for Suspicion (talked about here), which was a makeup Oscar for the year before this, which is okay (even though Greer Garson gave the best performance. Though she got her Oscar the year after this, so everything worked out). And Best Supporting Actress was Mary Astor for The Great Lie (talked about here), which seems insignificant, but if you realize she was also in The Maltese Falcon this year, it becomes a good decision (though for a forgettable film).

So, in all, when you ignore the controversy, this is a very serviceable year. But the controversy is going to outshine everything, so it’s pretty much always going to be considered a bad year.

BEST PICTURE – 1941

And the nominees were…

Blossoms in the Dust (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Citizen Kane (RKO Radio)

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (Columbia)

Hold Back the Dawn (Paramount)

How Green Was My Valley (20th Century Fox)

The Little Foxes (RKO Radio)

The Maltese Falcon (Warner Bros.)

One Foot in Heaven (Warner Bros.)

Sergeant York (Warner Bros.)

Suspicion (RKO Radio)

Blossoms in the Dust — This is a film about a real woman who, when she loses her child, decides to dedicate her life to helping orphaned children find homes. And we follow this woman from the beginning. She has a child, the child dies tragically, then she’s started taking in orphaned children, then she’s started an entire service, there’s a trial — it’s a whole thing. The film is amazing. I can’t explain it more without going moment by moment, but it’s really terrific.

What I really liked most about the film was its use of ellipses. It glosses over all the major melodramatic moments after the first big one (the kid dying). They fast forward past all those big decisions and major moments. The child dies, and then instead of showing her grieving, they immediately cut to her at parties, almost drinking the pain away. She’s all socially happy and drinking, and we see her husband try to get her to adopt a child. And during the scene, we can put together what happened and how they got to this point without needing to see all the scenes in between. Then, instead of showing her choosing to adopt the child her husband wants her to adopt (she responds very negatively to it, and we only see her coming around on it at the end), we immediately cut to her with a daycare that houses two dozen kids during the day. Then, later, when she’s in court (she sits in on the cases of orphans), she sees one family that doesn’t want to adopt a baby that came from a prostitute. And as they’re about to take the kid back to the orphanage, she stands up and just says, “Judge…”, and we immediately cut to the next scene, where she’s adopted that child and another one. And we don’t need to see anything that happens in between because the ellipses take care of everything. I really like that the film did it that way.

I really liked this film a lot, but in this field, it had no shot. No shot at all. Because…

Citizen Kane — Yes.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan — You’ve seen one version of this film before. You might not know it but you have.

Joe Pendleton is a boxer. He’s just gotten a fight against the world champ. One day, he dies very suddenly. And he ends up in heaven. Only, when he gets there, he says there’s no way he belongs there. He knows there’s been a mistake. He had so much going for him, things were looking up — he knows he wasn’t supposed to die yet. So they look into it, and they discover — no, he actually wasn’t supposed to die yet. What happened was, the angel sent to retrieve his soul from his body, feeling sorry for him, pulled him out just before he died to save him the pain. The only thing was, he was supposed to live. The angel just assumed there was no way he could have survived. So now there’s a major issue to solve. So what they decide to do is give him a temporary body for the time being until they can find him a permanent body. And he ends up in the body of a millionaire whose wife and her lover have just poisoned him in the bathtub. And he gets up, alive, and scares the shit out of them. Sound familiar yet?

So now he’s this millionaire. And he goes back to his manager and convinces him that he’s him (him him, not the millionaire), and gets him to train him for the championship fight. Meanwhile, he falls in love with a woman who thinks he’s the millionaire. However, the body is only meant to be temporary, and he is killed by his wife (the millionaire’s wife). And now he’s upset because he was just getting to fall in love, he was training for the fight — things were going well. But then he ends up in the body of the guy who took his place in the championship fight (since he was supposed to take a dive and was shot by a crooked promoter during the fight when he didn’t), wins just like he was going to, and even manages to meet the woman he was in love with, who came looking for his manager (though at this point they’ve wiped his memory of his past life).

The story is amazing. Every time it’s been told, the movie’s been great. My personal favorite version is Heaven Can Wait, the Warren Beatty version. This one I feel is second best. (The Chris Rock version, Down to Earth — it’s good, but you should see one of these two. Don’t just see that one and think you’ve seen the story.) Either way, it’s amazing. I can’t vote for it over Citizen Kane, but it’s amazing. (P.S. Every generation should have a version of this movie. It’s like A Star is Born. I think we’re due for a classy adaptation at some point in the next ten to fifteen years.)

Hold Back the Dawn — They’ll make a melodrama about anything, won’t they?

Charles Boyer is a Romanian gigolo who is trying to get into the U.S. He’s staying in Mexico, and meets Olivia de Havilland, a schoolteacher who is worried she’ll become a spinster. He seduces her and makes her fall in love with him. They get married. He feels bad because she’s really in love with him. She finds out then rushes back to the U.S. She gets into a car accident. He realizes he actually loves her. He rushes to her side to be with her (even though he knows entering the country illegally will ruin his chances at getting into the country legally). But the officer investigating him sees he’s in love and doesn’t report him. And then he gets into the country and he and de Havilland live happily ever after.

It’s a straight melodrama. Not particularly great, but solid. Watchable. de Havilland starts perfecting that persona she started with Gone With the Wind. That woman who is so naively optimistic that you just feel bad for her because you know only bad things can befall her. But, overall, the film is decent. No shot here at all, though.

How Green Was My Valley — It shouldn’t have won.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get into how good this film is. Because you have to say that first in order to realize just how good this film is.

It’s about a Welsh mining family. And we follow them over some time and all the events that befall them. The mother almost drowns but is saved by the youngest son, who loses the use of his legs for a while because of it. And all the older sons work in the coal mine with the father. And the sons oppose the low wages of the mine and want to start a union, but the father opposes this, being a traditionalist, and it’s a source of conflict within the household, especially when the brothers go on strike. And then the elder sister of the family falls in love with the town preacher. But there’s is a doomed love affair, and she ends up in a marriage to a man she doesn’t love. And then there are the John Ford touches, like the scene where the older brothers teach the younger brother how to fight, and the scene where they come and beat up the boy’s teacher after he picks on him a little too much. And the film ends with the father dying in an accident at the mine.

It’s a great film. It’s a really great film. There’s no denying that. The thing is, though — it’s no Citizen Kane.

The Little Foxes — Oh, the Bette Davis melodrama. How I hate thee.

Basically, as far as I can tell, after multiple watches of this film — it’s about Bette Davis being a huge bitch. She despises her husband. She thinks he’s weak. So she torments him. She berates him so much it kills him. Then her kids find out she’s responsible and leave her, because she’s a huge bitch. I’ve watched this film twice, that’s all I got out of it.

I really don’t like these types of movies at all. I did not like this film. Even so — Citizen Kane. Doesn’t matter. Wasn’t winning.

The Maltese Falcon — It’s The Maltese Falcon. Come on.

One Foot in Heaven — This might be the single most boring film I watched on this Quest. Okay, maybe not single most. But top ten, certainly.

Frederic March is a preacher who moves from parish to parish. And we follow him as he takes his family from place to place. And the film is basically about him adhering to classical views of religion (i.e. strict), but then learns to appreciate the more progressive younger beliefs.

It’s a religious film, about a guy with strong faith who goes, “You know, I can be religious in a different way!”

Yeah — I hated this.

Sergeant York — This is a pretty major film. But I’ll give a quick synopsis anyway.

Alvin York (Gary Cooper) is a backwoods country rabble-rouser. He’s irresponsible, drinks, gets into fights. He’s also a real crack shot. But one day he gets struck by lightning and has an epiphany. (This is all based on a real guy, in case you didn’t know.) He becomes very religious and straight-arrow. He gives up fighting of all kinds. But then World War I breaks out. And he has a crisis of conscience, because he wants to help his country, but he also doesn’t want to fight. He gets drafted, despite trying to be labeled a conscientious objector, and they discover he’s a crack shot. Only, he says he doesn’t want to fight. So his understanding commanding officer sends him home for two weeks and tells him to search his soul and decide what he thinks is best. So he decides he’ll fight, and then ends up saving an entire platoon full of men with his great shooting. And then he returns home a national hero.

It’s an amazing film. It’s a real classic. Nearly perfect film. Only, you know what it’s not? It’s not Citizen Kane.

Suspicion — Ah, Hitch. These were the good days, weren’t they, Hitch? When the Academy gave a shit about your films?

This film is about Joan Fontaine, who meets Cary Grant and falls in love with him. They get married and move in together. And pretty soon, he starts behaving erratically. And she starts to think that he’s planning on killing her. And the whole film is her getting more and more paranoid about it and him seeming more and more like he’s planning on doing it. And it’s Hitchcock, so you can guess what happens, especially given the leads, but I won’t ruin it. It’s a great film. Not one of his absolute best, but it’s definitely one of his stronger ones.

The film is really solid, but again, no Citizen Kane.

My Thoughts: Really?

My Vote: Citizen Kane

Should have won: Citizen Kane

Is the result acceptable?: This is either the worst or second-worst decision of all time. Most people would consider it the worst, I consider it a close second. Only because I know why they didn’t vote for it. Still, this is a fucking awful decision. It’s universally agreed that this is in the top five (if not the #1) worst decisions ever made by the Academy.

Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Citizen Kane, you should not be allowed to watch movies ever again.

If you haven’t seen The Maltese Falcon, you’re dead to me.

If you haven’t seen Sergeant York, you don’t really love movies.

You need to see one version of Here Comes Mr. Jordan. That’s essential. I recommend Heaven Can Wait first, then this one. (If you’ve only seen Down to Earth, that doesn’t count.) I say you should see them both. They’re both very entertaining.

I really love Blossoms in the Dust. It’s amazing. I highly recommend that one. (You can tell by my ranking that I really like it.)

How Green Was My Valley, despite all the crap it gets — is a great film. It really is. It’s an amazing film. Its reputation is just damaged because it beat Citizen Kane. But honestly, it has nothing to do with the film. So actually, I say this is essential. If you want to talk shit about it, you should see it first.

Suspicion is a Hitchcock, and I say all of his films are essential. So see it. It’s amazing to boot.

Hold Back the Dawn — unabashed melodrama. It’s okay. Not essential, probably worth a watch. You can see Olivia de Havilland perfecting that likable tragic character that she’d perfect in her Oscar winning performances. (You can tell she learned from Gone With the Wind.)

The Little Foxes — it’s something. Some people like it. I hate the Bette Davis melodrama, so I can’t recommend this, because I really didn’t like it at all. But I’ll mention it.

And, One Foot in Heaven — I’ll never tell someone not to watch a movie, but — you can skip this one. (You know me and religious films. This one was boring to boot.)

Rankings:

10) One Foot in Heaven

9) The Little Foxes

8) Hold Back the Dawn

7) Suspicion

6) Here Comes Mr. Jordan

5) How Green Was My Valley

4) Sergeant York

3) Blossoms in the Dust

2) The Maltese Falcon

1) Citizen Kane

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