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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1941-1942)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1941

Blossoms in the Dust

Citizen Kane

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Hold Back the Dawn

How Green Was My Valley

The Little Foxes

The Maltese Falcon

One Foot in Heaven

Sergeant York

Suspicion

Analysis:

Let me start by saying… I hate this category. Because it forces me into the impossible decision by defending a film that needs no defending and shitting on a film that should not be shat upon simply because one film didn’t win for political reasons and has gone on to become known as one of the greatest films ever made. It sucks.

Anyway, let’s get to it…

Blossoms in the Dust is a film that I first saw as a clip in one of my film classes. And I only really know it in the context of that one clip until years (well… three) later when I saw it as part of this Quest. I expected so-so things from it, but actually ended up loving it quite a bit.

The film is based on Edna Gladney. Fictionalized, but based on her. After having a child (which renders her unable to have any more children), the child dies tragically, leaving her heartbroken. She ends up starting a home for orphaned children and fighting for their status in the courts. It’s very fictionalized and sanitized, but I really, really like it.

It’s not the kind of film that probably should have won, but it’s the kind of film I think people would like enough to rank around the top five or so in the category. Though in the end, I doubt it gets a whole lot of votes. Especially since, you know…

Citizen Kane is going to be in pretty much everyone’s top ten list of most important, influential and best American films ever made.

Which means you’re not getting a synopsis for it. Except maybe: Rosebud.

Good luck not taking this.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a story that’s been remade twice after this. And pretty much everyone knows it by now. You may know it as Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty or Down to Earth with Chris Rock. All the stories are essentially the same, with only minor details changed.

Here, a boxer, en route to a title fight, dies in a plane crash. His soul is picked up by an angel who takes him to heaven. The boxer insists that he had a lot more time left on earth and wasn’t supposed to die yet. They check the records and, sure enough, he was actually supposed to live another 50 years. So they can put him back, right? Nuh uh. They cremated him. He can’t have that body anymore. So now they’re in a pickle. They need to get him back in a proper body. In the meantime, while they find him a good one, they put him in the body of a millionaire who was just murdered by his wife and his secretary, who have been having an affair. While living as this millionaire, he meets a woman and falls for her, while also training as a boxer with his old trainer, who he convinces of his actual identity. And it’s both him clinging to his former identity while also starting to enjoy the current identity, with the impending reality that he’s going to have to start over again after this as someone else entirely.

It’s a great story and all three of the versions of the film are very good. I prefer the Beatty version, but this one is the pure version of the story. It would have been a good winner on its own, but when you factor in the Citizen Kane of it all, it’s hard to see this as anything higher than a second choice (and honestly, given the rest of the category, it’s probably no better than a fourth choice).

Hold Back the Dawn was the original name for that Game of Thrones episode.

I have no idea what I’m talking about and have never seen that show. How am I doing?

Charles Boyer is a gigolo who preys on American women vacationing in Mexico. One of these women is Olivia de Havilland, a single teacher. They marry after a brief romance. She tries to bring him back in the states, but the immigration officers quickly flag him as one of the men notorious for trying to find American wives so they can get into the country. Which was his plan, at first. Though he ends up genuinely falling in love with de Havilland, and the film is about that transition. And since it’s a romance, the moment she finds out about his initial intentions is the moment his feelings are actually legitimate, and in the end there has to be that grand romantic gesture that conquers all. And this one also involves a coma!

It’s a big romantic melodrama. I liked it well enough. I’m not sure it’s a particularly memorable film, but it’s fine. Definitely bottom two in the category, in terms of how much I liked it and how well it would have held up as a winner. No chance it even remotely enters the conversation in this one.

How Green Was My Valley. I’m asking. How green is it? You tell me how green my valley is right now, god damn it!

This is a film that even I have unfairly blamed for Citizen Kane’s loss in this category. And it’s not the film’s fault at all. It’s outside factors. We’re gonna have to take this one on its own terms.

It’s about a family of Welsh coal miners. It’s mostly told in vignettes, as all the best John Ford movies seemingly are. All the men work in the mine, the women tend to the house, and the children do children things. A big portion of the film involves a miner’s strike which divides the household, as well as the oldest sister’s dalliance with the new preacher. It’s structured around the coming of age of the youngest son, who begins as a child and eventually “grows up” at the end of the movie.

It’s a really, really, really great film. It’s a shame its reputation has been sullied by the fact that it’s known as “the film that beat Citizen Kane.” Were Citizen Kane not in this category… well, I’ll admit, I’d probably take The Maltese Falcon because I love it so much. But the point is — this would be a no-brainer winner. I can’t fault them at all for taking this. It’s just unfortunate that it came deliberately at the expense of Citizen Kane for what history shows as clear political reasons. (They fucking booed Citizen Kane at the ceremony. Booed it!) But let’s not take away from this, because this is an incredible film all around.

The Little Foxes is the second of the William Wyler/Bette Davis melodramas, after The Letter. I like this one more.

As far as I can tell — and I must have seen this movie upwards of six times now the past seven years — this is a movie about how horrible all of its main characters are. Bette Davis is a rich southern woman who hates that she’s living in a male dominated society. She especially hates her husband, who she considers weak. Her brothers are vultures, one trying to marry his son to her daughter just to get at her husband’s money. And we just watch as they say horrible things to one another and do horrible things. Rich people doing bad things that have little real world consequences but also make for great drama.

It’s fine. I like the performances in it, but I can’t for the life of me find any real emotional attachment to the rest of the film. It’s almost like watching August: Osage County. Why do I care about any of these awful people? I can appreciate what’s being done by the actors, but still — bad southern people doing and saying bad things to one another.

I definitely wouldn’t take it, and fortunately there are such iconic films in this category that this would never be in danger of actually winning.

The Maltese Falcon is one of the most famous films of all time. So again, you’re not getting a synopsis.

This is one of the great noirs of all time, and one of the great films of all time.

That said — as much as I love this movie, it should not have won Best Picture. Sometimes an Oscar actually lessens a movie’s appeal. This movie doesn’t need the Oscar. The fact that it was even nominated is a huge accomplishment. Citizen Kane is still the film that should have won. This is just a wonderful nominee we can all rally around and wish it had won, but in the end we can be happy that it’s even in the conversation and love it for what it is.

One Foot in Heaven is a film that I consider one of the weakest Best Picture nominees of all time. Maybe that’s personal opinion seeping in, but you can’t argue that it’s not one of the most forgotten Best Picture nominees of all time.

Apparently it’s based on a real guy. Fredric March is a minister who travels the country, moving from parish to parish, which his family must endure. It’s like The Sundowners, but with religion instead of sheep-shearing.

I’m sure it’s actually a decent film, but I just don’t do well with religious subject matter. This, to me, is just one of those kinds of movies I can’t get through. Like Come to the Stable. I just can’t do those kinds of movies. Ten of ten for me, and while I may be overdoing it on saying it’s one of the weakest of all time, I just don’t think there’s a whole lot here except a pleasant film that doesn’t really achieve all the much. The bottoms of these Best Picture categories are littered with films like this.

Sergeant York is one of those films that, while still great and still a classic, seems to lose its appeal a little more as time goes on. It’s one of those films that was really great at the time that was clearly loved by the baby boomers, but now it just looks like a version of America that doesn’t exist that is idealized in such a way that the current generation would look at it and go, “What the hell is this crap?”

That does not include me, because I love this film, even though I am aware that its values are very old-fashioned and do not reflect the current era. As a film though — lotta fun.

Gary Cooper is Alvin York, a backwoods hick who drinks, gets into fights and all that good stuff. He’s also a crack shot. After being a constant disappointment to his family and his town, he one day gets struck by lightning and finds religion. Then, after turning over a new leaf, World War I breaks out. And he’s drafted. Only now, a religious man, he struggles with the notion of having to go and use violence and kill another person. He wrestles with what to do before deciding he should go fight because it’s the right thing to do. The army soon discovers his great skills as a marksman, and eventually, while in battle, his great shooting skills manage to help him single-handedly convince an entire platoon that he’s a great mass of soldiers and surrender.

So he goes from drunk yokel to war hero and there’s religion in there. This was the total package for people in 1941. I’m actually surprised this didn’t win Best Picture. Maybe it was too on the nose for even them.

I like this film a lot, and historically this could have been an okay choice. It would have looked way worse than How Green Was My Valley had it beaten Citizen Kane, but had it won it would have made sense given the time period in which it won. I would say it’s no better than a third choice here. It’s good, but there were better choices to be had.

Suspicion is so funny to see in this category. Hitchcock comes to America and has essentially his first three films nominated for Best Picture and has one of them win. And then, when he made arguably his best films — nothing. He had a five year period where almost everything he did was nominated, and then they marginalized him. But it’s hilarious, that they nominated this and then Vertigo, North by Northwest — nothing.

Anyway, this is actually a pretty famous story. Joan Fontaine marries Cary Grant and pretty soon she starts suspecting him of trying to kill her. And all his weird behavior only plays into her (insert title here) that this is the case.

It’s a good film. I don’t think it gets to its full potential (particularly with the ending), but it does get some nice moments out of the story. Mostly it’s remembered because of how referenced it’s been in other things (like The Simpsons, with Selma and Sideshow Bob).

Funnily enough, I found this article that says the ending was even met with skepticism at the time. Even Hitchcock didn’t love it. Oh well.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Let’s start by saying Citizen Kane is one of the best films ever made, and it should have won this hands down. And it’s going to be my vote.

Now that’s out of the way, we can discuss the rest of the category.

One Foot in Heaven is — I’m not gonna say it’s a joke, but I am going to say that I consider it one of the weakest Best Picture nominees ever in the history of the Academy Awards. So that’s out. Hold Back the Dawn is also out because it can’t compete with the rest of the competition.

Suspicion is nice, but it’s nowhere near the previous two Hitchcock films and nowhere near the stuff he would come out with (not that those really factor into the decision). So that’s out.

The Little Foxes is solid, but would have been a bad winner. So that’s out too.

Blossoms in the Dust I think is one of those films that I like that might not be as liked by everyone else. It wouldn’t have been a great winner, despite being a solid film.

I could see a case maybe being made for Here Comes Mr. Jordan, but had that won over Citizen Kane, I think we’d have had a much bigger level of outrage than we do over the current winner.

The Maltese Falcon is a classic and on name alone could have been a good winner. We might have even forgiven it for beating Citizen Kane. But it shouldn’t have been a winner. You can vote for it. By all means, vote for it. But it just doesn’t feel like it should have won. It’s much better suited to having not win, if that makes any sense.

Sergeant York would have been an interesting winner. I doubt most people even think to take it nowadays. But had it won — you have Howard Hawks, a beloved filmmaker by many people. Had this won, you’d have Howard Hawks finally winning something. Would people see that as okay, despite the subject matter being very dated? That would be really interesting to see.

Now — How Green Was My Valley is a great film, and a lot of years, no one would think twice about it having won. The only reason there’s any negativity about it is because it lost to Citizen Kane. That’s it. You could easily prefer that and be happy about it having won. There’s nothing wrong with that.

That said — Citizen Kane is still the best choice all around here. It just is. Films of this caliber have their reputations for a reason.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Citizen Kane
  2. How Green Was My Valley
  3. The Maltese Falcon
  4. Sergeant York
  5. Here Comes Mr. Jordan
  6. Blossoms in the Dust
  7. The Little Foxes
  8. Suspicion
  9. Hold Back the Dawn
  10. One Foot in Heaven

Rankings (films):

  1. Citizen Kane
  2. The Maltese Falcon
  3. How Green Was My Valley
  4. Here Comes Mr. Jordan
  5. Sergeant York
  6. Blossoms in the Dust
  7. Suspicion
  8. The Little Foxes
  9. Hold Back the Dawn
  10. One Foot in Heaven

My Vote: Citizen Kane

Recommendations:

Citizen Kane. I mean. Obviously.

The Maltese Falcon. Again, do you need me to tell you?

How Green Was My Valley is also one of the most essential films ever made. And I also lay down the argument I always lay down — if you want to complain that it won, you need to see it. But you shouldn’t need to get that far. You should see it because it’s John Ford and it’s a masterpiece.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan is an essential film story. I think both this version and Heaven Can Wait are wholly essential films for all film buffs.

Sergeant York is an essential film. It remains essential, and it’s pretty great. Hawks, Cooper, it won an Oscar, so Oscar buffs need to see it — all around you should see this movie. There’s really no argument against it.

Suspicion is essential for Oscar buffs, and it’s Hitchcock, which covers a large portion of film buffs. And it’s Cary Grant. At this point you’re running out of reasons not to see it.

Blossoms in the Dusis a movie I like a lot. High recommend from me. Though not essential and not something most people need to see. Though for a large segment of film buffs, Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon is a duo you won’t want to pass up.

The Little Foxes is a solid drama. I don’t love it. Some may consider it essential. I give it a recommend and say it’s probably one of those you throw in the Netflix queue and get to when you get to it.

Hold Back the Dawn is not particularly essential. It’s fine. Very melodramatic. Boyer and de Havilland. Look at it, if it sounds interesting, go for it. Otherwise, you’re more than fine without it.

One Foot in Heaven is not a film I recommend at all. Not for me, not something I think is all that good, and not essential. So you’re on your own with this one.

The Last Word: There is a correct way to phrase this. Citizen Kane not winning Best Picture is one of the worst snubs of all time. That is completely independent of How Green Was My Valley winning Best Picture. That is what the Academy chose to do, and that is a completely separate argument. Now, on its own, How Green Was My Valley is a great choice for Best Picture. Take Citizen Kane out of the argument and it’s about midway down the list. Not on the level of something like Lawrence of Arabia, but also not a Cavalcade either. Quick mental rolodex… probably in the late 30s, low 40s if you’re ranking them all. It’s a solid choice. Now — is it the best choice they could have made? Obviously not, given what Citizen Kane is for American film. The correct way to phrase this is that How Green Was My Valley, while a great choice, was not the best choice they could have made, and the decision to not give Citizen Kane the award is one of the worst the Academy has ever made. I don’t see it as them taking How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane. I see it as them not taking Citizen Kane, and a completely worthy other choice winning instead. So, the winner, great. The fact that the better choice didn’t win, not great.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1942

49th Parallel

Kings Row

The Magnificent Ambersons

Mrs. Miniver

The Pied Piper

The Pride of the Yankees

Random Harvest

The Talk of the Town

Wake Island

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Analysis:

49th Parallel is a film that flies totally under the radar, it seems. It was released as The Invaders, which is not a good title. It’s also Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who, after this, would go on to make things like The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes. It’s a war drama, and one that really works, despite being very different from the kinds of films the American studio system was churning out. The main characters are Germans and Canadians!

A German U-boat lands in Canada and some sailors go ashore for supplies. As they do, the U-boat is sunk, leaving them stranded in Canada. So we watch as these six Nazis traverse the Canadian landscape, trying to reach the United States (because remember, at this time, the U.S. is still neutral). It’s a really fascinating set up for a film. And we watch as they make their way across the country, slowly either being killed or captured. So you’re watching Nazis, who you’re not supposed to sympathize with, make their way to, essentially, freedom. It’s a weird twist on the POW film. You’re watching the enemy almost get to freedom. Which is like watching The Day of the Jackal or something, where you’re actually following an assassin up to the point where he’s about to commit an assassination. You really don’t want him to win, but you’ve also become invested in his journey along the way. The film works really well. This is one of the real hidden gems of the entire Oscar Quest, this film.

I don’t think it necessarily needed to win Best Picture, but I love that it was nominated, because now I can talk it up and make sure more people see it. It ends up just below the midpoint, I think, for a vote. I could make the case for probably five other films over it as better choices. But in terms of how good it is and how much I like it — it feels like it’s top five. It’s a really solid film.

Kings Row is one of those movies — there’s a lot of familiarity to it. It feels like a few different genres, and also feels deeply uneven. It’s like Our Town in that it’s about a small town and the people in it. But it’s also got that melodrama type aspect to it, like Peyton Place.

The film is pretty much split into two somewhat distinct halves. The first half follows a handful of children. They are a middle-class kid living with his grandmother, daughter of the town doctor, a rich orphan boy, a daughter of a doctor (not the town doctor, just a doctor) and a lower class girl whose father works on the railroad.

The first boy is the main boy. He’s got a thing for the daughter of the second doctor (that’s Claude Rains). Though no one else likes her because there are weird rules surrounding the family. The mother is kept locked in the house and Rains doesn’t let the girl go to school. Though eventually Rains takes the boy on as a student and teaches him medicine. Meanwhile, the rich orphan is dating the daughter of the town doctor, though he doesn’t approve of the relationship. And the two boys are good friends.

And we watch this all play out for a while, and it’s really interesting… until one thing happens at the midway point that’s just a complete tonal shift. You can hover over the next bit if you want it spoiled for you.

So Rains is teaching the boy medicine and the boy is also secretly dating Rains’s daughter. And just as the two are about to elope when the boy prepares to go overseas to become a doctor, he finds out that Rains has killed both the girl and himself. The film explains this by saying that Rains’ wife was insane, and Rains kept a tight leash on her because he was worried she’d go insane one day, and he killed her because he didn’t want the boy to ruin his life marrying the daughter, the way he was ruined by marrying his wife. Though it’s clear by watching the film it’s because Rains was sleeping with his daughter and keeping his wife inside (and probably drugged) so she never told anyone. And when he found out the girl was going to leave, he killed her and then killed himself because that’s what you do after something like that. I thought all that was really fascinating. But, for something like that to happen at the midway point, it pretty much takes the wind out of everything that comes after it. Because I was way less interested in anything else after that first half.

So the second half plays out like a regular old melodrama. The boy comes back to town a doctor. And we focus more on the other kid, played by Ronald Reagan. He loses all his money and ends up in a train accident. The town doctor, known for being pretty sadistic, amputates both of his legs (seemingly needlessly and a direct result of him not liking Reagan for dating his daughter) and now Reagan is bitter and morose because he’s now a cripple. And he marries the poor girl out of pity, and the other guy, now a doctor is back to be involved and have a romance with another woman — it just goes full on melodrama that’s not nearly as interesting as that first half.

I think this is half a great film and half — ehh. I want to love this film, but it’s just too uneven for me. It falls to the back of the pack because I can’t like it enough to want to vote for it. Plus — wouldn’t have been a good winner at all. So that makes the decision even easier.

The Magnificent Ambersons is Orson Welles’ follow up to Citizen Kane.

There’s a bit of a history with this one. Welles shot the film and the studio was deeply unhappy with it. It also tested poorly. It was a little over 2 hours long, and the studio wanted to make changes. Welles, despite not having final cut, they knew would be a nuisance to their doing this. So they sent him off to South America to shoot a documentary, and while he was there they brought in Robert Wise to recut the film and threw out about 40 minutes of footage. All of that footage was later destroyed. It’s crazy to think a film could be this compromised and still considered one of the great American films.

It’s about the decay of an American family centered around the rise of the automobile industry at the turn of the century. Joseph Cotten as a young man is in love with the daughter of the family, but she ends up leaving him for a man she doesn’t love. Years later, Cotten is rich as a car manufacturer and a widow. He come back to town and into the lives of this family. He and the woman rekindle their romance (of sorts), only her son is deeply opposed to this and thwarts any chances they have of actually consummating the relationship. All the while this family slowly dies out and loses its fortune.

It’s a really solid film. I don’t love it the way I love Citizen Kane, but it’s terrifically made and a really great film. It ends up about middle of the pack for me. I wouldn’t have liked to see it as a winner, because it would feel cheap if they voted for this and not Citizen Kane, which is the much more towering achievement. I wouldn’t fault anyone for taking this, but I just wouldn’t. It feels like a second tier choice to me.

Mrs. Miniver is a film about a middle class family in the middle of World War II.

We follow the family during the onset of the war. Their son falls in love with the daughter of a rich family in town and enlists to become a pilot. The husband ends up helping evacuate the soldiers at Dunkirk. The wife ends up encountering a downed German pilot one day. Little things like that. It’s nice that it doesn’t go too much into the war and focuses on the home front. The film culminates during a flower show. Admittedly there is a bombing during it, but the climax kind of is at a flower show.

It’s a really well made movie that does a good job of sort of “rallying the home troops” and putting forward the attitude of supporting our side. I like it a lot, and I understand why it won. But I’m not sure I like it enough to take it. I’m still not even sure if it’s the best choice in the category. This is one of those years I just truly cannot figure. But all we need for now is that the film is great and I like it a lot and it’s definitely in the conversation for the vote in the end.

The Pied Piper is a really great premise. I’m actually surprised no one thought to try to do something with this recently.

Monty Woolley (famous in his later years for playing cranky old academics) is a professor on holiday in Europe. While there, he’s eventually coerced into taking two children along with him. The idea is — the Nazis are looking to round up the kids, and if he doesn’t take them, they’ll basically be captured and thrown into camps. And despite his insistence that he wants no part of helping them and wanting to stay out of the whole business, his better side gives in and he takes the kids with him. And there are bits of him slowly warming up to the kids. Eventually he ends up with a whole group of kids, who he has to get across the border to safety.

It’s actually a really great little hidden gem. Shouldn’t have come close to winning, but it’s a great film. It falls to the back of the pack here, but would be a solid nominee any year. Great stuff.

The Pride of the Yankees is a biopic of Lou Gehrig. You may know him from his disease.

It’s standard biopic fare, and has one of the most famous scenes in sports history in it:

I love this movie. Admittedly, it’s whitewashed nonsense and not nearly as good as I think it is. But most guys have a soft spot for these sports movies. What, do we really think Field of Dreams is a masterpiece of cinema? (Yes, yes we do. But that’s what I’m saying.)

It shouldn’t have won, no matter how much I love it. And even though I love it, even I wouldn’t take it in this category. There are at least two other films I would take over this and at least three other movies that I think should have won over this.

Random Harvest is such a perfect movie. Every time I watch it, my opinion of it only grows.

Ronald Colman is an institutionalized man who has no memory of who he is. He sits in the hospital every day, as people come by, looking for their sons who went missing during the war (World War I). Nobody ever recognizes him, though. So he remains a man without an identity. On the night the war ends, during everyone’s celebration, no one is watching the grounds and Colman manages to slip out onto the street. He runs into Greer Garson, a burlesque dancer of sorts, who takes pity on him and hides him from the orderlies searching for him. She gets him to safety and the two fall in love. The two find a life together, despite Colman not remembering anything before his time at the hospital. He discovers a talent for writing and publishes a book, and the two buy a house together. Though one day, while he’s out buying groceries, he’s struck by a car. And suddenly all the memories come flooding back — the trenches, mustard gas. He remembers exactly who he is and wonders why he’s in the middle of this town. He returns to his family, who’d long assumed him dead, and goes back to his former life, with no memory of Garson. Garson ends up tracking him down and even starts working for him, hoping anything will jog his memory and he’ll remember his life with her. She does this for something like ten years. And… well, I won’t spoil where it ends. But it’s amazing.

I love this film so much and it’s one of the great classics of American cinema. I really, really, really love this movie, and I might be convinced that it’s the best choice in the category and the film that should have won Best Picture. I think it’s become my favorite film over the years, and seems like it might be my vote. This category doesn’t seem to have a definitive choice (unless it really is Mrs. Miniver), so it’s possible this is the one.

The Talk of the Town is one of those movies that I really ought to go back and watch again. I remember thinking it was very strange, tonally, the couple of times I watched it. Because it’s not quite a comedy but also not quite a drama.

Cary Grant is a guy accused of burning down a mill. He escapes capture and hides in the attic of an old friend of his, Jean Arthur. Turns out she’s actually rented the house to Ronald Colman, who’s there to write a book. The two men run into one another, and Arthur is forced to pass Grant off as a gardener. And the two end up as romantic rivals for Arthur, despite becoming good friends. Meanwhile, despite all this, Grant has to hide from the police and keep his identity a secret, despite Colman (a lawyer) looking into the mill burning down. It… gets interesting.

You don’t generally have a love of romantic comedies where people are accused of murder and an angry mob chases them. But I like it. It’s a solid film. Really well made and well acted. Though all around it falls immediately to the back of the pack of this category. I can’t see it being the choice over almost any other film. I’m surprised it was even nominated. But that’s cool that is was.

Wake Island is a film about the battle of Wake Island, which is basically the World War II version of the Alamo. American troops fighting down to the last man and being brutally murdered.

It’s a really well-made war film, and I’ve always liked the authenticity of the battle scenes for 1942. This isn’t something that’s good enough to be considered a choice, but it’s a really solid nominee. (Especially since, you know… they weren’t actually all killed in real life. But it’s 1942. You gotta rouse the public into supporting the troops. So the evil Japanese have to murder our boys. This movie literally ends with a title card saying “This is not the end.”)

Yankee Doodle Dandy is a biopic of George M. Cohan, the man who wrote said tune. I can’t explain why this is such an amazing movie but it is.

We follow Cohan, born on the fourth of July (though he gets to keep his legs) to vaudeville performers. He grows up performing in his family’s act, until one day he gets the call to go to the big circuit on his own. So we follow him, and his eventual wife, a they go on, writing shows, which have varying degrees of success. And we basically follow him throughout his life until his eventual status as an American treasure (as evidenced by his meeting with FDR that provides the framing device for the film). Thematically, it’s about as dated as Sergeant York. But it works so much better because Cagney is incredible in this movie as Cohan. He gives this movie the winning nature that it has.

I doubt this really would have been a great choice for Best Picture, but at least we could go back and say, “Damn, Cagney was so good,” rather than, “Man, this is some baby boomer bullshit.” I love this movie, and would take it over most of the others in this category. I’m actually not sure how this stands in relation to the others as an objective choice, but in this category, it seems as good a choice as any.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: A year of number twos without a number one. That’s how this feels to me. I actually kind of like all the movies, but there’s not one that I automatically would vote for.

The ones that I know I wouldn’t take are Kings Row, The Talk of the Town, The Pied Piper and Wake Island. Those four for sure will never be the vote. And the more I think about it, the more I realize I’ll probably never take 49th Parallel, so that’s out. And since I like 49th Parallel more than The Magnificent Ambersons, let’s take that off too.

Pride of the Yankees… I love it, but I wouldn’t take it. I know I wouldn’t. Maybe if I completely gave up I might, but I know better than to take it, despite my love for it.

And with the remaining three, while I completely understand how Miniver became the winner… I wouldn’t take it. That feels like a compromise. And between Random Harvest and Yankee Doodle Dandy… Random Harvest is my preference. So I’m just gonna take that. I’m fine with Miniver, but I love Random Harvest so much. That’s gotta be the film I take.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Random Harvest
  2. Yankee Doodle Dandy
  3. Mrs. Miniver
  4. The Magnificent Ambersons
  5. The Pride of the Yankees
  6. 49th Parallel
  7. Wake Island
  8. The Pied Piper
  9. Kings Row
  10. The Talk of the Town

Rankings (films):

  1. Random Harvest
  2. Yankee Doodle Dandy
  3. The Pride of the Yankees
  4. Mrs. Miniver
  5. 49th Parallel
  6. The Magnificent Ambersons
  7. Wake Island
  8. The Talk of the Town
  9. The Pied Piper
  10. Kings Row

My Vote: Random Harvest

Recommendations:

Random Harvest is an essential film. All-time romance, and likely the film in the category most people will love. It’s so good. It holds up so well, almost 80 years later. What a perfect film this is.

Yankee Doodle Dandy is essential. James Cagney — what a treasure. Must see.

The Pride of the Yankees is essential. Certain sports movies just are. This is one of them. All-time classic.

Mrs. Miniver is essential. It’s a Best Picture winner and a classic. Consider it something you need to see.

49th Parallel is a film I consider to be essential. Powell and Pressburger alone. But also the premise is one of the most unique I’ve ever seen, and it’s just a wonderful movie all around. One of the real hidden gems you’re going to love that you probably don’t know about.

The Magnificent Ambersons is essential. It is. It’s Orson Welles, and it’s one of those movies — if you’re even remotely into film history, you owe it to yourself to see this. Just consider it essential and go from there.

Wake Island is a great 40s war film. I love the battle sequences here. Solid recommend for all and high recommend for those into directing and action.

The Talk of the Town is a movie I recommend pretty highly. It’s George Stevens, who always makes a good movie, and Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and Ronald Colman. It’s very interesting, tonally, but it’s also a really good film. I recommend it, though I’m not gonna say it’s a film you’ll automatically love like I’d say about The Philadelphia Story. Though it’s definitely worth seeing, because it’s very good.

The Pied Piper is a movie I give a high recommend to. It’s not incredible, but it’s very solid and I think the story is quite good and effective. It’s a nice hidden gem among the 40s. More people should see it so we can decide whether or not this should have the reputation of a classic.

Kings Row is a movie I give a definite recommend to. It’s very interesting and will hold your attention. It’s also one that I’m curious to know how people respond to it. Do you like it all around? Or are you like me, where you’re heavily invested in the first half, and then the second half is kind of underwhelming? Either way, definitely worth checking out. Especially if you like films of the Peyton Place ilk.

The Last Word: Mrs. Miniver is a good film and a fine choice when placing yourself in the context of 1942. Historically — has it turned out to be a great winner? I think that’s debatable. I can’t see a clear #1 in this category. I see a lot of films that are around the same level. The Pride of the Yankees probably isn’t a better choice than Mrs. Miniver, even if it’s one of the greatest sports films ever made. Yankee Doodle Dandy — I think that’s about on par. It’s no better or worse a choice, in the end. Ambersons — I still don’t know what the deal is with Ambersons. Seeing that win and not Citizen Kane would have given me so much heartache. A horrible attempt at a makeup award, like Jimmy Stewart winning for The Philadelphia Story and not Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The rest don’t feel like better winners. Random Harvest I keep feeling is the best film and the one that should have won, but I still can’t say that it’s a roundly better choice than Mrs. Miniver. I think they had three really solid choices to pick from, and they went with the one that made the most sense for 1942. So I’m not opposed to it, though I wouldn’t have gone that way myself. This is one where I honestly don’t know. Maybe Random Harvest was the best choice. Maybe it’s Magnificent Ambersons. Maybe it’s Mrs. Miniver. Maybe it’s Pride of the Yankees. I think they’re all good choices. I’m okay with this one.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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