I feel like there are two very important things to discuss for 1951. The first is color. I feel like 1951 is that year where we definitively reached the point where the majority of films were in color. I don’t think statistically that’s the case, but I feel like this year is the one where, after this, color is the norm for films and black and white is reserved for lower budgeted films or specific genres. That’ll definitely be the case once CinemaScope shows up in a couple of years.
The other major thing about 1951 is the beginning of a genre. Or at the very least, the beginning of a genre as we know it. And that’s sci fi. Sci fi existed in several forms before this, but this is the year where all the tropes we recognize — aliens, flying saucers, time travel, space exploration — this is when they all began. (And, as an added bonus, the sci fi films of this era also were Cold War-related.)
Outside of that, we’re starting to get into an era where most people would recognize the majority of my lists without needing much explanation as to what they’re about. Which means that all the hidden gems on the lists that people don’t know about are gonna be way more noticeable. Which is exciting. (more…)
1951 is an important year in film history. After the end of the war, the threat of Communism became very prevalent in the U.S. And a nice portion of Hollywood, especially in the 30s and 40s (before Stalin), attended communist party meetings because communism sounded like a nice alternative to the Depression. Now, with the Red Scare in full effect, Hollywood, with its loose morals and subversive tendencies, was an easy target for communist witch hunters. So in 1947, HUAC (the House of Un-American Activities) summoned members of Hollywood to Washington to investigate whether or not there were comunists among the ranks. And some people, like Walt Disney and Adolphe Menjou, were outspoken against communists and named names, while others, like Humphrey Bogart and John Huston, signed a petition to protect the first amendment and refused to.
About 40 people were called to testify. 19 of them refused to. 11 of those 19 were called before the committee. Of the 11, 10 refused to answer the question of whether or not they were or were communists on the grounds of freedom of speech and assembly. And Hollywood, under immense pressure from the government (which was the last body they wanted to piss off, with the issue of them having a monopoly on theaters, the constant issue of outside censorship, and the government never having quite been able to come after them despite definite means to do so), decided to blacklist those ten, who became known as the “Hollywood Ten.” And what happened was, the studios basically had to say they would never hire anyone who was a communist or a communist sympathizer.
So from 1947 on, the blacklist grew, and it had huge repercussions on Hollywood, notably the demise of RKO and the death of John Garfield (who was blacklisted and was under so much stress because of that, that he ended up dying of a heart attack — at 39!). Outspoken Democrats were basically pushed out, and people like Henry Fonda found it very difficult to find work on the screen and stayed on the stage until the whole thing blew over (Fonda didn’t make a feature film between 1948 and 1955). Those who refused to name names were blacklisted, and those who named names got others blacklisted. (Famously, Elia Kazan named names and as a result, wrote On the Waterfront.) And those who were blacklisted (specifically the writers) would start to use fronts to get their work up on the screen. (Dalton Trumbo wrote Roman Holiday and didn’t get credit for it until years later when the blacklist was over.) (more…)
Love me some 1951. Some of the decisions are a bit — not great — but honestly, the way I’d have voted it, I’d have given everything to one film. And I mean everything.
An American in Paris wins Best Picture. Not the worst choice, but not a particularly great one, either. I, personally, would have gone with A Streetcar Named Desire, which won this category, Best Supporting Actor for Karl Malden (talked about here) and Best Supporting Actress for Kim Hunter (talked about here). Best Actor was Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen (talked about here), beating Brando for Streetcar, and somehow being okay in the process. And Best Director was George Stevens for A Place in the Sun (talked about here), a decision I really just don’t like at all. Not even a little bit.
And this category — Vivien Leigh is like Daniel Day-Lewis. When she’s on — there’s no other choice. Wow.
BEST ACTRESS – 1951
And the nominees were…
Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen
Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire
Eleanor Parker, Detective Story
Shelley Winters, A Place in the Sun
Jane Wyman, The Blue Veil (more…)
I should dislike 1951 more than I do. The big decisions were terrible. An American in Paris is a film that should not have won Best Picture at all. It’s a good film, but, A Streetcar Named Desire is better. You can tell An American in Paris was a cop out decision because it didn’t win Best Director (and when a Best Picture is directed by Vincente Minnelli and doesn’t win Best Director, there’s a problem).
George Stevens won Best Director for A Place in the Sun (talked about here), which is just a terrible, horrible decision. And I love George Stevens. But it was terrible. Best Actor was Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen (talked about here), which, while the performance wasn’t particularly outstanding (especially next to Brando in Streetcar), Bogie deserved an Oscar (and Brando won two of his own, so it works out).
And the rest of the awards for this year rightfully went to A Streetcar Named Desire. Vivien Leigh wins Best Actress for the film, Karl Malden wins Best Supporting Actor for the film (talked about here), and then there’s this category. All three were perfect decisions.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1951
And the nominees were…
Joan Blondell, The Blue Veil
Mildred Dunnock, Death of a Salesman
Lee Grant, Detective Story
Kim Hunter, A Streetcar Named Desire
Thelma Ritter, The Mating Season (more…)
The great thing about 1951, for the acting categories, is that you can just say, A Streetcar Named Desire, and that eliminates any questions. The bad thing about 1951 is that A Streetcar Named Desire didn’t win Best Picture. Which is just strange.
An American in Paris wins Best Picture. I’m not sure anyone has ever figured out why. Even stranger is that the film’s director, Vincente Minnelli, didn’t win Best Director for it. George Stevens won Best Director for A Place in the Sun (a terrible decision, talked about here). This reminds me of the year after this. The Best Picture/Best Director split alongside the best film not winning Best Picture makes me think they deliberately didn’t want to vote for it. I don’t get it. Streetcar is an American classic.
Humphrey Bogart (finally) wins Best Actor this year for The African Queen (talked about here). This was a career win, pure and simple. The clear best performance was Brando in Streetcar, but Streetcar winning the rest of the acting awards — Best Actress for Vivien Leigh, Best Supporting Actress for Kim Hunter, and this category — probably made it feel like overload. Plus Bogart is one of the few names (alongside Henry Fonda and John Wayne) who, if they won an Oscar for any performance, any year, no one would question it because they are who they are. So, I accept the decision (plus Brando won twice after this), but based on what performance won and what didn’t, it was a terrible decision.
So, that’s 1951. Great, outside of Best Picture and Best Director. What the hell happened?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1951
And the nominees were…
Leo Genn, Quo Vadis
Karl Malden, A Streetcar Named Desire
Kevin McCarthy, Death of a Salesman
Peter Ustinov, Quo Vadis
Gig Young, Come Fill the Cup (more…)
I like 1951. I don’t agree with the Best Picture or Best Director choice, but as a whole, I like this year. An American in Paris is a good film, but not one that should be winning Best Picture. There are better musicals to choose from during this period, specifically Singin’ in the Rain and The Band Wagon. I don’t get the preoccupation with choosing a musical over an American classic like A Streetcar Named Desire. I don’t really have too much of a problem with it though. Streetcar pretty much swept all the other categories, so, it sort of balances out. What’s strange is that they gave Best Director to George Stevens for A Place in the Sun. George Stevens is a great director, but as I said here, you have John Huston, Elia Kazan, William Wyler and Vincente Minnelli up as well this year. Okay, Huston has one, Kazan has one and Wyler has two. But why not Minnelli? His movie won Best Picture! (See what I mean? Some decisions are just baffling and inconsistent.)
The rest of this year, though, is pretty straightforward. A Streetcar Named Desire sweeps almost everything. It wins Best Actress for Vivien Leigh, Best Supporting Actor for Karl Malden and Best Supporting Actress for Kim Hunter. All perfect decisions and very deserving actors. So, in all, three really strong decisions, one I don’t like but can accept, one terrible one, and then what remains the most fascinating decision of this year — this category.
Here you have Marlon Brando, who gives one of the most defining performances of his career (alongside the other two he won for, The Godfather and On the Waterfront), and Humphrey Bogart, a living legend who rightfully should have won an Oscar for Casablanca (somehow Paul Lukas wins for a performance that shouldn’t even be nominated, let alone win, there). What makes the category so interesting is that Streetcar won all the other acting awards, and here you have this category, which looks like it should be the biggest shoo-in of all. I mean, Brando — Stanley Kowalski — no contest, right? One of the most powerful performances in the history of cinema. And yet — Humphrey Bogart. And, especially now, after the fact — we know Brando wins two more. So what seems like a very cut-and-dry category becomes infinitely more complex and layered. I really like this category.
BEST ACTOR – 1951
And the nominees were…
Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen
Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire
Montgomery Clift, A Place in the Sun
Arthur Kennedy, Bright Victory
Frederic March, Death of a Salesman (more…)
1951 is one of those years where — you can’t understand why they chose the way they did. Sure The American in Paris is an enjoyable movie, but, is it a Best Picture winner? That’s the main question we have for this year. Fortunately I don’t have to answer it now, I only have to deal with Best Director.
Best Actor 1951 was Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen. Kind of a makeup Oscar, kind of a career achievement Oscar. Also kept Brando from winning one. We’ll get to that. Best Actress was Vivien Leigh for A Streetcar Named Desire. Best Supporting Actor was Karl Malden, also for Streetcar, and Best Supporting Actress was Kim Hunter, also for Streetcar. I guess four people winning for the same film would have been a bit much. Especially when they weren’t going to award it Best Picture.
BEST DIRECTOR – 1951
And the nominees are…
John Huston, The African Queen
Elia Kazan, A Streetcar Named Desire
Vincente Minnelli, An American in Paris
George Stevens, A Place in the Sun
William Wyler, Detective Story (more…)