Friday, May 27, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #1

The #1 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age

Double Indemnity fails to win Best Picture in 1944.

It would help to get inside the Academy’s mindset in early 1945 in order to try and comprehend why one of the greatest of all crime dramas lost Best Picture to the relentlessly cheery and sentimental Going My Way.

It was early 1945 and World War II was near its end. The Academy, wishing to send an “uplifting” message to the world, chose the movie about two Irish Catholic priests trying to save their parish instead of the film about an adulterous and murderous couple killing the woman’s husband for the policy benefits. What’s not wholesome about the entrepreneurial spirit? That’s as powerful an illustration of the human spirit as teaching some incorrigible boys to sing, isn’t it? You mean it isn’t?

The single greatest Oscar travesty of the Golden Age is Going My Way 's Best Picture victory over Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. The latter is the first truly brilliant Film Noir and the first time the writer-director gave the movie going audience a glimpse of his greatness. Never again would Wilder be as chilling or ruthless (that includes 1951’s Ace in the Hole) without the trademark Wilder humor. The very title “Double Indemnity” forever changed an insurance policy term into thought-association trigger words for cold-blooded murder.

The primary reason Double Indemnity didn’t win is because the story and characters are just so unappealing! The sweaty-lipped Fred MacMurray-as Walter Neff is the epitome of slime and Barbara Stanwyck is the definitive Black Widow, Phyllis Dietrichson.

Another reason why it lost was no doubt due to the popularity of Bing Crosby, whose multimedia power was second to none during the ‘30s and ‘40s. It's also worth noting that the tenor of those times helped the Crosby vehicle win scads of awards, so it’s no wonder Going My Way emerged as the Best Picture winner. However, in retrospect, Going My Way represents the toothless and overly-sentimental type of movie that gives classic film a bad name. Noir, on the other hand, has emerged as all that is stylish about great cinema. Double Indemnity is a work of art. The cinematography, music, set direction, and especially its dialogue serve to create the perfect cinematic environment, whereas Going My Way looks like a series of indoor sets. Double Indemnity creates a vivid Los Angeles of the mind. If the stories of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler (co-author of the screenplay), and Double Indemnity's author, James M. Cain could come to life in our most vivid imaginings, they would look exactly like Double Indemnity. The film’s atmosphere is smothering in its oppressiveness. Every flickering frame of this movie is sinister, and evil. Only the mighty presence of Edward G. Robinson emerges from the dreariness. The film is leagues ahead of the other Best Picture nominees:

Gaslight- Gothic psychological thriller that was the second-best movie of the five films nominated.
Going My Way- That Barry Fitzgerald movie.
Since You Went Away- Sentimental and mawkish to the extreme, though the ending is guaranteed to produce a couple of tears.
Wilson- Heavily sanitized biopic of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson; the kind of movie “designed” to win Oscars.

When watching these five films, I can’t help but think how of their time the other four are, but Double Indemnity is like some undying evil that only grows in stature with each subsequent viewing. As many times as I’ve seen it, the murder scene still has the ability to produce unbearable tension. Billy Wilder’s first bona fide masterpiece had no business losing to those other efforts by directors whose best work was in the previous decade. McCarey peaked with The Awful Truth, and Cukor with The Philadelphia Story. The other two, John Cromwell of Since You Went Away and Henry King of Wilson, were essentially competent, but journeymen directors; though to be fair, King had a couple of good efforts left in him in the 1940s yet his work comes nowhere near that of Wilder’s, largely regarded as the best writer-director of all time, which subsequent Oscar award ceremonies would prove; just not in 1944, when the Academy should’ve recognized how special a talent he was.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #2

The #2 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age

High Noon fails to win Best Picture in 1952.

The result of the 1952 Best Picture race was among the first that shocked me when I first learned of it so many years ago. It was 1990, and I had recently seen High Noon at my grandfather's recommendation. I was 18 or 19 and quite taken with High Noon's themes of courage and duty. I was especially impressed with Gary Cooper's performance. His very screen presence captivated me. Thankfully, he won (his second) Best Actor Oscar that year, his second, though Leonard Maltin claimed it was "Cooper's only Oscar" in the old VHS edition of High Noon. I must’ve watched the movie a dozen times or so in an embarrassingly short amount of time and even more so when I became all the more enamored with old cinema in 1997; it remains a favorite today.

One day around the time I had discovered the movie, I was leafing through my Inside Oscar book (the edition with the red cover), I was flabbergasted and in denial when I saw the winner’s asterisk next to the empty entertainment “spectacle”, The Greatest Show on Earth. I was further surprised to discover that a Western had only won Best Picture one time, when Cimarron pulled off the feat in 1930. Anyway, I had seen The Greatest Show on Earth as a child and while it was chock full of notable stars, it was a less-than-memorable two hours. In fact, it’s only memorable if you carry the youthful trauma of having been savagely beaten by angry clowns.

By the way, I happen to like the circus; went to one as a kid.

The Greatest Show on Earth is by no means an awful film; it’s nice, well-made entertainment, like the circus. It’s definitely not Best Picture material and it’s not a work of art, but Demille was due, so the Academy lavished his circus drama with the top prize. It’s just a shame that the more deserving High Noon was denied Best Picture. I’d have an easier time accepting any other nominee winning instead of The Greatest Show on Earth. The other contestants that year were Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge, and The Quiet Man. It's a travesty in itself that for fifty-nine years, the Western never won Best Picture. Only 1931's Cimarron pulled that feat; it wouldn't be until 1990 when Dances With Wolves finally earned Oscar's greatest prize. It pains me deeply to think of all the Western films that didn't win, or even worse, never even nominated.

The accepted reason why this won Best Picture is because it was the industry’s tribute to director Cecil B. Demille. I understand that, but why not just give him the Best Director Oscar—it went to John Ford for The Quiet Man—or why not just be content with the Thalberg Award, which is what they also gave him? Did the Academy have to derail Fred Zinneman’s masterwork? They sure did!

Greatest is never remembered as one of the finest motion pictures of all time and it sure isn’t; whereas High Noon, despite the subsequent over emphasis on the political allegory it’s supposed to be (I don’t buy it), is still one of the finest Westerns ever made. The cinematography, direction, music, Cooper, and the entire supporting cast are tremendous. High Noon has achieved immortality among great movies while Greatest is largely forgotten. You’d have to remind yourself that James Stewart was in this and it doesn’t figure prominently in the careers of anyone involved except for them to say they worked with Demille.

High Noon's director, Fred Zinneman, would get a measure of redemption the next year, when From Here to Eternity crushed all opposition, but High Noon losing Best Picture still hurts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #3

The #3 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age

Deborah Kerr NEVER wins.

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall if Deborah Kerr and Glenn Close commiserated over their combined eleven Oscar losses. Somehow I think the talk would shift to more interesting subjects, but the point is made: these are the Best Actress bridesmaids of all time (honorable mention goes to Rosalind Russell).

Until 1958, Kerr and Susan Hayward were the two perpetual losers. Then, even Hayward got an Oscar—and beat Kerr in the process. Deborah did get another nomination in 1960, for The Sundowners, which was a prime-of-her-career capper that showed her in a vastly different light than many of her 1950s roles.

Deborah Kerr remains the quintessential Oscar bridesmaid, having failed six times to win that golden statuette. Three times she certainly could’ve and should’ve won for at least two, but Kerr’s bad luck outweighed all of the ways an Oscar is awarded. She was unable to capitalize on being from the United Kingdom, for having “paid her dues”, or for having been the beneficiary of an Oscar sweep.

Kerr’s Best Actress nominations:

Edward, My Son (1949) Lost to Olivia DeHavilland in The Heiress

From Here to Eternity (1953) Lost to Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday
The King and I (1956) Lost to Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) Lost to Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve
Separate Tables (1958) Lost to Susan Hayward in I Want to Live!
The Sundowners (1960) Lost to Elizabeth Taylor in BUtterfield 8

Kerr was too versatile for her own good, as her six nominations in eleven years (1949-60) saw her playing everything from an alcoholic to a nun to an adulterous officer’s wife; Kerr was as versatile an actress as a leading actress could be, especially during the 1950s when most every performer played well within their marketability and comfort. Very few actresses of that period would allow themselves to take a role where all glamour is sacrificed for a character. Kerr in Separate Tables is a vastly different person than the super hot blonde she played in From Here to Eternity. Both characters, however, are imbued with great vulnerability that was a Deborah Kerr trademark.

If there was one year where Deborah Kerr should’ve won Best Actress, it should have been for Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Her rapport with burly Bob Mitchum (himself snubbed that year) was cinematic magic and Kerr would get no greater showcase. She also should have won against the pity party victory that was Elizabeth Taylor’s win in BUtterfield 8 in 1960.

I remember saying "It's about time!" when Deborah Kerr was finally recognized by the Academy in 1994 with an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #4

The #4 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age

Kirk Douglas fails to win Best Actor, 1956.

Whenever I think of the stage performance defeating a classic film performance, Yul Brynner’s Best Actor victory over Kirk Douglas immediately comes to mind. In fact, it’s my own personal “Poster Child” of that very phenomenon. I don’t think many share my view on this example, because Kirk Douglas has always been a polarizing figure. Some don’t care for his intense portrayals; others can’t stand his chin dimple. Whatever the case, the fact that the creepy, monotone-voiced Brynner deserved an Oscar over Douglas’ greatest performance—as Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life—is a travesty, indeed.

Douglas’ director, Vincente Minnelli, believed that "Kirk Douglas achieved a moving and memorable portrait of the artist—a man of massive creative power, triggered by severe emotional stress, the fear and horror of madness. In my opinion, Kirk should have won the Academy Award." Douglas himself referred to his as a "very painful experience: "Not only did I look like Van Gogh, I was the same age [37] he was when he committed suicide.”

I wonder if there’ll ever be an actor who will play Vincent Van Gogh with the same ferocity and consummate skill as Douglas. Whatever the case, the role of Van Gogh was a perfect match for Kirk’s own flights of intensity and near-the-boiling-point line delivery, which barely contained his inner fire. Whether or not one likes the Douglas style—I’ve yet to meet a woman who likes him, so if you’re a fan of his, please come forward—and Douglas remains very much a “man’s man” actor. Even if one dislikes the actor’s style, I’d still state that his performance in Lust for Life would impress the average viewer.

It’s genuinely surprising that Kirk lost, especially since it was his third career nomination, the others being in 1949 for the boxing film Champion and in 1952 for playing a tyrannical and ultimately desperate Hollywood producer in The Bad and the Beautiful. But as we know, Hollywood often awards those who’ve “paid their dues”--unless it means lavishing too much praise and awards on a “new sensation", which is what they did for Yul Brynner, the Best Actor winner in 1956. But really: was that "Shall We Dance" number really reason enough to give the Oscar to Yul Brynner?

It’s understandable why Brynner won, because 1956 was a career year for him in terms of his time in the public spotlight. In 1956, Yul appeared in two turgid epics: The Ten Commandments (a Best Picture nominee) and Anastasia (winning Ingrid Bergman another Best Actress Oscar), which further boosted his stock. In fact, all five of the Best Picture nominees were turgid epics and in my view, one of the worst years for Best Picture nominees. With Yul’s mug plastered everywhere in promotion of those hollow and creatuvely empty epics, it’s no wonder he won. Oscar loves to bestow itself upon those who have moneymaking or appearances in other films during the same year.

Compared to the three colorful and splashy epics that Brynner appeared in, Lust for Life must’ve seemed like a low-budget art film by comparison. It certainly helped that Yul played his King and I role on Broadway over 4525 times and let’s never forget how much Oscar loves to award performances that originate on the stage. The stage often gets glorified by film actors who disdain the cheap commercialism and empty spectacle of movies (though they love the money film roles offer), so it’s no wonder Academy voters heap awards on the “only true legitimate” performing arena.

It’s also been established that Hollywood loves to give awards to “exotic” performers in the often-mistaken notion that foreign performers are somehow more worthy than their American counterparts. They have been more deserving many times in the past, just not in 1956. It’s certainly polite of them to favor international performers, but when one looks at the list of American actors who lose to the international flavor of the month (particularly in recent decades), it becomes a semi-annual travesty.

Brynner would go on playing stone-faced, monotone “tough guys” with his peculiar voice and get acted off the screen by the likes of Steve McQueen and Richard Benjamin. Meanwhile, Kirk’s career as an actor, author, director, and producer would bring forth numerous memorable works in a career that has endured to this day. Brynner may now be best known for a posthumous lung cancer public service announcement; type in “Yul Brynner” on Youtube and see what comes up first—it sure ain’t The King and I.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #5

The #5 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age

James Stewart fails to win Best Actor for It's a Wonderful Life.

Forget the annual Christmas tradition, forget Clarence and his stinkin' wings, forget Gloria Grahame..oh, wait, scratch that last one...

I'm a lukewarm admirer of Frank Capra. I'm an "everyman" kind of guy, but Capra laid the sticky sentiment on with a trowel, and sometimes I can't go near any of his movies for long periods of time; I'm going through such a time right now.

But James Stewart was so darned good in It's a Wonderful Life and he really is the sole reason (not counting Gloria Grahame) to watch this every Christmas. The Academy should've been forced to live in Pottersville for denying Stewart his second Best Actor Award for this movie. Instead, it would be Fredric March who would get his second Oscar, for The Best Years of Our Lives. At one time considered the best actor...period (replacing Paul Muni, I guess), March snagged his second Oscar in a role that could not have been at all challenging to the great thespian--and he was a fine actor, indeed. I just don't see how his performance was an Oscar-winning one. Maybe Hollywood wanted to recognize the "everyman" soldier that March portrayed, adjusting to a changed home and family, but in the many times I've watched Best Years--and I love that movie--there's nothing in March's perfunctory performance that I found Oscar worthy.

Let's also not forget that Harold Russell was recognized as such when he won Best Supporting Actor *and* a special Oscar "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in The Best Years of Our Lives."

March's winning is a most curious affair.

Furthermore, if the Academy truly wanted to recognize the common soldier, they could've awarded Stewart for that--a Bomber Pilot during WWII--but instead the Academy got carried away and awarded every statuette to Best Years as long as they didn't have to give non-nominees Dana Andrews and Myrna Loy anything, of course.

Stewart probably didn't think much one way or the other about winning or losing. After all, he was no stranger to compensation Oscars when he himself won in 1940 for The Philadelphia Story, something I've defended and which is this blog's
very first post. The fact that Jimmy already had an Oscar is the only thing keeping this travesty from being higher on the list.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

(Near) Travesties That Didn't Make the Cut

Before the top five Golden Age Oscar travesties are unveiled, Let's take a moment to mention what didn't make it. This is because I don’t think of these as major travesties--though others might--yet somehow I felt the need to include them, just to let you know they were thought about, but not enough to be in the running.

“Near travesties” considered for this list, but ultimately rejected:

How Green Was My Valley beats out Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon for Best Picture, 1941.

I think too highly of John Ford and his reputation, so I can’t muster any vitriol on this issue. I’m also a lukewarm Citizen Kane and Maltese Falcon fan. I like both movies and understand their importance and appeal, but the Ford Factor weighs too heavily for me to label this a travesty.

Thelma Ritter never wins an Oscar.

Though nominated six times for Best Supporting Actress, Thelma Ritter never won. While this is highly unfortunate, in looking at the roles for which Miss Ritter received her nominations, I feel as though she lost out to superior performances each and every time even if she lost to actors via the dreaded stage performance-turned -film-performance curse which reared its ugly head in the case of 1950 and 1951:

All About Eve (1950) Lost to Josephine Hull in Harvey
The Mating Season (1951) Lost to Kim Hunter in A Streetcar Named Desire
With a Song in My Heart (1952) Lost to Gloria Grahame in The Bad and the Beautiful
Pickup on South Street (1953) Lost to Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity
Pillow Talk (1959) Lost to Shelley Winter in The Diary of Anne Frank
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) Lost to Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker

Marlon Brando fails to win Best Actor in 1951.

It was a stage role that Brando played a zillion times; my dislike for actors getting Oscar nominations for stage roles holds true in this and every regard, despite my admiration for Brando in general. Besides, Bogart was better.

Barbara Stanwyck never wins an Oscar.

This omission pains me the most, but in looking at Babs' nominations, with the exception of 1937--see travesty #9--when Stanwyck was nominated for Stella Dallas--I couldn't make a case for her beating out the actual victors:

Ball of Fire (1942) Lost to Greer Garson in Mrs. Miniver
Double Indemnity (1944) Lost to Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) Lost to Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda

So while it's a travesty that Barbara Stanwyck never won a "competitive" Oscar, at least her losses were in years with memorable winners.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #6

The #6 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age

Barry Fitzgerald’s nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for the same role in 1944.

“Performances by an actor or actress in any supporting role may be nominated for either the Best Acting Award or the Award for Best Supporting Player.”

~the Academy’s official rules circa 1944.

Oh, so you can be lead and second banana?

Barry Fitzgerald wasn’t a man, he was a leprechaun; a wee leprechaun who charmed and enchanted the Academy out of its then-fashionable high-waisted pants. His half-senile, Best Supporting Actor-winning performance as the "lovable" Father Fitzgibbon in Going My Way notwithstanding, Barry Fitzgerald could do no wrong in 1944. He was so lucky that he beat a manslaughter rap a month before the Oscar nominations were announced.

But the real travesty lies in that the Academy’s dopey rules prevented 1944’s most deserving Supporting Actor--Clifton Webb in Laura—from taking home the Oscar. The dual nomination also aided his Going My Way co-star, Bing Crosby. Crosby was the odds on favorite, but in case that wasn't enough, voters could refrain from voting for Fitzgerald for Best Actor, knowing they could award him Best Supporting Actor instead. In a sense, the game was rigged for ol' Barry, wasn't it?

Fitzgerald later knocked the head off of his plaster Oscar while practicing his golf swing in his living room, and Paramount paid for its replacement. In a way he received two Oscars anyway. Imagine the horror if Fitzgerald had somehow won the Best Actor award, too? If that happened I doubt we would've been treated to Crosby and Fitzy’s subsequent blarney team ups throughout the rest of the ‘40s.

Not only did Fitzgerald’s unfair (but within the flawed rules) dual nomination deny the deliciously catty Webb-as-Waldo Lydecker the Oscar, but his intrusion in the Best Actor category kept some other worthy performer from receiving a nod.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #7

The #7 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age

Bette Davis fails to win Best Actress, 1950.

I originally titled this entry "Judy Holliday wins Best Actress, 1950", but I love Judy Holliday and her turn as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday is delightful; she was never better. It's probably the only reason this travesty isn't higher on the list. Why? Because I have this prejudice against actors who play a role forever on stage and then cop an Oscar for the same performance in a film. Yes, stage and screen are different mediums blah blah blah, but it almost always ends up costing a once-in-a-lifetime film performance the Oscar I feel it richly deserves.

Bette Davis-as-Margo Channing. Lost Best Actress. Aaargh! Even though I'm not a huge fan of Bette Davis movies, I absolutely love her charisma, screen presence, and her sheer Bette Davisness. She's the definite movie actress and the greatest of all Grand Dames. The Academy, in its infinite wisdom, often chooses to honor the right actors for the wrong roles. Bette should've been the first three-time Best Actress winner (sorry, Kate!) but being the indomitable spirit and strong-willed woman she was, she most likely made scads of enemies during her long and storied career. However, in 1950 she was also painted in the proverbial corner because the Best Actress competition was as strong as it ever was:

Anne Baxter in All About Eve
Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday
Eleanor Parker in Caged
Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard

Bette had votes pulled away from her by her All About Eve co-star, Anne Baxter; she was also up against a career-defining role with Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. Bette losing among such fine competition and the fact that All About Eve was just too good for its own good; an abundance of riches in a year that was among the very best roles for women. Still, Davis-as-Margo Channing is among her top three Oscar-nominated performances and it's a shame she didn't bring home the prize a third time.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #8

The #8 Oscar Travesty of the Golden Age

Edith Head fails to win the first Best Costume Design award in 1948.

It may not seem such a travesty to you, but it most certainly is. Why? Edith Head was the greatest costume designer in movie history, with 35 nominations and eight victories. In terms of total dominance, only Walt Disney compares to Edith Head--in any category. Head is, ahem, Head and shoulders above the rest. With her stunning loss in 1948, even Edith herself could not conceal her disappointment in losing for her film, The Emperor Waltz:

"There was no doubt in my mind that I would win that Oscar. I deserved it—for longevity if nothing else. I had been doing motion pictures before the Oscar even existed. And besides, my picture had the best costumes of any nominated picture. The serious competition [and the only; just two nominees. ~CKDH] was Joan of Arc, designed by Madame Karinska and Dorothy Kenkins. To my mind, there was no way Ingrid Bergman’s sackcloths and suits of armor could win over my Viennese finery.

Since I am not very emotional, no one knew that I was in shock. My husband squeezed my hand and we watched the remaining presentations, but I do not remember the rest of the evening.”

With the Oscars being the political and business-oriented awards they are, it’s baffling that the Academy did not select Edith Head as its first Best Costume winner. In fact, the result goes against its own unofficial, unspoken policy of rewarding those who’ve “served their time” or “paid their dues.” Head understood this and knew how the Academy and the film industry worked. Yet for some reason, she was not deemed worthy enough to win the category's first award. It’s baffling, especially considering that clunky armor defeated sophisticated material. It’s like Oscar’s politics only work against the people who deserve the award the most.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #9

The #9 Oscar Travesty of the Golden Age

Luise Rainier wins Best Actress Oscars in 1936 and 1937.

Luise Rainier's consecutive Oscar wins were a blight on an otherwise glorious era of cinema. I honestly don't have much ire to vent about her win for The Great Ziegfeld. Yes, it's melodramatic and painful to watch, but the other nominees' performances didn't move me much, either. It didn't make me angry as when Rainier won the next year's award, for The Good Earth. That is when we’ve entered travesty territory! The travesty is that the other nominees she bested all gave career-defining or near-career defining performances. Her winning a second time denied more-deserving actresses two years in a row. It's one thing for an actress to win along with a film's Oscar sweep, but to have it happen two years running is where my incredulity begins. In fact, I'll bet during my more "vulnerable" moments, my eyes will bulge and my face will contort and stretch just like Rainier's did in The Good Earth. It's especially painful when you realize the calibre of performer that she defeated among that year's Best Actress nominees:

Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth
Greta Garbo in Camille
Janet Gaynor in A Star Is Born
Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas

To make matters worse, Rainier split from Hollywood at the peak of her stardom, making an appraisal of what "could have been" impossible. I truly believe that Hollywood wants to forget she ever existed. God bless her for fighting the system, kicking the moguls to the curb before they could do the same to her, and living a long life, but Luise Rainier had no business winning Academy Awards; and certainly not two in a row. Her back-to-back wins exist only as the answer to a trivia question and to serve as a reason to shake one's head in disbelief.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #10

The Golden Age of Hollywood was also the Golden Age of the Academy Awards, right? Ha! The sickening sneer you have on your face is matched by the one I have perpetually smeared on my own grubby mug as I scratch out my own personal Top Ten Oscar Travesties. However, before the series commences, I'd better lay down the ground rules.

Only the Golden Age: For the purposes of this series, let’s just say it’s 1934 to, oh, 1950-something. That way I don’t have to delve into the unpleasantness of Glenda Jackson’s two Oscar wins or the fact that Jerry Goldsmith has only one measly Oscar out of his multitude of nominations.

Snubs: While this qualifies as a travesty in itself, this countdown won’t have me moaning and wailing like an elderly, old-world-widow over Myrna Loy’s zero nominations. More importantly, the list will not discuss “should’ve been nominated” performers, directors, writers, and technical personnel. The travesties will only include the actual nominees of a given year.

Just One Person’s View: Remember, it’s just how I see it. I’m sure everyone out there has their own strongly-held opinions about Oscar’s greatest travesties, and believe me; I can’t wait to read what you consider the best/worst omissions and inclusions.

Now let’s begin the countdown…

The #10 Oscar Travesty of the Golden Age:

Sweet Leilani wins the 1937 Best Song Oscar over They Can't Take That Away From Me.

Apparently, "they" could AND did...take that away from them, that is.

Poor George Gershwin. Not only did the man die at the tragically early age of 38 in July 1937, but to add further insult to this most grievous event, one of his finest compositions, from the Astaire-Rogers musical Shall We Dance, They Can’t Take That Away from Me lost the Best Song Oscar to Harry Owens’ Sweet Leilani. We should all be so lucky as to have a Hawaiian vacation and have a grateful Bing Crosby go to bat for you against a tough Hollywood producer to include your ditty in a most forgettable movie. To be fair, Sweet Leilani must’ve sounded exotic to haole ears in 1937, and Bing Crosby had a huge-selling record with it, so its commercial appeal is also understandable. It still ruffles my feathers, though.

Perhaps Gershwin’s masterwork lost because of his prolonged journey into “highbrow” music. Or maybe it was due to the fact that an Astaire song—The Way You Look Tonight—deservedly won the Best Song Oscar in 1936. Politics always played a part with the Oscars, and this has been proven over the course of many decades. However, to show what a restrained, stand-up blogger I am, this will be the only music-related travesty on the top ten list.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Big Disney Letdown: or, Looking Back Bitterly

In looking back at just some of Disney’s 1970s live-action cinematic endeavors, this partial list alone reads like a Shakespearean tragedy:

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
The Shaggy D.A.
Freaky Friday
The Apple Dumpling Gang
The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again
The Cat from Outer Space
(both M*A*S*H commanders are in this: Harry Morgan and McLean Stevenson)
The North Avenue Irregulars (sounds like an ad for adult diapers)
Hot Lead and Cold Feet
Escape from Witch Mountain
Return to Witch Mountain

And of course, The Black Hole (aka “We passed on Star Wars”).

Disney’s animated features have fared a bit better, not that I’ve seen them:

Robin Hood
Pete’s Dragon
The Rescuers
The Fox and the Hound
(1981; this one was heavily advertised, so naturally I didn’t go and see it)

Don’t know why Disney eschewed its proud and successful animated tradition for Joe Flynn and Dean Jones, but they did and it’s my first impression of Disney the movie studio. Their less-than-stellar legacy is something I can’t grasp. Why would they make the move to live-action movies when they were the world’s leader in animated feature films dating back to 1937? I honestly want to know. If any Disney aficionados out there are reading this and can answer this question, please comment.

Now, it’s time for some bitter reminiscences...tongue in cheek, of course, but more than a kernel of truth.

I remember my parents always raving about Disney's great animated features, but they were too busy splitting up to take me, I guess. For whatever reasons, I never saw those classic Disney animated films on TV or in any theatrical re-releases there might have been. As a result of my deprived childhood and Disney's ineptitude, I've never seen many of those early Disney classics. Fantasia in particular has eluded me all these years. I haven't even bothered to see them on home video; I'd really prefer seeing them on the big screen, but even that's unlikely as they bastardize their own films with politically correct changes. Jerks. So even the home video aspect of this tragic tale can’t rescue me from my lethargy.

Those of you of the Baby Boomer generation have one more thing to be thankful for, and that’s the superiority of your collective Disney experience over that of the so-called Generation X. You had the novelty of the opening of Disneyland, the weekly Disney show at its 1950s and ‘60s peak and the frequent cinematic re-releases of all those animated Disney classics. Even the Generation Y people have a better Disney nostalgia, with virtually every movie made beginning with The Little Mermaid and on through the ’90s. My generation had the Osmonds singing at Disneyland and Bette Midler and Shelley Long “buddy” movies.

When I was a little kid in the mid-to-late 1970s, Disney wasn't doing much animation. Lots of Ken Berry and Dean Jones live-action crapola which bored me to tears. Plus there was the Herbie the Car series, which I actually didn’t mind, especially Herbie Rides Again. That’s the one with Helen Hayes fighting some monolithic building conglomerate who wants to tear down her humble home in favor of some skyscraper. However, the one movie that stings with remembrance was the 1972 non-opus un-classic, Snowball Express. I had suffered through this wretched movie one day in 1982 and vowed never to put myself through that again. A week or so later, a friend and I were going to a movie house to see a Disney movie with his then-twentysomething brother and his girlfriend. Anyway, the morning we were set to go, my buddy came down with the flu. He got to stay home with the comfort of his fever, chills, and vomiting whereas I had to sit still with “grown ups” (as I classified anyone five years or older than me) who, at least to my mind, were going to talk about “adult” things like college, alcohol, and other non-Star Wars action figure-related topics.

Anyway, guess what “surprise” Disney movie we were set to see? You guessed it: Snowball Express. Seeing that film twice in less than a week almost qualified me to do Charlton Heston’s mouthing the dialogue of the Woodstock documentary in The Omega Man, only without the lost idealism. I did feel like the last person on the planet, though.

I recently watched Snowball Express on TV, not as a way of punishing myself, but rather seeing if my hostility and unpleasant memories still held true. Surprisingly, they did not. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Harry Morgan is fun as always, and there are several TV actors who bring a familiarity and nostalgia to the proceedings: Dick Van Patten (who never seemed to work outside of the 1970s), Johnny Whitaker (Family Affair), George Lindsey (Goober from Andy Griffith), and the great blowhard villain from many a 1970s Disney film, Keenan Wynn. Was it Pinocchio? Did it evoke memories of Fantasia? I wouldn’t know, because I still haven’t seen those films.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

In Memoriam: Dana Wynter

The death of actress Dana Wynter on May 5 probably got under the radar in light of other recent deaths, but I doubt the passing of a somewhat obscure performer, even one as lovely as Miss Wynter, would have gained much media coverage anyway.

She's best known for her role in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but my connection to her is through her various TV appearances, where she was often cast as a quiet and dignified (minor) member of European royalty. She was usually stoic in the face of some inner torment, playing a villainess who nonetheless gained my sympathy through her affecting vulnerability. Dana Wynter is the kind of actress groomed in a studio system who subsequently owned the small screen in her myriad television roles. Wynter may have began her career as a lovely ingenue in early '50s Hollywood, but she made her career on television.

I had a small crush on her when I was a kid, something I didn't realize until I saw those shows again as an adult. She played the vulnerable/tormented ice queen to perfection in a 1974 episode of McMillan and Wife, The Man Without a Face, where she played a former love of Rock Hudson's Stewart McMillan character. It's the role of hers that I always think of when Dana Wynter's name comes to mind. The episode in question was also an "international intrigue/cloak & dagger" story, so young me was especially interested in the show.

Years later, as an impressionable middle schooler, I saw Wynter in two episodes of Magnum, P.I., (the "official" TV show of my childhood). Wynter played two similar parts in seasons two and three of that series, both dealing with rigged devices that lead to murder. In "Foiled Again", the fiftysomething Wynter managed to entice the much-younger Tom Selleck in what proved to be the most memorable performance of her two appearances. In both episodes, Wynter demonstrated her usual flair for playing the vulnerable woman who nonethless had a quiet strength; she struck a fine balance that totally eludes most actresses--and audiences--today.