31 Days of Oscar–Week Three

Lots of Great Movies, and also ‘The Day Of The Dolphin’

We’re now in the third week of 31 Days of Oscar on Turner Classic Movies. At this point, the viewer starts to wonder if the Oscars even make sense. You might be asking questions. Like, can a film really be the best picture of the year if no single element is exceptional? Did George Kennedy really have an Oscar before Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, or John Wayne? Did Mike Nichols direct a movie about a talking dolphin? And did that dolphin win an acting award? For the answers to these questions and more, read on, set your DVR, and come back next week for the final picks of the month!

(All times listed Eastern Time)

February 18

8 PM – High Noon (1952)

9:45 PM – The Quiet Man (1952)

Both of tonight’s films feature men who’ve sworn off violence, but are being pressured to fight. The Academy nominated both for seven awards, including Best Picture. However, both lost the big prize to The Greatest Show on Earth, widely thought to be one of the least-deserving winners in Oscar history. In the tense Western High Noon, Gary Cooper stars as an ex-marshal prevented from starting a new life with his Quaker bride because he alone is willing to defend the town against a notorious gunslinger’s gang. High Noon won awards for editing and lead actor, as well as Dimitri Tiomkin’s haunting score and original song. Producer Stanley Kramer speculated that it lost Best Picture loss was because of the political climate. Many people saw the story as an allegory for McCarthyism, though Kramer and director Fred Zinnemann denied it.

However, by the time of the Oscar ceremony, the film’s writer, Carl Foreman, had moved to England amid accusations of communism. At Cooper’s request, John Wayne accepted the Oscar on his behalf. Wayne joked about asking his agent why he didn’t get the part in High Noon. He said this without irony, despite the fact that Wayne was part of the anti-communist faction that had driven Foreman out of Hollywood. Instead, Wayne starred in The Quiet Man for director John Ford. He plays an ex-boxer who returns to his ancestral Irish home to start a new life, preferably with local lass Maureen O’Hara. You’ll see why O’Hara and Wayne are considered one of the great screen couples; their scenes vibrate with electricity. The Quiet Man may have lost Best Picture, but still picked up awards for director John Ford and cinematography.

 

February 19

8:45 AM – You Can’t Take it With You (1938)

One one of the few comedies to ever win Best Picture, You Can’t Take it With You depicts a clash of cultures when the daughter of free-spirited eccentrics falls in love with the son of a straight-laced family of privilege. It probably helped that it was based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play that was still in its original Broadway run when the movie was made. It was also the sixth straight hit for director Frank Capra and earned him his third Best Director statuette.

February 20

6:15 PM – 12 Angry Men (1957)

Today’s schedule features courtroom dramas and 12 Angry Men may just be the best of the bunch. Set almost entirely in the jury’s deliberation room, it maintains a claustrophobic tension as the jurors debate the defendant’s guilt. If you haven’t seen 12 Angry Men, you have probably seen one of the many imitators, homages, or parodies. Count me shocked that none of the actors received acting nominations. The film was nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Writing, but in each category lost out to The Bridge on the River Kwai.

February 21

12:30 AM – Cool Hand Luke (1967)

If someone asks you to name a favorite movie prisoner, you could do worse than Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. Newman’s Luke is a rebel who resists authority. When the state sentences him to a chain gang, his numerous escape attempts and refusal to be broken down earn him the respect of his fellow inmates and the ire of the guards. The film was nominated for several awards including Best Actor, Writing, and Score. It was the first Oscar nomination for Lalo Schifrin, the composer best known for the Mission: Impossible theme. However, the film’s only winner was George Kennedy for Best Supporting Actor.

February 22

5:30 AM – The Day of the Dolphin (1973)

Today’s schedule features films about animals, most of them objectively better movies than the one I picked.

In The Day of the Dolphin, a sci-fi thriller directed by Mike Nichols and written by Buck Henry, the duo behind The Graduate, George C. Scott stars as a scientist who teaches dolphins to speak, then must stop the dolphins from assassinating the president.  I chose this one because the more you know about it, the more you wonder how it got made in the first place. Nevertheless, voters nominated it for two Academy Awards: original dramatic score and sound. The film didn’t win any Oscars, but Alpha the dolphin did bring home a major award that year. The American Humane Association gave out the PATSYs (Picture Animal Top Stars of the Year) between 1951 and 1986 for animal performers in film and television. Alpha’s fellow animals voted him  the top motion picture animal for 1973.

 

February 23

1:30 PM – The Three Musketeers (1948)

Gene Kelly leads the cast of this colorful swashbuckler nominated for its cinematography. As the swordsman D’Artagnan, Kelly brings his trademark athleticism and vibrant energy and the supporting cast of familiar MGM character actors is excellent. However, none of the three main actresses were happy with their parts. June Allyson felt she was miscast as D’Artagnan’s love interest and wasn’t comfortable doing a period piece. Lana Turner, cast as the duplicitous Lady DeWinter, didn’t think her part was big enough. Meanwhile, Angela Lansbury, cast in the comic part of the Queen, wanted the more complex role of Lady deWinter and even lobbied the studio for the chance. Whatever was going on behind the scenes, the resulting film is a delight.

February 24

8 PM – The Broadway Melody (1929)

10 PM – Grand Hotel (1932)

Tonight’s line-up features two films which won Best Picture, but nothing else. The Broadway Melody was given top honors at the second Oscars ceremony. As MGM’s first “all-talking” picture, and the first talkie awarded Best Picture, it was considered a technical achievement for the time. Watching the film today, it seems to have won more for its innovation and novelty, rather than quality of its storytelling. However, it’s worth watching for Bessie Love, nominated for Best Actress. She has a dynamic charisma that comes through in both the musical numbers and dramatic moments.

Grand Hotel is the only film in Oscars history to win Best Picture while receiving no other nominations in any category. It was Hollywood’s first “all-star” film, with a cast including Greta Garbo, two Barrymores, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and Jean Hersholt, the actor for whom the Academy’s Humanitarian Award is named. Though the film is definitely enjoyable to watch, this is probably another case of novelty winning out over craft. Of course, like the “all-talking” gimmick of The Broadway Melody, Grand Hotel’s all-star casting stunt eventually became a fixture of films through to today.

Lani Gonzalez

Lani Gonzalez has appeared as a guest programmer on Turner Classic Movies and occasionally writes about what she sees at Cinema Then and Now.

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