Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1950s.
The Third Man (1950, dir by Carol Reed)
Now, it should be noted that The Third Man was not ignored by the Academy. It won the Oscar for Best Cinematography and it was nominated for both editing and Carol Reed’s direction. But, even with that in mind, it’s somewhat amazing to consider all of the nominations that it didn’t get. The screenplay went unnominated. So did the famous zither score. No nominations for Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, or even Orson Welles! And finally, no Best Picture nomination. 1950 was a good year for the movies so competition was tight but still, it’s hard to believe that the Academy found room to nominate King Solomon’s Mines but not The Third Man.
Rear Window (1954, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)
Alfred Hitchcock directed some of his best films in the 50s, though few of them really got the recognition that they deserved upon their initial release. Vertigo is often described as being Hitchcock’s masterpiece but, to be honest, I actually prefer Rear Window. This film finds the master of suspense at his most playful and, at the same time, at his most subversive. Casting Jimmy Stewart as a voyeur was a brilliant decision. This film features one of my favorite Grace Kelly performances. Meanwhile, Raymond Burr is the perfect schlubby murderer. Like The Third Man, Rear Window was not ignored by the academy. Hitchcock was nominated and the film also picked up nods for its screenplay, cinematography, and sound design. However, it was not nominated for best picture.
Rebel Without A Cause (1955, dir by Nicholas Ray)
Nicholas Ray’s classic film changed the way that teenagers were portrayed on film and it still remains influential today. James Dean is still pretty much the standard to which most young, male actors are held. Dean was not nominated for his performance here. (He was, however, nominated for East of Eden that same year.) Instead, nominations went to Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, and the film’s screenplay. Amazingly, in the same year that the forgettable Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing was nominated for best picture, this popular and influential film was not.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955, dir by Robert Aldrich)
It’s unfortunate but not surprising that Kiss Me Deadly was totally ignored by the Academy. In the mid-to-late 50s, the Academy tended to embrace big productions. There was no way they were going to nominate a satirical film noir that featured a psychotic hero and ended with the end of the world. That’s a shame, of course, because Kiss Me Deadly has proven itself to be more memorable and influential than many of the films that were nominated in its place.
Touch of Evil (1958, dir by Orson Welles)
Speaking of underappreciated film noirs, Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil is one of the craftiest and most brilliant films ever made. So, of course, no one appreciated it when it was originally released. This cheerfully sordid film features Welles at his best. Starting with a memorable (and oft-imitated) tracking shot, the film proceeds to take the audience into the darkest and most eccentric corners of a small border town. Everyone in the cast, from the stars to the bit players, is memorably odd. Even the much mocked casting of Charlton Heston as a Mexican pays off wonderfully in the end.
The 400 Blows (1959, dir by Francois Truffaut)
Francois Truffaut’s autobiographical directorial debut was released in the United States in 1959 and it was Oscar-eligible. Unfortunately, it only picked up a screenplay nomination. Of course, in the late 50s, the last thing that the Academy was going to embrace was a French art film from a leftist director. However, The 400 Blows didn’t need a best picture nomination to inspire a generation of new filmmakers.
Up next, in an hour or so, we continue on to the 60s!
As a genre, film noir has always been associated with crime: murder, brutish gangsters, seductive femme fatales, and occasionally a cynical private detective doing the right thing almost despite himself. However, not all film noirs are about criminals. Some are just about desperate characters who have found themselves on the fringes, living in a shadow-filled world that appears to be monstrously indifferent to all human suffering.
That’s certainly the case with the 1951 noir, 14 Hours. The film centers around Robert Cosick (Richard Basehart, who previously played a murderer in another classic noir, He Walked By Night). Robert isn’t a gangster. He’s not a private detective. He doesn’t carry a gun and he doesn’t provide any sort of hard-boiled narration. In fact, for the majority of the film, Robert is defined by less who he is and more by what he’s doing. Robert Cosick, having earlier checked into a room on the 15th floor of a New York hotel, has climbed out of a window and is now standing on a ledge. Robert says that he’s going to jump.
What has driven Robert Cosik to consider such an extreme action? The film never settles on any one reason, though it gives us several clues. When his father (Robert Keith) and his mother (Agnes Moorehead) show up at the scene, they immediately start bickering about old family dramas. When Robert’s ex-fiancee (Barbara Bel Geddes) begs him to step in from the ledge, he listens a bit more to her than he did to his parents but he still refuses to come in from the ledge.
But perhaps the real reason that Robert Cosick is out on that ledge can be found in the film’s shadowy visuals. Directed in a semi-documentary fashion by Henry Hathaway and featuring harsh, black-and-white cinematography that’s credited to Joe MacDonald, Fourteen Hours emphasizes the indifference of the city. From the menacing landscape of concrete buildings to the crowds gathering below the ledge to see if Robert lives or dies, New York City is as much as a character in this film as Robert, his family, or the cop (played by Paul Douglas) who finds himself trying to talk Robert into reentering his hotel room. When night falls, the city may light up but it does nothing to alleviate the shadows that seem to be wrapping themselves around Robert. For the fourteen hours that Robert is on that ledge, he may be the center of the world but the film leaves little doubt that New York City will continue to exist in all of its glory and its horror regardless of how Robert’s drama plays out. Whether he lives or dies, Robert appears to be destined to be forgotten.
When the film isn’t concentrating on the cops trying to talk Robert into getting back in the hotel room, it shows us the reactions of the people who see him standing out on that ledge. (If this film were made today, everyone would be holding up their phones and uploading Robert’s plight to social media.) Some people are moved by Robert’s struggle. For instance, a young woman played by Grace Kelly (in her film debut) reaches a decision on whether or not to get a divorce based on what she sees happening on the ledge. Two office workers (played by Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget) even strike up a romance as they wait to see what will happen. Some people view Robert as being a madman. Others see him as being a victim. And then there’s the many others who view him as being either a minor distraction or a piece of entertainment. For them, it’s less important why Robert’s on the ledge or even who Robert is. What’s important to them is how the story is going to end.
It’s not a particularly happy film but it’s made watchable by Hathaway’s intelligent direction and the performances of Paul Douglas and Richard Basehart. With its theme of instant fame and hollow indifference, it’s a film that remains as relevant today as when it was initially released.
Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t afraid to take chances. When the 3-D craze hit in the 1950’s, the innovative director jumped on the new technology to make DIAL M FOR MURDER, based on Frederick Knott’s hit play. The film is full of suspense, and contains many of The Master’s signature touches, but on the whole I consider it to be lesser Hitchcock… which is certainly better than most working in the genre, but still not up to par for Hitch.
Knott adapted his play for the screen, and keeps the tension mounting throughout. The story is set in London, and revolves around ex-tennis pro Tony Wendice, whose wife Margot is having an affair with American mystery writer Mark Halliday. Tony comes up with an elaborate plot to have her murdered by stealing a love letter Mark has written and blackmailing her, then setting up his old school acquaintance C.A. Swann, a man…
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When you go out to the neighborhood cinema, you’re indulging in a voyeuristic experience, watching the lives of people unfold before you on the screen. The theme of viewer as voyeur, peeping in on the privacy of total strangers, has never been done better than in Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW, nor more entertainingly. Like James Stewart’s protagonist L.B. Jeffries, we the audience are the voyeurs in the shadows watching from afar, stumbling onto things not meant for our eyes, and powerless to stop them without outside assistance. Hitchcock is not only the Master of Suspense, but a master of audience manipulation, and this dazzling piece of moviemaking is not only a hell of a thrill ride but a technical marvel as well.
The world of globetrotting photojournalist Jeffries has been boiled down to the view of the courtyard outside his apartment window, just as the audience’s world is now focused on…
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(I am currently in the process of cleaning out my DVR! I recorded the 1952 best picture nominee, High Noon, off of Retroplex on January 28th. This review is scheduled to posted at 12 noon, central time. Clever, no?)
High Noon is a testament to the power of simplicity.
It’s a famous film, one that continues to be influential and which is still studied today. It’s known for being one of the greatest westerns ever made but it’s also a powerful political allegory. Even people who haven’t seen the film know that High Noon is the moment of the day when someone shows their true character. Just as everyone knows the plot of Star Wars, regardless of whether they’ve actually watched the film, everyone knows that High Noon is about a town marshal who, after the entire town deserts him, is forced to face down a gang of gunmen on his own.
And yet, it really is a surprisingly simple movie. It’s the quintessential western, filmed in black-and-white and taking place in the type of frontier town that you would expect to find hiding on the back lot of an old movie studio. Though wonderfully brought to life by a talented cast, the majority of the characters are familiar western archetypes.
There’s the aging town marshal, a simple man of integrity. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for playing the role of Will Kane. When we first see Will, he’s getting married in a frontier courtroom. All of the town leaders have come to his wedding and all of them wish him luck in the future. Will is retiring and everyone agrees that the town would never have survived and prospered if not for Will Kane. After all, Will is the one who captured the notorious outlaw, Frank Miller. When the news comes that Miller has been pardoned and will be arriving back in town on the noon train, everyone tells Will that he should just leave town and go on his honeymoon. However, the new marshal will not be arriving for another day and Will is not willing to abandon the town. However, the town is more than willing to abandon him.
Will’s new wife is Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly). Amy is a Quaker and a pacifist. Amy begs Kane to leave town but Kane says that he’s never run from a fight. Amy tells him that she’ll be leaving on that noon train, with or without him. Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado) is the former girlfriend of both Kane and Miller. She is one of the few people in town to call out everyone else’s cowardice but she is still planning to leave before Miller arrives. As she explains it to Amy, she would never abandon Kane if he were her man but he’s not her man anymore.
The townspeople, who first appear to be so friendly and honest, soon prove themselves to be cowards. None of them are willing to stand behind Will. The Mayor (Thomas Mitchell) publicly castigates Will for staying in town and putting everyone else in danger. Deputy Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges) says that he’ll only help Will if Will recommends him as his replacement. The town minister (Morgan Farley) is more concerned with why Will was married by the justice of the peace, instead of in the church. The town judge (Otto Kruger) leaves early, saying he can be a judge in some other town. One of the few people to show Will any sympathy is the former marshal (Lon Chaney, Jr.) but, unfortunately, he is too old and crippled by arthritis to provide any help.
Though it all, Frank’s gang sits at the train station and waits for Frank to arrive. One gang member is played be Lee Van Cleef. He looks really mean!
With a brisk running time of 84 minutes, High Noon unfolds in real time. Throughout the film, as Kane grows increasingly desperate in his attempt to find anyone brave enough to stand with him, we see clocks in the background of nearly every scene. We hear the ticking. We know that both noon and Frank Miller are getting closer and closer. We know that, soon, Will will have no other option but to stand on the street by himself and defend a town that doesn’t deserve him.
It’s simple but it’s undeniably powerful.
It’s been said that High Noon was meant to be a metaphor for the blacklist. Frank Miller and his gang were the fascists that, having been defeated in World War II, were now coming back to power. Will Kane was a stand-in for all the men and women of integrity who found themselves blacklisted. The townspeople represented the studio execs who refused to challenge the blacklist. That’s the theory and it’s probably true. But, honestly, the political metaphor of High Noon works because it can be applied to any situation. Will Kane is anyone who has ever had to face down the forces of totalitarianism. He is anyone who has ever had the courage to take a lonely stand while everyone else cowered in the corner.
It’s a powerful metaphor and it’s also a genuinely entertaining movie. The gunfight is thrilling. The romance between Will and Amy feels real. Even the town feels like an actual place, one that has its own history and culture. It’s a simple film but it’s a great film.
Like a lot of great films, High Noon was nominated for best picture. And, like a lot of great films, it lost. In High Noon‘s case, it lost to a film that is almost its exact opposite, The Greatest Show on Earth. However, Gary Cooper did win an Oscar for his unforgettable performance as Will Kane.
I think we tend to take classic films for granted. Don’t do that with High Noon. See it the next chance you get.
4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.
Tomorrow would have been Grace Kelly’s 86th birthday! This edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films is dedicated to her.
4 Shots From 4 Films