Wednesday, September 9, 2015

1948--The Year in Review

So far, my choices as to best of the 1940s have included John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, Marcel Carne's Children of Paradise, Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life and Charles Chaplin's Monsiuer Verdoux. But, out of all these splendid films, I return to this year's winner again and again nowadays--I find I never get tired of it, it so fills me with excitement. Whenever I begin John Huston's dazzling examination of human greed called The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and hear Max Steiner's wonderful score blasting away again, I feel like I'm settling down for the most beefy, appetizing dinner imaginable (complete with beans--ya gotta eat your beans). It's the kind of work that could get people who've never before seen a black-and-white film immediately enthusiastic about old movies (if I were teaching a course on movie history, this would be the one I'd program instantly--it's just impossible to get restless with this masterpiece). The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is everything a great work of cinema should be--weird, dangerous, radically engrossing, insightful, and crafted with fussy visual detail from top to bottom. The acting here is sublime, with each of the three leads play off each other to sensational effect (there are few supporting performances in film history more gripping, more hilarious and true, than Walter Huston's show as Howard, the straight-talking miner who acts as the film's iron moral compass; it should be noted, this film stands as the first that won Oscars for a father-and-son team in the same year (only the Coppola's have matched it, in 1974 with The Godfather Part II). And, man, how great is Humphrey Bogart in this movie? His Fred J. Dobbs is a lush, grubby, regally besmudged madman, deluded and bent on self-destruction; whenever I see him covered in that Mexican dust and grime, almost looking like a crazed, hairy monkey (50s' TV host Dave Garroway's chimpanzee TV-cohort J. Fred Muggs was probably named after Bogart's character), I say to myself  "This is easily Bogart's most daring, without-a-wire performance." And I love Tim Holt, too, elegantly gentle as the one relatively sane member of this batty trio. Even Bruce Bennett as the sad, laconically wise interloper Cody and Alphonso Bedoya as the film's villainous Gold Hat are unforgettable (Bedoya gets the movie's most famous line: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges"). Huston's heart-pounding quasi-western really places the viewer right there, pick in hand, toiling in the heated grime, suffering beneath that sun-soaked, gold-stuffed much so that you feel like having a cool shower after watching the low dealings happening in this sierra's shadows. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is fun and smart and disturbing in equal measure, and I can't imagine anyone in the Academy voting against it for Best Picture (especially since it ended up winning three of the year's major awards).

But it happened, and instead, the Academy decided to finally give much of its acclaim to the British film industry, which had been toiling in unfair obscurity for decades before being cited for Lawrence Olivier's abbreviated version of Hamlet, which is fine but far from the best of the year (now, it really stands as a living document of Olivier's talents as an actor, and less as a show of his directing aplumb--his earlier Henry V was easily more astonishing, and I suspect this Best Picture choice was a make-up award for ignoring the legendary actor for so many years). Still, there are so many better 1948 UK movies the Academy could've lauded--Carol Reed's tense The Fallen Idol, Michael Powell's dizzying The Red Shoes, or David Lean's perfect adaptation of Oliver Twist, for example (then again, aside from The Red Shoes, which won a few accolades this year, maybe these movies weren't seen on US shores for years to come--the releases of non-American movies back then were a bonafide mess, and that's also why colossal titles like Italy's Bicycle Thieves and Germany Year Zero weren't considered for 1948 awards). Though Sierra Madre captains a major sweep in this overview, there's still room for the brilliantly colored images of Powell's The Red Shoes, a film too vibrant to ignore. Oliver Twist and The Fallen Idol still come into play here, too, and my choice for best Live Action Short film of the year was also a British film--a taut 40-minute photoplay called To The Public Danger, only the second production directed by future James Bond auteur Terrence Fisher. And, once again, the wildly funny and creative animator Tex Avery contributed another masterpiece involving a hilariously dyspeptic cat. 1947 might have been a dud of a year, but 1948--on US and other shores--more than made up for it. I a period for film noir (They Live By Night, The Naked City, Raw Deal, Force of Evil, Key Largo, Call Northside 777), comedy (Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Unfaithfully Yours, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein), musicals (Easter Parade, The Pirate, Romance on the High Seas) and westerns (Red River, Fort Apache, Yellow Sky). It was a time of ridiculous riches--a gold mine, if you will. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold.

PICTURE: THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (US, John Huston) (2nd: The Red Shoes (UK, Michael Powell), followed by: The Fallen Idol (UK, Carol Reed); Bicycle Thieves (Italy, Vittorio De Sica); Germany Year Zero (Italy/West Germany, Roberto Rossellini); Red River (US, Howard Hawks); Oliver Twist (UK, David Lean); Letter from an Unknown Woman (US, Max Ophuls); Raw Deal (US, Anthony Mann); They Live by Night (US, Nicholas Ray); He Walked By Night (US, Alfred Werker and Anthony Mann); Yellow Sky (US, William A. Wellman); Force of Evil (US, Abraham Polonsky); Key Largo (US, John Huston); Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (US, H.C. Potter); The Naked City (US, Jules Dassin); Hamlet (UK, Lawrence Olivier); Call Northside 777 (US, Henry Hathaway); I Remember Mama (US, George Stevens); The Snake Pit (US, Anatole Litvak); Portrait of Jennie (US, William Dieterle); The Search (US, Fred Zinnemann); Macbeth (US, Orson Welles); Louisiana Story (US, Robert Flaherty); Sorry, Wrong Number (US, Anatole Litvak); Unfaithfully Yours (US, Preston Sturges); Fort Apache (US, John Ford); Easter Parade (US, Charles Walters); Rope (US, Alfred Hitchcock); Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (US, Charles Barton)

ACTOR: Humphrey Bogart, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (2nd: Ralph Richardson, The Fallen Idol, followed by: Alec Guinness, Oliver Twist; John Garfield, Force of Evil; John Wayne, Red River; Lawrence Olivier, Hamlet; Lamberto Maggioranni, Bicycle Thieves; Cary Grant, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House; Richard Basehart, He Walked by Night)

ACTRESS: Olivia De Havilland, THE SNAKE PIT (2nd: Joan Fontaine, Letter from an Unknown Woman, followed by: Barbara Stanwyck, Sorry, Wrong Number; Irene Dunne, I Remember Mama; Jennifer Jones, Portrait of Jennie; Jane Wyman, Johnny Belinda; Myrna Loy, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House; Moira Shearer, The Red Shoes; Katharine Hepburn, State of the Union)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Walter Huston, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (2nd: Robert Newton, Oliver Twist, followed by: Montgomery Clift, Red River; Edward G. Robinson, Key Largo; Tim Holt, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; Walter Brennan, Red River; Oscar Homolka, I Remember Mama; Thomas Gomez, Force of Evil; Melvyn Douglas, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jean Simmons, HAMLET (2nd: Anne Baxter, Yellow Sky, followed by: Ethel Barrymore, Portrait of Jennie; Barbara Bel Geddes, I Remember Mama; Kay Walsh, Oliver Twist; Mary Clare, Oliver Twist; Claire Trevor, Key Largo; Betsy Blair, The Snake Pit; Barbara Lawrence, Unfaithfully Yours) 

DIRECTOR: John Huston, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (2nd: Vittorio De Sica, Bicycle Thieves, followed by: Michael Powell, The Red Shoes; Carol Reed, The Fallen Idol; David Lean, Oliver Twist; Howard Hawks, Red River; Roberto Rossellini, Germany Year Zero; Max Ophuls, Letter from an Unknown Woman

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Roberto Rossellini, Carlo Lizzani, Max Colpet, and Sergio Amadei, GERMANY YEAR ZERO (2nd: Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald, The Naked City, followed by:  Lamar Trotti and W.R. Burnett, Yellow Sky; Preston Sturges, Unfaithfully Yours; Richard Schwizer, The Search) 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: John Huston, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (2nd: Oreste Biancoli, Suso D'Amico, Vittorio De Sica, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi, Gerardo Guerrieri, and Cesare Zavattini, Bicycle Thieves; followed by: Graham Greene, Leslie Storm and William Templeton, The Fallen Idol; David Lean and Stanley Haynes, Oliver Twist; Borden Chase and Charles Schnee, Red River; Abraham Polonsky and Ira Wolfort, Force of Evil

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: TO THE PUBLIC DANGER (UK, Terrence Fisher) (2nd: In The Street (Helen Levitt); The Dim Little Island (UK, Humphrey Jennings); Meditation on Violence (Maya Deren); Mother's Day (UK, James Broughton)

ANIMATED SHORT FILM: THE CAT THAT HATED PEOPLE (Tex Avery) (2nd: Back Alley Oproar (Friz Freleng; Sylvester and Porky Pig), followed by: Pecos Bill (Clyde Geronmi and Walt Disney); The Foghorn Leghorn (Robert McKimson; Foghorn Leghorn); Half-Pint Pygmy (Tex Avery); Haredevil Hare (Chuck Jones; Bugs Bunny and Marvin the Martian); Gorilla My Dreams (Robert McKimson; Bugs Bunny))

BLACK-AND-WHITE CINEMATOGRAPHY: Joseph H. August and Lee Garmes, PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (2nd: William Daniels, The Naked City, followed by: John Alton, He Walked Bu Night; Joseph MacDonald, Yellow Sky; Guy Green, Oliver Twist)

COLOR CINEMATOGRAPHY: Jack Cardiff, THE RED SHOES (2nd: Harry Stradling, Jr., Easter Parade, followed by: Winton C. Hoch, William V. Skall and Joseph A. Valentine, Joan of Arc)

BLACK-AND-WHITE ART DIRECTION: THE FALLEN IDOL, Oliver Twist, Johnny Belinda, I Remember Mama, Portrait of Jennie


BLACK-AND-WHITE COSTUME DESIGN: OLIVER TWIST, Hamlet, Letter From an Unknown Woman, The Fallen Idol, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

COLOR COSTUME DESIGN: THE RED SHOES, Easter Parade, Romance on the High Seas

FILM EDITING: THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, Red River, The Naked City, He Walked By Night, The Red Shoes

SOUND: THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, Red River, The Snake Pit, The Naked City, Yellow Sky

ORIGINAL SCORE: Max Steiner, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (2nd: Dimitri Tiomkin, Red River, followed by: Brian Easdale, The Red Shoes; Alfred Newman, The Snake Pit; Dimitri Tiomkin, Portrait of Jennie)

ADAPTED OR MUSICAL SCORE: Johnny Green and Roger Edens, EASTER PARADE (2nd: Lennie Hayden, The Pirate, followed by: Victor Young, The Emperor Waltz)

ORIGINAL SONG: "It's Magic" from ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (Music by Jule Stein, lyrics by Sammy Cahn) (2nd: "Buttons and Bows" from The Paleface (Music by Jay Livingston, lyrics by Ray Evans), followed by: "Be A Clown" from The Pirate (Music and lyrics by Cole Porter); "A Couple of Swells" from EASTER PARADE (Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin); "Steppin' Out With My Baby" from Easter Parade (Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin))

MAKEUP: THE RED SHOES, Oliver Twist, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

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