the usual suspects: Paul Henreid, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains and Humphrey Bogart

The 16th Academy Awards, for the film year 1943.  The nominations were announced on February 6, 1944 and the awards were held on March 2, 1944.

Best Picture:  Casablanca

  • In Which We Serve
  • The Ox-Bow Incident
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Heaven Can Wait
  • Watch on the Rhine
  • The More the Merrier
  • The Human Comedy
  • The Song of Bernadette
  • Madame Curie

Most Surprising Omission:  So Proudly We Hail

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  Shadow of a Doubt

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #51

The Race: Hollywood was pitching in with the war effort in full force.  Two of the biggest films of 1943 had actually been released in 1942 – Casablanca and In Which We Serve, but neither had played in Los Angeles before the end of the year and ended up eligible for the 1943 Oscars.  Aside from those two, there were also Watch on the Rhine, focusing on the anti-Nazi effort, The Human Comedy, which focused on the home front, The More the Merrier, a comedy about the housing shortage on Washington and For Whom The Bell Tolls, the Hemingway best-seller about fighting the Fascists in Spain.

The National Board of Review kicked things off in late December by giving Best Picture to The Ox-Bow Incident, but found room in their top 10 for both Watch on the Rhine and CasablancaRhine did better in New York, where it won Best Picture and Actor from the New York Film Critics.  Best Director went to a comedy for the first time in six years as George Stevens won for The More the Merrier.  Best Actress went to Ida Lupino in The Hard Way, which failed to earn any Oscar nominations.

The newest awards group was the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association and their Golden Globes.  The initial awards went to The Song of Bernadette (Picture and Actress), Watch on the Rhine (Actor) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (both supporting awards).

The Results: All of the major contenders were in the race and The Song of Bernadette leaped to the forefront with 12 nominations.  But in the end, it was Casablanca that took home all three major prizes – Picture, Director and Screenplay, one of the greatest choices the Academy would ever make.

there's no question that the Academy got this one right: Casablanca won Best Picture in 1943

Casablanca

  • Director:  Michael Curtiz
  • Writer:  Julius G. Epstein  /  Philip G. Epstein  /  Howard Koch  (from the play Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison)
  • Producer:  Hal B. Wallis
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Conrad Veidt, Dooley Wilson, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Bogart), Supporting Actor (Rains), Editing, Cinematography (Black-and-White), Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture
  • Length:  102 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Romance)
  • Release Date:  26 November 1942
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1  (year)  /  #9  (nominees)  /  #3  (winners)  /  #15  (all-time)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Bogart), Actress (Bergman), Supporting Actor (Rains), Editing, Cinematography, Score, Sound, Art Direction

The Film:  It is filled with more great and memorable quotes than any film ever made, even more than The Princess Bride.  Do you want romance?  How about “Here’s looking at you, kid.”  Want humor?  “I came to Casablanca for the waters.”  “Waters, what waters?  We’re in the desert.”  “I was misinformed.”  Want a cynical aside?  “I stick my neck out for nobody.”  A nice little line in the middle of a more serious conversation.  “Are my eyes really brown?”  Or how about just the perfect ending.  “Louie, I think is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  The script alone is enough to keep people coming back time and time again.

But it doesn’t end with the script.  It has the film itself.  It is perfectly directed, with great technical skill.  It knows just how to allow people to hide in the shadows.  It has great music through every minute.  It has wonderful sets that make the place feel very much like an African city, when, in fact, it is the Warners back lot.  It is edited crisply and cleanly, knowing exactly how long to linger on every shot and not a second too long or too short.

But the heart of the film is the performances.  There are of course, the ones that don’t get talked about as much.  There are the wonderful small performances from Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre that seem to link Rick to the the darker, more cynical Sam Spade.  There is the wonderful Dooley Wilson and the way he brings Sam to life.  There are the smart, fully convincing performances from both Paul Henreid and Conrad Veidt.  Then there is Claude Rains.  Claude Rains was always the single best character actor in film and he never proved it better than he did here.  Look at the way he delivers the line, “If he gets a word in, it’ll be a major Italian victory.”  Or the look on his face when he is handed his winnings after clearing the cafe.  That he didn’t win the Oscar for this is one of the worst mistakes the Academy ever made, compounded by the fact that they never gave him an Oscar for any of his other brilliant performances either.

Then there are the leads.  Ingrid Bergman, in this film, competes with Grace Kelly as the most beautiful actress to ever be on screen.  She is beautiful and luminous and when Renault says “I’ve seen the lady” and then we see the lady, we absolutely understand.  And her performance is magnificent, kept out of the race only by her great performance in For Whom the Bell Tolls.  But then there is Bogart.  This is it, the great role, for all-time, the “rank sentimentalist,” the man who can not go home for reasons we never do learn, the man who would remember exactly what she was wearing in Paris.  The most perfect romantic cynic to ever appear.  And so put it all together and you have the perfect romance, one of the single best choices the Academy ever made.

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) - yet another great un-nominated Henry Fonda performance

The Ox-Bow Incident

  • Director:  William A. Wellman
  • Writer:  Lamar Trotti  (from the novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark)
  • Producer:  Lamar Trotti
  • Studio:  20th Century-Fox
  • Stars:  Henry Fonda, Harry Morgan, Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture
  • Oscar Note:  Last film to receive Best Picture nomination with no other nominations
  • Length:  75 min
  • Genre:  Western
  • Release Date:  21 May 1943
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #2  (year)  /  #128  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Fonda), Editing, Cinematography, Score

The Film:  What an opening scene.  The way the two men stand at the bar and stare at the picture, with the nice sparse dialogue.  The story hasn’t begun yet, we don’t know the tragedy that will unfold.  But we already like these two men and the way they react to that picture on the wall above the bar.  And the way Henry Fonda, after throwing up all the whiskey he’s just drank and says “Now I gotta start all over again.”  There is an edge of dry tension in these scenes, but some humor through them as well before things really get down to business.

After that, though, it is pretty much all business and a grim business it is indeed.  A man has been shot and the town wants to get a posse to go out and hang the people who did it.  That they know little about the incident and nothing about whoever may have shot the man seems to make no difference to anyone involved, except for the shopkeeper and those two men.  But soon they are all out on the road.  After a brief incident involving a stagecoach coming in to the town and the person in it whom Carter, the Henry Fonda character, had thought was waiting for him, we move on to the main action.  The posse comes upon three men.  One of them is Mexican and a known criminal and seems to have the gun of the dead man.  Another is an old confused man.  The third is the leader of the group, who tells them about his wife and kids, about the business deal he just made and how this is all a mistake.  But that doesn’t stop the posse and before too long, all three men have been hanged.

Of course, this is a miscarriage of justice.  It doesn’t seem possible to go in to this film and not know that.  It could be a metaphor for so many things in life.  But most of all, it seems to make a statement about the way sometimes people fail each other.  The two men and the shopkeeper tried to stop the hanging, voted against it.  It turns out they were in the right.  But they feel a part of the collective group that has failed in life.

Somehow this film was nominated for Best Picture, but nothing else.  It’s one hell of a film, well-made, with top notch Cinematography and Editing and one of those great performances by Henry Fonda that long made him one of the best actors around.  It is well directed and very well written.  It is, in short, a classic, one that deserved far more nominations.

David Lean's first directorial effort - co-directing with Noel Coward on In Which We Serve

In Which We Serve

  • Director:  Noel Coward  /  David Lean
  • Writer:  Noel Coward
  • Producer:  Noel Coward
  • Studio:  Two Cities  /  United Artists
  • Stars:  Noel Coward, Celia Johnson, John Mills
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Original Screenplay
  • Length:  115 min
  • Genre:  War  (World War II)
  • Box Office Gross:
  • Release Date:  23 December 1942
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #4  (year)  /  #138  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Johnson), Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Visual Effects, Sound Editing

The Film:  This film, in some ways, set the stage for all the greatness of David Lean’s career that would follow.  Lean and Noel Coward already knew each other and Lean was already working in the film industry as an editor, but Coward brought him on to co-direct this film, made specifically to spur support for British troops in the war.  Lean and Coward would work together again, with Coward doing the writing and Lean the directing.  But this film also has Ronald Neame as the cinematographer (who would co-write and produce Lean’s Great Expectations), as well as Celia Johnson, John Mills and Kay Walsh, all of whom would act in numerous Lean films throughout the rest of the decade.

While Coward is the heart and soul of this film – writing, directing, producing and even starring, in some ways, it is also Lean’s film through and through.  After all, while Coward came up with the idea of the sinking of a British ship and the members of its crew thinking about their lives and how they got there, but it was Lean’s editing that managed to make the film fit together so well.  It is the combination of Coward’s smart writing and Lean’s talented editing that makes the film a coherent whole, so by the time the ship actually sinks, we have come to know these men (partially as well through the performances – especially that of John Mills, always under-rated and Celia Johnson as Coward’s wife) and we feel for them.  And Coward understands his country and their way of thinking and feeling.  The moment when his wife gets the telegram saying that he is alive, look at the way the children react, the way they wait until they know they should react.  It is all vedy British.  And very true to life.

the rare great film made from a great book that is true to the book: For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls

  • Director:  Sam Wood
  • Writer:  Dudley Nichols  (from the novel by Ernest Hemingway)
  • Producer:  Sam Wood
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Stars:  Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Katina Paxinou, Akim Tamiroff
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Actor (Cooper), Actress (Bergman), Supporting Actor (Tamiroff), Supporting Actress (Paxinou), Editing, Cinematography (Color), Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture, Interior Decoration (Black-and-White)
  • Length:  170 min
  • Genre:  War  (Spanish Civil War)
  • Release Date:  14 July 1943
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #5  (year)  /  #200  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Cooper), Actress (Bergman), Supporting Actor (Tamiroff), Supporting Actress (Paxinou), Cinematography, Score, Sound, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design

The Film:  So many of the Best Picture nominees blend together that I can no longer remember when I watched a lot of them.  But some of them still hold true in memory.  It was my senior year of college and I was in my Senior Writing Seminar and we were talking about the problems of adapting novels into films.  I commented, “This weekend I watched an excellent war film that was perfectly coherent and well made, yet stayed incredibly true to its source novel.”  “Was it Catch-22,” I was asked.  “I said coherent,” was my reply.  I had, indeed, watched For Whom the Bell Tolls the previous weekend at the same period in my life when I was reading my way through Hemingway.

Hemingway was certainly the first great writer whose complete works I read through.  These days there are many who fit that bill: Faulkner, Roth, Rushdie, Garcia Marquez, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Kafka, Vonnegut, Dickens.  But the first one I got completely through was Hemingway.  He wrote in a way that almost demanded to be filmed.  And reading the novel (I had read the novel first of course), it almost cried out to have Gary Cooper in the Robert Jordan role.  In fact, that was what Hemingway wanted and he demanded that Ingrid Bergman be given the role of Maria.  He was right on both parts.  This is one of Cooper’s finest performances, one where he gets to do more than stand around and say “shucks”, that actually requires some emotion.  He was right on the part of Bergman as well.  No one else could have brought Maria to life the way she did.  It’s not a mistake that she was nominated for this instead of Casablanca.

But to concentrate on the two stars is to miss the other two performances, the two best in the film.  Akim Tamiroff had long been a character actor but Katina Paxinou was pretty much unknown and they are both perfectly cast as Pedro and Pilar.  They almost seem to embody the roles.  Of all the Hemingway novels, the only ones which today don’t cry out for films are To Have and Have Not and this.  It perfectly captures the feel of the Spanish Civil War, of the desperation of a small band of fighters, of the desperation of love and death.  In a span of five years, Sam Wood directed six films that were nominated for Best Picture.  This is by far the best of those six.

so much better than I remembered: The More the Merrier (1943)

The More the Merrier

  • Director:  George Stevens
  • Writer:  Robert Russell  /  Frank Ross  /  Richard Flournoy  /  Lewis R. Foster
  • Producer:  George Stevens
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Stars:  Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, Charles Coburn
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay, Original Story, Actress (Arthur), Supporting Actor (Coburn)
  • Length:  104 min
  • Genre:  Comedy  (Screwball)
  • Release Date:  26 March 1943
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #6  (year)  /  #214  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Original Screenplay, Actress (Arthur), Supporting Actor (Coburn), Editing, Art Direction

The Film:  It’s nice how a film can surprise you.  I remembered this film as a nice charming comedy with a good performance by Charles Coburn that managed to sneak the Oscar away from Claude Rains.  But, oh, it is so much more than that.  It is a great screwball comedy, with romantic scenes that somehow managed to slide past the censors, smart, funny dialogue and a fantastic performance from Charles Coburn that blasts its way through the film at full speed.

It is one of those films that begins by focusing on a secondary character, until that character moves into the action and brings the leads into full view.  Like many films like that, especially when that character is so memorable, the film lags a bit whenever he isn’t on screen and that’s what keeps this film from being one of the all-time greats.  Charles Coburn is Mr. Dingle, a man who ends up in Washington during the housing shortage of the second World War, bluffs his way into an apartment with Jean Arthur and soon manages to take over her life.  He rents out half of his room to young Joel McCrea and the scenes where Arthur and McCrea keep missing each other, until they finally notice each other are priceless moments of screwball comedy.

Arthur is wonderful of course, finally earning an Oscar nomination (her only one), as poor Connie Milligan, a working girl in D.C. who suddenly ends up sharing her apartment and soon, her life.  Joel McCrea is extremely charming as Joe Carter, the young soldier in town for only a week.  In fact, is McCrea ever less than charming?  I’m sure if I could find one if I tried, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a single role in which McCrea isn’t likeable.  He always brings a nice charm to any film.

But the heart and soul of this film is Charles Coburn.  While I still think the Academy made the wrong choice (Claude Rains in Casablanca is, after all, one of the greatest supporting performances of all-time), but watching it again, I can definitely say they made a good choice.  He is funny and smart and quick-witted and absolutely determined to not life get in the way of things and he will find a happy ending.

Which brings us to the ending.  Things progress to a point where we suddenly have a couple thrown together in a way they didn’t expect and they return to the apartment and talk to each other.  The camera keeps them in separate shots, in their individual rooms until one of them goes through the apartment, opening the windows, at which point, they both make a stunning revelation.  Then we cut to Coburn, creeping up the stairs and we see his handiwork in the hall and we know this film is ending the only way it possibly can: with Admiral Farragut’s famous line:

“Damn the torpedoes!  Full speed ahead!”

Watch on the Rhine - the film Paul Lukas won the Oscar over Bogart for

Watch on the Rhine

  • Director:  Herman Shumlin
  • Writer:  Dashiell Hammett  /  Lillian Hellman  (from the play by Hellman)
  • Producer:  Hal B. Wallis
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Bette Davis, Paul Lukas, Lucile Watson
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Screenplay, Actor (Lukas), Supporting Actress (Watson)
  • Length:  114 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  27 August 1943
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #7  (year)  /  #246  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Lukas), Actress (Davis), Supporting Actress (Watson)

The Film:  This film starts from a disadvantage.  Paul Lukas, in a very good performance as Kurt Muller, a German who is escaping from the Nazi tyranny, managed to win the Academy Award for Best Actor.  This normally wouldn’t be a disadvantage; the problem stems from the fact that Lukas won over Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.  So by the time you see this, and you compare Lukas very good performance against Bogart’s masterful performance as Rick Blaine, you can’t help but spend the whole film thinking, he’s really good, but he shouldn’t have won.  Of course, this only becomes a disadvantage if you’ve already seen Casablanca, but really, how on earth could you possibly manage to see Watch on the Rhine before seeing CasablancaWatch is a very good film and one worth seeking out, but you would have to seek it out.  To not have seen Casablanca you would have to deliberately avoid it.

On the one other hand, while Lukas won when he shouldn’t have, this film also starred Bette Davis.  1943 was the first year since 1937 that did not have a Bette Davis performance nominated for Best Actress and it’s surprising.  Yes, it was the secondary role, one which she took because of support for the original play and its storyline (Davis was an ardent supporter of FDR and anti-Nazi — she had originally wanted the part but was making Now Voyager — the film ended up being delayed long enough that she was able to do the part and while the role of Sarah was beefed up for her, she knew she had the secondary role), but she is quite good, as always, and certainly better than Joan Fontaine or even the eventual winner, Jennifer Jones.  That this was the role she finally didn’t get nominated for seems odd.

The play must have been a bit more daring than the film itself.  It was produced at a time when America was still a neutral country (and the film is set in 1940 to make the actions make more sense).  But Lillian Hellman, like Davis, knew how she felt about the menace in Germany and was determined to make those feelings heard.  So we have this well written story (adapted by Hellman’s long-time lover, Dash Hammett) about a patriotic German, opposed to Hitler, come to the U.S. with his wife and their children, who faces the choice of returning to his country and fighting the good fight while also trying to deal with a morally bankrupt blackmailer.  It is well written, certainly well acted (even if Lukas didn’t deserve the Oscar and he didn’t), especially from Davis, Lukas and Lucile Watson, as Davis’ mother, a film mostly over-looked today and remembered for Lukas beating Bogart (which would have been worse had Bogart not eventually won), but one that deserves to be remembered.

Heaven Can Wait (1943) - the final Ernst Lubitsch Best Picture nominee

Heaven Can Wait

  • Director:  Ernst Lubitsch
  • Writer:  Samson Raphaelson  (from the play Birthday by Leslie Bush-Fekete)
  • Producer:  Ernst Lubitsch
  • Studio:  20th Century-Fox
  • Stars:  Don Ameche, Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Cinematography (Black-and-White)
  • Length:  112 min
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Release Date:  11 August 1943
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #10  (year)  /  #287  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Art Direction, Costume Design

The Film:  This was the final Best Picture nomination for Ernst Lubitsch, one of his last films and his final success.  It has everything in it that defines a Lubitsch film, with the Lubitsch touch and it also has within it the weaknesses that kept Lubitsch from ever achieving the directorial level of his rival, von Stroheim, or his pupil, Billy Wilder.  It wants to be more daring than it is.  It wants to be naughtier than it is.  It wants to be about a devil, but in the end, it’s really about someone headed upstairs.

For that is what this story is.  We have an old man who is in the greeting room of Hell, telling his life to the Devil, explaining why he believes he belongs there.  But it becomes apparent early on that this man has not lead the kind of life that belongs here.  He’s a bit of a cad and he’s a ladies man, but he’s not a real sinner and it takes the entire movie for him to fully understand that.  But it is a charming film, with the best of Don Ameche’s early performances.  He is charming and caddish all at once.  And, remarkably, there is no film that I can think of in which a young actor is made up to look old and looks so amazingly like the actor actually does decades later.

But in the end, the film, like the character, is not as roguish as it would like us to believe.  That seems to be the Lubitsch way.  He never showed enough of the gutter like von Stroheim and he never found the depths of laughter that Wilder did.  His films were charming, through and through, but in the end, rarely achieved greatness.

The Human Comedy - the best performance of Mickey Rooney's career

The Human Comedy

  • Director:  Clarence Brown
  • Writer:  Howard Estabrook  /  William Saroyan
  • Producer:  Clarence Brown
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Mickey Rooney, Frank Morgan, James Craig, Van Johnson
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Story, Actor (Rooney), Cinematography (Black-and-White)
  • Length:  118 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  2 March 1943
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #16  (year)  /  #336  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  So.  On the one hand, we have Mickey Rooney giving what is easily the finest performance of his career.  Here he was in his early twenties and he was still being asked to play a high school kid.  Except he finally had learned to express some pathos, how to react in a scene of overwhelming loss, where the personal and professional lives at once intercede in tragedy.  This scene alone, just before the end of the film gives extra meaning to everything that has come before.  We can understand what it must have been like for those who were left behind, not only for those who had to hear the news, but those who had to break the news.  He handles everything so deftly until he actually reads the telegram and everything comes crashing around him and he reacts in the only way that anyone would in such a situation.  For someone who had made a career of being quite over the top (certainly the kind of thing he would have learned acting with people like Lionel Barrymore), of being wildly out of control, this scene is subdued and underplayed.  It is perfect.

But what about the film that contains this scene?  What about the larger story?  This is where the center does not hold, where things fall apart.  The film falls into maudlin sentimentality.  The characters are drawn in broad stokes.  We get no sense of real individuals, only caricatures.  There really isn’t much acting in the film outside of Rooney and the dialogue and even the story can not match up to that quiet scene.

Even worse, there is the ending.  We have the young soldier, who in a sense has come home.  But it takes far too long for things to get to the point and I refuse to believe that this is how either character would have played that scene, how anyone human would have reacted.  Yes, there would have been a warm welcome, yes a family that had lost would also gain.  But with those lines?  With that scene?  I don’t believe it for a second and it seems to betray all the real emotions that have come before.

In the end what we have is a decent film, one that really shows the cost of being left behind during wartime, how everyone works together to cope with whatever losses may come, one anchored by a good performance, but in the end is unable to overcome its own simplified story and sappy, unrealistic dialogue, one certainly not worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

The Song of Bernadette had the most nominations and won the most Oscars in 1943, but thankfully didn't win Best Picture

The Song of Bernadette

  • Director:  Henry King
  • Writer:  George Seaton  (from the novel by Franz Werfel)
  • Producer:  William Perlberg
  • Studio:  20th Century-Fox
  • Stars:  Jennifer Jones, Anne Revere, Charles Bickford, Gladys Cooper
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress (Jones), Supporting Actor (Bickford), Supporting Actress (Revere), Supporting Actress (Cooper), Editing, Cinematography (Black-and-White), Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture, Sound, Interior Decoration (Black-and-White)
  • Oscar Record:  Most Nominations Without Best Picture Win  (12)  -  broken in 1964; Most Points Without Best Picture Win  (480)  -  broken in 1951
  • Length:  156 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Religious)
  • Release Date:  21 December 1943
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #35  (year)  /  #415  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actress (Jones), Supporting Actress (Revere), Supporting Actress (Cooper), Score, Costume Design

The Film:  The film begins with these words: “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary.  For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible.”  There is an amount of truth to this.  If you have faith, especially if you have faith in the visions that Bernadette saw, you do not have to explain those.  That is precisely what faith is all about.  And for those who do not believe, faith can not be explained.  It is something you believe or something you don’t.  But there is also a measure of complete bullshit in those titles as well.  It is the filmmakers way of saying, well, if you don’t get the film, that’s your weakness.  It’s a great film and any criticism leveled at it are just the sour grapes of those who can not or will not understand.

But the fact is, the film deserves criticism.  This film was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and it won Best Actress and it quite simply doesn’t deserve this level of acclaim.  The acting in the film is fairly well done and Jones isn’t bad, though she’s not nearly up to Oscar level (she only makes my list because Ingrid Bergman is in the top 5 twice – Jones comes in sixth on my list).  And certainly none of the other acting nominations are bad choices as well, though there were certainly better choices available in 1943.  But Best Picture?  The film is very long and feels even longer.  This film could have been well told in much less than two hours, without the extra story of making the world want to keep Bernadette in silence.  None of the technical aspects are particularly good except the Score and it certainly didn’t deserve to get all 5 major technical nominations.  It’s a decent film with solid acting, but not well directed, not particularly well written and certainly can’t keep the attention of people for this long.  The fact is, a good film will keep people interested in the material no matter what it is about.  A film like this, with those titles at the beginning, are their way of saying, we know this film isn’t great.  It’s just a standard big budget Hollywood film trying to deal with a religious issue and we defy you not to nominate it.  Well, back then they did nominate it.  Today?  I don’t think it would earn hardly any of those nominations.

Madame Curie: another boring Garson / Pidgeon film - another Best Picture nomination

Madame Curie

  • Director:  Mervyn LeRoy
  • Writer:  Paul Osborn  /  Paul H. Rameau  (from the book by Eve Curie)
  • Producer:  Sidney Franklin
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Actor (Pidgeon), Actress (Garson), Cinematography (Black-and-White), Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture, Sound, Interior Decoration (Black-and-White)
  • Length:  124 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Biopic)
  • Release Date:  15 December 1943
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #39  (year)  /  #423  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  Well, it’s not the worst film that Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon made together.  But it’s not the best either.  It’s a lot closer to Blossoms in the Dust than Mrs. Miniver.  Like Blossoms, it’s a true story of an impressive woman, decently played by Garson, with decent enough acting from Pidgeon as the husband that she learns to love, who dies too early and who she must try to forget in a way as she continues her very important work.  This time it’s the story of Marie Curie, the first person to ever win two Nobel Prizes, one for physics and one for chemistry.  She is known throughout the world today for her work on radioactivity, for her discovery of two different elements – polonium, which she named after her native Poland, and radium – whose radioactive isotopes eventually would lead to her death (not shown in the film – it skips almost everything after her husband’s death, including her second Nobel) and make her personal papers so radioactive that they are kept in lead boxes today and can only be looked at with a full protective suit.  She was an amazing scientist, one of the most important of the 20th Century, but was it really necessary to give her a film?  Or, certainly, they could have given her a more interesting film than this.  The problem is, unlike Louis Pasteur, she had no major conflicts in her life.  For the most part, she did her work, made her discoveries, was kept out of major scientific circles because she was a woman, lost her husband, continued to work for 30 more years and eventually died, one of the most famous scientists in the world.  This film has decent acting from the two leads, but nothing that deserved an Oscar nomination and certainly nothing else in the film rises above average.  It’s an utterly forgettable biopic outside of the Oscar nominations.

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