Ray Milland drinking his way to a well-deserved Oscar in The Lost Weekend (1945)

The 18th Academy Awards, for the film year 1945.  The nominations were announced on January 27, 1946 and the awards were held on March 7, 1946.

Best Picture:  The Lost Weekend

  • Spellbound
  • Anchors Aweigh
  • Mildred Pierce
  • The Bells of St Mary’s

Most Surprising Omission:  National Velvet

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  To Have and Have Not

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #61

The Race: At the Oscars the previous year, when Ingrid Bergman won, she remarked that she was starting a film with Bing Crosby and director Leo McCarey and if they won and she didn’t she would felt inadequate.  That film, The Bells of St. Mary’s, a sequel to Going My Way, wouldn’t come out until December.  By then, Billy Wilder, whose own 1944 film, Double Indemnity, had failed to win a single of its 7 Oscar nominations, already had the biggest critical hit of the year.  The Lost Weekend had been opened in London due to studio concerns about how such a dark and dramatic film would play in Hollywood, but the critics started raving there and when it came to the States, they continued to rave.  It was quickly becoming apparent that all the other 1945 films – including National Velvet, Mildred Pierce, Spellbound, Anchors Aweigh, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Leave Her to Heaven, were going to be also-rans.

The National Board of Review threw everything for a loop by naming a documentary, The True Glory, as their Best Picture, but The Lost Weekend came in second and won Best Actor.  The New York Film Critics were more impressed, giving it Best Picture, Director and Actor.  The Golden Globes concurred, naming it as the winner of the same three awards.

The Results: The Lost Weekend was only up for 7 Oscars, a total that hadn’t won a Best Picture since 1938, but for the first time since 1938 no film had earned double digits in nominations.  The Lost Weekend would continue its awards sweep, taking home Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay.  In addition, every Best Picture nominee won at least one Oscar for the first time in Academy history, even though the combined 8 wins from the five films only tied the amount won by Gone with the Wind alone.

Billy Wilder's first Best Picture: The Lost Weekend (1945)

The Lost Weekend

  • Director:  Billy Wilder
  • Writer:  Billy Wilder  /  Charles Brackett  (from the novel by Charles R. Jackson)
  • Producer:  Charles Brackett
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Stars:  Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry, Howard da Silva, Doris Dowling
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Milland), Editing, Cinematography (Black-and-White), Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture
  • Length:  101 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Social)
  • Release Date:  16 November 1945
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1  (year)  /  #100  (nominees)  /  #31  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Milland), Supporting Actress (Wyman), Supporting Actress (Dowling), Editing, Cinematography, Score, Art Direction

The Film: I said it in 1944 and I’ll say it again here.  If you have any doubts about Billy Wilder as a director, just look at this film.  Look at the amazing performance by Ray Milland, the first one to win the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics, the Golden Globe and the Oscar and wouldn’t happen again for another decade.  Then look at it in comparison with the entirety of Milland’s career.  Did Milland, ever, in all those decades in film, do anything even close to this?  And there’s no question that he deserved the award.  It is an amazing performance, a pitch perfect depiction of late stage alcoholism, of a man driven to desperation and beyond.

But of course, Milland is not the only great thing in the film.  It is an amazing film, nailing every part of it, even down to the happy ending.  Because we can believe in the happy ending, while knowing there’s a good chance that it’s not going to hold.  She believes in him and for the moment he believes in himself and yes, that gun has been put away, but it’s only an echo so far.  We don’t know what will go on.  But we’ve seen enough of their story, seen how he will do anything for a drink, how the dt’s will affect him, how desperate and pathetic you have to be to end up at Bellevue.  While the focus is always on Milland and Wilder (Wilder won the first two of his eventual six Oscars for this film and rightfully so – it is far and away the best film of 1945 — nothing else even comes close), we shouldn’t forget about the other performers – Jane Wyman, solid as a rock as the woman who loves him, Doris Dowling, so tragic as the woman who tempts him when alcohol is really his only temptation and Howard da Silva as the bartender who knows where his paycheck comes from but doesn’t want to see a man throw an entire life away.  And of course, some of the credit must go to Charles Brackett, Wilder’s longtime collaborator who knew exactly how to approach the screenplay, given that his own wife was a broken down alcoholic.

In some ways this is a message film.  But it also so much more than that.  It is a great film that also happens to carry a message.  It was so dark and depressing that Paramount considered not releasing it at all and the previews went so poorly that they opened it in London first.  But the critics knew a brilliant film when they saw one and they made sure this one became a success story.  And so, for the second time in three years, the Academy hit the nail right on the head and made the right choice.

the final Best Picture nominee for Alfred Hitchcock: Spellbound

Spellbound

  • Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
  • Writer:  Ben Hecht  /  Angus MacPhail  (from the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes by Francis Beeding)
  • Producer:  David O. Selznick
  • Studio:  United Artists
  • Stars:  Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Chekhov), Cinematography (Black-and-White), Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture, Special Effects
  • Length:  111 min
  • Genre:  Suspense
  • Box Office Gross:  $7.00 mil
  • Release Date:  28 December 1945
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #4  (year)  /  #220  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Bergman), Supporting Actor (Chekhov), Editing, Cinematography, Score, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects

The Film:  This is a film that has suffered over the years, not the least in my estimation of it.  I long held it to be one of Hitchcock’s best films, indeed, at one point I even thought it might be the best film of 1945.  Not so anymore, and I am not the only one who thinks so.  This would be the last of the four Best Picture nominations for Hitchcock.  He would later get Best Director nominations for Rear Window and Psycho and would direct such classics as Notorious, Strangers on a Train and North by Northwest, but would never again taste a Picture nomination.  But is there anyone who thinks that this film is as good as any of those later films?  Certainly Hitchcock didn’t think so and in his classic book with Truffaut, they both have some fairly unkind things to say about the film.

Is the problem with Gregory Peck as Truffaut thought?  Truffaut said he just wasn’t a Hitchcock type of actor, that he didn’t have the necessary depth.  But this seems to be the right kind of role for Peck.  That lack of depth, that air of integrity that always seemed to hang about him works well for him here, it provides a kind of sympathy for a character that we really don’t know much about.  And certainly the problem isn’t in any of the other actors – Bergman here is better than she is in her actual Oscar nominated role and Michael Chekhov is quite good.  And certainly the technical aspects aren’t the problem.  The score is very good, the effects are quite nice, the Dali dream sequence is still a classic.

The problem seems to be the writing, the construction of the very plot.  Films have often tried to simplify psychology so that big revelations can be revealed in the course of a couple of hours.  The elementary psychology at work in this film work in the course of a suspense-thriller, but if you take a second to think about it at all it all seems rather ridiculous and it undermines the film a bit.  It still has great suspense moments and is solidly made, but it doesn’t hold up as well as other Hitchcock films.  It is still a minor Hitchcock classic, but not on par with his best and deserving of a Best Picture nomination really only because of being released in an extremely weak year for film.

the poster shows Sinatra but it was dancing with Jerry the Mouse that made Gene Kelly a star in Anchors Aweigh

Anchors Aweigh

  • Director:  George Sidney
  • Writer:  Isobel Lennart  /  Natalie Marcin
  • Producer:  Joe Pasternak
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Actor, Cinematography (Color), Scoring of a Musical Picture, Song (“I Fall In Love Too Easily”)
  • Length:  143 min
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Release Date:  14 July 1945
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #10  (year)  /  #278  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Original Screenplay, Editing, Song (“I Fall in Love Too Easily”)

The Film:  “Why is Jerry in a film,” my wife asked me as she walked in the room.  I turned and stared at her, rather dumbfounded.  I didn’t think I would have had to explain that Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry the Mouse is one of the most famous scenes in film history (partially so because Jerry actually talks).  But apparently I did and it made me think that maybe people don’t think about this anymore.  After all, Roger Rabbit sure as hell changed all the rules.  Maybe this is one of the important film moments that is just going to get lost in time.

Well, it’s not lost to me.  It’s a wonderful dance routine, the kind of thing that instantly turned Gene Kelly into a star and would set the scene for the more elaborate dance sequences that would become a part of his films.  This film wasn’t meant to be the Oscar nominee, after all.  It was a pretty big surprise at the time.  National Velvet, with its big racing scenes, was designed to be the MGM nominee.  But somehow it stumbled, and though it was nominated for Best Director and even won Best Editing and Supporting Actress, it was Anchors Aweigh, and even more surprisingly, Gene Kelly, that ended up in the Oscar race.

I’m okay with that.  I actually think Anchors Aweigh is the better film, an enjoyable song and dance film, with nice songs, charming performances from Kelly and Sinatra and that wonderful scene where Kelly enters the animated world and becomes a part of film history.  I’ll just say this.  If your reaction was the same as my wife’s, then you need to watch this film.  It’s an important part of film history and it’s damn enjoyable to boot.

a weak year allowed Joan Crawford to win an Oscar for Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce

  • Director:  Michael Curtiz
  • Writer:  Ranald MacDougall  (from the novel by James M. Cain)
  • Producer:  Jerry Wald
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Joan Crawford, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Screenplay, Actress (Crawford), Supporting Actress (Arden), Supporting Actress (Blyth), Cinematography (Black-and-White)
  • Length:  111 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  20 October 1945
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #15  (year)  /  #322  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actress (Crawford), Cinematography, Score

The Film:  “Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea.  They eat their young.”  So says Eve Arden to Joan Crawford most of the way through Mildred Pierce.  She’s right of course.  Veda would give anyone that idea.  The only question is why she hasn’t given Mildred that idea.  That’s what bothers me at the very core of Mildred Pierce.  Did Joan Crawford win this Oscar because she fought and pushed and advertised her way to it?  There’s certainly some truth to that idea.  Did she win because it was a rather weak year with nothing like the Ingrid Bergman or Barbara Stanwyck performances from the year before?  There’s definitely truth to that idea.  She wins my Nighthawk Award, but its the weakest post-1935 performance to win it.  Or did she win because she finally didn’t play the super-bitch that she so often was on screen and most assuredly was in real life?  There’s probably some truth to that as well.  She’s weak in this film and she does a good job, even if it wouldn’t be enough to win in nearly any other year.

But who is Mildred?  Is she real?  Could we really believe that this woman, played by Joan Crawford, would let herself be so thoroughly walked over by her daughter, the daughter that she knows is the bad one, knows is the one who doesn’t care about her.  Perhaps that’s Crawford’s strength, that the movie succeeds in spite of this ludicrous idea.  For we can’t believe any of it.  We can’t believe a woman could go through life like this.  It’s well directed and Crawford is good and so are Arden and Blyth (both finish just outside my top 5 for Supporting Actress) and the film is well made.  But in the end, it falls short, landing in the *** category of a good film rather than a very good or even great film because it just isn’t believable on any level.

the first sequel nominated for Best Picture: The Bells of St Mary's

The Bells of St. Mary’s

  • Director:  Leo McCarey
  • Writer:  Dudley Nichols  /  Leo McCarey
  • Producer:  Leo McCarey
  • Studio:  RKO Radio
  • Stars:  Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Actor (Crosby), Actress (Bergman), Editing, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture, Sound, Song (“Aren’t You Glad You’re You”)
  • Length:  126 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Religious)
  • Box Office Gross:  $21.33 mil
  • Release Date:  6 December 1945
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #25  (year)  /  #401  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Song (“Aren’t You Glad You’re You)

The Film:  It’s not surprising that the sequel was such a hit.  After all, the first film, Going My Way, had only won Best Picture and 6 other Oscars and been the biggest box office hit of 1944.  So it didn’t take them long to think they should make another film with Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley, give him another school to look after, and this time, instead of dealing with a fussy old priest, it could be a stodgy young nun, one played by the most beautiful and talented woman working in Hollywood: Ingrid Bergman.

So of course it was a hit and it made it as a Best Picture nominee.  After all, it was a very weak year.  I only list 4 films that make it to the four star level and one of those was a British holdover from 1943.  People were still coming back from the war, film production had slowed, Foreign films weren’t making it to the States.  Of course, that’s not to suggest that this film belongs on a Best Picture list, or anywhere near it.  It’s not a bad film, just a charming, harmless little film, with decent performances from Crosby and Bergman (though she was actually better in her un-nominated role in Spellbound).  But it’s a light-weight little charmer.  There’s nothing great about it, nothing worthwhile about it, nothing really to make you remember it.  Of course, a lot of the same could be said for Going My Way and this film doesn’t even match that film.  In the end, it just stand as the weakest film of the one of the weaker Best Picture years.

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