My Top 10:

Sullivan's Travels

  1. Sullivan’s Travels
  2. Bambi
  3. Yankee Doodle Dandy
  4. The Magnificent Ambersons
  5. Kings Row
  6. To Be or Not To Be
  7. The Palm Beach Story
  8. Pride of the Yankees
  9. Now Voyager
  10. Woman of the Year

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Mrs. Miniver
  • Best Director:  William Wyler  (Mrs. Miniver)
  • Best Actor:  James Cagney  (Yankee Doodle Dandy)
  • Best Actress:  Greer Garson  (Mrs. Miniver)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Van Heflin  (Johnny Eager)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Teresa Wright  (Mrs. Miniver)
  • Best Screenplay:  Mrs. Miniver (from the novel by Jan Struther)
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Woman of the Year
  • Best Original Story:  The 49th Parallel

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Mrs. Miniver
  • Best Director:  John Farrow  (Wake Island)
  • Best Actor:  James Cagney  (Yankee Doodle Dandy)
  • Best Actress:  Greer Garson  (Mrs. Miniver)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Agnes Moorehead  (The Magnificent Ambersons)

Top 5 Films  (Top 1000):

  • The Magnificent Ambersons – #43
  • To Be or Not To Be – #71
  • The Palm Beach Story – #168
  • Sullivan’s Travels – #171
  • Cat People – #471

Top 5 Awards Points:

  1. Mrs. Miniver – 610
  2. Yankee Doodle Dandy – 420
  3. Pride of the Yankees – 360
  4. Wake Island – 255
  5. Random Harvest – 245

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • Yankee Doodle Dandy – #100  (1998) /  #98  (2007)
  • Sullivan’s Travels – #61  (2007)

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Nighthawk nominee (and Oscar winner) Teresa Wright with Nighthawk and Oscar winner Greer Garson in Mrs Miniver, the Oscar winning Best Picture of 1942

  • Best Picture:  Sullivan’s Travels
  • Best Director:  Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels)
  • Best Actor:  James Cagney  (Yankee Doodle Dandy)
  • Best Actress:  Greer Garson  (Mrs. Miniver)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Walter Huston  (Yankee Doodle Dandy)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Agnes Moorehead  (The Magnificent Ambersons)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The Magnificent Ambersons (from the novel by Booth Tarkington)
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Sullivan’s Travels

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  Bambi
  • Best Scene:  James Cagney tapping down the steps in Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • Best Line:  “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  (Bambi – Thumper repeating what his father always says)
  • Best Ending:  Yankee Doodle Dandy (“What’s the matter old timer?  Don’t you remember this song?”)

Ebert Great Films:

  • Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • Cat People

The two big films got pushed to the 1943 Oscars, leaving the year wide open.  In Which We Serve wins both critics groups but the Academy changes its eligibility date from January 13 to December 31 and it isn’t able to get a booking in Los Angeles and qualify for the Oscars.  Casablanca is released in November, but doesn’t play Los Angeles until February and also becomes eligible for the Oscars the next year.  Mrs. Miniver then sneaks in and crushes everything else at the Oscars while the best film of the year, Sullivan’s Travels, will have to wait to be treasured.  In the meantime, RKO recuts The Magnificent Ambersons when Orson Welles is in Mexico, though even the 88 minute bastardized cut of what was a 131 minute film still shows Welles’ brilliance.

Film History: John Barrymore finally succeeds in drinking himself into the grave.  Carole Lombard dies in a plane crash while selling war bonds.  Late 20th Century film fans get blessed with the births of one of it biggest stars (Harrison Ford), its best directors (Martin Scorsese) and its greatest critics (Roger Ebert).  The U.S. government forms the Office of War Information, which will work with Hollywood to make wartime propaganda films.  Bob Hope takes a break from the Road films to take his first U.S.O tour.  Bette Davis co-founds the Hollywood Canteen, which will become a haven for servicemen in Los Angeles.  Gene Kelly makes his film debut.  The Nazi government completes the nationalization of the German film industry.  Val Lewton produces his first film, Cat People.  Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy pair together for the first time with Woman of the Year.

Academy Awards: William Wyler wins his first of 3 Oscars with his fourth nomination in a row, the only director in history to do so.  Mrs. Miniver becomes the first film nominated for all the non-technical awards (Picture, Director, Screenplay, all 4 acting awards), winning five of them (all but Actor and Supporting Actor).  Its 12 nominations will be the high for the decade (later tied by The Song of Bernadette and Johnny Belinda).  Teresa Wright becomes the second actress nominated for Actress and Supporting Actress in the same year, and like Fay Bainter before her, wins Best Supporting Actress.  Orson Welles scores a second Best Picture nomination but fails to earn a second Best Director, Actor or Screenplay nomination.  Sam Wood gets two Best Picture nominations (Kings Row and Pride of the Yankees) for the second time.  Emeric Pressburger scores nominations in all three writing categories, winning Best Original Story.  Pride of the Yankees gets 11 nominations without a Best Director nomination – a mark that will be tied by The Color Purple but has yet to be surpassed.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Cinematography – Color for The Black Swan
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Editing for Mrs. Miniver
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Original Screenplay for Sullivan’s Travels
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  The Black Swan
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Interior Decoration – Black and White
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Supporting Actress
  • Best Oscar Nomination:  Best Score of a Drama or Comedy – The Gold Rush – 17 years after its initial release, re-released with a score and sound and gets two Oscar nominations
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Sound, Best Special Effects

Awards: The same film wins both the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics, but because the eligibility date was moved from January 13 to December 31, In Which We Serve is ineligible for the Oscars until 1943.  Agnes Moorehead wins Best Actress from the New York Film Critics, even though the Oscars end up nominating her for Best Supporting Actress.  John Farrow wins Best Director, but does manage an Oscar nomination.  James Cagney is the only one to repeat himself from the NYFC into the Oscar race, winning Best Actor from both.

Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake in Sullivan's Travels

Under-appreciated Film of 1942:

Sullivan’s Travels (dir.  Preston Sturges)

It does well on the top 1000 list, even though it finishes slightly below the much lighter Preston Sturges / Joel McCrea collaboration, The Palm Beach Story.  And while it leapt up the AFI list in 2007, it didn’t even make the top 100 the first time around.  Roger Ebert has yet to include it in his Great Films series (in fact, he hasn’t included any Preston Sturges film).  Then, of course, there are the Oscars.  And that was a big goose egg.

In fact, in between his Oscar for The Great McGinty and his double nominations for The Miracle of Morgan Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero in 1944, you might have expected his success in 1942 of the double whammy of Sullivan’s Travels and The Palm Beach Story would get something, but neither of them got so much as a single nomination.  And poor Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake both went through their entire careers without any awards attention at all.

So there is the question of how I first saw it.  It was long before I had a Great Directors list, long before I decided to watch all of the Criterion films and even before the IMDb was in existence, when you still had to go find film information out of books in the library, I had good teachers who cared about film.  And as we watched Hannah and her Sisters in film class and saw the great scene where Woody Allen watches the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup and learns there is some meaning to life, even if the meaning is laughter, I had a professor who knew to tell us where the inspiration for the scene came from.  Because before the Coen Brothers had ever decided to call their depression musical O Brother Where Art Thou, Allen had gotten earlier inspiration from Sullivan’s Travels.  That scene in Hannah, so perfect for a modern audience, is an homage to Sullivan’s Travels, where late in the film, with Joel McCrea trapped in a chain gang, after having decided that he didn’t want to make light, fluffy films anymore, that he wanted to make something dark and deep and meaningful, that he wanted to see man’s inhumanity to man and somehow capture it on film, only to find himself falsely imprisoned; he sits in the dark with his fellow convicts (much like what will happen in O Brother) and he watches Playful Pluto and sees the laughter erupting around him and is surprised to hear the laughter out of his own mouth, he realizes how important it is to make people laugh.

While the Academy does occasionally acknowledge a great Comedy (9 out of 81 Best Picture winners I list primarily as a Comedy), it more often than not ignores them.  Only 59 of the 468 Best Picture nominees are Comedies.  Dr. Strangelove, M*A*S*H and Hannah and her Sisters all lost.  Some Like It Hot, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (whose scene where Roger and Eddie sit in the balcony and watch Goofy probably wouldn’t exist without Sullivan) and Ed Wood all failed to get nominated.  City Lights, Modern Times, His Girl Friday, Sullivan’s Travels and Say Anything were completely shut out.  But there is so much to making people laugh.  I can’t imagine life without Monty Python and the Holy Grail or A Fish Called Wanda.  I can’t imagine how dreary it would be.

There is so much more to Sullivan’s Travels.  There are the great, off-setting performances of Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake, both so perfectly cast.  There is the script which manages to satirize so much about Hollywood, its artsiness and its recycling of the same material over and over.  There is the wonderful story and how it comes back around to itself in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily expect.  There is that ridiculous trailer that the studio uses to follow Sully on his travels.

Then there is the concept of how wonderful laughter is, how much we need it.  I’m fond of the line, “laugh so you don’t cry.”  No film teaches us that more than Sullivan’s Travels.  If only the Academy had gotten the joke.

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