My Top 10:

De Sica's poignant The Bicycle Thief (1949)

  1. The Bicycle Thief
  2. A Letter to Three Wives
  3. A Canterbury Tale
  4. The Heiress
  5. All the King’s Men
  6. Thieves Highway
  7. Whiskey Galore
  8. Paisan
  9. White Heat
  10. Champion

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  All the King’s Men
  • Best Director:  Joseph L. Mankiewicz  (A Letter to Three Wives)
  • Best Actor:  Broderick Crawford  (All the King’s Men)
  • Best Actress:  Olivia de Havilland  (The Heiress)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Dean Jagger  (12 O’Clock High)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Mercedes McCambridge  (All the King’s Men)
  • Best Screenplay:  A Letter to Three Wives (from the novel by John Klempner)
  • Best Story and Screenplay:  Battleground
  • Best Motion Picture Story:  The Stratton Story
  • Best Foreign Film:  The Bicycle Thief

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  All the King’s Men
  • Best Director:  Robert Rossen  (All the King’s Men)
  • Best Actor:  Broderick Crawford  (All the King’s Men)
  • Best Actress:  Olivia de Havilland  (The Heiress)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Ralph Richardson  (The Heiress)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Mercedes McCambridge  (All the King’s Men)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  All the King’s Men
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Battleground
  • Best Foreign Film:  The Bicycle Thief

Top 5 Films  (Top 1000):

  • The Bicycle Thief –  #14
  • Paisan –  #133
  • White Heat –  #290
  • A Canterbury Tale –  #334
  • She Wore a Yellow Ribbon –  #389

Top 5 Awards Points:

  1. All the King’s Men –  1041
  2. The Heiress –  582
  3. The Fallen Idol –  461
  4. Battleground –  428
  5. The Bicycle Thief –  404

Nighthawk Awards:

Montgomery Clift might have brought in method acting, but it was Olivia de Havilland who made a clean sweep of all the awards for The Heiress (1949)

  • Best Picture:  The Bicycle Thief
  • Best Director:  Vittorio de Sica  (The Bicycle Thief)
  • Best Actor:  Kirk Douglas  (Champion)
  • Best Actress:  Olivia de Havilland  (The Heiress)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Kirk Douglas  (A Letter to Three Wives)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Mercedes McCambridge  (All the King’s Men)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  A Letter to Three Wives (from the novel by John Klempner)
  • Best Original Screenplay:  The Bicycle Thief
  • Best Foreign Film:  The Bicycle Thief

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  The Bicycle Thief
  • Best Scene:  the stroke of midnight in Whiskey Galore
  • Best Line:  “Made it, Ma!  Top of the world!”  (White Heat – Jimmy Cagney)
  • Best Ending:  The Heiress
  • Read the Book, DON’T See the Film:  Madame Bovary
  • See the Film, DON’T Read the Book:  The Heiress

Ebert Great Films:

  • The Bicycle Thief

Top 5 Films  (Box Office Gross):

  1. Samson and Delilah –  $28.8 mil
  2. Pinky –  $8.4 mil
  3. Come to the Stable –  $8.0 mil
  4. Sands of Iwo Jima –  $7.8 mil
  5. I Was a Male War Bride –  $7.7 mil

In 1949, it began to become clear that the movies being imported from Europe were actually better than the ones being made in Hollywood.  For the second year in a row, the National Board of Review gave their Best Picture to an Italian film, this time The Bicycle Thief and even the Oscars nominated both The Bicycle Thief and Paisan for their scripts.

Film History: The fight against Communism moves on with the foundation of the Motion Picture Industry Council to “combat communist influence in the film business.”  Ingrid Bergman’s affair with director Roberto Rossellini becomes public knowledge and damages both careers.  The Marx Brothers make their last film together, Love Happy, which has a small part for Marilyn Monroe, who has just posed nude for a calendar.  After 18 years, Bette Davis leaves Warner Brothers.  Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers make their 10th and final film together: The Barkleys of Broadway while Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin make their first film together: My Friend Irma.  Two major directors of the 40’s die: Victor Fleming and Sam Wood.

Academy Awards: For the second year in a row, the Best Picture doesn’t win either Best Director or Best Screenplay.  It will be 51 years before a Best Picture again fails to win either award.  Alfred Newman fails to get a nomination for Best Score for the only time between 1937 and 1956, though he does manage to get nominated for Best Song.  Edith Head wins the first of her 8 Oscars.

Given what the Academy has to work with, they don’t too bad in 1949.  They do miss out on the chance to nominate The Bicycle Thief, which clearly is as highly regarded a film in 1949 as it is today.  They do notice its screenplay, just as they remember Carol Reed for The Fallen Idol, though they fail to notice Ralph Richardson who is far superior to John Wayne.  They also miss the chance to award Kirk Douglas.  It won’t be the last time.  As usual, the bigger problem is with the technical nominees, going more for Hollywood productions than the really amazing films like The Bicycle Thief, A Canterbury Tale or Thieves Highway, all superior in Editing, Cinematography and Sound to any of the actual nominees.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Art Direction – Color for Little Women
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Motion Picture Story for It Happens Every Spring
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Picture for The Bicycle Thief
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  Under Capricorn Little Women
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Song
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Supporting Actress – I agree with all 5 and the winner
  • Best Oscar:  Best Foreign Film for The Bicycle Thief
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction – Black and White, Best Special Effects, Best Costume Design – Black and White, Best Song, Best Foreign Film

Golden Globes: For the first time (that we have records of anyway), there are nominees for the various categories.  Each of the categories had two nominees, with Oscar winners taking most of the wins and Oscar nominees taking home just a nomination.  The big winner was All the King’s Men, taking home Best Picture, Director, Actor and Supporting Actress, becoming the first film to win 4 Golden Globes.  The other winners were Olivia de Havilland for Best Actress and Oscar nominee James Whitmore (Battleground) for Supporting Actor.  The other nomination for Best Picture was Come to the Stable, which had managed 7 Oscar nominations without a Best Picture nomination.  The Globes went with the ever growing tide of groups to pick The Bicycle Thief as Best Foreign Film.

Guilds: The Directors Guild went with the same system as the year before, giving four quarterly awards, then making those winners the nominees for the Best Director.  The winner was Oscar loser Robert Rossen for All the King’s Men (who lost to Joseph L. Mankiewicz at the Oscars, who had actually won the previous DGA Award because of odd timing).  Also nominated were Oscar nominee Carol Reed (The Fallen Idol) and Oscar non-nominees Mark Robson (Champion) and Alfred Werker (Lost Boundaries).  The Writers Guild went with the same five categories, but greatly reduced the nominees in each category, ending up with 29 total nominees instead of the 50 from the year before.  All the King’s Men became the double winner this time, for Drama and Best Screenplay Dealing Most Ably with Problems of the American Scene.  The Best Western went to Yellow Sky, Best Musical to On the Town and Best Comedy to Oscar winner A Letter to Three Wives.

Awards: As stated above, the NBR went Italian for the second year in a row, this time going with The Bicycle Thief.  They were the dissenting vote on Best Picture, because the New York Film Critics went with the Oscar and Globe pick of All the King’s Men.  The NBR was the lone dissent elsewhere as well, since the NYFC also went with Oscar and Globe winners Broderick Crawford and Olivia de Havilland for Best Actor and Actress, while the NBR went with Ralph Richardson for Best Actor and didn’t choose a Best Actress.  For Best Director, the NBR went with Bicycle Thief director, Vittorio de Sica, while the NYFC went with Carol Reed for The Fallen Idol.  But the NYFC did give The Bicycle Thief Best Foreign Film.  The BAFTAs finally began picking nominees with 7 choices each for Best Picture and Best British Picture.  The Third Man was the only film nominated in both categories, winning the latter, while the annointment of The Bicycle Thief as the best film of the year continued.

An idyllic moment in Michael Powell's A Canterbury Tale

Under-appreciated Film of 1949:

A Canterbury Tale (dir. Michael Powell)

How many churches in the world are as famous and mythical as the Canterbury Cathedral?  Maybe three — St. Peter’s Basilica, Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey?  This church, this town, the legend of the pilgrims, the history, all of them come together for this film, made by one of cinema’s great directors at the height of his talent.  In the 1940’s, even the Academy Awards recognized Michael Powell, nominating The Red Shoes and The 49th Parallel for Best Picture and giving other nominations (and Oscars) to Black Narcissus, One of Our Aircraft is Missing and The Thief of Bagdad.  But also in this decade he made what might be his four best films: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, I Know Where I’m Going, A Matter of Life and Death and A Canterbury Tale.  Nearly all of them had delays before they made it to the United States and they combined for 0 Oscar nominations.

Powell begins this film with an appreciation for the setting.  We begin with the church bells of the world famous Canterbury Cathedral, which moves to a shot of the church itself before giving us glimpses of pilgrims from centuries past.  As the pilgrims look at a hawk in the sky, it becomes a plane and we are moved into our World War II setting (the film was made and set in 1943 and released in Britain in 1944 but didn’t receive an American release until 1949).

Powell made the interesting choice to cast amateurs.  Of the three leads, only one, Dennis Price, really had any acting experience.  This gives the film an ethereal feel, only augmented by the rural idyllic setting out in the English countryside and small towns.  Three travelers have come down to Canterbury for different reasons, all of which are tied in to the war and what they have lost (or might lose) in the war.  By having one of them be an American, Powell shows the return of the long lost pilgrim from across the sea, for he is there in preparation for D-Day.  Ostensibly, there is a mystery story, as soon after they arrive, Alison, the young woman, is attacked as someone pours glue into her hair.  The three strangers work together to try and figure out what has happened and why but as the film doesn’t hold back the information of the culprit, it is less about the mystery than the journey they take, both to discover the answers, and to find themselves all in Canterbury Cathedral at the conclusion of the film.

I could talk more about the story, about how well constructed a film it is, how it starts off with a bit of frenzy and then slows way way down before the three of them get back on the road again (they only make it to Canterbury in the last half hour – most of the film is spent in the small village of Chillingbourne).  But this is a film that is more of an experience, a journey you can take with the characters.  It is one of the joys of Michael Powell and, unlike many of the films he made in the 30’s and 50’s, widely available thanks to a wonderful 2 disc version from the Criterion Collection.  That this film, as much as anything in Chaucer, would make me want to make this journey to Canterbury perhaps says more than anything I could ever tell you about what makes it so good.

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