My Top 10:

One of the most quoted scenes of all-time: "I coulda been a contender"; Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954)

  1. On the Waterfront
  2. Rear Window
  3. A Star is Born
  4. Forbidden Games
  5. Sabrina
  6. Gate of Hell
  7. The Caine Mutiny
  8. Hobson’s Choice
  9. The Country Girl
  10. The Earrings of Madame De . . .

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  On the Waterfront
  • Best Director:  Elia Kazan  (On the Waterfront)
  • Best Actor:  Marlon Brando  (On the Waterfront)
  • Best Actress:  Grace Kelly  (The Country Girl)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Edmund O’Brian  (The Barefoot Contessa)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Eva Marie Saint  (On the Waterfront)
  • Best Screenplay:  The Country Girl
  • Best Story and Screenplay:  On the Waterfront
  • Best Motion Picture Story:  Broken Lance
  • Best Foreign Film:  Gate of Hell

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  On the Waterfront
  • Best Director:  Elia Kazan  (On the Waterfront)
  • Best Actor:  Marlon Brando  (On the Waterfront)
  • Best Actress:  Grace Kelly  (The Country Girl)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Edmund O’Brian  (The Barefoot Contessa)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Jan Sterling  (The High and the Mighty) / Nina Foch  (Executive Suite)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Sabrina
  • Best Original Screenplay:  On the Waterfront
  • Best Foreign Film:  Gate of Hell

Top 5 Films  (Top 1000)

My #2 of the year, but #1 of 1954 (and #47 of all-time) according to TSPDT: Hitchcock's Rear Window

  1. Rear Window –  #47
  2. The Earrings of Madame De . . . –  #88
  3. On the Waterfront –  #104
  4. A Star is Born –  #214
  5. Diary of a Country Priest –  #235

Top 5 Films  (Consensus 1954 Awards):

  1. On the Waterfront
  2. Carmen Jones
  3. The Caine Mutiny
  4. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  5. The Country Girl

Top 5 Films  (Awards Points):

  1. On the Waterfront –  1512
  2. The Country Girl –  675
  3. Sabrina –  432
  4. Rear Window –  383
  5. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers –  312

Top 5 Films  (Box Office Gross)

  1. White Christmas –  $30.0 mil
  2. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea –  $28.2 mil
  3. Rear Window –  $27.5 mil
  4. Demetrious and the Gladiators –  $26.0 mil
  5. The Caine Mutiny –  $21.8 mil

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • On the Waterfront –  #8  (1998)  /  #19  (2007)
  • Rear Window –  #42  (1998)  /  #48  (2007)

Nighthawk Awards:

He lost the Oscar, she won everything: Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in The Country Girl (1954)

  • Best Picture:  On the Waterfront
  • Best Director:  Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront)
  • Best Actor:  Marlon Brando  (On the Waterfront)
  • Best Actress:  Grace Kelly  (The Country Girl)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Karl Malden  (On the Waterfront)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Eva Marie Saint  (On the Waterfront)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Sabrina
  • Best Story and Screenplay:  On the Waterfront
  • Best Foreign Film:  The Seven Samurai

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  Rear Window
  • Best Scene:  Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger in the backseat of the car in On the Waterfront
  • Best Line:  “I coulda been a contender.”  (On the Waterfront – Marlon Brando)
  • Best Ending:  The Caine Mutiny

Ebert Great Films:

  • On the Waterfront
  • Rear Window
  • Forbidden Games
  • Johnny Guitar

The Foreign films finally started to arrive.  Just among the Oscar nominees are such films as Forbidden Games, Gate of Hell, The Earrings of Madame De . . ., Bread Love and Dreams and Le Plaisir.  That doesn’t even include Bunuel’s Wuthering Heights or Bergman’s Summer Interlude.  Or the British films making their way across the Atlantic like The Heart of the Matter, Genevieve or Hobson’s Choice.  And Hollywood finally had a response with films like On the Waterfront and Rear Window.  Even though they missed Rear Window and Sabrina, the Oscars aquitted themselves with 8 Oscars to On the Waterfront, then, as now, seen as one of the greats in film history.

Film History: The Los Angeles Supreme Court upholds Blacklist related hiring prohibitions.  Howard Hughes aquires all the RKO stock becoming the first sole owner of a major studio.  RKO then becomes the first studio to sell its film library to television.  Walt Disney ends his distribution deal with RKO, instead forming Buena Vista.  Joseph Breen, administrator of the Production Code, retires while Will Hays dies.  Paramount introduces VistaVision with White Christmas.  The Studio System is further dismantled as Clark Gable leaves MGM and Errol Flynn leaves Warner Brothers.  Francois Truffaut introduces the term “politique des auteurs” in Cahiers du Cinema, forming the basis for what will later become known as the Auteur Theory.  Godzilla is released in Japan, beginning a wave of Japanese Science-Fiction films.

Oscars: Marlon Brando becomes the only Actor nominated for Best Actor four years in a row.  Dorothy Dandridge becomes the first black actress nominated for Best Actress.  Billy Wilder joins John Huston (and later, Richard Brooks and Robert Altman) on the dubious distinction list of back to back Best Director nominations that are missing Best Picture nominations.  On the Waterfront ties the record for most Oscar wins with 8 and is the first film to get 3 Best Supporting Actor nominations.  Forbidden Games and Bread, Love and Dreams are nominated for Best Motion Picture Story, the first of four years in a row in which at least one Foreign Film is nominated for writing.

Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly backstage at the Oscars.

This is also the first year since 1933 when I have seen every single nominee.  And they did a fine job with most of them.  The acting were mostly solid choices with the only truly lackluster choice being Dan O’Herlihy for Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and there were no glaring omissions.  The only weaker categories in the tech awards were Color Cinematography and Sound with the only complaints being the overlooking of Rear Window for Editing, Gate of Hell for Score and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for Sound.  They even did fairly well with Best Director thanks to nominating two much stronger efforts (Billy Wilder for Sabrina and Alfred Hitchcock for Rear Window) that didn’t earn Best Picture nominations.  Which bring us to Best Picture.  On the one hand, they got the winner right which I think they do only about 25% of the time.  And they nominated solid films such as The Caine Mutiny and The Country Girl.  But you’ll also notice that while those films are in my top 10, they are not in my top 5.  And Three Coins in the Fountain is a terrible choice.  You’d have to go back to 1940 or forward to 1962 to find a nominee I think is worse.  And of all the “classic” Musicals of the 50’s, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers might be my least favorite.  And to pick those they passed over Rear Window and Sabrina.  At least the directors knew better.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Cinematography – Color for Three Coins in the Fountain
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Picture for Three Coins in the Fountain
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Picture for Rear Window
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  The Silver Chalice
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Cinematography – Color
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Supporting Actor (except for the winner)
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreement:  Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Story and Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Cinematography – Black and White, Best Art Direction – Color, Best Art Direction – Black and White, Best Special Effects, Best Costume Design – Color

Golden Globes: On the Waterfront is the big winner, taking home Best Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Actor – Drama and Best Cinematography – Black and White.  Carmen Jones takes home Best Picture – Comedy or Musical but fails to turn it into an Oscar nomination.  Sabrina wins Best Screenplay, the only Golden Globe Billy Wilder wins for writing.  Grace Kelly wins Best Actress – Drama, while A Star is Born stars James Mason and Judy Garland win the lead Comedy or Musical acting awards.  The Supporting Awards go to Edmund O’Brien (Oscar winner for The Barefoot Contessa) and Jan Sterling (Oscar nominee for The High and the Mighty).  The Globes jump in the Foreign Film pool, giving out four awards to Genevieve, Twenty Four Eyes, Lady of the Camilias and No Way Back.

Guilds: For the second straight year, the DGA and the Oscars line up, with Elia Kazan winning Best Director over Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, William Wellman and George Seaton.  To go along with his DGA nomination, Billy Wilder wins his second Writers Guild Award for Sabrina (Comedy) while the Drama award goes to Oscar winner On the Waterfront and the Musical to Oscar nominee Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  The Sound Editors Guild make an awards winner of the “giant ant” movie, Them.

Awards: Gate of Hell wins the Grand Prix at Cannes while Romeo and Juliet wins the Golden Lion at Venice.  They both are noticed by American critics, with the National Board of Review giving Romeo and Juliet Best Director and Best Foreign Film while the New York Film Critics give their Best Foreign Film to Gate of HellOn the Waterfront is the big winner, taking Best Picture from both groups and Best Actor and Best Director from the NYFC.  The other big winner is Grace Kelly, winning Best Actress from both groups for her trifecta of The Country Girl, Rear Window and Dial M for Murder while her co-star in The Country Girl, Bing Crosby, wins Best Actor from the NBR.  Having come late to the acting awards, the NBR is the first to expand, giving their initial Best Supporting Actor to John Williams for Sabrina and Dial M for Murder while Nina Foch wins Best Supporting Actress for Executive Suite.

The BAFTAs keep On the Waterfront from making it a clean sweep as it loses Best Picture to Wages of FearHobson’s Choice wins Best British Picture.  The Divided Heart and Carrington VC, two films that are extremely hard to find (and thus I have never seen) both earn 5 nominations with The Divided Heart winning both Actress awards but Carrington going home empty-handed.  Marlon Brando does continue his winning ways at the BAFTAs, winning his third in a row.  Kenneth More wins Best British Actor and The Young Lovers (another film I haven’t been able to track down) wins the initial Best British Screenplay award.

The great but rarely seen film version of Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter - made in 1953 but released in the States in 1954

Under-appreciated Film of 1954:

The Heart of the Matter (dir. George More O’Ferrall)

Graham Greene might be a singular event in the history of film.  He was a brilliant writer, one of the best of the 20th Century.  And like some of the other great writers of the century (Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Williams, Miller), he wrote for film, adapting his own stories for The Third Man and The Fallen Idol.  But he also wrote about film, reviewing films for many years.  This connects him to Fitzgerald in a rather unique way as Fitzgerald used film as a subject for fiction.  But Fitzgerald’s fiction stubbornly resisted the adaptation process, whereas Greene’s work has been filmed many times and turned into some very fine films.  He completes the circle.

So, the question becomes, why are some of the best film versions of Greene’s work so damn hard to find?  I’ve already written about Brighton Rock and now I come to The Heart of the Matter (and I might very well write about Our Man in Havana for 1960).  It is one the great novels of the twentieth century (ending up #40 on the Modern Library list and #44 on mine).  It was nominated for 4 BAFTAs.  It stars Trevor Howard, one of the best British actors of the forties and fifties.  And yet, it is completely unavailable on video or DVD.  I had to watch it on TCM (actually, I was on vacation, so I had to have my mother DVR it from TCM so I could watch it when I got to her house).

The film does what great adaptations of great books manage to do best.  It follows the plot, does a great job with the casting and manages to find ways to make the narrative come to life.  Ostensibly, this is the story of Major Scobie, a police inspector in WWII Africa who has an affair while his wife is also having an affair and tries to make the best of the situation.  But that’s just plot.  That doesn’t give you any idea of the depth of the character of Major Scobie or the guilt that ravages his soul, for this is a film (and novel) about Catholicism and all the pain and guilt and burden that come along with it.

So the key choice here is the casting of Trevor Howard as Scobie.  This is a role that obviously required one hell of an actor, one who could convey both the joy and pain of this affair, so why not cast the lead from Brief Encounter?  Of all the British actors at the time, and there were a great many under-rated ones (Richard Attenborough, Anthony Quayle, Jack Hawkins, John Mills, and of course, Alec Guinness), no one is better suited for this role than Howard.  Howard manages to at once bring a seriousness and a cold detachment to Scobie that really cuts the heart of the character.  When films made from Greene novels find an actor really suited for the character, like here or Michael Caine in The Quiet American, they can be masterful.  It’s when they try casting someone like Van Johnson as Maurice Bendix in The End of the Affair that they become a mess.  But this film, deserving so much more than to be forgotten, does get right to the heart of the character.

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