My Top 10:

A common sight for a Kurosawa film: Toshiro Mifune out in front with Takashi Shimura leading with quiet grace. The Seven Samurai (1954, US. rel 1956)

  1. The Seven Samurai
  2. The Searchers
  3. The Killing
  4. Richard III
  5. Forbidden Planet
  6. The Ladykillers
  7. Diabolique
  8. La Strada
  9. Baby Doll
  10. Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Academy Awards:

  • Best PictureAround the World in 80 Days
  • Best Director:  George Stevens  (Giant)
  • Best Actor:  Yul Brynner  (The King and I)
  • Best Actress:  Ingrid Bergman  (Anastasia)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Anthony Quinn  (Lust for Life)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Dorothy Malone  (Written on the Wind)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Around the World in 80 Days
  • Best Original Screenplay:  The Red Balloon
  • Best Motion Picture Story:  The Brave One
  • Best Foreign Film:  La Strada

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Around the World in 80 Days
  • Best Director:  George Stevens  (Giant)
  • Best Actor:  Kirk Douglas  (Lust for Life)
  • Best Actress:  Ingrid Bergman  (Anastasia)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Anthony Quinn  (Lust for Life)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Dorothy Malone  (Written on the Wind)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Around the World in 80 Days
  • Best Original Screenplay:  The Ladykillers
  • Best Foreign Film:  La Strada

Top 5 Films  (Top 1000):

John Wayne in John Ford's The Searchers - Top 1000's #7 film of all-time.

  1. The Searchers –  #7
  2. The Seven Samurai –  #9
  3. La Strada –  #50
  4. Umberto D –  #129
  5. Written on the Wind –  #199

Top 5 Films  (Consensus 1956 Awards):

  1. Around the World in 80 Days
  2. The King and I
  3. Richard III
  4. Giant
  5. War and Peace

Top 5 Films  (Awards Points):

  1. Around the World in 80 Days –  834
  2. The King and I –  718
  3. Giant –  558
  4. Baby Doll –  462
  5. Friendly Persuasion –  355

Top 5 Films  (Box Office Gross):

  1. The Ten Commandments –  $65.5 mil
  2. Around the World in 80 Days –  $42.0 mil
  3. Giant –  $35.0 mil
  4. The King and I –  $21.3 mil
  5. Trapeze –  $14.4 mil

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • The Searchers –  #96  (1998)  /  #12  (2007)
  • Giant –  #82  (1998)

Nighthawk Awards:

Oscar and Nighthawk winner: Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia (1956)

  • Best Picture:  The Seven Samurai
  • Best Director:  Akira Kurosawa (The Seven Samurai)
  • Best Actor:  Laurence Olivier  (Richard III)
  • Best Actress:  Ingrid Bergman  (Anastasia)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Toshiro Mifune  (The Seven Samurai)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Dorothy Malone  (Written on the Wind)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The Killing
  • Best Original Screenplay:  The Seven Samurai
  • Best Foreign Film:  La Strada

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  The Seven Samurai
  • Best Scene:  The attack in The Seven Samurai
  • Best Line:  “You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart.”  (Sterling Hayden in The Killing)
  • Worst Line:  “Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool.”  (Anne Baxter in The Ten Commandments)
  • Best Ending:  The Killing

Ebert Great Films:

  • Written on the Wind
  • The Seven Samurai
  • The Searchers
  • Umberto D
  • Rififi

It is a year of bloated epics, films that look magnificent, with lush cinematography and beautiful costumes but are very very long and feel even longer.  Yet, the masterful films, the ones that people remember, like The Killing, or ones that they worship and emulate, like The Searchers and The Seven Samurai are ignored.  It ranks as the second worst year for Best Picture nominees in the 65 years of five nominees.

She became Princess Grace in 1956, but I'll be honest. I put this picture here because Grace Kelly might have been the most beautiful woman who ever lived.

Film History: The Wizard of Oz becomes the first feature film to be broadcast on television in its entirety during prime time on 3 November, 1956.  Darryl Zanuck leaves 20th Century-Fox to become an independent producer.  The Production Code begins to ease restrictions on abortion and other issues.  Elvis Presley signs a film deal.  Marilyn Monroe marries Arthur Miller.  Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis dissolve their partnership.  Bela Lugosi dies on 16 August, which does not stop him from being billed as the star in Plan Nine from Outer Space three years later.  Hollywood adopts the five day work week.  Montgomery Clift is in a car wreck, suffering facial lacerations.  Grace Kelly becomes Princess Grace of Monaco.  Following James Dean’s death, Paul Newman replaces him in Somebody Up There Likes Me, turning him from a film flop to a star.  Kenji Mizoguchi dies at the age of 58.  Baby Doll opens amidst loud condemnations from the Roman Catholic Church and the Legion of Decency.

Academy Awards: It’s all about length as the five Best Picture nominees average a stunning 173 minutes.  James Dean receives a second posthumous nomination.  The Red Balloon, a 36 minute movie, wins Best Original Screenplay even though it has no dialogue.  Victor Young wins an Oscar in his 22nd and final nomination, three months after he dies.  Michael Wilson is left off the nominee list because of Academy rules that do not allow anyone who refused to testify in front of HUAC to be nominated.  The nomination lists Friendly Persuasion as a nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay, Writer Ineligible.  The Academy finally alters the Screenplay categories, adopting Adapted and Original categories.  Best Foreign Language Film becomes a regular, competitive category and La Strada wins; it is the first of four Fellini films to win.  The Silent World, the winner of the Golden Palm at Cannes and Best Foreign Film from the National Board of Review, wins Best Documentary.  Around the World in 80 Days wins Best Picture without a BAFTA nomination, the only film from 1953 to 1964 to do so.

Seriously, 173 minutes.  And three of those films were nominated for Best Editing.  How bad a job do I think they did?  The King and I is the only BP nominee to even make my top 25 for the year and it comes in at #14.  It is the only one of the nominees to rank in the top 300 Best Picture nominees and it came in at #275.  One problem that does come up here is Best Foreign Film.  It was long overdue, especially with the amazing films from Bergman, Kurosawa and Fellini arriving in the States.  But from here on out I have seen 98.74% of all the feature film nominations (4770 out of 4831).  Of those missing 61, 28 of them are Foreign Film nominations, including every nomination I am missing after 1976 (another 19 are Costume Design or Song).  Here is where we begin with the Academy nominating films that no one ever remembers.  And while they were nominating films for Best Foreign Film that no one has heard from since, they were ignoring the amazing Foreign films that were arriving.  Between Diabolique, The Seven Samurai, Sawdust and Tinsel, we have nominations for Art Direction and Costume Design (both for Samurai).  Even amazing American films weren’t being acknowledged as The Searchers, The Killing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers were all completely shut out and Richard III and Forbidden Planet had to make due with one nomination each.  It is also the year of The Bold and the Brave, Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Mickey Rooney) and Best Original Screenplay, the most recent acting nomination I haven’t seen, because it is extremely difficult to find.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Editing for Around the World in 80 Days
  • Worst Nomination:  Best Supporting Actress for Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Director for Akira Kurosawa for The Seven Samurai
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  The Bad Seed
  • Best Film not Oscar-Nominated at all:  The Searchers
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Picture followed closely by Best Editing
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Song
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Song, Best Foreign Film

Golden Globes: Baby Doll receives 5 nominations and wins Best Director but fails to get nominated for Best Picture.  Around the World in 80 Days, a Comedy, wins Best Picture (Drama) while its co-star Cantinflas, wins Best Actor (Comedy) over eventual Oscar winner, Yul Brynner, which is the only loss for The King and I; it goes on to win Best Picture (Comedy or Musical) and Best Actress (Comedy or Musical).  The Teahouse of the August Moon becomes the first big loser in Golden Globes history, losing all 5 all of its nominations.  The Globes go along with the Oscars by awarding Best Foreign Film to six films, some of which are near impossible to find these days  (of the 72 Globe nominees I am missing, 42 of them are for Foreign Film, including everything after 1976).

Guilds: For some reason, the Directors Guild reduces their initial list of 18 down to 11 finalists with George Stevens winning Best Director for Giant.  Of the three winners for Best Screenplay from the Writers Guild, only The King and I manages a DGA nomination.  Around the World in 80 Days and Friendly Persuasion are the other two winners.  Earth vs. the Flying Saucers wins the Motion Picture Sound Editors Award.

Awards: John Huston wins Best Director from both the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics for Moby Dick but does not receive an Oscar nomination.  He is the first person since 1949 to win the NYFC and not get Oscar nominated, the first since 1947 to win both awards, the first to win both and not get nominated and the last person to win two critics awards for Best Director and fail to get an Oscar nomination until 1977.

Gervaise wins Best Picture at the BAFTA (as well as Best Actress), with Reach For the Sky winning Best British Picture, A Town Like Alice taking both lead British acting awards and Anna Magnani completing her sweep from the year before by winning Best Foreign Actress for The Rose Tattoo.  Ingmar Bergman gets his first awards attention, as Smiles of a Summer Night is nominated for Best Picture, Foreign Actor and Foreign Actress.

Best Director: George Stevens wins the Consensus Award with ease, winning the two biggest awards: the Oscar and the DGA, while also getting nominated for the Golden Globe.  But aside from him, there is remarkably little consensus.  John Huston wins both major critics groups, but fails to get nominated by the Oscars, Globes or DGA.  The DGA has a longlist of 18 nominees, which they reduce to 11 finalists and yet Stevens is the only of those to get a Golden Globe nomination and Walter Lang (The King and I) the only one other than Stevens to get Oscar nominated.  Michael Anderson and King Vidor, who both get Oscar nominations and Globe nominations are on the list of nominees, but not finalists.  Elia Kazan, who wins the Golden Globe, does not get Oscar nominated and doesn’t even make the list of nominees for the DGA.  William Wyler, the fifth Oscar nominee fails to get a Globe nomination and is one of the 7 nominees dropped before the finalist lists by the DGA.  Of my own top 5 (Akira Kurosawa, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Henri-Georges Clouzet and Laurence Olivier), only Ford is a DGA nominee and the others fail to get any mention at all.

The great B-picture success: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Under-appreciated Film of 1956:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (dir. Don Siegel, wr. Daniel Mainwaring)

There are those who think that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was meant as a warning against the inherent dangers of Communism.  They are wrong.  On the one hand, what you see in art depends on what you bring to art.  That was shown to me with some humor in high school when our AP English class analyzed a poem, explicating what we all thought it meant, only to find out that one of our fellow students had written it and hadn’t intended any of the things we had been saying.  So there is the question of authorial intent.  What did the makers of Invasion of the Body Snatchers mean when they made the film?  Well, in the interview available on the DVD, Kevin McCarthy, the star, insists it had no larger meaning.  The interviewer had also asked Jack Finney, who wrote the original novel and Finney also insisted it had no larger meaning.  So, of course, with no authorial intent, made in the middle of the fifties, people could easily read into it what they wanted and many people read it, both then and today, as an indictment of the dangers of Communism and subverting your individual soul to the collective.  So why would I continually insist that this reading of the film is bullshit?

Because this film was written by Daniel Mainwaring, the kind of man who, when a fellow parent at a P.T.A. meeting would insist that there were Communists in the P.T.A., would stand up and say “Name them.”  He was the kind of man who lent his name out to other writers in the darkest, most disgusting period of Hollywood, the Blacklist, and agreed to front scripts for them to keep money flowing to their hands.  Later, he would be blacklisted himself, struggling to find work, eventually going to Europe and working in television because he wanted to keep supporting his family.

I am a somewhat believer in the Auteur Theory and so I often don’t talk much about screenwriters.  However, my belief in the Auteur Theory hinges on two types of directors – those who write their own scripts and form their own films, from foreign directors like Bergman, Kurosawa and Fellini, to Hollywood veterans like John Huston and Billy Wilder.  Then there are the other kind — those who bring a specific feel to all of their films, no matter who the writer is, the very cream of the crop, directors like Hitchcock, Scorsese, Spielberg.  I don’t extend it to many of the directors that were worshiped by the French critics.  One of the attractive things about the theory is that there is usually only one director on a film, whereas on many films there are numerous writers.  It makes it hard to know whose vision other than the director we are seeing on screen.  And in the thirties, there were certain producers, namely Irving Thalberg and David O. Selznick, who were excellent at getting their visions on screen.  So, in spite of being a writer and celebrating fiction writers, I sometimes give short shrift to screenwriters.

Daniel Mainwaring, screenwriter for Invasion of the Body Snatchers, discussing Out of the Past with Bogart. I snagged this picture from the University of California who claims it came from the BFI.

Daniel Mainwaring was a novelist, then a screenwriter.  As Geoffrey Homes, he wrote the novel Build My Gallows High, which he then adapted into Out of the Past, one of the best noir films of the late 40’s.  He wrote the script for The Hitch-hiker, the best film directed by Ida Lupino, just about the only female director around in the fifties and, after getting paid partially half-way through, she refused to pay him the rest of his salary after the script was finished, telling him there wasn’t anything he could do (and took screenwriting credit herself).  This was in 1953 and Mainwaring was supportive of those writers who had been black-listed, allowing himself to be used as a front (if you don’t know what a front is, wait until 1976, when I write about the film The Front).  He traveled to Alabama to write about Phenix City, a town filled with corruption and crime.  It was made into The Phenix City Story, a film that Martin Scorsese talks about in his A Personal Journey as being highly influential on him as a youngster.  Then he adapted Jack Finney’s novel into Invasion of the Body Snatchers for Don Siegel, who he would work with on five different films.  His own favorites of his films were Out of the Past and The Lawless, which he adapted from his own short story, about the racism of white farm owners towards migrant fruit pickers in Central Valley.  Mainwaring himself grew up in the San Joaquin Valley and picked fruit as a kid and had witnessed such things first-hand.  He also had been a reporter and thus was able to give a documentary feel to both The Lawless and The Phenix City Story.

So how can you look at Invasion?  Well, even though none of the people involved with it thought they were providing a message (Don Siegel later claimed that the studios wanted a message, but Mainwaring himself said that Siegel was just making that up), you can attach any meaning to it you want.  Of course, if you attach a meaning to it that it’s a parable about the dangers of Communism, you will sound fairly stupid given all the hardships that the writer and his family went through because of the blacklist (I’ll talk more about the human cost of the blacklist when I discuss The Front).  Though it was not intended as such, I like to view it as a parable against the inherent dangers of McCarthyism, or the danger of allowing yourself to become subsumed by the crowd mentality.  Mainwaring insisted that he simply adapted the original story from Collier’s (later turned into the novel), but there was one big change that I noted.  The novel takes place in the future (1976), while the film takes place in present day.  The novel gives it more of that sense of what could happen.  The film seems like it’s speaking about what’s happening now.  And that’s what makes it all the more successful.  Not only is it a B-picture, either Horror (I included it in my top 25 list here) or Science Fiction (AFI had it as #9 on their list), but it actually works as both art and as parable, something that is extremely difficult to do.  I mean, outside of The Crucible, how often do you see a film that could deliver a message, whether it intended to or not and do it so artfully?  It was shot very quickly, on a small budget.  It didn’t have much in the way of actors.  It was forced to tack on a new opening and ending after a bad preview of the film.  But it has endured and the National Film Preservation Board added it in only the sixth year, alongside Midnight Cowboy, Pinocchio, The Apartment and The African Queen and ahead of such classics as North by Northwest, Stagecoach and To Kill a Mockingbird (all added the next year).

It is a brilliant film, filled with suspense and horror.  It creates a perfect vision of a small town and a good reflection of life in the fifties, but also warns about the kind of dangers that can be lurking subtly underneath.  It is the kind of film that could make the young daughter of the screenwriter constantly check under her bed for seeds to make sure she wasn’t going to be replaced.  And when you can make a film like that and have it endure for decades, you’ve done one hell of a job.

Note:  So, where in the hell did I get all this information about Daniel Mainwaring, including the P.T.A. story and the frightened daughter.  Well, his older daughter, Dannie, is a family friend and has known my mother for nearly 50 years.  She and her younger sister Deborah (the one checking under her bed), very graciously answered several questions about their father, his work and the blacklist itself.  Their answers provided me with a number of the details that I include here and several more which I will include when I discuss The Front, when I get to 1976.  I owe them both a great big THANK YOU for graciously taking the time to answer those questions and give me their insights.

Extra Note:  Daniel Mainwaring was from California, and thus, his novels are all available at the Bancroft Library at the University of California in Berkeley.  They have a dedicated mission to help preserve books written by Californians.  Most of his books were written under the pseudonym Geoffrey Homes and you can find them here.  His scripts are all housed at UCLA, which, of course, is the premier archive for film studies in the world.  A descriptive summary of what is in the collection at UCLA can be found here.