My Top 10:

the main title for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) - the Best Picture choice for pretty much everyone, including me

  1. The Bridge on the River Kwai
  2. Paths of Glory
  3. Smiles of a Summer Night
  4. Sweet Smell of Success
  5. 12 Angry Men
  6. Nights of Cabiria
  7. Witness for the Prosecution
  8. Tin Star
  9. A Face in the Crowd
  10. Order

Academy Awards:

  • Best PictureThe Bridge on the River Kwai
  • Best Director:  David Lean  (The Bridge on the River Kwai)
  • Best Actor:  Alec Guinness  (The Bridge on the River Kwai)
  • Best Actress:  Joanne Woodward  (The Three Faces of Eve)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Red Buttons  (Sayonara)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Miyoshi Umeki  (Sayonara)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Designing Woman
  • Best Foreign Film:  Nights of Cabiria

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • Best Director:  David Lean  (The Bridge on the River Kwai)
  • Best Actor:  Alec Guinness  (The Bridge on the River Kwai)
  • Best Actress:  Joanne Woodward  (The Three Faces of Eve)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Red Buttons  (Sayonara)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Miyoshi Umeki  (Sayonara)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Designing Woman

The Criterion Collection cover for Ordet

Top 5 Films  (Top 1000):

  1. Ordet –  #34
  2. Sweet Smell of Success –  #174
  3. Nights of Cabiria –  #180
  4. Paths of Glory –  #195
  5. The Bridge on the River Kwai –  #231

Top 5 Films  (Consensus 1957 Awards):

  1. The Bridge on the River Kwai
  2. Gervaise
  3. 12 Angry Men
  4. Witness for the Prosecution
  5. Sayonara

Top 5 Films  (Awards Points):

  1. The Bridge on the River Kwai –  1699
  2. Sayonara –  673
  3. 12 Angry Men –  496
  4. Witness for the Prosecution –  461
  5. Peyton Place –  440

Top 5 Films  (Box Office Gross):

  1. The Bridge on the River Kwai –  $27.2 mil
  2. Peyton Place –  $25.6 mil
  3. Sayonara –  $25.3 mil
  4. Old Yeller –  $10.0 mil
  5. Raintree Country –  $5.96 mil

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • The Bridge on the River Kwai –  #13  (1998)  /  #36  (2007)
  • 12 Angry Men –  #87  (2007)

the Nighthawk winner for Best Actress: Eva Dahlbeck (between Gunnar Bjornstrand and Jarl Kulle) in Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, U.S. release 1957)

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture:  The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • Best Director:  David Lean (The Bridge on the River Kwai)
  • Best Actor:  Alec Guinness  (The Bridge on the River Kwai)
  • Best Actress:  Eva Dahlbeck  (Smiles of a Summer Night)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Sessue Hayakawa  (The Bridge on the River Kwai)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Harriet Andersson  (Smiles of a Summer Night)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Smiles of a Summer Night
  • Best Foreign Film:  The Seventh Seal

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  Smiles of a Summer Night
  • Best Scene:  The Bridge on the River Kwai – the ending
  • Best Ending:  see above
  • Best Line:  “Blow up the bridge?”  (Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai)
  • Performance to Fall in Love With:  Harriet Andersson in Smiles of a Summer Night
  • Read the Book DON’T See the Film:  A Farewell to Arms  /  A Sun Also Rises (tie)

Ebert Great Films:

  • Sweet Smell of Success
  • Nights of Cabiria
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • 12 Angry Men
  • Paths of Glory
  • Ordet

It is quite possibly the best year in the history of film.  First consider the films that were released in 1957:  The Bridge on the River Kwai, Paths of Glory, 12 Angry Men, Sweet Smell of Success, Witness for the Prosecution, Tin Star, A Face in the Crowd.  Now, look at the Foreign films that received their U.S. release (and thus were Oscar eligible) in 1957:  Smiles of a Summer Night, Nights of Cabiria, Ordet, I Vitelloni, Gervaise, The Good Soldier Svejk.  Then, look at the amazing group of Foreign films released in their own countries (and thus eligible for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film) in 1957:  The Seventh Seal, Throne of Blood, Wild Strawberries, The Cranes are Flying, White Nights, Aparajito.  I’ve already talked at length here about how I feel that this is the best year.  I’ll just leave it at that.

The glorious and gory beginning of Hammer Horror: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee

Film History: Humphrey Bogart dies of lung cancer on 14 January.  Erich von Stroheim dies on 12 May.  James Whale commits suicide by drowning himself in his swimming pool on 29 July.  Louis B. Mayer dies on 29 October.  RKO ceases making feature films after being sold to Desilu, the television production company co-owned by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez.  Ingrid Bergman celebrates early in the year by returning to the United States and winning the Oscar, but by the end of the year is in the process of a divorce from the marriage to Roberto Rossellini that drove her to exile.  Sidney Lumet’s feature film directing debut, 12 Angry Men, wins the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.  Satyijat Ray’s Aparajito, the second part of the Apu Trilogy, wins the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.  Hammer Films in Britain releases The Curse of Frankenstein, thus beginning the glorious age of Hammer Horror.  Love Affair is re-made as An Affair to Remember, a lackluster film forever worshiped by sentimental film lovers and cursing me to forever listen to my mother declare how much she loves it.

Academy Awards: For the first time since the numbers of Best Picture nominees is lowered to 5 in 1944, there is a 5/5 Best Picture / Director match.  Four of those also manage to get nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (the one left out, oddly, is Witness for the Prosecution, written and directed by Billy Wilder, who has the second most writing nominations in Academy history).  Peyton Place ties the record (with The Little Foxes) for most nominations without a win (9).  It also becomes the first film to receive 5 acting nominations and not win any (later tied by Tom Jones).  Sayonara becomes the third film in seven years to win both Supporting Acting Oscars.  The Academy does away with the Color / Black-and-White distinctions for Cinematography, Art Direction and Costume Design and the Original / Adapted distinctions for Score.  Best Motion Picture Story is finally eliminated.  Even with only two Screenplay categories, this marks the first of 6 times in 9 years and 9 times in 16 years that no Best Picture nominees are nominated in the Original Screenplay category.

How could they have gotten it right and still gotten it so wrong?  They gave 7 Oscars to Bridge on the River Kwai, all of them well-deserved.  They nominated 12 Angry Men and Witness for the Prosecution.  They made solid (though not my) choices in the other acting categories.  They gave the Oscar to Fellini’s best film.  Yet they heaped 10 nominations on the mediocre Sayonara and 9 on the horrible Peyton Place, including 5 acting nominations, one of them a complete embarrassment (Diane Varsi).  And while they can be forgiven for not giving attention to Smiles of a Summer Night, there is no excuse for ignoring Paths of Glory or Sweet Smell of Success, neither of which earned a single nomination.  Paths of Glory is the unluckiest film in the Nighthawk Awards, earning 8 nominations, and coming in second place in all eight (to Bridge in all eight).  How could they have not nominated Henry Fonda?  How could they have passed up Eva Marie Saint for Lana Turner?  How could they have gone for Peyton Place‘s Supporting Actors rather than Lee J. Cobb and Ed Begley in 12 Angry Men?  And then there is the matter of not nominating The Seventh Seal.  The Academy would make the same mistake again the next year, over-looking Bergman’s The Magician.  After that, every Bergman film submitted ends up winning the Oscar.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Original Screenplay for Designing Woman
  • Worst Nomination:  Best Adapted Screenplay for Peyton Place
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Picture for Paths of Glory
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  Peyton Place
  • Best Film with no Oscar Nominations:  Paths of Glory
  • Best Foreign Film submitted but not Nominated:  The Seventh Seal
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Sound
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Actress
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Score  (in other words, I agree with all 7 of Bridge‘s Oscars and none of the others)

Golden Globes: The Globes aren’t that dis-similar to the Oscars.  The major nominations go to Bridge on the River Kwai, Witness for the Prosecution, Sayonara and 12 Angry Men (though the Globes more wisely go with Wild is the Wind rather than Peyton Place).  Their awards go to Bridge, David Lean, Alec Guinness, Joanne Woodward and Red Buttons.  Their only difference is giving Best Supporting Actress to Elsa Lanchester (for Witness) rather than Miyoshi Umeki.  The Comedy awards go to Les Girls, Frank Sinatra (for Pal Joey) and Kay Kendall (for Les Girls).

Guilds: The Writers Guild is pretty much the only group that doesn’t go for Bridge on the River Kwai, perhaps due to questions over who had actually written the film (the script was written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson with help from David Lean, but since Foreman and Wilson were blacklisted, the credited writer was Pierre Boulle, the author of the novel, who couldn’t speak English).  It might have also had to do with it being a British film, as Lawrence of Arabia and Tom Jones will also later fail to get WGA nominations.  Instead, the WGA awards go to 12 Angry Men (Drama), Love in the Afternoon (Comedy) and Les Girls (Musical).  The DGA falls in line with the Oscars, with Bridge winning over Witness, 12 Angry Men, Sayonara and Peyton PlaceThe Enemy Below wins the Sound Editors Guild.

Awards: The critics lead the way with a path that all the other awards groups would follow: Best Picture, Director and Actor to The Bridge on the River Kwai.  Best Actress is split, with the National Board of Review going for eventual Oscar winner Joanne Woodward and the New York Film Critics going with never-to-be-an Oscar winner, Deborah Kerr (Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison).  The National Board of Review also goes with Sessue Hayakawa (Bridge on the River Kwai) and Sybil Thorndike (Prince and the Showgirl) for its supporting awards.  The Foreign Film awards go to Ordet (NBR) and Gervaise (NYFC).

Bridge completes its awards sweep at the BAFTAs, winning Picture, British Picture, British Actor and Screenplay.  Henry Fonda takes Foreign Actor, Heather Sears (Story of Esther Costello) takes British Actress and Simone Signoret (The Crucible) wins Foreign Actress.  The Prince and the Showgirl leads all the nominations with 5, but fails to win anything.  Bridge becomes the first film to sweep all the Best Picture awards (Oscar, Globe, NYFC, NBR, BAFTA).  The only ones to sweep since are Tom Jones and Schindler’s List.

The magnificent Rudolf Hrusinsky as Svejk in Dobry vojak Svejk (The Good Soldier Svejk)

Under-appreciated film of 1957:

Dobrý voják Svejk (The Good Soldier Svejk) (dir. Karel Stekly)

It would probably frustrate Mike Steele, my advisor in college, and the professor for the Literature About War class that I took my Sophomore year to know that I didn’t read The Good Soldier Svejk until years after I finished the class, but I don’t think it would surprise him.  After all, here was a 70 year old Czech novel, a broad satire about the World War with a character who borders on idiocy and who manages to keep stumbling out of the way of pain and death and anguish.  But going back to it years later and finally reading all of it, instead of just the first 100 pages or so, I was able to fully appreciate it.  (Actually, you can’t read all of it.  The author, Jaroslav Hasek, died in 1923 of tuberculosis, having only written about three and a half parts of the planned six part novel, but there is enough there — it is a much more complete book than say, The Mystery of Edwin Drood).  Then, I was curious to see if there were any film adaptations.  There was one listed on Netflix, so I got it and watched it and the first thing I discovered is that Netflix was listing the wrong film.  Their information references Der brave Soldat Schwejk, a German film from 1960.  But what they have is the 1957 Czech version directed by Karel Stekly.  Though I eventually tracked down the German version, a Golden Globe nominee, it was this mysterious Czech version that I found to be much more satisfying.

Svejk is a great book, falling just outside my list of the 100 Greatest Novels.  It is a satire on the causes of war and the men who go off to fight and the men who command.  Its depiction of the waste of the World War (the literal title of the book translates to The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk During the World War — at the time there was only one World War) pre-dates the anti-war message in All Quiet on the Western Front and the satirical look at the world of war was a profound influence on Joseph Heller when he wrote Catch-22.  It is also a very long book.  So, while the German version tries to compress action, the Czech film is actually split in two.  You can actually watch just the first, but Netflix does have both, if you’re interested.

I hope you’re interested.  Because this is a good film, a great satire on the horrors of the war seen through the eyes of Svejk, a bumbling sort of everyman who manages to accidentally insult the crown and ends up in the army and headed towards the front.  Only, Svejk never makes it to the front.  He bumbles his way into being an officer’s assistant, bumbles his way around the country, around Europe and somehow never really approaches combat.  It’s kind of like Forrest Gump would try to do, but only focusing on the outskirts of the war rather than trying to insert him in all of modern history.

Part of what makes this film so enjoyable is the performance of Rudolf Hrusinsky as Svejk.  He perfectly embodies Svejk and the way he is written (and even the way he is drawn in the wonderful illustrations).  He somehow manages to encompass the bizarre innocence of Svejk without any of the overbearing irritating aspects of Tom Hanks’s performance as Gump.  It is a rare kind of find and since it’s so easily available, you should check it out for yourself.  Then read the book.  Because you should always read the book.

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