Four of All About Eve's Oscar nominees (Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Bette Davis) as well as a young actress named Marilyn Monroe

The 23rd annual Academy Awards, for the film year 1950.  The nominations were announced on February 12, 1951 and the awards ceremony was held on March 29, 1951.

Best Picture:  All About Eve

  • Sunset Blvd.
  • King Solomon’s Mines
  • Born Yesterday
  • Father of the Bride

Most Surprising Omission:  The Asphalt Jungle

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  The Third Man

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #63

The Race: Carol Reed’s The Third Man had been a big British hit in 1949, but didn’t make it to the States until 1950, where it got rave reviews and the theme became a hit record.  It was soon followed by a much bigger film.  The industry preview for Sunset Blvd., the new Billy Wilder film got mixed reviews.  Barbara Stanwyck wept and kissed the hem of Gloria Swanson’s dress.  Louis B. Mayer insisted that Wilder should be tarred and feathered.  Wilder, standing close by, said “I am Mr. Wilder and you can go fuck yourself.”  The film opened to brilliant reviews, rivaled only by All About Eve, the new film from 1949’s double Oscar winner: Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  John Huston, the double Oscar winner from 1948 was also back with his new heist film, The Asphalt Jungle and Jimmy Stewart’s new film, Harvey, opened to rave reviews.  The final Best Picture contender was George Cukor’s Born Yesterday, starring 1949’s Best Actor: Broderick Crawford.

The first awards went to Sunset Blvd., winning Best Picture and Actress from the National Board of Review, though Best Director went to John Huston.  The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve followed on the NBR list as #2 and #3.  All About Eve came out on top at the New York Film Critics, winning Picture, Director and Actress.  Next up was the Writers Guild and by declaring All About Eve a Comedy, they managed to award both it and Sunset (Asphalt Jungle and Born Yesterday both had to settle for nominations).  Sunset and Eve were both nominated for Picture and Director at the Globes (as was Born Yesterday).  Harvey was in for Picture in place of Asphalt, though it was in for Director.  Sunset turned out to be the big winner, taking home Picture, Director and Actress (though not Screenplay which went to Eve).

The Results: The Best Director race was full of the expected: Wilder, Mankiewicz, Huston, Reed and Cukor.  But The Asphalt Jungle and The Third Man were out of the Best Picture race in place of two films that had no almost no precursors: Father of the Bride (which only had a WGA nomination) and King Solomon’s Mines (which had none).  Harvey had to settle for two acting nominations.  (By the way, how much better were the Director choices?  If the 5 Best Director choices had been the 5 Best Picture choices, instead of ranking 63rd, this year would rank 4th among Best Picture years).

Sunset had 11 nominations, including all 4 acting categories, but had to settle for second place to All About Eve‘s record 14 nominations (including 5 acting nominations).  Again they were in different Screenplay categories, but they were competing directly against each other in 9 categories.  The total nominations boded well for Eve.  They would split their competition (Sunset would win 3 total – Screenplay plus two directly competitive categories and neither would win Actress, Supporting Actress, Editing or Cinematography), but Eve would take home the biggest prizes – Picture and Director, as well as Supporting Actor among its 6 total Oscars.  And in spite of the precursors neither film won Best Actress.  That went to Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday.

Nominated for a record 14 Oscar nominations: All About Eve (1950)

All About Eve

  • Director:  Joseph L. Mankiewicz
  • Writer:  Joseph L. Mankiewicz  (from the story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr)
  • Producer:  Darryl F. Zanuck
  • Studio:  20th Century-Fox
  • Stars:  Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Anne Revere, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress (Davis), Actress (Baxter), Supporting Actor (Sanders), Supporting Actress (Holm), Supporting Actress (Revere), Editing, Cinematography (Black-and-White), Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture, Sound, Art Direction (Black-and-White), Costume Design (Black-and-White)
  • Length:  138 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  13 October 1950
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #3  (year)  /  #46  (nominees)  /  #17  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Davis), Actress (Baxter), Supporting Actor (Sanders), Supporting Actress (Holm), Supporting Actress (Ritter), Score

The Film:  Is there a more deliciously snarky character in all of film history than Addison DeWitt?  As he is so sublimely played by George Sanders, he comes in and takes over All About Eve (actually, he had it from the beginning, seeing as how he is the opening narrator) and never lets go.  He watches all of the proceedings of the film with a detached sardonic wit, his withering phrases taking down anyone who gets anyone near him.  No wonder Margo Channing would say “I distinctly remember, Addison, crossing you off of my guest list.”  Addison, of course, replies “Dear Margo, you were an unforgettable Peter Pan. You must play it again soon.”

Perhaps that has something to do with why Bette Davis didn’t win the Oscar.  Not, perhaps, because Anne Baxter stole some of the votes away.  Perhaps because George Sanders stole the film away.  So the question then becomes, why doesn’t he win the Nighthawk Award?  Or even come in second (he comes in third).  Because the race for Best Supporting Actor in 1950 is the single best race in any category in any year.  It is the only place where three different actors earn 9’s for their performance.  My actual winner is Erich von Stroheim, for his perfectly droll butler, painfully supporting the woman he still loves in place of the career he once had, so reminiscent of von Stroheim himself.  Then there is the non-nominated Orson Welles in The Third Man, with some of the greatest delivery of lines in the history of film.  So poor George Sanders comes in third.  But that’s pretty much the case across the board for All About Eve.  It is comes in third for Picture and Director (behind Sunset and Third Man), third for Actress (Baxter, finishing behind Swanson and Davis), third for Supporting Actress (Holm behind Nancy Olson and Josephine Hull).

Sanders does an amazing thing in this film.  He dominates.  This is so amazing when you look at the film itself.  There is Bette Davis, in perhaps her greatest performance as Margo Channing, the aging actress who became a star at age four and has always stayed a star.  There is Anne Baxter, in what is easily the best performance of her career (even including her Oscar) as Eve Harrington, the young up and coming schemer who starts out worshiping Margo before stealing the stage out from underneath her.  There is Celeste Holm, married to the poor playwright (“All playwrights should be dead for three hundred years,” Margo yells at him at one point).  There is Thelma Ritter, the devoted servant to Margo (when asked if she has a message for Tyrone Power, she says to just pass on her number and “I’ll give him the message myself).  There is even Marilyn Monroe as a young ingenue, with looks that nearly melt the screen.  But in the midst of all these powerful scheming females, Addison DeWitt looms large in a way the other males can not.  Hugh Marlowe as the playwright is simply bossed off the screen.  And Gary Merrill as Bill never seems to be up to earning Margo’s love (“Bill’s thirty-two. He looks thirty-two. He looked it five years ago, he’ll look it twenty years from now. I hate men.” she complains).  But somehow Addison is still the conductor, moving pieces around for his own pleasure.  For without him, would there really be that young ingenue at the end dressing herself in Eve’s clothing?

This is a great film, a smart, interesting and sometimes funny film, dripping with sarcasm and layered in brilliant acting.  It is simply too bad that it has to settle for third place in this amazing year.

The greatest film ever made: Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. (1950) - the poster spells out Boulevard but the actual title shot in the film doesn't

Sunset Blvd.

  • Director:  Billy Wilder
  • Writer:  Billy Wilder  /  Charles Brackett
  • Producer:  Charles Brackett
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Stars:  William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Story and Screenplay, Actor (Holden), Actress (Swanson), Supporting Actor (von Stroheim), Supporting Actress (Olson), Editing, Cinematography (Black-and-White), Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture, Art Direction (Black-and-White)
  • Length:  110 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Satire)
  • Release Date:  10 August 1950
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1  (year)  /  #1  (nominees)  /  #1  (all-time)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor (Holden), Actress (Swanson), Supporting Actor (von Stroheim), Supporting Actress (Olson), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup

The Film:  In a quick summation, this is how amazing a film this is.  It is well acknowledged that it is one of the greatest screenplays ever written, full of amazing quotable lines, including one of the greatest closing lines in film history.  It absolutely satirizes and pays homage to Hollywood at the same time, acknowledging the debt it owes to older films while mercilessly skewering the industry which is paying its way.  Yet, it could be watched as a silent film.  Watching it again, this time listening to the commentary, so that I couldn’t hear the actual dialogue I realized how amazing it is outside of the script itself.  It is brilliantly edited, filled with amazing shots and his acting so superb, so sublime, that it doesn’t matter if any words can be heard at all.  Their faces say everything.  Norma Desmond certainly would have approved and perhaps it owes a lot of that to the fact that Swanson and von Stroheim began as silent actors and learned how to make their expressions say far more than any dialogue could.

But there is the dialogue.  Think of how quickly it can shift gears.  Within one page of the great lines that every film fan knows: “You’re Norma Desmond.  You used to be in pictures.  You used to be big.”  “I am big.  It’s the pictures that got small.” (followed by the great cynical line that everyone always forgets: “I knew there was something wrong with them.”), we get the hilarious line “Ssh!  You’ll wake up that monkey.”  It’s the kind of line I think I might say.

Let’s face it.  I’ve always wanted to be Indiana Jones or Sam Spade.  But in many ways I am Joe Gillis.  I have been since the first time I saw this film.  The line that haunts me is “I knew your name.  I’d always heard you had some talent.”  “That was last year.  This year I’m trying to make a living.”  This film may turn the film world into the grotesque, encapsulated in a performance by Gloria Swanson that draws on everything she ever did and leaves it all behind, but in the end, it is a film that is frighteningly real.

Think of the performances.  William Holden plays a writer who supposedly had some talent but now just needed some work, not unlike his own career, which flourished in 1939 with Golden Boy, but had been languishing ever since (and ironically, he stepped in for Montgomery Clift, who left the film because it was too real — after all he was living with a much older woman at the time).  Gloria Swanson had indeed been one of the biggest stars in Hollywood during the Silent Era, but had pretty much disappeared during the transition to sound, namely because Joseph Kennedy, who had been producing her films, left Hollywood.  In fact, the film they watch in the mansion is Queen Kelly, the film that Kennedy abandoned and had never been released by the time of Sunset Blvd. (in fact it would not see an actual release until 1985 and still was not complete).  Then there is Erich von Stroheim, who indeed had directed many of the best early films, only to have his career destroyed and being forced to move on to acting full-time.  There are even the multitude of Hollywood personalities who play themselves, like Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper and Buster Keaton (how great would it be to have a man known as The Great Stoneface as your bridge partner).

But there is also the story itself.  It has much to say about the process by which good films can be made (the way Joe and Betty work), the way people will sell themselves on the cheap to keep themselves going (or to keep their car from being repossessed) and the behavior of stars.  In the tabloid era, we’re well familiar with the last part, but the first parts are equally true.  And in the end, it isn’t ridicule the film is heaping on Hollywood.  It is tender loving care.  This film cares about what has become of Norma and the way the world has let her become this grotesque creation.  Yes, the film is dark and sardonic and clever and filled with sharp wit and brilliantly smart and incisive, but it is also tender and compassionate.  It cares about these characters.

And it is filled with all those other masterful parts.  The wonderful shots, from the smoke filled room when the camera is rolling to the darkness enveloping Joe and Max as they discuss Norma and her history.  The brilliant way the editing moves through different parts of the story.  The amazing mansion brought to life.  The wonderful costumes.  The magnificent Franz Waxman score.  And of course that marvelous acting.  I give this film the awards the Oscars should have bestowed upon it.  It is a film about Hollywood, a pure film made for movie lovers.  And still, after all this time, in my opinion, the single greatest film ever made.

King Solomon's Mines (1950) - an Africa triptych disguised as an adventure film

King Solomon’s Mines

  • Director:  Compton Bennett  /  Andrew Marton
  • Writer:  Helen Deutsch  (from the novel by H. Rider Haggard)
  • Producer:  Sam Zimbalist
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Editing, Cinematography (Color)
  • Length:  103 min
  • Genre:  Adventure
  • Release Date:  24 November 1950
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #37  (year)  /  #386  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Sound Editing

The Film:  King Solomon’s Mines was the first of four films in the 1950’s to do something that has not been done since: to get nominated for Best Picture without any precursors.  None of the four (Decision Before Dawn, Three Coins in the Fountain and Love is a Many-Splendored Thing are the other three) received any Golden Globe nominations, any BAFTA nominations or any critics awards and none of them were nominated by either the Directors Guild or the Writers Guild (none of them were nominated for Director or Screenplay at the Oscars so that makes sense).  All of them are rather surprising nominees, mostly forgotten now (and except for Decision, completely undeserving).

Perhaps King Solomon’s Mines is still thought of as a great adventure film.  But in a very real sense it isn’t an adventure film at all.  It’s a documentary – one of those Disney nature films about the wilds of Africa.  Perhaps that’s what got it nominated.  It is a big film filled with epic shots of the African savanna (it did win Best Cinematography after all).  And there is, ostensibly, the story about Allen Quartermain and his trip with the lovely woman searching for her husband to go find the legendary mines of King Solomon.  But the story doesn’t really have that much to it.  It’s mostly just an excuse to film a lot of Africa that had never been on screen before.  And it looks wonderful.  But to nominate it for Best Picture?  That’s going a bit too far.  It’s got some decent moments of adventure and some great shots of animals that audiences in 1950 were probably stunned to be able to see, especially in color.  And of course Deborah Kerr looks wonderful.  But that’s really all there is to it.

One of the worst Oscars ever: Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday (1950)

Born Yesterday

  • Director:  George Cukor
  • Writer:  Albert Mannheimer  (from the play by Garson Kanin)
  • Producer:  S. Sylvan Simon
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Stars:  Judy Holliday, Broderick Crawford, William Holden
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress (Holliday), Costume Design (Black-and-White)
  • Length:  105 min
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Release Date:  25 December 1950
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #40  (film)  /  #391  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  Judy Holliday is decent in the role of a blonde airhead girlfriend of a mobster.  He wants her to learn the ability to fit into society so he hires a reporter to teach her to be more couth.  She gives the kind of performance that seems to mock what Marilyn Monroe would later become and certainly was the influence for Jennifer Tilly’s performance in Bullets over Broadway.  It’s a decent comedic performance.  Not great, but certainly not bad.

So why is it I label it one of the worst mistakes the Academy has ever made?  Well, that’s easy.  Because she was decent, not bad and she won in the same year as two of the greatest performances in the history of film: Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd. and Bette Davis in All About Eve.  It’s possibly that Davis and Anne Baxter split votes.  But how the hell did Holliday beat Swanson?  That I will never understand.

It possibly does color the film for me, but given me appreciation for George Cukor and that William Holden is one of my favorite actors of all-time, I don’t think it does.  The film just isn’t all that great.  Holliday is okay, but her character is so god damn annoying, Crawford was almost mimicking his performance from All the King’s Men and Holden displays none of the charm or talent that is so evident in Sunset Blvd.  The script never rises above the average.  It’s the kind of thing you would have expected Joe Gillis to be pitching to Mr. Sheldrake and that would have been rejected.

How did Father of the Bride get nominated over The Asphalt Jungle and The Third Man in 1950?

Father of the Bride

  • Director:  Vincente Minnelli
  • Writer:  Frances Goodrich  /  Albert Hackett  (from the novel by Edward Streeter)
  • Producer:  Pandro S. Berman
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Elizabeth Taylor
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Screenplay, Actor (Tracy)
  • Length:  92 min
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Release Date:  16 June 1950
  • My Rating:  **.5
  • My Rank:  #63  (year)  /  #453  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  Oh what a glorious piece of crap.  I didn’t remember disliking it so intensely the first time around.  Nor did I think of poorly of it the first time around.  But looking at it again, watching the performances, listening to the lines, and it really is a piece of crap.  There is very little about this comedy that is remotely funny.  There is certainly nothing witty in the script.  Yet somehow, in a year with The Third Man and The Asphalt Jungle and Harvey this film rose to the top and managed to get nominated for Best Picture.

Here’s the film in a nutshell: a beautiful young woman is getting married.  He father frets about it, about the preparations, about paying for it, about meeting the potential in-laws.  In the end, the wedding goes fine and he gives her away and there’s even a sequel (Father’s Little Dividend).  But it’s all just a bunch of whining.  He’s a well-to-do man who’s upset that no one wants to drink his martinis.  He frets about the son-in-law, who seems like a perfectly fine guy with a fine job.  The whole film is an example of the whining of the upper middle class.  It has nothing substantial to say, has one of the weakest Spencer Tracy performances (which somehow got Oscar nominated over Sterling Hayden and Joseph Cotton) and a stupid, annoying script that somehow also managed to get Oscar nominated.  Don’t waste your time.  Hell, even the re-make isn’t as annoying as this.

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