"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

The 35th Academy Awards for the film year 1962.  The nominations were announced on February 25, 1963 and the awards were held on April 8, 1963.

Best Picture:  Lawrence of Arabia

  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Music Man
  • The Longest Day
  • Mutiny on the Bounty

Most Surprising Omission:  The Miracle Worker

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #38

The Race: Much of the early critical attention during the year went films with strong performances by the lead actress: The Miracle Worker, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Sweet Bird of Youth and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.  The one hit of the summer that also earned critical acclaim was The Music Man.  The fall brought The Longest Day, Darryl F. Zanuck’s epic imagining of D-Day, which quickly became the biggest box office earner of the year, earning enough to counter the huge money still being sunk into Cleopatra and getting Zanuck placed again in the position of head of production.  That was followed with Mutiny on the Bounty, MGM’s huge film that was finally finished and released after two years work.  Mutiny was also a hit, but not a big enough one to overcome bad reviews, tepid worth of mouth and a huge cost.

Christmas brought the two most heralded films of the year.  The first was To Kill a Mockingbird, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel that had become an instant classic.  The other was David Lean and Sam Spiegel’s new epic, Lawrence of ArabiaLawrence was the first film from the pair since The Bridge on the River Kwai had swept pretty much every award from every group, including 7 Oscars in 1957.

Lean got off to a good start with the National Board of Review, winning Best Director, but the film was merely listed in the Top 10 while The Longest Day won Best Picture.  There was no chance to get going with the New York Film Critics, as a newspaper strike kept the critics silent.  Instead, next up was the Golden Globes, which suddenly opened their gates wide.  With 20 different Best Picture nominations and 11 nominees for Best Director, it was hard to get any sort of consensus.  The Directors Guild also wasn’t a big help as there wasn’t much overlap with the Globes, though Lean would win both and Lawrence would win Best Picture – Drama at the Globes.

The Results: For the first time in 10 years none of the Best Picture nominees had a Best Actress nomination, leaving the early contenders out in the dark.  The nominations made things a two-horse race as The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty and The Longest Day somehow all ended up in the Best Picture race without Director, Screenplay or any Acting nominations.  It was all going to come down to Lawrence of Arabia and To Kill a Mockingbird and things already looked pretty clear.  Another big win was in the offering and soon enough Lawrence would become the fifth film in six years to win at least 7 Oscars (as many as had in the first 29 years of the awards) and once again, oddly enough, the big winner would lose in the Screenplay category, just like Ben-Hur and West Side Story before it.

We won 7 Oscars and deserved them all 5 years ago. We'll do the same here.

Lawrence of Arabia

  • Director:  David Lean
  • Writer:  Robert Bolt  /  Michael Wilson  (from the writings of T.E. Lawrence)
  • Producer:  Sam Spiegel
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Stars:  Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quayle, Anthony Quinn, Arthur Kennedy, Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium, Actor (O’Toole), Supporting Actor (Sharif), Editing, Cinematography (Color), Music Score – Substantially Original, Sound, Art Direction (Color)
  • Length:  216 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Historical)
  • Box Office Gross:  $37.49 mil  (#2  –  1962)
  • Release Date:  16 December 1962
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1  (year)  /  #19  (nominees)  /  #5  (winners)  /  #25  (all-time)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (O’Toole), Supporting Actor (Sharif), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design, Makeup

The Film:  Think of what could have happened.  Other directors had tried to buy the rights.  Albert Finney was actually cast.  When he left Marlon Brando was strongly considered.  But no other director could have provided the epic scope that David Lean brought to the film.  No other director could have envisioned the slow moments as Sherif Ali slowly comes out of the desert, gradually becoming a figure, then a menace.  And Finney is a great actor, but was he really ready for a role like this?  And Brando by this time had become a problem.  I can’t imagine the film ever would have gotten completed and Brando’s performance would have been questionable.

Instead, what do we have?  We have, without question, one of the greatest films ever made.  A film of incredible direction, some of the most beautiful shots in history, an incredible score that is instantly identifiable and two performances that rank among the best in their respective categories.  It’s hard to overcome a role later voted as the greatest hero in film history, but Peter O’Toole’s performance as T.E. Lawrence is on the very short list of greatest performances.  The relative ease with which he blows out that match, the way he so casually delivers the line “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts,” the intense look on his face when he realizes that Aqapa is the key, the desperate look when he must kill the man he brought out of the desert.

Of course, it is so easy to get lost in O’Toole’s performance that you forget how magnificent the other acting in the film is.  Lawrence actually ranks up with The Godfather and The Lord of the Rings for an amazing ensemble of supporting actors that all work together towards a greater whole.  While Omar Sharif is clearly the dominating supporting performance, you can have your pick of great performances by other great actors in the film: Arthur Kennedy, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quayle, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, Claude Rains, Jose Ferrer.  All of them are magnificent.  And so little is written about them because of O’Toole and Lean.  And of course, because of shots of the desert, or perfect editing that moves from a match to the sun, or even a script that has such memorable lines as “With Colonel Lawrence, mercy is a passion.  With me it is merely good manners.”  or  “I will be in Aqaba.  That is written.”  or  “He was a poet, a scholar and a mighty warrior.  He was also the most shameless exhibitionist since Barnum and Bailey.”  The film is so perfectly made that we forget that it flows together because of that incredible script.

Could Lawrence get made today?  Would people watch it today?  It made 37 million dollars at the box office, good enough for second on the year.  Even at close to four hours of wandering in the desert, without a single female speaking role this film stands at #70 all-time when adjusted for inflation.  That would make it #1 for this year, with inflation adjusting it to some 440 million dollars.  It is a triumph of pure film-making, made at a time when people were willing to go see it.  It was made in 70 mm and it looks it, every inch.  It is a reason to go see films in the theater and you don’t have the patience to sit through 216 minutes of this film in the theater then really, how much do you love the movies?

Not suitable for children? Are you f%^$g kidding me?

T0 Kill a Mockingbird

  • Director:  Robert Mulligan
  • Writer:  Horton Foote  (from the novel by Harper Lee)
  • Producer:  Alan J. Pakula
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Stars:  Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Philip Alford
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay – Based on Material From Another Medium, Actor (Peck), Supporting Actress (Badham), Cinematography (Black-and-White), Music Score – Substantially Original, Art Direction (Black-and-White)
  • Length:  129 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Social)
  • Box Office Gross:  $13.12 mil   (#7  –  1962)
  • Release Date:  25 December 1962
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #2  (year)  /  #58  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Peck), Supporting Actress (Badham), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Art Direction

The Film:  There are two key scenes in this film that cut right to the heart of what this story is about and neither of them takes place in the courtroom.  The first of them gets to the heart of what makes Atticus Finch such an appealing character and why he appeared at the top of the AFI list of Heroes while the second one gets to the appeal of the story itself and why it continues to be read year after year.

To Kill a Mockingbird holds the distinction of being both a truly great and not great novel at the same time.  Certainly the writing is nothing to brag about.  It is easy to read in junior high, if not in elementary school.  Yet, if greatness is determined, not by the level of the prose or the depth of the characters, it can be determined by the love that people have for it.  I’m not talking about fleeting popularity.  I’m talking about overwhelming devotion.  I don’t know any other book that so many people would choose as their favorite.  Not the best book they ever read, but definitely their favorite.

One key to that is that everyone wants Atticus Finch for their father.  He is decent, hard-working, fiercely protective of his children and loves them beyond anything else.  He is the quintessential good man, doing what he can with his kids on his own (of course the notion that he is on his own is kind of ridiculous given the constant presence of Miss Maudie and of course, Cal, but still, his wife is dead).  More importantly, we have the scene with the dog.  The scene is well done in the book, but the film really makes it come to life.  We see the urgency in everyone’s eyes when they know what the situation is and we see Atticus arrive with the sheriff and how the sheriff hands over the gun.  We want that to be our father.  Kids always want to believe that their father is a superhero under all those clothes, that he is the kind of man who can make that shot, not because he wants to, but because he has to.  Peck plays the scene to perfection, the way he tries to push the glasses up, before finally dropping them to the ground so he can make the shot.  It’s that scene more than anything that comes in the trial that truly establishes Atticus as a hero to most people, especially kids reading the book.

Then there is the scene outside the jail at night.  The scene where the lynch mob arrives and only the presence of Scout and Jem and Dill manage to save the moment.  This is perhaps the key scene in the film, the key scene that Lee meant for holding up a little ray of hope for the South.  We teach our children and sometimes we can learn from them as well.  It is children who are able to think for themselves before they learn the prejudices of their parents that will hold to key to people eventually overcoming racism and we are still a long way from it.  But this scene is absolutely believable, because children can make adults act in different ways.  After all, there’s a reason that the mob came at night.  Most of the children are supposed to be in bed.

This is a classic film made from a classic book.  It is the best thing that Robert Mulligan ever directed and the script is the best thing that Horton Foote ever wrote (he knew exactly what parts of the book to leave out).  It is beautifully photographed with a wonderful score and the perfect feel of a small town in rural Alabama.  One of the things Foote left out is one of the final lines of the book, when Scout is claiming that she was awake for the end of the book, how they chased him and chased him and when they found him, he hadn’t done any of those things.  He was real nice.  “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them,” Atticus tells her and that, of course, seems to be the moral of the book.  Certainly it is the lesson they have learned about Boo Radley.

Ms. Lee, who is still alive at 84, and whose wonderful novel celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, seems to have a higher opinion of human nature than I do.  Who is to say who is right?  The notice on the film poster says that the film was not suitable for children, probably because of the racism and the racist language, but really, children pick up so much more than we ever expect.  If Ms. Lee is correct, then they are the hope for this world.  I hope she’s right.  And the more people who read her book and take it to heart, hopefully, will move us closer towards her being right.

The Music Man has long been a favorite of my mother and I

The Music Man

  • Director:  Morton Da Costa
  • Writer:  Marion Hargrove  (from the musical play by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey)
  • Producer:  Morton Da Costa
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Editing, Scoring of Music – Adaptation or Treatment, Sound, Art Direction (Color), Costume Design (Color)
  • Length:  151 min
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Box Office Gross:  $14.95 mil  (#4  –  1962)
  • Release Date:  19 July 1962
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #3  (year)  /  #76  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Actor (Preston), Actress (Jones), Editing, Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design

The Film:  One of my favorite memories is of a time in either late 1991 or early 1992.  My mother was trying to help compile a list of college that might be well-suited for me.  She listed several schools in a row — Reed, UCSC, Pitzer — which provoked a hysterical burst of laughter from my older sister.  When asked what was so funny, my sister replied “Erik doesn’t smoke pot, Mom.”  When my mother protested that I marched to the beat of a different drummer and that all of those schools were known for students like that, my sister replied “Yeah, because they’re stoned.  Those are all drug schools, Mom.”  So then my mother suggested Grinnell.  I explained to my mother that I couldn’t possibly go to school in Iowa.  When asked why not, I looked at her and replied “Because the people there are so gosh darned stubborn they can stand touching noses for a week at a time and never see eye to eye.”  The look on her face was priceless.  Clearly, I had been paying attention all those years.  One of her favorite films had also become one of my favorite films and I knew it so well that I could rattle off the line from one of its songs without batting an eye.

I can’t overstate how much I love this film.  I not only know every song, I have pretty much known every song for 25 years.  In fact, this is one of the few musicals that I own the film soundtrack rather than the Broadway soundtrack.  While many films just take the Broadway production and give it a bigger budget, this film seemed to open up the play and give it room to breathe.  Just look at the first number “Rock Island.”  The editing of the scene, the way the sounds of the train become the orchestra itself are so amazing and they bring the song to life.  Right from the start, it’s hit the ball out of the park and it never slows down.

Certainly it begins with the original play.  Meredith Willson wrote a fantastic musical, with wonderful songs and made his hometown of Mason City, Iowa in 1912 come to life.  It establishes a real sense of time and place (especially in that first song when the traveling salesmen talk about how their lives are changed by the new technology of the Model T).  It lets you know what a small town felt like, both in the way it could look to an outsider, but also to an ostracized insider whose life has been damaged by smalltown gossip.  In comes Professor Harold Hill with his notion of a boys band and transforms the whole town, making it come to life (when Ronald Reagan left the White House in 1988 there were many comparisons to Harold Hill and given Reagan’s ability to make people feel better without any substance beneath his showman’s style it’s a pretty apt comparison; not to mention that one of the best Simpsons episodes is a parody of The Music Man).  Of course, he also makes the smalltown librarian come to life.

The librarian is Shirley Jones of course, who had already proven she could sing in Oklahoma and that she could act in Elmer Gantry (and she is so beautiful that I am still in love with her for just this performance – perhaps she’s why I have a thing for females in glasses).  What’s so amazing is that while her voice is so wonderful, it doesn’t make it distracting that Robert Preston doesn’t really sing.  In fact, he does the same thing that Rex Harrison would do two years later (except Preston was somehow ignored by the Academy while Harrison won the Oscar) – he gives one of the great performances in Musical history while not really being able to either sing or dance.  His style of singing is really a style of talking and his movements have an amazing amount of grace without really doing any dancing.  But it is one of the most enjoyable performances in film history and much like James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, it established him as one of my mother’s favorite actors with just this one performance.  Then we also have two wonderful character actors doing what they do best – Paul Ford and Hermione Gingold as the mayor and his wife.  Both are absolutely wonderful and just miss out on my Nighthawk nominations and both were better than some of the actual Oscar nominees (my Golden Globe awards, where I split between Comedy and Drama on all the major awards, has The Music Man winning every award, including both supporting awards for Ford and Gingold — Gingold’s performance is wonderful and everything that comes out of Ford’s mouth is pure comedic gold).

Then there are those songs.  From “Iowa Stubborn” to “76 Trombones” to “Marian the Librarian”, these songs have become a staple of my life.  And it’s wonderful for children, even when you don’t understand everything.  I watched this film for years, but it wasn’t until I saw The Hustler that I actually understood the difference between billiards and pool and got a greater understanding of “Ya Got Trouble”.  I would drive through “Gary, Indiana” and think fondly of the song while trying to ignore the ugliness of the industrial section near I-90.  And it wasn’t until high school when I finally understood the line “I hope and I pray for Hester to win just one more A” from “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” (not to mention what the whole notion of the song was about anyway).

I fully understand that music is very much subject to personal tastes.  Certainly part of the reason I have never catered much towards Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is because none of the songs hold my interest in the slightest.  On the other hand, given the severe problems with the film versions of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musicals, the lack of a film version of Boublil and Schonberg’s Les Miserables, this has to rank with West Side Story as my favorite film musical to simply sit back and listen to.

I like that they didn't feel the need to cram all 42 star names on the poster. They let the image speak for itself.

The Longest Day

  • Director:  Ken Annakin  /  Andrew Marton  /  Bernhard Wicki  /  Darryl F. Zanuck
  • Writer:  Cornelius Ryan  /  Romain Gary  /  James Jones  /  David Pursall  /  Jack Seddon  (from the book by Cornelius Ryan)
  • Producer:  Darryl F. Zanuck
  • Studio:  20th Century-Fox
  • Stars:  John Wayne, Richard Burton, Richard Beymer, Henry Fonda
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Editing, Cinematography (Black-and-White), Art Direction, Special Effects
  • Length:  178 min
  • Genre:  War  (World War II)
  • Box Office Gross:  $39.10 mil  (#1  –  1962)
  • Release Date:  4 October 1962
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #63  (year)  /  #389  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Visual Effects, Sound Editing

The Film:  The Longest Day felt antiquated when I first saw it back in the mid-90’s.  It felt too bloated, too frantic, trying too hard to follow too many characters.  By throwing in stars at every turn, it made sure we knew who was who and we could follow them later, but it didn’t bother to develop hardly any of the characters.  How ironic, in fact, that perhaps the two most memorable performances, those of Richard Beymer and Richard Burton end up intersecting in France.  It was just trying too hard to make epic stories out of every single person who fought on D-Day.

And of course, that was what I thought of it before Saving Private Ryan.  What would people make of it now?  I admire Zanuck for attempting to make the film, for feeling that it was an important subject and needed to be done on an epic scale (and word has it that he ended up directing about 60% of it himself in spite of the three listed directors).  But it never felt particularly realistic and seemed to want to be a nice patriotic sentiment rather than a film that depicted the actual invasion.  And of course, now that we’ve seen what the invasion was like, the blood and sand and carnage and pain, it’s hard to take this film seriously.  True, tragic things happen to some of the characters, but there are so damn many of them, it’s hard to know who you’re looking at, even though the person might be played by a star.

In the end, what do we have?  A decent, but badly outdated World War II film.  The kind of film they used to make about war.

So big! So amazing! So crappy!

Mutiny on the Bounty

  • Director:  Lewis Milestone
  • Writer:  Charles Lederer  (from the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall)
  • Producer:  Aaron Rosenberg
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Stars:  Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, Richard Harris
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Editing, Cinematography (Color), Music Score – Substantially Original, Art Direction (Color), Special Effects, Song (“Love Song from Mutiny on the Bounty (Follow Me)”)
  • Length:  178 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Box Office Gross:  $13.68 mil  (#6  –  1962)
  • Release Date:  8 November 1962
  • My Rating:  **
  • My Rank:  #85  (year)  /  #464  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design

The Film:  Oh, what a god forsaken mess.  Let’s just go down the list of nominations, starting at the bottom.  It was nominated for Best Song for really a pretty weak song, a song so weak that I choose to go with only two nominees rather than nominate it (to be fair, I didn’t like any of the songs that much – I’ve seen four of the nominated songs as well as two of the semi-finalists and I still only go with two nominees).  Then there are the Special Effects, which are actually pretty decent for this era and it’s such a weak year for effects that I nominate it in both fields.  It wasn’t even nominated for its costumes, which are pretty good (certainly better than Bon Voyage or My Geisha).  There is the Art Direction, which is solid, but even if I separated my awards into color and black-and-white, it would still miss out.  There is the score, which I found to be unmemorable and not worthy of a nomination.  There is the Cinematography which is really pretty awful.  This is probably an extension of the weak directing, starting with Carol Reed, then continuing with an ancient Lewis Milestone, who was badly pushed around by Brando.  That the Editing was nominated (and worse, won the Editors Guild) is appalling.  The film seems to take forever, has far too many unnecessary scenes and the final scenes are very badly put together.

Which brings us to its nomination for Best Picture.  In 1962 and 1963 we saw Best Picture nominations to long, bloated epics that were extremely expensive, almost crushing their respective studios, hit by massive delays by problematic stars, fired directors and general mayhem and were quite simply bad films.  So how was it that Mutiny on the Bounty and Cleopatra actually ended up among the nominees?  Perhaps as morale boosters for the studios in the days when more and more films were being made independently and overseas?  Vote swapping, as neither film was nominated for Director or Screenplay?  Or the fact that people actually went and saw the films (both films were big money-makers, though Mutiny failed to earn back its cost)?  It is difficult to say.  Either way, they are bad embarrassments for the Academy.  It is strange.  We have a film here (also The Music Man and The Longest Day) that earned no acting nominations (nor Director or Screenplay), yet made its way into the Best Picture race.  Yet, we also have 5 different films that earned multiple acting nominations without a Best Picture nomination (The Miracle Worker, Bird Man of Alcatraz, Sweet Bird of Youth, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, Days of Wine and Roses), a record (held with 1952), so couldn’t the voters have gone with any of those films?

Because, let’s face it, this film is a mess.  Trevor Howard is at least serviceable, but Marlon Brando is quite simply terrible.  He can’t seem to decide how he wants to play the role and he didn’t have a director who could reel in his excesses.  The film spends far too long attempting to develop the story prior to arriving in Tahiti (especially before the ship even leaves England) and the ending seems to come quickly and forced (not to mention remarkably stupid, as Christian essentially dies for no reason).  Yet, before we can get to that ending, we are forced to endure three hours of bloated story-telling, weak acting and general boredom.

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