One look at her and Walter Neff was doomed.

One look at her and Walter Neff was doomed.

You can read more about this year in film here.  The Best Picture race is discussed here, with reviews of all the nominees.  First there are the categories, followed by all the films with their nominations, then the Globes, where I split the major awards by Drama and Comedy, followed by a few lists at the very end.  If there’s a film you expected to see and didn’t, check the very bottom – it might be eligible in a different year.  Films in red won the Oscar in that category.  Films in blue were nominated. This is the start of the 5 Best Picture nominee era at the Oscars, which will last until 2008.  It’s the second year of the Golden Globes – there were still no nominees and no distinction between Drama and Comedy, but those films in red in the Globe section won the Globes.

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture
  1. Double Indemnity
  2. Gaslight
  3. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
  4. Hail the Conquering Hero
  5. Arsenic and Old Lace

Analysis:  This is not a great year, and yet it’s still going to be better than 1945.  These are all **** films, but this is the lowest total for the top 5 since 1937 and it’s the lowest top 10 since 1936.  That’s because this is it for **** films and there are only three ***.5 films: Ministry of Fear, Laura and The Princess and the Pirate and the last two are lower level.  The only years so far with a weaker 6 through 10 are 1931, 1934 and 1936.  Arsenic was actually ready in 1942 but Warners was contractually obligated to wait for the end of the Broadway run and so it becomes the third great comedy here.

  • Another in my series of directors eating with the cast on set.

    Another in my series of directors eating with the cast on set.

    Best Director

  1. Billy Wilder  (Double Indemnity)
  2. George Cukor  (Gaslight)
  3. Preston Sturges  (Hail the Conquering Hero)
  4. Frank Capra  (Arsenic and Old Lace)
  5. Preston Sturges  (The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek)
  6. Otto Preminger  (Laura)

Analysis:  This is it for the amazing run for Preston Sturges: five nominations in four years.  It’s astounding that Cukor wasn’t nominated when the film was.  Twice in the 10 BP Era, films were nominated for Picture, Screenplay, Actor and Actress but not Director.  Obviously Gaslight is the first film in the 5 BP Era to do it; it would be another 14 years before it would happen again.  What’s interesting is that those films often are winners: 6 of the 14 films to do it (12 in the 5 BP Era) won either Actor or Actress and another one won Screenplay (as did one of the two films in the 10 BP Era).  Hell, Driving Miss Daisy won Actress, Screenplay and Picture.  But of all 14 of those films, Gaslight is the one that most deserved to be nominated for Director.  Even though Preminger was Oscar-nominated, he only makes this list because of the two nominations for Sturges.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. Double Indemnity
  2. Gaslight
  3. Arsenic and Old Lace
  4. Laura
  5. Ministry of Fear

Analysis:  Thanks to Double Indemnity and Ministry of Fear, this is the first year since 1940 (where I aborted my Adapted Screenplay project) where I’ve read more than one of the original sources.

  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
  2. Hail the Conquering Hero
  3. The Princess and the Pirate
  4. Lifeboat
  5. Going My Way

Analysis:  Going My Way actually won two Oscars here, though neither over Sturges; sadly, this would mean that Leo McCarey would beat out Billy Wilder (1945) and John Huston (1948) to become the first man to win writing and directing Oscars in the same year.  It won Best Original Story, over Lifeboat and it won Best Screenplay over Double Indemnity, Gaslight and Laura.  But the Academy made it worse, because Sturges lost both his nominations to Wilson, which is not a good film and is certainly not well-written.

  • Best Actor:
  1. Charles Boyer  (Gaslight)
  2. Bing Crosby  (Going My Way)
  3. Cary Grant  (Arsenic and Old Lace)
  4. Fred MacMurray  (Double Indemnity)
  5. Eddie Bracken  (Hail the Conquering Hero)

Analysis:  Grant actually was nominated this year, but for his lesser, more serious performance in None But the Lonely Heart; the Academy just couldn’t appreciate him in his comedic roles.  This is the 5th Nighthawk nomination for Grant – more than the other four will have combined (Crosby will be nominated again in 1954, but not the other three).

  • Best Actress
  1. Ingrid Bergman  (Gaslight)
  2. Barbara Stanwyck  (Double Indemnity)
  3. Tallulah Bankhead  (Lifeboat)
  4. Bette Davis  (Mr. Skeffington)
  5. Claudette Colbert  (Since You Went Away)

Analysis:  The fifth Oscar nominee was Greer Garson for Mrs. Parkington, who is my #6, but since all five of these are for Dramas, she doesn’t earn a Globe nomination from me either.  Davis continues her streak of Nighthawk nominations (7th in a row, with one still to come) and increases her overall points lead.  At the Oscars, this was Garson’s fourth straight nomination, the third time she faced off against Davis and the second of three straight years of Bergman and Garson facing off.  I think this is the best performance of Bergman’s amazing career.

  • laura-500Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Clifton Webb  (Laura)
  2. William Demarest  (The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek)
  3. Barry Fitzgerald  (Going My Way)
  4. Edward G. Robinson  (Double Indemnity)
  5. Claude Rains  (Mr. Skeffington)

Analysis:  Here is the fourth nomination in a row for Rains and his eighth in less than a decade.  Fitzgerald was actually nominated for Best Actor as well as winning Supporting Actor; the Academy would change the rules to prevent this.

  • angela-7Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Angela Lansbury  (Gaslight)
  2. Diana Lynn  (The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek)
  3. Agnes Moorhead  (Mrs. Parkington)
  4. Agnes Barrymore  (None But the Lonely Heart)
  5. Jennifer Jones  (Since You Went Away)

Analysis:  Lynn is the best of all the wise-cracking much younger sisters who appear throughout Screwball Comedy (see, for instance, Merrily We Live or The Philadelphia Story).

  • Best Editing:
  1. Double Indemnity
  2. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
  3. Gaslight
  4. Hail the Conquering Hero
  5. Arsenic and Old Lace

Analysis:  The Oscars nominated two way over-long over-bloated films, Since You Went Away and Wilson, which they further compounded by giving the award to Wilson.  Apparently crisp, clean editing that moves a film along well was beyond their ability to appreciate.

  • Best Cinematography:
  1. Double Indemnity
  2. Gaslight
  3. Ministry of Fear
  4. Lifeboat
  5. Arsenic and Old Lace

Analysis:  Laura was the black-and-white winner, and it comes in 6th on my list, which is much better than the color winner, Wilson, which comes nowhere near my list.

  • Best Original Score:
  1. Laura
  2. Double Indemnity
  3. Gaslight
  4. Kismet
  5. Mr. Skeffington

Analysis:  That’s right, the score for Laura, now admired as one of the best in film history, wasn’t nominated at the Oscars.

  • Best Sound:
  1. Lifeboat
  2. Double Indemnity
  3. Gaslight
  4. Passage to Marseille
  5. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

Analysis:  Yet another massively undeserved Oscar for Wilson.  But at least one of my nominees got an Oscar nom this time.

  • Best Art Direction:
  1. Gaslight
  2. Kismet
  3. Double Indemnity
  4. Arsenic and Old Lace
  5. Meet Me in St. Louis

Analysis:  This time Wilson’s Oscar actually ends up on my list (at #10).  But Kismet (also a color film) definitely deserved it over Wilson.

  • Best Visual Effects
  1. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

Analysis:  Another year where only one film deserves a nomination but it’s the one that actually won the Oscar.

  • Best Sound Editing
  1. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
  2. Passage to Marseille
  • Best Costume Design:
  1. Gaslight
  2. Kismet
  3. Meet Me in St. Louis
  4. The Princess and the Pirate
  5. Jane Eyre

Analysis:  A much better group than in the year before.

  • Best Makeup
  1. Kismet
  • Best Original Song:
  1. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”  (Meet Me in St. Louis)
  2. “Swinging on a Star”  (Going My Way)
  3. “I’m Making Believe”  (Sweet and Lowdown)
  4. “Rio de Janeiro”  (Brazil)
  5. “Long Ago and Far Away”  (Cover Girl)

Analysis:  “From 1938 through 1945, each studio’s music department submitted a single song which would then automatically be nominated.  Omissions during there years are therefore the responsibility of the studios and not the Academy.”  (Inside Oscar, p 1012) Because the Academy nominated “The Trolley Song”, that means that MGM must not have submitted “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, in spite of the fact that it instantly became a classic.  So, two years after the Oscar went to “White Christmas” a much better Christmas song wasn’t even nominated.

  • Best Animated Film:
  1. none

Analysis:  For the first time since 1938, there isn’t an eligible film.  The only feature-length animated film, The Three Caballeros, wouldn’t be eligible until the next year (and won’t get nominated – it’s a high level *** film).

  • tormentBest Foreign Film:
  1. Torment

Analysis:  The first film written by Ingmar Bergman, a stark Swedish drama directed by Alf Sjoberg that won’t be eligible for other categories until 1947.

By Film:

note:  They’re in points order.  You get twice as many points for a win as for a nomination.  Hopefully your math skills will let you figure out the system.

  • Double Indemnity  (535)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction
  • Gaslight  (500)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design
  • The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek  (260)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing
  • Arsenic and Old Lace  (240)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction
  • Hail the Conquering Hero  (195)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Editing
  • Laura  (195)
    • Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Original Score
  • Lifeboat  (140)
    • Original Screenplay, Actress, Cinematography, Sound
  • Going My Way  (115)
    • Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Song
  • Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo  (100)
    • Sound, Visual Effects, Sound Editing
  • Mr. Skeffington  (90)
    • Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Score
  • Kismet  (80)
    • Original Score, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup
  • Ministry of Fear  (65)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography
  • Since You Went Away  (65)
    • Actress, Supporting Actress
  • The Princess and the Pirate  (55)
    • Original Screenplay, Costume Design
  • Meet Me in St. Louis  (55)
    • Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Song
  • Passage to Marseille  (40)
    • Sound, Sound Editing
  • Mrs. Parkington  (30)
    • Supporting Actress
  • None But the Lonely Heart (30)
    • Supporting Acress
  • Jane Eyre  (10)
    • Original Song
  • Cover Girl  (10)
    • Original Song
  • Sweet and Lowdown  (10)
    • Original Song
  • Brazil  (10)
    • Original Song

Analysis: With all due respect to Arsenic and Old Lace, which is a great film, it would have not gotten much more than Adapted Screenplay in a good year.  Gaslight sets a new record for points without winning Best Picture (500).

Best Film Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Awards:

  • The Seventh Cross

Analysis:  A good early Fred Zinnemann film that doesn’t rate in any category higher than 8th (which was Hume Cronyn for Supporting Actor, who was Oscar-nominated).

Biggest Awards Film Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Awards:

  • Wilson

Analysis:  Wilson has over 200 more awards points than any film to this point to fail to earn any nominations from me.  It was the second biggest film of the year for awards points, winning Best Actor at the Globes and winning 5 Oscars among its 10 nominations, including getting nominated for Picture, Director and Actor and winning Original Screenplay.

Nighthawk Golden Globes:

Drama:

  • Best Picture
  1. Double Indemnity
  2. Gaslight
  3. Ministry of Fear
  4. Laura

Analysis:  In 1943, this was the entire regular Nighthawk list.  Here, for the first time since 1938, I can’t even fill the list.  The next best film is The Seventh Cross, but it’s still only a *** film and doesn’t make my list.

  • Best Director
  1. Billy Wilder  (Double Indemnity)
  2. George Cukor  (Gaslight)
  3. Otto Preminger  (Laura)
  4. Fritz Lang  (Ministry of Fear)
  5. Alfred Hitchcock  (Lifeboat)

Analysis:  Fritz Lang earns his first nomination here since 1937 to move back into a tie for first-place with William Wyler and John Ford, who are busy making documentaries about the war.  Hitchcock was Oscar-nominated which is a little embarrassing since his Shadow of a Doubt, from the year before, which wasn’t nominated, is so much better.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. Double Indemnity
  2. Gaslight
  3. Laura
  4. Ministry of Fear
  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. Lifeboat
  2. Going My Way
  • gaslightBest Actor:
  1. Charles Boyer  (Gaslight)
  2. Bing Crosby  (Going My Way)
  3. Fred MacMurray  (Double Indemnity)
  4. Cary Grant  (None But the Lonely Heart)
  5. Orson Welles  (Jane Eyre)
  • Best Actress
  1. Ingrid Bergman  (Gaslight)
  2. Barbara Stanwyck  (Double Indemnity)
  3. Tallulah Bankhead  (Lifeboat)
  4. Bette Davis  (Mr. Skeffington)
  5. Claudette Colbert  (Since You Went Away)

Analysis:  This is the Nighthawk list from above.

  • Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Clifton Webb  (Laura)
  2. Barry Fitzgerald  (Going My Way)
  3. Edward G. Robinson  (Double Indemnity)
  4. Claude Rains  (Mr. Skeffington)
  5. Monty Wooley  (Since You Went Away)

Analysis:  Wooley was actually Oscar-nominated.  The Academy really liked him for a stretch, though not for his best performance (The Man Who Came to Dinner).  With his nomination here, Claude Rains knocks Charles Laughton off the top for Drama points.

  • Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Angela Lansbury  (Gaslight)
  2. Agnes Moorhead  (Mrs. Parkington)
  3. Agnes Barrymore  (None But the Lonely Heart)
  4. Jennifer Jones  (Since You Went Away)

By Film:  Jones was nominated for an Oscar, which, back when the supporting category was seen as being more for either up and comers or character players, was an oddity for someone who had just the year before won the Oscar in a lead category.  In fact, only two other actresses have ever done such a thing – Emma Thompson, in 92-93 (though she was nominated in both categories) and Jennifer Lawrence in 12-13 (no male has ever done it).

  • Double Indemnity  (370)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress,Supporting Actor
  • Gaslight  (335)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress
  • Laura  (195)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor
  • Lifeboat  (160)
    • Director, Original Screenplay, Actress
  • Ministry of Fear  (135)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay
  • Going My Way  (105)
    • Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor
  • Since You Went Away (95)
    • Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • None But the Lonely Heart  (65)
    • Actor, Supporting Actress
  • Mr. Skeffington  (65)
    • Actress, Supporting Actor
  • Jane Eyre  (35)
    • Actor
  • Mrs. Parkington  (30)
    • Supporting Actress

Best Drama Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Golden Globes:

  • The Seventh Cross

Comedy / Musical:

  • Best Picture:
  1. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
  2. Hail the Conquering Hero
  3. Arsenic and Old Lace
  4. The Princess and the Pirate

Analysis:  The first three of these are **** films.  There won’t be three **** films in this category again until 1952.  The fifth film would be Casanova Brown, which is only a *** film and down at #12 on the year.

  • Best Director:
  1. Preston Sturges  (Hail the Conquering Hero)
  2. Frank Capra  (Arsenic and Old Lace)
  3. Preston Sturges  (The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek)

Analysis:  This is for Capra in this category: five nominations (with no wins) over the course of 12 years, which ties him for third place with Buster Keaton and Ernst Lubitsch at 270 points.  This is also it for Preston Sturges: three wins among six nominations in five years, good enough for 405 points and second place, behind Chaplin (450 points).

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. Arsenic and Old Lace

Analysis:  I’ve only seen five films that even qualify in this category: my winner, based on the hilarious play, Meet Me in St Louis, a high level *** film based on the novel, See Here Private Hargrove, a low-level *** film based on the novel, Maisie Goes to Reno, a **.5 film, the eighth in a series, and The Canterville Ghost, the fifth worst film of the year, based on the Oscar Wilde story.  The other 26 films I’ve seen that qualify as adapted are all Dramas.

  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
  2. Hail the Conquering Hero
  3. The Princess and the Pirate

Analysis:  The reason Preston Sturges only has three wins in five nominations in this category is because in 1940 he had to go against The Great Dictator and twice (1942 and here) he had to go up against himself.

  • arsenicoldlace6Best Actor:
  1. Cary Grant  (Arsenic and Old Lace)
  2. Eddie Bracken  (Hail the Conquering Hero)
  3. Eddie Bracken  (The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek)

Analysis:  Yet another win here for Grant, which gives him 340 points, way ahead of James Cagney, who’s in third with 245, but way behind Chaplin, who’s in first with 420.

  • Best Actress:
  1. Betty Hutton  (The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek)

Analysis:  Not a great choice, but there wasn’t much in the way of lead female performances in this category.  Both Ella Raines in Hail the Conquering Hero and Priscilla Lane in Arsenic and Old Lace mainly are there to look beautiful.

  • Three Nighthawk Comedy winners in one (l-r): Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Actress.

    Three Nighthawk Comedy winners in one (l-r): Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Actress.

    Best Supporting Actor

  1. William Demarest  (The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek)
  2. Raymond Massey  (Arsenic and Old Lace)
  3. William Demarest  (Hail the Conquering Hero)
  4. Peter Lorre  (Arsenic and Old Lace)
  5. Raymond Walburn  (Hail the Conquering Hero)

Analysis:  William Demarest was in most of the Preston Sturges films and he was always hilarious, but never more so than in Miracle.

  • Best Supporting Actress
  1. Diana Lynn  (The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek)
  2. Jean Adair  (Arsenic and Old Lace)
  3. Josephine Hull  (Arsenic and Old Lace)
  4. Esther Howard  (Hail the Conquering Hero)

Analysis:  There’s really no difference between Adair and Hull as Cary Grant’s homicidal aunts in Arsenic.  Walburn (above) and Howard play the mayor and his wife in Hail.

By Film:

  • The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek  (450)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • Arsenic and Old Lace  (365)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actress
  • Hail the Conquering Hero  (305)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • The Princess and the Pirate  (90)
    • Picture, Original Screenplay

Analysis:  The three great films here dominate of course, partially because of solid acting, and partially because of a lack of competition.  But there’s much more competition here than there will be in the next several years.

Best Comedy Not Nominated for any Nighthawk Golden Globes:

  • Casanova Brown

Analysis:  An enjoyable comedy that doesn’t belong near the awards but is still the best of a motley year not to get nominated.

Roundup for the Year in Film:

Eligible Films I Have Seen:  101

By Stars:

  • ****:  5
  • ***.5:  3
  • ***:  64
  • **.5:  23
  • **:  4
  • *.5:  2
  • Average Film Score for the Year, out of 100:  64.6

Analysis:  Another drop, this time of almost a point.  Not enough great and very good films and a couple of just plain bad films.  It’s the first time since 1933 that I have seen more than one film that I rank below **.

Oscar-Nominated Films I Have Not Seen:

  • Three Russian Girls  (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture)
  • Music in Manhattan  (Sound)
  • Desert Song  (Interior Decoration (Black-and-White))

Oscar Quality:

Best Picture:  You could say it’s because of the drop to 5 nominees that the year falls off so badly.  It ranks 66th and there won’t be another year as low until 1952.  But there just wasn’t much to go with – even if there had been 10 nominations and maybe Laura, Lifeboat and Meet Me in St. Louis had been nominated, it wouldn’t have raised the bar much.  Going My Way ranks at #360 and two of the films don’t make the Top 400.

The Winners:  They didn’t do well with the winners either.  They picked the weakest nominee for Original Screenplay and Editing and the only major category they got right was Actress.  The winners rank at 2.79 among the nominees (to be fair, there were still a lot of categories that had more than 5 nominees) and 5.74 overall.

The Nominees:  Even the nominees weren’t great, dropping a little to 55.1.  The tech and the major awards went down.  The acting went up however, to 85.6, the highest score since 1928.  In fact, for the first time since the supporting awards were created, all four acting categories earned at least a 75.

Top 5 Films of the Year:

1  –  Double Indemnity  (see my review here)

2  –  Gaslight  (see my review here)

3  –  The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek  (see my review here)

There was never a better stretch of comedy from one director than Preston Sturges from 1940-1944.

There was never a better stretch of comedy from one director than Preston Sturges from 1940-1944.

4  –  Hail the Conquering Hero  (dir. Preston Sturges)

There are two arguments about the Production Code that began to be enforced in 1934 and that lasted, more or less, until 1967.  The first argument is that the Code limited what people could do and say on camera and it greatly reduced freedom of expression in films for over 30 years, resulting in pathetic attempts to make certain kinds of films and forcing many films to be pulled from circulation and not be seen for decades.  The second argument is that the Code forced filmmakers to be more creative, to be adaptive and work around the problem, relying on cleverness and insinuation.  The best Preston Sturges films are supportive of the latter argument.  You couldn’t have an unmarried pregnancy – so in Miracle of Morgan’s Creek he has an unknown husband that has shipped off to war.  And in Hail the Conquering Hero, he never manages to violate the Code, but it brings him to new heights of lunacy as he manages to, simultaneously, ridicule much about the war and the small towns that were supporting it, while also embracing the smalltown values that he was mocking.

Eddie Bracken (so put upon as Norval, the reluctant hero of Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (if you ever want to see a truly brilliant reaction shot, watch the end of Miracle)) is Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith, the son of a marine who died in World War I who has tried to enlist but he been discharged in boot camp due to chronic hay fever.  He’s been working in a shipyard, telling his mother and friends that he’s in the Pacific, but when he buys drinks for six marines back from Guadalcanal, he ends up on an out-of-control train ride back home, complete as marine hero and is launched straight into the mayor’s race, facing off against the pompous mayor, whose son is now engaged to Woodrow’s girl.

Sturges had come up with a brilliant premise – the returning hero who’s not really a hero (though, at least, he desperately wanted to be) who is then celebrated by a smalltown.  But now, where to go from there.  He wants us to believe in Woodrow, but when the fraud comes out (as it must), where can we go from there?  Where can he go from there?

Well, it works, partially because Sturges then embraces those smalltown values that he was mocking in the way the town reacts to Woodrow’s homecoming.  But it also works because of the magnificent characters that Sturges brings into every film.  The three best are played by Raymond Walburn (the pompous mayor, who, when informed that his platform makes no sense and has bad grammar replies “I’m not running on a platform of good grammar.”), Esther Howard (as the mayor’s wife, who is much more observant than her husband and seems to be quite pleased at the ridiculous array of circumstances that keep hurling themselves into their lives) and, of course, William Demarest.

In 1946 William Demarest would be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for The Jolson Story.  The irony is that Demarest wasn’t really all that great in The Jolson Story.  Look at him in the Sturges films, though.  He’s the suspicious sidekick to Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve.  He’s the head of the shooting club on the train in The Palm Beach Story.  He gives his best performance as the constable (and the poor beleaguered father of Betty Hutton and Diana Lynn) in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.  In this film, he is the head of the group of marines, a group dedicated to helping out Norval, no matter if he wants their help or not.  They’re marines and they have a job to do, and when the denizens of the town follow Demarest down the street, you know they’re following him because, by god, where he leads, you will follow.  And, true to Sturges form, he gets a great name.  In The Lady Eve, he was Ambrose Muragtroyd.  In Miracle, he was Constable Kockenlocker.  And here he is Sgt. Heppelfinger.

I wanted to put this on a tape with Harold and Maude and Heathers and call it "Death can be funny".

I wanted to put this on a tape with Harold and Maude and Heathers and call it “Death can be funny”.

5  –  Arsenic and Old Lace  (dir. Frank Capra)

The laughs begin early on in Arsenic and Old Lace, as Cary Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, a dramatic critic who has long railed against marriage, only to be now getting married himself.  He brings his new bride back to Brooklyn, where they are both from, having been raised next door, him raised by his two kindly old aunts and her by her minister father (the church provides a graveyard between the two houses, a wonderful little set decoration).  And that’s where the craziness really begins.

Before he even gets there we learn that his brother Teddy is crazy, believing he is Teddy Roosevelt, that his stairs are San Juan Hill (which provide a great moment every time he goes up them) and that he is digging the Panama Canal in the basement.  But after Mortimer gets home we discover precisely what Teddy has been digging in the cellar – graves; graves which are filled with the bodies of lonely old men that Mortimer and Teddy’s two old spinster aunts have been poisoning.  This would seem like a horror film, except for two things.  First, the laughs never stop – not just line after line (Mortimer gets off one of my all-time favorite lines: “Insanity runs in my family.  It practically gallops.”), but in Cary Grant’s reactions to almost everything he discovers.  Look at the moment when another lonely old man comes in and Mortimer almost drinks the poisoned wine and watch how Grant reacts to all of it, bit by bit.  The second thing is that the two aunts are played by Jean Adair and Josephine Hull as just two wonderfully kindly old women who want to do good.  You can’t bring yourself to be horrified because you are too busy laughing.

As if this wasn’t enough, along comes home Jonathan, Teddy’s psychotic brother.  Jonathan has had some emergency plastic surgery done to disguise himself, as he is a wanted man (the disguise makes him look like Karloff, which is amusing enough, and which always makes him mad, but was funnier on stage, since Karloff himself was playing the role).  Jonathan is played with a great deal of menace by Raymond Massey, but there are laughs as well, as Peter Lorre is along for the ride as the pathetic Dr. Einstein, who has done this horrible thing to Jonathan’s face.  Oh, and they’ve brought along a corpse of their own, which, when they learn the situation, they decide to dump in the cellar along with the others.

The best of the screwball comedies always relied on wit and dialogue more than anything else.  But this film also relies on reactions and movements for its laughs, combining some aspects of the silent films along with the wit that keeps coming (one cop doesn’t realize that Jonathan is a murderer because he is too busy pitching a play to Mortimer) and the perfect performances that fit every role to a t.  In a better year, Arsenic and Old Lace wouldn’t have made the top 5.  But it always would have been a film to make you bust up laughing.

5 Worst Films  (#1 being the worst):

  1. The Hitler Gang
  2. One Body Too Many
  3. Address Unknown
  4. Dragon Seed
  5. The Canterville Ghost
There's a much more sensational poster to be found, but I couldn't bring myself to use it.

There’s a much more sensational poster to be found, but I couldn’t bring myself to use it.

The Hitler Gang  (dir. John Farrow)

John Farrow was, quite frankly, not a good director.  I ranked him at #181 out of the then 209 directors to be nominated for an Oscar and I’m thinking now I might have overrated him.  For three straight years, from 1937-39, he had a film on the 5 Worst list.  In fact, in 1937 he had two films and a third film was the sixth worst film of the year and in 1940 he just barely missed making it four straight years, directing the seventh worst film of the year.  But, The Hitler Gang is his worst film and he finally hits the mark with the worst film of the year.

The Hitler Gang is precisely what it sounds like – a docudrama about the rise of the Nazi party, centered around Hitler himself.  The first problem is the style – because Farrow isn’t a very good director, the film never really works very well.  Though made by a major studio (Paramount), it often looks like it came from Poverty Row.

The second problem is the actors.  The main actors in the film were all cast for their resemblance to their real-life counterparts, rather than for any acting ability.  Though Bobby Watson as Hitler occasionally rises to the moment (he would end up being cast as Hitler nine times due to the resemblance), most of the cast is really pretty awful.

The third problem is the timing.  The war wasn’t over, Hitler wasn’t yet defeated and the real horrors that he had perpetrated had really yet to find a mass audience.  So, while there is some truth to this film, it actually falls way short in providing any sort of summation as a biopic.  As a result, though it was intended to be propogandistic, it actually falls way short of its goal when watching it today.  You watch it and think, wow, they were really way too light on him.  He is portrayed as much more of a wily politician than a genocidal megalomaniac.  Part of that is the timing of the film.  But part of that is also because with the code in place, there were always going to be limits about what you could show in such a film.

The fourth problem isn’t a part of the film itself, but watching it now, if you choose to ignore my review and do so.  I sought out this film as part of my Best Director project.  It was easy to find, because it’s readily available on YouTube.  However, most of the people who put such films on YouTube are the kind of sick fucks who view themselves as his modern day followers.  So, be real careful if you seek out this film, or any other 1940’s films, either about Hitler, or made by the Germans.  And whatever you do, don’t read the comments.  It will make you weep for humanity.

Points:

  • Most Nighthawk Nominations:  Gaslight  (12)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards:  Double Indemnity  /  Gaslight  (5)
  • Most Nighthawk Points:  Double Indemnity  (535)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Award:  None But the Lonely Heart
  • 2nd Place Award:  Gaslight  (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography)
  • 6th Place Award:  Ministry of Fear  (Picture, Editing, Original Score, Sound)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Nominations:  Double Indemnity  /  Gaslight  (6)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Awards:  Double Indemnity  /  Gaslight  (3)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Points:  Double Indemnity  (370)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Drama Award:  None But the Lonely Heart
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Nominations:  Arsenic and Old Lace  (8)
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Awards:  The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek  (5)
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Points:  The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek  (450)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Comedy Award:  The Princess and the Pirate

Note:  * means a Nighthawk record up to this point; ** ties a Nighthawk record

Progressive Leaders:

  • Most Nighthawk Nominations:  The Wizard of Oz  (18)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards:  The Wizard of Oz  (14)
  • Most Nighthawk Points:  The Wizard of Oz  (795)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards without winning Best Picture:  Frankenstein  /  The Magnificent Ambersons  (6)
  • Most Nighthawk Nominations without a Best Picture Nomination:  Captain Blood  (10)
  • Most Nighthawk Nominations without a Nighthawk Award:  My Man Godfrey (11)
  • Actor:  Claude Rains  (335)
  • Actress:  Bette Davis  (450)
  • Director:  Charlie Chaplin  (315)
  • Writer:  Charlie Chaplin  (360)
  • Cinematographer:  Arthur Edeson  (200)
  • Composer:  Max Steiner  (350)

Breakdown by Genre  (Foreign in parenthesis, best film in genre following, avg. score is afterwards, in parenthesis):

  • Drama:  39  (3)  –  The Seventh Cross  (62.3)
  • Musical:  20  (1)  –  Meet Me in St. Louis  (64.3)
  • Comedy:  16  (1)  –  The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek  (69.9)
  • Suspense:  8  –  Double Indemnity  (71)
  • Foreign:  6  –  Romanze in Moll  (66.7)
  • War:  5  (1)  –  Passage to Marseille  (68)
  • Mystery:  5  –  Laura  (67)
  • Horror:  3 –  House of Frankenstein (57.3)
  • Western:  3  –  Tall in the Saddle  (55.7)
  • Adventure:  1  –  Cobra Woman  (57)
  • Crime:  1  –  Bluebeard  (52)
  • Action:  0
  • Fantasy:  0
  • Kids:  0
  • Sci-Fi:  0

Analysis:  Over twice as many Comedies as the year before, but still the second-fewest since 1936.  After a ridiculous number of War films in 1943, it’s back to normal.  It’s the most Dramas since 1940 and the most Musicals and Suspense films to date.  But it’s the first time since 1934 that I don’t have a Kids film.  Along with the increase for Comedies and Suspense, they both have their highest averages since 1940 – a big deal for Suspense, meaning that they not only were making more, but were making better ones.  On the other hand, Dramas fall below the level for a *** for the first time since 1934.

Studio Note:

Some of the studios are back to normal – MGM and Paramount are back up (to 18 and 11 films) after low years while RKO drops from its highest year ever back to a more normal 13 films.  But, it’s the first time that Warners has had fewer than 10 films since 1930 (8 films) and the first time that Universal has had more than 10 films at all (12).  Columbia and United Artists both plummet in their averages (61.3 for Columbia, 60.8 for UA) – the lowest for Columbia since 1930 and the lowest for UA to date.  The major studios still account for the bulk of the films I’ve seen – over 90% for the fifth straight year.  That will drop in the next year as European films finally start to arrive.

Just two years after winning its first Nighthawk Best Picture, Paramount wins a second.  It even sets a high for the studio with 4 of the top 10 films (indeed, it actually has 4 of the top 6 films).  MGM does well as well with 3 of the Top 10 for the first time since 1938.

9 Films Eligible for Best Foreign Film (alphabetical, with director and country in parenthesis – red are ****, blue are ***.5 – both those colors qualify for my Best Foreign Film Award):

  • The Children are Watching Us  (De Sica, Italy)
  • Der Feuerzangenbowle  (Weiss, Germany)
  • Le Ciel est a Vous  (Gremillon, France)
  • Great Freedom No. 7  (Kautner, Germany)
  • Maria Candeleria  (Fernandez, Mexico)
  • The Most Beautiful  (Kurosawa, Japan)
  • My Memories of Mexico  (Bustillo Oro, Mexico)
  • Torment  (Sjoberg, Sweden)
  • The Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks  (Neville, Spain)

Note:  Sweden wins its first Foreign film.  It will win lots, lots more.

Films Eligible in This Year But Originally Released in a Different Calendar Year:

  • Derriere la facade  (1939)
  • Went the Day Well  (1942)
  • Another Dawn  (1943)
  • A Guy Named Joe  (1943)
  • Jack London  (1943)
  • Romanze in Moll  (1943)

Note:  Here we have the best and worst films of the year, but hey, that’s when they were Oscar eligible.

Films Released This Year Originally But Eligible in a Different Year:

  • Belle of the Yukon  (1945)
  • Can’t Help Singing  (1945)
  • Experiment Perilous  (1945)
  • Der Feuerzangenbowle  (1945)
  • Great Freedom No. 7  (1945)
  • Guest in the House  (1945)
  • Here Come the Waves  (1945)
  • The Keys of the Kingdom  (1945)
  • Music for Millions  (1945)
  • On Approval  (1945)
  • The Three Caballeros  (1945)
  • To Have and Have Not  (1945)
  • The Way Ahead  (1945)
  • Henry V  (1946)
  • The Children are Watching Us  (1947)
  • This Happy Breed  (1947)
  • Torment  (1947)
  • A Canterbury Tale  (1949)
  • Le Ciel est a Vous  (1949)
  • The Most Beautiful  (1987)

Note:  Many of these films are easy to know they were eligible in other years because they were Oscar-nominated, including Olivier’s brilliant Henry V, which was nominated for Best Picture.  Ironically, in spite of being easily the best film on this list, Henry V is not one of the two films that will earn Nighthawk nominations for Best Picture in future years (those are To Have and Have Not and A Canterbury Tale) because 1946 is so incredibly stacked that it ends in 7th.

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