The brilliant opening of Children of Paradise.

The brilliant opening of Children of Paradise.

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 first year of the reduced number of nominees in the tech categories at the Oscars – Sound and Interior Decoration would have three nominees each with Cinematography and Special Effects only having two each.  It’s the fourth year for the Golden Globes, but there are still no nominees and no distinction between Drama and Comedy – the films marked in red in my Globes section won the Globe.

Note:  You will see seven films in most categories listed below.  Only the top 5 are my nominees for the year.  But the seven top films of this year are so incredibly good, I decided to list more than my top 5 – in fact, this year sets a new best for Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing and Cinematography.  In later years, I will probably list my Top 10 in just about all categories, but still only my top 5 will earn nominations.

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture
  1. Children of Paradise
  2. The Best Years of Our Lives
  3. It’s a Wonderful Life
  4. The Big Sleep
  5. Brief Encounter
  6. Henry V
  7. Notorious

Analysis:  How good is this year?  Well, there will be some on that down below, under points.  But here’s a brief point.  Notorious is the #7 film of the year.  Of the other 86 Nighthawk Awards, in only one other year would it come in 7th (2002).  Only six other times would it even miss out on a Best Picture nomination (1959, 1960, 1969, 1996, 2001, 2003).  In the other 79 years it would come in 5th place in 19 years, in 4th place in 17 years, in 3rd place in 20 years, in 2nd place in 20 years and in 11 other years, this film that can’t get higher than 7th in 1946, would actually win my Best Picture award.  The top 5 is the best of all-time and 5 points higher than any year to this point, but the Top 10 isn’t as good as 1940, because there’s a nine point drop-off to the #8 film (The Spiral Staircase).

  • Best Director
  1. Marcel Carné  (Children of Paradise)
  2. William Wyler  (The Best Years of Our Lives)
  3. Frank Capra  (It’s a Wonderful Life)
  4. Howard Hawks  (The Big Sleep)
  5. David Lean  (Brief Encounter)
  6. Alfred Hitchcock  (Notorious)
  7. Laurence Olivier  (Henry V)

Analysis:  It’s the sixth nominations for Hawks, Wyler and Capra (the latter two just back from the war), but since Hawks has a Nighthawk win, he moves into a tie with Chaplin for first-place (315 points).  A year after earning his fourth Nighthawk nomination (for a much lesser film), Hitchcock can’t get higher than 6th.  And since they’re all Dramas, he won’t get a Globe nom either.  In fact, he won’t have another nomination until 1951, his longest gap until he stops getting nominations after Psycho.  It’s the second nominations for Carné and Lean, but it’s the last for Carné and Lean will have three wins in his future.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. The Best Years of Our Lives
  2. Brief Encounter
  3. The Big Sleep
  4. It’s a Wonderful Life
  5. Henry V
  6. The Spiral Staircase
  7. The Killers

Analysis:  A second straight nomination for Faulkner, this time for adapting Raymond Chandler (two years after Chandler wins in this category).  Henry V may seem odd here, but the way Olivier adapts it to the screen and his use of Henry IV land it in the fifth spot.  I’ve read three of the seven sources (Big Sleep, Henry V, The Killers).

  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. Children of Paradise
  2. Notorious
  3. Open City
  4. The Stranger
  5. Vacation from Marriage
  6. Road to Utopia
  7. The Blue Dahlia

Analysis: A year after only having 4 nominees I have 7 films on my list, all of which earned Oscar nominations.  For the record, The Stranger and Vacation from Marriage earned Original Story noms, Open City was a Screenplay nomination and the rest were Original Screenplay nominees.

  • Best Actor:
  1. James Stewart  (It’s a Wonderful Life)
  2. Fredric March  (The Best Years of Our Lives)
  3. Laurence Olivier  (Henry V)
  4. Jean-Louis Barrault  (Children of Paradise)
  5. Humphrey Bogart  (The Big Sleep)
  6. Trevor Howard  (Brief Encounter)
  7. Cary Grant  (Notorious)

Analysis:  Like with Picture, Grant would be a nominee in most other years and Olivier, in 3rd, would win in a lot of years.  The other two Oscar nominees were Gregory Peck for The Yearling; which ends up in 12th, below his performance in Duel in the Sun and is better than the final nominee, Larry Parks for The Jolson Story, who doesn’t make my list at all.  This is Olivier’s fourth Nighthawk nomination, but his 135 points aren’t in the Top 10.  Stewart gets to 170 points and 10th, March gets to 245 and a tie for 4th and Bogart goes up to 300 point and 2nd place.

  • Best Actress
  1. Celia Johnson  (Brief Encounter)
  2. Ingrid Bergman  (Notorious)
  3. Lauren Bacall  (The Big Sleep)
  4. Myrna Loy  (The Best Years of Our Lives)
  5. Anna Magnani  (Open City)
  6. Olivia de Havilland  (To Each His Own)
  7. Donna Reed  (It’s a Wonderful Life)

Analysis:  This makes 5 nominations in four years for Bergman.  The Academy could have chosen much better; that’s one nominee in my top 5.  The other three nominees comes in 9th (Jennifer Jones for Duel in the Sun), 11th (Jane Wyman in The Yearling) and 12th (Rosalind Russell in Sister Kenny).  All of my top 5 would have won the Nighthawk Award if they had been in 1945.

  • Notorious (1946)Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Claude Rains  (Notorious)
  2. Harold Russell  (The Best Years of Our Lives)
  3. Clifton Webb  (The Razor’s Edge)
  4. Marcel Herrand  (Children of Paradise)
  5. Dana Andrews  (The Best Years of Our Lives)
  6. Thomas Mitchell  (It’s a Wonderful Life)
  7. Charles Coburn  (The Green Years)

Analysis:  This time, my top 4 would all have won the Nighthawk if they had been in 1945.  Rains earns his 10th nomination and his 3rd Nighthawk Award, going up to 395 points, way above anyone else.

  • childrenofparadiseBest Supporting Actress:
  1. María Casares  (Children of Paradise)
  2. Teresa Wright  (The Best Years of Our Lives)
  3. Anne Baxter  (The Razor’s Edge)
  4. Ethel Barrymore  (The Spiral Staircase)
  5. Leopoldine Konstantin  (Notorious)
  6. Martha Vickers  (The Big Sleep)
  7. Gloria Grahame  (It’s a Wonderful Life)

Analysis:  This makes five nominations in six years for Teresa Wright.  For the most part, I think the Oscars missed the boat on this one.  Their other three nominees don’t even make my list.  I give the Oscars a 38 on this one, the first time this category (which has been averaging a 76 to this point) has earned less than a 66.

  • Best Editing:
  1. Children of Paradise
  2. The Best Years of Our Lives
  3. It’s a Wonderful Life
  4. Brief Encounter
  5. The Big Sleep
  6. Notorious
  7. Henry V

Analysis:  Another category in which my #7 choice would be a nominee in almost any other year.  Sadly, even with only two Oscar nominees in my top 7 and only one other one even making my list (The Killers, which came in at #11), this is better than the three previous years – I just can’t understand how the Academy viewed this category.

  • Best Cinematography:
  1. Children of Paradise
  2. Henry V
  3. The Best Years of Our Lives
  4. The Big Sleep
  5. Notorious
  6. It’s a Wonderful Life
  7. Duel in the Sun

Analysis:  This is the first category affected by the change in limits.  In 1945, there were 5 nominees in each of the two Cinematography categories; in 1946 there were only 2 in each.  They were terrible choices; the only nominee to make my list is The Yearling (the winner for Color), and that is the last film on my list at #15.  With his Nighthawk nomination here for The Best Years of Our Lives, Gregg Toland moves into a tie for 1st-place with Arthur Edeson.

  • Best Original Score:
  1. Children of Paradise
  2. The Best Years of Our Lives
  3. Henry V
  4. The Big Sleep
  5. The Spiral Staircase
  6. Scandal in Paris
  7. Notorious

Analysis:  Another big Academy change – there were 21 nominees in Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture in 1945 and 12 nominees in Scoring of a Musical Picture; here there are 5 of each.  This is the final of Notorious‘ three 7th place finishes.  Max Steiner, with his score for The Big Sleep, earns his 13th Nighthawk nomination and is now 125 points ahead of any other composer.

  • Best Sound:
  1. Children of Paradise
  2. Henry V
  3. The Big Sleep
  4. The Best Years of Our Lives
  5. It’s a Wonderful Life
  6. Duel in the Sun
  7. My Darling Clementine

Analysis:  My Darling Clementine is a very good film and it has six Top 10 finishes, but this 7th place finish is its highest.

  • childrenBest Art Direction:
  1. Children of Paradise
  2. Henry V
  3. It’s a Wonderful Life
  4. The Big Sleep
  5. Brief Encounter
  6. The Wicked Lady
  7. The Spiral Staircase

Analysis:  I don’t know what’s more frustrating – that Henry V can’t get higher than 2nd, or that at the Oscars it lost to The Yearling (my #21).

  • Best Visual Effects
  1. Henry V

Analysis: In a rare weak category in this year, the effects that Henry V uses win by default.

  • Best Sound Editing
  1. Henry V
  • Best Costume Design:
  1. Children of Paradise
  2. Henry V
  3. Two Sisters from Boston
  4. The Wicked Lady
  5. Madonna of the Seven Moons
  6. Duel in the Sun
  7. Anna and the King of Siam

Analysis:  Duel in the Sun earns its second 6th place finish, but in spite of 6 Top 10 finishes, it never gets higher than 6th.  The Wicked Lady and Madonna of the Seven Moons are both part of the very enjoyable Eclipse Box Set Three Wicked Melodramas from Gainsborough Pictures.  Watch them if you can.

  • Best Makeup
  1. Children of Paradise
  2. Henry V
  • Best Original Song:
  1. “On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe”  (The Harvey Girls)
  2. “Personality”  (Road to Utopia)
  3. “Ole Buttermilk Sky”  (Canyon Passage)
  4. “All Through the Day”  (Centennial Summer)

Analysis: You could say it’s a weak year for the category or that it’s music that’s not to my taste.  From 14 nominated songs, we are down to 5.  But since three of their five make my list, maybe it’s not a bad thing to no longer have the studios control the process.

  • Best Animated Film:
  1. none

Analysis:  Like the year before, only one eligible film, a good, but not good enough Disney film (in this case, Make Mine Music).

  • belleBest Foreign Film:
  1. La Belle et la bête
  2. No Regrets for Our Youth
  3. Paisan
  4. The Battle of the Rails

Analysis:  Belle wins this one by a mile.  Remember, that Children of Paradise was eligible the year before.  Back-to-back wins for France for the first time since the war began.  Kurosawa and Rossellini earn their second straight nominations.

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.

  • Children of Paradise  (715)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Foreign Film (1945)
  • The Best Years of Our Lives  (430)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound
  • The Big Sleep  (320)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction
  • It’s a Wonderful Life  (270)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Editing, Sound, Art Direction
  • Henry V  (270)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design, Makeup
  • Brief Encounter  (250)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Editing, Art Direction
  • Notorious  (190)
    • Original Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography
  • Open City  (95)
    • Original Screenplay, Actress, Foreign Film (1945)
  • The Razor’s Edge  (85)
    • Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • The Spiral Staircase (55)
    • Supporting Actress, Original Score
  • The Stranger  (40)
    • Original Screenplay
  • Vacation from Marriage  (40)
    • Original Screenplay
  • The Harvey Girls  (20)
    • Original Song
  • Two Sisters from Boston  (15)
    • Costume Design
  • The Wicked Lady  (15)
    • Costume Design
  • Madonna of the Seven Moons  (15)
    • Costume Design
  • Road to Utopia  (10)
    • Original Song
  • Canyon Passage (10)
    • Original Song
  • Centennial Summer  (10)
    • Original Song

Analysis:  Henry V ties the Nighthawk record for most nominations without a Picture nomination while The Big Sleep ties for the second-most nominations without a win – similar to 1945, when To Have and Have Not also was nominated and lost for Hawks, Faulkner, Bogie and Bacall. The big 7 films so dominate that there are only 19 films with nominations – nine fewer than in 1945.  To give an idea of how good these films are, here are how those 7 films would have done if any of them had been in 1945:

  • Children of Paradise  (780)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Foreign Film
  • The Best Years of Our Lives  (670)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound
  • Notorious  (565)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score
  • The Big Sleep  (545)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction
  • It’s a Wonderful Life  (520)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction
  • Henry V  (505)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design, Makeup
  • Brief Encounter  (470)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction

Best Film Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Awards:

  • My Darling Clementine

Analysis:  My #9 film of the year, but as I said above, unable to break through in anything.  It got four 10th place finishes.  In fact, four of the top 16 films on the year end up with Top 10 finishes but no nominations.  The others are The Killers (#11), The Blue Dahlia (#14) and Duel in the Sun (#16).

Biggest Awards Film Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Awards:

  • The Yearling

Analysis:  As I point out in my review, just not that great a film.  But it was nominated for 7 Oscars (winning two) and won a Golden Globe.  On my list it never gets higher than 11th place in any category.

Nighthawk Golden Globes:

Drama:

  • Best Picture
  1. Children of Paradise
  2. The Best Years of Our Lives
  3. It’s a Wonderful Life
  4. The Big Sleep
  5. Brief Encounter

Analysis:  All of the Drama categories match up with the regular categories except Original Screenplay.  More on that in the Comedy section.

  • Best Director
  1. Marcel Carné  (Children of Paradise)
  2. William Wyler  (The Best Years of Our Lives)
  3. Frank Capra  (It’s a Wonderful Life)
  4. Howard Hawks  (The Big Sleep)
  5. David Lean  (Brief Encounter)

Analysis:  Wyler comes back from the war and gets right back to earning Drama nominations.  This one moves him out of a tie with Fritz Lang and John Ford and into first-place with 360 points.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. The Best Years of Our Lives
  2. Brief Encounter
  3. The Big Sleep
  4. It’s a Wonderful Life
  5. Henry V
  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. Children of Paradise
  2. Notorious
  3. Open City
  4. The Stranger
  5. The Blue Dahlia

Analysis:  The only category different from above because of the lack of the two comedy scripts.

  • jimmy_stewart_in_its_a_wonderful_lifeBest Actor:
  1. James Stewart  (It’s a Wonderful Life)
  2. Fredric March  (The Best Years of Our Lives)
  3. Laurence Olivier  (Henry V)
  4. Jean-Louis Barrault  (Children of Paradise)
  5. Humphrey Bogart  (The Big Sleep)
  • briefencounter_1733033cBest Actress
  1. Celia Johnson  (Brief Encounter)
  2. Ingrid Bergman  (Notorious)
  3. Lauren Bacall  (The Big Sleep)
  4. Myrna Loy  (The Best Years of Our Lives)
  5. Anna Magnani  (Open City)
  • Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Claude Rains  (Notorious)
  2. Harold Russell  (The Best Years of Our Lives)
  3. Clifton Webb  (The Razor’s Edge)
  4. Marcel Herrand  (Children of Paradise)
  5. Dana Andrews  (The Best Years of Our Lives)

Analysis:  In Drama, Rains’ lead over Bogart is only 35 points because one of his nominations is in Comedy and because Bogart has an extra nomination in Drama.

  • Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Maria Casares  (Children of Paradise)
  2. Teresa Wright  (The Best Years of Our Lives)
  3. Anne Baxter  (The Razor’s Edge)
  4. Ethel Barrymore  (The Spiral Staircase)
  5. Leopoldine Konstantin  (Notorious)

Points:

  • Children of Paradise  (395)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • The Best Years of Our Lives  (335)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • It’s a Wonderful Life  (205)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor
  • Brief Encounter  (205)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress
  • The Big Sleep  (205)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress
  • Notorious  (165)
    • Original Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • Henry V  (75)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actor
  • Open City  (75)
    • Original Screenplay, Actress
  • The Razor’s Edge  (60)
    • Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • The Stranger  (40)
    • Original Screenplay
  • The Blue Dahlia  (40)
    • Original Screenplay
  • The Spiral Staircase  (35)
    • Supporting Actress

Best Drama Not Nominated for Any Nighthawk Golden Globes:

  • My Darling Clementine

Comedy / Musical:

  • Best Picture:
  1. none

Analysis:  The best Comedy of the year I’ve seen is Blithe Spirit, which is a high-level ***, but not quite good enough to make it into ***.5 and earn a nomination from me.

  • Best Director:
  1. none
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. none
  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. Vacation from Marriage
  2. Road to Utopia

Analysis:  The only category where Comedy films make my Top 7.  Both are enjoyable films, smart and funny.

  • VacayMarraigeBest Actor:
  1. Robert Donat  (Vacation from Marriage)
  • Best Actress:
  1. Deborah Kerr  (Vacation from Marriage)
  • Best Supporting Actor
  1. none
  • Best Supporting Actress
  1. none

By Film:

  • Vacation from Marriage  (220)
    • Original Screenplay, Actor, Actress
  • Road to Utopia  (40)
    • Original Screenplay

Analysis:  Only four qualifying films for the year appear in my Top 30 – Blithe Spirit, Vacation from Marriage, Make Mine Music and Road to Utopia.

Best Comedy Not Nominated for any Nighthawk Golden Globes:

  • Blithe Spirit

Roundup for the Year in Film:

Eligible Films I Have Seen:  86

By Stars:

  • ****:  7
  • ***.5:  5
  • ***:  43
  • **.5:  26
  • **:  6
  • Average Film Score for the Year, out of 100:  66.4

Analysis:  With not as many bad films and the great films at the top, the average score goes up by a point.

Oscar-Nominated Films I Have Not Seen:

  • none

note:  There won’t be another Oscar-nominated film I’m missing until 1949.  But in 1948, the BAFTAs and the WGA will start appearing and there will be films there that I haven’t seen.

Oscar Quality:

Best Picture:  This is the first of three years that all run together.  This is the one in the middle, ranking 36th overall.  This is the best year to date and the first to break into the Top 40.  Just imagine what it could have been if they hadn’t nominated The Razor’s Edge.

The Winners:  Because Children of Paradise, which wins most of my awards, wasn’t nominated in any category except Original Screenplay, most of the Academy’s winners were the best of the nominees.  Among the nominees, the winners average a 1.79, the best score since 1928.  While many of the tech categories have fewer nominees than in previous years, the Academy still made the right choice, and the 1.78 average among the techs is the best since 1933, when there were only three categories.  Even among all the films, the winners average a 4.11, the best since 1939, mainly because those 7 Oscars for The Best Years of Our Lives finish in 2nd in most categories.  Ironically, I only completely agree in two categories (Adapted Screenplay and Song), the lowest total since 1941.

The Nominees:  The nominee score is 54.7, just a tiny increase from 1945.  That’s because, while the Academy did better in this year with Picture, Director and the writing categories, the acting overall drops considerably.  Actress drops below 70 for the only second time since 1934 and Supporting Actress, at 38, has its lowest score to date.  But the most embarrassing is Cinematography, which gets a 14 for Color and a 0 for Black-and-White; in a year with Children of Paradise, Notorious, Henry V and The Big Sleep, the Academy couldn’t be bothered to nominate any of them.

Top 5 Films of the Year:

1  –  Children of Paradise  (read my review here)

2  –  The Best Years of Our Lives (read my reviews here and here)

3  –  It’s a Wonderful Life  (read my review here and a poem here)

4  –  The Big Sleep  (read my review here)

brief-encounter-movie-poster

Potential adultery will never seem so classy again.

5  –  Brief Encounter  (dir. David Lean)

Technically, they could get away with this under the Code because the couple at the heart of this film never seem to consummate their affair (the one time they might come close to trying someone returns at an inopportune time).  But that merely highlights one of the major problems with the Code in the first place – it wanted to legislate morality in a very specific way and it couldn’t account for what people were thinking.

Look at the couple at the heart of this film.  They are both middle-class, a pair of nice people who meet in a fairly simple way: she gets grit in her eye at the train station, and as a doctor, he looks at her and helps her out.  Later, they both end up at the same restaurant and she lets him share her table both in gratitude and out of basic human kindness.  And then things go forward because of that kindness.  They are both nice, smart, interesting, both are at a bit of crossroads.  Both also happen to be married.  We never see his wife, while we are treated to the entire story of their affair as she relates it to her husband without ever actually telling him a word.  We understand how they can fall in love, how neither wants to hurt their spouse, but how neither of them wants to be hurt either.

Part of the reason we understand so much is because of the performances.  This isn’t a young foolish couple.  It’s a British couple, so there are great deals of reserve involved.  Both are good-looking, but neither have that Hollywood sense of good-looks.  They are real actors and they both give magnificent performances.  Trevor Howard, stuck in sixth place, would win Best Actor if this were in 1947 and Celia Johnson does win Best Actress at the Nighthawks.  Both of them are so perfectly human and we believe in their love because of that.  And so, they can circumvent the Code because they never sleep with each other.  But, in their hearts, they already know how much of their hearts they have given to each other and we can feel it in every scene.

Which brings me, surprisingly, to the opening scene of the film.  What a brilliant opening this is, with the couple having just ended their affair, sitting there, waiting for him to leave, when an unexpected companion stumbles across them, complicating the moment and turning what is supposed to be painful and poignant into something that doesn’t end up having the requisite drama behind it.  It’s a wonderful human moment in the film and it shows just how good a job that Noel Coward did in creating it and David Lean did in directing it.

If there is any drawback to Brief Encounter it’s that apparently critics wouldn’t let him get away from it.  Even when Lean was winning Oscars for some of the greatest films ever made, critics like Pauline Kael and Richard Schickel wanted him to keep making films like Brief Encounter.  Perhaps it says something more about Lean’s talent that he could make films like this and make films like Lawrence of Arabia and be equally brilliant directing both.

5 Worst Films  (#1 being the worst):

  1. Magnificent Doll
  2. The Outlaw
  3. Decoy
  4. Heartbeat
  5. The Beginning or the End
Bad history, bad acting, bad film.

Bad history, bad acting, bad film.

Magnificent Doll  (dir. Frank Borzage)

I work on an election records project.  I don’t much mention that project here because I am very flippant here in the style that I write and rather arrogant about my opinions and breadth of knowledge.  But my actual work is too important for that kind of style and I don’t want my attitude to make anyone think that the project isn’t important (see here).  The political history of this country is something I know a lot about and I care about and not just because it’s my job.  So, to see a film like this, it just pains me.

The “Doll” of the title is Dolley Madison, the country’s fourth First Lady, and a woman far more interesting than this film would lead you to believe.  This is the woman who would keep her calm while Washington was being burned.  When she met James Madison she was a widow with a young child, who had just been through a horrible epidemic that killed her husband and baby.  But you get none of that if you watch this film.  You will see a woman who only falls in love with her husband after she has been promised to him in marriage (not true).  After two years struggling (not true – less than a year elapsed between the death of her husband and her marriage to James Madison), she is romanced by Aaron Burr and James Madison (not true – Burr’s wife was still alive when he introduced Dolley to Madison).  Then, after the romance is complete and the Madisons are married, we seem to skip ahead to 1800 and all the foils of the presidential election.  There is one thing the film doesn’t get wrong, in spite of what the IMDb description and the only other review online say: the film does get right that Philadelphia was the capital where Dolley lived and met Madison.

There is another thing that the film gets right: the odious character of Aaron Burr, especially in light of the 1800 election.  Arthur Schlesinger once wrote “In 1800 the Republicans gave the same number of electoral votes to Jefferson, their presidential choice, as they gave to Aaron Burr, a man of doubted talents who, however, was trusted by no one in the long course of American history except for his daughter Theodosia and Gore Vidal.”  (The Cycles of American History, p. 340-341)  And it gets the look very much right – David Niven is perhaps the best actor who could have been cast in such a role and he gives a solid performance.  His performance seems even more solid when looking at the rest of the cast.  Burgess Meredith is tolerable but not very good as Madison and Ginger Rogers is dull as can be and gives one of the worst performances of her career, without ever providing any sort of spark that would allow us to understand why she would be desired by two of the most powerful men in the country.  And that’s nothing compared to Arthur Space, who comes in to bluster for a minute as Alexander Hamilton and does it so badly it’s embarrassing.

But don’t believe a word that this film has to say about the election in 1800.  It presents the machinations of Aaron Burr as the bitter reaction of a spurned lover, trying desperately to become President because Dolley didn’t love him.  It also implies that Burr himself yielded, mostly at the request of Dolley to allow Jefferson to become president.  Why watch this dreck of a film when you can read a book like Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 which recounts it so well.  In fact, why watch a film that implies that Aaron Burr is in the White House almost immediately after killing Alexander Hamilton on the Jersey shore.  In this case read the fascinating book American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America and learn all about Burr.  This film, with its horrible grasp on history, with its pedantic writing, with its dreadful performances can be best left forgotten.  Focus on the real history, because it’s far stranger than you can imagine.

Points:

  • Most Nighthawk Nominations:  Children of Paradise  (14)
  • Most Nighthawk Awards:  Children of Paradise  (12)
  • Most Nighthawk Points:  Children of Paradise  (715)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Award:  The Razor’s Edge
  • 2nd Place Award:  The Best Years of Our Lives  (Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Original Score)
  • 6th Place Award:  Notorious  (Director, Editing)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Nominations:  The Best Years of Our Lives  (8)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Awards:  Children of Paradise  (4)
  • Most Nighthawk Drama Points:  Children of Paradise  (370)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Drama Award:  The Razor’s Edge
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Nominations:  Vacation from Marriage  (3)
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Awards:  Vacation from Marriage  (3)
  • Most Nighthawk Comedy Points:  Vacation from Marriage  (150)
  • Worst Film Nominated for a Nighthawk Comedy Award:  Road to Utopia

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  /  Henry V  (10)
  • Most Nighthawk Nominations without a Nighthawk Award:  My Man Godfrey (11)
  • Actor:  Claude Rains  (395)
  • Actress:  Bette Davis  (485)
  • Director:  Charlie Chaplin  /  Howard Hawks  (315)
  • Writer:  Billy Wilder  (400)
  • Cinematographer:  Arthur Edeson  /  Gregg Toland  (200)
  • Composer:  Max Steiner  (400)
  • Foreign Film:  Jean Renoir  (200)

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

  • Drama:  44  (5)  –  Children of Paradise  (66.1)
  • Comedy:  8  (2)  –  Blithe Spirit  (66.4)
  • Musical:  8  –  Road to Utopia  (62.9)
  • Foreign:  7  –  Children of Paradise  (75)
  • Mystery:  6  –  The Big Sleep  (77.2)
  • Suspense:  6  –  Notorious  (70.8)
  • Western:  5  –  My Darling Clementine  (64.4)
  • Crime:  4  –  The Killers  (61.3)
  • Kids:  2  –  Make Mine Music  (68.5)
  • Adventure:  2  –  Tarzan and the Leopard Woman  (54.5)
  • Horror:  1  –  Dead of Night  (68)
  • Action:  0
  • Fantasy:  0
  • Sci-Fi:  0
  • War:  0

Analysis:  With another high number of Dramas and the big drop-off in films I’ve seen, for the first time since 1936 over half the films I’ve seen are Dramas.  But, with the end of the war, after 41 War films in five years, I haven’t seen any War films; that’s not just an accident; it’s well-known that The Big Sleep was pushed to 1946 so Warners could get all their War films released in 1945 before people stopped being interested in them.  There’s a big jump in the quality of Foreign films – it’s the highest average since 1930.  Musicals are down – the fewest I’ve seen since 1933.  But Mysteries are way up – not only the most I’ve seen in a year to this point, but the highest average for any year with more than one film.

Studio Note:

In spite of the far fewer films I’ve seen from 1946 as opposed to 1945, only one studio changed a lot – United Artists, whose 8 films are five fewer than the year before.  But the quality from some of the studios go down – MGM and Columbia both decline for the third straight year, the lowest average for MGM since 1941 (61.25) and the lowest average for Columbia to date (59.75).

But RKO, with a 71.54 average, has its best year in five years.  That’s because it also has four of the Top 10 films (The Best Years of Our Lives, It’s a Wonderful Life, Notorious, The Spiral Staircase).  Best Years would give RKO its second (and last) Oscar for Best Picture.  While RKO bloomed, Paramount, after two straight Nighthawks for Best Picture, would fail to have a single film in my Top 10 for the first time since 1939.

11 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 Battle of the Rails  (Clement, France)
  • La Belle et la bête  (Cocteau, France)
  • Campeon sin corona  (Galidno, Mexico)
  • Crisis  (Bergman, Sweden)
  • Enamorada  (Fernandez, Mexico)
  • Gates of the Night  (Carné, France)
  • The Murderers Among Us  (Staudte, USSR)
  • No Regrets For Our Youth  (Kurosawa, Japan)
  • The Other One  (Gavaldon, Mexico)
  • Paisan  (Rossellini, Italy)
  • Utamaru and His Five Women  (Mizoguchi, Japan)

Note:  That’s three films from Mexico, partially because most of the well-known Mexican films of the 40’s and 50’s are readily available on YouTube, at least in this country.  Most of the rest of the films on this list are by major directors.

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

  • Circonstances attenuantes  (1939)
  • The Well-Digger’s Daughter  (1940)
  • Stormy Waters  (1941)
  • The Outlaw  (1943)
  • Henry V  (1944)
  • The Big Sleep  (1945)
  • Blithe Spirit  (1945)
  • Brief Encounter  (1945)
  • Caesar and Cleopatra  (1945)
  • Children of Paradise  (1945)
  • Dead of Night  (1945)
  • Madonna of the Seven Moons  (1945)
  • Open City  (1945)
  • The Seventh Veil  (1945)
  • The Spiral Staircase  (1945)
  • Under the Bridges  (1945)
  • Vacation from Marriage  (1945)
  • The Wicked Lady  (1945)

Note:  So, yes, the Nighthawk Best Picture winner and two other nominees, as well as my #6 film are all on this list.  But look below, and you will see some pretty damn good films that would have replaced them.

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

  • La Belle et la bête  (1947)
  • Campeon sin corona  (1947)
  • Crisis  (1947)
  • Great Expectations  (1947)
  • Green for Danger  (1947)
  • I See a Dark Stranger  (1947)
  • Song of the South  (1947)
  • Stairway to Heaven  (1947)
  • The Time, the Place and the Girl  (1947)
  • The Murderers Among Us  (1948)
  • The Battle of the Rails  (1949)
  • Enamorada  (1949)
  • Paisan  (1949)
  • Gates of the Night  (1950)
  • Utamaru and His Five Women  (1972)
  • No Regrets for Our Youth  (1980)

Note:  That’s three of my 1947 Best Picture nominees on this list, so this year still would have an amazing group of films at the top, no matter the eligible year.

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