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Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1952

Posted on the 17 October 2014 by Sjhoneywell
The Contenders:
Joseph L. Mankiewicz: 5 Fingers
Cecil B. DeMille: The Greatest Show on Earth
Fred Zinnemann: High Noon
John Huston: Moulin Rouge
John Ford: The Quiet Man (winner)

What’s Missing

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1952

One of the great tragedies of the Oscars is that An American in Paris won Best Picture in 1951, which pretty much prevented Singin’ in the Rain from garnering nominations. Okay, I don’t have any proof that that’s true, but it is true that Singin’ in the Rain was only nominated for music and a deserving Jean Hagen in a supporting role, but I think I can make a case for many more nominations, including one for director Stanley Donen. I might also suggest that Vincente Minnelli deserved one for The Bad and the Beautiful. On the foreign front, Akira Kurosawa is never a bad choice, and in 1952, his film was Ikiru, which is truly great. Other names of note are Rene Clement for Forbidden Games and Vittorio De Sica for Umberto D., but I think Kurosawa deserved the nomination more.

Weeding through the Nominees

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1952

5: I’d normally feel guilty putting Cecil B. DeMille on the bottom of any list, but in this case, it’s deserved. There’s a popular hypothesis that plenty of folks in the Academy thought that DeMille’s career needed to be rewarded in some way. But The Greatest Show on Earth didn’t deserve any of the accolades it received. This is a big, ponderous film that has some great production numbers and a great train crash toward the end. But it’s also bloated and has a number of pointless subplots that don’t go much of anywhere and don’t really matter. Kudos to DeMille for getting it made and keeping in coherent, but he didn’t manage to make in interesting, which counts against him..

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1952
4: So if there’s guilt putting DeMille last, is there some for putting John Huston fourth? Of course there is, but this is another case where I’m not sure exactly what the director did to deserve the nomination other than just be John Huston. I had a lot of problems with Moulin Rouge, even though there are parts of the story that worked. Too much simply doesn’t work well, and we can blame the screenplay for that, but it’s the director who tells the story. So again, here’s a film that probably shouldn’t have been nominated for this award. Donen, Kurosawa, and Minnelli at the very least deserved it more.
Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1952
3: Of the five nominated films, 5 Fingers is probably the one that is the most unknown and sadly forgotten. This is a film that has some issues with a very slow start, but it concludes beautifully and has one of my favorite third acts of its decade. Joseph L. Mankiewicz deserves a lot of the credit for making this film work as well as it does. It’s a complicated plot and Mankiewicz keeps the whole thing in check and makes it all work. I like this nomination a lot, but Mankiewicz didn’t win by rights.

My Choices

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1952

2: John Ford won this Oscar for The Quiet Man, and I’d be hard-pressed to suggest he didn’t deserve it. At first blush, this looks like a case similar to John Huston and Moulin Rouge. What exactly did Ford do here that deserved even a nomination? For one thing, he dragged one of the truly great John Wayne performances out of an actor who struggled his whole career with the knock that he couldn’t do more than play himself. The Quiet Man isn’t my favorite John Wayne performance, but it demonstrates that he could play someone who wasn’t riding a horse or carrying a machine gun. And that comes from Ford.

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1952
1: But I would give the nod to Fred Zinnemann for High Noon. This is a rare movie that is as good now as on the day it was first released. I love the real time aspect of it and how the whole story hangs together and works so well without really moving outside of that small window of time. Brilliant use of camera and fantastic performances serve to make the story better than it was on the page. A great director can make a good story great, and Zinnemann made a great story legendary.

Final Analysis

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1952

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