Category Archives: The Best Original Screenplays

March 24, 2016

Best Original Screenplay* 1948: The Search


Winner in the category of WRITING (Motion Picture Story) at the 21st Academy Awards, presented March 24, 1949 at Academy Award Theater.

The other nominees were:

Louisiana Story – Frances and Robert Flaherty
The Naked City – Malvin Wald
Red River – Borden Chase
The Red Shoes – Emeric Pressburger

The Search was also a nominee in the category of WRITING (Screenplay); it lost to the adapted screenplay of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. (The Search was the only film nominated in both categories.)

Screenplay is not accessible, to my knowledge.

First lines in film:

– Get them out as quickly as you can, but be careful with them; they’ve had a very rough trip.
– Yes, ma’am.

BROOM Hooray! We’re back on track, everybody!

BETH Sort of.

BROOM This was basically “Son of Marie-Louise.” It was by the same author, and it was the same weird thing, somewhere in between being a real story and a just-for-the-sake-of-depicting-important-issues story.

ADAM I found this much more affecting than Marie-Louise.

BROOM Were you annoyed that BETH and I sort of switched into making-fun-of-it mode, toward the end?

ADAM Well, I was sort of tearing up toward the end. I thought it was very sad. Even though it had all these clunky elements, it was still very affecting.

BETH I actually was crying in the beginning, and didn’t want either of you to know.

BROOM I knew.

ADAM We knew.

BROOM But I was moved also. I was moved basically until he started learning English, and then it became…

BETH Some other kind of movie.

BROOM Yeah. It didn’t work for me anymore.

BETH It was this weird combination of didactic, Disney-style educational film, mixed with these really moving, poignant scenes of shell-shocked kids being hustled through the system, which were probably pretty accurate. It made me really think about what that was like, and I hadn’t thought about what that was like. And I thought about your grandmother, and what these people went through.

BROOM She was a little older. But I felt the same way for the first half: there was something effective about its being in between — just like Marie-Louise was, but even moreso — in between a documentary and a fiction… kind of a transparently shoddy fiction. I thought it was such a strange and interesting effect that the movie essentially started with the boy running away from a documentary about him. There was a narrator, like a real documentary: “And now the children get in these trucks, but they’re very afraid…” And he couldn’t take it any more and ran away. I found that affecting. I was having the same thoughts you were: “Oh, right, of course it’s traumatizing. Of course these people are ruined for life.”

BETH Yeah. These kids can’t trust anyone, even kind adults, because all they know is the opposite.

BROOM It was striking to me: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie about a terrible event like a war or a genocide that’s purely about the trauma in the aftermath. The bad thing is no longer happening, but you’re living in a traumatized world.

ADAM Well, Sophie’s Choice.

BROOM But that’s about flashbacks, and this was really exclusively a movie about coping in the present. Yes, I guess Sophie’s Choice is also about “can you find love again, can you find meaning again, if you’re a traumatized person,” but what I was gonna say is — I’ve seen devastated Germany and France in so many World War II movies — Saving Private Ryan and the like — but somehow, because it was shot in such a pedestrian way on the real locations, and because we were in this mindset of thinking about trauma, I was really struck by it in a fresh way: “Wow, places that were normal are now just a crazy landscape of rubble.”

BETH That’s what Germany, Year Zero is. It’s also about a boy wandering around rubble. It looks so much like this, but it has a different tone.

ADAM I found it weirdly disturbing to see all the children running away from Americans. I wanted to be like “No no no, you misunderstood!”

BETH Right! But that’s how the Americans reacted too. That moved me.

ADAM The Americans weren’t really very… I mean, Montgomery Clift was like a child whisperer — but the matron was just doing her best. She didn’t have the touch.

BETH She did not have the touch. She was like, “Say something nice to them. Because I can’t.”

ADAM “Her parents were gassed.” [the matron, without a hint of sadness:] “I see!

BROOM It was a point being made, in the scheme of the movie, that she and her male equivalent were emotional clods.

ADAM Were you supposed to see her as having been redeemed and softened by the end?


BETH You don’t think so? I do.

ADAM I think the actress just wasn’t skilled enough to convince you of that.

BETH I think you’re supposed to see her as well-intentioned, doing her job as best she can…

BROOM Yeah, I think, as ADAM said, she just didn’t have the touch; she’s just one of those people, and such people still do good works in the world.

ADAM The actress was too kindly at the beginning and too brusque at the end to really show the character arc, but I think she was meant to be, like, a tough cookie in the system who softened. But maybe not.

BROOM Well, I think the logic of the “dramatic arc” only applies so far. I feel like this movie — just like Marie-Louise — was trying to be very open about the fact that its function was just to help you think about a thing in the real world. “We’re only telling a story insofar as that’s a good way of getting across the documentary content.” That’s what it seemed like to me. So I thought the matron character, and the dumb guy who was like “Ah! I see! This boy is afraid of punishment!” — the only point was, like: “Sometimes, in the happy friendly world, kids still encounter people who seem scary to them.” And that was it. It wasn’t supposed to be about what happens to these particular characters. That’s how I felt the whole movie: storytelling as a way of getting at reality; as opposed to storytelling as wonderful in itself. And I think that’s why I felt done with it after a certain point. When we were just in the anticipation-of-the-ending phase. Because this story was never a real journey, to me, it was just a scheme.

ADAM The pacing was very slow in a way that — I don’t know if that was just the forties, or the style of this movie in particular — but there were several minutes of just jeeps, or driving…

BETH “Why are we watching so much of this dinner party?”

ADAM The movie had a real surprising willingness to just let you listen to foreign languages and have no idea what was going on.

BETH I actually liked that about it, because I feel like that established a sense of realism. “Oh, this is what it would be like if I were there.”

BROOM I wondered whether that might be just that we were renting it on Youtube and maybe that kind of subtitling doesn’t come on automatically. But then I thought, “well, it’s working for me as it is.”

BETH No, Marie-Louise was like that too.

BROOM But that was a foreign-language film.

BETH Yeah, but sometimes there were other languages within it.

BROOM Well, Europeans are more likely to know other languages.

ADAM There was nothing you needed to understand. Everything got translated for you, ultimately.

BROOM Yeah, you’re right. It worked so well this way it was probably intended. And it was suitable since it gave you the experience of being one of these kids who doesn’t understand the language being spoken to them, most of the time.

BETH Right.

ADAM Next time they should make it from the perspective of the boy, where you can’t understand any of the words until two-thirds of the way through.

BETH Until you’re looking at pictures of —

BROOM Umbrellas and ostriches.

ADAM Tomatoes. “Pretty girl!” Montgomery Clift did look a lot like Tom Cruise, and he did have that wisacre-knucklehead “I’m sure of myself” charm of Risky Business Tom Cruise. He was really hot.

BROOM From the very beginning I thought, “Oh, he’s like someone.” After about ten minutes I thought, “Owen Wilson.” But later I thought, “No, it’s Tom Cruise, because Tom Cruise acts exactly like this, too.” The whole personal presentational style and demeanor.

BETH How he carries himself.

BROOM What he does with his face, his manner. You said earlier that he’s like a child whisperer, but actually — knowing in advance it was going to be about Montgomery Clift thawing this traumatized kid…

ADAM You thought of Rainman?

BROOM No. I thought it was indeed gonna be a “child whisperer” movie, and then I was struck by the fact that this American, “Steve,” was not actually particularly attuned to the kid; he was just a basically nice guy.

BETH He was also doing his best.

BROOM Right. He didn’t have a special kind of soft touch. He was just the kind of person where you can sense that he’s friendly. Even if he says the wrong thing, and yells at you when you say you want to find your mother. That was the moment when I really detached from the movie. It was obviously just to draw things out.

ADAM Even though I knew that they would find each other, I was legitimately worried that he would be taken to America and never find her. I didn’t actually think that was gonna happen, but it was still stressful.

BROOM So did you guys not share with me the sensation that we were a couple meters further away from this movie than we would be from most movies, as an audience?

BETH I did share that sensation, yeah. My impression of Montgomery Clift prior to this was that he was really intense, always kind of overplaying his roles, but here he was doing what the job called for, which was to be slightly dopey — you know, a normal guy, instead of an intense, suffering soul. And that impressed me, because I didn’t think that was part of his ability.

ADAM I can’t even think of anything else he was in.

BROOM What have you seen him in, BETH?

BETH Red River and something else, with Elizabeth Taylor.

BROOM We can look this up. A Place in the Sun?


BROOM I had his Wikipedia entry open because I just wanted to read this one thing into the conversation: “Clift’s second movie was The Search. Clift was unhappy with the quality of the script, and rewrote most of it himself. The movie was awarded a screenwriting Academy Award, but the original writers were credited.”

BETH He rewrote most of it himself?!

BROOM I assume it just means his part. Which is probably why we were scoffing at the absurdity of the dialogue in other scenes, and less so his scenes.

BETH Yeah. Interesting. How old was he?

BROOM Twenty-seven or -eight, depending on when it was filmed. He turned twenty-eight in 1948.

BETH So part of what I found problematic about the matron was her acting, but I also think she wasn’t given very good stuff to work with. Which contrasts with how good the mother was, because I think she also wasn’t given great stuff to work with, but she sold it. Also the British guy who ripped the vestments off the kid.

ADAM “Oh! You’re not a little Catholic boy!”

BROOM “Oh I see! That’s not his real name!”

ADAM That was still a heartbreaking scene, where the mother has to wait there excitedly.

BETH We had to suffer already knowing what was going to happen. It’s super-manipulative, in a way that isn’t okay.

BROOM That scene actually didn’t work for me. Because this obviously isn’t her son — we the audience know it and the writers know that we know it, because we know very well that our boy didn’t sign up for the choir when he first arrived — so when we’re watching her waiting in this room, we don’t feel suspense, we just feel like, “Ughhhh….”

BETH We feel dread.

BROOM Yeah, just dismay that we’re about to watch her get bad news and be sad. They make us sit with that for a while. I thought, “Does this map on to some emotion that’s relevant to this subject matter?” I’m not sure it does. It’s not awareness-raising in any real way. So that didn’t really work for me.

BETH But the whole movie is manipulative, in that it’s giving false hope to all of these people in this moment who might still have unresolved situations with their own relatives.

BROOM Well, it’s 1948 by the time this comes out.

BETH I guess by then most things have been resolved.

BROOM In fact, the movie was pretty clear that in real life, the mother would almost certainly be dead. It was only miraculously that she happened to be alive.

ADAM This movie doesn’t really shed any tears for Dr. Malik or the daughter.

BETH It sure doesn’t!

BROOM When they said that the father and sister were deported and he was left with his mother, I was so sure that the mother was going to die and it was going to be about finding the father and sister. But it was the other way around.

ADAM “Dr. Malik was known all over town because he was a good doctor.” Then there’s six minutes of them playing violin.

BETH That was a needlessly long scene.

BROOM No, that worked for me. The point was that he came from a place of culture, safety, beauty, and this magical sound of classical music that you’re never going to hear again. I felt like that was worth something.

ADAM Until you hear that angelic children’s choir…

BETH And you think maybe he was drawn to those voices. I think maybe that’s what we were supposed to think.

BROOM No, I could tell those voices weren’t Czech.

ADAM Very little actually seemed Czech in this movie.

BROOM He looked Czech, to me.

BETH The French kid at the beginning who was his friend was a good actor. I was struck by him prior to anyone saying anything. There’s a lot of pure cinema in this, which I appreciated — like the whole scene where they were running away.

BROOM You mean dialogue-free?

BETH Yeah.

BROOM I thought maybe you meant using real-world people and locations.


BROOM My opinion about Richard Schweizer is that his whole attitude, which is a very old-fashioned attitude — the fundamental idea of it kinda works for me: you admit that what you’re doing is propaganda, and then you tell a very schematic story — I think within that premise, Schweizer actually has good ideas. Like the picture of the dogs on the wall, that’s affecting; it works for me. Or, like I said, the scene of music-making at home. All these things, which are essentially filmic ideas, are good. But then the dialogue is like… it’s like what my grandmother would write. I feel like my grandmother had this old-world dramatic heart, where she would very much identify with the idea that the kid looks at the picture of the doggies on the wall and that means “mother” to him. She would have thought of that, and she would equally have thought of dialogue like “Oh dear, what is this that you’ve done!” This stilted, melodramatic attitude toward dialogue. I can believe that Montgomery Clift rewrote all the words that came out of his mouth, but he didn’t rewrite the actual content of the scenes, because they still served those weird functions.

BETH Yeah. There were some weird scenes.

BROOM When the kid is like, “I want to find my mother!” And Steve says “Just come have dinner! Go to your room!” That didn’t make any sense for the character.

BETHJeeps are from America! I am from America! I’ll be right back!

ADAM Did that boy serve any function other than to cry and make Karel realize he didn’t have a mother?


BROOM To be a wretched American. I didn’t enjoy his presence at all. Or his mother’s.

BETH Yeah, she was weird.

BROOM It seemed like amateurish actors for a lot of the parts. Except for Monty. I can imagine they budgeted more for that role and for the mother.

BETH And that guy, his army buddy who’s in Rear Window and a lot of other stuff.

BROOM That seems to be Wendell Corey.

BETH He was a solid sort of “If I’m here, things are gonna be fine” kind of guy.

[digression about Wendell Corey’s political career &c.]

BETH Do you have any final thoughts?

BROOM Before we wrap up I want to make sure we all talk about this as writing, since that’s the project. Oh, and let me establish: this is the year in which it starts to get skoovy about what award category to follow.

BETH Are you gonna write S-K-O-O-V-Y?


BROOM If I do transcribe it, I would go with the Y. A “skoovie” with an I-E would be a noun. You would put it on your mantelpiece.

ADAM You affix it to the back of your boat.

[digression about Boaty McBoatface]

BROOM Right, so, this year there was no “Best Original Screenplay,” there was just “Best Screenplay” and “Best Story.” This movie was the winner of “Best Story,” which we went with because “Best Screenplay” went to an adaptation, and we’re trying to follow the concept of “original screenplay.” Of course, there had been a “Best Story” category all along, so, yes, maybe we should have started with that. But there’s no backsies in this game. So this movie was the winner of “Best Story.” Do you feel that it had… the best story?

ADAM I think that the story will probably linger in our minds for longer than the writing will.

BROOM For sure. I don’t remember a single word from Marie-Louise, but I remember the gist.

BETH I don’t remember a lot of Marie-Louise, I have to say.

ADAM They were in the Alps. And they had to leave.

BROOM She was hiding upstairs and knocked a ball down the stairs and had to reveal herself.

BETH I remember that, but I wouldn’t have if you hadn’t told me. I remember the beginning the most, where they were in the shelter.

BROOM It was really the same movie: she’s a traumatized girl, and then she comes to live with sweet Swiss people.

BETH I think it’s a story that’s worth telling.

ADAM It’s The Secret Garden.

BROOM There was also a whole section about how the people who worked at the textile mill were going to work overtime for the sake of the kids, somehow. Sort of the communist section of the movie.

ADAM Do you think this is where Steven Spielberg got the idea to identify one child in a concentration camp by their garment?

BROOM No. But during the bloodhound scene, I thought, “If Steven Spielberg saw this, he’d say ‘That’s good! Use that.'” Where the kid runs away from the dinner table, feeling alone without his real family, to go look at a picture of loving doggies. Come on! That’s gold.

BETH But that scene wasn’t well directed.

BROOM I thought the shot of him looking up at the picture was the right shot.

BETH But the kid’s reaction wasn’t directed well. It was very exaggerated.

ADAM That’s why they needed Jonathan Lipnicki.

BETH He needed Steven Spielberg, to guide him.

BROOM I want to throw out this thought I had at the beginning: art that is made to serve the political conscience of a moment, in that moment seems the most profound, and in every other moment seems the most transitory. And this in itself reveals the falseness of our idea of what “profound emotions” are. That was my thought, almost immediately, when the movie started with, “You know this just happened in Europe; now we’re all soberly going to the cinema to honor it.” And that section actually ended up being moving to me. But I was thinking, “What makes someone pay to sit down and watch this?” I guess if someone told them it was good. But I feel like now, we go to see The Hurt Locker or something… well, I didn’t see that, so I don’t know…

ADAM Hotel Rwanda.

BROOM That’s the classic “no one actually wanted to watch it” movie. I’m talking more about these American military venture movies that get made all the time. For example: because I want to use my BAM membership, I’m totally going to go see the drone warfare ethical debate movie with Helen Mirren shouting into the phone. It looked like crap from the preview, but then it got pretty good reviews. But I thought, “Movies like that get good reviews because people get really high on this idea that if something is in the media, is politically important, and has some kind of ethical element to it, it’s deep.” But then after time passes — we had to rent The Search off of Youtube because it’s never going to be released on DVD; no one needs this anymore.

BETH But, at least at the beginning, in the first twenty or thirty minutes, I thought, “I’m so glad I’m seeing this!” Because there’s no way I would if we weren’t doing this project. But later my attitude shifted a little bit. I didn’t need to see this, really. But I’m happy to have seen that beginning. It moved me and made me think about the war in a way that I hadn’t before.

BROOM I concur with that whole paragraph. I had the same experience.

ADAM We’ll see in a year’s time which we remember more of: this, or The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

BETH This, I think.

BROOM I guess what I was saying is: it seems like this is more profound than — well, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer isn’t a good counter-example. You know, say, Mary Poppins. It might seem like Mary Poppins is about nothing, whereas this is about children in the war. But actually the function of art is not to be about

ADAM I’m reading Emma right now, on my phone, and it’s not really about anything; it’s about a couple of families in an English country village. And I was reading articles today about Emma and “simple-minded criticism that it’s not a profound enough subject to be art,” but of course that’s the whole point; because the subject is unprepossessing is what makes it psychologically compelling.

BROOM I wouldn’t say it’s “because.”

ADAM You’re right, it’s not “because” — because War and Peace is also psychologically compelling.

BROOM I know I praised the movie for being only half-fictional, earlier, so maybe it sounds like I’m being hypocritical, but I think it goes together: this movie felt like it was serving a documentary function, to me, rather than a more characteristically “artistic” function. And I’m happy for that, in a way, I feel like this is a nice way to convey things. It’s sort of a spiritual documentary; “think about this type of situation; we’re not going to talk about specifics.” But that’s a different experience from watching a profound work of art.

BETH I feel like it had a lot in common with a Disney cartoon. It had a message; it wasn’t subtle about it, it didn’t have a gentle touch. It wanted to get a specific point across. It was predictable in the way that cartoons are.

BROOM You’re talking about Mickey Mouse cartoons, or edutainment cartoons?

BETH I’m talking about Disney feature films; even contemporary ones, though I’m not sure I would draw parallels with Zootopia…

ADAM But like Lilo and Stitch.

BETH Yeah, or Finding Nemo or something like that.

ADAM Yeah, it had a Finding Nemo quality.

BROOM The plot was the same, sort of.

BETH It’s like, “You know she’s going to find her son, right?” And of course she is.

ADAM What’s another movie where one character is searching for the other character and they just miss each other, like three times?

BETH Well, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, where he’s looking for his bike and he passes it on the highway…

ADAM What’s that movie where one character goes over the hill right when the other one’s coming over?

BROOM That happens all the time! It happens so all the time that when it happened in this movie, it didn’t even register. It didn’t make even a single tick on the dramatic earthquake sensor in my head. We’re watching this to think about kids in Europe, and the story stuff is just the same old stuff. That close-call thing probably happened on the vaudeville stage all the time. My grandmother knew about that. “Oh, I’m afraid I must be going, I can’t stay any longer, Mrs. Smith! Goodbye!” “Goodbye!” “Ah, I’ve looked everywhere in the city for my wife!”

[we read the New York Times review]

BROOM So do you think that praise is through war-colored glasses?


ADAM Clearly.

BETH And how could it not be? Everyone was affected by this big thing.

BROOM I’m just suspicious of that. Even as I was affected by parts of this movie, I’m suspicious about that impulse to be moved by the thing that one is supposed to be moved by in this historical moment.

BETH I don’t think it was because he was supposed to be, I think he just naturally was because he too was traumatized, in whatever way.

BROOM But when you heard that they were making — what was that movie called?

ADAM Flight 93.

BROOM Exactly! When you heard they were making that, didn’t you feel something like “I get what you’re doing, but…”

BETH Yeah. And that’s why no one saw that movie.

ADAM Lots of people saw that movie.

BETH Well. It’s not like a movie that anyone rents now. And I guess The Search isn’t a movie that anyone rents now.

BROOM We could do Flight 93 in a double feature with Hotel Rwanda.

BETH A masochistic afternoon.

ADAM You could do those with Team America: World Police.

Last lines in film:

– Karel-e!
– Maminka!


A complete radio broadcast of the 21st Academy Awards is known to exist somewhere out there, but I can’t find it online. Luckily, there’s also an archival film version, apparently complete, uploaded by the Academy here in what seems to be its entirety.

That’s right! This is the first one you can really sit back and watch like it’s Oscar night! Throw a party! Break out the hors d’oeuvres, the themed drinks, and place your bets on who’s gonna win!

Or you can just watch the salient clip for our purposes:

Very clearly, there is no acceptance speech. But who is the man who claims the Oscars? Deborah Kerr seems to be telling us that “––– will accept the award for the film.” Unfortunately the orchestra seems to believe the award has gone to King Kong so the name isn’t audible. (Something like “Ingdar Penninfeld.”)

(Later, when Ivan Jandl wins a special award for best juvenile performance, director Fred Zinnemann accepts, and we can see that he is clearly not the same man who accepted the writing award.)

Give it your best shot, everyone. This must be resolved.

March 17, 2015

Best Original Screenplay 1947: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer


Winner in the category of WRITING (Original Screenplay) at the 20th Academy Awards, presented Saturday March 20, 1948 at Shrine Civic Auditorium.

The other nominees were:
Body and Soul — Abraham Polonsky
A Double Life — Ruth Gordon, Garson Kanin
Monsieur Verdoux — Charles Chaplin
Shoe-Shine — Sergio Amidei, Adolfo Franci, C. G. Viola, Cesare Zavattini

Screen Play
Sidney Sheldon



1MED. SHOT – SHOOTING FROM curb TOWARD Judge Turner’s house.

The house is neither tremendous nor over-elaborate; it is a pleasant one and a half story structure, neat and trim, with a flower bed and a gently sloping green lawn. As the CAMERA TRUCKS UP the walk, the MUSIC follows it in rhythm in a motif of musical footprints that takes us right to the front door. As we reach the front door,



2MED. SHOT – SHOOTING TOWARD kitchen door.

Bessie, an attractive, young negro is setting a dish on the table. CAMERA PANS Bessie as she sets the dish on the table and the electric clock begins tinkling the stroke of eight. When she hears the clock, CAMERA PANS with her as she hurries out of the dining room and starts toward the stairs. CAMERA TRUCKS with Bessie as she reaches the lower step of the short flight leading to the bedroom corridor. CAMERA HOLDS as she continues up the steps.

First line in film:

– Miss Susan!

ADAM Everyone in that movie was more charming than I thought they were going to be. I thought Shirley Temple was going to be sort of a dope, but actually she seemed to be more sophisticated than I gave her credit for. Bravo, Shirley Temple.

BETH Well, you know, she’s been in show business since the age of three, so she knows what to do.

ADAM She reminded me of Justin Bieber.

BROOM You know who she reminded me of.

BETH Yes, we do. It was really witty, I thought.

ADAM Yeah, wittier than I thought it was going to be when it started.

BETH When it started, it felt like a Disney cartoon, where the music was doing all of the work.

BROOM When four different windows got “funny window-opening music.” I think that was standard for opening cues, in a lot of these movies, where the composer felt like, “I’m going to explain what kind of movie this is, at the outset.”

ADAM And then the black maid was like, “Good mornin’, Miss Susan!” and was grinning from ear to ear, and I was like, “What’s going on.”

BROOM You didn’t realize that was going to be her only scene. You thought we were gonna see a lot of her.

ADAM She was like when Lucille Ball has her name written on the soles of her shoes, when she plays the corpse.

BROOM I don’t know what that refers to.

ADAM It’s a scene from I Love Lucy where Lucy Ricardo has a scene in a movie. She’s determined to make the most of it; she’s going to play a corpse. So she writes her name on the bottom of her shoes.

BROOM I just meant that they gave such attention to the maid at the beginning that you thought, “Oh, the maid’s going to be her confidante; she’s going to be privy to all the comic goings-on.” But she just disappeared after she woke the characters up.

ADAM So there was no Woman of the Year-style wink, at all, to the fact that Margaret Turner is a judge.

BROOM Absolutely there was, in the opening, when the maid says, “If you don’t wake up, I’m gonna get the judge,” and then she goes to wake up the judge, whose head you can’t see because of a lampshade…

ADAM I understand that they play with your expectations that it’s not going to be a woman, but there’s no actual discussion of the fact that Margaret Turner is a judge: how she got to be a judge…

BROOM She got to be a judge because her uncle was a judge, or she came from a family of attorneys, or whatever…

ADAM I understand how she got there, but it played it pretty cool about the fact that she was a lady judge. Which I liked. She did remind me of Judge [REDACTED].

BETH I couldn’t tell if that was a sarcastic comment or not, when you made it.

ADAM No, actually; she does kind of remind me of Judge [REDACTED]. You can blank that out in the transcript. You can just say Judge…

BROOM Reinhold.

ADAM That birthday sequence obviously was the best.

BROOM The director and the screenwriter were clearly, like, “We’re going to earn this scene where everything goes crazy.” Farce!

ADAM A lot of it was fun. When Cary Grant pretends to be a juvenile to try to lose Susan’s affection, it’s pretty funny. When Susan is using the elevated vocabulary, that’s pretty funny.

BROOM Was he doing that to lose her affections? The slang and the costume?

ADAM Yeah, I thought he was trying to reverse-psychologize her.

BROOM I thought it was just a kind of, like…

BETH Giving a middle finger to the whole situation.

BROOM Yeah. “You want me to play the role, then here you go.” Because she actually was into it. She was having a great time that day.

BETH I think his whole objective was to make her not like him, and he was just trying anything he could think of.

ADAM As you might.

BROOM As you might under these rather unusual circumstances. I thought this was strikingly, like, serenely divorced from any conception of reality. Early on, I had a few thoughts… The movies that have won for screenplay seem to be things that have good repartee but are sloppy about other things; like here when the bellboy’s like, “I’ll help you, I’m fifteen.” “I’m seventeen.” “Well, I like older women.” And then he gets up to the apartment with her and immediately says, “Well I have work to do, goodbye.” I thought, “What a terrible line. You could have gotten rid of that character any way you wanted, and this is so stupid and unmotivated.” But then a few minutes later, I started to understand that the whole movie was just a series of events, and that was okay.

ADAM It certainly accelerated toward the end. In the first fifteen minutes, I was like, “What? What are we watching? What is this nonsense?”

BROOM True nonsense.

ADAM But then it got better.

BROOM I know this is a little after the era of the true “screwball,” but this was essentially a screwball comedy. It was just loopy-loo.

BETH It was great.

ADAM I don’t think I’ve ever seen Myrna Loy in anything. But she was super funny, and pretty, and engaging. She deserves to be famous.

BROOM You should see the Thin Man movies. She was hotter then.

ADAM She’s Nora Charles?


BETH Yeah, when I first saw her here I thought, “Oh, I thought you were sexier,” but it was ten years later.

ADAM She was pretty sexy, actually.

BROOM She was sexy for “an ice-cold judge.”

ADAM Is this the first time a lady judge has been featured in American popular culture?

BROOM I don’t know; maybe. Do you want to look that up under the “Female Judges in Popular Culture” category page on Wikipedia?

ADAM You know the only Wikipedia page I ever created was for America’s first female district court judge, Burnita Shelton Matthews.

BROOM Did you have an “In Popular Culture” section?

ADAM She became a federal judge right around this time, actually.

BROOM Do you want me to redact the name of the article?

ADAM No, of course not.

BROOM You want me to link to it.

[ADAM shows off the Burnita Shelton Matthews article]

ADAM She became a district court judge in 1949.

BROOM Maybe inspired by this movie.

BETH So you do have a connection, ADAM.

ADAM So there may have been state court judges before this…

BETH You have two connections: one to the lady judge, and one to dating a much older person in high school.

BROOM So this movie was a fantasy, of a thing that had never happened, like a movie with a female president.

ADAM I’m saying, Burnita Shelton Matthews was a federal court judge; there were probably state court judges before that. But probably not a lot; it was probably single digits.

BETH Maybe the war had brought them in, somehow.

ADAM And they certainly didn’t look like Myrna Loy.

BROOM I don’t know; her Wikipedia picture looks a little like Myrna Loy.

ADAM I liked Myrna Loy’s suit. I liked her hair. I liked her eyebrows.

BROOM Sure. She’s got a very distinctive nose. No other actress has had that nose.

ADAM Yes, her nose and her chin were, like, the same. I liked when uncle Thaddeus got angry about all the door-slamming.

BROOM And threw the chess pieces.

ADAM I liked the name of the other couple that had the birthday. I liked the fact that the angry couple got their cake delivered in the middle of the argument.

BETH That was a great scene.

BROOM I laughed hard during that scene; I laughed out loud for real, not a charity stupid movie laugh.

ADAM I liked the timeworn gag of “My patient thinks he’s the assistant district attorney.” Spoiler alert.

BROOM Yeah, that’s always a great one!

ADAM I liked the repeated repartee of “You remind me of a man.” “What man?” It was stupid, but…

BROOM Is this the source of that?

ADAM I didn’t know it was a “that.” Is that a “that”?

BROOM Because if it’s not a “that,” when it’s introduced it’s extremely strange. And I know it from Labyrinth, where David Bowie used it in a song he sings. Clearly there as a reference to something from an old movie. I guess this is the old movie, but in the context of the movie it sure seems like it’s supposed to be a pre-existing routine.

BETH I bet it’s a reference even in this movie.

BROOM Yeah, it’s like it’s being presented as “the kind of doggerel that the kids of the 40s are saying.”

ADAM What is it? [googling]

BROOM “You remind me of a man.” “What man?” “The man with the power…”

ADAM That goes directly to “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.”

BROOM So it was coined for this movie, huh?

ADAM Yeah. The first five links are all to The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

BROOM OHHH, so the reference in Labyrinth is that he’s an older man and she’s a teenage girl, and he’s sort of courting her in a dream world. Except he says “You remind me of the babe.

[reads from the Wikipedia article on Bachelor under “Influence“]

BROOM It’s a very strange bit of patter, because it’s in the context of him using a lot of slang and being a teenager, and Susan immediately latches on to it and does the other part perfectly. So I thought it was supposed to be that this is a thing that contemporary kids say to each other.

BETH Which it might have been.

BROOM Well, not according to Wikipedia, which you’d think would know.

BETH Well, it could have been a thing that was in Hollywood culture… some kind of teen culture. This felt like the first movie about teenagers. Where, you know, she was such a teenager.

BROOM I think there were always movies about teenagers, but we don’t watch them anymore because they were junk.

ADAM I don’t know. This was certainly the first one in our catalogue.

BROOM You mean teenagers as we think of teenagers now.

BETH Yeah.

ADAM “Golly gee!”

BETH Like All the Cats Join In, like I said during the movie. It felt like the exact same era. They go to a juke joint and it looks just like the cartoon. And they get in the car like in the cartoon. That kid, Jerry, looks just like the cartoon version of Jerry.

BROOM They also go to Family Fun Night, or whatever that was.

ADAM If Shirley Temple knows that they’re in Jerry’s car, then what good is that? That’s why I assumed that he was putting on this ridiculous persona to try to lose her: because he intentionally takes the worst car.

BETH Right. I think he wants to make a bad impression on everyone, so they’ll all encourage her…

ADAM He rolls up his pant leg in an asymmetrical way. I don’t have a lot of deep thoughts about this movie, but I did enjoy it.

BETH I did too.

BROOM As did I.

ADAM If it was on AMC I would unreservedly recommend watching it.

BETH It felt jubilant in a post-war way. It felt like, “We’re free!”

ADAM “Dere ain’t no Nazis in dis movie!”

BROOM Yeah, I mean, the joke where Jerry wants pity because he’s gotten drafted, and Susan says, “The war’s over, Jerry,” and he says, “Well, I might fall on my bayonet.” I thought, “Wow, that’s really indicative of a new mood.” You know, nowadays, we’d…

ADAM “Is this how you treat a veteran?”

BROOM Well, we’d feel like, “Is this how you treat your veterans, by putting such a joke in your movie?” About how there’s nothing dangerous anymore. But that was exactly the attitude after World War II: yes, there’s nothing dangerous anymore or ever again. That all happened last year.

BETH It’s so over.

BROOM “We can totally make jokes about how being drafted is a nothing.” But that felt like a strange beat to me.

ADAM I think probably people were less solemn because their feelings were less out in the open, in the forties. Maybe this is just my pop psychologizing, but it seemed like veterans who returned from the war, instead of talking about it ad infinitum as they would now, they not-talked about it, which was better form. I mean, not in an absolute sense, but in the sense at the time. You know, they didn’t talk about it until fifty years later, when Saving Private Ryan came out. But at this point, everyone was just, like, “Gee whiz! Let’s move on!”

BROOM I have noted — I probably brought this up during the Disney project but that’s so many years ago now, that we were watching movies from this era! — that when I put together these playlists on Spotify of the top Billboard-charting songs from each decade, I think I took 20 from each year, I was really struck in going through those that in the immediate post-war years, the late 40s-early 50s, very suddenly all this completely infantile garbage was popular. Like, not true innocence but a put-on baby-talk innocence. Like, “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window” is the best of these songs. That was like a number one hit!

ADAM Avoidance as opposed to wallowing.

BROOM Yeah, a kind of avoidance. Which then became that 50s thing, of institutional “Everything is Great!!!” Denial really seemed to be the primary form of postwar celebration in the mass culture.

ADAM Well, they seemed to live in a sunny California that had no relation to any political or social trend of any kind. I mean, he was an artist, but he didn’t actually produce or interact with any art of any kind, at all. And he had no evidence of having been in the war, even though he was 35. So, yeah, it seemed willfully pleasant.

BETH How old was he really? He looked older than that, didn’t he?

BROOM I think he was older than that.

ADAM How old was she? Was she 35? Because if so that makes me feel terrible about myself.

BROOM The actress?

ADAM No, the judge.

BROOM The character, or Myrna Loy?

ADAM The character.

BROOM There’s no way of knowing how old the character was!

ADAM Well, Shirley Temple said, “When I’m 42, he’ll be 60,” and we know she’s 17.

BROOM Yes, that’s how we determine how old he was, but there’s no way of knowing how old she was.

ADAM But the judge must have been younger, because it would be inconceivable for an older woman to be with a younger man in a Hollywood movie.

BROOM But she was a judge!

BETH [has looked it up] Myrna Loy was 37. No wait, she was more than that, I’m sorry.

BROOM [looks it up] She was 42.

ADAM She was 42 in that role?

BETH Cary Grant was 43, playing 35.

[we read various tidbits about Myrna on Wikipedia]

BROOM Here’s what’s actually interesting to read on Wikipedia. The person who won an Academy Award for this movie, that we’re ostensibly celebrating here, is Sidney Sheldon, born Schechtel, who is the Sidney Sheldon.

ADAM The romance writer? ‘Cause when that flashed on the screen, I was like, “Really??”

[we read from his Wikipedia page, noting that in addition to writing this movie and his many bestselling novels, he also created The Patty Duke Show and I Dream of Jeannie]

ADAM Well, this definitely seemed to have a cousinship with The Patty Duke Show. She seemed like she “loves to rock and roll, a hot dog makes her lose control; what a wild duet.”

BROOM I never watched The Patty Duke Show. Did she speak in highflown language like Shirley Temple does here?

BETH Well there’s two.

ADAM “Our Cathy adores a minuet, the Ballets Russes, and crêpe Suzette; our Patty loves to rock and roll, a hot dog—”

BROOM Uh-huh, yeah, I got it. So you’re saying she was like Patty?

ADAM Well, she was like Patty but she also had touches of Cathy. At the beginning, I forget all the things she said in highfalutin’ tones, but…

BROOM She had one line that was so highfalutin’ that I couldn’t follow it.

ADAM Yeah, this seemed to have almost nothing to say about social trends or anything. But maybe that’s the point. Certainly nothing about race or gender, particularly. Even though a movie about a woman judge really should have something to say about gender, and it didn’t. Other than that a lady judge also looks pretty in a dress.

BROOM [reading from the Sidney Sheldon article:] “Most of his readers were women. Asked why this was the case he said: ‘I like to write about women who are talented and capable, but most important, retain their femininity. Women have tremendous power — their femininity, because men can’t do without it.’

ADAM “Hubba, hubba!” Well Beth, let that be a lesson. To everyone.

BROOM I guess. He’s the one who invented the female judge, as you point out.

BETH Should we find the review? I don’t have anything else to say.

ADAM I don’t have a lot to say either.

[we read the New York Times review]

ADAM Maybe having a woman judge in this movie was like having a black woman judge on TV in the 90s, on Law and Order. [reads:] “Florence Allen became both the first woman to be elected to the positions of general jurisdiction court in 1920 and the first female state appellate judge through her election to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1922. She later became the first female federal appellate judge, appointed to the 6th Circuit in 1933.” So actually she was on the bench 10 years before Burnita Shelton Matthews.

BROOM Going into this, I thought the whole idea of making a movie on this premise was going to be sleazy. “I know, the man and the teenage girl will be forced into compromising situations, and we’ll come up with some excuse to put it onscreen by having everyone keep saying it’s a bad idea.” But the movie was genuinely so bizarre that…

BETH It wasn’t salacious in any way.

BROOM It really managed to put me at my ease. I genuinely couldn’t imagine any Hollywood producer having a secret salacious reason for putting this together.

ADAM Even when she wakes up in his apartment?

BROOM She’s remarkably sexless, for a pretty teenage girl.

BETH That’s what I was about to say. Think about 17-year-old girls now, and how much they would come on to someone, to the equivalent of Cary Grant. George Clooney. If you made this movie today with George Clooney and some hot 17-year-old.

BROOM Well, you’d cast Ellie Kemper, naturally. I mean, of course now she’s 34 years old, or whatever she is.

BETH But she’s also the sexless equivalent. She has made herself in that image.

BROOM Yes, I know. She is exactly the same as teenage Shirley Temple.

ADAM It would be Selena Gomez.

BROOM She’s not sexless, though; doesn’t she date Justin Bieber?

ADAM I know, I know.

BROOM Who do we have? We don’t really have bright-eyed youth, anymore. That’s how Ellie found her niche, but now she’s too old.

ADAM Dora the Explorer.

BETH I’m sure there’s someone from the Disney Channel.

BROOM There’s Jane The Virgin. She’s a virgin, I gather.

ADAM Or Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap.

BETH Sure, but she was like 13 in that movie.

BROOM How old was Shirley here, actually? This was one of her last movies. [we look it up:] 18 or 19.

[we then read more about Shirley Temple and Myrna Loy and the conversation drifts pretty far afield, but then comes around to:]

ADAM I mean, why do we think Cary Grant wouldn’t have liked having this girl have a crush on him?

BROOM That’s why you’d make a remake: you’d just make him gay.

ADAM But then who’s he into?

BROOM The judge is a man!

ADAM That sort of fore-ordains the ending.

BROOM So did this! I mean, you could change it around. You could have him be into the school principal or something. But had he been gay, it would have been…

ADAM Just as plausible.

BROOM Well, the central situation would be more plausible. It would have been very cleanly, like, “She has a crush on you, and you need to learn to take other people’s feelings seriously.” Because why wasn’t he at all interested in her?

BETH Because he’s Cary Grant! It really was playing on the fact that he was Cary Grant.

BROOM I enjoyed the line “I wouldn’t say this to many people, but I’m old enough to be your father.” On the one hand, the joke is, the people have to be young enough for him to say that to them, but on the other hand, the joke is, most young girls coming on to him, he wouldn’t be inclined to stop.

BETH Yeah, so it’s something about her. The two personas, and how they conflict.

BROOM Do you think she was really editor of the school paper?

ADAM Probably. If she was in high school in 1947, that means she would be 80-something today.

BROOM Weren’t you going to find out what happened to Jimmy?

[we read about the life of Johnny Sands… then debate whether to skip 1948 because no “best original screenplay” was awarded… we decide not to skip the year; stay tuned for details]

Last lines in film:

– You remind me of a man.
– What man?
– The man with the power.
– What power?
– The power of hoodoo.
– Who do?
– You do.
– Do what?
– Remind me of a man.
– What man?
– The man with the power. Give up?
– Give up. Let’s go.


I believe this is the first year in a while for which I absolutely cannot find the Academy Awards ceremony radio broadcast, which dismays me. I don’t see it listed in any OTR (“Old Time Radio”) resources, so I wonder if it’s simply not available outside of the Academy library. If anyone reading this wants to point me toward a copy online, that would be appreciated. Here’s the only available clip that I can find: the best supporting actor presentation.

Furthermore, the rather spotty speech database contains several speeches from the ceremony, but not this category. Phooey!

Here’s what there is: newsreel footage of highlights from the ceremony.

January 26, 2015

Best Original Screenplay 1946: The Seventh Veil


Winner in the category of WRITING (Original Screenplay) at the 19th Academy Awards, presented March 13, 1947 at Shrine Civic Auditorium.

The other nominees were:
The Blue Dahlia – Raymond Chandler
Notorious – Ben Hecht
Road to Utopia – Norman Panama and Melvin Frank
Children of Paradise – Jacques Prévert

Screenplay is not accessible, to my knowledge.

First lines in film:

— Thank you. Some place where we can talk?
— This way.
— She never attempted suicide before?
— No, never.
— I see. What is her occupation?
— She’s a well-known concert pianist; I’ve heard her play several times.

[We are again joined by MRB, who had watched the movie approximately one month earlier. This dicussion is 100% spoilers.]

ADAM I liked the idea of a thriller that’s driven by themes in classical music.

BROOM Would you say “thriller” was the genre?

ADAM Well, yeah, kind of. “Melodrama.”

BROOM It was a funny genre that existed at the time, “psychology equals thriller.”

BETH Like Rebecca.

BROOM I guess, but that plot actually has secrets. Here it was just that her story needed to be told. It was all a secret at the beginning: “Why did she try to kill herself?” “Oh, because of her story.” But then they just told her story. It didn’t have a mystery to it.

ADAM It’s true. I sort of assumed he was going to have some kind of dark relation to her that would be revealed in the end, like, “he’s actually not her second cousin.” But no.

BROOM I was certain that something even earlier in her life was going to be revealed. Because they made a point of having that teenage friend character. The first sequence from her past is that the friend is able to boss her around, and she suffers for it. And then the friend recurs later and we see how agitated she gets at the friend’s presence. It seemed like they were saying that by that age, she already had become someone who for some reason let herself be bossed around… so I thought we were ultimately going to go into her earliest childhood, something with her parents. But no. There was no mystery. I mean, it didn’t make any sense. Once you get to the end, the psychology didn’t make any sense. It seemed like it was going to.

ADAM It didn’t make any sense. But it was pretty engaging, anyway. I actually enjoyed watching the whole thing.

BETH I enjoyed it.

BROOM I enjoyed it too, sure.

BETH It just had different ideas about—

BROOM I was on the edge of my seat wondering whether it was going to turn out to be…

ADAM …to make any sense.

BROOM Whether it was going to turn out to be psychology that we would recognize today as psychology, or not. Because there were sequences where it seemed like it was.

BETH I expected it not to. I really didn’t think that it was going to make sense.

BROOM I mean, they went so far into showing how he ruined her life that I thought, “this can’t turn out to be the Jane Eyre ending where she marries her guardian.” And then when they got there, and the final shot is them as the smallest possible figures they could be on the screen, embracing…

BETH It was pretty bizarre.

MRB I’m really having trouble remembering much about it. Is the last scene where she has to choose between somebody and somebody, and she chooses her psychiatrist?

BROOM No, she chooses James Mason. We rewound it to confirm.

ADAM It would be better if she chose the psychiatrist. That would be a more shocking ending.

MRB Who’s James Mason again? I’m sorry.

BETH The benefactor.

BROOM Yeah, he’s the controlling second cousin, who she lives with.

MRB Oh yeah yeah, and sits in that chair.

BETH And has the cat.

ADAM “Would you like to stroke it?”

BROOM I was thinking, “you could write a whole…”

BETH … thesis on this?

BROOM Yes, a whole master’s thesis on “the sexual politics of 1945 Britain as seen in The Seventh Veil.

BETH I’m sure someone has. It’s so meaty.

BROOM It’s so contorted! I thought about how whenever you write those theses, or read them — I personally don’t write them or read them! — but those things always observe how what you see in a movie was always a certain kind of code that was in place at the time, and that certain things that couldn’t be said would have been understood through code. I’m not saying that there were specific one-to-one decodings to be made, but I do have the sense that this ending was to meet some kind of subconscious necessity. The character was a very independent woman in a lot of ways: she proposed marriage to that first guy, she speaks all these languages and is the head of her class, she’s a major artist… She has all this self-confidence, at the same time that she’s being pushed around; she shouts in people’s faces… And then at the end, for her to get completely clean inside and then freely choose the guy who’s been pushing her around the whole time, felt like some kind of hedge. “We can’t go all the way and admit that she wants none of them.” I thought the real ending should be that she wants none of these dudes.

ADAM What was the ending to… that other movie about the independent woman who has a controlling husband, who’s Spencer Tracy…

BROOM Yeah, that one too!

ADAM And then she has to make him eggs at the end?

BROOM That’s exactly what I’m saying. The studio added that sequence where she makes a fool of herself, to make the movie more palatable. It too got more sexist at the end.

BETH Woman of the Year.

BROOM I mean, in Woman of the Year, the whole thing was pretty sexist, because it was about how she was too man-like for their relationship to work. But they were working out the same kind of issues, and it ended up in the same place, where you felt them pulling back: “we can’t really follow through with this.” Like, “Trust us, audience! The end of this is not going to be that a woman has her own agenda. Don’t worry!”

BETH Yeah. About this character: you were saying she’s confident and she yells at people — but she’s also timid and sort of antisocial. The American dude developed a crush on her for absolutely no reason.

ADAM Yeah, she was a huge weirdo and so were all the men in her life. Everyone in this movie was a huge weirdo. Including the psychiatrist.

BROOM That’s right. But she was psychoanalyzed throughout the movie, and they addressed it, as “well, she’s shy.”

BETH But that was it! She liked music, and she was shy. And she, weirdly, proposed marriage after going to the movies once.

BROOM And when people would boss her around, she felt like she needed to get in line with their demands to make things go smoothly. And the movie seemed to be saying, “That is her problem, and her feisty independent nature is not her problem.” And it seemed like the psychiatrist was going to lead her to a place where she separated those cleanly. But then it all turned into a puddle, at the end, and none of that worked out.

BETH Do you think this might have had an alternate ending where she comes down the stairs and…

ADAM …sweeps past all of them?

BETH And they had to put them so far away because it’s not actually James Mason, because it was shot later? I don’t actually believe that.

ADAM But I like your fanfic alternative.

BROOM I would be willing to believe it. Anything could have happened when she came down those stairs, and it would have been wrong. When he said, “She’s going to pick the one that she truly loves,” I said, “There’s no way this is going to work out! Of these four guys? No way!”

ADAM No no no, “the one she truly loves” was Peter; that’s why the camera lingered on him first. And then “or the one she was happiest with”…

BROOM Oh, that was an “or”? “The one she was happiest with” was the painter…

BETH Ohhh! You’re right!

ADAM “Or the one she can’t live without; or the one she trusts the most.”

BETH And “trusts the most” is James Mason.

ADAM No, that’s the psychiatrist.

BETH Oh, I see.

BROOM “The one she can’t live without” is James Mason, and that’s who she chooses.

BETH Yes, that’s right.

ADAM I mean, I agree, it’s not a satisfying ending.

BROOM It doesn’t mean anything!

MRB I think my thought at the time was that psychoanalysis was like a new fad. It was very interesting to talk about being psychoanalyzed, in the 40s. I guess the war was over and they could think about other things. Like Spellbound. I don’t know what year that was.

BROOM During the movie we asked about Spellbound too. BETH said she thought it was ’43.

BETH Let me just confirm that.

MRB I can’t think of any others, but I bet someone who’s writing one of these theses could come up with a bunch of movies in the 40s that are about “exploring your real inner personality, because you’re screwed up.”

BETH ’45.

MRB Freud died in what, ’40 or something, right?

BROOM I don’t know. [ed: 1939.] Spellbound was 1945, the same year as this movie, says BETH.

MRB See? It was a big year for psycho- stuff.

BROOM It was hot!

MRB So I think it didn’t even have to hang together. It was just, like, so cool that people were talking about psychology.

BROOM So this is like the psychology equivalent of The Net. Like, “Eh, it doesn’t really need to be about the real internet, it just needs to be branded that way.”

MRB That’s right. “Ooh, she’s talking to a psychiatrist!

BROOM “You’re going to have to go into the Virtual Reality!”

BETH It seemed like James Mason had fun.

BROOM I enjoyed young James Mason. He must have been like 30, right?

BETH Maybe a little bit older, but yeah. [ed.: 36]

BROOM Well, that’s young for James Mason.

ADAM He seemed coded a little bit like [friend from college].

BROOM Okay, say your thing now about homosexuality.

ADAM MRB, did you think he was coded as a homosexual?

MRB I’m sorry I don’t remember it better. You mean with the cat?

ADAM Yes, the cat, and the limping, and the male servants, and the “women disgust me!”

MRB Yes. As much as I remember, because mostly what I remember is him sitting in the chair at the beginning when she first comes. Yes.

BROOM With a cat on his lap, and then the camera points at it and then tilts up to his face and he says “would you like to stroke it?”

MRB I do remember.

ADAM “Turn around. No, all the way. You, with your straight back, and your sanctimonious disposition…”

BROOM I said earlier: I think this comes from the era where people who liked to fancy themselves sophisticates, serious psychology-thinking types, thought, “You know, the theory is that homosexuals are men who’ve been so turned against women, who behind their seventh veils hate women so much…”

ADAM Right, “and are huge narcissists.” Which he also clearly was.

BROOM To be a homosexual and to be crippled were not just associated through some kind of stereotypical bias; they had consciously thought this stuff through: “He has a limp because he has been scarred by his mother leaving the family, and that’s why he would prefer men. But then ultimately he’s able to realizes that he actually prefers the young woman.” I think it has very little to do with their experience of actual homosexual people in their lives. Also, they being British, it’s all different over there. It’s not like they were in Hollywood hanging around with out gay guys. It was a very British movie, and it had all kinds of weird British ideas. I loved the American character who only sits backward on chairs.

BETH Did you see, when the doctor came to visit him, he stood with one foot up on a chair?

ADAM Yeah, none of it made any sense, as I think about it. But it was very engaging for odd reasons. Even her personality didn’t make any consistent sense throughout the movie. Why did she suddenly get so flirty with the portraitist? And he was so awful!

BETH I thought he was gay too.

BROOM He was German, BETH. That’s a third category.

ADAM “I’m going to rub your neck now. You are very tense… and I love you.”

BROOM Yeah, their weird flirtation scene. Where she plays the music loud.

ADAM “Would you like it if I were up on a dais, in a funny posture, posing for you?” “I would like it very much.” “Well I shan’t.”

BROOM And the painting that he ultimately does is so twisty and awkward. Yes, it was all very strange. But it did have some good runs of dialogue in it. I understand why it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

ADAM And won.

BROOM Well, I at least understand why it was nominated.

ADAM It was as entertaining as anything we’ve seen so far. It was more entertaining than…

BETH Most of them.

ADAM I mean, what have we seen so far? The Great McGinty, Woman of the Year, that Swiss Holocaust movie…

BETH Which I liked.

ADAM Citizen Kane

MRB Wilson!

ADAM And the American Presidentress…

BROOM Princess O’Rourke. It was as good as any of those that aren’t Citizen Kane.

ADAM The Great McGinty wasn’t bad.

BROOM It was also super-weird but had some good bits of dialogue.

BETH I thought Woman of the Year was very entertaining.

BROOM That’s right. I liked the sequence in this with the American, even though it was showy dialogue writing, when he says “You gotta take it easy,” and she says, “I like working,” and he says, “I like ravioli, but I don’t eat it all the time,” and then after they’ve gone through their whole schtick, they meet again in the restaurant, and he orders two raviolis, and she says “I don’t want any,” and he says, “They’re both for me.” I thought that was funny!

ADAM So, like The Great McGinty and like the Swiss one, these are all weirdo movies that don’t fit in genre categories.

BROOM I had that thought: to say “they don’t make ’em like this anymore” doesn’t even begin to touch what they don’t anymore, about this movie. Every idea that is a foundation of this movie is not used in movies anymore. And sometimes I’d be saying to myself, “well, this is a grown-up entertainment, and it’s intelligent and interesting, and even if I think that the sexual politics of it are all wrong, they’re interesting…” but then I would think, “it’s all such dead, dead, dead stuff.” Could you ever bring any of this back? What would be the modern-day equivalent?

BETH She was the only woman in the movie, by the way.

BROOM No: Susie. The horrible friend.

BETH Oh, of course.

ADAM What was that movie where Winona Ryder’s in a mental institution?

BROOM Girl, Interrupted?

ADAM Yeah. How is this any different from that?

BROOM I don’t know, I didn’t see it.

BETH I didn’t see it either.

BROOM I imagine nobody marries their ward at the end.

ADAM No, but I’m sure we could find something that’s “psychologically intense” that’s actually just as wrong and disturbing as this is.

BROOM Shine did borrow the “finish a piano concerto and then go BBBBBRRRBLONK on the keyboard” sequence. This movie did have a fair amount of classical performance in it.

ADAM Which was actually kind of suspenseful. That’s what I was saying about a classical music thriller. When she was playing that piece: was she going to pass out in the middle of it? Her playing of it was psychologically engaging, in a way that was interesting.

BROOM And she did a very good job faking playing. More than most people who have to play a concerto in a movie. So when I first looked this movie up, months ago, when we first started thinking about watching it, I found a lot of older people online saying that, like, it’s so sad that this movie has fallen out of favor because it was such a big deal at the time, especially for the British film industry. And that it was their favorite movie when they were younger, or their parents’ favorite movie. This used to be a beloved, classic, psychological melodrama. I don’t think it can be that to me, but I found it diverting.

ADAM Yeah, I Googled it and I think I found that it was one of the “most-watched British films of all time,” or something.

BETH That’s fascinating.

BROOM I guess the answer is “it just hasn’t aged well,” but it doesn’t feel so much like it’s aged… I mean, the movie itself held up, it’s just that…

ADAM All the concepts…

BROOM Yes, all the concepts have been rolled on their head since then. And it felt a little like they were already rolling around on their heads at the time, and that it wasn’t a very good time to make a movie about this stuff because they didn’t really know what they were talking about. It felt like a time when talking about this stuff was very sophisticated, ambitious, adult, and yet these sophisticated ambitious adults didn’t have a coherent concept of it. It’s like reading old New Yorkers or New York Magazines, which are always putting across that “this is the sophisticated thing right now,” and it only takes a couple years for all those Jules Feiffer people to seem ridiculous.

ADAM As you probably know, I was in a production of “Feiffer’s People” when I was fourth grade, and I didn’t get any of the jokes. They were so weird! I got, like, one joke.

BROOM This had the same “sophisticate of that particular moment” feeling. I can still appreciate that it was sophisticated in style, if not any longer in meaning.

ADAM What was that movie that came out a year or two ago about a girl in London in the 40s, and she goes…

BROOM Paddington?

ADAM “Did you say marmalade?” No, and she’s Jewish, maybe, and it was the debut film of that British girl.

BETH Yeah, you’re talking about that movie where she falls in love with an older man.

BROOM An Education. We saw that.

MRB Carey Mulligan.

ADAM That’s all. It reminded me of that, vaguely.

[We read the New York Times review. Discussion then proceeds at some length, on adjacent topics, but includes no further direct comment on the movie until:]

BROOM I can’t think of more to say, other than that it was confusing and interesting in the ways we’ve mentioned. We didn’t really prompt you, MRB [and spouse], but what was your mood upon finishing this strange movie, a month ago?

MRB Right, we don’t remember very much, but I think what we said afterwards was, “That was stupid.”

BROOM I mean, I’ll grant you that.

ADAM The ending is deflating, certainly.

MRB We didn’t like it and we didn’t have much good to say about it. But like you said at the beginning, it was entertaining enough to watch, because it seemed so out of our time, a thing from another era.

ADAM Can you imagine Don Draper and Betty Draper seeing this movie?


MRB I think I did think about Betty Draper and her psychology while I watched it.

BROOM That’s true, Mad Men definitely has an element of the old fascination with therapy. But here it was really extreme, like with the big injection that begins the process. Or the total sexualization of therapy at the beginning — not just to compare it to Salome, but for him to say “No one will drop their seventh veil in front of anyone… but a surgeon has to strip you of your clothes before he can operate.” There was something filthy and adult about what was going to happen. They were trying to titillate you just to think about this doctor’s field of expertise. And his weird Peter Lorre quality.

MRB Do you know who Herbert Lom turned into?

BROOM I just know the name. Was he like a Peter Lorre type?

MRB Well, in the Pink Panther movies, he was the annoyed detective that had to deal with Peter Sellers. He was exasperated all the time. But he was sort of a buffoon, instead of the brooding whatever he was here.

BROOM Was the American character a British actor doing an accent? [ed.: Yes.]

ADAM I have no parting thought.

MRB BETH, at the beginning, in the first scene where she jumps out of her bed in the asylum, isn’t she wearing a really complicated nightgown, or whatever she’s wearing? Maybe I’m not remembering, but I feel like there were a million buttons down the back…

BETH I don’t remember that. At some point I remember she was wearing a nightgown where parts of it were satin and parts of it weren’t, and it was wrapped around her back in a weird way.

MRB Maybe that’s it. ‘Cause at the very beginning of the movie it’s not clear where she is, it just looks like a room in a house. Anyway, I just thought her hospital gown was overly coutured. But that’s the 40s. Okay, I’m done, you don’t have to include that part.

BETH Eh, why not.

MRB It’s valid.

BROOM Everything is valid.

Last lines in film:

— Are you trying to tell me she—
— I’m trying to tell you she will want to be with the one she loves, or the one she’s been happiest with, or the one she cannot do without, or the one she trusts…
— And who is that?
— It would hardly be fair of me to say.


I can’t find the radio broadcast of the 19th Academy Awards in a clean file by itself, but all two-and-a-half hours of it can be heard in this podcast (40 MB download), if you skip past the intro. Whereas I have previously recommended the entertainment value of listening to the ceremony, here I will warn that the presentation is rather drab and inflated and tedious. Interesting for period flavor, I suppose, but not a lot of fun. The postwar era has begun!

Writing awards begin at 1:06:12, presentation by Robert Montgomery. Best Original Screenplay is at 1:09:00–1:10:37. For the first time in a while, we have a speech! Though it’s not clear who’s making it. Presumably it’s either producer J. Arthur Rank, or director Compton Bennett. I’m going to guess it’s J. Arthur Rank, since he offhandedly praises his own movie in a way a British director would probably consider inappropriate:

I should explain that I’m not Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Box. [audience laughter] Unfortunately they’re back in England shivering in the cold, while we’re enjoying the California sunshine. However I do thank on their behalf the Academy for giving us this great honor, for our great little picture. I think Ann ought to be up here really as well; she’s down in the audience. [chuckles]

Perhaps more interesting, for our purposes, is the Academy’s explanation of the distinctions between their three confusing writing categories. Here is what Robert Montgomery says:

First, the best Original Motion Picture Story: this award covers only originals written for the screen, not previously published or produced in any other medium.

Next, the award for the best Original Screenplay: the writer or writers of the screenplay must also have been the sole author or authors of the original.

The next award is for the best written Screenplay, whether developed from published material or an original by some other writer or writers.

Got that?

Well, at least they tried.

October 2, 2014

Best Original Screenplay 1945: Marie-Louise


Winner in the category of WRITING (Original Screenplay) at the 18th Academy Awards, presented March 7, 1946 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

The other nominees were:
In Which We Serve — Noël Coward
The North Star — Lillian Hellman
Air Force — Dudley Nichols
What Next, Corporal Hargrove? — Harry Kurnitz

Opening of screenplay:

1. I n v a s i o n (Mittwoch, 12. Juni 1940)

Landstrasse in Frankreich


1. Gross

Vier Ziffern erscheinenMusik
klein und undeutlich.Die Musik des Vorspanns geht
Ziemlich rasch heben sieunmittelbar in den ersten
sich deutlicher vomKomplex über.
dunkeln Hintergrund ab,Ernstern Charakter, dem Rhythmus
kommen nach vorn undder folgenden Bildvorgänge
bilden jetzt gross,entsprechend.
die Bildfläche beinahe(durchgehend)
die Jahreszahl 1940.

Die Jahreszahl verschwindet,
indem sie sich nach vorn

In der dunkeln Bildfläche
wird jetzt ein schräg ge-
stelltes Autoschild (fran-
zösische Nummer) sichtbar.
Ueber das Schild ziehen

Kamera fährt zurück

Das Auto wird sichtbar.
Es steht schräg geneigt
am rechten Strassenrand.
Die Wände der Karosserie
und die Bereifung sind
von Kugeln durchlöchert.
Der Lichtkegel eines ab-
aber vorläufig noch nicht
sichtbaren Scheinwerfers
trifft den zerstörten Wagen.
Schatten von Menschen ziehen
darüber weg.

Kamera fährt zurück bis

My translation:

1. I n v a s i o n (Wednesday, June 12, 1940)

A country road in France

Fade in

1. Close-up

Four numbers appearMusic
small and indistinct.The music of the credits goes
Almost immediately, they standdirectly into the first
out more distinctlysequence.
from the dark background,More serious in character, in
come forward andaccordance with the rhythm of
now grow big,the following visual events.
almost filling the screen,(continuous)
the year 1940.

The year disappears,
moving forward
out of sight.

On the dark screen
an obliquely angled
license place (French
number) now becomes visible.
A shadow is cast
over the plate.

Camera pulls back.

The car becomes visible.
It stands at an angle
on the right side of the road.
The walls of the body
and the tires
are riddled with bullet-holes.
The cone of light from a
dimmed, but as yet
unseen headlight
falls on the destroyed car.
The shadows of people
are cast against it.

Camera pulls back to
Medium shot.

First lines in finished film, which begins differently (at least in the “Religious Film Association” copy we watched):

June 1940
The German armies approaching the Seine.
Rouen a field of battle.
The civil population in panic.

— Vous apporter beaucoup trop trop, Madame Fleury. Croyez-moi, dans deux ou trois jours vous serez de retour!
— Il est facile de parler comme ça. Le seul dans la vie, il ne va s’occuper de personne.

— You are bringing too too much, Madame Fleury. Believe me, in two or three days you will return!
— It’s easy to talk that way. One who is alone in life, he is not going to take care of anyone.

subtitled as:
— You’re taking too much, Mme. Fleury… Why, you’ll be back in a few days!
— You’ve only yourself to think of.

[We are joined by MRB courtesy of the technological marvels of the day]

ADAM Welcome to our little party.

MRB Thank you.

BROOM We four are the only people who have seen Marie-Louise.

ADAM That’s probably true, the only living people. Though Pierre could still be alive.

MRB Well, he’s not!

ADAM Yeah. That was sad. Though this movie was nothing more than a gesture, I found it very affecting. I cried several times.

BETH I didn’t cry, but I was moved the entire time, and completely engaged. It was very interesting to see how Switzerland was making movies in 1943, because it had nothing to with how Hollywood was making movies.

BROOM I’m not sure Switzerland made enough movies to have “a way” that Switzerland made movies.

BETH Well, whoever made this movie was not being influenced by the American system.

ADAM I think now we can all speak pretty authoritatively about 1940s Swiss filmmaking.

BROOM I can speak with the slightest authority, because in searching for this, I had to go down the byways of the internet that have to do with buying Swiss films from the 40s. And there are some, and they’re very obscure, and the affection for them is similarly obscure. There’s no bragging about them. The VHS copy of Marie-Louise that’s being sold in Switzerland is being sold by the institution that produced it, and their site makes no claims at all about the value. And that’s how this felt. It felt not unlike an American PSA-type film.

BETH It was more than that, but I know what you’re saying.

BROOM Yes, it was more than that, but it didn’t feel like some it was some other tradition that was artsier and higher.

MRB BETH just said 1943. This won in 1945. Was it made in 1943, that you know of?

BROOM I think it was released in 1944 in Europe and only in 1945 in the US, which is why it received a 1945 Oscar. But it was actually a 1944 movie, and maybe made the previous year.

MRB So it was made during the war, for sure.

BROOM Yes. I found a web page about the movie where there was a promotional press release from the time, in German, saying “Many people, since seeing the film, have wanted to know what happened to the little girl who played Marie-Louise.” Because the story of the movie was essentially true for the real actors involved. They were asking, “How’s she doing in France?”

ADAM She died.

BROOM Well, as of the time of that press release, she was okay, but that was probably only six months later. I don’t know what her life story is. I tried to look her up and couldn’t find anything. I’ll do more googling now that we’ve seen it. [ed: Still no trace of “Josiane Hegg” after 1945.]

ADAM Let’s talk about why it was composed so oddly. It didn’t have anything resembling a plot that I understood. Maybe it’s because I had too much wine, but by the end, I just didn’t understand what was happening.

BETH The last half-hour just went in another direction. I don’t know why! Like, why was that kid introduced? Why was the troublemaking boy part of the story?

BROOM That is a question.

MRB He was sort of comic relief, wasn’t he?

BETH Yeah, but only introduced at the very last minute. Script-wise, it felt weird to me.

ADAM At the time, I said that I thought Mr. Rüegg was adopting the boy so that he could forcibly dress him as a girl and send him back to France in place of Marie-Louise, but that didn’t happen!

BROOM It did seem like something like that might happen.

ADAM I successfully predicted that she was going to drop the plate, so I was feeling confident.

MRB Yeah, I heard that coming too.

BROOM The way I understood it while watching was that this was a movie about a current issue, and we as Swiss audience members were supposed to feel good about Switzerland’s role. And once that had been addressed in a realistic and moving way, they had to wrap up the movie somehow, even though the issue is still an open question. This program involves sending people back into war zones, but the movie had to have a happy ending because it’s positive, so the arrival of that kid felt like: “We need a little bit of a distraction from this reality. We’re going to pull back a bit from here out. So here’s this kid…”

BETH Here’s a character!

BROOM “You know how French people are! Oh ho ho! Well, even the little boys are that way! A little boy like this will be fine, if we send him back on a train. So too will everyone else.”

BETH “I’m sorry I broke your central heating system.”

MRB And it also gave the grandfather — I know that’s not what he was…

BROOM Yeah, Geppetto.

MRB … Mr. Rüegg. It gave him sort of a consolation prize for giving up Marie-Louise. Though I guess André was leaving too.

ADAM Yeah, they sent him back after three days.

BROOM I don’t understand why he needed a consolation prize. They just sent her up to the chalet to, like, calm down.

MRB I meant for losing her.

BROOM But that’s not how it worked out. I see. Yes.

ADAM What do you mean? He gets to keep the beautiful model of her house, which was demolished.

MRB Oh yeah, she can’t take that with her. Did anyone get the Wizard of Oz vibe that I got twice?

BROOM I got a vague Wizard of Oz vibe, yeah.

MRB At the beginning, when all the adults are out, and she gets out of bed, and bombs are falling, and she’s alone in that place… I didn’t know what was going to happen, so I thought, “All the adults are going to be killed and she’s going to be left alone.” Which felt like The Wizard of Oz. And then when she’s on the roof hanging clothes, she’s essentially saying “Auntie Em, Auntie Em!” when she’s pounding on that door. That felt Wizard of Oz-like. That’s my film study.

BROOM I thought it at the end, when she was walking down the train tracks. She looked sort of like Dorothy going toward that backdrop. But with a real landscape. I thought that tracking shot was very pretty.

ADAM I was thinking about War and Peace the whole time, because I’m reading it. The part that I’m in — spoiler alert: Napoleon conquers Moscow and the city is burning. And it’s sort of like Gone With the Wind where Atlanta’s burning, but with really horrible depictions of what it’s like to be a refugee and have your city burning. And I don’t know what’s going to happen, yet, so it feels like it’s happening in real time. I was thinking about that at the beginning. This really was a graphic and moving depiction of what it would be like to be in a city that was being bombed. And it was awful.

MRB It was.

BETH It was. It felt like vérité, like it was a documentary.

BROOM I was moved in part because it wasn’t a documentary, it was a movie that had been filmed near the real time and place. This movie itself was not particularly slick, but they just needed to point it at those buildings, because it was really 1943. All the help they wanted to give my imagination was there in those settings. And it was genuinely well staged. At the beginning when she looks out the window and the curtains suddenly burst inward with the blast, I felt like it was both a real detail and a movie scare for a kid. It got me contemplating the fact that war actually scares actual little kids who are stuck in it. I saw a comment from someone online who had seen it when they were a kid in the 40s, who said that it really made an impression on them because it was the first time they had realized that children could be harmed by war. [ed: this is the reader review at the New York Times page as linked below]

ADAM I thought that the incomplete subtitles were actually effective, because it kind of made me feel what it would be like to be a refugee, where you don’t really understand what’s happening.

BROOM And like a child. A lot of the movie was shot from her point of view, and she didn’t know what they were saying.

MRB But that wasn’t intentional on the part of the person who provided the subtitles.

BETH No, but it did add to it.

MRB We’re evaluating this as Best Screenplay, and I felt like we only got about fifty percent of the screenplay. I’m not sure that was the best ratio.

ADAM There were no great lines. Well, maybe “I’m sorry I destroyed your central heating system.” And “Your house is so modern — do you have a ping-pong table?” was a pretty good line.

BROOM And I liked the father’s speech about “They said they were going to ask me afterward… but for me, afterward is too late.”

ADAM “Discussion unnecessary.”

BETH I laughed at that.

MRB “The president has nothing further to communicate.”

ADAM That’s the only Wilson joke anyone has made in the last 40 years.

BROOM From what we were able to pick up of it, I thought the screenplay had a nice delicate touch. The situations he set up were nicely balanced. Like the whole arrival, where the women in the household say “oh, we’ll eventually tell dad, it’ll be fine,” and we feel uncomfortable on Marie-Louise’s behalf because she’s completely helpless and should not be made the pawn of this. And then the ball rolls down the stairs… I felt just the right kind of uncomfortable through all that. It puts you in the child’s moral position.

ADAM Yeah. It did emphasize her total helplessness. The dad didn’t have to turn out to be this avuncular Swiss factory owner; he could have been a monster. This could have been any kind of movie. It could have been The Secret Garden. You know, the beginning. But in fact it was The Secret Garden: the middle and end.

BROOM That’s what I thought was effective. It ultimately was… maybe not a PSA but an issue movie — “We’re not going to push you too hard, but think about this issue. Come up and shake its hand” — but it had the spirit of children’s literature. I also thought of The Secret Garden. And some other book; I forget what.

MRB Heidi.

ADAM Is Heidi a refugee? Oh, I see, she’s Swiss.

MRB I don’t remember what her problem is, but she has a grumpy grandfather who she softens by her sweet lovableness.

ADAM This past weekend, my sister-in-law in Minneapolis was talking about a Somali refugee she had sponsored, and my nephew was like “What’s a refugee?” And she said, “Well, it’s someone who, when their country is in a terrible war and they can’t stay, they go to another country.” And he wanted to know what would happen if America got attacked. She said, “Well, we’re very powerful, so that’s unlikely to happen.” He didn’t really press the point, fortunately.

BROOM Canada is familiar to him, right? They must go to Canada sometimes.

ADAM They’ve been to Prince Edward Island. But I don’t know that he has any familiarity with what it’s like to be a refugee.

BROOM Well, neither do I, but I got some idea out of this movie.

ADAM I didn’t really have a point there. But it was a striking conversation. Luckily he forgot about it, so we didn’t have to follow it up.

BROOM I thought it was interesting to see any amount of Swiss national self-image, because that’s not something I’ve been exposed to before.

ADAM It was sort of like Canadian self-image: a kind of smug, quiet self-righteousness.

BROOM That’s not what I got at all! Are you joking?

ADAM No, I’m not.

BETH I got a little of that. I know what you’re talking about.

BROOM To me it was more like Soviet-style propaganda, when all the guys in the loom factory spontaneously start saying “Well, I think we should work longer hours to save the children!” “Well, I do too!” “I don’t know whether this will work, but we’ll try!” And then we see a montage of the looms going vroom vroom vroom!

BETH Everyone was like, “Fifteen minutes? Okay!”

MRB I was so touched by the fifteen minutes. I thought, “I would work fifteen more minutes to help something!”

BETH That’s what I thought too: “I’m happy to devote fifteen minutes for these kids!”

MRB I know! I thought it was great. What’s fifteen minutes?

BROOM So that’s Swiss patriotism: that sequence, and then a montage of the looms going, with stirring music.

BETH I really enjoyed watching those looms.

ADAM But there was a kind of smugness in “oh, there’s no airplanes here, of course.” Why didn’t Hitler invade Switzerland?

BROOM I don’t know.

ADAM Because it wasn’t worth it?

MRB Because they’re neutral! I always wondered how Switzerland gets away with saying “nope, we’re neutral.”

ADAM Well, right. [ADAM later looks it up] Anyway, after the technicolor triumphalism of Wilson, to go back into this flickering magic-lantern world felt like it suited the content.

BROOM Yes. I think for many movies, this kind of degraded image would have been an insufficient way to watch it, but in this case I felt like it was appropriate that I was imagining myself watching this in the church basement. Or rather the basement of The Religious Film Association.

ADAM I couldn’t help comparing this movie in my mind to… what was it? 2007’s Stalingrad. Remember? It was like a big-budget romantic war picture set in the battle of Stalingrad. Anyway, it was too high-budget. See it sometime; we can talk about it.

BROOM That really exists? Are you sure you’re not thinking of Australia?

ADAM It’s like that! It’s actually very much like that. I was going to say it was like Pearl Harbor. It’s that same kind of brilliantly overdone extravagant spectacle. But this flickering dream-world bombing was more effective, for having the curtain half-drawn on your understanding.

BROOM In the original print, I’m sure one could have seen more in those scenes. MRB, at the end of the opening scene, could you tell what it was that made her gasp when she looked down at the cart?


BROOM We couldn’t tell either. [ed: subsequent email from MRB: “I’m pretty sure we can see a body in a coat lying on the ground next to the cart. It is likely the unidentified neighbor woman who was impatient for the cart to come. It looks like the man from that opening scene is investigating and bending over her body.”]

MRB I didn’t really understand what was happening there. They were going to try to leave Rouen right then in a cart?

BROOM In the original screenplay, it doesn’t begin with that scene at all, it begins with a scene of horrors on the road as the refugees are trudging along. The first image is a car riddled with bullets at the side of the road.

ADAM [having looked it up] So… it’s not called Stalingrad, but I’m thinking of 2001’s Enemy at the Gates, with Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, and Rachel Weisz.


BROOM That’s not called Stalingrad.

ADAM But it’s set in the battle of Stalingrad and has vivid ultra-Technicolor depictions of the battle of Stalingrad.

BETH That movie wasn’t a total failure.

ADAM I didn’t say it was a total failure.

BROOM But Stalingrad (2007) must have totally tanked!

ADAM Whatever. Both those years and those titles sort of blend together in my mind.

BROOM So: Richard Schweizer, winner for Best Original Screenplay. What do we think the Academy was thinking?

MRB How did it even come to their attention to consider it?

ADAM It was probably the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon of its day.

MRB Maybe they were just feeling very paternal toward Europe.

ADAM Charitable, yeah.

BROOM I looked up the guys whose names are on the title screen as the American distributors. One or both have them must have gone to Europe and seen a lot of movies, and from out of what they saw, they picked this. They thought Americans would like something about this movie in particular.

ADAM And we did.

BROOM Yes, they must have gotten it right. Do you think Americans felt proud of themselves for sampling something European?


ADAM I think we felt proud of ourselves for our generous and paternalistic role in the war, and this was flattering to that.

MRB Was it? How did this flatter America?

BROOM I think this flattered that same attitude, but from the Swiss point of view.

ADAM Yeah, but it was basically our point of view. To say, “Look at all we’re doing for these wretches.”

BROOM It wasn’t about what we, Americans, were doing; it was about what “we,” the psyche of the audience, are doing. What we, good people, are doing for them, helpless people.

ADAM It wasn’t literally about America, but it was about goodwill toward the unfortunate, which is what we pride ourselves in.

BROOM Being good. Being nice. “If you saw this little girl, would you want to give her the best dollhouse in the world? I should hope so! Would you want to make her laugh?” I liked that the movie was summed up by him saying “My teacher used to pull my ear like this!” and when she doesn’t laugh at that, he’s horrified. “My god, war is terrible!”

ADAM To pick another recent analogy: what did you think of Life is Beautiful? And did you think that this had any of those defects?

BROOM That was a very strange phenomenon.

BETH Didn’t see it.

[the movie is summarized for her]

ADAM This movie isn’t really like that, because it’s not as cynically self-involved. But is there anything problematic about putting this wartime experience between the cottonballs of her beautiful dollhouse, and so on? I mean, her brother dies, so that’s pretty sad.

BROOM I think we’re shown real harshness of the beginning, where they tell us that bombs really do fall on people and blow them up, and then later when it happens to her brother, where they show us…

ADAM His tiny coffin.

BROOM With his little voice coming from inside: “I was born in February 1937…” That was pretty sad stuff. And the mother looking destroyed. They also showed his cot smashed to smithereens, before they showed the funeral. That’s all pretty unvarnished. So they earned the right to focus on comfort: “You’re happy to stay in this nice bed, aren’t you? Yes! It is nice of us.”

ADAM Then why is she so happy to go back at the end, after her nervous breakdown?

MRB She did miss her mother!

BETH Yeah, I think it was a reality check for her to be put in this chalet, and realize, oh, she doesn’t really want to live here.

BROOM In the most beautiful place in the world.

BETH Right, she wanted to live with her family.

ADAM … at the chalet.

BROOM Maybe that was part of the point of having the naughty kid take her bowl: being a refugee means living with random weirdos.

MRB … So it’s better to go back to the bombing?

BROOM Well, one wants to be with one’s own family.

MRB Those kids weren’t being rescued; they were just getting a respite from their terror. And it was only a three-month respite, and they were always going to go back. It was like, “these kids are too stressed out and they just need a break.”

ADAM That’s such a strange idea!

BROOM It is strange that they weren’t ready to say, “Since all of Europe is banking on this war ending sometime, we’ll just keep these kids safe until then.” I mean, if they had known in advance that the war was going to end in 1945, I’m sure they would have said that. But it still suggests this strange attitude of, “The best we can offer you is three months! After all, you wouldn’t want to be away from the bombing for more than three months. Your mom needs you.”

MRB “You’d miss it.”

BROOM At the end of the movie, BETH and ADAM both said “I really thought we were going to see the reunion with the mom at the end.” There was something strange about Madame Fleury not reappearing after her son’s funeral. IMDB says this movie is 103 minutes long, whereas the version we just watched is 90 minutes long. But so is the VHS being sold by Praesens in Switzerland. So I’m not sure if there ever was a 103 minute movie or what.

MRB After I watched it the first time several days ago, I googled something, I can’t remember where, and it said that you could tell that parts of it had been chopped up. I don’t know what parts they meant.

ADAM The music suddenly dies off in a couple places.

BROOM The soundtrack was in bad shape throughout. Like I said, I expected from the screenplay that the first image was going to be a bullet-ridden car, and it’s not. But then again, the title music gets prematurely cut off by a splice, and then the first scene starts. So there may well have been some scene at the beginning that was deemed unpalatable for the international audience. Or possibly just unpalatable for distribution by the Religious Film Association. I don’t think that title screen is what the Academy voters saw. I think the Religious Film Association bought a copy for their own use, and then stuck their own titles on it, and maybe made their own edits. And that’s the copy that happened to get transferred to this bootleg disc. That’s what I suspect. So it’s hard to know what we’ve seen here. Anyway, it was a sweet movie.

ADAM Yeah, it was deeply affecting.

MRB I agree.

ADAM But I would not recommend it.

BETH I think I would recommend it if it were available in a better copy. I’m happy to have seen it.

BROOM It was like something you’d get shown in school, and for that it was excellent.

MRB Right. Someone said earlier that this is what they were making in Europe while Hollywood was making something else… How did they know to be so natural in front of the camera, when in the US nobody thought that was a good idea at the time?

BROOM I think Europeans are more relaxed.

MRB Or maybe Hollywood thought they were more advanced because they knew how to do schtick, where Europe was just being like people.

BETH It reminded me of a movie called Rome, Open City, which was shot right after Rome had been bombed.

BROOM You’ve heard of that.

MRB I don’t think I have.

BROOM 1945. It was Rossellini’s big break-out movie.

BETH So it’s after this. That’s interesting. I thought this had been influenced by it a little bit, but maybe the opposite is true. Anyway, I think there’s just a more natural attitude about everything. It seemed like the shots were more relaxed, and I liked that. “This is just gonna play out the way it plays out.” I liked that the music was not intrusive in most of the movie. There wasn’t a need to fill time with music.

BROOM I thought about that same stuff. At one point I thought something like: “Europeans are better at knowing what they’re doing and just doing it. And sometimes that can feel simplistic, but it’s also wholesome. This is a scene where X happens, and that’s exactly what’s happening. And if your mind starts looking around the edges of it, you might be able see the seams, that it isn’t a whole world. Whereas Americans, especially in this era of Hollywood, if you think carefully about their movies, you’ll reach the conclusion that they don’t actually know what they’re doing, or why, that it’s all fundamentally just distraction, but the distraction is effective, so you’re not as inclined to notice superficial thinness.”

BETH I thought a similar thing. My thought was: “Hollywood is manipulating in a particular way, and knows it; and Europe is manipulating the audience in an entirely different way, that to me feels like it doesn’t know it.” But they also knew it.

MRB I think “manipulating” is the word. Someone who’s sad is “manipulating” you to feel sympathetic, but that’s not called “manipulation,” it’s just feeling; that’s just called “somebody who’s sad.” It seems like in the US, in Hollywood films, they would calculate how to make you feel a certain way, but here it’s just like, “these humans feel this way, and you’re going to feel, in reaction, a human way.”

BROOM I thought about it in the scene where the father plays Hot and Cold with her. This game was played with me as a child. “Oh, you’re freezing now! Brrr! North pole!” And it always had a little European tinge to it. This is the thing in the storyline that finally makes her laugh, and it’s a very pre-structured thing. There was no joke that he made that surprised her. He just played the Hot and Cold game. He took off his coat when she got “warm,” but, you know, you can’t picture David O. Selznick saying “Ah-ha! And when it gets hot, he’ll take off his coat! That’ll get ’em!” It was just a ritual associated with happiness, and they did it. That was within the scene, and it was also the premise of putting the scene in a movie. I thought an American movie wouldn’t take that kind of time, because of anxiety about everything that scene doesn’t address. The American movie would feel the need to lacquer it somehow so that you wouldn’t be able to notice its limitations. Whereas here the limitations were just up front. “This is what there is. This is the movie we made.” I enjoy that; it’s very soothing. The crackle the whole time was also very soothing.

MRB Of the film?


MRB I agree — after the feeling of “this is all awful for kids,” when the bombs are coming down and she’s scared and running through the street with her little brother — then when she gets to Switzerland, and everybody is so nice, it’s just so comforting! Because we’re modern Americans, because of what we’re used to seeing in films: when they were distributing the kids out for the families, weren’t you waiting for some awful family to come?

BETH Yeah!

MRB But no! Everyone is kind and cheerful. “Bonjour monsieur!”

BROOM Well, what happens is: “Oh no, that family’s son got the measles, so what’s going to happen to you?”

MRB “You’re going to go home with this beautiful lady!”

BROOM Right, of course, but that was the section of the film that I found the most effective, because the level of threat was just right. “Don’t come downstairs ’til we tell you!” “Oh, your family isn’t here, so sit in that chair over there!” She’s scared of everything, but it’s all this safe, mild stuff. And that’s a real childhood feeling. We have this big traumatic premise, and then we come way down to the scale of “Is the nice lady going to be nice this way or that way?” and it still feels uncertain.

ADAM I was afraid she was going to get thrown out by the dad, or something. I was worried he was going to be a bad dude.

BROOM Exactly. We’re able to be afraid about all these things, while actually what’s happening is a repeated soothing message: “No, no, you’re in Switzerland now.”

MRB Yeah: “You’re safe, you’re safe.”

BROOM And you can call that smug if you want, but that’s also what actual comfort feels like. Being around smug people.

MRB It was like taking your dolls — I’m not thinking of any actual children that I might have had, just my dolls! — you put your doll in the bed and you cover it and you say, “Now you’re safe and warm.” And when she comes the first night, they put her in that lovely bed, and they say, “Here’s some milk, and here’s how you turn on the light, and you can sleep as late as you want.” It was the best possible thing. “And this lady will pray with you.” It was all very nice.

BROOM “We’re Protestants but it’s okay for you to be here.”

MRB “Our servant will pray with you.”

BROOM Yes, that’s right. “We keep one Catholic.”

MRB I have a little anecdote, the thing it reminded me of in my own family. My brother was born in Israel before it was Israel, and that was where he spent his first two years. This was during the 1948 war. And he was a little kid, and they would put him on the balcony, and when the planes would fly over they would grab him and run down to the cellar, the bomb shelter. Because they were getting bombed. And the story about my brother is that when the war was over — I forget when it was, actually — but he’s in the playpen, and he hears an airplane in the distance, and he puts his arms up to be whisked away. And some cousin of mine says — in Hebrew, which I can’t reproduce — “No, no, Gareleh! It’s ours, it’s ours!” Like, “those are our planes.”

BROOM Just like in this movie.

BETH That’s a good anecdote.

BROOM That’s very closely related to what happens in this movie.

MRB Yes, it is; that’s what I thought.

BROOM Did you identify with Marie-Louise?

MRB No. I didn’t live through it.

BROOM I know you didn’t live through the war, but did you have those dresses?

MRB Oh, the dresses. No. “I look like a little Swiss girl.” She had a very Anne Frank look, didn’t she?

BETH She really did.

[we read the New York Times review]

BROOM On point, Bosley.

ADAM I basically agree with that.

BROOM He said that it was “bluntly told in places,” and that was something I wanted to say. Some of the photography was really nice and attractive and had good ideas in it — I imagine that more of it would have been if we could see it better — and then some of it just wasn’t. That’s why it reminded me of an educational film. Some parts felt very much merely functional.

ADAM Which parts?

BROOM I don’t remember a specific moment; I just remember having the thought “Well, this shot looks good,” after having been through a period of very pedestrian, Voyage of the Mimi stuff. But I guess that’s just sort of a relaxed quality. As is the case in those school films.

MRB “Quiet integrity.” Was the phrase in the review.

ADAM Who was bombing Rouen? Probably we were. Or the English. Oh well. I didn’t know that there was widespread bombing in France.

BETH Maybe that’s because we were the ones doing it.

BROOM I know from Saving Private Ryan that they pass through towns that had been bombed to pieces. But I didn’t think about who did it.

ADAM I was in a Wikipedia rabbit hole a few weeks ago where I was reading about every firebombing in World War II, and… the people in this movie got off pretty easy.

BROOM Maybe in the dark shots there were horribly mutilated people, and we just couldn’t see it because of the contrast.

ADAM We can talk about it later. Not on camera.

Last line in film:

— Vive la Suisse! Vive la Suisse! Vive la Suisse!…
[Soyez les bienvenus]


Complete broadcast of the 18th Academy Awards is available here (download only, 19 Mb). Writing awards begin at 32:00, presentation by Bette Davis. First she does a reading from the work of John Cowper Powys, backed by dreamy music. You don’t get that at the Oscars these days! Actual announcement and polite applause is at 36:32. “He won’t be here? Is he in Switzerland? Well, our congratulations to Mr. Schweizer.”

This moment happens to be included as one of the selections at the official Oscars site (scroll down, second audio clip). The only film I can find from the evening is the set of restaged presentations found on that page. (A writing award is included, for once.)

September 19, 2014

Best Original Screenplay 1944: Wilson


Winner in the category of WRITING (Original Screenplay) at the 17th Academy Awards, presented March 5, 1945 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

The other nominees were:
Hail the Conquering Hero — Preston Sturges
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek — Preston Sturges
Two Girls and a Sailor — Richard Connell, Gladys Lehman
Wing and a Prayer — Jerome Cady

[Note: the following excerpt is not from the shooting script (which is not accessible) but from the screenplay as edited and reformatted in Best Film Plays 1943—1944.]


The opening title fades in, reading:



(over narrative titles)
Of thee I sing —
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride —

This dissolves to another title:



From every mountain side
Let freedom ring.

This fades out and another title fades in, reading:


And this dissolves to a long view of the PRINCETON CAMPUS.

We see the Princeton chimes and then the campus — with young men walking about and lounging on the lawn.

This scene cuts to a BUILDING on the campus, with a boy riding on a bicycle up the walk toward it.

Then we see PROSPECT AVENUE — the street of the undergraduate clubs, as carriages drive along the street and people walk along the sidewalk.

This dissolves to the PRINCETON FOOTBALL FIELD. The Princeton band, in black and gold uniforms, is marching out on the field, playing “Crash Through that Line of Blue.” The band leader marches out in front, twirling his baton, stepping high.

This cuts to the ROOTING SECTION: The Princeton students are cheering wildly. Many of them wear sweaters and the funny little hats then common to college students.

The YALE TUNNEL, as seen from above: The Yale team comes through the tunnel and runs out on the field. Off-scene we hear the strains of a band playing “Boola-Boola,” and wild cheering.

Then opposite the ENTRANCE TUNNEL, the Princeton team runs out on the field. Off-scene the cheering becomes even louder and “Crash Through that Line of Blue” dominates the music.

We see the PRINCETON STANDS, with a group of Princeton students on their feet, waving Princeton pennants and cheering wildly. The view moves over to a smaller group including WOODROW WILSON, President of Princeton, his wife, ELLEN, and his three daughters, MARGARET, JESSIE and NELL, and PROFESSOR HOLMES. Wilson and Holmes carry canes with Princeton pennants on them. Wilson and the girls are on their feet, and he is alive with interest in what is going on below.


Now if coach only has sense
enough to put Felton in at
left half!


Is Felton good, Father?


(giving her an incredulous
Good? My dear Nell, Felton
is the greatest broken field
runner since Willie Heston
of Michigan!



[First lines in finished film are essentially as above.]

Roundtable fiasco!

Correspondents “PHIL” and “MRB” had both taken the time to watch the film and were expected to join… but PHIL pulled out at the last minute because he had not received confirmation of the schedule, and MRB became unavailable only moments before the discussion began because she had not been kept apprised of the late start. BROOM, as the responsible party, then fell into a sort of guilt-coma, leaving BETH and ADAM to fend for themselves as seen below.

Those other parties are now invited — nay, encouraged — to contribute their reactions to Wilson in the comments section at the bottom.]

BETH I found it mesmerizing in an unexpected way, because of the Technicolor and the arm’s-length view. Everything felt sort of “over there.” We read that someone said it was like one of those fold-out postcards for tourists. It was like that.

ADAM At first I thought that it was a very effective piece of propaganda, because a handful of beautiful setpieces can be convincing and engaging… but then it was nothing but beautiful setpieces. It just seemed like it fizzled out. Particularly as the stakes got higher.

BETH It never had any fizzle, though.

ADAM But at first it felt like The Great McGinty, you know. I was like, “all right, I’m familiar with these setpieces.” It felt like it was building to something that was going to be exciting. But then it was just more stateliness and glossy speeches. And then we started to giggle at it, halfway through, and it became sort of unintentionally campy.

BETH I think that his family was always campy. His wife and daughters had nothing to say.

ADAM “Oh father, the Federal Reserve bill has been passed!”

BETH “You’ve always been interested in politics, dear!”

ADAM That’s not a real line from the movie. I mean, Beth’s is; mine was not. I still sort of enjoyed watching the whole thing. He did look very much like Woodrow Wilson, and they looked very much like what the interiors of the White House probably looked like.

BETH I think that a lot of care was put into making everything look accurate and feel like 1918, or 1916. So, I was sort of distracted by his second wife’s sexiness and how all of her costumes were…

ADAM Plunging?

BETH … yeah, and really stylish. It’s almost like the director or someone had a crush on that actress. I couldn’t stop looking at her.

ADAM It was weird when he was hitting on her. It felt like your dad hitting on his secretary.

BETH “I would like you to be my wife.”

ADAM “Do you have any reaction to that?”

BETH “Well, I think I have to say no.”

ADAM “But you’re the only person who can help America through this crisis. By sleeping with the President.” Right: because it was so stately, any time any actual human qualities touched their toe to it, it felt weird. What it would be like to see George and Martha Washington having sex, or having a domestic argument?

BETH After he had his stroke and she was incredibly cheery, I was like, “Maybe she’s just glad that she doesn’t have to have sex with him anymore.” I didn’t actually believe any of the relationships in it.

ADAM You didn’t really believe that he loved his first wife? Or that he really loved the League of Nations?

BETH I believe he loved the League of Nations. I believe the actual man Woodrow Wilson loved his first wife. But I didn’t believe this. That actress, whoever was playing his first wife, was not an actress. She just couldn’t really emote.

ADAM It was like watching the Hall of Presidents at Disneyland.

BETH It was a lot like that.

ADAM I did like the scene where the soldiers don’t think that she’s the First Lady, and then it’s like, “Oh, but the President is right here!” Kinda like the scene in The American President where she doesn’t believe that the President has asked her out on a date and she hangs up, and he’s like “why don’t you call back the White House switchboard,” and she does, and then she’s super-stressed. Do you remember this scene?

BETH I don’t.

ADAM I really love that movie. Basically it has all the pleasures of this movie, which is to say: stately White House interiors. But also an amusing romantic comedy inside it.

BETH And probably less static direction. I really had a problem with the direction in this.

ADAM Okay, so the reason The American President works is because it is a romantic comedy although it’s set at the White House, and it follows the genre conventions of a romantic comedy. So are there genre conventions of a biographical picture?

BETH Yeah, aren’t there? I don’t know that this followed them, but it’s like: humble beginnings; then fortuitous rise; challenges faced in pursuit of something great; and then success or failure.

ADAM I guess this had that, but it was just so tepid, and tepidly committed to the emotion of everything it was talking about, that it didn’t really feel like it was going anywhere.

BETH And Wilson just seemed non-charismatic. I don’t know how accurate that was — my sense is that it probably was fairly accurate.

ADAM He thought up the whole League of Nations thing two-thirds of the way in. Suddenly we’re supposed to care about this? That’s why Lincoln is a much more effective version of this same kind of movie. Because you don’t have to watch, like, “Why, Mr. Lincoln, perhaps you should run for president!”

BETH It is like The American President, because Wilson didn’t necessarily want to be a president, so…

ADAM I think you’re thinking of Dave.

BETH I am thinking of Dave! This has come up before.

ADAM I liked both of those movie very much as a child.

BETH Anyway, I think that Wilson didn’t have passion in the way that, at least in a movie, we expect politicians to have.

ADAM I don’t mean to talk too much about The American President, but recall that he learns passion from his wife, which sort of melds the political plot and the romance plot. Whereas here they just don’t have anything to do with each other. “Oh, wait, Germany’s sinking American ships!”

BETH “Your wife is dead!”

ADAM Suddenly we have to think about his new wife, and war with Germany, and it doesn’t really have anything to do with what we were thinking about in the first half.

BETH Yeah, structurally… BROOM said during the movie that it felt like the World Book Encyclopedia article on Woodrow Wilson, and that seems right. There’s no dramatic arc to it, it’s just stuff.

ADAM I guess the obvious comparison is not The American President or Dave, seductive as those comparisons are, but Princess O’Rourke, which happened last year. It has the stateliness of the White House without really anything to it. And maybe that’s just a World War II thing, it’s just national symbolism that doesn’t have any content to it.

BETH Like, comfort in grand spaces?

ADAM Yeah, I guess. Grown-ups at home doing grown-uppy things in the White House, and everything’s all right. It has that same almost identical thinness to it. And sort of unwatchable boringness to it. Which can’t have been accidental, that both of these movies were honored in back-to-back years.

BETH Yeah. So the script is what we’re supposed to be thinking about. I was distracted by the direction, but…

ADAM The script was super boring.

BETH It was really boring.

ADAM Yes. The last words that BROOM is going to put on the blog were “The President has no further communications. Good day, gentlemen.”

BETH Yeah, it’s not like there were any really good lines. On a micro-level it wasn’t good either. There just wasn’t a lot to be excited about.

ADAM So what was your favorite thing about it, besides Edith’s dresses?

BETH The real footage.

ADAM The newsreel footage.

BETH What was your favorite thing?

ADAM That he looked a lot like Woodrow Wilson! I thought that was well cast. And I’ll bet Woodrow Wilson did smile grimly at musicals, like that, and was sort of an awkward dude who sang around the piano.

BETH And danced with his daughter in the parlor.

ADAM And was probably really rude to Henry Cabot Lodge even though it was counterproductive. It feels like everything was probably literally true. It just has the wanness of, like, us trying to read back the scripts of our own words. It just didn’t feel animated with anything.

BETH Well… as far as the others go, we could just have this discussion again later.

ADAM We should read the review now though.

[the New York Times review is read]

ADAM Well. That suggests that nobody could really see this clearly, because it was the middle of World War II. I don’t blame them.

BETH So it cost 4 million dollars to make, and it only grossed 2 million dollars. Which makes it a pretty big failure.

BROOM It was a terrible, terrible failure. Zanuck said nobody was ever to speak of it in his presence.

ADAM Is that true? But it won five Oscars!

BROOM I think that might show that the Oscars are rigged. I mean, not rigged, but…

ADAM Rigged in favor of Darryl Zanuck? That’s probably true.

Last line in film:

— The president has nothing further to communicate. Good day, sir.
[Long may our land be bright / With freedom’s holy light / Protect us by Thy might / Great God our King.]


The complete radio broadcast of the 17th Academy Awards. The presentation of the writing awards starts at 26:56, beginning with some jokes from Bob Hope and then a comic bit of film on “the inside workings of the writing racket” produced for the occasion. The announcement of Lamar Trotti receives warm applause, as do all the Wilson awards of the evening. Trotti says nothing into the mic while onstage. It seems that the organizers specifically requested no speeches, probably for the sake of the broadcast; the few recipients to speak all mention how they’ve been asked not to.

Darryl Zanuck receives the Thalberg award. His speech simply consists of thanking his collaborators on his projects of the year, which includes Henry King and Lamar Trotti for Wilson.

The only film I can find is the quickie newsreel of restaged presentations seen at the official Oscars site.

Remember: comment below, Wilson fans!

August 10, 2014

Best Original Screenplay 1943: Princess O’Rourke


Winner in the category of WRITING (Original Screenplay) at the 16th Academy Awards, presented March 2, 1944 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

The other nominees were:
In Which We Serve — Noël Coward
The North Star — Lillian Hellman
Air Force — Dudley Nichols
So Proudly We Hail! — Allan Scott



Count to three and



Mid-day traffic, noise.



This is the Private Entrance to the Tower Apartments, on the street level, and not much bigger than the entrance to a town house. A trim delivery truck pulls up to the curb, a boy jumping out even before the car comes to a stop. He has a hat box in his hand. He enters the hotel.


This is only the size of a large sitting room. There is one elevator, its attendant waiting at the open door. A big young man, wearing a felt hat, is seated in one of the chairs reading a newspaper. Our delivery boy crosses to the elevator.


Miss Williams’ apartment.

He steps into the elevator. The elevator boy looks in the direction of the big young man with the felt hat.


(repeating a little too loudly)
Miss Williams?




He looks toward the elevator and gets up, crossing to it, and entering.

[First lines in finished film are exactly as above.]

[For today’s discussion, our panel was privileged to be joined by esteemed colleague “Phil” via live satellite feed. Our correspondent had watched the film earlier the same day.]

BROOM Phil, you weren’t here to experience the group dynamic, but the consensus was, after only a few minutes, that this was a very awkward dud. Did you feel that way?

PHIL I did.

BROOM Okay. We were surprised.

PHIL It was a five-minute movie stretched into ninety minutes.

BROOM That’s even a little more elegant than what I thought, which was that it was just very confused. It tried to press a lot of different buttons that didn’t have anything to do with each other.

ADAM There were a lot of details that got shoehorned in. I sort of understood where the whole plot was going, but nobody seemed very committed to it. There were all these extraneous details that caught my attention instead of anything related to the plot. Like Fala. Why was Fala in it so much?

BETH Because he was cute.

BROOM I think that was part of the spirit of pandering that ran through the whole thing. It was for the audience to go “It’s the president’s dog! Oh ho ho it’s so funny that he’s in a movie!” And that’s it. I don’t think there was more sense to it than that.

ADAM Well, what was with the sleeping pills?

BROOM Yes, Phil, any thoughts about the roofie plotline? That the whole thing was based on her being given too many sleeping pills and him being so gentlemanly as not to rape her?

PHIL That was so ridiculous. I felt that it didn’t know what it wanted to be. Was it a true love story or was it a comedy?

BROOM I thought it was clearly trying to be a comedy; it just didn’t have any actual jokes up its sleeve.

ADAM Part of the problem is that Olivia de Havilland is probably the least funny actress.

PHIL I agree, absolutely! She’s not funny!

BROOM She was terrible.

ADAM So all the jokes just sort of hung there.

BROOM In the very first scene, when she says “cheep cheep” to show that she identifies with the bird, it just felt embarrassing.

PHIL I agree with that too.

BROOM I thought, “She shouldn’t have been made to do this! Because she clearly doesn’t know how to deliver a line like that!” Or do anything else. She just kind of looked around. She didn’t even look angelically pretty, either. She just kind of was present, looking around, for the whole movie.

PHIL But here’s something very good: she’s still living.

BROOM That’s right. Here’s to her.

PHIL I mean congratulations. I was trying to figure it out: 1943, so that’s 57 plus 14 is 71 years since she made that.

BROOM And she must have been in her 20s.

BETH Yeah, I think she’s 95 or 96. [ed.: 98.]


BROOM Her life I’m all for.

PHIL Was the woman who played the other guy’s wife Donna Reed?

BROOM Jane Wyman.

ADAM That was Mrs. Ronald Reagan. She didn’t live in the White House.

BROOM That’s right, she didn’t make it all the way to the White House. Her character didn’t either. So that last section was the most thematically fleshed-out, to my mind. He’s just a schlub named O’Rourke that she’s going to marry — he’s not actually a schlub, but he’s “just an American,” “a normal guy,” “he’s no royalty!” — and then he has to leave his life behind to marry her, and that’s the conflict. And at the end they sort of resolve it in his favor. But before that, he has to say goodbye to his friends and they leave forlorn, and we don’t see them again. And whatever the political message of that conflict was supposed to be, the stuff like “hold it right there, I’ll never renounce my American citizenship” — the patriotism of it was so half-assed.

PHIL What about the motivations of Charles Coburn, the uncle? At one point he’s being really nice to her and saying, “You know, you should really marry a commoner,” and then the next thing, he’s treating her like…

BETH A child.

BROOM It was just one cliche after another, and the cliches weren’t executed properly so they were really confusing. They didn’t all fit together. The lines themselves were all clunky.

BETH And so repetitive!

BROOM Yes, they’d say the same thing twenty times. “I’ll never forget that you proposed to me, for the rest of my life.”

PHIL So as my friend said tonight when I told them that it won best screenplay — and this is true, BROOM?

BROOM Yes! Unless Wikipedia has led us astray, which could happen.

PHIL So my friend said, “can you imagine what the others were like?”

BROOM I know! We should look them up. So I had a thought about this: The Academy Awards, as we know from the present day, are not the most reliable arbiter of quality. In part that’s because people just don’t know quality, but in part because it’s kind of an insider award given by people who have an interest in the industry. And I thought, this represents a kind of middle-of-the-road 1943 hogwash that might have felt like “a job well done” to a lot of industry folks at the time.

ADAM I mean, is this worse than Forrest Gump?

BROOM Tell me why you’re using that as a comparison.

ADAM Because it’s kind of a patriotic pastiche cliche…

BROOM It’s absolutely worse than Forrest Gump.

ADAM It is?

BROOM I mean, Forrest Gump made sense as Forrest Gump!

PHIL Whoa! I can’t even believe that Forrest Gump has been reduced to that level.

BROOM You liked it?

PHIL No, I wouldn’t say that, but I certainly thought it had more of a story!


ADAM But this movie was just, sort of, badly acted…

BROOM No, it was worse than that.

BETH It was a mess. It was all over the place.

BROOM This pandered at so many levels. That scene where we got to hear from Mrs. Pulaski about how she raised nine kids.

PHIL Oh yeah, that was great.

BROOM It was like they wanted to be a propaganda poster, but they couldn’t figure out what the thoughts behind the propaganda were supposed to be, so they just summoned up some patriotic reflexive gestures. They had the stern woman saying “That’s the spirit. Do what you can!” And then Olivia de Havilland gets comically wrapped up with splints while the guys are playing handball. That whole section was so schizophrenic and meaningless.

BETH That was my favorite part.

PHIL And then the car gets parked on the court.

BROOM He’s watching her from the door in his sweatpants, and then she gets laid out on the table and a woman with her tongue sticking out binds her arms.

PHIL That was a riot!

ADAM And then the guys are in the steam room and when the lights come on they’re among all the ladies. Get it?

BROOM The two leads are not interacting or even in the same place during any of that, and then two scenes later he’s going to propose.

BETH That was when they were falling in love!

BROOM That was the date sequence: he plays handball with his friend. So Phil, you said to pay attention to the music, and I forgot to pass that on to these two, but we all ended up commenting on it anyway. I thought the composer must have been thinking “People aren’t going to get that this is a comedy unless I write some really comic music!”

PHIL I thought he thought “My god this is horrible; I better pump this up!

BROOM Exactly.

ADAM Well, we’re gonna rescore it.

BROOM Yeah, Adam was saying that it was done in part because those scenes, had they not had that pantomime music, would have seemed ominous. There was just a noir “nothing is right” feeling; the pacing is all wrong; everyone’s saying things like they don’t mean them. So Adam said we should put spooky music under it and it would be really creepy. Also, in that sequence where she wakes up and sees signs that say “I saw you naked,” a wacky comedy trumpet plays a note for every syllable on the sign! I’ve never seen that done before! That was crazy.

PHIL That’s why I wrote you and said “This won best screenplay?”

BROOM It was shocking. So far we’ve watched The Great McGinty, by Preston Sturges, which was weird in some of the ways this was weird, but it was smart the whole way through; it felt like a New Yorker cartoon.

PHIL And what year was that?

BROOM 1940. And then 1941 was Citizen Kane, which is a wonderful screenplay as we all know. Then 1942 was Woman of the Year, which is Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in a totally passable by-the-book screwball marriage comedy.

PHIL And that was Garson Kanin who wrote that?

BROOM Exactly, yes. [ed. Actually credited to his brother Michael Kanin. And Ring Lardner, Jr.]

PHIL Okay. So… why do you think this was so bad?

ADAM It was inexpertly composed.

BROOM I don’t know who Norman Krasna was, but he’s why.

PHIL Do you think it won because it was political?


ADAM Do you think all that political stuff got shoehorned in by executives?

BETH I think people thought the fact that it was comedic and political made it “smart.”

BROOM Yeah, that might be the explanation. Because it was about “the war,” in a very oblique comic way, standards for intelligence are just much lower. You know, if you watch some Conan O’Brien monologue about current events from 1996, the jokes might not seem that sharp anymore, but at the time, because it was topical, it felt clever.

PHIL You don’t know what won Best Picture that year, do you?

BETH We can easily find out.

BROOM I believe this movie had greater significance in some way because it led to the “de Havilland law.” Let me find this.

ADAM Were we talking about this recently? Someone elsewhere mentioned the de Havilland law.

BROOM [reads:] “… its importance in changing the status of contract players…” “… tensions came to a head as de Havilland fought openly with Warner Bros. Tired and suffering from low blood pressure…”

BETH She looked tired!

BROOM She looked awful. She had bags under her eyes when they were talking about how beautiful she was. She looked like she could barely stand to be there.

PHIL I didn’t actually notice that, no. But tell me again, what’s the de Havilland law?

BROOM “… She filed a lawsuit against the studio that set a limit on studio-player contracts.” She felt that her long-term contract led to abuse in this case.

ADAM The best picture of 1943 was Casablanca.

PHIL Oh my god!

BROOM The screenplay of which is 100 times better than this.

PHIL Absolutely!

ADAM Casablanca won for Best Adapted Screenplay.

BROOM Oh, right. So this was Best Original. We chose this category for…

BETH … its originality.

ADAM The other candidates were Noël Coward for In Which We Serve….

BROOM Noël Coward would surely have written better dialogue than this.

ADAM … Lillian Hellman for The North Star, Dudley Nichols for Air Force, and Allan Scott for So Proudly We Hail!

BROOM A year of patriotism.

BETH The fact that this was comedic probably made the difference. But who knows.

BROOM Well, wartime was probably a strange time for aesthetics. Because everyone feels that pressure to be a part of the “effort.” I wish I had a better word than “pandering,” but that’s the word I keep thinking of. I didn’t have a sense of how much of a war-effort movie it was until suddenly, thunk!, we’re at that table where the Red Cross lady is asking “what can you do for the war effort?” The princess isn’t even an American! Why would she even get in that line?

ADAM What do you mean? Her country was overrun by the Nazis.

BETH To prove something to him because she was on a date!

ADAM No! Her family’s refugeed in London because the Nazis have overrun the continent.

BROOM Did they name her country at any point?

ADAM No. She’s obviously central European.

BROOM They never even tried to speak with an accent, or suggest anything about their home country. It was so quarter-baked. Anyway, Phil, we were a little embarrassed that we invited you to join our film club and this is what you ended up seeing. The other three movies were good!

PHIL Yeah, I got very worried this afternoon.

BROOM I feel that.

PHIL I said, “if this is the tenor of the movies we’re going to see…” Now, it was good that it was only 90 minutes.

BROOM Agreed. Maybe that’s why it won.

PHIL That could be. But clearly, I could have written that screenplay.

BETH You would have done better than that.

PHIL Yeah, well, I could have at least written it. So I might as well have an Academy Award, here.

ADAM Coming up is “Lamar Trotti’s Wilson.”

BROOM Yeah, that’s the other thing…

ADAM “A 1944 American biographical film in Technicolor about President Woodrow Wilson.”

BROOM Right: should you choose to accept it, unfortunately, the next thing we’re going to watch is Darryl Zanuck’s pet project about the life of Woodrow Wilson.

PHIL And when is the next session?

BROOM The next session is whenever I can get these two to be enthusiastic enough to go through with it, which generally follows inversely on the quality of the previous movie. It’s going to be harder to get them to show up now that we’ve just seen this one.

BETH In all likelihood: three weeks.

PHIL That’s plenty of time. But I don’t even think this tonight qualified as a B movie.


BROOM It wasn’t a B movie, it was an A movie. Do you mean in production quality? It had high production values.

PHIL Just as a general kind of “we’ll take the stars that we’ve got and put them into a vehicle”… I mean, even Woman of the Year, as a B movie, is much much better.

BROOM You mean “B” just as the level of quality you expect from it?

PHIL Yeah.

BROOM Sure, Woman of the Year was completely watchable. We all chuckled for real. I don’t think I chuckled once, as me, while watching this one.

BETH I laughed at it.

BROOM I think I did laugh once, at the end, when he’s feeling very nervous and trying to be on good behavior, and tells his friends he’ll see them to the door, and then turns back and says “I’m just going to the door!” That seemed like a moment with actual comic value to it. But generally I got the sense that Norman Krasna must have been some kind of a clod. I’m looking him up.

ADAM We dance on your grave, Norman Krasna.

BROOM This was his directorial debut. Not shocked.

ADAM If you’d had a better director and better actors, it wouldn’t have seemed so clunky. And Olivia de Havilland’s a good actress, she was good as Melanie Wilkes.

BROOM She’s not a clown! She’s not Lucille Ball!

ADAM So who would you have cast as a “funny princess”?

BETH I don’t know, Ginger Rogers?

BROOM Just the other day we watched The Lady Eve with Barbara Stanwyck doing not quite the same thing, but in the same ballpark.

BETH She’s not right. She gives such a darkness to everything she does.

PHIL Ooh, she scares me.

BROOM The Lady Eve was sort of the inversion of this movie.

ADAM How about Ellen Page?

BROOM I don’t think she was available.

PHIL That’s good. She would have turned that shit down, though.

BETH Too condescending.

BROOM Saving graces of this movie? I can’t think of anything.

BETH No, this movie sucked. It was really bad all around.

PHIL I thought the opening visual of the Warner Bros. logo was pretty cool.

BROOM It was. Clean.

PHIL And dramatic! It had some kind of great music, and it was a 3D black-and-white logo… I thought that was the best part of the movie.

BROOM Warner Bros. had that down.

ADAM How many people do you think have seen Princess O’Rourke in the last 12 months?


ADAM Probably, right?

BETH Not very many.

BROOM I’m actually curious, Phil: you said yesterday “how do I see this?” and I thought, “right, he’s not going to be able to get this within a day, because it’s Princess O’Rourke.” How did you get a copy within 10 hours?

PHIL I called upon some favors. I called some friends and said “get it over to me this afternoon.” I actually got it last night. Now I’m hoping Wilson will be easier to get. As we move forward in time it’ll be easier for me to get them, I think.

BROOM Yes. Except the one right after Wilson, the hardest one on the list, which is a Swiss film called Marie-Louise, which I believe has never been released in the modern era and has to be bought from bootleggers if we want to see it.

PHIL And do you rank or give a grade to the screenplays as you see them?

BETH We haven’t been.

PHIL What was the 1940 one?

BROOM The Great McGinty, Preston Sturges.

PHIL And what would you give that as a grade?

BROOM A letter grade, or out of ten, or comparative to the others?

PHIL Out of ten.

ADAM Satisfactory.

BROOM I’d give it a 6+ or 7.

BETH I’d say 6.

PHIL My big thing as I was watching this today was thinking, “Wow, boy has screenwriting gotten better!”

BROOM Well, Citizen Kane

PHIL That’s right! Then you stopped me.

BROOM And I mean, Gone With the Wind. Any great movies. There have always been great movies.

PHIL So, okay, 1940 was Preston Sturges. Then 1941?

BROOM Citizen Kane, which I would give a 10. That’s as sophisticated as a screenplay gets.

PHIL All right. 1942?

ADAM Woman of the Year.


BROOM Yeah, I would put it almost as low as The Great McGinty. It had some problems. It had greater charm when it had charm, but it was uneasy because the crux of it was sort of sexist stuff. I would give it a 6 or 7 also.

PHIL And tonight’s?

BROOM I don’t know, a 2?


PHIL Okay, good.

ADAM It wasn’t overtly offensive, and there were some visual jokes that made me smile.

PHIL Well, I feel redeemed. I was so worried that you all would say “Stunning!”

BROOM That we would put on our Critic voices and say, “But Phil, you’re not giving it proper historical perspective.”

PHIL Yes. “You’ve missed the subtextual ennui!”

BROOM I got a lot of subtextual ennui out of this. I tried to cover it by heckling the whole time.

PHIL I bet. Okay kids.

BROOM Thanks for joining; it was a pleasure to have you.

PHIL Okay, good night.

[he vanishes]

[we read the New York Times review]

ADAM Bosley Crowther was totally taken in by all the patriotic bullshit.

BROOM And Variety agreed. “Credit for general sparkle and excellence of the picture must be tossed to Norman Krasna.”

BETH Did he just have friends?

ADAM War does funny things to people!

BETH That’s got to be it.

[we then read the paragraph in Wikipedia that quotes the government’s displeasure with the film for “…recklessly using the war for background incidents in an opportunistic attempt to capitalize on the war rather than interpret it.”]

BETH So that’s it; it’s that it was not the typical wartime picture, and that made an impression on the Academy.

BROOM It certainly was “irreverent,” if reverence is a synonym for maturity. It didn’t have that. So audiences must have thought, “Oh cool, they managed to put the war in a dumb movie!”

[we read summaries of the other nominees]

BROOM So wait a minute. We’ve forgotten how this worked. In those years there was Original Screenplay, and there was also Original Motion Picture Story. There were three writing categories. So Princess O’Rourke won for Screenplay, but The Human Comedy by William Saroyan won for Story.

BETH That’s probably a better movie.

BROOM Up against Shadow of a Doubt, The More The Merrier, Destination Tokyo. This is clearly a better list. But we’re not watching another one from this year. This was it. I think it’s appropriate for us to have to stick with the one category. But what a shame.

ADAM That category was last presented in 1956.

BROOM Well, that’s that. Princess O’Rourke was a dud.

BETH D-U-D dud.

ADAM I don’t know; that’s just the way we lived then. It’s like Operation Dumbo Drop.

BETH It was no Chicken Little.

BROOM That’s right, it was better than Chicken Little.

ADAM It was. It was better than probably half a dozen of the bad ones.

BROOM But I felt it was bad kind of for the same reason, which is to say: too obsessed with its moment, and not with actual values of entertainment.

BETH I think it comes from nervousness on the part of someone who had never made a movie before.

Last lines in film:

— The president? Holy mackerel, I tipped him a buck! And he took it!
(— Come, dear.)


This is the first Academy Awards for which the complete radio broadcast is available. Pretty engrossing stuff! (The first half is red carpet pre-show; the ceremony broadcast starts at 28:50). It turns out that Darryl Zanuck sounded exactly like Marvin the Martian; who knew.

However the broadcast only includes the last five awards (Best Picture + the 4 acting awards). Audio of the rest of the evening apparently exists in the Academy archives, because they make a couple of clips available on their site, including the presentation of the writing awards!… But unfortunately they’ve omitted Norman Krasna’s acceptance speech. However one can hear some hollers of delight in the crowd when Princess O’Rourke‘s win is announced. My impression of the response is that this is seen (by its supporters) as the surprise victory of the scrappy underdog, whereas The Human Comedy just gets sort of a tepid appreciative applause and Casablanca gets unanimous and unsurprised applause. Maybe I’m reading too much into those hoots. Listen for yourself.

This quickie newsreel is all the film I can find.

Look, here’s an image of Norman receiving his Oscar in uniform.

(This comes to us, of all places, from the United States Holocaust Museum, where it is given to illustrate Krasna’s pride in his Air Force service, as context for their presentation of Krasna’s incredibly disturbing color footage of Holocaust atrocities, shot during the liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau, with his narration. Not to be watched lightly. Not to be watched in connection with this entry at all, I daresay. Sorry to end on this note, but that’s the internet for ya!)

May 13, 2014

Best Original Screenplay 1942: Woman of the Year


Winner in the category of WRITING (Original Screenplay) at the 15th Academy Awards, presented March 4, 1943 at the Cocoanut Grove, The Ambassador Hotel.

The other nominees were:
Wake Island — W.R. Burnett, Frank Butler
Road to Morocco — Frank Butler, Don Hartman
The War Against Mrs. Hadley — George Oppenheimer
One of Our Aircraft is Missing — Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Opening of screenplay:




dingy and formless from long, severe wear. It lies on a desk. INCLUDED IN THE SHOT are a paper-weight made of a baseball covered with autographs and part of a receptacle filled with “books” of assembled copy paper and carbons. A typewriter carriage comes in and out of the shot rapidly, in synchronization with the staccato – two-fingered clicking of the keys.

CAMERA PULLS BACK to reveal Sam Craig as he finishes typing, pulls the pages out of the machine and starts to assemble what he’s written, frowning as he does so.

Sam’s office is one of a row of small cubbyholes which line one wall of the large room that houses the Sports Department. His door is open.

The large room which we see in b.g., adjoins the city room, from which it’s separated either by an actual partition or merely a railing. In either case, it has its own entrance in extreme b.g. leading into the corridor where the elevators are. There are about fifteen desks, each with its phone and typewriter, grouped around a long (or horse-shoe) table which is the sports copy-desk. At the moment only one or two of the regular desks are occupied, but the copy-readers are around their table in full force. A noteworthy feature of the scene is the business-like rather than hectic atmosphere usually associated with newspaper offices. The head copy-reader picks up a phone next to him as it rings. His voice is audible in b.g.

Head Copy-reader (into phone)
Sports department… No, he isn’t. I think he’ll be back after the fights… Okay.

(hangs up)

Sam’s frown of dissatisfaction deepens as he reads what he’s written. Still poring over his pages, he starts slowly through his open door toward the copy-desk.



The head copy-reader looks up expectantly as Sam comes toward him. But Sam, his pace becoming slower as his discontent increases, comes to a full stop a few feet away from the desk and, with an expression of disgust, suddenly crumples his pages and chucks them into a wastebasket. The head copy-reader “Tch-tchs” sympathetically. Sam detours around the copy desk and goes toward the entrance.

First lines in film:


— Miss Harding and Mr. Kieran both have their hands up. The full title, please.
— It’s Nights in the Garden of Spain.
— Uh, Nights in the… Garden of Spain.
— Hello, Sam.
— Hiya, kid.

BROOM Let’s not do the Mad Men thing where we gleefully list its transgressions against present-day feminism. Let’s try to be more nuanced than that.

ADAM Actually, I thought it was going to be a lot worse than it was. I think the ultimate compromise they arrived at was reasonable, even for a present-day feminist.

BETH I agree with that.

ADAM At times I was a little worried about where they were going.

BETH I was too, but I didn’t really believe that Katharine Hepburn would have chosen to be in a movie with the message that she should surrender her identity to housewifery.

ADAM But poor Gerald!

BROOM When you say “the compromise they arrived at,” you’re really just talking about the one line: “instead of being Mrs. Craig, why can’t you be Tess Harding Craig.” But we don’t see that put into action; we don’t know what it means, to him or to her. And the whole sequence before that, where she tries to cook, is meant to humiliate her.

ADAM But it’s affectionate. That sequence wasn’t mean-spirited. It’s funny in part because he’s good-naturedly playing along.

BROOM Because she shouldn’t even be trying?

ADAM Right. Alma’s not going anywhere — she’ll make the waffles.

BROOM It was very hard to tell whether the movie thought that Tess’s whole value system was bad, or whether it was just comically distant from our value system.

BETH I think it was the latter. The movie was trumpeting her individuality. I think it sided with her living outside of standards.

ADAM Well, towards the 60 percent mark, at the awards banquet, it did seem like it might descend into her being a shrewish villain. That’s the point when I worried that she was the villain and he was the good guy. But it didn’t actually go there. Ultimately it was a sweet movie — notwithstanding its treatment of the effeminate male underling. Who was right: she did have a battleship to launch, guys, so…! How was he supposed to know that it wasn’t a good time to interrupt?

BROOM Are we to understand that Sam hit Gerald over the head with a champagne bottle?

BETH Yeah, I think so.

BROOM That could be deadly! That’s very dangerous. And he may also have pushed him off the porch.

ADAM It turned out that the homosexual was their enemy all along, not Katharine Hepburn. Although we sort of knew that.

BROOM The movie wasn’t unkind to to Gerald until that last sequence; he just happened to be intimidating to our man Spencer. He was just humorless when it would have been more pleasant if he had been personable.

ADAM And he called her “Miss Harding” at an inopportune moment.

BETH That’s true.


ADAM When he was walking in the door and handing his gloves to Spencer Tracy.

BROOM Why was that inopportune?

ADAM Because that wasn’t her married name, and wasn’t the right thing to say in front of Sam.

BROOM Oh. Were we supposed to read it that way?

ADAM That’s how I read it.

BETH I don’t know. I can read it that way.

ADAM I mean, she was pretty annoying for much of the middle stretch of the movie.

BETH Well, she was making some selfish choices.

ADAM She shouldn’t have brought home the Greek boy.

BETH She definitely shouldn’t have.

ADAM That was a funny scene though. I thought it was going to be a child of hers from a previous marriage.

BETH I knew it would be a humanitarian scheme.

ADAM You knew it would be a Greek boy?

BETH No, I didn’t know that.

ADAM I thought one of the strangest things about the movie was the weirdly tepid raciness. There were clearly meant to be some titillating jokes in there. But they were swathed in cottonballs. That might have been a period thing or it might have just been a tastefulness choice. It was weird, to my modern sensibility.

BROOM What was weird?

ADAM The way that the racy jokes landed.

BROOM Which particular jokes? You said “this is rather racy!” when they first went back to her apartment after their date.

ADAM Well, that scene was strange, because the implication was clearly that they were going to hook up. And he tells her that he would have with other girls. I don’t know, that seems legitimately shocking for a movie from 1942.

BROOM The implicit endorsement of premarital sex?

ADAM The acknowledgement of it. But no, I’m talking more about the joke when he’s talking to his mother and says “You can’t ask a girl that! I don’t know, mom! All right, I’ll ask her if she’s a good cook.”

BETH Right.

ADAM I didn’t have a problem with it. I just thought it was amusingly mild.

BROOM You thought “I’ll ask her if she’s a good cook” was a punchline to a virginity joke?

BETH It was.

BROOM But in the final scene we see that whether she’s a good cook turns out to be material. And I thought the point was that when his mother says “I don’t know if she’s good enough for you,” she isn’t just asking about virginity, she’s asking about femininity. Which is why she’s sent the cookbook that we see at the end.

ADAM I know. But the joke of the phone call is nonetheless “Ma, you can’t ask that!”

BETH Yeah, I think so too. I think that’s how the audience was supposed to hear it.

BROOM Oh. Because in that earlier scene, I was already thinking, “Ah, Tess’s overachievement makes old fogeys like his mother suspicious of her.” Whether or not you read it as being about virginity, she’s this advanced feminist modern woman, and the question is whether that kind of person is a proper wife… So clearly when the mother brings up cooking, that’s genuinely at issue.

ADAM Clearly that’s the literal function of the scene. I’m just saying that the way they set up the joke, it was a virginity joke. There were a couple other funny things like that. I’m not trying to just poke fun at its pastness, but it was funny to me the ways that it was both very frank about sex but also amusingly indirect.

BROOM They did do the whole Marx Brothers stateroom scene except as a “cockblock” joke.

ADAM Poor Dr. Lubbeck. The other thing I was going to remark on about the screenwriting is that the pacing was super strange, from a modern perspective. I’m not saying it was ineffective, but it was very leisurely. In that last scene, before he came in, she spent like five whole minutes setting up the breakfast.

BETH It was enjoyable to watch, though.

ADAM Yeah, it worked! But it’s just funny to watch Katharine Hepburn, you know, moving around a kitchen.

BETH Reading instructions.

BROOM I thought that was an intentionally bold choice, that we should arrive at this final kitchen scene and it should suddenly get very slow. Remember that movie Big Night, with Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub?


BROOM They think that their restaurant is going to have a really big night because a famous person is coming, and then it doesn’t happen, and it’s a big letdown, and they blew all their money and it’s not clear what’s going to happen to them. And the very last scene, after this big downer, is just one shot where Stanley Tucci makes eggs, and it takes however long it really takes. And they must have gotten that from here. We go through this whole movie with its own narrative rhythm, and then we end with the rhythm of a real task. Of course, the tasks became farcical here. But I actually thought the pacing was strange much earlier, in ways that I was less sure I was supposed to savor. The whole first half had no conflict in it.

BETH The drinking scene was just very leisurely. And the baseball game.

ADAM It was affable rom-com stuff.

BROOM Yeah, but there wasn’t even a romantic comedy plot; just straight romance. They liked each other, they went on dates.

ADAM Well, there were some moments of conflict. Like: Gerald won’t let him into her office, so he reads the Chinese newspaper. There were little bitty conflicts.

BROOM To me it really felt like we were just gradually falling in love, and then getting married, and then living together. It took me a long time to understand what the specific thrust of the movie was.

BETH That’s surprising to me. I knew that’s what the conflict would be, immediately. Maybe that’s only because I came in knowing who each of them is.

ADAM She invites him to a party and there’s all kinds of foreigners there. Get it?

BROOM I just thought that was a kind of charm comedy. She’s upmarket and he’s downmarket.

ADAM But she’s also thoughtless.

BROOM I thought that was just part of his comic journey toward the girl he was falling for. I didn’t see it as having asserted itself as a thematic problem. Yes, I see in retrospect that it wasn’t just color, it was supposed to be seen as actually frustrating to him. But since the mode of screwball is [shrugging tone] “oh dear, this leopard just got into our apartment…” it just seemed like comedy, not conflict.

ADAM Spencer Tracy only has one face: eyes bugging out, annoyed. He’s a redhead, right?

BETH Yeah.

ADAM You can just seem him flushing to the roots of his red hair. By the way, how old were they, in this?

BETH I’m curious to know.

ADAM They seemed like a hundred years old.

BETH They seemed like they were in their early 40s.

BROOM They were probably supposed to be playing mid-20s; they probably were each around 30. Let’s see.

ADAM Well, no, they each already had distinguished careers at that point.

BROOM Let’s see. Katharine Hepburn was born in 1907.

BETH She was 35.

BROOM Which is about how she looked. She looked like the mature 35 of that era. And Spencer Tracy…

BETH Had to be older.

BROOM … was born in 1900. 7 years older: 42.

ADAM Okay, that sounds about right.

BETH But their parents were in great shape!

BROOM Yeah, they looked the same age as the kids. It was the same as Cary Grant’s mother in North by Northwest. When Spencer Tracy was standing with the older woman, and she said, “drive me back?” I felt a little awkward, because we were supposed to see her as completely not a conceivable or appropriate match for him, but she looked like an appropriate match for him.

ADAM I agree with you: at the end the pacing was probably deliberate, and it worked — but they could still have trimmed 20 minutes out of this movie. I was expecting a lot more rat-a-tat dialogue, a la His Girl Friday. This wasn’t really that. He would say something, and she would say something really fast, but then they would just look at each other. It was funny, though. We laughed many times.

BETH I laughed more than I usually laugh at movies.

BROOM During the first section, I thought it was so romantic and charming that I wondered why it isn’t more fondly talked about. But then as it became clear that the central issue is one that has aged, as opposed to being timeless, I understood. And then it ended in a very strange place, for me. It left me not with a bad taste in my mouth, but with surprise that we were left to resolve it for ourselves. I thought it was going to really resolve the issue one way or another.

ADAM I agree that the specific gender flavor of it has aged, but this is basically what the movie Hook is about, right? You know, when he throws his cell phone into the snow at the end.

BROOM You’ve invoked that as a stupid and offensive thing quite a few times.

ADAM Well, that’s the same thing as hitting Gerald over the head with a champagne bottle.

BROOM Those aren’t the only two times that has happened. At least what was wrong with her was mostly that she couldn’t see what was right in front of her, as opposed to simply that a woman shouldn’t be doing these things in the first place. However, the linchpin line — that we had to rewind and confirm that he had really said — that “the woman of the year… isn’t really a woman at all,” is painful.

ADAM Oof. Yeah, what a devastating thrust. Though she doesn’t really take it that way.

BROOM I mean that it’s painful to watch now. Because either the movie is endorsing that it’s wonderful that she’s a woman and she does all these things, or it’s not.

BETH Or it could be that that’s just his problem. The movie wasn’t necessarily taking his side, even though at that particular moment she had turned us against her by bringing in the Greek boy.

BROOM I don’t know. Sam didn’t seem to be portrayed by the movie as having a distinct psychology that we were supposed to track. Admittedly that may be a problem with my watching of it. But I was waiting for it to present some kind of equal failures on both their parts.

BETH It didn’t really care about him.

ADAM Yeah, he doesn’t have much of a personality.

BETH Which made their partnership a little bit confusing.

ADAM He spent half the movie just in reaction shots.

BETH Because she’s such a force.

ADAM And he’s just rolling his eyes: at Dr. Lubbeck, or at the foreigners at the party…

BETH Although that was clever of him, to call in his ragtag troupe of lowlifes.

ADAM That’s true. “You leave it to Flo!”

BROOM He was supposed to be someone for us, the audience, to identify with, because we were expected to share the reaction: “Look at them high-flyin’ folks — well that’s just fine for them! Now, for a woman to be doin’ all that? Hoo-ey brother, I don’t know what I think of that. But I’ll tell you this: if she doesn’t remember my birthday!… if she doesn’t call me when we’re both in Chicago!…”

BETH “If she doesn’t notice my new hat!”

BROOM “If she doesn’t notice my new hat, boy, there is a problem! I kinda thought there was a problem, and now I know there’s a problem.” If he had been a more complete character, it actually wouldn’t have been as disturbing to me.

ADAM Well, I was thinking about this in the context of the romantic comedy tradition. In My Best Friend’s Wedding, the guy doesn’t have a personality either. Maybe there’s something about the fact that it’s a Hepburn-Tracy movie that makes it seem like they should have equal billing — but it’s really a movie about her, just like My Best Friend’s Wedding is about Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz, and not about… I don’t even know who played him.

BROOM Dermot Mulroney.

ADAM Thank you. It also occurred to me that if this were a contemporary romantic comedy they would each have a best friend.

BROOM They did: he had Pinky and she had Gerald.

ADAM Then they could have talked about their feelings, instead of just having to play out their conflicts with each other.

BROOM They each got to talk about their feelings with the father and the father’s girlfriend.

BETH But contemporary movies overuse the best friend.

ADAM Yeah, it’s a little creaky, but there’s a reason for it. It’s also somebody who can intensify the boyness of the boy character and the girlness of the girl character.

BROOM He was a “sports writer”! What more do you want?

ADAM She didn’t have any lady friends. Except for Gerald.

BROOM She had that woman, the older family friend.

ADAM Her aunt.

BROOM Wait, that was her aunt? Her aunt married her father?


ADAM Her mother died when she was a baby and her aunt raised her.

BROOM Okay. I didn’t take in who that woman was. I missed the moment when she introduced herself.

BETH It was at the speech, where he enters through the back curtain. She says, “I’ve always felt about my aunt that she was my mother…”

BROOM Oh right, “… because she was my aunt.”

ADAM No, the aunt says that, while they’re waiting for the plane.

BETH Oh, okay.

BROOM I didn’t recognize that woman as anyone who had been at the speech. I thought it was just a friend who had showed up. I was distracted.

ADAM What’s the classic Tracy-Hepburn movie?

BROOM Adam’s Rib?

ADAM Maybe that’s what I was thinking of when I said His Girl Friday.

BROOM I’ve never seen it.

BETH This is the first one I’ve seen.

ADAM It was certainly amiable and perfectly pleasant to watch. Was there any particularly clever writing? I guess some of the jokes.

BROOM I thought the writing was good throughout, smartly put together. I thought the depiction of her intellectual international stuff was well handled: not cartoonish but also not followable. I mean, it was a little cartoonish, but not in a ridiculous way. Dr. Lubbeck was not Dr. Strangelove. Those people didn’t look like a bunch of Mr. Peanuts. The headlines at the beginning, and the stuff she said on the phone, always sounded serious enough. I appreciated the way that was done, since the whole scheme of the movie was basically for us to feel intimidated by it.

ADAM Alienated from it.

BETH Like we’re on the outside.

BROOM Yes. Spencer Tracy can’t read the Chinese newspaper he’s holding, but that’s his own doing; it’s not as though Gerald is saying [snooty voice] “If you can’t read this, then you, sir, are an idiot!” I liked the dynamic between the two leads when they were falling for each other. It was genuinely romantic. It wasn’t an absurd fast-talk movie but it was still somehow charmed.

ADAM Although they fell in love much too quickly. For a movie with leisurely pacing, that happened awfully fast.

BETH In two days, it seemed like.

BROOM Well, they went to the baseball game, and then to that party, and then he went to see her the next day, and then she asked him to take her to the airport… it wasn’t just a two-scene deal. It was quite a few scenes before they really acknowledged to each other that they had fallen in love. And then they got drunk, and then they went back to the room, and then he left the hat, and then she got him a hat… Remember all those things that happened?

BETH I really liked the party scene, by itself, as just a scene of feeling completely lost and uncomfortable at a party.

ADAM The fact that it went on much too long also contributed to that. Because it was like, “Lgh, this is awkward.” And the Turk: that was particularly awkward.

BROOM Because Sam called the turban a towel?

ADAM No, because I thought he was going to turn out to speak English. “Yes?” “Yes?”

BETH Just as a standalone snippet, I liked that part.

BROOM I enjoyed that sequence too. I enjoyed all the little setpieces. It was all very well balanced. And I can imagine this in 1942 being “the adult entertainment of the season!” It’s all very well put together. So I don’t know why it had to end with him hitting Gerald on the head with champagne. That’s ridiculous.

ADAM Well, Gerald, as the symbol of her officious thoughtlessness, had to be dispatched in some fashion. But that does seem a little bit too Looney Tunes.

BROOM I really didn’t see that he needed to be dispatched. I thought the movie was going to end with them declaring that “this is our home, and this is how we’re going to be at home.” Why she told Gerald to show up there I don’t know.

ADAM She didn’t. He tracked her down.

BETH He traced the call.

ADAM I did think the funniest line in the movie was “Miss Harding said if you’re making eggs she’d like some. She also said I should tell you if I was hungry too. I am.”

BROOM The whole thing was very charming. But it came a little too close to home for me to embrace it as a favorite. Not too close to my home, but to issues of empathy. And, like I said when I watched Summertime: Katharine Hepburn’s energy always feels to me like it has something incomplete about it, like it’s a little bit too brassy to believe.

ADAM She’s not relatable at all.

BROOM And her movies all use that, and say: “that’s just cover, she really needs love just like anyone else.” Which I believe! But then the way they depict that love, how she needs it and how she gets it, it always feels a little shallow, like it’s good enough for the movie’s purposes but it doesn’t really resolve the real issue. I had no sense, at the end of this, that her issues are even remotely resolved. They gave her a whole psychological background: she didn’t grow up in America, she was traveling all around, she never really lived in one place… So when the ending is that he says “You don’t need to cook for me! But you need to be more wifely in other ways!” and she says “Okay!”… I didn’t feel that she would know what that means, or that he would know what that means, or that she will ever be quite happy, or that he will ever really get through to her.

ADAM But that’s a mature comedy, isn’t it? It doesn’t have to be fully resolved; they’re just not going to get divorced right then. Yay, we’re not getting divorced!

BROOM Yes, that’s how I felt at the end: they’re not going to get a divorce today. Someone — maybe I’m still getting this from that Molly Haskell essay — someone called the movies in this genre “comedies of remarriage.” They’re always about a relationship that falls apart — and then the two people each have to find the deeper insights that make it more meaningful, so that in the end they get to be together again.

ADAM Quite literally in this one, she says to him, “Will you marry me?”

BROOM And yet the “first” marriage takes up so much of this movie before the “problem” presents itself, and then in the last scene they just sort of say “ah but don’t you see?” and then it’s suddenly over. It feels like that was just a very thin covering they put over what is essentially an anti-feminist critique built into the rest of the movie.

ADAM If you had walked out of the theater as she’s driving back in the car, you’d think, “Ugh, what a retrograde, regressive movie.”

BETH But didn’t he say “I’m disappointed in you for even trying to do this stuff that has nothing to do with who you are”?

ADAM Yeah. He was saying “I’m disappointed in your attempt at being inauthentic,” not “I’m disappointed in your waffles.”

BETH Which I feel is a very worthwhile message.

BROOM That’s right, and earlier when she gets on her knees and wants to be the little wife, he says, “you’ve been a phony before but this is the worst.” But he never quite said the thing that I really wanted him to say, which was “You’re the most amazing woman in the world, and that’s who I want to be with.” Because he didn’t really give a shit that she was amazing!

BETH Yeah, but in a way, that was what made him deserve her, because he didn’t idolize her, he just liked her. He just loved her.

ADAM He went toe-to-toe with her.

BROOM I’m not sure he did. He kind of just slumped around.

BETH I’m filling in blanks for myself to make it work out.

BROOM I was hoping they would fill them in for us, which I guess represents a kind of nervousness on my part. “Please say the right things and make this okay!” They didn’t sin as badly as I thought they would, but once I started worrying, I couldn’t shake it. Once he said that line, and revealed that the meaning of the title is an ironic question: “Is the ‘woman of the year’ a woman?” That’s some disturbingly high stakes! And they never really “kissed and made up” in the way that would have healed me from having been disturbed by that. But yes, all the stuff they did was cute.

ADAM You’re right; it’s very difficult to imagine Katharine Hepburn playing an ordinary woman. She couldn’t be a housewife. It would be completely unbelievable if she played a housewife!

BETH I don’t think she ever attempted anything like that.

BROOM But try imagining some “more feminine” Hollywood actress playing this role, playing the woman of the year. Myrna Loy or someone, someone who was more of a glamour girl.

BETH Or Ginger Rogers….

BROOM I picked Myrna Loy because she also had an “intellectual” thing that she played.

ADAM Marion Davies! Lucille Ball.

BROOM I think that what you would feel when any other actress was struggling to cook would be, “well, I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it soon enough.”

BETH You’re probably right.

BROOM That’s why that scene was also strange, in insisting that she needed to be humiliated. Because she takes off her coat with some enthusiasm, with the attitude that she’s smart, she can follow instructions, she can do this. And I thought, “yes, that’s probably right. She can figure it out.”

BETH She’s not an idiot.

ADAM She can speak Slovenian.

BROOM She can speak every language in the world, so she might not know how to turn on the burner first thing, but once she figures it out, she’s gonna have it down for life. She learned the rules of baseball in one session!

BETH Sort of.

BROOM The gist was, he says these things once and she takes them in. She’s sharp enough to follow anything, even if it’s not her thing.

ADAM Yeah, you’re right. But she had to be taken down a peg, just in terms of the movie’s geometry.

BROOM Well, that’s exactly it. It’s the idea of pegs and being taken down one that worries me. Does anyone really need to be taken down a peg?

ADAM It wouldn’t have been a satisfying ending if she just said “I love you and I promise to do better” and then she made him waffles. Not only would that not have had any dramatic structure, but it wouldn’t have been satisfying.

BROOM When she hears the marriage vows and tears up, and then drives back while we zoom in on her face, I thought for sure she was going to arrive and makes a speech: “I realized something that I never realized before: I want more than just to be woman of the year. I want you and that means that our home is a place that matters more to me than I knew, and now we’re going to start again.” I thought she was going to invent all that herself!

BETH That’s the Jerry Maguire ending. I don’t think a movie made at this time would have had a line like that.

BROOM Well, I didn’t do a suitably comic version of it. But in this ending, the comedy was just “She don’t know what she doin’!” Also: even if she put yeast in the waffle batter, it wouldn’t come out looking like a rubber balloon in the waffle iron.

BETH It looked like a frog.

BROOM And why did the coffee maker have that huge glass bowl on it?

BETH It was a percolator. I don’t know how those work.

[we read the New York Times review]

BETH So he felt that the ending was essentially that she had returned to find out how to be a wife.

ADAM He seemed to see this as a movie not about men vs. women so much as eggheads vs. ordinary Joes.

BETH It was interesting that he didn’t really mention feminism at all, but I guess that wasn’t part of the public dialogue at the time.

[we then read about the original ending and Ring Lardner’s displeasure with the reshot ending seen in the finished film]

BROOM Like I said! There’s needless humiliation there. But I also understand why their original ending didn’t work, this Gift of the Magi place-switching. Again, I think it goes back to the real problem being that Sam doesn’t have enough of a character.

BETH I think that’s right, yes.

ADAM He’s in a language school in the original ending? That would suggest that he feels shame at being not her equal, instead of just irritation at her.

BROOM Which would have made the movie a little richer; if she could tell him “I don’t need you to be one of these people,” that would mean she had some wisdom to offer him, too: forgiveness for his shame. Without that it felt imbalanced. And surely it didn’t originally end with them launching Gerald. That definitely felt like producers getting in there. “Ya know what people’ll like?” Cigar, cigar.

BETH I did like the last scene, though! I laughed a lot.

ADAM I did too!

BROOM Did you not cringe when he said he launched Gerald?

ADAM We all did!

BROOM Look, I don’t have to dislike things like that. Most of the what I cheerfully lap up from old movies is exactly that they do seem like some producer came up with them, such that they just cluelessly resemble other old movies. But here it did leave me feeling a little queasy.

ADAM She was originally going to write his column for him, just to be a good wife? That’s weird. It’s like, “You think you’ve been castrated so far? Now you’ve been rendered completely superfluous. I can do my job and your job.”

BETH “And you’re not really going to learn these languages; come on.”

Last line in film:

— I’ve just launched Gerald.


The only footage of the 15th Academy Awards ceremony that I can find is the newsreel seen here (scroll down). The Acceptance Speech Database contains more text than appears in the newsreel, so clearly there is more footage out there somewhere. But even that database doesn’t have any record of most of the awards, including the writing awards. Nor are there any photos of the presentation of the Original Screenplay award.

April 12, 2014

Best Original Screenplay 1941: Citizen Kane


Winner in the category of WRITING (Original Screenplay) at the 14th Academy Awards, presented February 26, 1942 at the Biltmore Bowl, Biltmore Hotel.

The other nominees were:
The Devil and Miss Jones — Norman Krasna
Sergeant York — Abem Finkel, Harry Chandlee, Howard Koch, John Huston
Tall, Dark and Handsome — Karl Tunberg, Darrell Ware
Tom, Dick and Harry — Paul Jarrico

Opening of screenplay:





All around this an almost totally black screen. Now, as the CAMERA MOVES SLOWLY towards the window which is almost a postage stamp in the frame, other forms appear; barbed wire, cyclone fencing, and now, looming up against an early morning sky, enormous iron grille work. CAMERA TRAVELS up what is now shown to be a gateway of gigantic proportions and HOLDS on the top of it — a huge initial “K” showing darker and darker against the dawn sky. Through this and beyond we see the fairy-tale mountaintop of Xanadu, the great castle a silhouette at its summit, the little window a distant accent in the darkness.


(A series of set-ups, each closer to the great window, all telling something of:)


First line in film:

— Rosebud!

BETH Well that was definitely the best episode of Hoarders I’ve seen.

BROOM That’s a more profound joke than it seems at first.

BETH I was aware of that when I thought of it.

ADAM I found it exhaustingly theatrical. I recognize that it’s really got a lot of clever lines, and clever photography tricks, and clever acting, and it’s affecting… but it’s so different from modern movie-making as to be foreign and antique.

BETH You’ve seen it once before?

ADAM Yeah, once before.

BROOM I don’t think I could agree with “antique,” because that suggests that it’s part of some historical style, but I don’t think that this is in the style of any other movie.

BETH Before or after. It seems like it’s entirely its own thing.

ADAM There were a lot of things here that reminded me of other things, although some of them I guess are movies yet to come. But it reminded me a lot of Gone With the Wind, and that sort of bigger-than-life… You know: “Romance! Drama! Epic!” So maudlin that it’s almost daring you to not have a straight face. But maybe that’s just my small-minded cynical naturalistic modern sensibility.

BROOM I didn’t have a reaction anything like that, so I’m trying to figure out what you might be responding to. What scenes? Give me an example.

ADAM Every time someone was backlit with dramatic, dusty light.

BROOM I see, the whole tone.

ADAM Or a thunderstorm every time anyone was interviewed. Some of the camerawork is really clever, but awfully melodramatic.

BETH It just makes you notice it.

ADAM Coming in through the ceiling like that. Twice.

BROOM Three times if you include going back out.

ADAM So many of the clever transitions were like, a thing dissolves into another thing that’s totally different from it but looks just like it. Like the swinging doors dissolve into the newspaper plates. There were a bunch of those.

BETH And that tired you rather than exhilarated you?

ADAM Well, maybe it’s just that tonight it tired me. Maybe in a different sort of emotional mood I’d feel differently about it. But at the moment it was just… I mean, no wonder I had thought it was longer than 119 minutes.

BROOM It’s very dense. It must be one of the movies most dense with incident. It compresses so much content — not just narrative time, but perspectives and things that it’s trying to address. So it does feel very long.

ADAM Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t not enjoy it. Although I was fatigued by it, there are so many rich little details that are cool. And clever. Like the scene at the very end when the cockatoo screams in your face.

BROOM Well, your objection is the one that I think critics of the time held over it: that it was technically showy in a way that didn’t necessarily further its cause. But to me, part of what’s exciting and satisfying about this movie is the particular combination of this technique and this material, which is very ambitious even separated from the technique. To me it’s stimulating; it doesn’t feel like they’re fighting with each other.

ADAM I’m not saying that I didn’t think it was successful. I’m saying that it felt like I ate an entire fruitcake at one sitting.

BROOM I feel stimulated by exactly what you’re saying was fatiguing to you. Beth and I are reading our way through the George Smiley novels of John Le Carré, and the first one — Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — was striking to me the first time I read it, and again recently when we reread it, for being hard to follow. It doesn’t belabor anything; it makes it difficult to keep track of what’s significant. But as a result of having to turn your brain up to that level, it has an intensity. What you glean out of it seems somehow richer than just some genre spy novel. Whereas in the third one, which we’re reading now, he’s being a lot more obviously careful not to lose the reader, and as a result the whole thing seems thinner. And this to me worked on the same principle. The fact that there’s so much shadowplay and trickery put me in a state of having to run, and then the blood is pumping and you feel that something exciting is happening to you as you experience the non-trickery part of it, the material itself. Which I think is thrilling exactly because as a result, the ambition of what it’s trying to be about, which is pretty grand, works. At least for me. You can have this movie that’s about the meaning of life, or “who is a person?” — it works because the audience is put into this state of being drawn through a haunted house and things are jumping out at you. It intensifies your experience of what’s there. So I didn’t feel fatigued. Except for maybe in that haunted house sense of “Whoa! This is really intense.” It didn’t feel too long. But I guess it has to do with how sleepy a person is.

BETH It does, because I know that in previous viewings I have felt that it was a slog, and “I know I’m supposed to like this but.” But this time I completely did like it. Partly because I’m reading a biography of Orson Welles, and I’m drawing parallels. I was connecting with it, not on the level that you’re talking about, but just sort of analyzing Orson’s psychology.

BROOM I think I had the best experience of it, then.

BETH You probably did.

BROOM This was probably my best experience ever watching it. I got goosebumps and felt overwhelmed by what it was saying.

ADAM It could have used more levity and moments of exhaling. I guess it had those, but they weren’t really coded that way.

BETH It didn’t have many.

ADAM Like the scene with the dancing girls I’m sure is supposed to feel like a moment of relaxation…

BETH I don’t know, I think it’s supposed to be ironic. It’s grim.

BROOM I think it’s supposed to have a feeling of claustrophobic good cheer, and you see it in Joseph Cotten’s face: “I’m at the party, but…”

ADAM Oh. I thought maybe there was supposed to be some relief in that “fun,” but it didn’t really feel that fun to me. And I was going to say maybe it doesn’t feel that fun to me because seventy years have gone by. But maybe really it’s just not fun.

BETH Yeah, it’s not.

ADAM It’s fun like Edgar Bergen and that little girl.

BROOM If you take it at its word and its tone, it’s a very grim movie. It’s almost a kind of ghost story-ification of a biographical movie. It takes the idea of investigating a person and makes it gothic. It’s upsetting!

ADAM It has kind of a Masque of the Red Death quality.

BROOM Yeah! I was going to say Poe.

ADAM A room lit by horrible cross-cutting stained glass.

BROOM I think it ends on the “No Trespassing” sign at the end because —

BETH That was great; I had not made anything of that in prior viewings. Or I just didn’t remember it.

BROOM There’s no trespassing on the heart.

BETH On the soul.

ADAM So in terms of innovation: is this the first time in movies that you see a man crazily crashing around a room destroying everything?

BETH I was thinking about that too, because we just watched The Room

BROOM When we were watching The Room and he destroyed a room badly, I thought, “I hope this doesn’t discolor our upcoming viewing of Citizen Kane. But apparently it did.

BETH I couldn’t help it!

ADAM When we saw this in college I remember talking about how when you see his first marriage dissolving, it’s the first time you have a montage of anecdote, essentially, being used to convey dramatic narrative.

BROOM Maybe. I don’t know if it’s the first time.

BETH It’s definitely referred to all the time.

BROOM It’s a very iconic sequence. I think I got this from the Roger Ebert commentary that’s on the disc — or maybe somewhere else: that Welles didn’t truly innovate a lot of this stuff, he borrowed it, but he borrowed from such widespread sources that he consolidates a lot of what had been avant-garde technique into this one movie. It showcases so much invention that had been in 20s and 30s cinema that it ends up feeling new.

ADAM Like what?

BROOM I don’t remember because I don’t remember the source of this comment. But things to do with the lighting, the staging, the extreme constrasts. The deep focus. Strange camera movements that take you from one space to another space through an intermediate space. The ghostly quality of the camera’s relationship to the subject.

ADAM I was thinking of the scene where he’s in the hall giving the speech running for governor, because of course we just saw that last year in The Great McGinty, in all those crowd scenes.

BROOM That’s true.

ADAM But here of course you’re in the back of the theater, there’s that big Hitler poster of him… it was turned up to eleven.

BROOM The elevenness of it is this Romantic, gothic tone that covers the whole thing. I know that Orson Welles generally liked that for his radio plays…

BETH He liked it for everything.

BROOM … because it’s intense. And for me it works. Maybe it’s a taste thing, but for me it goes beyond my own “taste” and self-image: I really get transfixed by that kind of intensity. The threat of it! There’s a kind of scariness to it.

ADAM I’m not saying it didn’t work; I’m just saying I wanted to get up in the middle.

BROOM Which you did. Which you were free to do. So we’re here to talk about the screenplay.

BETH I was gonna say.

ADAM It’s full of bon mots. That aren’t necessarily relevant to the story. I guess the most famous one is the woman in white on the ferry, which is, you know, a poem in six words, if you will, just sort of strewn there for no reason.

BROOM Well, I think for a very clear reason.

ADAM For atmosphere.

BROOM It’s directly related to the subject of the movie.

ADAM Well, it’s not narrative.

BETH It’s thematic.


BROOM The screenplay is designed to be returned to and studied and seen more than once, and on a second or third viewing, that anecdote becomes one of the oblique explanations that the movie offers for Rosebud, which it never gets to address overtly: what are we really saying, for him to have been dreaming on this sled? This ferry story is an explanation of how these things can function psychologically. I mean, if you watch it from the beginning there are lines in almost every scene that turn out to sort of be coded lines for the second-time viewer about what you’re going to understand the movie really to be about.

ADAM Right, but which are also memorable and striking in their own right.

BROOM Of course potentially it all works for the first-time viewer, because you’re gathering this outlook, the philosophical perspective of the movie, and you hear people saying all these things, so that you’re suitably prepared to find out what “Rosebud” means, at the end. In the first scene, a reporter says, “Maybe it’s a horse that he bet on… that didn’t come in!” A variety of things like this are said. What does the woman say in the last scene? Someone says something at the very end…

ADAM “Something he lost…”

BROOM Right. “Maybe it was something he lost… Maybe it was something he couldn’t get.” That’s what the story about the woman on the ferry is: “you’d be surprised what sticks in a man’s mind.”

ADAM I’m not saying it’s not related to the theme, I’m just…

BROOM You’re quoting Roger Ebert, who came and made a speech about that when we were in college.

ADAM Is that why that’s stuck in my head? All right, fine.

BETH You guys saw him?

BROOM We saw Siskel and Ebert talk together, which supposedly was something of a rarity because they didn’t really like each other, and they gave sort of parallel speeches from opposite sides of a stage.

ADAM I don’t remember this. Though apparently I do remember this.

BROOM Here are a few things I remember about it. It was only a year or so before Siskel’s death. The theme they chose to talk about was scenes in movies that are not explicitly necessary.

ADAM Is this where I got the Fargo thing, from this event? It wasn’t a thing we saw on TV?

BROOM Yes. They each talked about scenes that contribute to a movie spiritually without being a plot necessity. I don’t remember exactly the thesis statement, but it was something to the effect that that’s the essence of movies, being given these moments that don’t have to happen, where you don’t know why they’re happening but in a larger sense you feel why they’re happening because you’re in movie space.

BETH I like that.

BROOM I think the woman on the ferry was Ebert’s example, and Siskel’s example was the scene from Fargo where she meets with the guy from high school…

ADAM Gordon.

BROOM … who turns out to be sort of delusional…

ADAM I think Gordon is his name. If I’m wrong you can correct me in brackets in a snotty way.

BROOM No, I won’t do any such thing. [ed: I don’t need to — readers can click this link to watch the Mike Yanagita scene and decide for themselves.] Here’s the other thing I remember from that event: Ebert said “You know, you can go across the street to the Coop and buy—” and Siskel started laughing and said, “Coop? Like a chicken coop? It’s the CO-OP, Roger!” And Ebert lit up, and turned immediately to the audience and said “What do you guys call it?” And everyone shouted “The Coop!” And Siskel was sort of shame-faced. It was like that’s what Ebert lived for.

ADAM Well, I guess that stuck with me without my knowing where it came from. But anyway, Orson Welles is sort of showing off at the end by giving everyone their best little witticism in the credits.

BROOM They seemed to be alternate takes.

ADAM And what could be showier than that last credit?

BROOM The faux modesty of putting “Kane” at the very end of the credit list?

ADAM The humblebrag.

BROOM But then he has a proper card for “Direction — Production”.

ADAM That just makes it even snottier. “Oh, well, acting, psssh.”

BROOM But the big director credit is on the same screen with the photographer, which I think is a genuine sharing of glory.

BETH Was this the first movie that did that thing with clips of each character at the end?

BROOM Oh, I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t know. It was certainly standard form for trailers.

BETH Even in the 30s?

BROOM I don’t know. I’m just so used to it.

ADAM I think Coming to America was the first.

BROOM Back to what I want to say about the screenplay. The impetus would seem to be reading about famous or powerful people like William Randolph Hearst, and speculating about them. The fun of talking about Michael Jackson and how weird he is: “what’s going on on that crazy estate he lives on?” Or Gwyneth Paltrow and her “ridiculous” divorce announcement. And then in a writerly, humanist, artist’s way, saying: “if we’re going to speculate, let’s try to be as real as possible about what’s going on behind this public figure.” And yet the brilliant thing about it is that it doesn’t answer that explicitly. It occupies itself with the business of trying to get through and be real. Beth, when you said during the opera scene that you liked that she wasn’t hilariously bad — I feel like that’s the spirit of the whole movie: we’re not going to laugh at any of this stuff. We’re going to make it gothic, and then it’s going to be up to you to feel out what’s behind it that makes it so, figure out what is the ghost in the closet.

ADAM Not that it’s subtle: three different people say “What he wanted was love.”

BROOM That’s right; it’s very direct and simple about its psychological outlook, in what it does offer. But it rings true as far as it goes. And the kernel of it, that scene with his parents, leaves a lot of questions unanswered — to me, at least; maybe I’m missing things — about why they are each behaving the way they do in that scene.

ADAM His mother is an abused wife who is cold for her son’s protection; the father is a drunken ne’er-do-well who mishandles them.

BROOM So you take the mother’s words at the end of the scene at face value: “I’m sending him away because you are likely to beat him.”

ADAM As opposed to what?

BROOM Well, I think we’re supposed to be chilled when she says “I’ve had his bags packed for a week” and is stony.

ADAM I think she is a monster, but an understandable monster.

BROOM You think she’s the victim of abuse and that has made her into stone.

ADAM That’s sort of how I read it. I’m sure there are other ways to read it.

BETH I hadn’t read it like that before, but I like that interpretation. It makes her more sympathetic and understandable.

ADAM As opposed to that she’s just a witch?

BETH It’s partially that Agnes Moorehead looks like a witch that makes it hard to sympathize with her.

ADAM In fact I can only think of her as a witch, since she played Endora.

BETH But your interpretation makes a lot more sense, actually.

BROOM But it follows on a scene of the father ineffectually pacing around and fairly sympathetically saying “Why does my son have to go away?”

BETH But he also seems a little bit drunk.

BROOM Clearly drunk.

ADAM And then when the fifty thousand dollars is mentioned, he drops his protestation and says, “Well, I hope it’s for the best.” I’m sure he’s not a bad guy, but…

BROOM I’m not saying “You guys need to be nicer to him; I love the dad,” but the movie is all about the love that Kane needs because of this separation.

BETH It’s clear that he had more of an affinity for his mother. “Mom, why aren’t you coming with me, mom?”

BROOM He loves Pop too; he runs over to him.

ADAM Leland says later, “He never loved anyone but himself. Well, I guess he loved his mother.” Are you supposed to take that at face value? That his childhood really was this halcyon place? Or is it just a fantasy, the way the woman on the ferry is a fantasy?

BETH It’s his memory, which is infused with…

ADAM But if he really was beaten… if it really was as bad as his mother implies.

BROOM I don’t get the sense that that’s the case, from that last scene. I do think it’s implied from her last line that he has beaten her and that she cannot conceive of raising her son in this environment. But there’s something darker going on with her than just a kind of beaten-down resilient pragmatism.

ADAM Oh, I agree. She’s coded as a total creep. The way she stares out the window like death. It’s super-creepy.

BROOM And yet he as a child seems basically cheery. I guess maybe you could read into the fact that his make-believe in the snow is some sort of battle. But we don’t really know. And that’s what the “No Trespassing” of the whole screenplay is.

ADAM They seem to be a darker version of Scarlett O’Hara’s parents.

BROOM I don’t remember how Scarlett O’Hara’s parents are portrayed.

ADAM Her father is sort of a drunken, sentimental Irishman, and her mother is a chilly, elegant Charleston dame.

BROOM Do we see them for more than one scene?

ADAM You see the father a lot. Maybe it’s just me, but to me this movie has strong impressions of Gone With the Wind.

BROOM I haven’t seen that at all since I was a teenager.

ADAM It also has strong Gatsby qualities. But it’s sort of a haunted house Gatsby, as you said.

BROOM Yes, it’s related, but in Gatsby the presentation is different because the audience and the narrator are somewhat drawn into the potential glamour of this way of life, whereas here the entire pageant is about how he’s trying too hard and protesting too much.

ADAM Yeah, you’re right. The subject matter is the same but the psychological outlook is different.

BROOM This time while watching, I was thinking: “And why shouldn’t he want to be loved? Who in this story does love him? He is very lonely.” I guess this is where the Orson Welles parallels become complex.

BETH They’re all over this movie.

BROOM Because the movie has a very scolding, cautionary-tale attitude toward the impulse to try to buy love. But it doesn’t present an image of what he could have done instead. It sort of says that having been set on this path, this emotional need inside him was always going to express itself this way, which wasn’t going to work.

ADAM Well, Susan seemed like she could legitimately love him; she was very nice to him in the first scene, even though she didn’t know who he was. That was sort of the sweetest scene between any two people in the whole movie. And when she turns into a harridan, it’s disappointing.

BROOM She only shrieks like that in the stress of having been made into an opera star, which is artificial for her. But that “sweet” scene when they’re in her apartment together: the scene doesn’t miss an opportunity to have her say something really stupid.

ADAM Oh yeah, she’s clearly a moron.

BETH “Is it an elephant?”

BROOM Or later when they’re at Xanadu and she says “What time is it in New York?” and he says “11:30” and she says “At night?”

ADAM When he’s dressing her as the opera star, it felt like Vertigo to me.

BROOM But that scene in the apartment is a sweet scene, because he says he was on his way to a warehouse of his mother’s stuff, looking to recapture his own actual emotional life, and so her childlike simplicity feels to him like a connection… and then he immediately invests it with “what will I buy you? How will I give you fame and glory?” And poisons it. The script is very determinist about that. It doesn’t say “here’s where he could have gone right; here’s where he made a mistake.” It’s all imposed on him at the beginning. Although when she says “you never gave me anything that I actually wanted” — when he does tricks to cheer her up in her apartment, it is sort of an actual act of generosity. Although maybe we’re supposed to see that as trickery; he’s just trying to impress.

BETH To seduce.

BROOM Trying to get another person to think he’s cool.

ADAM I felt pained watching this thinking that we’ll never get to see a remake starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. It struck me overwhelmingly, at the end, that this would have been quite a role for him.

BROOM I don’t think this needs to be remade. You saw that April Fools’ joke about Keanu Reeves.

ADAM I didn’t see The Master, but you did, right?

BROOM Yes, and I guess it did have some connections. There Will Be Blood, actually, had more in common with Citizen Kane, though.

ADAM That was another movie that I felt was so hard to actually sit through because it was so gnarled with style. But that’s not as good as this.

BROOM That’s a movie that I found harder to take than this — though I really liked it and admired it and was glad to sit through it — but I found that harder to take because it depended less on tricks: it spent longer periods letting us just soak in the uncomfortable atmosphere of a particular moment. Whereas Citizen Kane is such a screenplay movie; watching it feels like reading a screenplay, in some ways. And that’s what’s exciting about it: this unfettered freedom to have whatever next thought it wants.

BETH That’s interesting though, because it’s so directed. I didn’t feel at all like I was reading a screenplay, because it’s so visual.

BROOM I didn’t mean it feels like reading in that it’s as colorless as words on a page; I mean it moves around conceptually in a way I associate with reading.

ADAM You mean because it’s choppy, and it cuts back and forth between past and future?

BROOM Yeah, and I feel like its attention generally moves with a very advanced kind of freedom that I associate with the printed word. It’s creatively exciting to watch because it feels unfettered.

BETH That’s not really done now.

BROOM I don’t think it’s been done in very many movies. I mean, there’s a structure to it; obviously the script has been carefully worked through many times: they knew there would be sequences about his love life, his political career, the newspaper, Xanadu — and then they divided them up, and chose which order, and who’s going to talk about what, and which parts are going to be repeated… But still the flavor of how it’s constructed is that the mind skips around, through time and thematically.

ADAM I like that you’re introduced to him through a newsreel. I remember when I read American Pastoral, the structure was very striking. The first third of it is the main character as observed by Zuckerman. And he seems super-shallow, and he doesn’t understand why he’s supposed to think that this guy is so profound. It’s all the main character seen from the surface. And it’s only then that you pivot into the story and see him through his own eyes. It has this coiled structure, where the surface is first and then you come into the inside. I mention that not because I think there’s anything related here, but because that observation was a touchstone for me when I read it. Here, first you see him through the newsreel, which is this sort of impassive quote-unquote “objective” picture of his life.

BROOM And there’s nothing gothic or Romantic about the visual style or presentation.

BETH Although I think those handheld shots of him being wheeled around are pretty innovative and genuinely feel invasive.

BROOM Because it’s directly implied that these are paparazzi shots stolen from outside his gates.

ADAM “No trespassing”!

BROOM Watching that sequence, right at the beginning, I thought, “This screenplay is already more sophisticated than almost any other,” because it’s about how we think about people, and it starts by showing us a way of talking about people that we’re all familiar with, which the point of the movie is to improve upon — but it doesn’t write off the newsreel a joke; it’s densely full of information. By the time you get to the end of the newsreel, not only has it mapped out the whole story, but it’s told you a whole lot of genuinely interesting stuff.

ADAM That’s the only reference in the whole movie to his son’s death.

BROOM And to the source of his money, essentially. The newsreel is already exciting in that the movie is declaring that it’s going to be about a made-up major public figure, and filling in that outline. That the game of the movie is to hypothesize a “Citizen Kane” of great fame and influence. If I had lived in the time of William Randolph Hearst, some of what is impressive to me about this movie might not be, because I would really get that it’s a thinly veiled speculative biography of Hearst, whereas to me now it feels like a pure display of invention. And what a canvas to be painting on! It’s not a zone in which fiction is usually made. It’s like fictional news; it addresses itself to whole idea of public figures and makes up this stuff. It’s already exciting, just to be told a story that way. And then the newsreel projector runs down and suddenly we’re in this world of shadows where the real movie is going to take place. And I just now had the thought that maybe the haunted house shadowy quality is a visual analogue to what the movie is about, that everybody carries this shadow reality, their emotional self, while they’re going about their business.

ADAM Behind their newsreel self.


BETH Well, isn’t this kind of the first movie about Twitter? When he said “News never stops, it’s 24 hours,” I was like, “Yeah, you just invented Twitter.”

BROOM I don’t know what you mean.

BETH That instant information, and branding, were represented here.

BROOM The connection is that people on Twitter are fake versions of themselves?

BETH Yeah, that it’s self-representation.

BROOM I see, self-branding. I wasn’t sure if you were talking about the media itself. Since the movie is about newspapers.

BETH Well, and the drive to be the first person to share information.

ADAM Also it’s like Twitter in that it has a mosaic quality; that everybody has a different story about him, and none of them is the right story but they all overlap to form pieces of this larger whole.

BROOM This is what I was leading to: the movie by its style feels haunted by something, and that something is his emotional life, this inner life. Which we are sort of told we haven’t seen anything of, that these stories are just surface stories, though that’s not entirely true: we glean and get a sense, and, as you said, there are several scenes where people are very explicit about how what he really needs is love. But that too is their interpretation. The inner reality is always behind what we’re seeing, it’s implied, it’s like the atmosphere that lets you know that a house is haunted. So that atmosphere infuses the whole thing because he’s the haunted house, and his feelings, that he doesn’t actually say out loud — we don’t really know what he feels like, even though we can speculate.

ADAM Or if he knows what he feels.

BROOM Yeah: he doesn’t know what he feels like. That’s the meaning of the scene at the end where he pathetically trashes the room, because he knows he’s having some feeling and thinks that maybe he’s supposed to wreck all this stuff. It has that pathetic quality of trying to perform something for himself. But it just seems spectacularly bold to put that on paper and then try to put it on screen. And be effective! So that I can I sit here and watch and pick up on all this and know what they intended. You have to have…

BETH Conviction!

BROOM Yeah, to just do it and not stop.

ADAM To be clear: I think we could talk about this for another hour. Not that we will, Emma.

BROOM She’s not reading these anymore.

ADAM That’s a testament to the density and quality of the material. But ugh, I’m ready for a caper. A sorbet.

BROOM Next up is Woman of the Year, which I think ought to suit you.

BETH We’ve already got it. You can watch it right now.

BROOM There are just very few movies that try to be so…

ADAM So literary.

BROOM That so baldly try to say something true about life, on this scale. It’s an anti-genre movie. You were talking earlier about how writers begin by depending on genre stuff in their heads, to get themselves going, which reminds me of something else I wanted to say — I know I’m talking seven times as much as you guys are, but you should just cut in if you want to say something! —

ADAM That’s okay. We’re used to it.

BROOM You should have cut in then, too!

ADAM No, we just don’t have as many thoughts as you do.

BROOM When I was a kid, I understood Citizen Kane to be this mystery movie about a man who says a word at the beginning, and you don’t find out what it meant until the end, and it’s not what anyone thought! It’s a thing you’d never have guessed, even though it was there on the first page all along. And that was it. And that was plenty: it’s a great form, it’s very satisfying. And it was almost satisfying enough for me to enjoy watching the whole movie — even though it was a bit long and I might get bored in the middle, when we’re dealing with Boss Gettys or something, which really doesn’t have anything to do with Rosebud. But really, it was just like a children’s book about “The elephant’s been with us all along! Did you spot him on page 2?” And what’s wonderful about the screenplay’s use of that structure is that what I just described is a completely cohesive understanding of the movie; it is not at all a misunderstanding of the movie. On the first page when he’s a kid and he just has his feelings as a kid: that was the secret of his whole life all along, and nobody noticed it…

ADAM You should put a spoiler alert at the beginning of this entry.

BROOM I had it spoiled for me by a Peanuts cartoon.

BETH It was referenced a lot when we were kids. Rosebud was everywhere.

ADAM I agree. It was spoiled for me long before I’d seen the movie.

BROOM In some ways — in most ways — it’s not really a spoiler. You like the movie better if you know what it is. Because if you didn’t know that it was going to be a sled, when you found out, you’d probably go, “Oh… Why was it a sled?” And then be like, “Hm, I guess because when he was a kid was the purest time in his life, and he felt nostalgic for that; whatever.” Whereas if you know at the outset that that is the entire point of the movie, you’re able to enjoy it.

ADAM Probably, but it would be interesting to actually see the whole movie without knowing it. Because the question is: is anyone actually invested in the mystery of “what is Rosebud”? Obviously we’re not.

BROOM I’m saying, for a kid, that was a totally legitimate way to watch the movie. And it’s exciting! To see the lips saying the word, and nobody knows what it means, and the glass ball breaks — it’s all very spooky and expressionistic; and then we have those shadowy guys in that room saying, “Rosebud, his last word: what does it mean?” Of course you’re invested in the mystery.

ADAM And it has a noir quality, that they don’t find out but you do. “The truth can never be told.”

BROOM And in this respect too, the movie is like a ghost story. It’s like The Ring or something: they have to go to the haunted island to interview the last person who saw the ghost. And right before he kills himself he says two words: what was he hinting at? And the old lady in the shack in the woods: what did she see?

ADAM “Redrum!”

BROOM There was an Indian burial ground here!

BETH “Pay me a thousand dollars and I’ll tell you.”

BROOM You feel almost worried; it’s scary: when is the revelation going to come? And then it’s a worthy revelation: it’s the thing from the beginning, and he’s already dead, and it goes up in black smoke. So it’s great that that is legitimately how this movie works; that is right. And all this sophisticated stuff about marriages, about journalism, and friendships, about real politics, and fake politics, and crazy people who build estates for themselves — Michael Jackson, and George Lucas — is the distraction from the real thing, which is that everybody is a kid inside, everybody’s got feelings. And there’s no way for him to get back to that at the end; he’s too old and too isolated, and he’s about to die. That’s why I get chills now: because the thing that I thought as a kid is still right. The paradigm of “But no it’s a twist ending!” is still correct. And I don’t think the cinematic device of the twist, the cheap ghost-story twist, as a kid understands it, could be used for a more profound purpose than this. Where the twist is that your life is not about the thing that you think it’s about; it’s about the other thing, the thing that nobody is talking about because it was too mundane, the thing on the first page.

BETH So do you think this will become the number one movie again?

BROOM After Vertigo?

BETH Because really, Vertigo is not about life the way this is. This is definitely a better movie.

ADAM I haven’t seen Vertigo in a long time.

BROOM Well, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t win Best Screenplay.

ADAM I don’t think any Hitchcock movie is going to win.

BROOM Yeah, I guess this is better, but the total unreality of Vertigo can serve a purpose in talking about real life. I guess what’s thrilling about Citizen Kane is that it contains both. Vertigo is just the psychodrama, just the nightmare version of things.

BETH And our culture is pretty consumed with the appeal of the nightmare right now.

ADAM Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a remake of this where you could see it with all of the lavish spectacle that presumably audiences saw in 1941? This would have seemed like really crazy special effects.

BROOM It doesn’t feel like that to you now? It’s visually very exciting.

BETH It still feels like that to me.

ADAM Yeah, but it still feels old-timey, because it’s an old-timey movie.

BETH Do you think if we’d made it fill the whole width of the TV that would have helped you?

ADAM I don’t know.

BROOM I think this Blu-ray image looks so crisp and fresh, and the photography is so stylized, that I don’t have a sense of it being old. I mean, obviously I do, of course, in a way that I’ve forgotten about. I just don’t think about it anymore. Yeah, this is from the past. But I’m so comfortable with it. And I feel spoken to very directly by it. So I’m not at all attracted to the idea that anyone should do it again. But someone could do a close equivalent. The material of “a big man’s life” — you could do anything with that.

ADAM You’re not interested in seeing it done by Baz Luhrmann? With rap music?

BROOM I’m not much of a fan of Baz.

ADAM I’m genuinely curious to see what the New York Times has to say.

[we read the review]

BROOM I always like Bosley Crowther. I know that he wasn’t very well liked in his time or by other critics.

ADAM Yeah, that was a review you can be proud of.

BROOM Yes, he “got it right.” His quibble is with whether the film should have told us more about Kane.

BETH I think the fact that it didn’t tell us more is powerful.

BROOM So I really don’t know anything about Herman J. Mankiewicz. Do you, Beth, reading that biography? Not yet?


BROOM What I’ve heard is that Welles didn’t really write it; Mankiewicz did.

BETH That’s interesting to me because there are many parallels with Orson’s life. So my impression is that he at least tinkered with whatever was written.

BROOM Well, maybe I’m wrong about that.

Last line in film:

— Throw that junk in.


This is the only video footage I can find that seems to be from the Academy Awards ceremony. Selections from the radio broadcast audio are available on this page, but the presentation of Best Original Screenplay is not among them.

The acceptance speech (winners not present; accepted by George Schaefer, President of RKO Radio):

GEORGE SCHAEFER: Mr. Herman Mankiewicz called me today and asked if I would be good enough to step up here tonight and receive this in his behalf. I’m flattered, of course. I’d be happier if he were here personally to receive it. Thank you very much.

Here is a photo of the moment. Preston Sturges, last year’s winner, is presenting.

March 17, 2014

Best Original Screenplay 1940: The Great McGinty


Winner in the category of WRITING (Original Screenplay) at the 13th Academy Awards, presented February 27, 1941 at the Biltmore Bowl, Biltmore Hotel.

The other nominees were:
Angels over Broadway — Ben Hecht
Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet — John Huston, Heinz Herald, Norman Burnside
Foreign Correspondent — Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison
The Great Dictator — Charles Chaplin

Opening of screenplay:


During the Main Titles we see a succession of shots of the harbor and waterfront of a banana republic. The last title is imposed over a NIGHT SHOT of a drinking establishment. Now we HEAR some rumba music and we TRUCK FORWARD SLOWLY TOWARD THE CAFE. At this point the following is imposed over the shot:

This story has no moral,
This story has no end,
This story only goes to show
There is no good in men.



We see a few customers IN THE FOREGROUND but they are not particularly interested. In other words, they give one look then turn away. Noticing the lack of interest she bends over and grabs her skirt.

First lines in film:

This is the story of two men who met in a banana republic. One of them was honest all his life except one crazy minute. The other was dishonest all his life except one crazy minute. They both had to get out of the country.

— Tommy?
— Mm?
— You buy me a drink, Tommy?
— Okay… Sure…

[During the original run, several newspapers around the country ran this unattributed pseudo-review, which makes reference to the original “This story has no moral” text (a quote from “Frankie and Johnny“). At first I thought this meant the opening titles had been changed some time after the original release, but on reflection, since this “review” seems to be studio promotional copy, we can deduce that either the PR department worked from the screenplay rather than the finished film, or that the titles were changed late in the game.]

ADAM Welcome all! To the next ten years of your life. What an odd movie.

BROOM Regarding the next ten years of my life: I found this exciting. It was certainly very odd but also very stimulating. Following the Best Original Screenplay and taking a writing-oriented approach to movies feels like a very exciting field of stuff to explore. I like dipping into this world. It’s interesting to watch an “interesting” screenplay!

ADAM I don’t mean to be down on the concept. But eternity is very heavy. You’re much more accustomed to taking on big projects than I am.

BROOM We’re allowed to quit in the middle. We’re not actually locked into something where it’s important to contemplate the extent of it. But to the degree that I was contemplating the extent of it, I felt excited. This feels like an alternate history of movies. Because this is certainly not an essential on anyone’s canonical history of movies. And yet it’s interesting to imagine that it could have been, could be.

BETH Did you both find yourself thinking more about writing than about other aspects of the movie? I think I did.

ADAM Yeah, because it was unexceptional in all other aspects.

BROOM I think it was written to be that way. And I think that’s what we’ll find, that the “Best Screenplay” winners are often screenplay-centric movies. It wasn’t “unexceptional” in any bad way; it generally had nice fluent direction.

ADAM No no, it was a perfectly… craftsmanlike movie in its cinematography and its look and those sorts of things. But it was an interesting script.

BROOM Actually I don’t know in the history of film whether that’s true; it used some distinctive devices visually and I don’t know where we are in the history of those devices.

BETH That’s one of the things that I was thinking: I wish that we could all call on a vast knowledge of filmmaking and screenwriting so that we could compare and mark where we are in the progress of the art. Like, was he the first person to use… certain turns of phrase or ways of speaking? I don’t think so. I noticed a lot of people saying, “da da da da da, see?” But that was clearly part of movies before this.

BROOM I think see? was just idiomatic at the time.

BETH Just a way of speaking. But I don’t know how movies have influenced cultural speech patterns.

ADAM Right. I’ve never met a gangster. I think we’ll probably see some more gangsters later on in this series.

BROOM Wasn’t this boss sort of like the boss in The Great Gatsby?

ADAM Meyer Wolfsheim.

BROOM Yeah. But this guy was Russian.

ADAM He was Italian I thought.

BROOM He was speaking Russian on the phone. [ed.: The character and performance was reportedly a model for Boris Badenov]

ADAM Oh, I thought he was meant to seem like a fat Italian guy.

BROOM He was also like the Italian boss in Miller’s Crossing. I sensed that the Coen brothers have studied Preston Sturges and this movie.

ADAM Why do you say that?

BROOM The strange rhythms. The charm of weird comic details intruding on the flow of the story.

BETH It was the most cartoonish serious movie I’ve ever seen. The Three Stooges have elements like this, like crazy fights in the back seat of a car, but no serious movie I’ve ever seen has stuff like that.

ADAM Yeah, no prestige drama from the 2000s has that kind of thing in it.

BETH Legs flying everywhere.

ADAM Or the totally gratuitous scene where he falls on the dishware.

BROOM In that scene with the legs flying around the back seat of the car, the foreground cuts to the front seat of the car where the driver is having a hilariously contentless conversation about “so I says so then she says…” Which is like a Simpsons joke. In the Preston Sturges Wikipedia entry there’s reference to Simpsons writers who claim him as an influence. It also seems like a Coen brothers gag, to inject something stupidly mundane.

ADAM I liked when he inadvertently opened the door to the linen closet.

BROOM For no particular reason in that particular scene. That’s what made the movie so charming: this playful attitude toward itself.

ADAM It seemed like it was going to be a crime/Casablanca caper, and then it turned into this serious women’s picture melodrama by the second half.

BETH Kind of… except I didn’t think any of the melodrama elements worked. They all fell flat. Her sadness felt fake to me.

BROOM I felt neither way. I didn’t think it was trying to be a women’s picture…

ADAM “Women’s picture” is not the right term. It turned into sort of a political melodrama about good government…

BETH It turned moralistic.

BROOM Over the course of the movie we went to a lot of different places. I’m not sure it was turning from one thing into another so much as just being extremely heterogeneous the whole time.

ADAM I didn’t get the framing device at all.

BETH It was: “You’re gonna kill yourself, pal? Let me tell you how I completely shat on my life and am still around to tell it.”

ADAM But what was the deal with that guy? Just that he was a cashier and he stole something?


ADAM Okay.

BROOM The opening text said it was about two people who meet: one who was honest his whole life except for one crazy minute and one who was dishonest except for one crazy minute. In retrospect we see that the movie isn’t really about the honest guy. The text is just supposed to clue us in to seeing the overall concept of this movie as being an inversion of a standard movie plot, where a person who is moral is eventually tempted to immorality and then experiences a downfall. Whereas the big picture of this movie is that it’s a fable about someone who is a crook his whole career and then experiences a downfall when he decides to try to be moral.

ADAM I guess I misunderstood that intro text, because I thought the “banana republic” they were referring to was Chicago. So I kept waiting for the other guy to appear in the story. I was confused when he didn’t. I assume this was supposed to take place in Chicago.

BROOM It seemed like it, but I don’t think they said where it was.

ADAM Didn’t we read that Preston Sturges was from Chicago?

BROOM Oh yeah. That makes sense.

ADAM And they had aldermen. That’s why I thought that.

BROOM I see. Yeah, I think the concept that was supposed to unite the many different elements was that it was a satirical inversion of a moralist rise and fall story.

ADAM At the beginning it was like it was winking: “There are no good guys here!” and it was sort of fun. And then suddenly it grew a conscience halfway through, and it was awkward.

BROOM But if you think about the ultimate “moral” of it, he accomplished absolutely no actual good, in the end. It was just about his downfall.

ADAM But it was all in good fun, in the first half, and then all of a sudden it got serious.

BROOM Did it?

BETH I don’t know that it did. It seemed like it needed to because the story required it.

BROOM I thought it was playing at seriousness, but with the same kind of distance. I thought there was something charming about the romance, not because they themselves embodied romantic charm but because they were being thrust through these absurdist circumstances. It was like the romance of falling in love while being in a cartoon, alone together. “We seem to be in a cartoon, and it’s just you and me here, honey.” And I thought that was the charm of the whole movie, that it was craziness but distanced. And then there was sort of a genuinely absurdist approach to these moral issues. “I guess you should clean up the tenements and the sweatshops or something!” He doesn’t actually do that; no-one in the movie does anything like that.

ADAM But she was kind of an operator too, at the beginning. Then all of a sudden she got all serious. It was strange to me. And she had a boyfriend on the side? Her character was more interesting than anyone else’s, but she got kind of preachy by the end in a way that I thought was… ill-worn.

BROOM But don’t you think I’m right that the basic way that the movie wanted us to understand it was as the negative image of a normal moralistic movie? And that’s why it ended that way: “here they go again!”

BETH I do think that’s right.

ADAM But it kept making stabs at having a serious human love interest between them, and a serious human interest in his children, and then all of a sudden — [(wonk) sound]!: dishes crashing on the floor as they’re wrestling! She and the kids disappear and are never seen again!

BROOM At the very end.

ADAM Yes, at the very end, but… are we supposed to go back to winking and guffawing? I guess so. But then what was all the seriousness about if the movie didn’t really mean it?

BROOM It does definitely leave you with a puzzle as to how much you’re supposed to feel.

BETH How much to care. Yeah.

BROOM But then I think about how as a kid, I knew that the answer was that you’re not really supposed to care about anything. “As much as you want!” is how much. And I felt well-treated, in terms of the movie saying: “Here, have some fun. Have whatever kind of fun you want.” I had whatever kind of fun I wanted.

ADAM It definitely had a sort of lumpiness to it that was appealing. Not only was it not formulaic, but even being unformulaic, it wasn’t perfectly well reasoned in a way that was satisfying. Like why was there the little digression at the end where he gets upset about how child labor is actually fine and he worked in a factory and it kept him off the street?

BROOM And then she says, “Oh, you’re impossible!”

ADAM That didn’t really make any sense in terms of the plot. I mean, it was sort of interesting and human, sort of appealing, but it didn’t actually make any sense.

BROOM Yes, it wasn’t very schematic — except for this big scheme of being upside-down. Every time I got worried that it was going to turn genuinely political — “Uh-oh, is this gonna be anti-government? Is it going to be anti-this or that?” — he would just screw it up so that it didn’t add up to a position. So there was no way for me to stay worried.

BETH I think that story about working in the factory is supposed to show you that he’s not taking sides here.

ADAM He Preston Sturges.

BETH Yeah: “I don’t actually care about this political stuff.”

BROOM Well, I think he cared insofar as for his purposes “cleaning up tenements” and “ending child labor” was supposed to immediately register as “good” and the audience was supposed instantly recognize that stuff as real morality.

ADAM Right. This movie was basically Dave but with a sad ending.

BETH Interesting. Yeah, a little bit.

BROOM I don’t remember how Dave worked.

BETH Dave looks like the president…

BROOM Kevin Kline?

ADAM Yeah. They sub him in to be the president because the president has had a heart attack while having sex with his mistress. And Kevin Kline is supposed to be the tool of this political operator, but then he says, “What are you talking about? Everyone thinks I’m the president!” and stiffs him and goes on to actually do good.

BROOM And Frank Langella is the vice president? Or is that a different movie?

ADAM I don’t remember.

BETH I don’t remember either.

ADAM And he courts the first lady, who realizes that he’s not the president, but they fall in love anyway.

BETH Sigourney Weaver, right?

ADAM Yeah.

BROOM Wow, that’s a long time. I only vaguely remember that movie. I’m surprised that you remember the premise being specifically that he’s had a heart attack while having sex with his mistress.

ADAM Well, it’s the source of the immortal line “the money’s on the dresser, chocolate.” Which my friends quote all the time.

BROOM I see! All right, you have a special exemption.

ADAM I believe that is from the movie Dave. I could be mistaken.

BROOM I’ll check it out.

ADAM Anyway, the point is, that movie has a light cynicism at the beginning that gets converted into optimism about the political process, because this rube who really had no business being in politics is able to clean house by virtue of his normal-guyness. Whereas here, this rube who has no business being in politics is unable to do any good by virtue of his normal-guyness, and just ends up in a cell next to the gangster.

BROOM Well, he’s unable to do any good because he’s completely and only a functionary of the gangster world. Not because he’s an ordinary guy. For a bum he’s pretty savvy: he’s able to play all these different people in different ways. But yes, he’s an ordinary guy as opposed to a career do-gooder.

ADAM He leaves Catherine so callously at the end!


ADAM What are we supposed to…? It doesn’t all hang together emotionally for me, but it was interesting.

BROOM Yeah. It was some kind of wacky fable.

ADAM Now that I’m thinking about little setpieces that didn’t really make sense in the context of the whole thing, there were a lot of them that I liked. I liked his interaction with the fortune-teller lady. And I liked the fey little partner of the interior decorator. It didn’t make any sense, but it was fun. Or like the guy who’s collecting the vote tickets. He had a lot more personality than was really required for that role.

BROOM Yeah. Everything had a lot more personality than was required. “You can’t put a black king on a black queen.”

ADAM Right. There was a lot of surplusage that was satisfying. Which made the whole thing watchable even though…

BROOM Even though “why was it this story?”

ADAM Yeah.

BROOM I feel that there’s a kind of art to a thing that you cannot explain away in terms of some standard objective. I did not feel that this movie had a standard objective, and in that weirdness, it gave me the freedom to kinda just grin and wonder what I was watching. And I enjoyed that.

ADAM It also reminds me of The American President. Where the president is cynically proposing a gun-control bill…

BROOM Michael Douglas.

ADAM … that he knows is not gonna really make any difference, and then he meets this lobbyist and dates her, and she convinces him to go after the much more…

BROOM Annette Bening.

ADAM Thank you. Convinces him to pursue the climate change bill that is actually going to be much more influential even though he will have to give up the votes of these three congressmen from Michigan.

BROOM Moral MacGuffins.

ADAM Whatever. Just that she’s this virtuous unexpected lady influence who convinces him to reach for the gold, politically and morally. But that movie had a clear happy ending, an ordinary payoff, in a way that this didn’t. What’d you guys think of the acting?

BETH I thought it was fine.

ADAM I thought it was interesting that they were all really good even though I had never heard of them and will probably never see any of them ever again.

BROOM Apparently the main guy, Brian Donlevy, was a regular tough in film noir. Now that you’ve seen this, you may recognize him.

BETH I have seen his face.

BROOM In connection to what you’re saying: as I was getting over my worrying that it was going to have a clear political agenda, I thought it was refreshing to see a movie that dared to go toward these political ideas just for the hell of it, just for playful writerly fun. Because that’s exactly what The American President or Dave or whatever would not be given the leeway to do. A movie like that generally has to clearly pick who its friends and enemies were. Watching a movie that’s technically about the morality of politicians but is not political, is not a flag-waving movie, felt very freeing. It was fun!

BETH It was fun.

ADAM Yeah. It didn’t lose my attention, though I found it puzzling.

BROOM We’ve just started this project and we don’t have a deep historical knowledge to draw on about this, but imagining 1940…

BETH Written in 1936.

BROOM That’s right, written earlier, but when it was awarded the Oscar in 1941, when people voted for it…

ADAM This was a 1940 movie given its award in 1941?

BROOM That’s correct. So, at the time, do you imagine that what puzzled us about it did not puzzle them because their attitudes were different? Do you feel that the writing carries in it some of the premises of that moment?

BETH I think it probably echoes tone that was being used in other movies of the time. I think it didn’t feel out of the ordinary to people.

ADAM What year was The Bells of St. Mary’s for example? I feel like the 1940s had all these earnest morality-play movies, but full of well-drawn characters. They probably just saw this as an amusing cynical inversion, as you said. But the weird lumpinesses that we’re identifying? I don’t think that’s of the time. I think that’s just sort of idiosyncratic to this writing.

BETH Do you think that’s why it won?

ADAM Well, it makes the writing seem a little thicker than a sort of standard stock puppetry sketch. Yeah, probably.

BROOM It was very writerly, all of that dialogue. Watching this in any era, even now, you can’t help but think about the guy with the typewriter. Of course I don’t know what it competed against.

[we look it up]

BETH Could this script be filmed today?

BROOM This isn’t a direct answer to that, but it does occur to me now that — in connection with the Coen brother influence I talked about before — the plot of The Hudsucker Proxy is sort of built on this absurd rise-and-fall structure. He rises for absurd reasons, and then at his peak when he’s been given all this phony power, he uses it, and then is brought down. But it doesn’t have quite as cynical a shrugging attitude as this. Anyway. Could this screenplay be used now?

BETH I think it could, but it would feel like they were doing something. Like they were doing something retro.

BROOM It sort of felt like they were doing something here.

BETH It’s weird enough that it can exist a little out of time.

ADAM It would have to be updated. She’s a little too much of the angel blonde.

BETH It has to do with acting. Her voice had so much to do with how she came across, and nobody speaks like that anymore.

BROOM It’s like you said: she’s a little of an operator at the beginning. It’s just a question of where those domestic scenes ended up going. The fact that there was any domestic component to this movie at all was strange. It was all very strange. Because the whole scenario is so two-dimensional, and then the character goes home and looks around and goes, “I guess this is where I live.” There was a sense of the two-dimensionality of it being in constant tension with the fact that anything could happen. It felt writerly in that way, in that it reminded me of when I’m writing and I go, “uh, I guess they’ll… go home now? So, uh… what does the house look like? I can make up anything!” It felt flat and limited in that way, and then all of these weird little details made it feel unlimited at the same time. That’s an interesting kind of space to be in.

ADAM Are we gonna read the New York Times review?

BROOM Do we think the name “McGinty” is supposed to sound like the least classy or distinguished possible person? Is the title itself already a joke? No? Not necessarily?

[we read the New York Times review]

BROOM All right, he made a case for it. He helped me understand what I’m watching. Ribaldry!

ADAM And satire. Fair enough.

BROOM Well, I enjoyed it. I find it interesting to think about “American writing” while watching a movie.

ADAM I agree. It reminded me a little bit of… what’s the most contemporaneous Disney picture? Dumbo? They both had that [nasal Edward G. Robinson “yeeeah, seeee?” sounds]. I don’t know how to describe that.

BROOM It’s like a hardboiled worldly attitude, but one that takes all that worldliness for granted and then is able to be quite innocent because that’s the context, not the lived spirit.

ADAM I just meant that the speech patterns sound the same. “I’m Jiminy Cricket, see?”

BETH It’ll be interesting to see when that dies out.

ADAM It’ll be like the Irish drunk face in the Disney staples.

BROOM Well, every movie is different.

BETH I know, but it was a thing for a while, and at some point it will stop.

BROOM During the Disney series I for one repeatedly said stuff like “it’ll be interesting to note when this or that characteristic comes or goes, historically,” as though we were seeing one complete storyline of American history. But Disney movies didn’t really add up to that; they were quite diverse. And this is just going to be even more extreme. What constitutes “interesting writing” in each given year is not going to seem like a traceable throughline. In some ways, I think, the most interesting writing is probably the least historical.

BETH Kind of on the outside.

BROOM Yeah, stands outside its time.

Last line in film:

— Time out, gents: here we go again.


[We finish our conversation by looking for footage of the Academy Awards ceremony. We find this newsreel footage. I believe Preston Sturges to be the uneasy-looking man with moustache center frame at 0:07.]

[I have since found this site where you can preview the complete original unedited takes for that newsreel, at higher resolution. Here is the audience pan: Sturges is at 0:31, and again, dutifully clapping, at 2:05. Many many other fun things to see in there too (including, at the end, a little bit of how the actual ceremony looked). And do check out all the other bits of footage as well, the awkward restagings for the sound camera: behind-the-scenes authenticity peeks through around the edges.]