Best Screenplay 1940

1927/28 through 1997

What were the Best Original and Adapted Screenplays of 1940?

Angels Over Broadway (Ben Hecht)
0
No votes
Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (Norman Burnstine, Heinz Herald, John Huston)
1
4%
Foreign Correspondent (Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison)
5
21%
The Great Dictator (Charles Chaplin)
6
25%
The Great McGinty (Preston Sturges)
0
No votes
The Grapes of Wrath (Nunnally Johnson)
7
29%
Kitty Foyle (Dalton Trumbo)
0
No votes
The Long Voyage Home (Dudley Nichols)
0
No votes
The Philadelphia Story (Donald Ogden Stewart)
0
No votes
Rebecca (Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison)
5
21%
 
Total votes: 24

The Original BJ
Emeritus
Posts: 3954
Joined: Mon Apr 28, 2003 8:49 pm

Re: Best Screenplay 1940

Postby The Original BJ » Sat Jan 07, 2017 1:43 am

Angels Over Broadway is the kind of movie where, in scene after scene, most of the characters' motivations just simply don't make any sense. It's not that I want movie characters to behave in the most obvious manner possible, but I have a real hard time watching something where the writer in me can't understand why everyone is behaving completely illogically at every moment. (Biggest offender? The last scene, which basically feels like, well, I guess we have to have a happy ending now.) It gets zero consideration.

Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet is a thoroughly standard biopic of the era. It's certainly not the worst such entry -- partly because it doesn't wear out its welcome so egregiously with an excessive running time -- but it's another I pass over without a second thought.

Obviously I'm happy that Preston Sturges has an Oscar for his career. The problem is, The Great McGinty wouldn't even crack my top five Sturges movies. As Mister Tee says, it's got a strong premise, but it's just not all that funny along the way. I saw it at a point when I'd become used to laughing out loud consistently at Sturges fare, and was disappointed this had more of a first-draft feel, with the jokes yet to really be polished.

Like most, my vote comes down to the remaining two movies, and it's a close call, as I enjoy both.

Foreign Correspondent is one of the earlier entries in Hitchcock's canon of films about wrongly accused heroes on the run. It's not quite as strong as North by Northwest (and maybe not even as strong as the earlier 39 Steps), but it's still a pretty rollicking thriller, with a densely plotted story, a lot of amusing black humor, and some great set pieces (McCrea hanging off the side of the hotel is a particularly breath catching moment). I would have no problem choosing it, and respect the choice of anyone who did.

But I'll say The Great Dictator is the overall more ambitious high-wire act. It's quite funny, containing numerous sequences that have become iconic (the dance with the globe, the barbershop shaving race), and possessing a still-sharp strain of anti-war satire that runs throughout. And the finale -- which I know some find mawkish -- works for me on its own as an inspiring call for unity in the throes of despair, and in context as a powerful emotional button that further elevates much of the comedy that has come before. The Great Dictator is, like much of Chaplin's work, humor with a human (and humanist) pulse, and it gets my vote for its script in this category.

The Original BJ
Emeritus
Posts: 3954
Joined: Mon Apr 28, 2003 8:49 pm

Re: Best Screenplay 1940

Postby The Original BJ » Tue Nov 01, 2016 5:53 pm

I'm in agreement that His Girl Friday and The Shop Around the Corner would have made excellent nominees in the Adapted roster, though many of the actual nominees are quite strong nonetheless.

The one nominee that clearly doesn't deserve the slot is Kitty Foyle, which is a lightweight trifle centered around a pretty shallow protagonist and a thoroughly uninteresting love triangle. This is the kind of movie that's so puzzling as an across-the-board nominee; in today's era, even the poorer nominees generally focus on subject matter with some heft. It's mostly indefensible that voters in 1940 deemed this frivolity worthy of inclusion.

For a screenplay cobbled together from multiple plays, The Long Voyage Home feels remarkably of a piece. Yes, the plot is episodic, but the material flows pretty seamlessly, the attention to character detail is quite rich, and the sense of maritime environment is beautifully realized. I tend to respond not too well to most men-at-sea movies, but this is a clear exception, if not enough of an exception to earn my vote against such strong competition.

I'm not familiar at all with the stage version of The Philadelphia Story to know if it's too much of a filmed play for screenwriting prizes; it certainly doesn't feel like anything wildly opened up for the cinema. But, judging based on the material, the writing is very strong -- the plot moves briskly, the one-liners are really funny, and the characters are all so well-drawn the viewer is kept guessing which man Hepburn will end up with until the very end. Certainly based on a dialogue standpoint, it's very easy to understand why this ended up the winner.

But I prefer the other two movies overall, and in both cases, I can actually evaluate their strengths as adaptations, as I've read both du Maurier and Steinbeck's novels. Rebecca's adaptation is more faithful, but with some smart alterations for the screen version (the ending, with Mrs. Danvers clinging to Manderley until the bitter end, was invented for the movie, and is definitely an exciting way to conclude this screen story). And the movie preserves a lot of what made the original novel so beloved -- its fascinating psychology, its passionate romance, its haunting mystery. I could have voted pretty happily for it in this category.

But I'll conclude that The Grapes of Wrath was just a tougher adaptation assignment overall. It's impressive not simply because the film took an all-time great work of American literature and turned it into an all-time great piece of American cinema, a task that many screenwriters have failed at when tackling landmark books. But Nunnally Johnson took a book with elements that don't lend themselves to narrative filmmaking at all -- entire chapters focused on mood and environment rather than any main characters -- and crafted a script that gives a broad sense of Depression-era life in America while streamlining the material into a single narrative about the Joad family. I know there are those who find the film's altered ending too sentimental -- certainly compared to the birth sequence that ends the book -- but damn, I think Ma Joad's "We're the people" speech is an emotional knockout of a finale, the perfect capper to such a consistently heartfelt film. In a close call over Rebecca, it gets my vote.

Mister Tee
Laureate
Posts: 6118
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: NYC
Contact:

Re: Best Screenplay 1940

Postby Mister Tee » Mon Oct 31, 2016 7:34 pm

The rather undistinguished original batch would be much improved by including The Bank Dick – a very funny Fields film, even if it’s been somewhat downrated by revisionists.

Angels over Broadway is a Hollywood cautionary tale: Ben Hecht wrote many, many hugely enjoyable genre scripts; you could count on him for rapid-fire dialogue, a wised-up tone, and tight narratives. With that behind him, he apparently decided he had Important Things to Say that his usual work wasn’t allowing him; the result is this aspiring-to-metaphysical-profundity effort that’s a near-complete embarrassment – filled with the kind of purple dialogue you could imagine Hecht sneering at in any other context. Truly awful.

I found Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet interesting simply because I didn’t know a thing about the man – his once-groundbreaking cure for syphilis having been long superseded by penicillin, whatever fame he’d had was long gone (not unlike Sister Kenny, whose revolutionary polio treatments became unimportant after the Salk/Sabin vaccines). It’s just another inventor bio, but an engrossing enough one (presumably Huston’s contributions helped).

As happy as I’ve been to advocate for Preston Sturges in his other nominations (as well as the once or twice he was left out), I can’t really endorse his one win, for The Great McGinty. McGinty has an absolutely terrific, Sturges-ian premise – “I did one right thing in my life, and it wrecked everything”. But the execution is bland by Sturges standards; more frenetic than funny. In fact, for that year, I’d far prefer a nomination for Christmas in July – also not top-drawer Sturges, but with more memorable dialogue throughout.

The Great Dictator has its moments – many involving Jack Oakie – but it runs way too long, and has an ending that may well have suited the times, but feels way over-earnest today. It’s odd that this second-tier effort got Chaplin more Academy attention than his genuine classics.

So I go with Foreign Correspondent. It, too, has a bit too much wartime earnestness – McCrea’s sign-off warning feels like an ending for a propaganda film, not a thriller – and I find the plane crash/rescue rather bland dramatically. But, the film leading to these pedestrian final moments is greatly entertaining – full of nifty sequences (the umbrellas, the windmill, the tower) and tightly structured. Not great Hitchcock, but more than enough to win this category.

There are several splendid films that could and should have made the adapted list: Pride and Prejudice – for the era, an unusually faithful and witty Austen adaptation; The Shop Around the Corner – one of Lubitsch’s best two or three films; and His Girl Friday – a remarkably smooth rework of the classic that makes it into a romantic comedy without losing the bite of the original.

All of these should have been there rather than Kitty Foyle, a soap opera that gives “women’s picture” a bad name. A ridiculously convoluted story that seems to exist mainly to give Ginger Rogers’ character a chance to tell off some high society swells. One of many scripts that make me question Dalton Trumbo’s reputation as a screenwriter.

Philip Barry is an odd duck of a playwright – a social-conscience writer who worked most famously in the realm of high-society romantic comedy. The Philadelphia Story is probably the best of his work; it manages a rather unusual romantic rivalry (Grant/Stewart/the fiancé makes it a quadrangle, I guess) and also gets in its jabs at both the wealthy and the pompous left. The film’s win here is no great injustice, though I won’t echo it.

Rebecca is one of the screen’s better gothics – a semi-ghost story (in the sense that Rebecca’s shade seems to live on in Mrs. Danvers). It’s a moody piece, for which credit goes most to Hitchcock. But it’s also got a solid narrative spine, any number of well-drawn characters, and, at heart, an unusual sort of love story. It’d be a perfectly acceptable choice.

O’Neill thought The Long Voyage Home was the best screen version of any of his plays, and it’s hard to argue with him. Of course, he didn’t live to see Long Day’s Journey, but even that I don’t think, as a film, matched the smoothness of this effort. It helps that the sea plays are among the least dated of O’Neill’s work from the 20s and 30s – they’re simple and pure, without the bombast of things like The Great God Brown. Beyond that, the four plays are nicely blended here, and don’t overdo the male-camaraderie thing like too much of Ford. It’s a small but graceful film.

But I’ll go for Ford’s more prominent effort, The Grapes of Wrath – an unusually tough (for the era) version of a novel that’s scathing and tender in equal measure. The Joad family and their compatriots are drawn with sympathy and grit, and their journey to Calfornia is compelling both along the way and after they reach their destination. Film history is of course rife with adaptations of famous novels, many of them abject failures and many more pale echoes of what thrilled on the page. The Grapes of Wrath belongs to that small group of films that at least came close to doing justice to their source material, and deserves the win here for that achievement.

Big Magilla
Site Admin
Posts: 15253
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 3:22 pm
Location: Jersey Shore

Re: Best Screenplay 1940

Postby Big Magilla » Thu Sep 29, 2016 7:56 am

Original

As with Original Story, none of these are bad choices,Dr, Ehrlich;s Magic Bullet and The Great Dictator are more than that, but the one that I watch over and over is Foreign Correspondent which may not be Hitchcock's best film by a long shot, but has one of the most complex scripts of any of his films. It gets my vote.

Adapted

I've never gotten the popularity of Kitty Foyle and don't understand its nomination here over The Shop Around the Corner, His Girl Friday, The Thief of Bagdad, Pride and Prejudice, Our Town, Pincocchio and so many other worthy choices.

The Long Voyage Home is a good adaptation of O'Neill's play and the winner, The Philadelphia Story, is one of the screen's most buoyant comedies, but the two real gems here are Rebecca and The Grapes of Wrath.

Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison's adaptation of Rebecca is classy on every level, but what Nunnally Johnson does in adapting Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath is uncanny. His adaptation of the novel that comes closest to being "the great American novel" than any other yet written becomes the screenplay for the strongest candidate for the "best American film" yet made, Daryl F, Zanucks' hastily written curtain speech for Ma Joad not withstanding, certainly by the standards of the day. It get my vote.

Big Magilla
Site Admin
Posts: 15253
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 3:22 pm
Location: Jersey Shore

Best Screenplay 1940

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Sep 28, 2016 6:40 am

The beginning of an era marks the end of our going backwards over Original and Adapted Screenplay nominations.


Return to “The Damien Bona Memorial Oscar History Thread”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests