Monday, February 6, 2012

The Katie-Bar-The-Door Awards (1959)

At the heart of every Howard Hawks action movie is the concept of the professional doing his job, and doing it well, despite the imminent threat of death, an idealized code of conduct Hemingway called "grace under pressure." We're all going to die sooner or later, Hawks seems to be saying, can't we at least do it with a bit of dignity and honor and laughter and good company?

After nearly three decades of genre defining action pictures—from Dawn Patrol to Only Angels Have Wings to Red River to The Thing From Another World—Hawks topped himself with Rio Bravo, if not the best Western ever made then certainly the most entertaining.

It's also Hawks at his most compassionate, not an attribute I would always associate with his brusque heroes and no-nonsense women. But John Wayne watches over his ragged crew—a drunk, a cripple, and later a girl, a young gunslinger and even the manager of the local hotel—like a mother hen, with a love that is sometimes tough and sometimes tender, but always genuine.

There's a lesson here for purveyors of the modern summer blockbuster: don't confuse a slowing of the action with a flagging of the audience's interest. If you don't give us a reason to invest ourselves in the characters on the screen, the non-stop action, no matter how well choreographed, eventually becomes a tedious bore.

Hawks, for example, takes time after one character's particularly intense personal crisis for a trademark song (here, "My Rifle, My Pony and Me") which not only allows the audience to catch its breath, but also adds another dimension to the friendship between the four men involved that makes the final payoff (one of the greatest shootouts in movie history) so much more satisfying—because by then you really care.

I'll take Rio Bravo with its ups and downs of pacing and mood over all the empty, rote action movies ever made.

winner: Rio Bravo (prod. Howard Hawks)
nominees: Anatomy of a Murder (prod. Otto Preminger); Ben-Hur (prod. Sam Zimbalist); Imitation of Life (prod. Ross Hunter); North By Northwest (prod. Alfred Hitchcock); Shadows (prod. Maurice McEndree); Room at the Top (James Woolf and John Woolf)

PICTURE (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Some Like It Hot (prod. Billy Wilder)
nominees: I'm All Right Jack (prod. Roy Boultin); The Mouse That Roared (prod. Walter Shenson); Our Man In Havana (prod. Carol Reed); Pillow Talk (prod. Ross Hunter and Martin Melcher); Sleeping Beauty (prod. Walt Disney)

PICTURE (Foreign Language)
winner: Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows) (prod. François Truffaut)
nominees: Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) (prod. Satyajit Ray); Ballada o soldate (Ballad of a Soldier) (prod. M. Chernova); Hiroshima mon amour (prod. Anatole Dauman and Samy Halfon); Ningen no jôken (The Human Condition) (prod. Shigeru Wakatsuki); Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) (prod. Sacha Gordine); Ukigusa (Floating Weeds) (prod. Masaichi Nagata)

ACTOR (Drama)
winner: Cary Grant (North By Northwest)
nominees: Peter Cushing (The Hound of the Baskervilles); Charlton Heston (Ben-Hur); Jean-Pierre Léaud (Les quatre cents coups a.k.a. The 400 Blows); Dean Martin (Rio Bravo); Paul Muni (The Last Angry Man); James Stewart (Anatomy of a Murder); John Wayne (Rio Bravo)

ACTOR (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Jack Lemmon (Some Like It Hot)
nominees: Tony Curtis (Some Like It Hot); Alec Guinness (Our Man In Havana); Rock Hudson (Pillow Talk); Peter Sellers (The Mouse That Roared and I'm All Right Jack)

winner: Simone Signoret (Room At The Top)
nominees: Audrey Hepburn (The Nun's Story); Katharine Hepburn (Suddenly Last Summer); Eva Marie Saint (North By Northwest); Lana Turner (Imitation Of Life)

ACTRESS (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Marilyn Monroe (Some Like It Hot)
nominees: Dorothy Dandridge (Porgy And Bess); Doris Day (Pillow Talk)

winner: Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo)
nominees: John Cassavetes (Shadows); Alfred Hitchcock (North By Northwest); Masaki Kobayashi (Ningen no jôken a.k.a. The Human Condition); Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Murder); Douglas Sirk (Imitation of Life); François Truffaut (Les quatre cents coups a.k.a. The 400 Blows); William Wyler (Ben-Hur)

DIRECTOR (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot)
nominees: Marcel Camus (Orfeu Negro a.k.a. Black Orpheus); Michael Gordon (Pillow Talk); Yasujirô Ozu (Ohayô a.k.a. Good Morning); Carol Reed (Our Man In Havana)

winner: Walter Brennan (Rio Bravo)
nominees: Joe E. Brown (Some Like It Hot); Ben Gazzarra (Anatomy of a Murder); Hugh Griffith (Ben-Hur); Martin Landau (North By Northwest); James Mason (North By Northwest); Arthur O'Connell (Anatomy of a Murder); Tony Randall (Pillow Talk); George C. Scott (Anatomy of a Murder); Orson Welles (Compulsion)

winner: Juanita Moore (Imitation Of Life)
nominees: Eve Arden (Anatomy of a Murder); Angie Dickinson (Rio Bravo); Susan Kohner (Imitation of Life); Jessie Royce Landis (North By Northwest); Lee Remick (Anatomy of a Murder); Shelley Winters (The Diary of Anne Frank)

winner: Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, from the story by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan (Some Like It Hot)
nominees: Karl Tunberg, from the novel by Lew Wallace (Ben-Hur); Ernest Lehman (North By Northwest); Graham Greene, from his novel (Our Man In Havana); François Truffaut (scenario and adaptation), Marcel Moussy (dialogue and adaptation) (Les quatre cents coups a.k.a. The 400 Blows); Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, from the short story by B.H. McCampbell (Rio Bravo)

Saul Bass (Career Achievement Award); Jazz on a Summer's Day (Documentary); William A. Horning and Edward Carfagno; Hugh Hunt (Ben-Hur) (Art Direction-Set Decoration); Franklin E. Milton (Ben-Hur) (Sound); Ralph E. Winters and John D. Dunning (Ben-Hur) (Film Editing); Elizabeth Haffenden (Ben-Hur) (Costumes); A. Arnold Gillespie, Robert MacDonald and Milo Lory (Ben-Hur) (Special Effects)


MovieNut14 said...

The love towards Some Like It Hot was no surprise, but Rio Bravo...that was a surprise. Mind you, I only saw it for the first time last September.

Mythical Monkey said...

Yeah, Rio Bravo -- Quentin Tarantino's favorite movie. "When I’m getting serious about a girl," he has said, "I show her Rio Bravo and she better $@#&*%! like it."

This is what Roger Ebert said about it in his Great Movies series:

"To watch "Rio Bravo" is to see a master craftsman at work. The film is seamless. There is not a shot that is wrong. It is uncommonly absorbing, and the 141-minute running time flows past like running water. It contains one of John Wayne’s best performances. It has surprisingly warm romantic chemistry between Wayne and Angie Dickinson. Dean Martin is touching. Ricky Nelson, then a rival of Elvis’ and with a pompadour that would have been laughed out of the Old West, improbably works in the role of a kid gunslinger. Old Walter Brennan, as the peg-legged deputy, provides comic support that never oversteps."

And the film historian Robin Wood, on his deathbed, named Rio Bravo his favorite movie, the one film that justifies Hollywood's existence.

My only question is whether Rio Bravo is a drama or a comedy. Same could be said of North By Northwest for that matter ...

Erik Beck said...

I was wondering how much you would love Rio Bravo. In that same review, Ebert compares it to High Noon, essentially saying High Noon isn't so great. I was glad to see that you did go for High Noon in your 1952 essay. I've personally always preferred High Noon.

I was about to say something about your genre divisions before you did. One of the most interesting things about your Katie Awards is your genre divisions. I didn't really think of Horse's Mouth or Baby Doll as comedies while I do think of North by Northwest that way (and the presence of Martin has always made me lean towards comedy for Rio Bravo). Some movies are notoriously difficult to classify into one or the other. As we go forward, I'm anxious to see which films end up in which list.

Mythical Monkey said...

Yeah, the split between Drama and Comedy is almost useless sometimes. Maybe the categories should be "Light" and "Dark."

I think even the people who are in the business aren't quite sure what they're making. I remember at the Golden Globes about ten years ago, Jack Nicholson winning Best Actor in a Drama for About Schmidt, and he said in his acceptance speech, "I thought we were making a comedy!"

Actually, I just read a similar comment in Piper Laurie's autobiography, where she's talking about Carrie. She read the script, found it hilarious and signed on, then discovered as they were rehearsing one of her biggest scenes that Brian De Palma was making a drama.

The script said, "Mrs. White tears her dress, abuses herself in some way." I knew the costumers would not appreciate my destroying the wardrobe for every take. So midway through the scene I grabbed my hair and used it to pull myself around the room. I figured it would look absurd and funny. When I was about to do it a second time, Brian suddenly stopped me. He said, "Piper, you can't do that. You're going to get a laugh!"

I thought to myself,
Yes, that's right, I hope so. Isn't that the point? But I could see he was not smiling. He was serious. Oh boy, how could I have gone so wrong?

Anyway, putting Rio Bravo and North by Northwest in comedy would create a 1964-style logjam in that category. And I guess Anatomy of a Murder would emerge as a big winner.

I don't know.

Anyway, 1959 was a great year for movies. That's the most frustrating thing about doing awards based on a given year -- some years are great and some are weak, but all the awards look the same on paper.

mister muleboy said...

I have always considered Casablanca a comedy. Indeed, as we've discussed, I had a very hard time embracing its charms when I tried to watch it as a romance or a drama.

But once I got in the flow of the comedy, the romance and the depth of the movie's observations caught up with me. Or I to them. . . .

Erik Beck said...

Yeah. Inside Oscar has a great anecdote from 1985 where Jack Nicholson doesn't want to make Prizzi's Honor because he doesn't get the script and John Huston puts his arms around him and says "Jack, it's a comedy." I've always loved imagining him with his Gandalf voice saying that.

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

I went to see BREATHLESS with a friend and he came out hating it. "That last scene, where he just kept dying and dying and would't drop dead. That was so unrealistic!"

I just told him it was supposed to be a comedy. Then he liked it fine. It's not really true, but that scene is kind of funny.