Film Noir and the Academy Awards
As part of the For The Love of Film (Noir) blogathon, I thought I would take a look at some Film Noir that got a little love from the Academy. Although the bulk of films considered “Film Noir” were low-budget films and were often considered at the time “B-pictures,” there were a handful of films, mostly made by already established directors and stars, that were acknowledged by the Academy. After the cut I’ll do a breakdown of nine categories wherein Film Noir shined.
The interesting thing about this five Film Noirs that were nominated for Best Picture is that, aside from The Maltese Falcon, their main protagonists are women. I suppose you could argue that Double Indemnity‘s main character is Fred MacMurray, but I definitely think it’s Barbara Stanwyck’s character that makes the most impact. Also, all four of the lead actresses in those films received nominations for Best Actress. Joan Crawford, however, was the only actress to win.
Best Director: William Wyler – The Letter, Otto Preminger – Laura, Billy Wilder – Double Indemnity, Robert Siodmak – The Killers, Carol Reed – The Fallen Idol, John Huston – The Asphalt Jungle, Carol Reed – The Third Man, Billy Wilder – Sunset Boulevard
I think it’s interesting to note that a handful of these nominations came without a Best Picture nomination for the directors’ films. I always find it odd when a director gets a nomination when a film isn’t up for Best Picture. Also of note, both Billy Wilder and Carol Reed were nominated twice for their efforts in film noir and although they did not win for these films, they both at one point in their careers won Best Director Oscar
Best Actress: Bette Davis – The Letter, Barbara Stanwyck – Double Indemnity, Joan Crawford – Mildred Pierce, Gene Tierney – Leave Her to Heaven, Gloria Swanson – Sunset Blvd
Of these performances, only Gene Tierney’s film was not also up for Best Picture (though it did win Best Color Cinematography). Like I said earlier, Joan Crawford was the only actress to win Best Actress for a performance in a Film Noir.
Best Actor: John Garfield – Body and Soul, William Holden – Sunset Blvd
These are such different performances. Garfield was nominated for a performance in a boxing film (a popular subject for film noir) and Holden inBilly Wilder’s dark look at Hollywood.
Best Supporting Actress: Eve Arden – Mildred Pierce, Ann Blyth – Mildred Pierce, Claire Trevor – Key Largo, Nancy Olson – Sunset Blvd., Thelma Ritter – Pickup on South Street
This was one of six Best Supporting Actress nominations for Thelma Ritter, who sadly never won. Claire Trevor performance in Key Largo was the only one of these nominated performances to win.
Best Supporting Actor: James Stephenson – The Letter, Sydney Greenstreet – The Maltese Falcon, Clifton Webb – Laura, Richard Widmark – Kiss of Death, Sam Jaffe – The Asphalt Jungle, Erich von Stroheim – Sunset Blvd.
Some great performances in this category, although there’s not a winning one among them. I haven’t seen Kiss of Death, but from that photo of Richard Widmark alone I know I need to see it.
Best Screenplay: Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Laura, Mildred Pierce, The Killers, The Fallen Idol, The Asphalt Jungle, The Blue Dahlia, Sunset Blvd., Ace In The Hole
This is a combination of adapted and original screenplays. Of the above screenplays only Sunset Blvd. won an Oscar. I wanted to picture Carol Reed and Graham Greene, though, because I love all of their collaborations.
Best Cinematography: The Letter, Laura, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, Leave Her To Heaven, The Naked City, The Third Man, Sunset Blvd. The Asphalt Jungle
Perhaps the category with the most wins for film noir, Laura, The Naked City and The Third Man all won Best B&W Cinematography and Leave Her To Heaven won Best Color Cinematography. Also, interesting to note that The Third Man, Sunset Blvd. and The Asphalt Jungle were all nominated in the same year.
Best Film Editing: The Letter, The Killers, Odd Man Out, Body and Soul, The Naked City, Sunset Blvd., The Third Man
In this category, only Body and Soul and The Naked City won their Oscars. Body and Soul is notable for its influence on Martin Scorsese’s 1980 boxing biopic Raging Bull.
Did I miss anything? Are there some films you wished had gotten nominated or think were highly influential but got ignored by the Academy? Do you have any film noir recommendations? I’ve seen a lot (thank you very much, Noirvember), but I’m always looking for suggestions. Also, don’t forget to make a donation to the Film Noir Foundation. Every little bit helps.