Saturday, August 9, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock and the Oscars

TCM's Essential for tonight is Billy Wilder's The Apartment, airing at 8:00 PM ET. Wilder won another Best Director Oscar for the movie, beating out, amongst others, the great Alfred Hitchcock, who had received his fifth and final Best Director nomination for his masterpiece Psycho. I'd have to think long and hard about which of the two had the better directing job, but suffice it to say, either one would have been a worthy winner, and there's no shame in being beaten out by a movie as good as The Apartment.

But spare a thought for Hitchcock: despite those five nominations, he never actually won a competitive Oscar. (He later received an honorary Oscar in 1967.) Worse for him, regarding Psycho, is that this wasn't the first time he had been nominated, but beaten by Wilder. In 1945, Hitchcock had been nominated for Spellbound (which is airing on August 25 as part of TCM's Summer Under the Stars salute to Ingrid Bergman), but had the bad luck to be beaten out by Wilder's truly remarkable movie The Lost Weekend. This time, at least, Hitchcock probably didn't deserve the Oscar.

You can say the same thing about Hitch's first and fourth nominations, too. The first came in 1940, when Hitchcock was nominated for Rebecca. It won the grand prize, beating out classic movies like The Philadelphia Story to win the Best Picture Oscar, but for direction, Hitchcock had to settle for watching the great John Ford take home a statuette for another all-time classic, The Grapes of Wrath. Likewise, in 1954, Hitchcock directed another outstanding movie in Rear Window. Unfortunately for him, he had the tremendous misfortune of being up against one Elia Kazan who had directed a thing called On The Waterfront.

Hitchcock probably did deserve to win one competitive Oscar, though. In 1944, he was nominated for Lifeboat which, being set entirely in and around a ship's lifeboat, shows a remarkable display of direction. But the Academy had some really warped thinking in 1944. The movie that won a lot of the major prizes was the dreadful Going My Way. It wasn't just the direction where worthy nominees got the shaft. Bing Crosby won the Best Actor Oscar, and thanks to a screw-up by the Academy, co-star Barry Fitzgerald was also nominated, meaning that one of the acting snubs was Fred MacMurray, who was the male lead in... Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity.

For the record, Wilder himself lost to some remarkable movies. The aforementioned On The Waterfront beat out Wilder's direction in Sabrina, while his even better directing job in Stalag 17 was beaten out by another even more outstanding movie, Fred Zinneman's From Here to Eternity.

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