Best Screenplay 1941

1927/28 through 1997

3 Selections - Best Original Story, Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay of 1941

Ball of Fire (Thomas Monroe, Billy Wilder)
2
6%
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (Barry Segall)
2
6%
The Lady Eve (Monckton Hoffe)
9
26%
Meet John Doe (Richard Connell, Robert Presnell)
0
No votes
Night Train (to Munich) (Gordon Wellesley)
0
No votes
Citizen Kane (Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles)
11
31%
The Devil and Miss Jones (Norman Krasna)
0
No votes
Sergeant York (Harry Chadlee, Abern Finkel, John Huston, Howard Koch)
0
No votes
Tall, Dark and Handsome (Karl Tunberg, Darrell Ware)
0
No votes
Tom, Dick and Harry (Paul Jarrico)
0
No votes
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (Sidney Buchman, Seton I. Miller)
0
No votes
Hold Back the Dawn (Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder)
0
No votes
How Green Was My Valley (Philip Dunne)
3
9%
The Little Foxes (Lillian Hellman)
2
6%
The Maltese Falcon (John Huston)
6
17%
 
Total votes: 35

The Original BJ
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Re: Best Screenplay 1941

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Sep 04, 2017 6:25 pm

Once you've seen the roster of Original Screenplay nominees, it's easy to see why even an Academy otherwise blackballing Citizen Kane almost HAD to vote for it here.

It's rare I say this about a movie, but at under 80 minutes, Tall, Dark and Handsome actually suffers from its own economy. The premise seems like a set-up for a halfway amusing plot -- gangster hides his true identity to con the governess he's fallen for into working for him -- but we're only minutes into this story before his big secret comes out. For me, that reveal happened way too quickly to buy the romance that followed. Overall, it's a harmless rom-com/gangster mashup, but sort of silly.

Speaking of silly, Tom, Dick and Harry is another in a long line of exceedingly lightweight Ginger Rogers vehicles of the era. It, too, is harmless enough romantic comedy fare, even if a lot of the plot line feels divorced from actual human behavior. And the fantasy sequences are sort of bizarre, though I'm not sure if that's a criticism or an appreciative nod to an aspect of the movie that's willing to take a weird conceit and run with it. Another nominee too slight to take seriously.

I guess if Citizen Kane wasn't going to be the winner, Sergeant York, with its double digit nominations, probably would have been. But I'd find that hard to endorse, because I think its writing credentials leave plenty to be desired. I think the story takes a long time to get going -- the focus on the actual event that made Alvin York famous happens really late in the movie, and before that, there's a lot of silly rural podunk scenes to get through. A lot of this movie is just anathema to my sensibilities.

Of the comedies on the ballot, I rate The Devil and Miss Jones the highest. It's definitely got a hijinx-y premise (gazillionaire goes undercover as a worker at his own department store!), and of course it's obvious where a story like this is headed in the plot/theme department, especially in the 1940's. But I think it grounds itself a lot more in reality than the other humorous films on the ballot, and weaves in some smart class-conscious commentary throughout. It's a worthy nominee, though not a winner.

Because what is the rationale for picking anything OTHER than Citizen Kane? It's a glorious piece of writing, exceptional in every way a screenplay can be. Its flashback-laden structure was hugely innovative at the time, and has inspired countless movies since. Its central character is a marvelous creation -- smart and cunning and proud and charismatic and maniacal and treacherous and tragic. And the dialogue has such a perceptive zing to it it feels modern even today -- "It's no trick to make a lot of money if all you want is to make a lot of money" feels like the kind of line the Mamets and Sorkins of the world would have loved to have written. And overall, I'd have to salute just how much fun it is to watch, a pantheon-level classic that nonetheless feels as alive and engaging as it must have nearly 80 years ago. It would be the choice in this category in practically any year, but in THIS lineup? It doesn't even require a second thought.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1941

Postby Big Magilla » Sun Oct 16, 2016 4:37 am

Talk, Dark and Handsome was given a DVD release by Fox cinema Archives in 2014. The only one of this year's writing nominees not to be given a DVD release in the U.S. is Hold Back the Dawn which is still being held up by Universal, which owns the rights to pre-1948 Paramount films.

Also missing, thanks to Universal's knuckleheaded release strategy is Olivia de Havilland's first Oscar winner, To Each His Own.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1941

Postby The Original BJ » Sat Oct 15, 2016 9:31 pm

Mister Tee wrote:I’m missing one from Original Screenplay – the immortal Talk, Dark and Handsome – but since that’s the category with the biggest no-brainer choice of all, I’m going to indulge myself and vote anyway.


YouTube has it available to rent for $2.99.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1941

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Oct 15, 2016 8:46 pm

I’m missing one from Original Screenplay – the immortal Talk, Dark and Handsome – but since that’s the category with the biggest no-brainer choice of all, I’m going to indulge myself and vote anyway.

By the way, I only noticed, with the juxtaposition of Talk, Dark and Handsome/Tom, Dick and Harry, that these two common phrases – with opposite meanings when you think about it (the first a special, attractive man; the second any old schlump) – have the same initial letters. I wondered if maybe one arose from the other, but, per Wiki, both seem centuries-old, so it’s apparently just coincidence.

Maybe it only hits me this way because I watched the films close together in time, but Tom, Dick and Harry seems not dissimilar to 1945’s Affairs of Susan – in each, a central female character deals with three suitors in mostly separate story-lines. This effort is nothing special in the story department – anyone familiar with the common-man-uber-alles spirit of the time can figure out who Ginger Rogers is going to end up with – but the film’s a pleasant/painless watch.

Sergeant York gets to be fun once York turns into such an unlikely hero (in ways so movie-ish I assume it’s complete bullshit). Unfortunately, to get to that, you have to plow through a whole lot of backwoods corn, which I’ve been unable to force myself do recently enough to make my opinion freshly obtained. But I’m going to trust my aging recollection and pass.

The Devil and Miss Jones isn’t up to the level of the Arthur/Coburn collaboration from two years later, but it’s another pleasing enough “hooray for the proles” romantic comedy.

But why even talk about all those other films? -- we all know Citizen Kane is the only choice here. Is it even necessary to go over the reasons? Okay, briefly: the miles-ahead-of-its-time structure; the multitude of beautifully-drawn characters; the wonderful dialogue, whether pungent (”At the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place…in 60 years”), perceptive (“I don't know many people”; “I know too many people. I guess we're both lonely”) or haunting (“I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl”); above all, the vast ambition: trying to capture something essential about America by concentrating on this one outsized, contradictory figure. A great film, and the slam-dunk choice in this category.

Because this year’s roster is generally solid, I can’t point out too many worthy substitutes. But let me offer one, under adaptation: All That Money Can Buy/The Devil and Daniel Webster, an exceedingly clever, verbally dexterous version of Benet’s story (and way better than you’d expect from a William Dieterle movie).

The Little Foxes is pretty much potboiler at heart (Pauline Kael once asked how a writer whose plays revolved around wills and such melodramatic deaths could be viewed as a deep thinker); I don’t think the play is about anything but the spectacle of greedy people conniving against one other. But it’s an entertaining enough potboiler – Hellman knew how to carpenter her plays -- and the scene of Herbert Marshall struggling to climb the stairs is certainly gripping.

I agree with BJ about Hold Back the Dawn’s ridiculous framing device – the first time I saw it, I gaped at those sections in disbelief. And I also agree the deHavilland character’s utter naivete strains credulity. But there’s a fair amount of good writing here: the scenes between Boyer and Goddard feel almost like a rough draft for Double Indemnity. A respectable enough nominee.

Enough already said about Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

I may be one of the few who’d actually read How Green Was My Valley prior to seeing the film (in high school, in fact). Dunne did a reasonably good job condensing what I recall as a quite sprawling novel. And the film is certainly a work of quality. But I don’t quite share the high opinions of Magilla and (I recall) Damien, for my usual reason of simply not being attuned to John Ford’s sensibility. The whole thing is just too family-virtuous, too lacking in snap or irony for my taste. I don’t actively quarrel with anyone who loves it – anymore than I’d dispute someone’s love of pineapple, a flavor I’ve just never been able to stand. I’m simply not casting a vote the film’s way.

The Maltese Falcon, on the other hand, is right in my wheelhouse. I’m told the film sticks extremely closely to Hammett’s novel, to the point of replicating much dialogue. If this seems too easy a thing to accomplish, please note that it eluded the writers of the two earlier, inferior adaptations (Huston’s disgust with those failures was in fact what made him anxious to shoot the film his way). And it’s hard to imagine the whole thing being done better than it is here: the characters are all vividly drawn; the dialogue is dotted with memorable quotes (“We didn’t believe your story, Miss O’Shaughnessy; we believed your two hundred dollars”; “You always have a smooth explanation ready” “Would you like me to learn how to stutter?”; of course culminating in “The stuff that dreams are made of”); and the plot is perfectly worked out without ever seeming mechanical or simply procedural. A true film classic, and my easy choice here.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1941

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Oct 10, 2016 1:53 pm

The Adapted roster is a pretty substantial slate -- all Best Picture nominees, numerous notable writers. Since double-dipping is allowed, I'd have wanted some more of the Story nominees to carry over (The Lady Eve and Ball of Fire), but those can be discussed further in the other thread.

It's rare that a Billy Wilder script is the weakest of the lot, but I'd eliminate Hold Back the Dawn first. Frankly, I think those bookends -- "I need to tell my story to a screenwriter" -- are an immediate disqualification for writing prizes. The central chunk of the movie is definitely better, though the script does still ask a fairly decent buy of the viewer -- to accept that someone would so easily go along with Boyer's plans as De Havilland does. The trademark Wilder/Brackett cynicism does still shine through in much of the dialogue, but there are clearly better places to honor them elsewhere.

I had actually seen the Warren Beatty remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan first, and wondered if that familiarity with the story would tamper my enthusiasm once I got to the original. But I can't say it did -- the story just works. It's an amusing premise, executed with inventive laughs along the way, and the conclusion lands with genuine poignancy. I don't think it's as weighty a movie as some others on this ballot, nor as zippy and hilarious as some other comedies this year, but it's easy to see why it was the winner.

The Little Foxes is a powerful gothic Southern family drama, but it is, of course, a filmed play, with decent chunks of scenes taken verbatim from Hellman's source material. But the play was fleshed out as well, with more depth given to the supporting characters, and some of the more potboiler-y elements improved upon -- it's probably not an instant disqualification based on stage origin. Still, I rate Wyler more instrumental in the success of the material as a movie -- his staging and framing make the work more cinematically dynamic than nearly anything in Hellman's adaptation.

"There is no fence nor hedge round time that is gone. You can go back and have what you like of it, if you can remember" is a splendid line of voice-over, and as far as I know, seems to have been written for the movie of How Green Was My Valley? (I've not read the novel.) Either way, the script is a beautiful compendium of heartfelt observations such as this, enveloped by memory, but tinged with an honesty about small-town life and families that makes the film way more than a simple nostalgia piece. It, too, though feels like a stronger directorial achievement -- the foundation is certainly impressive, but it's Ford's touches that really make the movie special.

The Maltese Falcon is a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel, with most of the plot and decent amounts of dialogue taken directly from Dashiell Hammett. (The famous last line wasn't, though legend is that that came from Bogart, right?) Still, given the number of times terrific books have become less-than-stellar movies, it's worth saluting this occasion when a prototypical noir novel inspired an equally iconic movie. Huston's major achievement here is to streamline the book even further, so the story just barrels along with gripping tension throughout, bringing out the despair of the characters while peppering their interactions with plenty of cynical humor. It's truly hard to imagine a better adaptation of this already-wonderful material, and it gets my vote pretty easily.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1941

Postby Big Magilla » Thu Sep 22, 2016 7:21 pm

Original Story

The week entry here is Night Train which is all over the place. The best part of the film is the repartee between Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, which is part of the screenplay, not the story.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Ball of Fire, Meet John Doe and The Lady Eve are all excellent stories anyone of which would be a deserving winner but I have to go with the Oscar winner. Here Comes Mr. Jordan is such an inventive story that it still seems fresh after decades of rip-offs and remakes.

Original Screenplay

Citizen Kane is so far above the competition here that any discussion is superfluous.

Adapted Screenplay

Hold Back the Dawn is not top tier Brackett & Wilder although it does have its moments, but can't seriously compete against such strong competition.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan I've already voted for in story, so no double-dipping from me even if the Academy had no such problem.

The Little Foxes is Lillian Hellman's adaptation of her own play. No cigar.

The Maltese Falcon is what every remake should be, a deft improvement over the original. If it weren't for How Green Was My Valley, it would be the one to beat but Valley is here. A film that succeeds on every level, as a family drama, a coming-of-age drama, an indictment of social wrongs - how it could lose this one is beyond me.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1941

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Sep 21, 2016 2:25 pm

The Original BJ wrote:For consistency's sake, can these be separated into Screenplay and Original Story, so that it's easier to find the Original Story discussion down the road?

Unfortunately, no. At least one person has already voted.

I can, however, create a dummy thread referring back to this one.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1941

Postby The Original BJ » Wed Sep 21, 2016 12:57 pm

For consistency's sake, can these be separated into Screenplay and Original Story, so that it's easier to find the Original Story discussion down the road?

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Best Screenplay 1941

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Sep 21, 2016 12:16 pm

This is the last year, since we are going backwards, that there will be a separate category for Best Original Screenplay. Beginning with 1940, it's Original Story and (Adapted) Screenplay until we get back to 1929/30 and 1928/29 for which it's simply "Best Writing". The first awards for 1927/28 had separate categories for Story and Adaptation and a third category for title writing.

To make up for last week's lack of a thread for Original Story of 1941, here are all three categories for 1941, in order: Original Story; Original Screenplay; Adapted Screenplay.

Have fun!


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