From 1948-1952, giants of the entertainment world — including the motion picture –industry played prominent parts in the movies that won the Academy Award for best picture.
Those names would include Laurence Olivier, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Cecile B. DeMille, Charlton Heston, Gene Kelly, Vincente Minnelli, Leslie Caron, Anne Baxter, and in a relatively minor role Marilyn Monroe.
Even William Shakespeare got in on the action.
“Hamlet,” 1948, directed by Laurence Olivier.
This Oscar-winning version of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” was the first time one of The Bard’s great plays received the Academy Award for best picture.
This production was a creation of Laurence Olivier who directed the movie and played Hamlet. The film version was shortened considerably from the four-hour play to 153 minutes. Shot in Denmark, it was lauded for its photography.
In case this is new to you, the story is about the prince (Hamlet) “who just couldn’t decide” and was seeking revenge for the death of his father.
The great cast included Jean Simmons, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Stanley Holloway, Eileeen Herlie, Basil Sydney and Felix Aylmer.
Among other nominees for the top prize were”The Red Shoes” and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”
“All the King’s Men,” 1949, directed by Julian Jarrold
Based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren, this incredible political drama is the fictional story of a politician who rises to the governorship fighting corruption but then falls to the same demons.
The movie and book are supposedly based on the life and death of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, who called himself “The KIngfish.” He served as the governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and as a member of the United State Senate from 1932 until his assassination in 1935. There’s also a bit of Major League Baseball Commissioner and former Kentucky Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler in the character, but Chandler wasn’t assassinated.
Set in the depression era, it starred Broderick Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, John Ireland, Joanne Dru and John Derek (future director/photographer and husband of Ursula Andress, Linda Evans, and Bo Derek). This was a big break for Crawford whom many of us boomers remember from the “Highway Patrol” TV series.
A remake in 2006 starring Sean Penn doesn’t have quite the same power as the original.
Other contenders for the 1949 top picture Oscar included “A Letter to Three Wives” and “Twelve O’Clock High.”
“All About Eve,” 1959, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewciz
“A’ll About Eve” is the ultimate backstage drama with Anne Baxter’s character taking over the Broadway role and life of aging star Bette Davis’ character .
In addition to Davis and Baxter, the great cast of this best picture winner includes George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill and Thelma Ritter. Marilyn Monroe also appears in several scenes.
This movie deservedly won six Oscars. Among the other outstanding films competing for the best picture Oscar were “Born Yesterday,” “King Solomon’s Mine,” and “Sunset Boulevard.”
An American in Paris, 1951, directed by Vincente Minnelli
Best picture winner “An American in Paris” serves as a great showcase for the marvelous dancing skills of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in addition to the great music of Gershwin.
The plot involves Kelly, playing an artist in Paris, being torn between two women. The songs, choreography and production are what makes this a delight to watch, not the plot.
This is not this writer’s favorite Kelly musical. “On the Town” and “Singin’ in the Rain” rank higher on my list of favorite Kelly musical vehicles. Yet, it is an outstanding film, worth watching several times if you appreciate great productions.
Other nominees for the best picture Oscar included “A Street Named Desire” and “A Place in the Sun.”
The Greatest Show on Earth, 1952, directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
This Oscar winner might have been about the greatest show on Earth, but it wasn’t the greatest movie of 1952.
“The Greatest Show on Earth” is a romance and fugitive story under a circus big top. This film lives up to Cecil B. DeMille’s reputation as a fabulous creator of big productions.
The outstanding cast includes Jimmy Stewart. Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Charlton Heston and Dorothy LaMour.
This writer’s problem isn’t that this is a bad film, but that there were better movies nominated for the 1952 Academy Award for best picture. Those included “High Noon,” “The Quiet Man,” and “Moulin Rouge.”