Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Best Animated Short - 1952
Ah, we have arrived at 1952. Apologies to everybody that was born in 1952 (including my aunt who would probably never read this blog entry), but 1952 just feels like an undistinguished year to me. Other than the birth year of my aunt I really can't think of anything significant from this year. Yeah, 1951 has the dual debuts of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, the Shot Heard Around the World, and an epic lineup of Best Picture nominees. 1953 saw the birth of George Brett, Mickey Mantle's legendary 565-foot home run (that probably didn't go 565 feet), and the fifth consecutive World Series win by the Yankees. And what did 1952 have? The birth of my aunt, which is much more of a personal thing.
Perhaps it's due to the fact that the films of 1952 were rather undistinguished. There is only one film that really stands out today, and that was the delightful Gene Kelly musical Singin' in the Rain. But Singin' in the Rain was only a modest hit at the box office, and scored only two Oscar nominations. The Gary Cooper Western melodrama High Noon is also highly regarded today, but it did even worse at the box office and was highly criticized for its supposed allegory on the Hollywood blacklisting.
Rather, the biggest film of the year was legendary director Cecil B. DeMille's circus epic The Greatest Show on Earth. The film delighted viewers with its footage of actual circus acts, its vivid visual palette, and the numerous star cameos. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for DeMille, his first after years of being a silent film director and a memorable cameo in Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. Interestingly enough, High Noon was one of the three films with the most nominations, with seven. The other two were the earlier Moulin Rouge and the John Wayne Scottish epic The Quiet Man. The adaptation of the historical novel Ivanhoe took the last Best Picture spot as one of its three nominations. It was the only Best Picture nominee to miss out on Best Director, with its spot going instead to Joseph L. Mankiewicz for 5 Fingers.
One of Singin' in the Rain's two nominations were in the Best Score (Musical) category, but it lost that to the biographical film With a Song in My Heart. High Noon proved to be popular with the Academy, winning Best Music (Dramatic/Comedy) and for Best Original Song. Best Sound went to the British film Breaking the Sound Barrier. Moulin Rouge took home Color Costume Design and Art Direction, but it was not nominated in the Color Cinematography category, which went instead to The Quiet Man. Meanwhile, the Black and White categories were swept by the film about filmmaking The Bad and the Beautiful. High Noon was not nominated in any of the categories, but it did capture the Best Editing Oscar. Best Special Effects went to Plymouth Adventure unopposed. The Bad and the Beautiful continued its hot streak by winning Best Screenplay, beating out High Noon. The Greatest Show on Earth won Best Story, and the heist comedy The Lavender Hill Mob won Best Story and Screenplay.
So it was a relatively close race, with only one film getting four wins to this point, and that film wasn't even nominated for Best Picture. This even distribution of wins is never more obvious than in the acting categories and the final two awards. Anthony Quinn won Best Supporting Actor for his role as the brother to Marlon Brando's Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata!. Meanwhile, Gloria Grahame won Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Bad and the Beautiful, beating out Jean Hagen in Singin' in the Rain's other nominee. Shirley Booth won Best Actress for reprising the role she originated on Broadway in Come Back, Little Sheba. And Gary Cooper managed to capture his second Best Actor award for his role in High Noon. That win gave High Noon four wins to the night, second only to The Bad and the Beautiful. No other film has more than two, but its Best Picture hopes took a hit when John Ford won his fourth Best Director Oscar for The Quiet Man. And to the surprise of all, Best Picture went not to High Noon and The Quiet Man, but for Cecil B. DeMille's circus epic The Greatest Show on Earth.
The Greatest Show on Earth won Best Picture as one of its only two wins, the fewest wins for a Best Picture winner since Rebecca also won with only two wins 12 years earlier. No Best Picture winner had that few wins in the 60 years since. Not only was The Bad and the Beautiful the biggest winner of the night in total wins, it became the first film to win five Oscars without a Best Picture nomination. Similarly, the top 6 award (acting awards + Best Director + Best Picture) all went to different films, the first of four times that's ever happened (including this year.) Nowadays people regard The Greatest Show on Earth as one of the worst Best Picture winners, due to its bloated and incoherent story and the fact it beat out a more deserving film in High Noon.
So Best Picture was sort of a bust. Would a similar fate await the winner of Best Animated Short?
Where Can I Watch It?
Warner Bros. has the rights to those old MGM cartoons, and they've been pretty diligent in keeping the old Tom and Jerry films off YouTube. This video on DailyMotion has lasted for a while, but we'll see how much longer it can last.
Little Johnny Jet
Red Hot Riding Hood and Bad Luck Blackie are well remembered today, he never did get much recognition from the Academy. After his first film at MGM was nominated, he had to wait another ten years before a second one of his MGM films was nominated, but it wasn't even one of Avery's best. The film is interesting for presenting domesticated airplanes and kind of addresses the difficulty of old technology to adjust, but it lacks the frenzied pacing that has defined most of the great Tex Avery films. There was an interesting joke playing off of the quote from General Douglas MacArthur's retirement address, but it wasn't until nearly the end of the film that Avery's visual humor comes through, but those gags weren't really that funny. In the end Little Johnny Jet wasn't even the best Tex Avery film from 1952. Magical Maestro, the first MGM animated film inducted into the National Film Registry, also came out that year.
Where Can I Watch It?
Where Can I Watch It?
The quality is kind of bad, but you know you can always get a better one from the Jolly Frolics DVD.
Pink and Blue Blues
The Ragtime Bear. And Pink and Blue Blues is pretty successful in its presentation. A lot of the humor comes from Mr. Magoo getting young Homer confused with the dog who is trying to catch the burglar, and vice versa. The sight of Magoo carrying the dog in a bundle is very cute and quite a laugh. Of course, the film wouldn't be as funny if the film was limited to that, but thankfully there's a lot of other funny gags involving Magoo's mixups. For example, he sees a fish in a fishbowl and thinks he's watching Esther Williams on television. And there's a little bit of the Benny Hill type chase slapstick near the end of the film. The animation is more detailed than most UPA films although nothing really worth writing about, and Jim Backus is terrific as the voice of Mr. Magoo. Overall Pink and Blue Blues is a fun little madcap adventure that really shows the potential of Mr. Magoo films for comedy.
Where Can I Watch It?
This is actually a pain to find. I couldn't find it online and in the end had to get an old out of print Mr. Magoo VHS tape to find it. (The link doesn't go to the same tape I got, but it's got it. There is a version online, but it's dubbed. I'll embed it, but it's dubbed.
The Romance of Transportation in Canada
it isn't pretty. The information that is presented seems pretty accurate. Unfortunately, it's also pretty dry, so the filmmakers filled the film with visual gags and ironic statements. For example, at one point the narrator talked about how stagecoaches can transport passengers in "relative comfort" and the film shows the passenger getting tossed around. Furthermore, there is a prologue and epilogue featuring a pilot running out of fuel, parachuting out, and landing on a traffic cop. These gags does spice things up a bit, but unfortunately it's not very funny, so the film is still dry, but at least it's better than something unfunny that isn't even educational. The animation in Canadian films have been on the forefront, but that's not the case in this film. The animation kind of has a UPA feel with relatively simple character design and backgrounds and rather limited animation. The narration by Guy Glover is dry and probably contributes to the film being that way, but the jazzy score by Eldon Rathburn is quite good. Overall The Romance of Transportation in Canada is a decent effort at making an edutainment film, but there isn't quite enough entertainment to put it at the ranks of, say, Donald in Mathmagic Land.
Where Can I Watch It?
Well, these are the five nominees. Is the winner something that people would want to take back? There is one person that thinks so. The Academy continued their love affair with Tom and Jerry and presented Johann Mouse with the Oscar. Almost sixty years later, animation historian and Cartoon Brew editor Amid Amidi wrote an editorial on the six most unforgivable animation Oscar moments and included this 1952 win on the list. His reasoning is that while the executives at MGM and Academy went gaga over Tom and Jerry, they've crapped all over Tex Avery. I'll give them that, since 7 wins in 13 nominations and 0 wins in 2 nominations are a bit extreme. Still, the fact is that they submitted/nominated the wrong Tex Avery film. Little Johnny Jet is okay, but Johann Mouse is still the best of the films for its new and quiet successful perspective on an age old formula. If Magical Maestro was nominated it would have been a different tale, because that film contains all of the breakneck visual and situational gags that Tex Avery is known for (plus the best hair gag), but it wasn't so I feel Johann Mouse is a deserving winner. Is it unforgivable that the Academy and MGM have denied the due that Tex Avery films should have gotten? Definitely. Is it unforgivable for Johann Mouse to win given the lineup that the Academy was given? I don't think so.
But in the end none of this would matter, because all of the Oscar glory would have gone to Fred Quimby anyways. Now that is the most unforgivable thing of all.
My rankings (by quality)
Johann Mouse > Pink and Blue Blues > The Romance of Transportation in Canada > Madeline > Little Johnny Jet
My rankings (by preference)
Johann Mouse > Pink and Blue Blues > Little Johnny Jet > Madeline > The Romance of Transportation in Canada
Well, that's another ten reviews finished, which means I'll be posting a list of the nominated shorts of 1952-1961 ranked by preference. That will go up next Wednesday, one because I'm a lazy bum, and two because there will be a Saturday post this coming Saturday, and I'd rather not have two posts on the same day (although there may be a day where that would be unavoidable.) The 1951 review will go up two weeks from now.