Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Best Animated Short - 1943
It's August 7. On this day nine years ago Greg Maddux of the Chicago Cubs worked through a gritty start just long enough to go five innings and have his team take the lead against the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs would score a few more insurance runs and the Cubs ended up with an 8-4 win, the 300th victory of his career. Of course Maddux wasn't the only pitcher to record his 300th win in the week between August 4-11. On August 11, 1961, Warren Spahn wound up on top in a gritty 2-1 battle against the Cubs thanks to an 8th-inning home run by Gino Cimoli. On August 4, 1985, Tom Seaver won his 300th game in New York, but wearing the uniform of the Chicago White Sox when he defeated the Yankees 4-1 on Phil Rizzuto Day. And on August 5, 2007, Tom Glavine became the second Tom to win 300 when he topped the Cubs 8-3. A grand total of four pitchers can celebrate the anniversaries of their milestone win on the week of August 4-11. No other week-long period can boast that many.
And what does that have to do with the Academy Awards? Nothing whatsoever!
Casablanca is one of the most beloved American films of all time. The tragic love story combined perfectly with the brutal wartime setting and the snappy, quotable dialogue to be a classic 70 years after its release. Of course its chaotic production contributed to its continued appeal. The film was picked up in January 1942 and after a hectic, over-budget shooting schedule that was filmed chronically because the script wasn't finished was pushed to release in November 1942 to coincide the beginning of the invasion of North Africa before its official Los Angeles release in January 1943 to qualify for the 1943 Oscars. It was a modest box office success, making back the production costs. And yet over a year later it was selected as one of ten Best Picture nominees in the last year with ten nominees before 2009. With eight nominations it trailed only The Song of Bernadette (12 nominations) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (nine nominations). The other nominees were (in descending order of nominations): Madame Curie (seven), The More the Merrier (six), The Human Comedy (five), Watch on the Rhine (four), Heaven Can Wait* (three), In Which We Serve (two), and The Ox-Bow Incident, the last film to have Best Picture be its only nomination. The Best Director nominations went to Casablanca, The Human Comedy, The Song of Bernadette, Heaven Can Wait, and The More the Merrier.
*It is not at all related to the Warren Beatty film of the same title nominated for Best Picture 35 years later. That film is more closely related to another Best Picture nominated film from two years earlier, Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
In the music categories, Casablanca was one of the 16 nominees for Best Music (Comedy/Drama), which also included Disney's animated documentary Victory Through Air Power, but they lost that to The Song of Bernadette. The other music and sound categories went to This is the Army for Best Music (Musical), "You'll Never Know" from Hello Frisco, Hello for Best Original Song, and Jean Renoir's This Land is Mine for Best Sound. Casablanca also lost its two visual technical Oscars, losing Best Editing to Howard Hawks's Air Force and B/W Cinematography to The Song of Bernadette, which also won B/W Art Direction. The Color categories were swept by the remake of Phantom of the Opera starring Claude Rains, who had also starred in Casablanca as Captain Renault. Best Special Effects went to the submarine film Crash Dive. Casablanca finally won an Oscar when the screenplay that wasn't finished until near the end of production won Best Screenplay. The Human Comedy won Best Original Story while the romantic comedy Princess O'Rourke won Best Original Screenplay.
Casablanca had two nominations in the acting categories. Claude Rains was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Captain Renault, while Humphrey Bogart was nominated Best Actor. Female lead Ingrid Bergman was also nominated, but for her role in For Whom the Bell Tolls. For Whom the Bell Tolls led things off with a win for Katina Paxinou for Best Supporting Actress. And then Rains must watch as Charles Coburn won Best Supporting Actor for the romantic comedy The More the Merrier. Jennifer Jones won Best Actress for her role as the titular character in The Song of Bernadette. And Bogie ended up losing to Paul Lukas for Watch on the Rhine.
When the final two categories came about Casablanca had only one win, well behind The Song of Bernadette's four wins. No other Best Picture nominees had more than two wins. It wouldn't have been at all surprising for it to capture the final two categories to cap off a dominant night. But similar to 1972, this was still a time when the Academy still recognized greatness when they saw it. Michael Curtiz took home the Best Director Oscar, and Casablanca won Best Picture as well, becoming one of the few no-doubt classics that actually won the Best Picture Oscar. It also joined Crash as the only Best Picture winners to win despite getting a release the year earlier, albeit not in Los Angeles. I suppose feature films are held to a much less rigorous standard than documentaries like Young Americans, or perhaps Young Americans was released in Los Angeles too early.
The concept of getting released too early doesn't really apply to the animated shorts, which were frequently released after they compete for the Oscars. Six films were in competition for this year's prize. Which one will take home the gold?
500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins
Where Can I Watch It?
Yeah, good luck with that. I had to get it from Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research garage sale, which doesn't even offer Puppetoons anymore. Instead you'd have to wait for the Puppetoons Movie blu-ray release to come out, where it'll be available as a special feature.
The Dizzy Acrobat
earlier entry, Woody the Woodpecker made his debut in 1940, and by 1943 the screwy bird had become the most popular mascot character in the Walter Lantz lineup, which also included such luminaries as Andy Panda and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. And in 1943 he became the first Walter Lantz mascot character to receive an Oscar nomination for The Dizzy Acrobat. The Dizzy Acrobat is made up mostly of crazy slapstick and one-liners. Beyond the chase scene with the ticket taker, there are scenes of Woody walking past dangerous obstacles while obliviously singing the "Animal Fair" song, and also him getting into mischief with a thieving lion. It's all in good fun, but at the same time it feels much more subdued than some of the really screwball films like Knock Knock and Wet Blanket Policy. The slapstick isn't very funny and the pacing seems kind of uneven. It's probably not a good thing that the funniest thing about this film is the ticket taker going "When I get through with you, any similarity between you and a woodpecker will be purely coincidental." I didn't even realize until later that the disclaimer was in use back in 1943. Not all of The Dizzy Acrobat is terrible. The animation is quite good and match up with the works of likes of Warner Bros. and MGM, but it's just another bland outing.
Where Can I Watch It?
epic mustache. He also took his talents to the voice-over industry, plying his trade with Disney in roles such as the March Hare in Alice in Wonderland and being the narrator of the "Casey at the Bat" segment of Make Mine Music. While Disney got the most of his talents, he became a popular subject of caricature in films of Warner Bros in films like Greetings Bait. The connection is apparent from the title alone, which is a play on one of Colonna's popular catchphrases, "Greetings Gates." Half of the film is dedicated to the worm's antics in capturing the fishes, which are rather clever but ultimately nothing special. The film really gets good about halfway through when the worm gets caught up with the crab. The film makes use of the crab's stalk eyes, including a memorable scene where the eyes surround the worm and cuts to a split screen view from the crab's point of view, so that the worm runs towards one eye and away from the other and vice versa. It's a clever shot and one that is a testament to Warner Bros.'s creativity. The ending is also quite delightful. Greetings Bait is an interesting film that really pays tribute to a classic comedian.
Where Can I Watch It?
Warner Bros. and their desire to have everybody buy the Academy Awards Animation Collection DVD set strikes again as most of the existing videos have been removed, even though Greetings Bait wasn't included. Here's one that still exists, but it'll probably be removed too before long. So yeah, you're pretty much out of luck once it does. Or you can buy it off iTunes.
Fleischer short film from 1941. Imagination doesn't have quite the depth of emotions of the Fleischer film, and the last part of the film seems lifted from Fleischer's classic, but it's a decent film in its own right. The animation is quite good for Columbia standards, and there is quite a lot of humor in the film. The scene of the male doll cross-dressing and physically assaulting his nemesis is alone worth the price of admission. And the idea of trying imagination still holds true today.
Where Can I Watch It?
Reason and Emotion
Where Can I Watch It?
The Yankee Doodle Mouse
Where Can I Watch It?
Well, here are the six nominees, representative of every studio except for Terrytoons and Famous Studios. Once again the three biggest studios have come out with the best work, although the distance between them and the lesser studios have never been smaller. 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins is quite a solid work from Puppetoons, and Imagination isn't that bad. Still, the films of Warner Bros., MGM, and Disney win out in the end. Reason and Emotion has the highest production values, but the blatant propaganda nature feels very dated 70 years later. The Yankee Doodle Mouse manages to fit in patriotism with the slapstick, but still feels very much like a normal Tom and Jerry film. Greetings Bait may win out in the end, because the shots from the crab's vantage point and the ending are just too classic. Still, the Academy chose to give the Oscar to The Yankee Doodle Mouse, marking the first win for the cat and mouse duo. It is far from being the last.
My rankings (by quality)
Greetings Bait > The Yankee Doodle Mouse > Reason and Emotion > 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins > Imagination > The Dizzy Acrobat
My rankings (by preference)
Reason and Emotion > 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins > Imagination > Greetings Bait > The Yankee Doodle Mouse > The Dizzy Acrobat