The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Top 10 Oscar-Less Noirs

Every year, when the Academy Award nominations are announced, I excitedly print out the list of nominees and set about seeing as many films as I can before the night of the big event. I usually don’t think about films or performances that didn’t make the cut, or give much consideration to “Oscar snubs” – there can only be a limited number of nominees, I figure, and it seems like the voters usually get it right.

But when I look back over the past decades, to the era when film noir was in its heyday, I am shocked (shocked, I tell you!!) to see that so many of my favorites not only didn’t win the coveted gold statue – they weren’t even nominated! And when I say they weren’t nominated, I don’t mean just the films themselves for Best Picture. I mean they didn’t get one. Single. Nomination. Not for Best Actress, not for Best Director. Not for Best Cinematography. Or Screenplay. Or Score. NOTHING.

I can’t turn back the hands of time and rewrite history (and what wouldn’t I do if I could), but I can shine the spotlight on 10 films noirs that were certainly deserving of at least a nod from Oscar, if not the whole statue!  Here goes…

Jeanette Nolan was compelling in every scene, even if she couldn’t speak.

1. The Big Heat (1953)

The Story:

Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is a tough, no-nonsense cop who goes up against the syndicate and even his own department to unearth the truth behind a fellow cop’s suicide.

What Else?

This is the movie where Gloria Grahame gets a pot of scalding coffee thrown in her face by Lee Marvin (and later returns the favor).

Favorite Quote:

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better.” Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Supporting Actress:  Jeanette Nolan. She offered up a chilling portrait of a corrupt policeman’s wife who could be crying piteously one moment and (figuratively) slitting your throat the next. She wasn’t in many scenes, but she made every moment she had on screen count.

In Gilda, Rita Hayworth was more than just a pretty face.

In Gilda, Rita Hayworth was more than just a pretty face.

2. Gilda (1946)

The Story:

Itinerant gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford, again) becomes right-hand man to casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready), but he gets more than he bargained for when his former lover, Gilda (Rita Hayworth) turns up as Ballin’s wife.

What Else?

Gilda is perhaps best known for Rita Hayworth’s unforgettable rendition of “Put the Blame on Mame.”

Favorite Quote:

“I hate you so much that I would destroy myself to take you down with me.” Gilda (Rita Hayworth)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Actress:  Rita Hayworth. She was superb in this role; she transformed the title character into a fully realized, multi-dimensional persona.  She was passionate, reckless, loving, childish, superstitious, resourceful, mean-spirited, and loyal, all in one exquisitely beautiful package. Hayworth brought all those qualities to life – and made you believe every one.

Joseph Lewis's direction assured that there wasn't a dull moment in Gun Crazy.

Joseph Lewis’s direction assured that there wasn’t a dull moment in Gun Crazy.

3. Gun Crazy (1949)

The Story:

Gun fanatics Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) and Bart Tare (John Dall) meet, fall in love, get married and take the next natural step:  embark on a crime spree.

What Else?

Cinema buffs marvel over a scene in the movie that depicts a bank robbery – it’s done in a single shot, no cutting, beginning when the outlaws pull up at the bank, through Annie’s handling of a busy-body cop while Bart is committing armed robbery inside, and the entire getaway. Even if you know nothing about the technical achievements of the scene, you can appreciate it as an edge-of-your-seat thing of beauty.

Favorite Quote: “I’ve been kicked around all my life, and from now on, I’m gonna start kicking back.” Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Director:  Joseph Lewis.  I’m the first to admit that I’m no expert on what makes a great director. But I know what I like, and I like the way Lewis is able to grab you by the neck and squeeze the air out of you as you wait to see what’s going to happen next. From Annie’s shoot-em-up introduction, to the scene where the lovers almost, but not quite, leave each other, to the gripping finale, Lewis makes you feel like you’re right there. Even if you wish you weren’t.

Elisha Cook, Jr., turned in one of his best performances in The Killing.

Elisha Cook, Jr., turned in one of his best performances in The Killing.

4. The Killing (1956)

The Story:

A motley crew of criminals and would-be criminals combine their skills to plan and execute a race track heist. (But you know what they say about the best laid plans…)

What Else?

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, the film features a unique time-twisting narrative, which sometimes skips ahead in time, sometimes back, and sometimes depicts events taking place at the same time in different locations. It makes for quite a wild ride.

Favorite Quote: “Alright sister, that’s a mighty pretty head you got on your shoulders. You want to keep it there or start carrying it around in your hands?” Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Supporting Actor:  Elisha Cook, Jr. For my money, this is the best performance of Cook’s career. In a cast fairly bulging with colorful characters, Cook’s George Peatty is a standout as a meek cashier who’s determined to make the big time in order to satisfy his beautiful but money-grubbing wife. He’s captivating every time he’s on screen – you can practically feel the waves of despair and desperation rolling off of him.

Tyrone Power was at the top of his game in Nightmare Alley.

Tyrone Power was at the top of his game in Nightmare Alley.

5. Nightmare Alley (1947)

The Story:

Wily carnival barker Stanton Carlisle (Tyrone Power) stops at nothing to achieve fame and fortune as a renowned “mentalist.”

What Else?

The director of Nightmare Alley, Edmund Goulding, also helmed such vastly different fare as Grand Hotel (1932) and The Old Maid (1939).

Favorite Quote: “It takes one to catch one.” Stanton Carlisle (Tyrone Power)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Actor:  Tyrone Power.  In a radical departure from the swashbucklers and handsome gentlemen-about-town with which he’d become associated, Power turned in a – if you will – powerful performance of a man completely undone by his own ambitions, greed, and lack of morals. By the end of the film, he is barely recognizable – and it’s not just because of the first-rate make-up job.

The cinematography in Out of the Past was like another character.

The cinematography in Out of the Past was like another character.

6. Out of the Past (1947)

The Story:

Service station owner Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) finds that the past he thought he’d left behind has caught up with him.

What Else?

Out of the Past is frequently cited as the quintessential noir.

Favorite Quote:

“You know, a dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle.” Al Fisher (Steve Brodie)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Cinematography:  Nicholas Musuraca. Once described by a colleague as “a painter with light,” Musuraca makes Out of the Past one of those films that you can imagine appreciating even with the sound off. His arresting use of lights and shadow provide a perfect accent to the deadly and dastardly goings-on and make a dark story even more like night.

In The Postman Always Rings Twice, Cecil Kellaway created a multifaceted character.

In The Postman Always Rings Twice, Cecil Kellaway created a multifaceted character.

7. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The Story:

A charming drifter (John Garfield) falls for the beautiful young wife (Lana Turner) of a roadside café owner, and plots with her to commit her husband’s murder.

What Else?

The film was remade in 1981, starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. Lana Turner was not a fan: “They are such fools to play around with something that’s still a classic,” she said. “Jack Nicholson just isn’t John Garfield. The chemistry we had just crackled. Every facet [was] so perfect.”

Favorite Quote:

“With my brains and your looks, we could go places.” Frank Chambers (John Garfield)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Supporting Actor: Cecil Kellaway.  You could almost always count on Kellaway to add a lovable presence to his films, and he brought that side of the character to his role as Nick, the café owner. But Kellaway showed us more than just an affable hubby, creating a man who was fond of his drink, displayed a tendency toward narrow-mindedness, and could be downright cruel. And he made it look easy.

Edward G. Robinson gave us one of his best performances in Scarlet Street.

Edward G. Robinson gave us one of his best performances in Scarlet Street.

8. Scarlet Street (1945)

The Story:

Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson), a mild-mannered, unhappily married cashier, falls for an attractive young woman (Joan Bennett) and allows her to believe he is a wealthy artist. But the young woman has a con-man boyfriend, they’re both playing Chris for a fool, and every corner of this triangle meets a tragic end.

What Else?

This tale of lust, greed and murder was the remake of a Jean Renoir movie, La Chienne (1931) – “The Bitch.”

Favorite Quote:

“I hate [Chris] when he looks at me like that. If he were mean or vicious or if he’d bawl me out or something, I’d like him better.” Kitty March (Joan Bennett)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Actor: Edward G. Robinson. In Scarlet Street, Robinson offered up one of his most memorable characters – and for an actor of his talent, that’s saying something. He created a character that you wanted to know, protect, and rescue, before it was too late – he made you want to scream at him for his gullible stupidity, but at the same time, he enabled you to sympathize with his every move.

No Oscar for this Tony? Come ON!

No Oscar for this Tony? Come ON!

9. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

The Story:

Powerful Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) employs the services of an oily press agent (Tony Curtis) to break up the budding romance between Hunsecker’s beloved little sister and a local musician.

What Else?

The character played by Burt Lancaster was based on famed real-life columnist Walter Winchell.

Favorite Quote:

“You’re dead, son. Get yourself buried.” J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Supporting Actor: Tony Curtis. I can’t think of a lot of films in which Tony Curtis showed that he could really act. I mean, REALLY act. He certainly showed off his comedic chops in Some Like It Hot (1959). And of course he was first-rate in The Defiant Ones (1958). But for me, his tour de force was in Sweet Smell of Success. His performance is riveting, mesmerizing, breathtaking. You can hardly believe what he does to create one of the smarmiest and most pathetic characters ever to grace the silver screen – but I guarantee you won’t forget it.

Cathy O'Donnell's performance in They Live By Night was simply heartbreaking.

Cathy O’Donnell’s performance in They Live By Night was simply heartbreaking.

10. They Live By Night (1948)

The Story:

Arthur “Bowie” Bowers, an escaped convict (Farley Granger), falls in love with the young girl (Cathy O’Donnell) who nurses him to health after he’s injured in a car wreck and tries to turn his life around.

What Else?

This film was Nicholas Ray’s directorial debut. He went on to helm such classics as In a Lonely Place (1950), Johnny Guitar (1954), and Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

Favorite Quote:

“I thought maybe we’d be lucky – they wouldn’t find us. And after a while, we’d go away and live like other people.” Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Actress:  Cathy O’Donnell . As Keechie, the young girl who won Bowie’s heart, O’Donnell turned in a sensitive and heartbreaking portrait of a girl who was like reinforced steel on the outside, but tender, loving, and loyal behind the façade. She made you understand, without hesitation, why Bowie fell in love with her. You’ll fall a little bit in love with her, too.

And that’s it, y’all – my top 10 films noirs that were oh-so-deserving of recognition by the Academy Awards, but didn’t even receive a stinkin’ wink.

Do yourself a favor and check out one or more of these fine features and power-packed performances during this year’s Oscar season – you only owe it to yourself.

(And to them.)

—————–

This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon 2015, Aurora at Once Upon a Screen, Kellie at Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula at Paula’s Cinema ClubClick any of the links to the sites and check out the many great posts being presented as part of this event.

You’ll be glad you did – and so will Oscar!

 

~ by shadowsandsatin on February 10, 2015.

14 Responses to “The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Top 10 Oscar-Less Noirs”

  1. Excellent stuff! The first alarming thing is that one could probably add another ten noirs to the list without running out of good arguments in their favor. The second is that the some of the noirs are still remembered these decades later while, not infrequently, that year’s Oscar winners are largely forgotten.

    Out of the Past is the standout here. You’re probably right to single out the cinematography, but there are so many other worthy candidates in the movie for an Oscar nomination . . .

  2. […] Shadows and Satin – Top 10 Oscar-Less Noirs […]

  3. […] Shadows and Satin – Top 10 Oscar-Less Noirs […]

  4. What is it Virginia Mayo says in that TCM interstitial about “White Heat” and Cagneys non-nomination. Something like “The Academy never nominates a crime picture. To get a nomination you have to be something so elegant that you can’t stand it, like “Mr. Skeffington.” I think that’s close. Ah, the Academy – they don’t know what they got.

    • Hi, CW — you are so right (as was Virginia)! I was just telling the same thing to my mother earlier, when she wondered why so many great films weren’t nominated for anything. It’s so ridiculous, when you think about it.

  5. Needless to say you kicked it right outta here, Karen! Unbelievable how noirs were ignored by Oscar! To think the likes of Out of the Past doesn’t even get an art direction nod makes me want to hurt somebody. HONESTLY!! I also agree on your actor nomination suggestions! O’Donnell and Curtis in particular. Although I can think of few supporting players who were as consistently memorable as Elisha Cook Jr. Anyway – I could go on and on – wonderful!

    Aurora

  6. Some interesting choices you offer and I can’t disagree with any of them. But I will offer that one reason why noir is so compelling is because it’s a genre that isn’t Oscar bait. Noir isn’t middle brow; it ‘s not meant to uplift and inspire. There’s no pageantry or eat your spinach style history lessons. Noir films get the job done–they tell their stories and let us revel in the characters and their dramas.

    • But I will offer that one reason why noir is so compelling is because it’s a genre that isn’t Oscar bait. Noir isn’t middle brow; it ‘s not meant to uplift and inspire.

      Superbly said. Thank you.

  7. Like you, I’m shocked – shocked! – that many of these films did not receive Oscar noms…especially “The Sweet Smell of Success”.

  8. Wonderful Post and very informative. I could have sworn half of these had at ONE nomination, but wow. NOTHING for Out of the Past and Sweet Smell of Success? And your personal choices for what they SHOULD have been nominated for were on-point. Great job!

    • Thanks so much! Even after I’d identified my list of films, once I started writing about them, I actually went back to double-check — it simply seemed completely unbelievable that some of them weren’t nominated for anything. So crazy!

  9. A wonderful post! They Live By Night definitely needed more “Oscar” attention, and I’ve never seen The Killing, so I will need to add it to my queue.

  10. I hope you don’t think I’m stalking you (I’m really not lol), but I really love your blog. It’s informative, creative, original and insightful. Great job!

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