Sunday, January 13, 2008

32nd Academy Awards

The 32nd Academy Awards honoured film achievements of 1959 held on 4 April 1960 at the Pantages Theatre and hosted by Bob Hope.

MGM's (producer Sam Zimbalist) and director William Wyler's three and a half-hour long epic drama Ben Hur (with a spectacular sea battle and eleven minute chariot race choreographed by Yakima Canutt) broke the previous year's all-time record of Gigi (1958). It was the most-honored motion picture in Academy Awards history up to that time and for many years - until 1997, with its record-breaking eleven Oscars from twelve nominations. Ben-Hur was an extremely expensive production, requiring 300 sets scattered over 340 acres (1.4 km²). The $15 million production was a gamble made by MGM to save itself from bankruptcy; the gamble paid off when it earned a whopping total (in its time) of $75 million. Ben-Hur was a re-make of MGM's own 1926 silent film of the same name. Both films were based on or inspired by General Lew Wallace's novel (first published in 1880) about the rise of Christianity. Ironically, the famed director Cecil B. DeMille, who had made 'Ben-Hur-like' films throughout his lifetime - without the same awards success as the 1959 winner, died the same year (on January 21, 1959). Many other men were offered the role of Ben-Hur before Charlton Heston. Burt Lancaster claimed he turned down the role of Ben-Hur because he "didn't like the violent morals in the story". Paul Newman turned it down because he said he didn't have the legs to wear a tunic. Rock Hudson was also offered the role. Out of respect, and consistent with Lew Wallace's stated preference, the face of Jesus is never shown. He was played by an old friend of director Wyler, Claude Heater, who received no credit for his only film role. Even by current standards, the chariot race in Ben-Hur is considered to be one of the most spectacular action sequences ever filmed. Filmed at Cinecittà Studios outside Rome long before the advent of computer-generated effects, it took over three months to complete, using 8000 extras on the largest film set ever built, some 18 acres (73,000m²). Eighteen chariots were built, with half being used for practice. The race took five weeks to film. Tour buses visited the set every hour. The film won an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards, a number matched only by Titanic in 1997 and The Return of the King in 2003. It won Best Motion Picture, Best Leading Actor for Charlton Heston, Best Supporting Actor for Hugh Griffith, Best Director, Best Set Decoration, Color — Edward C. Carfagno, William A. Horning, and Hugh Hunt, Best Cinematography, Color, Best Costume Design, Color, Best Special Effects, Best Film Editing — John D. Dunning and Ralph E. Winters, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture and Best Sound. Additionally, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. In 1998, the film ranked #72 on the American Film Institute list of the Best American Movies of All Time, and #56 at AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers. In 2001 the film ranked #49 on the American Film Institute list of the Most Thrilling American Movies. In 2004, Ben-Hur was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Among those eleven Oscars was the thrid and final Oscar for Best Directing for Wyler and the Best Actor Award for Charlton Heston. In a long career Heston was mostly known for playing heroic roles such as Moses in The Ten Commandments, Colonel George Taylor in Planet of the Apes and Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur. Early in his career he was one of a handful of Hollywood stars to publicly speak out against racism and was active in the civil rights movement. During the latter part of his movie career he starred in films such as The Omega Man and Soylent Green that had a strong environmental message. He was president of the National Rifle Association from 1998 to 2003.In 1950, he earned recognition for his appearance in his first professional movie, Dark City. His breakthrough came in 1952 with his role of a circus manager in The Greatest Show on Earth. Heston was Billy Wilder's first choice to play JJ Sefton in Stalag 17 (1953). The role was eventually given to Oscar winner William Holden. But the muscular, 6 ft 3 in, square jawed Heston became an icon by portraying Moses in The Ten Commandments, a part he was chosen for reportedly because director Cecil B. DeMille thought that he bore an uncanny resemblance to the statue of Moses by Michelangelo. He played leading roles in a number of fictional and historical epics—such as Ben-Hur, El Cid, 55 Days at Peking, The Agony and the Ecstasy (as Michelangelo himself), and Khartoum—during his long career.He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his 1959 performance in the title role of Ben-Hur, one of 11 earned by that film. Heston accepted the role in Ben-Hur after Burt Lancaster, another similarly tall, muscular, square jawed, blonde, blue eyed actor, turned it down. Heston starred in a number of science fiction films and disaster films between 1968 and 1974, some of which, like Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, Soylent Green, and Earthquake, were hugely successful at the time of their release and have since become classics. Beginning with 1973's The Three Musketeers, Heston's time as a Hollywood leading man began to draw to a close and he was seen in an increasing number of supporting roles and cameos.In August 2002, Heston publicly announced that he was diagnosed with symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease. In July 2003, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President George W. Bush at the White House. In March 2005, various newspapers reported that family and friends of Heston were apparently shocked by the rapid progression of his illness, and that he was sometimes unable to get out of bed. In April 2006, various news sources reported that Heston's illness was at an advanced stage and his family were worried he might not survive the year. According to his son Fraser, his father is doing as well as can be expected and is now infirm at his Beverly Hills home.

The Best Supporting Actor went to Hugh Griffith for Ben Hur. Griffith began his film career in British films during the late 1940s, and by the 1950s was also appearing in Hollywood films. He also had a successful career as a theatre actor, and in 1958 was nominated for Tony award for his performance in Look Homeward, Angel on Broadway. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Ben-Hur (1959), and received a second nomination for his role in Tom Jones (1963). He appeared as the magistrate in Oliver! in 1968. He died from a heart attack in London, 16 days before his 68th birthday.

The Best Actress Award went to Simone Signoret. Signoret's sensual features and earthy nature led to type-casting and she was often seen in prostitute roles. She won considerable attention in La Ronde (1950), a film which was banned briefly in New York as immoral. She won further raves, including an acting award from the British Film Academy, for her portrayal of yet another prostitute in Jacques Becker's Casque d'or (1951). She went on to appear in many notable films in France during the 1950s, including Thérèse Raquin (1953), directed by Marcel Carné, Les Diaboliques (1954), and Les Sorcières de Salem (1956), based on Arthur Miller's The Crucible.In 1958, Signoret went to England to film Room at the Top (1959), which won her numerous awards including the Best Female Performance Prize at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Actress. She was the only French actress to receive an Oscar until Juliette Binoche in 1997, and the first woman to win the award appearing in a foreign film. She was offered films in Hollywood but turned them down and continued to work in France and England. She played opposite Sir Laurence Olivier in Term of Trial (1962). She did return to America for Ship of Fools (1965) which earned her another Oscar nomination and she went on to appear in several Hollywood films before returning to France in 1969. First married to the filmmaker Yves Allégret from 1947 to 1949, with whom she had a daughter Catherine Allégret, herself an actress. Her second marriage was to the Italian-born French actor Yves Montand in 1950, a union which lasted until her death. She died of pancreatic cancer in Auteuil-Anthouillet, France.

The Best Supporting Actress Award was won by Shelley Winters. Winters originally broke into Hollywood as "the Blonde Bombshell," but quickly tired of the role's limitations. She washed off her makeup and played against type to set up Elizabeth Taylor's beauty in A Place in the Sun, still a landmark American film. Her first movie was There's Something About a Soldier (1943). As typical for the time period, she appeared in a black-and-white film noir role for the 1948 film Cry of the City, wearing fashionable clothes (see image at top) contrasting to the impending doom of the film. In 1959, she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for The Diary of Anne Frank and another for A Patch of Blue (1965). Notable later roles included her turn as the once gorgeous, alcoholic former starlet "Fay Estabrook" in Harper (1966) and in The Poseidon Adventure (1972) as the ill-fated "Mrs. Belle Rosen", for which she received her final Oscar nomination. She was married four times. Her husbands were: Capt. Mack Paul Mayer, whom she married on New Years Day, 1943; they divorced in October 1948. Mayer was unable to deal with Shelley's "Hollywood lifestyle" and wanted a "traditional homemaker" for a wife. Winters wore his wedding ring up until her death and kept their relationship very private. Vittorio Gassman, whom she married on April 28, 1952; they divorced on June 2, 1954. They had one child, Vittoria, a physician, who practices internal medicine at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut. She was Winters' only child. Anthony Franciosa, whom she married on May 4, 1957; they divorced on November 18, 1960. Gerry DeFord, married by Sally Kirkland on January 14, 2006, hours before her death. Winters died on January 14, 2006 of heart failure at the Rehabilitation Centre of Beverly Hills at the age of 85 a few hours after she married DeFord; she had suffered a heart attack on October 14, 2005. Ex-husband Anthony Franciosa died of a stroke five days later.

"High Hopes" is a popular song, introduced in the 1959 film A Hole In The Head, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song. The music was written by Jimmy Van Heusen, the lyrics by Sammy Cahn. It was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1959 in a hit version, featuring a children's choir, which was included in a 1961 Sinatra album, All the Way.

Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro in Portuguese) is a 1959 film made in Brazil by French director Marcel Camus. It is based on the play Orfeu da Conceição by Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes, which is an adaptation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, setting it in the modern context of Rio de Janeiro during the Carnival. The film was an international co-production between production companies in Brazil, France and Italy. The film is particularly renowned for its soundtrack by bossa nova legend Antonio Carlos Jobim, featuring songs such as "Manhã de Carnaval" (written by Luiz Bonfá) and "A felicidade" that were to become Bossa nova classics. Black Orpheus won the Palme d'Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival as well as the 1960 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the 1960 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.

Honorary Oscar
An Honorary Oscar, a bittersweet recognition, was awarded to the under-appreciated Buster Keaton, one of the silent screen's greatest comedic characters, who was known as 'The Great Stone Face.' His award was for "his unique talents which brought immortal comedies to the screen," such as Sherlock, Jr. (1924), The Navigator (1924), The General (1927), Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), and The Cameraman (1928).

No comments: