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The films released in 1952 all celebrate their 60th anniversary this year. For something a little different this week, this column will take a look at the five films nominated as the Best Picture for that year. Of the five films nominated, four remain fun and fantastic films that deserve to be on the list of Best Picture nominees. The fifth is an awful, horrendous effort of over-the-top showmanship. Guess which one ended up winning.
The first of the five is among the best Westerns ever made: High Noon, directed by Fred Zinnemann, produced by Stanley Kramer and released by United Artists. High Noon remains a landmark film, but thanks to the perception that this was about the Blacklist (and it was), the film had no chance to win Best Picture at the 25th Academy Awards. Thankfully, the film wound up winning four awards, including Best Actor for Gary Cooper's commanding performance and Best Music. In total, it received seven nominations.
John Ford's place in film history was already cemented by 1952. He had already won a record three Oscars for Best Director and was about to win his fourth for one of his most personal films. The Quiet Man, released by B-studio Republic Pictures and produced by Ford and Marian C. Cooper, was a labor of love for Ford. It was made on location in Ireland and features a surprisingly touching and warm performance from John Wayne, who plays a boxer who has retired to his ancestral home in Ireland. Maureen O'Hara plays the girl he falls for. She and Wayne had instant chemistry on the screen and it shined here like it did in no other film they made together. The Quiet Man is a gem in the list of films Ford and Wayne made together. It earned seven nods, but only won Best Director and Best Cinematography.
The next two that were nominated have become some of the most obscure Best Picture nominees, despite the star power in each of them. Moulin Rouge has nothing to do with the 2001 musical that was also nominated for Best Picture. Instead, this is a film from the great John Huston, who just finished The African Queen, and tells the tragic story of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who broke his legs at a young age and they never properly healed, stunting his growth. Josse Ferrer starred as Lautrec, giving a stunning and emotional performance that rightfully earned a nomination, overcoming all the technical wizardry. Colette Marchand becomes an unsung hero of the film and earned a Best Supporting Actress nod. Moulin Rouge is an obscure chapter in Huston's career, but is one everyone should see. It earned seven nominations, but won just two for its fantastic art direction and costume design.
MGM's Ivanhoe is a classic example of the Hollywood swashbuckling action film. Directed by Richard Thorpe, the film stars Robert Taylor in the title role, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine and George Sanders. Robert was MGM's stalwart action hero and was coming off the massive success of Quo Vadis, while Liz was hot off her first mature role in A Place in the Sun. It's unfortunate that Liz's role, as a Jewish daughter trying to help Ivanhoe overcome Prince John and raise the money to free King Richard, gets lost in the shuffle between some great action set pieces. Despite fine actors, the spectacle of the film is its action scenes and, since the film isn't even two hours, they take up a good chunk of it. Still, this is good fun and one more people should definitely check out. It earned just three Oscar nods, including Best Picture, Cinematography and for Miklos Rosza's wonderful score, and failed to win any.
All four of those are fine examples of the best of what Hollywood was producing in the early 1950s, but the one that actually won Best Picture remains among the worst ever to earn that title. Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show On Earth is an amazing disaster. Hot off the success of Samson and Delilah, which started the Biblical epic craze, DeMille decided to pay tribute to the circus. DeMille gave the lead role to an untested Charlton Heston, had the great James Stewart wear clown makeup for all 152 torturous minutes and built an entire climax around a toy train exploding. Oh and then there's Berry Hutton. I just can't say how bad her performance is here. The over-the-top silliness works in Annie Get Your Gun, but it wears thin quickly here. The only thing you can say about Cornel Wilde is the awful French accent. If it weren't for Gloria Grahame, The Greatest Show would have literally no redeeming value.
It's possible that DeMille won Best Picture more as a Lifetime Achievement Award than for his film itself. You have to admit that he made a significant impact on the industry, but did they have to honor him for this? Overall, The Greatest Show earned five nods – none for acting. In addition to Best Picture, it also won Best Story, a now-defunct category.
The Academy's biggest crime of the 25th Academy Awards was failing to nominate Singin' In The Rain for Best Picture. That film has become widely regarded as among the best American films ever made and it only received two nominations.
Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge, The Quiet Man and High Noon remain classic films, but the Academy can never be forgiven for snubbing Singin' In The Rain and giving The Greatest Show on Earth the Best Picture Oscar.