Blogathon: Hitch at the Oscars

For the For Love of Film Blogathon this week, we’re not only counting down our favorite Hitchcock films, but Peter and I have both prepared articles for the event. Peter’s article will cover prominent actors and how their onscreen personas were altere at his hands in various films. My article (this one) will be a little more trivia-oriented covering the Academy love affair and lackthereof with the late Master of Suspense.

Alfred Hitchcock had made more than 20 films in his native England before moving stateside in 1940. Although he critical acclaim for those early films, the Academy didn’t take notice of him until his first foray into American productions. Not only did they nominate both of his first American features released concurrently in 1940, Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent for Best Picture, they gave his Rebecca the prize for Best Picture. It was a great welcome from Hollywood.

Although his films regularly received Oscar nominations, wins were few and far between and even his most prominent work wasn’t recognized for Best Picture after his fourth and final time in that category for Spellbound in 1945. As for his own Oscar nominations, he received five for Best Director, never taking home the award. In 1968, they gave him an honorary trophy, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for producing. But make no mistake, the Thalberg (a bust of the late producer Irving G. Thalberg) is not an Oscar, making Hitchcock one of the most celebrated directors in history never to have an Oscar statuette with his name inscribed on it.

Rebecca (1940) not only took home the Oscar for Best Picture of 1940, it also took the Black-and-White Cinematography trophy. The film had also been nominated nine other categories including Actor (Laurence Olivier), Actress (Joan Fontaine), Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson), Director and Screenplay. The other nominations all came in the tech categories (Black-and-White Art Direction, Film Editing, Original Score and Special Effects).

Foreign Correspondent (1940) likely benefited from the expansive 10-slot Best Picture slate. Though, the film was nominated in six categories including Best Picture, which suggests it might have been able to crack the Best Picture list twice in a five-wide field. Albert Basserman was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and the Original Screenplay was also cited along with the technical categories (Black-and-White Art Direction, Black-and-White Cinematography and Special Effects)

Hitch had another two films out in 1941, but only one of them was nominated for the Oscars. Unlike his first two American features, Suspicion (1941) was only nominated three times, once more for Best Picture and for Actress (Joan Fontaine) and Dramatic Score. It brought Fontaine her only Oscar.

His next film, Saboteur (1942) was also ignored, but both Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Lifeboat (1944) picked up nominations. The former was mentioned for Best Original Story while the latter earned Hitch his second Best Director nomination along with an Oscar nod for famed novelist John Steinbeck and the film’s black-and-white cinematography.

Another three of his films earned Oscar nominations in a row bringing his streak to five. Spellbound (1945) netted him his final Best Picture nomination, but only his third Best Director citation. The film also earned a nomination for supporting actor Michael Chekhov as well as its Black-and-White Cinematography and Special Effects. The next year, Notorious picked up two nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains) and Best Original Screenplay. Subsequently, 1947’s The Paradine Case received only one nod, this time for Ethel Barrymore as Best Supporting Actress.

In 1948, Hitchcock was up to his same experimental tricks again earning plaudits for the technique, but not the subject. Rope was a prime example of how the Academy didn’t always like what he did. Not only did they not give him any recognition for the film, his next two films, which used some of the same techniques, Under Capricorn (1949) and Stage Fright (1950) were both Oscar no-shows.

There would be two more films in upcoming years that didn’t get nominated, but a brief hiccup in the losing streak occurred in 1951 when Strangers on a Train picked up a minor nomination for Black-and-White Cinematography. After that, both I Confess (1953) and Dial M for Murder (1954) were shut out.

It might have seemed that Hitchcock had fallen out of favor with the Academy, but in 1954 his fortunes again changed, this time with another new experiment in filmmaking. Rear Window is shot exclusively from the large apartment of a wheelchair-bound man who witnesses what he believes is a murder. The film nabbed Hitch his fourth Best Director mention as well as nominations for Screenplay, Color Cinematography and Sound Recording. Over the next 9 years, he would earn nominations for films more frequently than not.

To Catch a Thief arrived in 1955 with three nominations for Color Art Direction, Color Costume Design and Color Cinematography, for which it won the Oscar. The Trouble With Harry, also released that year, was one of two outliers in the period. 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, a remake of one of his British productions, yielded a single Oscar from a single nomination. Doris Day’s captivating rendition of “Que Sera Sera” transcended movie fame and become a standard for years to come.

As for his other 1956 film? The Wrong Man was the other film not nominated for any Oscars. Vertigo was an intriguing experiment in filmmaking as well, but wasn’t recognized in the one category I would have thought it should be: Cinematography. Instead, the 1958 feature earned nominations for Art Direction and Sound. North by Northwest came next picking up Original Screenplay, Editing and Art Direction nominations. The latter was one of many that he should have won, but didn’t.

In 1960, Hitchcock moved into the horror genre for the first time to great success. Psycho was nominated for four Oscars. Along with Janet Leigh for Best Actress, Black-and-White Cinematography and Black-and-White Art Direction, the film represented Hitchcock’s final Oscar nomination for Best Director. That the film couldn’t crack the Best Picture list shows how little the Academy favored the genre at the time.

His very next horror film came three years later. The Birds was nominated for Best Special Visual Effects and it would prove to be the final Hitchcock film to earn an Oscar nomination. His final five big screen outings, Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969), Frenzy (1972) and Family Plot (1976) were Oscar no-shows.

Apart from the Oscars, various organizations feted the Master of Suspense, and looking at his impressive list of Oscar nominations, you can’t really say that the Academy disliked him. It was clear they liked him. The only problem was that they may not have liked him enough. But film history is a peculiar thing and when you look at it many years down the road, it seems obvious that he should have gotten an Oscar at some point. The Academy even seemed to recognize this by voting him the Thalberg award, but when you look at someone like Stanley Kubrick whose only Oscar came in the Best Visual Effects category, you’ll see the Academy doesn’t always fall on the right side of history. The same could be said today, but to a much smaller extent. Were Martin Scorsese making his genre films in the same period of history as Alfred Hitchcock? He never would have gotten a career Oscar for The Departed. So, keeping things in perspective, modern directors have a much easier time earning career recognition, but it wasn’t always so.

His long-running anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1962) was still earning him recognition. The show earned 14 Emmy nominations in its 7-year run, winning 3. None of those were for Hitch either.

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  1. I was wondering what “Marine” was and how I had missed it, and then I realized you meant “Marnie.” I’ll think of it as “Marine” from now on.

    I think I must be a bourgeouis Academy type; I think it did nominate his better pictures in general (at least by your list). It’s true that he didn’t personally get nominated for all of them. I DO love to wonder what an acceptance speech from Hitchcock would have been like…….

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