As the annual Oscars circus gets underway once more, Tom McParland reckons winning a gong doesn’t necessarily mean a movie is what we Irish would call ‘a great picture’.

Irish moviegoers mostly regarded Hollywood as merely somewhere in America. This accidental ignorance though, was far from uncalculated. Because Hollywood, its stars and movies we considered as existing in an unquantifiable universe. We stuck with the vagueness of Tinseltown, regarding ourselves as the supplier of dreams.

Who won what Oscar for which film little concerned the Irish. For we awarded our own personal Oscar gold that would last in affectionate memory long after the gilt of official ones had faded or disappeared.

Unlike Academy awards and recipients, ours were impartial and sincere because we bestowed in only one award category: Enjoyment. Whether love story, rom-com, adventure, western, or horror mattered little to us. By repeat cinema attendance we’d often award more than one Oscar to the same movie, or endless awards to multiple ones in a single year. As long as they met that simple criteria they’d receive our Great Picture Oscars.

This piece contrasts the fools gold of Academy choices with the real gold of our popular preferences in the 1950’s. For that was the decade that moulded our formative movie years from childhood acceptance to adulthood discernment. While adjusted movie grosses record cinema attendance they do not document the endless cinema hours spent in boredom, dissatisfaction or determination to get our chronological money’s worth.

At the 22nd Academy Awards on March 21st 1950 the Best Actor and Actress Oscars went respectively to Broderick Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge for All The King’s Men, a battering-ram histrionic tale of American small town political corruption. Largely forgotten today, in spite of its Oscar it grossed just $134M.

Our popular choices included the $591M Samson & Delilah. Despite its crumbling plastic temples and Groucho Marx’s quip that duff actor Victor Mature had bigger boobs than Hedy Lamarr, the movie constituted a mammoth triumph for mammon, polystyrene and piety.

Others included She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, debuting star Mario Lanza’s That Midnight Kiss, Larry Park’s Jolson Sings Again – this film briefly revived Jolson’s career. He died the following October.
Two well loved American novels were further endeared through The Heiress starring Montgomery Clift and Olivia de Haviland (Best Actress) and Little Women starring Margaret O’Brien and June Alyson.

At the 23rd Academy Awards on March 29, 1951, All Abut Eve took six Oscars including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor. Eve depicts supposed back-stage luvvie theatrical jealousies through predictable cocktail-drenched conflicts. Seen today it’s just prating loquacious drivel. A bad pun on the old Bebe Daniels 42nd Street line: “Go out there and be so swell that you’ll make me hate you!”

Notably excluded from the 1951 Oscar list was Vincente Minnelli’s superb comedic direction of world-weary Spencer Tracy as Father Of The Bride. Although nominated for Best Picture, Screenplay and Actor, it was overlooked. But since Minnelli’s 1944 Meet Me In St Louis suffered a similar fate it’s not to be wondered at.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own