A Seething Hunger for Fame and Power

A week ago, the Oscars were broadcast, and TCM’s own cheeky salute to that night’s bloated event was airing The Oscar (1966), one of the best bad movies ever made. It’s a perfect example of foul elements – terrible dialogue, aggressive acting, serious miscasting, and drippy sleaze – coalescing into a giddy ride of cinematic fromage piquant.

Director Russell Rouse had enjoyed a good career run writing noirs (D.O.A.) as well as directing them (the dialogue-free The Thief, made in 1952 with Ray Milland is particularly interesting), but he stumbled in making what he may well have believed was a serious, dramatic expose of thespian greed when an egotistical actor is nominated for the gleaming bald statue.

Filled with cameos and a solid supporting cast, it’s a grand train wreck, but it also features acidic and often bonkers hipster dialogue co-written by Harlan Ellison. How much of it came from Ellison’s nutty mind is conjecture since no one cares enough about this classic of bad cinema to release it on DVD. If Annie (1982), Heaven’s Gate (1980), and Can’t Stop the Music (1980) deserved special editions, why not The Oscar – a movie that actually has pacing, and is free from vomitous musical numbers and directorial excess. (Well, Rouse did draw up a ridiculous pre-Oscar nightmare sequence, but that’s it.)

As a contrast to the ridiculous, I’ve added a review of the 1959 teleplay based on Budd Schulberg’s classic 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run? Many have tried to turn the tight, slim novel into a film (including Tom Cruise), but this teleplay remains the only successful mounting.

The second of the teleplay’s two parts was believed lost, but it took a push from co-star Dina Merrill to get people looking deeper, and 49 years since it aired, the complete teleplay was released on DVD as part of the KOCH / E1’s Archive of American Television series.

And as good fortune would have it, E1 will be releasing Evening Primrose, Stephen Sondheim’s 1966 musical horror tale about a lowly poet who decides to live inside the bowels of a department store, and becomes involved with a group of secret people living in the store’s bowels.

A limited CD of the score was released by Kritzerland Records, and the original teleplay was seemingly locked away due to apparent legal issues, but it seems good things do come to those with patience.



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