Won: An American in Paris
Robbed: A Place in the Sun
The 1951 Oscars produced a staggering upset that even shocked the studio that produced the victorious film, and continues to rankle cinema purists who treasure substance over style. Sure, An American in Paris has the music of George Gershwin, the dancing of Gene Kelly, the obsession of Vincente Minnelli, and the glamour of the old MGM. But hold Paris up to fellow nominee A Place in the Sun, director George Stevens' poignant ode to the darker side of the American dream, and its win seems painful, a triumph of glittery surfaces over ambitious depths, of blazing Technicolor over piercing black and white.
Granted, Paris' heralded finale, in which cocksure Kelly and gamin Leslie Caron soar majestically through stunning replicas of classic paintings, is a show-stopper, but it remains the film's only enduring legacy. Otherwise, the movie is a cloying, tedious, will-they-or-won't-they romance between a GI and a French waif, hampered by Oscar Levant's endless whining and wooden Georges Guétary's painful warbling. Paris' dancing may be glorious, but its story is shallow and forgettable.
More memorable, more lasting, is Stevens' devastating adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's classic novel, An American Tragedy, which won six Oscars (including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) and was nominated for three more. In A Place in the Sun, a working-class up-and-comer (the beautiful Montgomery Clift) tries to crash social barriers, using distant family connections to fulfill his professional and personal yearnings. The radiant rich girl played by Elizabeth Taylor is the embodiment of his dreams, but he fears being kept in his impoverished place by the clingy factory girl he's promised to wed (Shelley Winters, pulling out the stops). The lingering, wistful Sun remains a haunting, far truer dance with fate than even Paris' splendid 20-minute ballet extravaganza.
They wuz robbed! 1942 - Sullivan's Travels
They wuz robbed! 1964/1968 - Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey
They wuz robbed! 1979 - Apocalypse Now
They wuz robbed! 1980 - Raging Bull
They wuz robbed! 1994 - Heavenly Creatures