The Oscar may have been originally produced as a drama but the film will forever be remembered as a campy comedy about Oscar night.
You’d be forgiven if you thought Allan Carr was involved with the film. After all, the Grease producer produced one of the worst shows in its history. But just as that night effectively ended his career, this film basically did the same for director Russell Rouse and screenwriter Clarence Greene. They directed/produced one more film and that was it for their career. Meanwhile, Harlan Ellison would never see another script hit the big screen.
I tried watching the film last year but it struggled to keep my focus. Suffice it to say, my Saturday night rewatch wasn’t much different. It especially drags during the film’s second hour. Because it’s airing during 31 Days of Oscar on TCM, I decided to give it another chance. The nominations for both Art Direction (now Production Design) and Edith Head’s Costume Design obviously count for something. Neither would win at the 39th Academy Awards but it is what it is. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray describes the film as an “overheated camp-classic masculine version of All About Eve.” I’m not in a position to compare the two films because the Oscar winner is still one of those films that I keep meaning to watch and don’t get around to doing so.
The gist of this film is that Frankie Fane (Stephen Boyd) is an Oscar hopeful and hopes to win. While the film takes place on Oscar Sunday, friend Hymie Kelly (Tony Bennett) reminisces about how Frankie reached this point in his career. It starts with Frankie dumping stripper girlfriend Laurel Scott (Jill St. John) for fashion designer Kay Bergdahl (Elke Sommer) after moving to New York. His relationship with Kay leads to meeting talent scout Sophie Cantaro (Eleanor Parker). This leads to agent Kappy Kapstetter (Milton Berle) signing Frankie and his moving to Hollywood. It’s all about who knows who and what they can do for you.
Eventually, Frankie hurts everyone he knows. It’s so ironic how he’s basically playing himself–a man without morals–when the Academy nominates him. Hell, he even tries to win the sympathy vote by hiring a private investigator, Barney Yale (Ernest Borgnine), to leak a previous rest. Yale ends up turning on Frankie by blackmailing him. In this day and age, all of it would come out and he would probably be cancelled. Is there a redemptive arc in his future? Maybe but we’ll never know. In any event, he gets what’s coming when Oscar presenter Merle Oberon announces “Frank” before pausing to say Sinatra. In typical Hedda Hopper fashion, she spoiled the ending in one of her LA Times columns.
While the film is an unintentional comedy, everyone plays it as a drama. Well, except for Bob Hope, who hosts this fictional Oscars much like the real show itself. Boyd’s career wouldn’t last for much longer. He died of a heart attack at the age of 45 in 1977.
Many Hollywood celebrities make a cameo in the movie including Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Edith Head, Merle Oberon, Nancy Sinatra, Joan Crawford, and antisemitic journalist Hedda Hopper. Hope hosts the Oscars in the film, which makes sense as the ceremony is taking place at the Santa Monica Civic Center. The film doesn’t really say which ceremony this is but Hope hosted the Santa Monica ceremonies in 1962-63 and 1965-1968. While Frank Sinatra wins in the film, he did not win any Academy Awards in the 1960s.
At two hours, The Oscar is just way too long and drags and drags and drags. It’s not entirely unwatchable but it comes pretty darn close to it.
DIRECTOR: Russell Rouse
SCREENWRITERS: Harlan Ellison, Russell Rouse, and Clarence Greene
CAST: Stephen Boyd, Elke Sommer, Milton Berle, Eleanor Parker, Joseph Cotten, Jill St. John, with Tony Bennett and Edie Adams and Ernest Borgnine
Embassy Pictures released The Oscar in theaters on March 4, 1966. Grade: 1/5
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