The Academy Awards for best picture in the 1950s and 1960s ranged from stories dealing with everyday people to epics to musicals to an x-rated film. Here are some of them, with accompanying stories, from those two decades.
Academy Award Movies from the 1950s
- The Greatest Show on Earth was a surprise when it won in 1952, competing against High Noon, Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge, and The Quiet Man. Today, it is considered by film critics and historians as one of the weakest pictures to ever win an Oscar. It is the only best picture to never have won at least one other award in either acting or directing.
- Another surprise winner was 1955’s Marty, beating out Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Mister Roberts, Picnic and The Rose Tattoo. A simple tale of two lonely people, it played well with audiences and has two distinctions: At 91 minutes, it is the shortest best picture in history and it is the only best picture adapted from television, originally airing on the Goodyear Television Playhouse.
- Epics and spectaculars, often running near three hours or more, dominated the last half of the decade. In 1956, Around the World in Eighty Days won five Oscars, to be followed the next year by David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai which won a total of seven. However, neither of these could match William Wyler’s 1959 mega-epic, Ben-Hur. A remake of the 1925 silent, the film received eleven Oscars, a total only matched by Titanic (1997) and 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
- Other winners from the fifties were: All about Eve (1950), An American in Paris (1951), From Here to Eternity (1953), On the Waterfront (1954), and Gigi (1958).
Academy Award Movies from the 1960s
- The 1960 winner was Billy Wilder’s social commentary, The Apartment, starring Jack Lemmon and a young Shirley MacLaine. A story of a man caught in office politics, it was the last best picture to be filmed fully in black and white [Schindler’s List (1993) was 90% b & w].
- In 1962, another epic from David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia, won the Oscar, arguably against the toughest competition since 1939. Other nominees that year were: The World War II epic The Longest Day, The Music Man, the beloved anti-discrimination film To Kill a Mockingbird, and the remake of 1935’s Mutiny on the Bounty.
- In a decade of political and social turmoil, many people sought relief in movies. This may be part of the reason why out of the ten best picture musicals, four were from the 1960s. [In addition to these four, four others were nominated] The winners were: West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), The Sound of Music (1965), and Oliver! (1968). The only musical to win since then was Chicago in 2002.
- Other winners included the bawdy Tom Jones (1963), the bio-pic A Man for All Seasons (1967), and 1968’s plea for racial tolerance, In the Heat of the Night, a film that Sidney Poitier has called his favorite of all those he has done.
- The decade ended with two notable firsts. In 1969, Midnight Cowboy became the first X-Rated film to win best picture. That same year, the political thriller “Z” won an Oscar as Best Foreign Language film. It thus became the shortest-titled movie to ever win an Academy Award.
Oscar Winners for Direction – 1950s/1960s
The Academy Awards for best director in the 1950s and 1960s saw several records set, as well as recognition for several deserving individuals. Here are some directing highlights and accompanying stories from those two decades.
- When Joseph L. Mankiewicz won best director and best screenplay awards in 1950 for All about Eve, he became the first man to win consecutive Oscars in the same categories. The previous year, Mankiewicz had won the same awards for A Letter to Three Wives.
- John Ford became the first, and only, director to win four Oscars when he took a trophy home for The Quiet Man in 1952. Strangely enough, although Ford is best remembered for his rugged Westerns, none of the four films are from that genre – the other three wins were for The Informer (1935), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and How Green Was My Valley (1941).
- Delbert Mann, in 1955, became the first director to win an Oscar in his movie directorial debut (Marty). Prior to this film, Mann had worked exclusively in television and returned primarily to his first love afterwards. Sam Mendes became the second director to accomplish this feat when he won the directing award for American Beauty (1999).
- An Academy first occurred when the 1961 best director Oscar actually went to two men: Robert Wise and choreographer Jerome Robbins for West Side Story. Wise won again four years later with The Sound of Music.
- The 1961 nominees included the first person nominated for best director based upon a foreign language film. This was Federico Fellini who was chosen for his La Dolce Vita. He lost to Wise and Robbins. The Italian director was nominated again in 1963 for 8 1/2.
Other Directorial Highlights
- William Wyler, in 1965, received his twelfth and final nomination as best director for The Collector, which is still the Academy record. His first nomination was in 1936 for Dodsworth and his three winning Oscars were for Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Ben-Hur (1959).
- Wyler was also the ultimate actor’s director. He directed the most Oscar nominated actors and actresses (34), with thirteen of them winning the award. His first winners were Walter Brennan (supporting actor, Come and Get It, 1936) and Bette Davis (best actress, Jezebel, 1938) and his last was Barbra Streisand (best actress, Funny Girl, 1968).
- In 1967, the Academy honored long-time director Alfred Hitchcock with the Irving G. Thalberg Award, given in recognition for a lifetime of quality work. Ironically, this innovative legend never won an Oscar for any of his individual works despite being nominated five times. His nominations were for: Rebecca (1940), Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Rear Window (1954), and Psycho (1960).
- The 1960s saw an influx of foreign directors being nominated for Oscars. Of the fifty nominations that decade, nine went to men who lived and worked outside the United States. Besides the aforementioned Fellini, the list includes: Pietro Germi (1962, Italy), Michael Cacoyannis (1964, Greece), Hiroshi Teshigahara (1965, Japan), Claude Leloach (1966, France), Michaelangelo Antonioni (1966, Italy), Gillo Pontecorvo (1968, Italy), Franco Zeffirelli (1968, Italy), and Costa-Garvas (1969, Greece). Although none won best director, several of them won Oscars in other categories.