Feb. 29, 2004
CORRIDOR of MYSTERY
SPECIAL OSCAR EDITION OF Ron Miller's
VOL. 5, No. 4
OSCAR'S FAVORITE MYSTERIES
'The Maltese Falcon'
was filmed three times,
but this 1941 version
got the Oscar recognition
Most classic mystery films
had Oscar recognition
By RON MILLER
So few mystery-based feature films make it to the big screen these days--only television seems to have an appetite for them now--that some might believe the mystery genre has no Oscar pedigree.
That's a bum assumption.
For instance, Alfred Hitchcock's "Rebecca," based on the classic Daphne DuMaurier mystery novel, won the Best Picture Oscar for 1940. Three of its stars--Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson--were Oscar-nominated, along with director Hitchcock, screenwriters Robert Sherwood and Joan Harrison, film editor Hal Kern and composer Franz Waxman. George Barnes won the Oscar for his black and white cinematography for "Rebecca."
That same year, Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent," also was a contender in the Best Film category, along with supporting actor nominee Albert Basserman.
There has even been a Best Picture Oscar for a "detective"-style mystery: "In the Heat of the Night," the 1967 winner, based on John Ball's first novel about African-American police detective Virgil Tibbs. Rod Steiger won the Best Actor Oscar for playing the bigoted Southern police chief that Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) helps solve a murder mystery. Stirling Silliphant also won an Oscar for his screenplay.
Here's a list of some of my favorite mystery classics that earned recognition at the Academy Awards when they finally were adapted for the movie screen:
1. "Double Indemnity," the best-selling novel by James M. Cain about an insurance man (Fred McMurray) who becomes an accomplice to a murder set up by a sexy client (Barbara Stanwyck), was nominated for Best Picture of 1944. Stanwyck was nominated for Best Actress and Billy Wilder was nominated for both best director and for the screenplay he wrote with renowned mystery writer Raymond Chandler.
2. "The Maltese Falcon," the seminal "hard-boiled" detective novel by Dashiell Hammett, was nominated for Best Picture of 1941, Sydney Greenstreet as Best Supporting Actor and John Huston for its screenplay.
3. "Suspicion," Hitchcock's film version of the famous mystery novel "Before the Fact" by Francis Iles, also was nominated for Best Picture of 1941 and Joan Fontaine, its star, won the Best Actress Oscar.
4. "The Thin Man," based on Hammett's best-seller about detective Nick Charles and his wife Nora, was nominated as Best Picture of 1934. William Powell was nominated for playing Nick Charles and W.S. Van Dyke for directing.
5. "Laura," Vera Caspary's haunting mystery novel about a detective who falls in love with the woman whose murder he's investigating, was nominated in several categories in 1944--direction (Otto Preminger), supporting actor (Clifton Webb), adapted screenplay (Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Betty Reinhardt) and won for black and white cinematography (Joseph LaShelle).
6. "Rear Window," from Cornell Woolrich's thriller, brought a nomination to Alfred Hitchcock as Best Director of 1955 and John Michael Hayes for his screenplay
7. "Witness for the Prosecution," from Agatha Christie's play, was nominated as Best Picture of 1957. Nominations also went to Charles Laughton (Best Actor), his wife Elsa Lanchester (Best Supporting Actress) and Billy Wilder (direction).
8. "Anatomy of A Murder," from the novel by Robert Traver, was nominated as Best Picture of 1959 and also earned nominations for James Stewart (Best Actor), Arthur O'Connell and George C. Scott (supporting actors), Wendell Mayes (screenplay) and Sam Leavitt (cinematography).
9. "Murder on the Orient Express," from the Agatha Christie mystery novel, brought Ingrid Bergman her third Oscar (this time as best supporting actress) in 1974. Albert Finney, who played detective Hercule Poirot, also was nominated (best actor) and Paul Dehn for his screenplay.
10. "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999) was the second film version of Patricia Highsmith's acclaimed novel--the first was the 1960 French film, "Purple Noon"--and earned a nomination for Anthony Minghella, for his screenplay. Also nominated: Jude Law, who played the rich boy Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) murders. Nominations also were made for music, art direction and costumes.
©2004 by Ron Miller.
Ron Miller is a former nationally syndicated television columnist and the author of "Mystery! A Celebration," the official companion book to PBS' "Mystery!" series. He currently teaches classes in mystery and related topics at Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.
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