Thursday, July 22, 2010
My Missing Picture Nominees: Blossoms in the Dust (1941)
By Edward Copeland
When people argued in favor of expanding the best picture category to 10 nominees, one of their most frequent arguments was looking back at some of the years in the 1930s and early ‘40s when the Academy had 10 or more nominees for best picture. This was the case in 1941 and that’s how melodramatic malarkey such as Blossoms in the Dust ended up in the final derby. Watching this howler alone might get the Board of Governors to decide to go back to five.
To give you an idea of the type of movie this Greer Garson vehicle is, let me give away some of the plot. Edna and her sister Charlotte (Garson, Marsha Hunt) are both engaged to upstanding men in Wisconsin society, though a bank teller named Sam Gladney (Walter Pidgeon) puts the moves on Edna. The next thing you know, Edna is engaged to Sam and Charlotte goes to ask her potential mother in-law about the possibility of a double wedding. Unfortunately, the old crone has discovered that Charlotte was a “foundling,” adopted by Edna’s family after having been born as an illegitimate child. Oh, the scandal it would cause. She can’t allow Charlotte to marry her son. Charlotte didn’t know. She leaves the room, tells Edna everything is OK and proceeds to go upstairs and blow her head off.
Don’t worry that I just gave you spoilers. This all happens in the first 20 minutes.
The movie that Blossoms in the Dust reminded me most of is the god-awful Beaches, at least in terms of structure. They have one scene that sets up an obvious obstacle or problem, the next scene gives the payoff. Next scene, new situation, etc., etc., etc. Edna gives birth to a son; doctor tells Sam it’s too dangerous for her to have more children; next scene, son is older and decides to go on a horse and buggy ride. I’ll take bets now on whether the boy returns with a pulse or not.
The overriding plot (or theme) of Blossoms in the Dust is Edna’s mission to help place abandoned children in good homes and to remove the stigma of illegitimacy. It is meant to be inspirational and I imagine in the right hands, it could have been, but nothing director Mervyn LeRoy or the story by Ralph Wheelwright and screenplay by Anita Loos offer do anything other than offer boredom and laughter at its over-the-top histrionics and predictability.
Garson received the first of her five consecutive best actress nominations for this, but it certainly wasn’t deserved. I guess we should be grateful this wasn’t the film that beat Citizen Kane for best picture in 1941, but I bet there were certainly many more unnominated contenders that were worth a best picture nomination that year, such as (in no particular order) The Devil and Miss Jones, Dumbo, The Wolf Man, All That Money Can Buy aka The Devil and Daniel Webster, Sullivan's Travels, The Lady Eve, Meet John Doe, Ball of Fire, High Sierra, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break...I think I've made my point. Blossoms in the Dust sucks.