Sunday, June 26, 2016


"You finally made it, Frankie. Oscar Night!. And here you sit, on top of a glass mountain called 'success.' You're one of the chosen five, and the whole town's holding its breath to see who won it. It's been quite a climb, hasn't it, Frankie? Down at the bottom, scuffling for dimes in those smokers, all the way to the top. Magic Hollywood! Ever think about it? I do, friend Frankie, I do…."

And thus begins one of the most sublimely terrible movies ever to grace the screen. A speech rife with overelaborate hyperbole (it's hard to imagine anyone taking the Oscars this seriously, even in the '60s), clumsy metaphors, labored clichés, and the name "Frankie" repeated no less than three times in a single breathless paragraph. Remarkably, three (count 'em, three) screenwriters are responsible for the dialogue in this gilt-edged burlesque, which, given how the characters are prone to repeat the name of the very person to whom they're speaking, sounds as though it were written for the radio.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Stephen Boyd with Johnny Grant, the real-life honorary Mayor of Hollywood

With nary an ironic or self-aware bone in its bathetic, threadbare body, The Oscar is the kind of pandering-yet-earnest, self-serious Hollywood trash no one has the old-school, out-of-touch naiveté to know how to make anymore. A 1966 film that would have felt warmed-over in 1960 (the year Ocean's Eleven and Sinatra's Rat Pack made this kind of clean-cut, pomaded, sharkskin-suited, ring-a-ding-ding brand of cool into a veritable brand), The Oscar is from the Joseph E. Levine (The Carpetbaggers, Harlow) school of overlit, elephantine artifice. Every interior looks like a soundstage, everyone's clothes look as though they've never been worn before, and the characters are so lacquered and buffed they resemble department store mannequins.
As though encouraged to get into the spirit of things, The Oscars' flirting-with-obsolescence "all-star cast" (eight Oscar winners in all) contribute performances that somehow manage to be mannequin stiff and over-the-top at the same time. Performances wholly unacquainted with human psychology, normal speech patterns, or recognizable human behavior.
With each viewing of this unrelentingly unconvincing take on what I assume was intended to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of unbridled ambition, I grow less and less surprised that one of its screenwriters (Harlan Ellison) is known principally for his work in science fiction.
Stephen Boyd as Frankie Fane
"I'm fighting for my life! And there's a spiked boot for anyone who gets in my way."
Elke Sommer as Kay Bergdahl
"It's that seed of rot inside of you that makes you what you are
that you can't change. You just dress it better!"
Tony Bennett as Hymie Kelly
"You lie down with pigs, you come up smelling like garbage!"
Eleanor Parker as Sophie Cantaro
"You go after what you want. In some men, it's admirable. In you, it's...unclean!"
Milton Berle as Arthur "Kappy" Kapstetter
"You never know you're on your way out until
suddenly you realize it would take a ticket to get back in."

The Oscar, subtitled: Memoirs of a Hollywood Louse, is an unabashed laundry list of every show biz/Hollywood cliché handed down since What Price Hollywood? (1932). A beyond-camp, glossy soap opera whose overripe performance and purple prose present the first male-centric challenge to the women of Valley of the Dolls (and Beyond).

Stephen Boyd, he of the narrow frame and chiseled, Tom of Finland profile, is Frankie Fane; your garden-variety ruthless user with a suitable-for-movie-marquees alliterative name. Side note* I don't recommend anyone try playing a drinking game in which you take a shot every time someone in the film says Frankie's name; you'll be rushed to the hospital with alcohol poisoning by the 20-minute mark.
As this told-in-flashback opus begins, Frankie and longtime buddy Hymie Kelly (Tony Bennett, making his film debut/swansong and looking like he wished he were back in San Francisco with his heart) are eking out a living, largely thanks to the bump-and-grind efforts of Frankie's stripper girlfriend, Laurel Scott (Jill St. John).
Jill St. John as Laurel Scott
"What does he think I am, dirt? Every morning I'd get the feeling
he was gonna leave two dollars on the dresser for me!"

After a nasty run-in with a crooked sheriff—a bulldoggish Broderick Crawford playing the flip side of his Highway Patrol TV character—the vagabond trio thumb a ride to NYC where breadwinner Laurel (who's, of course, basically a nice, decent girl who just wants "a kid") soon tires of Frankie's freeloading. This is in spite of the fact that Hymie, the perennial 3rd wheel and clearly healthy as an ox, also appears to be living with the couple, yet shows no signs of being any more gainfully employed than his pal.
As audiences wait in vain for Hymie to happen upon a microphone and solve everyone's problems by discovering a latent talent for singing (and, in the bargain, providing a much-needed respite from the film's ceaseless stream of risible dialog and '60s slang); Frankie the hound dog decides to accompany Hymie to "a swingin' party in the village…lots of chicks" where he meets aspiring costume designer Kay Bergdahl (Sommer). In no time, Frankie makes his move:
Frankie- "You a tourist or a native?"
Kay- "Take one from column A and two from column B and get an egg roll either way."

On the strength of that nonsensical rejoinder, one would be forgiven for leaping to the assumption that Kay was suffering a stroke-related episode and in need of immediate medical attention, but not our Frankie. Clearly smitten by Kay's pouting accent, silk-awning bangs, and mink eyelashes, our smarmy antihero instead continues to engage the comely blond in more Haiku-inspired small talk. Kay, perhaps as a nod to the film's title, has a way of making everything she says sound like excerpts from an Academy Award acceptance speech:
"I am the end result of everything I've ever learned...all I ever hope to be,
and all the experiences I've ever had."

We return now to Laurel—that hip-switchin', nice-walkin', bundle of loveliness—who, in a late-in-coming display of backbone, lays down the law to Frankie when he returns home:

"If you think I'm gonna work my tail off so you can run around with the village chicks…oh, stop spreadin' the pollen around, Frankie...or else!"

Unfortunately for Laurel, her ultimatum doesn't have the desired effect on Frankie as she'd hoped. After spending the evening with hard-to-get Bergdahl, round-heeled Laurel starts to look like used goods to him, and in record time, Frankie, the village pollen-spreader, beats a hasty retreat. So hasty that he misses out on hearing the joyous news that Laurel is pregnant with his child. 
In much the same way Willy Wonka's shiftless Grandpa Joe miraculously finds the energy to haul his wrinkled carcass out of bed once the prospect of a candy factory tour looms; the heretofore serially unemployed Frankie promptly lands a job in the garment district when it affords the opportunity to see more of the glacial Miss Bergdahl. But it isn't long before Kay's middle-European cool proves no match for Frankie's hotheaded, borderline sociopathic personality.
Koo Koo Frankie shows a wise guy actor (Jan Merlin) what it's
like to be on "the business end of a knife."

Frankie expends so much abusive energy exorcising his inner demons ("The way he sees it, no woman's any better than his mother," intones Hymie, deep-thinker) that Kay scarcely has time to examine her own Bad Boy attraction issues ("Sometimes I get the feeling, Frankie, that you ought to be chained up with a ring in your nose!") before their relationship begins to go south and take on all the dysfunctional sparring rhythms of Robert De Niro & Liza Minnelli in NewYork, New York…minus the warmth & mutual respect.

One particularly theatrical outburst of Frankie's captures the rapacious eye of roving talent scout Sophie Cantaro (Parker), who sees in Frankie's mercurial mood swings the makings of a star (Charlie Sheen, no doubt). Faster than you can say, "Bye-bye, Bergdahl! Hello, Cougar Town!" Frankie is whisked off to Hollywood and becomes exactly the kind of noxious nightmare of a movie star you'd expect. Think Neely O'Hara crossed with Helen Lawson combined with every ego-out-of-control rumor you've ever heard about Jerry Lewis, and you get the idea.
Joseph Cotten as Kenneth Regan, head of Galaxy Pictures
"I find myself repelled and repulsed by you."

Of course, this is precisely when the already dizzying lunacy of The Oscar really swings into high gear. Cue the laughably garish sets meant to signify high-style opulence, the tired visual short-cuts (EVERY scene in a studio backlot features strolling cowboys, gladiators, and showgirls in headdresses), and the standard-issue What Makes Sammy Run? rise and fall of our unscrupulous schnook scenario.

Yes, whether it be the simile-laden narration ("Man, he wanted to swallow Hollywood like a cat with a canary."); the rote, claws-his-way-to-the-top conflicts ("The fact is my 10% before taxes is paying your office overhead. And you stop earning it when you stop giving me what I want!"); or clumsy, tin-eared metaphors ("Have you ever seen a moth smashed against a window? It leaves the dust of its wings. You're like that Frankie, you leave a powder of dirt everywhere you touch."), The Oscar leaves nary a cliché unturned and untouched. And for that, we should all give thanks.
Ernest Borgnine and Edie Adams as lowbrow couple Barney & Trina Yale

The Oscar is artificiality as motif. Without actually intending to do so, director Russell Rouse (who made the must-see Wicked Woman -1953) has crafted a film so phony and plastic, it winds up saying a great deal more about the real Hollywood than this contrived, self-serving fairy tale. A fairy tale that would have us believe that Hollywood is comprised of basically decent, principled, hard-working folks, and that unscrupulous bad apples like Frankie are the rotten exception.
When I watch The Oscar, I always wonder: was this movie pandering to star-struck yokels and hicks from the sticks? Was this fable of Tinseltown-as-Toilet designed to make Nathanael West's "locusts" feel less-resentful of the rich, famous, and privileged? To feed us the comforting fantasy that those beautiful, glamorous people on the screen have it far worse? 
Or had years of lying to itself deluded "The Industry" into believing its own publicity? This can't be how '60s Hollywood actually saw itself, can it? 
In the film's most blatantly parodic role, Jean Hale is hilariously spot-on as the self-absorbed actress Cheryl Barker. The role is an obvious and mean-spirited swipe at Carroll Baker that was likely included at the behest of producer Joseph E. Levine. (Baker and Levine clashed during the filming of Harlow, leading to her suing to get out of her three-picture contract. Baker won, but was blacklisted.)

It's not as though no one knew what a good film about Hollywood looked like: Sunset Boulevard -1950, The Bad & the Beautiful -1952, A Lonely Place -1950, Stand-In -1937. So, I tend to think everyone involved in The Oscar knew precisely what kind of trash they were making (Bennett doesn't recall the experience fondly in his memoirs) and just cashed their paychecks and moved on. But given the expense, effort, and the fact that many equally overstuffed, fake-looking, questionably-acted, and poorly-written films that came before it had somehow managed to find boxoffice success (The Carpetbaggers comes to mind); I can only imagine that the eventual awfulness of The Oscar wasn't as much of a surprise to those involved as was the public's total indifference to it.
Exterior shots of the Oscar ceremony were shot at the 37th Academy Awards in 1965. Bob Hope was indeed the host that year, but as the stage design was different, I suspect these scenes were shot on a sound stage. The Oscar actually did garner two Academy Award nominations in 1967: art direction (remarkably, given how ugly the sets are) and costume design. 

It's a crowded, competitive field, but Stephen Boyd walks away with the honors for The Oscar's most exaggerated, indicating performance. In a film of parody-worthy performances, Boyd's bellowing, bombastic over-emoting (much like Faye Dunaway's in Mommie Dearest) sets the bar. It serves as the tonal rudder for this Titanic testament to overstatement. It's a performance that towers over the rest. And while one might argue he's no worse than anyone else (certainly not Bennett) and only as good as the knuckleheaded screenplay allows; when there's this much collateral damage, every offender has to be held accountable for their fair share of the carnage. 
Frankie's cutthroat efforts to win an Oscar make up the bulk of the 1963 Richard Sale novel
upon which the film is based, but comprise only the last half hour of the movie 

Indeed, in a reversal of my usual standard in camp movies I adore, the women don't really dominate in The Oscar. Despite their towering hairdos and colorful wardrobes, Elke Sommer, Eleanor Parker, Jill St. John, and a woefully over-rehearsed Edie Adams have their work cut out for them in trying to keep pace with the hambone scenery-chewing of Boyd on one side, and the Boo Boo Bear blandness of mono-expression crooner Tony Bennett on the other.
Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci They're Not
Hope you like Tony Bennett's expression here, 'cause that's it...for two whole hours

Add to this, schticky comedian Milton Berle as another one of those saintly talent agents that only seem to exist in Joseph E. Levine films (Red Buttons, another face-pulling comic, played a similar role in Levine's Harlow). Berle's approach to serious drama is something out of an SCTV Bobby Bittman sketch: go so low-wattage as to barely register any vitality at all.
Not sure, but I think knuckle-biting to convey distress went out with silent movies.

As hard as it is to believe that the Motion Picture Academy actually endorsed this sordid melodrama (although it is thought that the embarrassing flop of this film is responsible for the copyright stranglehold the Academy has had on the use and depiction of the Oscar Award in movies ever since). But one has to wonder about the many drop-in guest appearances of so many "stars" adding verisimilitude and unintentional comic relief. Were they contractual, were favors owed, or were they simply prohibited from reading the entire script?
Edith Head (or an animatronic copy) as Herself
Jack Soo as Sam, Frankie's live-in valet
Famed Hollywood columnist, commie-finger-pointer,
and homophobic blabbermouth, Hedda Hopper 
A puffy Peter Lawford is a little too convincing as Hollywood has-been Steve Marks
Ed Begley as Grobard, the scowling strip club owner
A beaming Frank Sinatra and daughter Nancy, in her brunette phase
Waler Brennan (right) as network sponsor Orrin C. Quentin of Quentiplak Products, Inc.
On the left, one of my favorite character actors, John Holland, as Stevens, his associate 

The bad film delights of The Oscar are so myriad, I can only speculate that its relative unavailability is to blame for its not having risen in camp stature equal to Valley of the Dolls or Mommie Dearest over the years (it's not on DVD and pops up on TV only sporadically). That, and its lack of an ostentatious drag queen aesthetic or even compelling roles for women. I'm not sure why, but a lot of the best camp is rooted in seeing women presented in the traditional, male-gaze "drag" of ornamental allure (big hair, theatrical makeup, elaborate costumes) but behaving in non-traditional ways--i.e., assertive, aggressive, and with a plot-propelling agency (Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!)
The gender-role incongruity of seeing ornamentally decked-out women behaving in the aggressive, toxic ways movies have traditionally ascribed to male anti-hero types, comes as a pleasant surprise and welcome change of pace. It also probably accounts for why a nasty piece of work like Neely O'Hara in Valley of the Dolls tends to remain in one's memory longer than the passive Jennifer North.
Despite giving lip service to the contrary, the women in The Oscar are a pretty passive bunch and more or less serve a traditional, reactive function in the plot. Pointedly, the poised and elegant Sophie Cantaro, as one of the film's two exceptions (the other being the blowsy but street-smart Trina Yale), is presented as both sexually desperate ("You, you're 42. There are many good minutes left for you," a well-meaning, tactless friend tells her) and unable to prevent her so-called "feminine" emotions from playing havoc with professional decision-making.
It's not difficult to imagine that The Oscar's preponderance of masochistic females is due to its three male screenwriters. This leads me to wonder if one of the reasons The Oscar never became the midnight screening hoot-fest its entertaining awfulness might otherwise guarantee is because the women's roles are so toothless. 
But such wrong-headed thinking prevails throughout The Oscar. Making it one of the best of the worst, the apex of the nadir, and unequivocally one for the books. A book no doubt titled: "What The Hell Were They Thinking?"

Update: After being unavailable for decades, a Blu-ray edition of The Oscar was released on February 2, 2020.

Elke Sommer wore the same Edith Head gown to the actual 1966 Academy Awards she donned in the fake ceremony that bookends The Oscar (top photo). Here's a clip of a somewhat botched dual acceptance speech with Connie Stevens for Doctor Zhivago's absent costume designer, Julie Harris. Watch HERE

Although only an instrumental version plays in the film, Tony Bennett sang the Muzak-ready theme song from The Oscar ("Come September") on the soundtrack album. This 45rpm single was an opening day giveaway at many first-run theaters. 

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2016


  1. Frankie goes to Hollywood!

    A terrific piece of trasche that should be better known and appreciated; thanks for the memories.

    1. Thank you for the funny and apt Frankie Goes to Hollywood reference!

  2. Two quick comments before I even read this post about one of my favorite awful movies:

    Did you ever see SCTV's spoof of this, called The Nobel? Yes, Frankie is clawing his way to a Nobel Peace Prize in this take-off! Hilarious, especially Catherine O'Hara's spot on imitation of Eleanor Parker's grand-voiced, hair-tossing, eyebrow-arching performance?

    Second, I think in Bizarro World, Frankie Fane and Neely O'Hara should have played George and Martha in a Rat Pack version of "Virginia Woolf!"

    Can't wait to read this ; )

    1. Hi Rick
      Yes, I have seen that SCTV skit you speak of. I remember being so surprised they devoted so much time to spoofing a movie that (at the time) almost no one I knew had ever seen. Watching it was like sharing an inside joke.
      And of course, I have to smile at the thought of Neely & Frankie as George and Martha...they both have the same tendency of barking rather than speaking their would be strangely perfect.

    2. In case anyone wants to watch, it's in two parts and is absolutely spot-on and hilarious:

  3. "Sublimely terrible" just about sums up this film! I can't recall ever seeing another movie where I sat through it wondering if audiences were supposed to take it seriously or not; just about everyone plays this as if it's the last movie they'll ever make (it does seem to have put a damper on Stephen Boyd's career, not to mention Tony Bennett fleeing motion pictures altogether).

    You make a great, revealing point about what we love about most camp movies: it's the female performances and characters. The Oscar is unique in that it's male-centered camp, with the men bringing the hysteria (and hilarity) to the proceedings (I would think Bennett's final tell-it-like-it-is speech to Boyd would be the stuff of parody nirvana). I'm surprised this film has never been released on DVD (though it seems to have been issued on VHS), as I know Levine's Carpetbaggers and Harlow both have. Could the Levine estate have decided that enough is enough and that the Levine imprimatur can stand only so much embarrassment? Thanks for a great post!

    1. Hello GOM
      I agree, the puzzling thing about a lot of those 60s movies (Where Love Has Gone, Madame X) that in later years would have been made into TV movies and or miniseries, is never knowing to what degree the makers knew they were creating trash.
      "The Oscar" isn't that much of a deviation from many of the other overblown films of the era that later went on to boxoffice success, so it begs the question...what went wrong?
      I always think of Joseph E. Levine as being a pretty terrible producer, and that whole "Rat Pack" period of show-biz phoniness is what makes so many of the comedies of the 60s unbearable for me. But "The Oscar" is sooo hackneyed, it feels like an act of hucksterism: sophisticates thinking the could pull the wool over the eyes of ticket-buying yokels by selling them time-worn cliches, only to have it backfire on them.

      I've been wracking my brain to think of an example of male-centered camp, but could only come up with "Can't Stop the Music"- which comes off so bad because it tries to appropriate gay camp while staying firmly in the closet. I think you've hit on something when you mention male hysteria. Perhaps men giving full vent to the high-flown emotionalism usually attributed to women's roles is as camp as when women carry on like James Cagney in movies (I'm thinking of Patty McCormack in "the Bad Seed").

      I've never seen this film with an audience, but I'm sure it would be bliss. My sisters and I never missed a chance to watch it on TV.
      It's one of those movies where even the realiably good actors come off badly (Joseph Cotten's odd syllable emphasis in saying the words "despicable" and "industry" always make me smile).
      A cleaned-up DVD release is really overdue, but as you suggest, can an estate feel comfortable releasing a dramatic film solely for the purpose of allowing people to laugh at it?
      Thanks for the great comments, and thanks for reading!

  4. I was wondering/hoping when you get to this one! Then wondered how to encapsulate is rottenness in just one column. But you did! I first saw this on TV in the 60s when I was all of, maybe 10 years old, and even then knew it was unbelievable trash. And I couldn’t wait to see it again! And again. I even tried reading my mother’s paperback copy of the novel but it was no fun. It needed Elke Sommer.

    But poor Jill St. John. Suddenly she disappears from the picture and it’s like, “Funny you should ask, she died about three reels ago but we didn’t show it.”

    I think Charles Busch is the exception, but you just can’t set out to make camp. It has to just happen. And what happens in The Oscar is so good.

    1. Hi Max
      Nice of you to say I encapsulated all of this film's rottenness, but truthfully, space did not permit me to go into all I wanted to about this wonderful film (I had a screencap of Elke Sommer's anger-fueled eye-twitch that just didn't fit anywhere, and I didn't get to to go at all into Edie Adams' busy characterization or wax on about how bafflingly ill-conceived Tony Bennett's character is).
      I love that your mom had a copy of the paperback! I'm interested in reading the book, but from what I've gleaned on the internet, the movie fabricated the entire first 90 minutes and used the novel for the final third.
      I can't recall seeing a film with a larger roster of "middling" stars...(Boyd, Sommer, St. John, Adams, Borgnine) none are actors I would ever watch a film specifically to see.
      And yes, Jill St. John has scant screen time, but they manage to fit in two bikini-clad scenes. I've seen stills that indicate there was at least one romantic scene between Boyd and Parker that didn't make it into the film. I wonder if poor old Laurel had any more of a role than what we see?

      And you're right, successful intentional camp is something very rare (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is about the only example of that works for me), so when the real thing comes along like "The Oscar", I wish movie studios weren't so reluctant to just go with the flow and grant the film a healthy life on DVD as a camp favorite. Tony Bennett is having a bit of a career resurgence, I wish he would do a commentary on this.

  5. Dear Ken: Hi!

    I've never had a chance to see this one, but I've known about it ever since Premiere Magazine (remember that?) did a derisive article about it in the early 1990s. I recall them quoting the priceless "One from column A, one from column B" line.

    I'm not sure why "The Oscar"'s been so unavailable. It was released by Paramount, same as "Carpetbaggers" and "Harlow."

    Where to start? I've seen Stephen Boyd in only a few films, but he has not been an asset to them, to put it mildly. He helps ruin the only so-so Doris Day musical "Jumbo" with his odd, clenched-jaw line readings.

    Elke Sommer--what was it with Hollywood's 1960s fascination with foreign starlets? Claudia Cardinale, Capucine, Virna Lisi, Camilla Sparv, Elsa Martinelli, etc. etc. Some of the actresses did truly have ability, but for me there was kind of an unseemly, "girl toy," Playboy-type mindset about taking these exotic femmes and then using them mostly as eye candy.

    I checked the complete cast list of "the Oscar" on imdb and it states that Joan Crawford makes an uncredited cameo. Can that be true?? I've never seen this film listed in her filmographies.

    1. Hi David
      I TOTALLY remember Premiere magazine, but don't recall a feature on "The Oscar." it must have been a hoot.
      This film's unavailability really is a head-scratcher. I wonder if it has anything to do with the quality of print(s) available. I had the VHS for a while, and when "The Oscar" was screened on TCM some time ago, there was some obvious trouble in the scene between Frankie and Cheryl Barker character. Big scratches and then a cut of a reaction shot or something. The murky-image copy I have above is from a cable broadcast I think.

      I so agree with your comments about Boyd (very appealing to me but I was always surprised he was a movie star. he had TV western star written all over him), and about the mis-use of European starlets. Hollywood never knew what to do with them other them trot them out for their beauty. I'm always stunned when I compare Romy Schneider's US work compared to her Euro work. I can hardly believe it's the same woman. Hollywood at this stage turned every actress into Pamela Tiffin.
      Lastly, When writing this post, I looked at the IMDB cast roster too, and saw Joan Crawford's name. I've seen this movie countless times, and like I said, the copies haven't been the best quality, but I've never caught sight of Joan in the film. Like in "Rosemary's Baby" many people claim to have seen Sharon Tate as a guest in the Woodhouse party (not me), "The Oscar" has a big party scene with a lot of luminaries in attendance. If Joan is there, you've got your work cut out for you trying to find her.
      Hope you get to see this film sometime. You might hate it, or it may become your new favorite terrible movie. Thanks, David!

  6. Oh my God! Where to begin with one of my absolute favorite baaaad movies? Many years ago, I taped this from the late show (complete with commercial breaks and all) and whenever we had a group of like-minded friends over, we'd stick this in the VCR and have it playing in the background. Someone would invariably say, "Hey, I didn't know Tony Bennett was in a movie" or "Milton Berle in a serious role?" It's just too over-the-top to be true. And my husband and I still roll out the "there you sit on a glass mountain" speech whenever we think someone (cough--Trump--cough) is getting too big for their britches.

    And not to be a spoiler or anything, but at this year's Oscars, did you see Mark Ruffalo's face when the Best Supporting Actor Oscar was announced, "And the Oscar goes to Mark R...ylance!" It was like Frankie Fane all over again!

    1. Hi Deb
      If writing about "The Oscar" presents any problem at it, it's what you asked in your first sentence - where to begin?
      The list of what is so wrong and thus so right about "The Oscar" spans far too much territory for any one piece on the film to do it justice. It's such a curiosity in that it is both well-known (infamous) yet a great many people have never seen it. When they do, their reaction is always one of surprise (along the lines of: how did anything this bad escape me for so long?)
      I think it first aired on TV in 1969, and even as a kid (I would have been 12) this movie struck me as the best of the worst. What did adults think?
      I'm positive there was hope of getting Oscar nods for the score or for Tony Bennett's film debut. And Milton Berle's surprisingly well-received turn (I think he's awful but many critics singled him out for praise) has Oscar-bait all over it.
      And the Ruffalo mention is not a spoiler at all (I have to check that moment out on YouTube!). When "The Oscar" screened on TCM the host relayed a tale of how something similar happened to some famous classic film director in real life. I wish I could remember who.
      I'm forever amazed this film doesn't make the cable TV rounds every Oscar season. It's absurdity would put the whole "Awards Season" madness into perspective.
      Thanks for commenting, Deb!

    2. It's just that their names were so similar and I really don't think anyone though Mark Rylance had a shot, so when "Mark R..." came out of the presenter's mouth, Mark Ruffalo had that "Oh yes/oh no" moment. Well, at least he didn't stand up like Frank Fane when he heard "And the winner is Frank...Sinatra!"

    3. I just saw it, and exactly...the names were too close...Ruffalo's heart must have jumped a foot!
      What's funny about that scene in "The Oscar" is that sadistically loooong pause Merle Oberon puts between "Frank" and "Sinatra"

    4. FYI, the director you're thinking of is Frank Capra, who was nominated for "Lady For a Day"; and when the presenter called out "come up and get it, Frank!", he rose from his seat and started for the stage--only to realize that the winner was another director, Frank Lloyd. Capra said that he then performed "the longest crawl in history" back to his seat.

    5. Thank you for remembering the name of the director!I love that story...and what a terrible way to announce the winner!

  7. One more comment (apologies in advance for length and if I've mentioned it before): my husband and I refer to something we call "Alan Alda Syndrome" which is when a filmmaker shows something about movie-making that he/she knows is false but shows it anyway because that's how the filmmaker thinks the general public imagines it happens (in other words, pandering). It all goes back to a dreadful Alan Alda movie called "Sweet Liberty" where Michelle Pfeifer and Michael Caine--playing the big stars of the movie-within-a-movie--ride on a bus with the extras and the tech people to a location. Now Alda has been in enough movies to know this doesn't happen--stars have their own trailers, drivers, etc.--but he thinks the public would think this is how big stars in a big movie would be treated. Yeah, right! Anyway, THE OSCAR is one Alan Alda Syndrome set piece after another. There's not an authentic moment in its entire running time. That's what makes it so deliriously, wonderfully bad!

    /And no apologies to Alan Alda for making his name shorthand for inauthenticity. He knew better.

    1. Wonderful that you've given a name to an annoying phenomenon in movies about making movies! I saw "Sweet Liberty" and it falls into the category of one of those films I cannot for the life of me remember a single frame of.
      I don't expect documentary accuracy when I watch a movie, but in instances like you site, it throws everything off. I've always thought it was a good idea that "The Oscar" spares us any scenes of Frankie actually appearing in a movie. We'd never buy his Oscar nomination for a minute.

  8. Hi Ken - isn't it sometimes more fun to write (and read about) the bad ones than the good ones? You must have had a blast with The Oscar because I am in camp heaven reading about it. Your essay is sooo much more satisfying than the film itself (but the next time it's on TCM, I will not miss it nevertheless!!)

    You have captured every cringe-worthy moment to perfection! Especially the scenery-chewing performance of chiseled star Stephen Boyd (who I adore when secretly lusting after Chuck Heston in Ben Hur, adding much-needed gay subtext to that long, long epic!!)

    And if only today's drag queens would scallop their glossy tresses as high as hair-hopper Elke Sommers's here...the world would be just a little more fabulous.

    Ken, thank you for enhancing my 1960s technicolor dreams with this golden turkey!!Your blog always delivers what it promises - Le Cinema Fantastique!!

    1. Hi Chris
      Yes, it's a sad fact of life that trashing a film is ofttimes a good deal easier (and a lot more fun)than praising it.
      Certainly I've found it to be true that I can come up with a million colorful ways to say something bad, but when it comes to saying good things I struggle not to use colorless generalities like "great" "wonderful" and "terrific" too often.
      As you've no doubt discovered, a piece about a movie like "The Oscar" practically writes itself. There's just no let-up on the things to comment upon. They practically have neon arrows pointing them out.

      I hope this airs on TCM again soon (for a while Get-TV screened it once a week, it seemed). Good to hear it's a good/bad favorite of yours (can you believe I've never seen Ben Hur? I'm kinda allergic to Charlton Heston) and thanks, Chris, so much for taking the time to relay such very kind words!

  9. You nailed it, Ken!

    I just watched "Valley of the Dolls" recently and felt exactly the same about THAT movie! I'm surprised the two trash classics have never been run on a double-bill ; )

    I'm always surprised that Sinatra agreed to appear in this as himself, as I thought Frankie Fane was sort of a cartoon version of Sinatra, with some Tony Curtis thrown in.

    The only thing that offsets the star's awful performance is how hot Stephen Boyd was! Though I take Raquel Welch's latter day showbiz dish with a large grain of salt, she's got a story about trying to seduce her "Fantastic Voyage" co-star, only to be gently rebuffed, because the buff star was gay.

    Elke Sommer, did she EVER appear without a wig in the '60s?

    I always thought Eleanor Parker and Anne Baxter should have made a movie together as evil sisters, with their over-dramatic, husky voices, and arched eyebrows ; ) With Joan Crawford as their mother...oh, wait...Joan would want to play their kid sister!

    This is one of those movies that I both love and loathe, just like "Dolls." They are both so phone and cliched. In fact, I can't really think of a great movie about Hollywood that's truly honest. Can you, Ken?

    Cheers, Rick

    1. Hi Rick
      I have honestly never understood why "The Oscar" is not spoken of as often and in the same circles as discussions about ""Valley of the Dolls" or "Beyond."
      Can a studio be so embarrassed about a movie that it keeps it out of the hands of the public, or do fans of bad films find it boring? (It never drags for me...there's nary a dull moment in this opus of awful!)

      And I often wondered about the whole "Frankie" name and how the producers convinced him to appear in a movie that more than a couple of people would say borrows at least some of the hero's caddish behavior from Sinatra's own bio. Maybe the first thing they told him is "You win an Oscar at the end!" and went backward from there.

      To me, Raquel Welch is exactly the kind of narcissist who would think that a man rebuffing her advances MUST be gay, so I know hat you mean. But Boyd honestly tweaked my gaydar waaay back as a yound man when i first saw him in "Dumbo." Paired with the somewhat butch Doris Day...I dunno. My gaydar has been known to malfunction now and then.

      I just did a quick Google image search of some of Elke Sommer's looks (since she never really registered to me at all during the 60s), and you're right; she was Miss fall and wiglet of the decade. I give Julie Christie a lot of crap because of her ever-present bangs, Miss Sommer was the bang queen (and I mean that in the most wholesome way).

      I love the idea of Eleanor Parker and Anne Baxter in a film together! It never struck me before how similar they are in throaty, dramatics.
      Lastly, you pose an excellent question about films that try to depict Hollywood. I don't know that I've ever seen an honest one.
      Movies like "S.O.B." and "Burn Hollywood Burn" are annoying because the makers have such obvious axes to grind, all you get is a sense of hurt feelings and bile.
      My favorite movie about Hollywood is likely "The Day of the Locust"- merely because the characters are so ugly yet they have absolutely no idea they're simply walking grotesques. Sounds like Hollywood to me!

      Thanks so much, Rick! I loved your comments and the opportunity they provided to write even more about this jaw-dropping film!

  10. We should all be ashamed of ourselves. We profess to be lovers of the cinema, when we really love to wallow in trash! It's like being in high school knowing you should like the class president, but really want to hang out with the kid who rides a motorcycle.
    I've only seen The Oscar once. It was in 1969, and we had just moved into our new home. My mom decided she hated the wallpaper in the dining room and living room. So as soon as school was out, it was my sisters' and my job to scrape decades of wallpaper off the walls. We were cheap labor.
    Of course we complained about not being able to go outside and play with our friends. So to quiet us my dad set up our small black & white TV between the rooms so we could watch - mostly listen - as we worked. There were the usual soap operas and the Mike Douglas show. We saw a couple of movies, notably The Heiress. The drone of the TV helped while away time while scraped.
    Then we saw The Oscar. I don't understand how three preteen Catholic school girls knew camp when we saw it, but did we ever. We couldn't look away from this cinematic train wreck, even when my mom threatened to turn off the TV because no work was getting done!
    Of course to this day we howl about the Oscar getting out of my seat moment. But my memory is of Elke Sommer, who I thought was exquisite. That pert face. That cute voice. That hair! A golden confection.
    A couple of years later, Elke was a guest on The Tonight Show. I was shocked when she came out. A really bad 70s perm. Dressed in that tacky faux western 70s thing - boots, fringed vest. Khol ringed eyes. And a voice and teeth that belied too many cigarettes. I was bereft at what had happened to my German Sandra Dee.
    I've never been able to catch the movie on TV since then, but your essay and the readers comments are just as good! You're so right, the reviews of bad movies practically write themselves!
    As for Ben Hur, Ken, don't waste your time. It's one of the worst films to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture. With both Charleton Heston and Stephen Boyd, there's so much clenched jawed acting you'd swear both actors stepped on the same rusty nail and contracted lock jaw. The only good scene in the entire bloated epic is when Heston confronts the on-his-deathbed Boyd to divulge where can find Heston's mother and sister. "In the valley of the lepers," hisses Boyd. "If you can still recognize them." Stone cold but the only funny thing in the three+ hour film. My sisters and I still reenact it. I'm usually Heston and my older sister is Boyd.
    Thanks, Ken, for a real gem!

    1. Hi Roberta
      Wow! That's some introduction to "The Oscar" - a film I'm sure at least one person must have described as being as interesting as watching wallpaper peel.
      my sisters and I discovered this film together on TV for the first time, and indeed, the ending was a howler of a comeuppance for such an odious character.
      And what you say about being young and STILL knowing it was camp applies as well.
      I don't know what age a kid can discern what is inauthentic or corny, but a movie like "The Oscar" would test anyone's camp radar.
      Although I was oddly immune to Sommers' appeal, I know what you mean about how she is presented here. She may have loathed the movie, but she had to have loved how they made her look. I think I have seen her in only one other film (some Matt Helm thing) and once agin, she barely registered.
      I recall her talk show appearances and your description of her in the 70s is remarkably spot-on. To the point that I think I must have seen the same Tonight Show episode. Those curly perms did very few actresses any favors (my mind goes to 70s era Petula Clark).
      And thanks for the tip-off to Ben Hur. Every time I've tried to watch it, it's felt like a chore.
      Thank you for the fun trip back to 1969 and your first encounter with "The Oscar"...a movie so compelling it can make you stop peeling wallpaper. (they should have used that in their ads).
      Thanks, Roberta!

  11. Hi Ken! This film was one of my holy grail films that I longed to see for so long. I was very surprised that I found a copy of this mythic film. I was not disappointed.

    It is unusual to see a male actor in such a Neely O'Hara part. I like Stephen Boyd but his acting in this film did him no favours. He didn't get any good parts after this. The film probably wasn't a hit because of him. He carries the whole film and he just isn't convincing as a bad guy who has affairs with many women. Who could identify with that character or the actor trying to play him? It could be that his acting was considered bad (and not funny) when the film was released.

    Yes, there's too little Elke and Jill (and Edith Head) in this movie. I'm amazed that Elke had the same hair do in all her films in the sixties! I love Jill's stripper cat outfit. That alone could attract lots of lovers of camp. The owners of this film has lost many a chance to earn money on this film. As you say, it is a mystery why it's not up there with Dolls as a camp classic!

    Thank so much for your sharp and funny review of this film. I laughed so much at your "debut/swansong" and Pamela Tiffin comments!

    1. Hey Wille
      Stars like Stephen Boyd are always kind of odd for me. I can see why they are actors (handsome, not exactly overtalented, but tall and leading-man like); but I never get how they sustain careers. Is there something you get by hiring Stephen Boyd that you wouldn't get by hiring John Gavin, Hugh O'Brien, or James Garner? They all seem so similar to me.
      Aside from the absolutely wretched dialog, I wonder if Boyd thought a role of this size (he's in every scene and the film revolves around him) was a big coup? Makes me wonder if other male stars were considered.
      It also makes me wonder if ANY actor could have made this work. The screenwriter said he wrote it with Steve McQueen and Peter Falk in mind! (OK, I think McQueen might have been a good call. He has a natural roughneck side to him that could deliver the threats...Boyd just yelled too much and never looked convincing as a toughie)

      Among the many screencaps I wanted to include in this post was one of Jill St. John in her tiger-striped stripper outfit. Those gloves with the built-in nails!

      I know that some of the films I write about are obscure, but I'm glad this is one you've already discovered. Thanks so much, Wille! Look forward to hearing from you again!

    2. Hi Ken
      I am sharing a link which provided some good information about Stephen Boyd. It is very unlikely that my favorite BoyD would have wanted to play Frankie for some sort of self promotion. Hope you take a moment to read it.

      Thank you Leslie

    3. Hi Leslie
      Thank you for adding this link to the comment section. It provides a little info about Boyd for those who may be unfamiliar with him and his work. Thanks, Leslie.

  12. This is a movie I've been flirting with for a while, but you finally got me to sit down and watch it. The YouTube version, on the iPad, on the front porch, so probably not the optimal experience. Also, I was exhausted, so I think I was drifting in and out--no recollection of Walter Brennan.

    Yeah, it's bad, even amusingly bad. But, truth be told, I can't sit through many capital-H Hollywood movies of the 60s-early 70s without squirming. (You and I part company at musicals of that era.) I can watch a dozen spaghetti westerns, B&W roughies, Japanese crime, or bad eurospy flicks from the 60s and have a great time, but sometimes it seems like the Big Studios forgot how to entertain. Did you ever catch those yearly promo reels (done for shareholders?) that show up in TCM once in a while? I look at those and can imagine the stomach problems in the NY offices.

    Good cast, though--a lot of familiar faces, doing what was expected. More familiar names lurking in the IMDB list (often credited as "bikini girl").

    Always had a soft spot for Elke Sommer, though. One of my earliest movie memories is seeing "A Shot in the Dark" (still a favorite) at the drive-in in my pajamas. And I love both "Lisa and the Devil" and the recut, puke-spattered U.S. version "House of Exorcism."

    At some point while watching The Oscar it clicked with me that she'd be reunited with Joseph Cotton a few years later in "Baron Blood."

    1. I think you're the first so far to be really familiar with the films of Elke Sommer. She was very popular as I remember (for a time, anyway) but were I on a game show and asked to name three, I would be stumped. Seeing her for the first time at a Drive-In though...that's the stuff of which lifetime movie goddesses are made. No wonder you've retained a soft spot.
      Hmmm...House of Exorcism and Baron Blood both sound like movies I should have seen/heard of by now!

      I have indeed seen some of those little promo clips they've shown on TCM. Yikes! The roster of films these studios trotted out were all such head-scratchers. It was the 70s, young people were discovering movies and the studios were still churning out the same overstuffed, formulaic stuff. It brings in to relief the desperation that must have been in the air to bring about studios resorting to desperate acts like Fox green-lighting "Myra Breckinridge."

      "The Oscar" is very much a product of its time, and despite its name cast (most of whom would be clamoring for TV movies and "Bracken's World" walk-ons in a few years) and laugh-inducing plot, can be heavy going if you're not already predisposed. And some of those guest star appearances (like Walter Brennan's) are blink or you'll miss 'em cameos.

  13. Hi Ken,

    Geez it feels like ages since I’ve commented but you had a short spate of films I hadn’t seen. So when I looked in today I was so glad to see that you had turned your eye to this cinematic Titanic!

    Boy this sucker is loaded with junky dialog and situations right from the top until its fevered conclusion and I luxuriate in every tawdry frame. I can add little to what you’ve so expertly written about this so I’ll just talk a bit about the various performers.

    Like you I don’t get the praise for Berle, though his appeal is largely lost on me under even the most favorable circumstances, the best I can say is that he gives a better performance than the one he delivered in “Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?” as Goodtime Eddie Filth around this same period. It’s also understandable how Tony Bennett didn’t venture back to the acting pool after this, at least to his credit he realized this was not his field of competence and chose not to humiliate himself further.

    As for the women…I loves me some Eleanor Parker and she looks very glamourous but there were times when her particular acting style didn’t help the material and this is one of them. With a good script and a strong director she could be compelling but since neither were at her disposal here she is just short one jeweled snuff box to clutch away from being a cartoon. Perhaps she felt given the hopelessness of the script that was her only characterization option!
    I never cared much for Jill St. John until I saw her hilariously fun performance as the ex-showgirl mother of one of the leads in the 2002 indie “The Trip” and she’s grown in my estimation ever since. No one gives anything approaching a wonderful performance in this movie but I’d say hers is the best, admittedly a very, very low bar, since she keeps her voice down and her acting muted. Of course she looks wonderful and has the requisite cyclone of hair.

    Someone I have always had a soft spot for despite the fact that I’ve never seen her demonstrate any real acting range is Elke Sommer. The 60’s being her best decade she was never less than uber glamorous but then what she was handed were rarely more than decorative roles. I think because the first place I saw her was one of her better roles and performances in a film I LOVE-the Paul Newman starrer The Prize where she had the highly alliterative name Inger Lisa Andersson, it never bothered me that she was usually little more than beautifully THERE. That film also co-stars Diane Baker, another performer who never hit the big time but I have a great fondness for and has had a long respectable career.

    Someone else commented on the mania for European actresses in the 60’s and how Hollywood seemed to turn them into cutout cuties in an attempt to find the next Sophia Loren. What they didn’t seem to realize was that Loren was always authentically herself, they spiffed her up a bit but the Sophia you saw in Italy was substantially the Sophia you got in an American picture. You look at Virna Lisi in “How to Murder Your Wife” and it’s completely unfathomable how she could ultimately grow over the years to the reptilian dragon she portrayed in Queen Margot. Or as you mentioned the difference in Romy Schneider, a bewitching creature, lovely in her few Hollywood films but with the interesting edges sanded off.

    But of course the film is perched on Stephen Boyd’s broad shoulders and falls off of them about every five minutes. Your description of his Tom of Finland profile is apt, he’s really a Tom of Finland drawing come to life and at least here as animated. From what I’ve read he seemed like a fun, decent guy with a bum ticker but not much range. I am likewise surprised that he stuck with low budget movies once his brief vogue passed, he seemed perfect to steer a TV Western as Clint Walker, James Drury and Chuck Conners did.

    Anyway the movie is both a dog and a dream come true for star gazing, lush overlit production values, very big hair and bad acting and I thoroughly enjoyed you take on it!!

  14. Hi Joel
    Glad you enjoyed this piece, and I have to return the compliment by saying I thoroughly got kick out of your comments regarding this dream (nightmare?) of a movie. There's something about this level of awfulness that inspires vivid description.

    My favorite perhaps being your noting that Parker was "just short one jeweled snuff box to clutch away from being a cartoon." So spot on in capturing the odd, very period, details in fashion and acting styles that makes "The Oscar" so fun to watch (and critique!).

    I saw that terrible Anthony Newly film you speak of, and Berle in that reminded me of Groucho in "Skidoo"...performances so lacking in anything resembling humor they call entire reputations into question.

    It's nice to hear from so many people how Elke Sommer is such a favorite. She's always registered so far below my radar, but it's wonderful to know that she made such an impression on so many. A real rare quality in any performer is when you find yourself liking them even while being wholly aware of how limited they are.

    Speaking of below the radar, I had to Google the Jill St John reference you mentioned. I'm often surprised by how good some of the glamour actresses of my youth can be when they grow older and at last are offered roles that are not merely ornamental. One of those CI shows seems to do a great job of casting a lot of 70s/80s stars against type and I'm always surprised at how good they are.
    Lastly, you bring up a very good point about what perhaps made Sophia Loren different from the slew of European actresses we shoved in one nothing part after another, only to see them, in later years in their home countries, producing marvelous work (Senta Berger, of all people, seems to have matured into a very interesting actress).
    Lastly, Stephen Boyd is my male Neely O'Hara, and for that I'm grateful, but he too had his occasional moments onscreen later in life (I remember liking him in the TV movie "Carter's Army" but haven't seen that since the 70s).
    Great hearing from you, Joel, and thanks for making me laugh and nod with recognition at so many of your well-stated barbs (cyclone of hair!) Thanks!

    1. Hi Ken,

      I recommend Jill's movie "The Trip" highly. It's low budget (it really shows in the wigs some of the performers wear!!) but I just found it so engaging. She's the performer with the highest name recognition in it but it's supporting cast is full of familiar faces and the two leads have a nice chemistry. Much of it was shot at Valentino's one time mansion Falcon Lair just before it was demolished, which killed me when I found that out-the house was beautiful. :-( It's not a missing masterwork or anything but well worth watching.

      I'm going to have to explore some of Senta Berger's more recent work. Now there's someone who really made very little impression on me in her American films. She was a knockout but beyond that I have almost no recollection of her.

    2. Ken

      Sorry, but here's another remark on Euro starlets... ;)

      As much as I like Elke Sommer as a person -and she really is a nice one- I'm pretty sure that she's also one of the worst actresses to ever grace relatively prominent movies like Blake Edwards' "A Shot in the Dark" (1964)! I personally consider her performances in "The Oscar" here and her Hollywood debut "The Prize" (1963)-next to Paul Newman (!)- as her most believeable performances. She even won a Golden Globe as "Most Promising Newcomer - Female" for that one (an honour she had to share with Ursula Andress and Tippie Hedren, though). With her it's all about the looks!

      And yes: Between 1968 and 1980 Romy Schneider was one of the top-three actresses in France. With the right director she was able to show her enormous acting abilities. She was also very unhappy with being cast on her looks alone -see "What's New Pussycat" (1965) with Andress, Prentiss and Capucine as 'competitors'.

      Senta Berger was able to salvage her already fading career past age 40 in a good way via German television by really turning to acting mostly with comedic ("Kir Royal") and 'Krimi' ("Unter Verdacht")-seriels.

      When it comes to Teutonic language starlets from that era people always tend to overlook Karin Dor, who was competent as James Bond femme-fatale Helga Brandt in "You only live twice" (1967) and even more so as Juanita de Cordoba in Hitchcocks underrated "Topaz" (1969).

      I moreover have to mention hugely talented Eva Renzi who was just gorgeuos in her German debut "Playgirl" (1966). Harry Saltzman discovered her for "Funeral in Berlin" (1966) where she very succesfully replaced Anjanette Comer and even made her his first choice for aforementioned 'Helga Brand' in "You only live twice". Ill-adviced she rejected this with the words: "Bond pictures are good for pretty girls but not for actresses. I'd rather sell shoes".
      She also rejected the female lead in "House of Cards" (1968) next to George Peppard but made "The Pink Jungle" (1968) with James Garner instead. It didn't help...
      She's best known today for her strange but interesting part in Dario Argento's "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" (1970) which she regretted taking until her early death in 2005.

      More examples of talented but underused 1960s German language starlets who were featured in what I call 'Let's satify the producer'-parts are
      Maria Perschy as Paula Prentiss' unnecessary comrade 'Isolde Müller' in Howard Hawks' "Man's Favorite Sport?" (1964),
      Susanne Cramer as Bürgermeister's daughter Anna in "Bedtime Story" (1964) who almost falls for Marlon Brando and
      (Fassbinder regular) Kathrin Schaake as Woody Allens most probable girlfriend Jacqueline in "What's New Pussycat" (1965).

      As banal as it seems I guess part of the problen is the language barrier...

    3. Hi Rick,
      I'm so impressed with your knowledge of Euro starlets! Those I'm familiar with (and no doubt the great many I'm not) do indeed have Stateside careers that suffer due to the language barrier. Casting in the 60's and 70's seemed to only know how to cast Euro stars as sexy ornamentation, their accents branding them as "other" thus only suitable for villainesses, Bond Girls, and exotic seductresses. Usually I have to see them in a film from their native country before seeing them cast in a role of any substance.
      Your informative comments post is a terrific primer guide to all those lovely ladies we perhaps recognized from these films, but knew nothing about. Thank you!

    4. Poor Eva Renzi! Out of nowhere she was offered a first-class career, but her temperament stood in her way. After insulting pretty much everyone in the business (from Guy Hamilton to Delbert Mann to Edith Head to James Garner and so on), her career was pretty much over before it had really begun.

    5. Youthful ego and naïve overconfidence has torpedoed many a promising career.

  15. Just a heads up to let you know, in case you weren't aware, "The Oscar" is finally coming to DVD/Bluray in February 2020 from Kino. 4K restoration no less. Tony Bennett appears to have forgotten all about "The Oscar" these days. A while back I read an interview with him and he mentioned that Cary Grant advised him to skip making movies. No mention of his immortal portrayal of Hymie Kelly. I also saw a comment somewhere from someone who saw Bennett at an event and called out to him "Thanks for The Oscar" to no noticeable response. Milton Berle DID think he had a chance for a Best Supporting Actor nom according to 1966 press reports. Thanks for a great write up on one of my favorite movies.

    1. Hi Eric
      How kind of you to pass on the news! I had heard of the good news and was so excited I pre-ordered. Can't believe Kino-lorber is giving it a full throttle release with a restoration and commentary tracks. I'm thrilled!
      Those tales of Tony Bennett's film debut amnesia are hilarious! That and what you shared about Milton Berle.

      If THE OSCAR if one of your favorites, like me, you must be keen to finally see a good print of it. Never thought I'd see the day! Thanks again for thinking to stop by and share the news. A public service to visitors to this post who may not have heard!

  16. I might also point out that this masterpiece of schlock is available on the streaming service, Kanopy. That's where I found it, unexpectedly, and watched it for the first time, glorious, time. Many script highlights of course, but this from Elke Sommer.. "If you're grasping for a verb to describe how I'm feeling try 'frustrated'... er, no darling, 'frustrated' is an adjective. Delirious trash.

    1. Thanks for passing on the info about Kanopy, a streaming site I was unfamiliar with.
      It's terrific that you caught it for the first time and immediately seized upon the absurdities in the script. Bravo for citing that line of dialogue from Elke Sommer--I've always been amazed that no one (a copy editor, a script person, the director, an extra, the dialogue coach) ever called it to anyone's attention that the refined, educated Kay Bergdahl mislabels the word she's trying to make a point about. Hilarious! Thanks, again!

  17. My pleasure! Although Imdb gives many quotes from the film, that one was not mentioned. I found the film such plush trash that I said to my wife, 'okay, Saturday night film chosen' and I will dip in again. So stunning on a number of counts.. Tony Bennett.. poor Tony Bennett.. Eleanor Parker, Joseph Cotten.. I feel bad for them. By the way.. Kanopy is not terribly well known but couldn't be much better in my opinion. You just have to have a library card and, if your library participates, then download the app and dive in. Free.

    1. Any streaming service offering access to "The Oscar" gets the Camp Lover's Seal of Approval straight away.

  18. Of course “The Oscar” is camp – in that especially wondrous way when an artform thinks it’s refining itself, but in truth is just polishing turds. As Baroque “evolved” into Rococo, the films of Joseph E. Levine you mention are both decoratively and technically excessive, and in turn disturbing for no good reason. With Hollywood itself as the subject matter, all will be told except the truth. The idea that writers often write good books about writers doesn’t often translate when Hollywood attempts to depict itself.

    In asking "What is masculinity's relationship to camp & vice-versa" (on Twitter) I was probably asking a skewed question, since camp is probably of male gayness and that has to be good enough. If we can howl laughing at the demented extremes a woman resorts to in order to find male approval (or herself), we’ve moved beyond a drag sensibility. It’s become quite obvious that non-gay appropriation and definition of camp misses the boat altogether.

    And I mostly agree with Isherwood & Sontag. While camp can be particularly defined, as artform / sensibility it requires recognition to exist. And without a doubt, gay male intelligence and true wit makes camp live. Our touchpoints are (or were…) usually the movies, and we wickedly relish unintended excesses, things that are just plain wrong and the darkly disturbing. Movies nowadays are much more carefully envisioned, scripted and assembled than they were during the Golden Years and subsequent decline, and I'd say input like "That's a bit weird..." would be enough to excise it from a modern film.

    Perhaps society’s changed and we’ve changed too. The more I think about it, the more I miss camp and sharing it as a vibrant and rewarding part of everyday culture.

    1. Hi Rick
      Beautifully and concisely expressed, as usual. Defining camp, or at least trying to parse out what constitutes it, is no easy task, but I think you are onto something when making reference to the excesses.
      I think the repressed '50s and the over-structured middle class affectations of the '60s produced an outsider's sensibility in gays that made poking fun of the artifice into a lot of great camp. Without rigid formality to bump up against (rigid definitions of masculinity, femininity, notions of class and/or style) I don't know that camp is all that meaningful. You have to have a clear sense of the boundaries of something before anything appears to have gone over the top of it.
      Always enjoy your thoughtful contributions, Rick. Hope your vacation from your blog isn't too extended. Thanks!

  19. I just watched The Oscar for the first time on the very good Kino Lorber BR. Reading your essay was decisive in doing so, I had always thought it was a plain stinker (the film). I loved it and laughed out loud a number of times, dialogues and situations. Stephen Boyd acts over the top but you like looking at him, don't you? Male camp heaven and one of my favorite films of the kind.

    1. Yay! Another convert. Congrats for giving the film a try, and I'm glad your earlier disinterest in it at least led to your first exposure being a pristine Blu-ray copy (which I never thought I'd live to see).
      I know a film like this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but for fans of a certain kind of '60s over-the-top aesthetic, THE OSCAR is, as you say "Male camp Heaven."

  20. if mark robson had directed this little diddy, it would have been the male version of valley of the dolls. unfortunately, it lacks a dionne warwick worthy theme song, but the color palette is deliriously giddy.

    1. Boy, am I late in noticing this comment! Sorry Pete!
      Yes, I think Robson might have punched up (or eliminated entirely) much of Ellison's heavy-handed dialogue, and perhaps kept things moving at such a pace you don't notice how seriously it takes itself.
      And yes, the color palette and those overlit interiors that scream "soundstage" are a thing of joy!

  21. Hi Ken-
    With it making the "hall of shame" sections of two bad movie books I regularly reference, I've looked forward to seeing The Oscar for a number of years. Having it get reissued on blu-ray was such a welcome surprise. I don't know about any of your other readers, but I love purposely owning bad films on the best resolution home video format possible.

    Some of my favorite aspects:
    -Jill St. John's brilliant stripper outfit & nailed gloves
    -Broderick Crawford eating out of a half gallon(!) ice cream brick
    -every single one of Edith Head's appearances, cut off right as her mouth opens to speak
    -Borgnine over-enthusiastically dragging Sommer around the dance floor to a Tijuana Brass knock-off under a giant disco ball
    -Boyd's enormous studio lot dressing room with full bar and GIANT brandy snifter just for candy (which is awfully low to the bottom to actually reach...imagine attempting while tipsy!)
    -the every-shade-of-possible-pink apartment AND wardrobe of Edie Adams, made even more delirious by her bending over the couch for that one camera shot. Angling for other sexpot roles, Edie? (pun intended)

    A special shout-out goes to the swinging village party that Boyd and Bennett go to, which is the second time I've ever seen people eating random spaghetti in a social gathering on film. (The first was in the Robert Culp cult classic "A Name For Evil", where it's even more up front and hilarious.) Was this actually ever a real occurrence at a casual hang?

    Thank you for pointing out that you always see showgirl extras for any backlot shot. Where are all these other Hollywood films that feature showgirls? Did all their scenes get cut? It was probably just the required outfit for the casting couch.

    Regardless of what transpires in the two hours before it, Boyd's reaction shot is so priceless that it instantly cements its status as an utter classic of camp for the ages. Brilliance.

    1. Hi Pete
      How terrific to see THE OSCAR for the first time via a pristine Blu-ray (something I never thought I'd live to see!).
      I hope it lived up to expectations. Often when a film is touted as being the best of the worst, a newcomer is apt to find the film not nearly as bad as its reputation.

      That's a great list you compiled of memorable moments from the film, particularly the cut-aways when Edith head is about to open her mouth!
      I'd forgotten the role heaping platters of spaghetti played in the film A NAME FOR EVIL (so cool you're familiar with that oddity!) making me wonder if, because of its inexpensiveness, it was the go-to for cheap party ramen of its day.
      Thanks for this very fun-to-read comment, and welcome to the asylum of fans of THE OSCAR. And you're right about the ending... I've always felt Boyd was absolutely perfect at the end. The more I see it the more I'm aware of how, had it not been played just right, the rest of the film would have collapsed. He really delivers and seals the deal.
      Thanks, Pete. Always appreciate your contributions.

  22. Here's an obvious contradiction about The Oscar: Sinatra, as the award's winner at the film's climax, is portrayed as the Good Guy...The Establishment...the anti-Frank Fane. The truth is that Mr. 4-F, during his Rat Pack days, was, from numerous accounts, despicably worse than was Stephen Boyd's vicious fictional portrayal here. You didn't want 'Ol Blue Eyes, with his flunkie Underworld enablers, as an enemy.

    1. Interesting observation.
      I've read a couple of Sinatra bios and he definitely seemed to be a guy who was a tower of decency and generosity to some (those he liked) and a Frankie Fane to others (if you got on his bad side).