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  Oscar, The Virtue Is Its Own Reward
Year: 1966
Director: Russell Rouse
Stars: Stephen Boyd, Elke Sommer, Milton Berle, Eleanor Parker, Joseph Cotten, Jill St. John, Tony Bennett, Edie Adams, Ernest Borgnine, Ed Begley, Walter Brennan, Broderick Crawford, James Dunn, Hedda Hopper, Peter Lawford, Merle Oberon, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope
Genre: Drama, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is the night of the Academy Awards, and Hollywood's best and brightest are in attendance to find out who will be walking away from the evening with the statuettes. One of the guests present is Frank Fane (Stephen Boyd) who is a star up for Best Actor, a gong he has been lusting after ever since he learned he was nominated, but someone else in the audience is well aware of what he is really like and what has brought him to this stage. He is Frank's old friend Hymie Kelly (Tony Bennett) who has been part of his life ever since they were struggling hucksters going cross country with a stripper called Laurel (Jill St. John), never dreaming they would be so successful in showbiz...

Although Boyd was of the opinion that the failure of The Fall of the Roman Empire was responsible for derailing what had to that point been a career of escalating good fortune, two years later The Oscar did not exactly help, and if anything had sent him packing for good. 1966 also saw him in Fantastic Voyage, for instance, which while an ensemble cast did very well, but the damage from this fiasco was done, and made the Academy reportedly reluctant to ever allow themselves to be embarrassed like this again. Mind you, it's not as if Oscars were never seen onscreen ever in the future: The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult was not exactly the most prestigious effort around.

However, Frank Drebin's antics were supposed to be funny, and this little item was intended to be taken entirely seriously, one of those Hell up in Hollywood exposes that the industry loved to produce in a combination of self-flagellation and navel-gazing. Most of those were absurd in some way, and it seemed the only way to stop audiences smirking (or guffawing) was to go as bizarre as possible, though that was no guarantee and certainly was not the case with The Oscar, which was so straightfaced that its sheer desperation to be a sobering examination of what it takes for a star to reach the top and how difficult it is to stay on that perilous pinnacle, that it was utterly ludicrous.

You know what that means, don't you? That's right, camp classic material, and though it has been difficult to see down the years, not because it was repressed but because it was not made by one of the major studios, it does carry with it a fanbase of the sort of person who rhapsodises over Valley of the Dolls or The Lonely Lady. Is this justified? Despite it carrying the horrible fascination of a leading man ruining his chances, well... yes, it is, that giddy climax as Frank discovers whether or not he has won the titular prize is one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes of its decade, and along the way there are bits and pieces where it is impossible not to hoot a little with derision at how daring everyone thought they were being, compared with how resoundingly they are falling flat on their collective faces.

Then again, you might feel a little guilty at crowing over another's misfortune, until perhaps you acknowledge that it might not have been the film its creators thought they were making, but you cannot deny they made something entertaining, it was simply for the wrong reasons. Harlan Ellison cited The Oscar as the explanation for why he was never in the running as a film writer forever afterwards, and you could tell it rankled with him till the day he died, but to be fair his script was taken away from him and he was unable to prevent it turning into the cinematic car wreck that it was. The plot had Fane essentially behaving like a complete madman, and Boyd committed to the mania like little else in these sixties soapers for the big screen, whether it was "advising" an actor how to play a knife fight by becoming violent with him, or spitting out the preposterously overwritten dialogue like a man possessed. Elke Sommer was his love interest among a starry cast, but poor old Tony Bennett caught much of the flak in the inappropriate role of a Jewish-Irish-American (!) and never acted again. And yet, The Oscar was so wrongheaded that it was riveting. Music by Percy Faith.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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