1942 Oscars – Heart over Brains

The 14th Academy Awards honored American film achievements in 1941. The ceremony was held at the Biltmore Bowl of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles on Thursday, February 26, 1942, only a few months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Bob Hope presided as host.  The attack on American shores in itself made this an unforgettable year during which to honor film, when one thinks about it, even taking into account the somewhat scaled-down version of the celebration, which dictated no formal dress.  Another incident that cast a shadow over the year’s celebration was the tragic death of Carole Lombard less than a month before the Awards were presented.  Still, the year was memorable from a film/Hollywood perspective as well as several interesting races took place and much notoriety surrounded those wanting to own the golden statuette, culminating that day with a win for heart over brains.

To start, a list of all the major nominees of 1941:

“HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY”, “Blossoms in the Dust”, “Citizen Kane”, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”, “Hold Back the Dawn”, “The Little Foxes”, “The Maltese Falcon”, “One Foot in Heaven”, “Sergeant York”, “Suspicion”
GARY COOPER in “Sergeant York”, Cary Grant in “Penny Serenade”, Walter Huston in “All That Money Can Buy”, Robert Montgomery in “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”, Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane”
JOAN FONTAINE in “Suspicion”, Bette Davis in “The Little Foxes”, Olivia de Havilland in “Hold Back the Dawn”, Greer Garson in “Blossoms in the Dust”, Barbara Stanwyck in “Ball of Fire”
Supporting Actor:
DONALD CRISP in “How Green Was My Valley, Walter Brennan in “Sergeant York”, Charles Coburn in “The Devil and Miss Jones”, James Gleason in “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”, Sydney Greenstreet in  “The Maltese Falcon”
Supporting Actress:
MARY ASTOR in “The Great Lie”, Sara Allgood in “How Green Was My Valley”, Patricia Collinge in “The Little Foxes”, Teresa Wright in “The Little Foxes, Margaret Wycherly in “Sergeant York”
JOHN FORD for “How Green Was My Valley”, Alexander Hall for “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”, Howard Hawks for “Sergeant York”, Orson Welles for  “Citizen Kane”, William Wyler for “The Little Foxes.”

If interested, you can take a look at all of the 1941 Oscar winners here.

Of note and my two cents:

1941 was the first year in which documentaries were included. The first Oscar for a documentary was awarded to Churchill’s Island, a film that depicts Britain’s fight against Nazi aggression.  The film is masterfully narrated by Lorne Greene, of Bonanza fame, and his impactful, booming voice looms effective.  Churchill’s Island was also the first Canadian film to win an Oscar.

Walt Disney won his ninth Oscar in the Short Subject: Cartoon category with Lend a Paw, which you can watch here.  Also worthy of note is that despite the film having been a financial disappointment, Disney’s, Fantasia received two special Oscars  for innovations in visualized music.  Also, Best Film Score was awarded to Dumbo, the Disney film with the most heart and one of my favorites.  This is just one year and look at the Disney impact.  Impressive doesn’t quite cover it.

Donald Crisp won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (the only nomination and win in a career that spanned 55 years) for his role as the patriarch of the Morgan family in John Ford’s, How Green Was My Valley.  I can’t argue with the win in this case but must note the other worthy contender in the category that year as far as I’m concerned – Sidney Greenstreet in John Huston’s, The Maltese Falcon.  Greenstreet’s nomination that year was also the only one he ever received.

Mary Astor won Best Supporting Actress for her work in Edmund Goulding’s, The Great Lie, a film I’ve never seen so I can’t opine in earnest.  However, I absolutely adore Sara Allgood’s performance as “the heart” of the Morgan family in Ford’s, How Green Was My Valley so she would have gotten my vote if I’d voted that year.  Come to think of it, I always wonder if all Academy members really watch all the nominated films and performances.

Gary Cooper won his first Academy Award as Best Actor for his portrayal of Sergeant Alvin C. York in Howard Hawks’, Sergeant York, the film that received the most nominations that year with eleven.  Although not a surprise given the emotional state of the country as war loomed, Cooper won over notable foes, Orson Welles’ (only acting nomination ever) as the larger-than-life Charles Foster Kane and my personal pick, Cary Grant’s affecting performance in George Stevens’, Penny Serenade.  Yes, I would choose Grant over Welles.  What of it?  (I’ve got my boxing gloves on).

In the acting categories the most attention was given the Best Actress race, which featured a contest between sibling rivals, Joan Fontaine in Alfred Hitchcock’s, Suspicion and Olivia de Havilland in Mitchell Leisen’s, Hold Back the Dawn.  Each sister received her second nomination that year.  Fontaine’s was a consecutive nomination after her nod for Hitchcock’s, Rebecca in 1940 in which she plays almost the same role as in Suspicion.  She would receive another Best Actress nod for her work in Edmund Goulding’s, The Constant Nymph two years later.  Ms. de Havilland would receive five Academy Award nominations in her career and win two statuettes for Leading Actress in Mitchell Leisen’s, To Each His Own (1946) and William Wyler’s, The Heiress (1949).

“Of course we fight.  What sisters don’t battle.” – Olivia de Havilland

1941 Acting Oscar winners: Gary Cooper, Joan Fontaine, Mary Astor and Donald Crisp

William Wyler’s, The Little Foxes set a new record in 1941 for receiving nine nominations without winning a single Oscar.

John Huston made his feature film directorial debut with The Maltese Falcon, which received three nominations and no wins.  Not a bad first effort if you ask me!  A “first” that was diminished by all the attention paid to the other directorial debut that year – a film that owned the news and to many film experts and fans, “filmdom” itself.

And we get to the real reason why the 14th Academy Awards are remembered – when what many feel was simply a sentimental film beat the greatest film ever made – a colossus of capacious proportions, the film megatron of humongous appeal, the ginormous generator of gripping guts, the…film of films – so they say.  It is beloved and admired.  It is Citizen Kane.

truth.  OR foolish fancy?

John Ford

In 1941 John Ford was celebrating his 25th anniversary in the film industry, a career that, at that point, spanned the entire life span of Orson Welles.  Ford had already won two Best Director Oscars, for The Informer (1935) and the previous year for The Grapes of Wrath (1940).  OK, I get that with all the news and controversy surrounding the larger-than-life, “boy genius” Welles and his huge debut film that there was shock about Ford’s win for Best Director for the sentimental How Green Was My Valley.  A shock that remains to this day.  But we’re not talking about a win completely out of left field.  Or at least if Ford’s career and talent had been given its due.  Lest we forget, Ford wasn’t 25 but he was also considered a genius.

“I prefer the old masters; by which I mean: John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.” – Orson Welles

One can, in retrospect, suspect/speculate the win for both Ford as Best Director and for How Green Was My Valley for how_green-was_my_valley_poster2Best Picture had a lot to do with the mood of the nation.  A war was in our midst, uncertainties about the future loomed. So it’s easy to see why many feel that the film preference went to one with a message of hope, a film about the importance of tradition and family ONLY because of the state of the country.  However, I defend the choice made by the Academy that year.  Having recently watched both How Green Was My Valley and Citizen Kane is succession, I am confident the better film won for Best Picture even if I stand alone as an outcast for the crime of sacrilege.

Orson Welles

I make this claim, by the way, knowing well comparisons are absurd.  Two films could not be more different from the very first shot.  One engulfs you into warmth like a blanket on a cold evening.  The other stops you in your tracks with a definitive, “NO TRESPASSING” from the onset.  And don’t get me wrong, I watch Citizen Kane and “oooh and ahhh” like everyone else.  I recognize its genius through the many moments of awe-inspiring shots and exchanges.  Despite the following quote by the director, Welles clearly pushed the limits in many ways with this film, “I think it is always a tremendously good formula in any art form to admit the limitations of the form.”  As a non-expert I can see he didn’t “limit” his art in the film as he did with all his endeavors, stopping only at bringing us physically into the film because he didn’t find a way to do it.  His work is not subtle.  And it has impact.   Further, Citizen Kane‘s in-your-face telling of the intriguing tycoon’s story is not easily forgotten. I don’t discount any of it.  However, so has all those things the heart-warming How Green Was My Valley, which conveys a coming-of-age story that spans several decades in a Welsh mining town.  Sound simple?  Remember it’s directed by John Ford.  How Green is replete with tradition and ceremony and the complexities of life – joy, sorrow and all in between.

I’ll add that what “bothers” me about Citizen Kane, for lack of a better word, may well be the reason it is such a memorable 1083_019953.jpgfilm.  I think of Kane much as I do real-life politics and the importance of name-recognition for a politician.  It is the greatest gift, if it comes by virtue of a personality, and the greatest acquisition if it comes about by effort.  However, during a public relations quest to get the masses to recognize a candidate’s name as a “brand” there is always the danger of tipping the scale toward over exposure.  Now the recognizable candidate is an annoyance.  Kane tips the scale toward narcissism for me.  A Welles narcissism and a blurring of Kane and Welles that is a bit annoying.  I said it.

Like anyone else interested in film, I’ve heard the Citizen Kane loss for Best Picture of 1941 referred to as an outrageous “Oscar crime,” and, given that film’s listing on every “greatest pictures” list I’ve ever seen, clearly history has judged it the greater film over Ford’s, How Green.  I challenge that in this case history has been wrong as it too has been, to some extent, the victim of hoopla.  How Green Was My Valley is one of the greatest films by one of the greatest directors who ever lived.  Fact.  How could that be a fluke win?  Unfortunately, it seems to me How Green remains unseen by many as the attention still paid to Welles’ film would generate viewership on its own, which is unfair and unfortunate.  Not that Kane should not be seen, it should and a lot.  But so should How Green Was My Valley be – its emotional impact is unequaled, its visuals, in grand Ford style, gorgeous and its cast, wonderful.  See it.  Then come back and tell me I’m discounting the will of the brain over the will of the heart – which force is more powerful, I ask you?

Now that I’ve decided to put forth my opinions about the great Kane, why stop?  So I’ll add that I consider the fact that John Huston didn’t receive a nomination for his debut film, which is now considered one of the greatest detective/film noir ever made, The Maltese Falcon, a greater Academy faux pas.  A total snub of Huston isimages (3) worse than a Welles loss.  So there.  John Huston was nominated for writing the screenplay for The Maltese Falcon, losing that award to Welles’ – Citizen Kane‘s only win.  Also worthy of note is that Orson Welles was the first to ever receive simultaneous nominations in four categories – as producer, actor, director, and writer – breaking the record set by Charlie Chaplin the previous year when he received three simultaneous nominations (actor, producer, screenwriter) for The Great Dictator (he won two).
I’d be remiss not to mention Alfred Hitchcock and his 1941 Oscar performance – or, lack thereof.  Hitchcock’s film, Suspicion received a total of three nominations, winning one in the Best Actress category as mentioned above with the Fontaine notation.  The film was nominated for Best Picture but received no nod for its director.  I won’t mention the outrage that Alfred Hitchcock, not only one of the best directors in film history but arguably the most emulated by other directors, never won a competitive Oscar.  Oh, I mentioned it, didn’t I?

Citizen Kane received a total of nine Oscar nominations and won one.  How Green Was My Valley received ten nominations and won five – a well-deserved five.  Dammit!  And that “dammit” was the sole reason I decided to post this.  As a classic film fan I am consistently reminded how average I am.  When I take polls my favorites always fall well within those of the masses.  So I was compelled to share an instance when I stray from the norm and advocate for an extraordinary film that deserves all the accolades it received.  Whatever its reason for having voted as it did, The Academy chose heart over brains as it announced on that February day in 1942.  Film critics and fans alike can make excuses as to why that was the case, but those reasons shouldn’t diminish the outstanding film that is How Green Was My Valley.  If I have to make the choice I will always choose the heart and would have cheered loudly at the 14th Academy Awards.


This entry is part of the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon, what we hope will be an annual event, which both celebrates our love of film and the Oscars – an event that coincides with the month-long Oscars celebration on Turner Classic Movies,  And be sure to mark your calendars and tune in to ABC when the 85th Academy Awards air on Sunday, February 24.  I’ll be there with my ballot at hand.

To read more posts dedicated to Oscars past and present, films and filmmakers that have left a mark, please visit any of the following sites, co-hosts of the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon.  As I am one of them, I can attest to the fact we have an impressive array of entries by great bloggers and passionate cinephiles.

Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled

Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club

and yours truly, Aurora at Once Upon a Screen

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13 thoughts

  1. Great, Aurora! I didn’t connect the tragic death of Carole Lombard with the Academy awards, and they were so close! For sure, the mood influenciated the voters, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone reavealed that voters don’t watch all films nominated. How green was my valley is probably the most moving film of John Ford, yet I would’t put it among John’s bests.

    1. Thanks, Le. I find How Green is a wonder although I forgot between viewings as it had been years. But whether one thinks it’s the greatest or not it certainly deserves a little respect (my drama) and not notoriety only because it is the film that beat out Citizen Kane.


  2. cool analysis, I love reading alternate picks like this. No problems when people like or don’t like this or that, in fact I agree that though I do like Citizen Kane a lot, it’s just not the be-all end-all etc (it was “knee deep in the hoopla”) . How Green is a good movie, and you did a nice job noting how outside events inevitably influence what people crave and value and want to award. Many people & movies have been recognized or neglected, for outside reasons. Still going on today, always will.

    1. As I noted, my atastes in film and actors is usually right down norm’s way so the fact I disagree this one time gave me a reason to post this. Although, as I state, I think Kane’s a great movie. But so is How Green! I always remember the day I tweeted I am not (particularly) a fan of Gary Cooper and some woman ranted and raved how she was unfollowing me because “how could I call myself a classic film fan and journalist.” I wasn’t aware I was a journalist but it was hysterical. And yes, many things beyond a film influences votes. In that sense 1942 was just another year. What makes it stand out is the Kane “hoopla.”

      Thanks for stopping in.


  3. Someday – perhaps someday soon – the tide will turn in the critical outrage over the Best Picture Oscar for “How Green Was My Valley”, and your article will be part of the vanguard.

    PS: I don’t generally get too worked up about who did or didn’t receive an Oscar, but in this banner year Patricia Collinge would have been the best choice in the supporting actress category despite the fine work of her compatriots.

    1. It may seem odd given the stance I take in the post but I don’t take Oscar wins that seriously either. However, having chosen How Green Was My Valley as my film for the CMBA 1940s blogathon, I read so many comments expressing outrage over its win that I was compelled to put my two cents out there.

  4. Writing for the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon gave me a chance to meditate on the mysteries of who wins, who doesn’t, and the general absurdity of the whole exercise. It reminds me of an ex-boyfriend who used to ask questions like “Who’s better, Baryshnikov or Dr. J?” and “Who’s better, Sinatra or Peaches and Herb?” With him, there WAS a correct answer, and it wasn’t the ballet dancer or saloon singer.

    Sometimes lousy movies win Best Picture. That anyone can cast How Green Was My Valley as a lousy picture is actually funny. And I don’t feel bad for Ford that critics didn’t get it—this was his third Oscar in less than a decade. But while if I were forced to pick between the two I would pick Kane (with regrets), I wish people would stop making it an either/or. There’s more than one way to be brilliant. I bet Ford liked Kane, and Welles love How Green…? Anyway… good, passionate analysis and advocacy of a film that shouldn’t ever need defending. Both of them stand on their own, Oscar be damned.

  5. I have to admit that neither of these films are favorites of mine, but I agree that the coldness of Kane is a factor in its loss, and in why I’ve never warmed to it, even if I can appreciate it. As a defender of the Shakespeare in Love win, I sympathize with your pulling for the underdog. And thanks again for the great blogathon!

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