❉ Awards season may be over, but it’s never too late to enjoy this all-star disasterpiece time-capsule…
“…upon its release, The Oscar was panned by critics and ignored by audiences; legend has it that the real-deal Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences was so appalled with the final result that they’ve never lent their cooperation to another feature film since.”
Cinematic howlers can be lots of fun when viewed in the proper social and mental context. The Oscar, which was released in February of 1966, is one of those celluloid stink-bombs which is so much fun to watch because nearly everyone involved in its making was seemingly convinced that they were crafting something of true merit.
This is not to say that there aren’t some strong positives about this time-capsule curio. Director Russell Rouse (Thunder in the Sun, House of Numbers), who co-wrote the script with prolific television scribe and literary legend Harlan Ellison (A Boy and His Dog) and Clarence Greene, were clearly talented folks (Rouse and Greene co-wrote the classic noir suspenser D.O.A.) who didn’t set out to make a disasterpiece. And along the histrionic way, there are some quality bits and pieces that abound, with crafty zingers and pointed lines of dialogue that remain sharp and smart. However, upon its release, The Oscar was panned by critics and ignored by audiences; legend has it that the real-deal Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences was so appalled with the final result that they’ve never lent their cooperation to another feature film since.
The Oscar, rather fittingly, takes place on the night of the big shindig, where scuzzy anti-hero Frankie Fane (a very sweaty Stephen Boyd) has been nominated for Best Actor. Frankie’s friend, Hymie Kelly (Tony Bennett , in what amounted to his only dramatic screen performance), starts to reminisce about Frankie’s rise to stardom, and the film takes on a flash-back structure where we get to see how the movie star came to be, and why he’s got such a massive chip on his shoulder. Frankie’s stripper-wife Laurel (the super-sexy Jill St. John) has to put up with her miserable husband’s increasingly erratic behavior, and it’s interesting to note how the screenplay really seemed to go out of its way to make Frankie as unappealing of a person as possible; he’s a total leech and the caustic comments about the entertainment industry that are interspersed throughout do land with acidic intent.
Everything is just so overly melodramatic (maybe that was the intention?) that none of it takes on any serious weight, and because Frankie is presented as being so unremorseful in his actions, it’s tough to ever truly care about him as a person. But that doesn’t stop The Oscar from providing numerous sources of entertainment and inspiration, from its deep supporting cast including Ernest Borgnine, Milton Berle, Eleanor Parker, Joseph Cotten, Edie Adams, Ed Begley, James Dunn, Peter Lawford, and cameos from Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Bob Hope, Johnny Grant, and Joan Crawford, to the peppy and ironically Oscar-nominated production design by Arthur Lonergan, Hal Pereira, Robert Benton, and James Payne. Edith Head’s splendid costumes received Academy consideration, too. It’s also cool to see how footage from the previous year’s Oscars was cut into the opening sequences of The Oscar – it’s a true instance of life informing art.
The newly released Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics features a gorgeous 4K transfer which makes the film look as if it were shot yesterday. Over the years, The Oscar fell out of home video rotation, and it’s been very hard to find a solid copy of the film for digital screenings, so it must be said, the work done by the restoration team is incredibly impressive. Picture is displayed in 1.67:1 aspect ratio in 1080p, with an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono sound design. Special features include two audio commentaries, one being a hilarious trash-talking session by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Josh Olson (A History of Violence), actor and comedian Patton Oswalt (Ratatouille, Young Adult), and Erik Nelson, and the other a more scholarly and fan-friendly track by historians Steve Mitchell, Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson.
❉ Brand New 4K Restoration
❉ NEW Audio Commentary by Patton Oswalt, Josh Olson and Erik Nelson
❉ NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson
❉ Optional English Subtitles
❉ Dual-Layered BD50 Disc
❉ ‘The Oscar’ (1966) is out now on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Entertainment. Release Year: 1966. Running Time: 120 mins. UPC: 7 38329 24261 9.
❉ Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.