When The Oscar (1966) received the Academy of Arts and Sciences to use its trademark image and awards ceremony in the film, it’s doubtful they expected it to be so flat out dreadful. A film about Hollywood by Hollywood, this over baked, melodramatic take on Hollywood in-fighting is loosely based on a best-selling novel by Richard Sale. A notorious flop, much of the criticism was aimed at co-star Tony Bennett. This was the singer’s first and last acting role in a feature film. Considering that he wasn’t an actor anyway, he’s really not that bad. Instead, it’s star Stephen Boyd who tears through every scene with wild eyed, snarling, portrait of a man willing to anything to become a movie star and remain one.
The film begins at the Oscar ceremonies (then held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium), where Frankie Fane (Stephen Boyd) has been nominated for Best Actor and waits anxiously for the results. In flashback, his friend Hymie Kelly (Tony Bennett), also in the audience recalls his rough road to stardom.
Years before Fane was a spieler for his stripper girlfriend, Laurel (Jill St. John). After they’re arrested by a corrupt sheriff (Broderick Crawford) on trumped up charges of pimping and prostitution, they move to New York with almost no money. She works at a club, while Fane lives off her earnings. All the while, he flirts with German fashion designer Kay Bergdahl (Elke Sommer), accompanying her as she delivers costumes to an off-Broadway play. While there, Fane’s cocky attitude catches the eye of forty-something talent scout Sophie Cantaro (Eleanor Parker). She gets him a part in a play and is soon convinced she has her latest discovery.
Sophie convinces agent Alfred “Kappy” Kapstettler to represent the angry young man, and together they use their influence to pressure Galaxy Pictures studio head Kenneth Regan (Joseph Cotten) to sign Fane to a contract. As he climbs the ladder to Hollywood fame and fortune, Frankie’s cutthroat attitude destroys nearly everyone around him, but he remains unfazed. Though a chance encounter with former co-star Steve Marks (Peter Lawford) now working as a maître d’ at a Hollywood restaurant, unnerves him. Could he really be a nobody again…? (I’ll give you one guess.)
The Oscar is packed with many stars and Hollywood insiders who appear as themselves, including Bob Hope (as the Oscars host), Merle Oberon (who presents the Best Actor Award), costume designer Edith Head, columnist Hedda Hopper (who died before The Oscar was released), columnist James Bacon, and “Mayor of Hollywood “Johnny Grant, among others. There’s lots of great footage of Hollywood and the Oscars as it looked it looked in the mid-sixties.
As ridiculously awful as The Oscar is, a few actors acquit themselves well. At the time of the film’s release, Milton Berle was praised for his rare dramatic role as Fane’s agent. While it’s not extraordinary, it’s good and is different from the slapstick humor he was legendary for. Eddie Adams aspiring actress, Studio head Joseph Cotten, and Ernest Borgnine’s immoral private eye, are lucky enough to see right through Fane’s manipulation, making their characters less ridiculous.
With most of the actor’s performances turned up to eleven, the volcanically bad dialogue Simultaneously dooms The Oscar and makes it an unintended favorite on my “Bad Films You’ll Love List,” right there with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Mommie Dearest. I urge anyone who enjoys Hollywood history (good or bad) and “bad” movies, watch The Oscar…Fun times.
Presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Kino’s 1080p transfer looks very good. There are a few light scratches in the beginning of the film for several seconds, but they don’t interfere with the viewing experience. Colors and contrast are strong throughout. The image is sharp.
The DTS-HD Master 2.0 mono track is solid, if a bit muted. Dialogue is well recorded and has been well blended with Percy Faith’s score and the various sound effects. There are no apparent age-related anomalies such as hiss, crackles, or pops.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentaries: There are two audio commentaries on the disc. Film Historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson offer a thoughtful, researched analysis of the film, while Patton Oswalt, Josh Olson and Erik Nelson take a humorous look at the film that will have listeners laughing.
The Oscar (1966)
Movie title: The Oscar
Duration: 159 min
Director(s): Russell Rouse
Actor(s): Stephen Boyd, Tony Bennett , Milton Berle , Elke Sommer, Ernest Borgnine , Jill St. John
Genre: Drama, Melodrama