What better way to get into the mood for tonight's Academy Awards presentation than watching the 1966 film The Oscar? Okay, there may have been better ways to tell you the truth, but this is the path I have chosen! I knew the reputation of this film was not a good one ever since I had my old copy of The Golden Turkey Awards where Tony Bennett was given the Golden Turkey for Worst Performance by a Popular Singer performance in a movie. More on him in a minute.
The plot of the movie involves a (for lack of a better word) asshole named Frankie Fain (played by Stephen Boyd) who tries to make ends meet in strip clubs and such with his girl (Jill St. John) and loyal sidekick Hymie (Tony Bennett). At one point, they get taken in on a trumped up prostitution charge which they eventually get out of, but Frankie's girl breaks up with him and Frankie heads out on his own.
Frankie gets involved with a fashion designer named Kay (Elke Sommer) and is discovered to really have some star appeal by a talent scout (Eleanor Parker). Yadda yadda yadda, Frankie becomes a big movie star, but never seems to quit being a prick. His career takes a downward turn until he nabs an elusive Oscar nomination. He plants a story in the paper (with the help of an unsavory detective played by Ernest Borgnine) about the old prostitution rap. You see, people will think one of the other nominees planted that story and Frankie will get the sympathy vote, right? That Best Actor Oscar will put Frankie's career back on the right track...if he wins....
It's Oscar night. The Best names are read out. And the winner is....Frank...
As the name is read, Frankie stands up before presenter Merle Oberon finishes reading out the name...Sinatra! The real Frank Sinatra is actually there to pick up the Best Actor Oscar he never won in real life as the picture ends with a stunned Frankie Fain unconvincingly trying to put on a brave face. For all the flaws in the film, I did like this gotcha ending very much.
But let's face it, The Oscar is basically a soap opera in the Sidney Sheldon/Jacqueline Susann school with extremely broad performances and a pretty over-the-top rags to riches story. I would say it doesn't date well, but it was pretty much panned in 1966, too.
Stephen Boyd tries to reason with
Tony Bennett in The Oscar
Unpacking the Oscars from The Oscar:
Surprisingly, the film itself was nominated for two Oscars: Best Production design (losing out to Fantastic Voyage, which also starred Stephen Boyd) and Best Costume Design (Losing out to A Man for All Seasons). Edith Head was the costume designer for The Oscar and also appears as herself in the movie. Edith won eight Oscars in her career, including five in the six years between 1950-1955.
Stephen Boyd was never nominated for an Oscar, not even for his most famous performance as Massala in Ben-Hur.
In 1955, Frank Sinatra (cameo in The Oscar) was nominated for Best Actor in The Man With the Golden Arm but lost out that year to Ernest Borgnine (the private investigator in The Oscar) for Marty. Sinatra's co-star in that film was Eleanor Parker (who played the talent scout in The Oscar). According to Sinatra's biography, he didn't take the loss well. Sinatra did win Best Supporting Actor in 1953 for From Here to Eternity.
It's also interesting that Peter Lawford has a small role here as a washed-up actor turned maitre'D a couple of years after he was kicked out of Sinatra's Rat Pack.
Other Oscar winners with small parts or cameos in the film include: Broderick Crawford, Ed Begley Sr., Walter Brennan and Joan Crawford.
Bob Hope appears as himself as the Oscar master of ceremonies.
Not surprisingly, Milton Berle's dramatic turn as Frankie's agent didn't get him an Oscar nod or many other dramatic roles in the future.
Columnist Hedda Hopper appears as herself. She passed away the year the film was released.
#TheOscarSoWhite: About the only person of color in the whole film is Jack Soo as Fain's servant. I did like Jack in the little he got to do here.
Harlan Ellison? I was shocked when I saw acerbic writer Harlan Ellison's name on the screenplay credits.
Harlan's quote about the film: "I knew my film career was over the night I saw The Oscar. I practically wept!"
Anthony Dominick Bennedetto: Tony Bennett is widely recognized as one of the great singers of the twentieth century. And I'm not here to rag on Tony Bennett's performance in The Oscar. He is obviously trying so hard in the emotional scenes at the end of the film! Trying so damn hard! A for effort...like I said, a legendary singer.