Wednesday, November 12, 2008

THE OSCAR (1966)

A notoriously bad junk movie, directly in the Harold Robbins/Jacqueline Susann line of trash, but not a bit of fun to sit through. Actor Stephen Boyd is sitting in the audience at the Academy Awards, certain he's going to win the Oscar. We learn how Boyd came to this moment through a flashback narrated by his former best friend and manager, Tony Bennett. Years earlier, the two toured the country in a sleazy nightclub act with stripper Jill St. John. An ornery Southern sheriff frames them on trumped-up prostitution charges. They wind up in New York City where Boyd meets the fashion designer Elke Sommer at a Greenwich Village party. He splits with St. John, not realizing she's pregnant, and gets a job working with Sommer. When he criticizes an actor at a play rehearsal, talent scout Eleanor Parker gets him hooked up with an agent, Milton Berle, and soon Boyd is going places as an actor. He marries Sommer in a quickie Tijuana wedding, but cheats on her with women procured by Bennett. Boyd's career is going well, though he's also making enemies right and left, including studio boss Joseph Cotton, and is shocked when he runs into a former star (Peter Lawford) who is now working as a maitre d'. Soon Boyd's career starts sputtering, and just as he's about to accept the lowly offer of a TV series, he gets word that he's up for an Oscar. In hopes of ensuring a victory, he gets private eye Ernest Borgnine to dig up his past morals charges and splash them in the headlines, the plan being that voters will assume that another nominee dug up the dirt, thus giving Boyd the sympathy vote. By Oscar night, Boyd has alienated everyone around him, including Bennett and Berle; will his scheme to win the gold statue work?

The plot is smack in the middle of Valley of the Dolls territory and could have been trashy fun, but there are three major problems: 1) it takes itself far too seriously, ruining any possibility of camp entertainment; 2) the script (co-authored by Harlan Ellison) is filled with bad dialogue; 3) the acting is dreadful, beginning with Boyd who is alternately wooden and over-the-top, and who uses a bizarre accent, and Bennett, a damn fine singer who comes off as a amateurish actor. Surprisingly, Berle is quite good underplaying the agent, as is Edie Adams as Borgnine's blowzy wife. The only fun is watching for the cameos which include Broderick Crawford, Ed Begley Sr., Walter Brennan, and, appearing as themselves, Hedda Hopper, Bob Hope, and Frank Sinatra. This may sound like fun, but it was a chore to sit through. Connoisseurs of bad acting may relish Boyd and Bennett's cringe-worthy performances, but all others should stay away. [TCM]

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