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Also-rans that were certainly not pedestrian

April 09, 2006|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

BY the late 1950s, the golden age of the major Hollywood movie studios was fading. Television was the main culprit, and the increasing popularity of the small screen pushed feature films in a more mature direction to lure adults out of the living room and into theaters.

This cinematic evolution is reflected in the third installment of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' series "Great to Be Nominated," which features pictures that received the most nominations in an academy year without winning the best picture honor.

The series begins Monday evening with Stanley Kramer's 1958 race drama, "The Defiant Ones," which stars Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as handcuffed escaped convicts, and concludes with Sidney Lumet's biting 1976 black comedy on TV news, "Network." Among the other films in the series are "Sons & Lovers," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Mary Poppins," "Funny Girl," "Airport," "The Exorcist" and "Cabaret."

"I think what's interesting about this group of films is for the most part, they hold up quite well," says programmer Randy Haberkamp.

The first few films in the series, he says, reflect "the beginning of the studio system starting to crumble."

Instead of making movies under contract to a movie studio, directors were cultivating their own projects. "When you think about what won best picture of 1958, 'Gigi,' and 1959, 'Ben-Hur,' it was basically the last gasp of MGM. But when you talk about 'The Diary of Anne Frank,' though it was [produced] by Fox, it was still a very personal vision of director George Stevens, and he had to fight to get it made."

The "Great to Be Nominated" series has been well attended the last two years, and Haberkamp believes this group of films will attract younger audiences. "I think they are much more aware of these titles," he says.

"They relate to people's sense of nostalgia more because they are not as old, even though you are talking about a movie that's anywhere from 40 to 50 years old. But there are a lot of films that people saw as kids or saw relatively soon after their release. The actors in many cases are still alive and around, so people are aware of their work."

The series will also give film buffs the rare chance to see the notorious 1963 film "Cleopatra" on the big screen. The lavish spectacle that stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had a tumultuous production history and nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox.

"It was a precursor of 'Heaven's Gate' in many ways," says Haberkamp. "There are people who think it's a great classic, and there are people who think it was a butchered classic. And there are other people who think it was a turkey from Day One. I think it's clearly a big-screen spectacle you can't appreciate on home video."

On Monday, three of the Oscar-nominated stars of "The Defiant Ones" -- Tony Curtis, Theodore Bikel and Cara Williams -- will participate in a Q&A session.

"The Defiant Ones" was one of Williams' rare dramatic roles. She's better known for her comedic turns in the TV series "Pete and Gladys" and "The Cara Williams Show." In "Defiant," she plays a lonely woman whose husband had abandoned her and who spends the night with Curtis' character, while she sends Poitier's character off to a certain death.

"I had a great compliment from the writers," says Williams. "I never met them, but they said I added much more to the part than they had envisioned. And it was one of Eleanor Roosevelt's favorite films."


'Great to Be Nominated: Part Three'

Where: Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills

When: 7 p.m. Mondays through Aug. 28

Price: Individual tickets: $5 for the public, $3 for academy members and students with valid ID; pass for entire series: $30 for the public, $25 for academy members and students.

Contact: (310) 247-3000 or

Schedule through May

Monday: "The Defiant Ones"; April 17: "The Diary of Anne Frank"; April 24: "Sons & Lovers"

May 1: "Judgment at Nuremberg"; May 8: "To Kill a Mockingbird"; May 15: "Cleopatra"; May 22: "Mary Poppins"

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