Tonight at 11:00 Eastern, Turner Classic Movies is showing a film that stands at the very top of my favorite bad movies list: The Oscar (1966). The Oscar is a truly terrible movie, but its awfulness achieves a level of excess that makes it entertaining beyond belief. I'd highly recommend recording this one for posterity, because it doesn't show up very often, and it's a hoot!
Much of the film's appeal comes from the over-the-top screenplay, co-written by Harlan Ellison, which tries to appropriate hipster dialogue with hilarious results (as exemplified in the title of this post). The film is narrated by Hymie Kelly, an Irish-Jew (Rejected names for the character: "Hymie Mick" and "Jewie Potatoeater") played by Tony Bennett (!?!?). Hymie is the friend of the actor Frank Fane (Stephen Boyd), who has been nominated for the titular Oscar and decides to pull out every dirty trick in order to guarantee himself a win. Frankie Fane's rise up the ladder of success is highly improbable, but then he falls off and climbs back up again on his way to the Academy Award nomination.
Here's a sample of Bennett's narration: "Like a junkie shooting pure quicksilver into his veins, Frankie got turned on by the wildest narcotic known to man: success!" Holy crap, that's a simile and a half! Actually, it's a simile for a metaphor for success: quicksilver is like a narcotic that's like success. I think we can thank Ellison for that jewel.
Everyone involved chews the scenery to pieces, especially Stephen Boyd. Jill St. John also plays a love interest that Frankie screws over on his way to the top, and Milton Berle appears as an oddly philosophical studio exec. Other great actors appear in small roles, like Ernest Borgnine, Joseph Cotton, Ed Begley, Walter Brennan, and Broderick Crawford. The film culminates in an Oscar ceremony hosted by Bob Hope himself, with a twist ending that is just freaking brilliant.
The Oscar is such a bizarre creature: that strange product where Hollywood tries to show what a cesspool of lies and ambition Hollywood is. The film is a part of TCM's "Guest Programmer" block, tonight selected by Bill Maher, for whom I have renewed respect with this selection. Seriously, there are very few movies that are this awesomely bad, and I can't recommend it enough.