The Oscar (film)

The Oscar is a 1966 American drama film written by Harlan Ellison, Clarence Greene, Russell Rouse, and Richard Sale, directed by Rouse and starring Stephen Boyd, singer Tony Bennett (in his film debut), comedian Milton Berle (in a dramatic role), Elke Sommer, Ernest Borgnine, Jill St. John, Eleanor Parker, Joseph Cotten, Edie Adams, Peter Lawford, Broderick Crawford, Ed Begley, Walter Brennan, and Jack Soo. Also appearing as themselves are Bob Hope, Hedda Hopper, Merle Oberon, Frank Sinatra, and Nancy Sinatra. Paramount costume designer Edith Head appears in two scenes as herself, and was used by Paramount as a promotional force for the film.[2]

The Oscar
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRussell Rouse
Produced byClarence Greene
Screenplay byHarlan Ellison
Clarence Greene
Russell Rouse
Based onThe Oscar by
Richard Sale
StarringStephen Boyd
Elke Sommer
Jill St. John
Milton Berle
Eleanor Parker
Joseph Cotten
Tony Bennett
Narrated byTony Bennett
Music byPercy Faith
CinematographyJoseph Ruttenberg
Edited byChester Schaeffer
Distributed byEmbassy Pictures (US)
Paramount Pictures (Europe)
Release date
Running time
119 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Oscar features an impressive cast and crew, including several real Academy Award winners: along with Head (who would also be nominated, but not win, for The Oscar), the film features Best Actor winners Borgnine and Crawford; Best Supporting Actor winners Begley, Brennan (three wins), Sinatra, and James Dunn; and cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg. Also in the cast were Oberon and Parker, who had been nominated for Oscars but did not win.


As movie star Frankie Fane (Boyd) is about to hear if he won a best acting Oscar, his friend Hymie Kelly (Bennett) reminisces about Fane's struggle to the top, beginning as a spieler for his stripper girlfriend Laurel (St. John). After moving to New York, Frankie dumps Laurel for a budding fashion designer, Kay Bergdahl (Sommer), which leads to a chance meeting with talent scout Sophie Cantaro (Parker). Sophie arranges for him to be signed with agent "Kappy" Kapstetter (Berle) and brings Frankie to Hollywood, where he quickly becomes a rising star.

At each turn, Fane is an unprincipled heel, using and hurting others and causing them to recoil from him. He impulsively persuades Kay to marry him in Tijuana, but treats her cruelly thereafter. Frankie buys expensive homes and cars while offending the studio chief, Regan, until his life goes into a tailspin when he suddenly becomes "box office poison." At his low ebb, he unexpectedly receives an Oscar nomination, which Kappy believes is the result of Fane's portrayal of a "man without morals," therefore portraying himself.

In order to ensure his victory, he secretly employs the services of a crooked private investigator (Borgnine), who leaks information that should influence voters to sympathize with Fane and support his Oscar candidacy. Fane doesn't care that the scandal smears the reputations of Kelly and Laurel as well. An enraged Kelly confronts him, telling how he married Laurel, who then died during an abortion while pregnant with a child fathered by Fane. And the private eye Yale also blackmails Fane, who must desperately turn to Yale's ex-wife (Adams) for help to keep his ruse from being exposed.

The moment of truth comes at the Academy Awards, as presenter Merle Oberon (playing herself) announces the winner. As she states the name "Frank," Fane rises instantaneously, prepared to bolt to the stage; she then immediately follows with "Sinatra." As Frank Sinatra moves towards the stage, Fane is left stunned and crestfallen, clapping his hands weakly, while everyone in the assemblage whom he has wronged enjoys the comeuppance for this wholly self-absorbed, unfeeling individual.





The Oscar made its network television debut on February 12, 1969, on ABC's Wednesday Night Movie. ABC moved the film up a half-hour, to 8:30 Eastern, due to cancelling the comedy show Turn-On after only one episode. TBS later included The Oscar in a film series called "Bad Movies We Love".


Critical response

While the film is technically a drama, many consider it to be an unintentional comedy, with critics skewering the script and performances.[3][4] Others consider it most likely to be a burlesque, given the stature of the actors involved (ironically, one of the few things critics liked about the film was Berle, a classic comedian in a dramatic role).

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times panned the film, writing, "Not only is this screen translation of a novel by Richard Sale about a cheapskate Hollywood actor who tries to bludgeon his way to an Academy Award a piece of expensive claptrap, loaded with harrowing clichés, but it also is shamelessly endorsed by the presence of some of the great and near great of Hollywood."[5] Variety noted that the filmmakers "make handsome use of the Hollywood background as setting for a narrative some may accept as typical of the Oscar race and others may not accept at all."[6] Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote that like Levine's earlier films, it "is filled with people who, if they are not mean and despicable, are just weak or fear-ridden. The picture's own weakness is that they are characters first and people second; their motivations do not so much proceed from inside themselves as from the written screenplay."[7] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post stated, "The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences must have been on an LSD kick when it allowed itself to be used for 'The Oscar' ... That the story is a sleazy slice of muck is bad enough but for those presumably in charge of 'Oscar's' public image in an image-conscious 'industry' to permit such an association is far worse. For not only is the 'hero' of this yarn a totally cardboard heel, there is no evident justification for his role to have been nominated."[8] The Monthly Film Bulletin declared, "Acres of screaming dialogue and mountainous moral question-marks can in no way disguise the basic silliness of this exercise."[9]

Tony Bennett never made another feature film, and later "won" the Golden Turkey Award for "Worst Performance by a Popular Singer".[10] The Oscar also marked the near-endpoint of Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse's careers; they each made just one more feature afterwards.

SCTV did a parody called The Nobel. Joe Flaherty played Tony Bennett and Dave Thomas played Bob Hope.


Award Category Subject Result
Academy Awards[11] Best Production Design Arthur Lonergan Nominated
Hal Pereira Nominated
Robert R. Benton Nominated
James W. Payne Nominated
Best Costume Design Edith Head Nominated
Bambi Award Best Actress - National Elke Sommer Nominated
Golden Turkey Award[12] Worst Performance By a Popular Singer Tony Bennett Won

See also


  1. "'Oscar" Set for Feb. 15". Los Angeles Times. January 26, 1966. Part V, p. 9.
  2. Castaldo Lunden, Elizabeth (November 2014). "No Oscar for the Oscar? Behind Hollywood's Walk of Greed". Networking Knowledge: Journal of the MeCCSA Postgraduate Network. 7, n. 4.
  3. Levy, Emanuel (2003). All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards. Continuum. ISBN 978-0-8264-1452-6. As a movie, The Oscar was the worst publicity that Hollywood could have devised for itself. Panned by all the critics, it was also a fiasco at the box office. "Obviously the community doesn't need enemies as long as it has itself," wrote The New York Times 's Bosley Crowther.
  4. "The Oscar – Review". TV Guide.
  5. Crowther, Bosley (March 5, 1966). "Screen: 'Oscar' Arrives". The New York Times. 14.
  6. "Film Reviews: The Oscar". Variety. February 16, 1966. 6.
  7. Scheuer, Philip K. (February 16, 1966). "'Oscar' Runs Close Second to Sammy". Los Angeles Times. Part V, p. 8.
  8. Coe, Richard L. (May 26, 1966). "'Oscar' Slings Mud at Oscar". The Washington Post. D13.
  9. "The Oscar". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 33 (390): 105. July 1966.
  10. People, The Golden Turkey Awards
  11. "NY Times: The Oscar". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-27.
  12. Medved, Michael; Medved, Harry (1980). The Golden Turkey Awards. Putnam. ISBN 0-399-50463-X.
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