1951 Academy Awards®
Winners and History
Introduction, 1927/8-39, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s
Academy Awards Summaries
"Best Picture" Oscar®, "Best Director" Oscar®, "Best Actor" Oscar®, "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar®,
"Best Actress" Oscar®, "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar®, "Best Screenplay/Writer" Oscar®
"AN AMERICAN IN PARIS", "Decision Before Dawn", "A Place in the Sun", "Quo Vadis?", "A Streetcar Named Desire"
HUMPHREY BOGART in "The African Queen", Marlon Brando in "A Streetcar Named Desire", Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun", Arthur Kennedy in "Bright Victory", Fredric March in "Death of a Salesman"
VIVIEN LEIGH in "A Streetcar Named Desire", Katharine Hepburn in "The African Queen", Eleanor Parker in "Detective Story", Shelley Winters in "A Place in the Sun", Jane Wyman in "The Blue Veil"
KARL MALDEN in "A Streetcar Named Desire", Leo Genn in "Quo Vadis?", Kevin McCarthy in "Death of a Salesman", Peter Ustinov in "Quo Vadis?", Gig Young in "Come Fill the Cup"
KIM HUNTER in "A Streetcar Named Desire", Joan Blondell in "The Blue Veil", Mildred Dunnock in "Death of a Salesman", Lee Grant in "Detective Story", Thelma Ritter in "The Mating Season"
GEORGE STEVENS for "A Place in the Sun", John Huston for "The African Queen", Elia Kazan for "A Streetcar Named Desire", Vincente Minnelli for "An American in Paris", William Wyler for "Detective Story"
Marking the decline of the old Hollywood studio system, this was the first year in which the Best Picture Oscar was given to the film's producers rather than to the studio that released the film.
Director Vincente Minnelli's An American In Paris, a lavish, Technicolor, Gershwin-scored musical, was a major surprise winner of the Best Picture Award in 1951. (The Arthur Freed-produced film with eight nominations won a total of six Oscars including Best Picture, Best Story and Screenplay - Alan Jay Lerner, Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction, Best Color Costume Design, and Best Score for a Musical Picture. In addition, it was presented with the Thalberg Award for producer Arthur Freed, and an Honorary Oscar was presented to virtuoso Gene Kelly.
The film was about an ex-GI painter who remained in Paris following the war, and became enmeshed in a romantic triangle between a rich American patroness (Nina Foch) and a lovely 19 year-old French dancer (Leslie Caron). It was the first musical to win the Best Picture award since The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and Broadway Melody (1928-9), the first color film to win an Oscar since Gone With The Wind (1939), and one of only a few Best Picture winners that received no acting nominations.
The Best Picture film winner marked a major upset. It was up against stiff competition from two black and white melodramas (which had a total of nineteen nominations between them, 12 and 7 respectively):
- director Elia Kazan's film adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play about a neurotic Southern belle who visits her sister and brother-in-law in New Orleans - A Streetcar Named Desire (with twelve nominations and four wins)
- director George Stevens' film based on Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy, A Place in the Sun (with seven nominations and six wins - Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best B/W Cinematography, Best Dramatic Score, Best Film Editing, and Best B/W Costume Design), about an ambitious factory worker (Montgomery Clift) who aspires to a more glamorous life with a gorgeous debutante (Elizabeth Taylor), but is threatened by a lower-class co-worker's (Shelley Winter) pregnancy and a false accusation of murder
The remaining nominees included the most expensive film of its time - MGM's big budget epic version of Henryk Siekiewicz's classic novel and director Mervyn LeRoy's film Quo Vadis (with a total of eight nominations and no wins) about Nero's Christian persecution and starring Deborah Kerr and Robert Taylor, and 20th Century Fox's and director Anatole Litvak's WWII thriller Decision Before Dawn (with a weak total of two nominations and no wins). Quo Vadis had the dubious distinction of not winning in any of the categories in which it was nominated. It was thought that the two front-runners Streetcar and A Place in the Sun split the vote, thereby handing the victory to the MGM musical.
The Best Director category included five major film directors:
- John Huston for The African Queen
- Elia Kazan for A Streetcar Named Desire
- Vincente Minnelli for the Best Picture winner An American In Paris (1951)
- director William Wyler for his film about a New York City police precinct titled Detective Story (with four nominations and no wins)
- and the ultimate winner, George Stevens for A Place in the Sun. [The Best Director-winning film was later seen as the first of Stevens' "American life" trilogy supplemented by Shane (1953) and Giant (1956). Stevens won only one other time as Best Director, for Giant (1956), but was nominated four other times for The Talk of the Town (1942), The More the Merrier (1943), Shane (1953), and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959).]
The entire acting ensemble in A Streetcar Named Desire (most of whom had performed in the Broadway stage cast) was nominated for Best Actor/Actress and Best Supporting Actor/Actress awards (Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter), and three of the four succeeded and were presented with awards. [It was the first film ever to win three Acting Oscars.]
Twenty-seven year-old front-runner Marlon Brando (with his first of eight career nominations) was competing for Best Actor for his second film performance (he had debuted a year earlier in The Men) as the animalistically-brutish, abusive Stanley Kowalski (Kim Hunter's wife and Vivien Leigh's brother-in-law). Method actor Brando lost the hotly-contested contest to long-deserving Humphrey Bogart (with his second of three career nominations - and his sole career Oscar win) for his role as gin-loving, earthy skipper Charlie Allnut in director John Huston's The African Queen (with four nominations and one win - Bogart's Best Actor honor). Many interpreted Bogart's win as a payback award, and as a "career" Oscar (since he had been passed over for major film nominations or wins - including his many un-nominated roles in The Maltese Falcon (1941), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)). [Bogart's first nomination was for Casablanca (1943), and he would be nominated one more time for playing paranoid Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny (1954). Interestingly, Brando and Bogart were both nominated again in 1954, but this time, Brando won the Oscar for On the Waterfront (1954).] Bogart's win in 1951 was an upset, since it denied the predicted clean-sweep for the cast of A Streetcar Named Desire, and a much-deserved Oscar for Brando.
The other Best Actor nominees in the competitive category included:
- Montgomery Clift (with his second of four unsuccessful nominations) as doomed George Eastman - a poor boy who falls in love with rich girl Elizabeth Taylor, but is threatened by dowdy factory co-worker Shelley Winters and her pregnancy in A Place in the Sun
- Fredric March (with his fifth and last Oscar nomination - he had won twice before in 1931-2 and 1946) as aging, unsuccessful salesman Willy Loman in director Laslo Benedek's film adaptation of Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman (with five nominations and no wins)
- Arthur Kennedy (with his second of five unsuccessful career nominations) as Larry Nevins - a veteran made blind in WWII combat in director Mark Robson's Bright Victory (with two nominations and no wins)
The Best Actress race was another formidable race between Leigh and Hepburn:
- Katharine Hepburn (with her fifth out of a career total of twelve nominations) was nominated for her performance in The African Queen as prim spinster/missionary Rose Sayer (Bogart's boat companion aboard a 30-foot river steamboat in German East Africa during World War I)
- Vivien Leigh's Oscar-winning role as the fragile, genteel, tarnished, desperate, and aging Southern belle Blanche DuBois who is mentally and physically abused by her brother-in-law in A Streetcar Named Desire. [It was Leigh's fifth film, second Oscar win, and first nomination after her Oscar-winning performance in Gone With The Wind (1939). The other best-known films she appeared in since 1939 included - Waterloo Bridge (1940), That Hamilton Woman (1941), Caesar and Cleopatra (1946), Anna Karenina (1947), The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961), and Ship of Fools (1965). Both of Leigh's two Oscar wins were for playing Southern belles.]
The other nominees were: Eleanor Parker (with her second consecutive nomination out of a career total of three unsuccessful nominations) as Mary McLeod (detective Kirk Douglas' wife with a secret past) in Detective Story, Shelley Winters (with her first of four career nominations) as pregnant factory worker Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun, and past Oscar-winner Jane Wyman (with her third of four career nominations) as self-sacrificing nanny-nursemaid Louise in director Curtis Bernhardt's The Blue Veil (with two nominations and no wins).
Karl Malden (with his first career nomination and sole Oscar win) won the Best Supporting Actor award in 1951 for his reprised role (from Broadway) as Harold (Mitch) Mitchell - a mother-dominated bachelor, Brando's card-playing buddy, and Blanche du Bois' would-be suitor who eventually abandons her in A Streetcar Named Desire. The other Best Supporting Actor nominees included:
- Leo Genn (with his sole career nomination) as Roman nobleman Petronius in Quo Vadis?
- Kevin McCarthy (with his sole career nomination) as Willy Loman's son Biff in Death of a Salesman
- Peter Ustinov (with his first of three career nominations) as mad Roman emperor Nero in Quo Vadis?
- Gig Young (with his first of three career nominations) as wealthy alcoholic Boyd Copeland in director Gordon Douglas' Come Fill the Cup (the film's sole nomination)
Kim Hunter (with her sole career nomination and sole Oscar win) won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her reprised Broadway performance as Stella Kowalski (Marlon Brando's wife and Vivien Leigh's younger sister) in A Streetcar Named Desire. The remaining four nominees in the category included:
- Joan Blondell - in her long career - received her sole Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her role as aging musical actress Annie in The Blue Veil
- Mildred Dunnock (with her first of two unsuccessful career nominations) as Linda (Willy Loman's wife) in Death of a Salesman
- Lee Grant (with her first of four career nominations - for her debut film role) as an eccentric shoplifter in Detective Story
- Thelma Ritter (with her second of six unsuccessful nominations) as mother-in-law/servant Ellen McNulty in director Mitchell Liesen's The Mating Season (the film's sole nomination)
The Best Foreign picture (receiving an Honorary Award) was director Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon - it was also the first post-war Japanese film to be shown widely in the West and to attract attention, and it made Kurosawa's favorite actor, Toshiro Mifune, a world famous star. Virtuoso dancer, film actor, singer, director and choreographer Gene Kelly received an Honorary Academy Award "in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film."
Oscar Snubs and Omissions:
Decision Before Dawn was a minor film (and nominated for only two Oscars), but since it was supported by Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, it appeared on the Best Picture ballot. A number of films should have been nominated for Best Picture in its place, but weren't. Independent studio United Artists couldn't muster enough support to get its popular and entertaining classic film The African Queen nominated for Best Picture, although their strong film candidate was nominated for Best Director (John Huston), Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart), Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn), and Best Screenplay (James Agee and John Huston). Christian Nyby's and the Howard Hawks'-produced The Thing was completely un-nominated.
Director Alfred Hitchcock's and Warner Bros.' superb psychological suspense thriller Strangers on a Train went un-nominated in all categories except Best Black and White Cinematography. Robert Walker was snubbed for his great performance as gay, psycho-pathic killer Bruno Anthony, who murdered tennis pro Guy Haines' (Farley Granger) estranged wife Miriam and then demanded, through blackmail, the reciprocal murder of his own father.
One of the finest science-fiction films of all time, Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still, missed out on the nominations - although its message of peace brought by an interplanetary traveller named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) was a welcome relief.
There were at least three worthy Best Actor candidates that weren't in the list of nominees:
- Kirk Douglas as belligerent, self-obsessed unscrupulous, big-city newspaper reporter Charles "Chuck" Tatum stuck in Albuquerque and looking for his 'ace in the hole' big story in director/co-writer Billy Wilder's scathing Ace in the Hole/The Big Carnival (with only one nomination for Best Original Screenplay)
- Kirk Douglas (again) as obsessive Detective James McLeod in William Wyler's Detective Story
- British actor Alastair Sim as miserly Ebenezer Scrooge in the most definitive version of Dickens' story - A Christmas Carol (with no nominations)