1955 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®
This year's ceremony (on March 21, 1956) was overshadowed by the tragic death of young star James Dean about 6 months earlier on September 30, 1955. Dean had only three films to his credit - and all were honored in some way at this year's or in the next year's ceremony [Dean was the first to be nominated post-humously]:
1955 was a major turning point and milestone in Oscar history, since United Artist's came up with an unpretentious, anti-Hollywood type of winner - a simple, touching and pedestrian film about a painfully lonely, homely butcher/common man who falls in love. Marty, an unassuming, inexpensive black and white comedy/drama film from producers Burt Lancaster and Harold Hecht, was a first-time feature of director Delbert Mann from a script by Paddy Chayefsky. [The first and only other time UA had won a Best Picture Oscar was in 1940 for Rebecca (1940). In the decade of the 60s, UA would win more Best Picture Oscars than any other organization.]
The "sleeper" hit in the 'year of the independents,' was nominated in eight categories and won in four major categories (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay for Paddy Chayefsky). It was the first Best Picture Oscar winner to also win the prestigious top prize honor (known as the Palme d'Or at the time) at the Cannes Film Festival (Best Picture-winner The Lost Weekend (1945) won the Grand Prix award earlier), but brought weak box-office profits. The film had originally been a small-screen TV play (with star Rod Steiger) that aired in 1953. On the bigger screen, the ninety-one minute film also had the distinction of being the shortest Best Picture winner in awards history. [The next shortest Best Picture winner was Annie Hall (1977).] It was the first Best Picture winner based on a play written for and previously produced for television, that was transferred to the big screen. It was also the first American feature film to be shown in the USSR (in Moscow) since World War II, during a 1959 cultural-exchange program.
The other nominees for Best Picture made up of one of the weakest slates of nominees for Best Picture in Academy history. Three of the five nominees were screen adaptations of Broadway stage hits:
Delbert Mann's win as Best Director was a remarkable achievement, since he was competing, in his first major directorial assignment, against veteran directors such as Elia Kazan (East of Eden), David Lean (Summertime), Broadway director Joshua Logan (Picnic), and John Sturges (Bad Day at Black Rock). [Bad Day at Black Rock, a critically-superior film, was defeated in each one of its three categories of nominations - Director, Screenplay, and Actor, by Marty.] Only two of the Best Director-nominated films, were also Best Picture candidates - Joshua Logan's Picnic and Delbert Mann's Marty.
Both the Best Actor and Actress awards in 1955 were given to Italian characters!
Another of the Best Actor nominees was the legendary actor James Dean (with his first of two career nominations in his first starring role) for his magnetic, sensitive performance as rebellious adolescent Cal Trask searching for love and acceptance in a film adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel - a melodramatic telling of the Biblical 'Cain and Abel' story in East of Eden (with four nominations and one win - Best Supporting Actress). Dean was killed in a tragic car accident six months before the awards ceremony - he was the first actor to be nominated posthumously for an Oscar. (A second posthumous award would be awarded to Dean the next year for his nomination in Giant (1956).) Therefore, Dean was the first and only actor to receive two consecutive posthumous Best Actor nominations.
James Cagney (with his third and last career nomination) was nominated for his role as Doris Day's gangster husband/manager Martin 'the Gimp' Snyder in the musical biopic of the life of singer Ruth Etting by director Charles Vidor, Love Me or Leave Me (with six nominations and one win - Best Motion Picture Story). [Cagney lost the award in 1938 for Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) but won the award four years later for his performance in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942).] Spencer Tracy (with his fifth nomination) was nominated for his role as one-armed, black-clothed stranger John MacReedy who questions Japanese-American hostility in a western town in director John Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock (with three nominations and no wins), also lost to supporting co-star Ernest Borgnine in the film. And Frank Sinatra (with his second and final career nomination) was nominated for his role as Frankie Machine - a card dealer (with a "golden arm") and ex-junkie drummer in Otto Preminger's gritty, pioneering film about drug use and addiction, The Man With the Golden Arm (with three nominations and no wins). [Sinatra had won the Best Supporting Actor award in 1953, but lost this year to his co-star Ernest Borgnine from From Here to Eternity (1953), who sadistically taunted him in the earlier film.]
The Best Actress award was won by Italian actress Anna Magnani (with her first of two career nominations) in an outstanding role as a widowed Italian/Sicilian seamstress and husband-obsessed Serafina Delle Rose who is courted by and enamored of a simple-minded truck driver (Burt Lancaster) with whom she has a gossip-producing affair in The Rose Tattoo. The dynamic role was Magnani's first English-language role, her first Hollywood-made film, and the first of only four American films she made in her career. She also was the first Italian (and first Italian woman) to win an Oscar for Best Actress. [Sophia Loren duplicated the feat with a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Two Women (1960).]
The other Best Actress nominees were:
And there were two Italian performers among the Best Supporting nominees (Sal Mineo and Marisa Pavan).
Jack Lemmon (with his first of eight career nominations) in his fourth film won his first Best Supporting Actor award for his comic portrayal as the amiable, flighty, misfit laundry officer Ensign Frank Thurlowe Pulver aboard James Cagney's escort ship in the comedy/drama Mister Roberts. [Lemmon was the first actor to win Oscars as both supporting and lead actor. This win was later followed by a fifth nomination and Best Actor Oscar win, his second and final Oscar, for Save the Tiger (1973).]
Sal Mineo (with his first of two unsuccessful career nominations) was also nominated for his role as the confused and suicidal teenager Plato in director Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause (with three nominations and no wins).
The other three nominees in the category were:
And Jo Van Fleet (with her sole career nomination - and only Oscar win for her first film) won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Kate (love-starved James Dean's mysterious mother and madam of a brothel) who deserted her family, with tragic consequences in director Elia Kazan's film of John Steinbeck's novel titled East of Eden. [Van Fleet had also appeared in I'll Cry Tomorrow and The Rose Tattoo in the same year.]
Among the other nominees for Best Supporting Actress were:
An Honorary Award was presented to the three-part Japanese epic film Samurai, The Legend of Musashi, directed by Hiroshi Inagaki - as the best foreign language film - first released in the US during 1955.
Oscar Snubs and Omissions:
Many fine pictures in 1955, which were at least as good as the Best Picture nominees - but un-nominated for Best Picture - included Rebel Without a Cause, Bad Day at Black Rock, East of Eden, the animated Lady and the Tramp (completely overlooked, especially for its potential Best Song nomination for Bella Notte ("She's a Tramp") sung by Peggy Lee), and Richard Brooks' Blackboard Jungle. The troubled teen-James Dean film, a tale of youthful defiance, Rebel Without a Cause also lacked a Best Director nomination for Nicholas Ray.
Actor Charles Laughton's only directorial effort, the brilliant thriller The Night of the Hunter was totally ignored by the Academy and although it bombed at the box-office, the film was eventually considered a critical masterpiece. The un-nominated film provided one of Robert Mitchum's greatest performances as crazed, murderous and perverse preacher Reverend Harry Powell (with finger tattoos on each hand who reenacted the struggle between H-A-T-E and L-O-V-E in a memorable monologue, and sang "Leaning on the Everlasting Arm"), and one of the last performances of silent star Lillian Gish.
Sidney Poitier was overlooked as Gregory Miller, a disaffected, inner city young black student, in the urban drama Blackboard Jungle, as was Vic Morrow - portraying the insolent, delinquent gang leader Artie West. Tom Ewell was also missing from the acting nominees for his role as neighborly Richard Sherman opposite Marilyn Monroe as The Girl in The Seven Year Itch.
Director Robert Aldrich's greatest film - the brutal crime film Kiss Me Deadly, did not receive a single nomination. And Douglas Sirk's radical, soap-operish melodrama All That Heaven Allows with performances by Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, was completely ignored by the Academy. Picnic, one of the Best Picture nominees and a film with a total of six nominations, featured three un-nominated stars - William Holden, Rosalind Russell, and Kim Novak.
Henry Fonda, as Lt. Doug Roberts, the first officer of the cargo ship - the major title-role star in the comedy Mister Roberts, didn't receive an acting nomination (although he was recreating his character from the Broadway stage version). And although Cagney was nominated for Best Actor, it wasn't for his better role in Mister Roberts as the power-mad and despotic Captain Morion.
Raymond Massey as James Dean's strict father in East of Eden wasn't nominated for his Supporting Role. [Massey had been nominated - and lost - only once in his film career, for Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940).] Although James Dean was Best Actor-nominated for East of Eden, he was NOT nominated for his more memorable, electrifying performance as Jim - a restless, brooding juvenile and new-kid-on-the-block in Rebel Without a Cause. Julie Harris, who played opposite James Dean as Abra in East of Eden, wasn't nominated.
Love Me or Leave Me, with six nominations (and one Oscar win for Best Story), neglected to have its star Doris Day nominated for her role as 1930s torch-singer Ruth Etting. Bette Davis was neglected for her reprised role as Queen Elizabeth I in The Virgin Queen.
The Honorary Award for the best foreign language film, awarded to Samurai, The Legend of Musashi, should have been given to Henri-Georges Clouzot's psychological thriller Les Diaboliques (Fr.) instead.