The poster for The Oscar almost says it all. But what it left out is that the film traditionally makes the top ten list of the "Best Bad Movies of All Time." The Oscar is a movie that could only have been made in the 60s (1966 actually). It skewers Hollywood while glorifying its pillars. It's like the Hollywood Wax Museum come alive. Many real Oscar winners and nominees starred in the film, and others had cameo roles - this in the day when such a technique was the last gambit in attracting viewers. The movie destroyed several Hollywood careers in the process, all while making for compelling viewing. Not the least of its guilty pleasures is watching for when this train will wreck.
Like many films noir,The Oscar starts at the end, with Stephen Boyd as Frankie Fane confidently waiting to be announced as the winner of an Oscar for Best Actor. His confidence is not only caused by his egotism, but by his prior efforts to rig the system. Spoiler alert - Mirroring a real life Hollywood story, when Frank's name is called out he beams - only to hear that it's Frank Sinatra that won the award.This was indeed based on the real event of Frank Capra thinking he had won the Oscar in 1934, only to find out that it went to director Frank Loyd (Frank who?).
As the deflated Frankie Fane is shown on the screen, the movie goes into flashback mode. It's the story his onetime friend Hymie Kelly, woodenly played by Tony Bennett, tells of Frankie Fane - clawing, double-dealing, and betraying his way to the top. And in this fun-house hall-of-mirrors of a movie, you can't tell if Stephen Boyd is over-acting as part of his role or if he really was trying desperately to win an Oscar.
There is plenty of guilty pleasure eye-candy - this to make up for a script that is humorously bad but full of great one-liners. And for the hyperactive over-acting of Boyd, contrasted by the deadly acting of Tony Bennett. The latter which didn't even perform as a singer, and after this movie, he never acted in a film again. The interesting visuals were provided by Jill St. John, playing Fane's stripper girl-friend, and his newer love interest Elke Sommer, who plays budding fashion designer Kay Bergdahl. And it's through Kay's talent scout connection, played by Eleanor Parker, that Fane meets his talent agent, played by Milton Berle. See, Hollywood success really is a game of chance and connections. In this movie at least, no real talent is needed.
Frankie and Kay are now both on the rise in Hollywood, she by her artistic talent, he by his scheming and double-crossing.
Bedding Eleanor Parker who plays a talent scout helps Frankie Fane move up the ladder. But eventually his schemes and lifestyle catch up with him. As his trajectory points downwards he unexpectedly gets a Best Actor nomination. He has somehow gotten so good at playing a man without morals that he is about to be rewarded for it. This could be his salvation. And what better way to make that happen than to hire a private detective played by Ernest Borgnine to leak information that will make him a sure thing?
Despite the camp dialogue and script, the costume design by Edith Head is excellent. Studio arts and crafts people always did their jobs to the best of their abilities, no matter how bad a script or the acting was. And with costume design, this is done early in a film's development, long before the final outcome is known. Below is another costume sketch designed by Edith Head.
Elke Sommer as Edith Head's sketch artist is way too cool a concept. Below she is shown in a costume design with her portfolio in hand. The notes on the sketch are Edith's own, although the painting was rendered by her real sketch artist, Richard Hopper.
Here is another costume sketch for Elke as Kay, in a scene by the studio (Paramount's) commissary.
And here we are where we started. It was Merle Oberon playing herself that made the Oscar presentation that Frankie Fane didn't win. Sometimes there is justice in the world.
So why is The Oscar such a great guilty pleasure? I love it for its reflection of the costume design atmosphere during the last hurrah of the old studio system. Costume design personnel are usually caricatured in Hollywood movies, but in this film full of bad characters, Elke's sketch artist plays it straight. But otherwise such camp and such dishing out on Hollywood ultimately makes it a very entertaining and totally guilty pleasure. It is unfortunately not available on DVD, so make sure you catch it when it appears on TCM, perhaps in a "camp classic" festival.
AND PLEASE SEE THE OTHER CMBA "GUILTY PLEASURES" ENTRIES.