Oscar Scandals: Hitchcock Never Won the Oscar

Lifeboat poster Psycho poster Rear Window poster

Judging by the scarcity of nominations, suspense films, like action?adventures, are more appreciated by filmgoers than the Academy voters. For some reason, well?made thrillers are perceived in the industry as a disreputable product of sheer craftsmanship rather than genuine film art.

In the Academy’s entire history, only three thrillers, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” (1940), Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), and last year’s Joel and Ethan Coen’s “No Country for Old Men” (2007) have won the Best Picture Oscar. 
 
Rebecca (1940)
Based on Daphne du Maurier’s popular novel, Rebecca was Hitchcock’s first American movie, in which he cast Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in the starring roles.   The film is distinguished by an exquisite cinematography (George Barnes won an Oscar), and great ensemble acting, headed by Judith Anderson, as the malevolent housekeeper, in one of her most memorable portrayals.
 
In 1940, “Rebecca” competed against another Hitchcock film, Foreign Correspondent, which deals with espionage in Europe. The film was interpreted by some as an endorsement of the American involvement in the war, because its producer, Walter Wanger, was known for his antifascist views. Both Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent were popular with the public; Rebecca grossed in rentals the then phenomenal 1.5 million dollars.
 
Demme began his career directing exploitation films for Roger Corman, but, aware of the genre’s dishonor, he gave The Silence of the Lambs the treatment of an A-Grade art film. Based on Thomas Harris’s best?seller, the suspenseful and gruesome thriller centers on the battle of nerves between an FBI trainee named Clarice (Jodie Foster) and a diabolical psychiatrist turned cannibal, who becomes Clarice’s sparring partner, in her efforts to hunt down a serial killer. The acting of the two stars is superb. Anthony Hopkins almost made a likable hero of out of Hannibal Lecter’s sadistic, unruly demon. As Clarice, Foster embodies the gentleness of an initially naive county girl who becomes susceptible to Hannibal’s advances. 
 
For some viewers, the movie was too creepy and disconcerting in its hints of romantic attraction between Hannibal and Clarice. Conservative moviegoers were outraged by the picture. First Lady Barbara Bush stormed out of the theater, protesting, “I didn’t come to a movie to see people’s skin being taken off.” Then gay activists threatened to disrupt the Oscar show as a protest against Hollywood’s representations of homosexuals in The Silence of the Lambs, as well as in Oliver Stone’s JFK (also Best Picture nominee that year) and the Sharon Stone psycho-thriller, Basic Instinct, which was released during the 1992 nomination period.
 
“The Silence of the Lambs” swept all five major Oscars: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay. Only two other films in the Academy’s history have been recognized in all top five categories: It Happened One Night in 1934, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975.
 
With the exception of Demme and the Coen brothers, no filmmaker has ever won a directorial Oscar for a thriller, including Hitchcock, the genre’s acknowledged master. 
 
Hitchcock was nominated five times: for “Rebecca,” “Lifeboat” (1944), “Spellbound” (1945), “Rear Window” (1954), and “Psycho” (1960), one of his last undisputed successes. (See analysis below)
 

Four Hitchcock films were nominated for Best Picture, the aforementioned “Rebecca” and “Foreign Correspondent,” “Suspicion,” and “Spellbound.”

 

Failing to give Hitchcock a legitimate Oscar, the Academy compensated Hitchcock with a 1968 Honorary Oscar. No wonder, the master was cynical in his views of the Oscar, telling a reporter he wasn’t disappointed, because, “Why do I want another doorstop?”
 
Hitchcock’s Director Oscar Nominations:
 
Rebecca (1940)
Lifeboat (1944)
Spellbound (1945)
Rear Window (1954)
Psycho (1960)
 
Oscar Awards: None
 
Oscar Context
 
In 1940, the Best Director Oscar honored John Ford for “The Grapes of Wrath,” which was nominated for Best picture, but did not win. “Rebecca” won, thus becoming the only Hitchcock film to win the coveted gold..
 
In 1944, the Best Director Oscar went to Leo McCarey for “Going My Way,” which also won Best Picture.
 
In 1945, the Director Award went to Billy Wilder for “The Lost Weekend,” which also won the top prize and other awards.
 
In 1954, the winner was Elia Kazan for “On the Waterfront,” which swept most of the important Oscars.
 
1960, the winner was Billy Wilder for “The Apartment,” which also won Best Picture.