1943 Best Original Song - God Bless Ethel Waters

WON: "You'll Never Know," Hello, Frisco, Hello

SHOULD'VE WON: "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe," Cabin in the Sky

In reviewing these 10-nominee Best Original Song line-ups from the '40s, I can't help but think of Oprah Winfrey and her extravagant giveaways of the past - only here, it's "you get an Oscar nomination...and you get an Oscar nomination too.....and hey, you get one too, because why not!" That's the only way I can rationalize a frivolous minute-and-10-second fluff tune like "Saludos Amigos" having garnered recognition - the Academy must've just been bestowing nominations upon everything.

Not to start sounding redundant in my analysis, but '43 marks yet another hit-or-miss year in original tunes at the Oscars, with just two truly outstanding nominees (neither of which is the winner), a few solid, if rather unremarkable tracks and then a whole lot of category filler.

Let's first get the more lackluster nominees out of the way here - besides the aforementioned "Saludos Amigos" (which unequivocally, absolutely, without the slightest doubt simply has to be the worst Disney song ever nominated in this category), "Say a Prayer for the Boys Over There" (Deanna Durbin at her most bombastic), "Change of Heart" (a poorly produced Jule Styne piece where the music is so dense and overpowering, it's difficult to comprehend the lyrics), "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" (a decent Cole Porter composition later covered nicely by the likes of Dinah Shore and Nina Simone but not sold very well here by Don Ameche and Janet Blair) and "We Mustn't Say Goodbye" (an Al Dubin piece nicely performed by Lanny Ross but not even among the more memorable songs from Stage Door Canteen) just aren't of Oscar-calibur.

There are two songs here that are sumptuously performed - "My Shining Hour" (by the lovely and awfully underrated Joan Leslie) and, the winner, "You'll Never Know" (by the terrific Alice Faye, who just two years later would see her film career temporarily end on account of bizarre contractual issues...she would not return to the big screen until 1962, in the remake of State Fair). Both tunes are a pleasure to listen to, if perhaps a bit unremarkable beyond the great vocals. Glenn Miller's "That Old Black Magic," on the other hand, is an absolute treasure to take in instrumentally, but the Johnny Johnston version showcased in Star Spangled Rhythm is, at least in my humble opinion, not quite of the same calibur as many of the covers to come - Ella Fitzgerald, Margaret Whiting, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, and perhaps more beyond that, breathed more life into the song. 

Now let's get to the really good stuff.

"They're Either Too Young or Too Old" is a delightfully charming, witty song and it's the only occasion on which Bette Davis has performed a musical number on the big screen. Frank Loesser, who would later win an Oscar for "Baby, It's Cold Outside," but was really more known for his work on Broadway (Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) wrote this charmer and Davis sells it effortlessly. In most years, I'd almost certainly give this one the prize.

Alas, this is a year with Ethel Waters.

Waters, who would later that decade garner an Oscar acting nod for her tremendous work in Elia Kazan's Pinky, commands the screen in a way so few could as she sings "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe" from Vincente Minnelli's film adaptation of Broadway's Cabin in the Sky. The song, composed by the Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg team who gave us The Wizard of Oz, is also plenty wonderful on its own terms and was covered to great success by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland, among others (note that Arlen also composed two other nominees this year - "My Shining Hour" and "That Old Black Magic"). But it really is Waters' powerhouse vocal that puts the tune so over-the-top in the film.

The Oscar-winners ranked (thus far)...

  1. "Over the Rainbow," The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  2. "The Way You Look Tonight," Swing Time (1936)
  3. "You'll Never Know," Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943)
  4. "White Christmas," Holiday Inn (1942)
  5. "When You Wish Upon a Star," Pinocchio (1940)
  6. "Thanks for the Memory," The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)
  7. "Lullaby of Broadway," Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
  8. "The Last Time I Saw Paris," Lady Be Good (1941)
  9. "Sweet Leilani," Waikiki Wedding (1937)
  10. "The Continental," The Gay Divorcee (1934)