While you were watching the Oscars last Sunday (and I know you were), you may have wondered about the two recipients of honorary Oscars: cinematographer Jack Cardiff and screenwriter Ernest Lehman.
Well, if you've seen "War and Peace," "The Vikings," "The Red Shoes" or "The African Queen," you've seen Cardiff's work. And if you've seen "The Sound of Music," "The Sweet Smell of Success," "West Side Story" or "North By Northwest," you've seen Lehman's work.
Here are some suggestions for films you may not have seen.
— "BLACK NARCISSUS" (Cardiff) — Quite simply, this 1946 film is one of the most beautiful ever made. The team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger directed this heady melodrama about the spiritual, emotional and, well, earthly challenges facing five nuns stationed in the Himalayas. Deborah Kerr stars as a young nun who learns to serve her order with her heart as well as her head. Everything in the movie works, but the colors and landscapes are unforgettable. A behind-the-scenes secret: The spectacular Himalayan scenery was created entirely in the studio with glass shots and miniatures. Powell didn't want to risk filming on location.
— "SABRINA" (Lehman) — Not the 1995 remake with Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond and Greg Kinnear — though it isn't bad — but the sparkling 1954 original starring a radiant Audrey Hepburn as the chauffeur's daughter who comes between Humphrey Bogart, a gruff tycoon with his head in the Wall Street Journal, and his playboy brother, William Holden. Collaborating with director Billy Wilder, Lehman later said, was a grueling experience. The mercurial filmmaker ragged him about everything, even his eating habits. When Lehman insisted he didn't like caviar, Wilder yelled, "Who brought you up, King Kong?" Casting note: Bogart, who was a last-minute replacement for Cary Grant, couldn't stand Holden. The feeling was mutual.
— "THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL" (Cardiff) — Creating the Himalayas in a studio was one kind of challenge; an entirely different one was filming Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe for this 1957 flick. Directed by Olivier, this Ruritanian bubble is set in 1911 during the coronation of George V. He's an imperious — right — prince and she's — right again — a saucy yet innocent showgirl. Thanks to Cardiff, the movie has that unmistakably lavish look of Big Star '50s flicks, which partially offsets the anemic plot. The real problem, however, was the star chemistry, which didn't work onscreen or off. Monroe's quirkiness collided with Olivier's perfectionism. And her ever-present acting coach, Paula Strasberg, drove him nuts. On the first day, he heard Strasberg giving Marilyn this acting note for a scene: "Honey, just think of Coca-Cola and Frank Sinatra."
— "SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME" (Lehman) — Years before Lehman and director Robert Wise became known for their Oscar-winning collaborations on "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music," they worked together on this solid 1956 boxing melodrama. Paul Newman stars as Rocky Graziano, the East Side kid who punched his way to the world middleweight championship. The role made Newman a star. A lot of reviewers called his performance "Brando-esque"; the irony is, Graziano wrote in his autobiography that Brando told him he modeled Stanley Kowalski after him. So it came full circle: Brando drew on Graziano for several of his roles, and Newman, having used the same source, was thought to be imitating Brando.