No award for Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical was given in 1954. And there were plenty of candidates: Otto Preminger’s The Moon Is Blue, Charles Walters’ Lili, Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17, Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam, Vincente Minnelli’s The Bandwagon, Howard Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes…
No explanation has ever been given, but let’s examine the list. Certainly, The Band Wagon would be a good choice. It was Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse at their most sublime; their unforgettably good “Dancing in the Dark” number in the park still takes your breath away. And the movie established “That’s Entertainment” as THE showbiz anthem second only to “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” There were also the famous “Triplets” sequence, “New Sun in the Sky,” “By Myself,” all the work of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. What a score!
My runner-up would be Hawks’ deliriously entertaining Gentlemen Prefer Blondes featuring Marilyn Monroe’s best screen appearance. Her “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” even eclipses Carol Channing’s Broadway version. Add to that Jane Russell, also her best performance, Charles Coburn, choreography by Hermes Pam, and you have an absolute classic.
getty images/ 20th century fox/ mgm
My personal third choice, Call Me Madam, is that landmark studio venture which allowed a Broadway star deemed too “New York” for general audiences to recreate her stage role in a film. Ethel Merman did win the Golden Globe for best actress in a musical or comedy that year, and the film remains the best showcase for her singular talent.
In subsequent years studios took chances casting Broadway actresses (Shirley Booth in Come Back Little Sheba, Geraldine Page in Summer and Smoke and Sweet Bird of Youth), but Merman was never allowed to play her two signature roles, in Annie Get Your Gun and Gypsy.
As for Lili, it might have been deemed more of a drama than a musical (its one song “Hi-Lili Hi-Lo”) won Bronislau Kaper the Oscar for best scoring of a drama rather than best song that year.
The 1954 “no award given” still remains an unsolved mystery.