Oscar Flashback: Best Original Songs of the early 1950s, including ‘Mona Lisa,’ ‘High Noon’

This article marks Part 5 of the Gold Derby series analyzing 84 years of Best Original Song at the Oscars. Join us as we look back at the timeless tunes recognized in this category, the results of each race and the overall rankings of the Academy Awards winners.

The 1950 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Mona Lisa” from “Captain Carey, U.S.A.”
“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from “Cinderella”
“Mule Train” from “Singing Guns”
“Be My Love” from “The Toast of New Orleans”
“Wilhelmina” from “Wabash Avenue”

Won and should’ve won: “Mona Lisa” from “Captain Carey, U.S.A. ”

Best Original Song in 1950 underwhelms a bit, with really only two particularly memorable nominees – one, the winning “Mona Lisa,” and second, the catchy-as-can-be “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.”

“Mona Lisa,” featured in the forgettable Alan Ladd war picture “Captain Carey, U.S.A.,” is performed sumptuously here by the always-marvelous Nat King Cole. His performance, coupled with the rich orchestrations, makes for a simply irresistible product.

“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” is also plenty memorable and iconic, with Verna Felton‘s delivery pitch-perfect. Yet, at less than a minute and a half, the song is a little on the fleeting side

The other three nominees are tough to get very excited about. “Be My Love” is richly performed by Kathryn Grayson and Mario Lanza but the song itself isn’t terribly interesting, a rather cookie-cutter duet from the lackluster musical “The Toast of New Orleans.” “Wilhelmina,” performed by Betty Grable, reeks of a 1950s television commercial jingle. Finally, “Mule Train,” while mildly endearing with its “clippetty-clop” chorus, just isn’t anywhere near in the same league as something like “Mona Lisa.”

The 1951 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Never” from “Golden Girl”
“In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” from “Here Comes the Groom”
“Wonder Why” from “Rich, Young and Pretty”
“Too Late Now” from “Royal Wedding”
“A Kiss to Build a Dream On” from “The Strip”

Won: “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” from “Here Comes the Groom”

Should’ve won: “Wonder Why” from “Rich, Young and Pretty”

It’s not hard to see why “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” prevailed – it is a real pleasure watching Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman sing and dance, in a nicely choreographed scene in “Here Comes the Groom.” This is also one of those instances, however, where if the video is stripped and the song itself is judged exclusively on its own terms, there just isn’t much meat on the bone. It’s pleasant fluff and not much beyond that.

The weakest of this quintet is “Too Late Now,” which, while admirably performed by Jane Powell in “Royal Wedding”, is a bit dreary and feels overlong, even at just three and half minutes length. Also middling is “Never,” a mix of dense orchestrations and a bombastic vocal turn (by Dennis Day), which, when combined, make for an overproduced and nearly unintelligible song.

“A Kiss to Build a Dream On” is an interesting nominee, as it’s performed by several folks in “The Strip” – gorgeously by Louis Armstrong and less memorably by Mickey Rooney, Kay Brown and Sally Forrest. Its nomination is a rather odd one, given it was written in 1935 and even included in the film “Mister 880” (1950) the year prior.

The best of the bunch “Wonder Why,” a lovely tune performed with ample charm by Vic Damone in the cute MGM musical “Rich, Young and Pretty.” It’s not the most substantial or powerful or memorable of songs but in a lukewarm field like this, it stands out in a big way.

DISCUSS All of this year’s Oscar contenders with Hollywood insiders in our notorious forums

The 1952 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Because You’re Mine” from “Because You’re Mine”
“Thumbelina” from “Hans Christian Andersen”
“High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’)” from “High Noon”
“Zing a Little Zong” from “Just for You”
“Am I in Love” from “Son of Paleface”

Won and should’ve won: “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’)” from “High Noon”

Among the all-time most egregious Oscar snubs is the ignoring of the superb “Singin’ in the Rain,” only the recipient two nominations in 1952 – one for Jean Hagen‘s hilarious supporting turn, and the other for Lennie Hayton‘s scoring.

Now, to be fair, when it comes to Singin’ in the Rain and Best Original Song, only two of the film’s tunes were original and hence eligible for consideration here – the delightful “Make ‘Em Laugh,” performed by Donald O’Connor, and the O’Connor-Gene Kelly number “Moses Supposes,” which, while probably among the weaker tunes from the film, still would’ve been plenty worthy of a nomination.

The good news is, while “Singin’ in the Rain” certainly deserved a presence in this category (and many more), the line-up for Best Original Song this year isn’t half-bad.

Tex Ritter‘s title track from “High Noon” is pitch-perfect, a moody, well-written number, fitting for the film it’s in. Playing over the opening credits, it sets the scene so beautifully for the Gary Cooper picture. Also nice is the Bob Hope-Jane Russell duet “Am I in Love,” from “Son of Paleface,” the sequel to “The Paleface,” which prevailed in this category in 1948.

“Zing a Little Zong” is more or less on-par with “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” the Bing Crosby-Jane Wyman number that triumphed in 1951 – it’s enjoyable-enough but not terribly memorable. “Because You’re Mine” is also admirably performed, by the great tenor Mario Lanza, but the song itself doesn’t stand out in any real way. Finally, “Thumbelina” is fun and bouncy, performed with a lot of pep by Danny Kaye, though like a lot of these minute-and-a-half nominated numbers from this era, it comes off like a television jingle.

SIGN UP for Gold Derby’s free newsletter with latest predictions

The 1953 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“That’s Amore” from “The Caddy”
“Secret Love” from “Calamity Jane”
“Sadie Thompson’s Song (Blue Pacific Blues)” from “Miss Sadie Thompson”
“The Moon Is Blue” from “The Moon Is Blue”
“My Flaming Heart” from “Small Town Girl”

Won: “Secret Love” from “Calamity Jane”

Should’ve won: “My Flaming Heart” from “Small Town Girl”

Long before Dean Martin’s iconic “That’s Amore” was used to fabulous effect in “Moonstruck” (1987), the tune originated as a duet between he and comedy partner Jerry Lewis in “The Caddy.” As a solo number for Martin, “That’s Amore” is terrific but the duet is much less successful, with Lewis hamming it up for laughs and removing much of the charm of Martin’s performance.

So, with that said, this category is actually ends up a close call between the winning tune, “Secret Love,” and “My Flaming Heart,” from the Jane Powell MGM musical “Small Town Girl.” Doris Day sounds just glorious on the former and Nat King Cole is smooth and soulful as ever performing the latter. “My Flaming Heart” holds up a tad better on repeat listens but it’s a tough decision and voters’ preference cannot be faulted.

On a related note, Day actually refused to perform “Secret Love” live at the Oscars, with Ann Blyth from “Mildred Pierce” (1945) filling in. Louella Parsons‘ Hollywood Women’s Press Club responded by bestowing upon Day their infamous Sour Apple Award for uncooperative celebrities. The honor left Day distraught and she didn’t leave her home for weeks after.

The remaining two nominees are lackluster – “The Moon Is Blue,” the title track from the eponymous William Holden-Maggie McNamara comedy, runs a minute in length and comes and goes without leaving any real impression. “Sadie Thompson’s Song (Blue Pacific Blues)” has Rita Hayworth (dubbed by Jo Ann Greer) singin’ the blues and it’s just as dull and unremarkable a song as the picture it’s featured in.

The Oscar winners ranked (thus far):

1. “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)
2. “The Way You Look Tonight” from “Swing Time” (1936)
3. “Mona Lisa” from “Captain, Carey, U.S.A.” (1950)
4. “You’ll Never Know” from “Hello, Frisco, Hello” (1943)
5. “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” from “The Harvey Girls” (1946)
6. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949)
7. “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’)” from “High Noon” (1952)
8. “Secret Love” from “Calamity Jane” (1953)
9. “White Christmas” from “Holiday Inn” (1942)
10. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (1940)
11. “Thanks for the Memory” from “The Big Broadcast of 1938” (1938)
12. “Lullaby of Broadway” from “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935)
13. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South” (1947)
14. “It Might As Well Be Spring” from “State Fair” (1945)
15. “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from “Lady Be Good” (1941)
16. “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” from “Here Comes the Groom” (1951)
17. “Swinging on a Star” from “Going My Way” (1944)
18. “Sweet Leilani” from “Waikiki Wedding” (1937)
19. “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” (1934)
20. “Buttons and Bows” from “The Paleface” (1948)

SEE Best Original Songs of the 1930s, including ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ‘The Way You Look Tonight’

SEE ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ is first Disney winner in Best Original Song

SEE Best Original Songs of the early 1940s, including ‘White Christmas’ and ‘You’ll Never Know’

SEE Best Original Songs of the late 1940s, including ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ and ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’

More News from GoldDerby