Year
1978

Annie Hall beats out Star Wars for Best Picture

The rise of the action-adventure blockbuster was on the horizon, but on this night in 1978, the small-scale romantic comedy triumphs over the big-budget space extravaganza. At the 50th annual Academy Awards, held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall won the Oscar for Best Picture, beating out George Lucas’ Star Wars.

Annie Hall was seen as a major turning point for Allen, who made his debut as a triple threat (writer-director-star) with Take the Money and Run (1969) and proved his knack for zany comedy in films like Bananas (1971) and Sleeper (1973). In Annie Hall, Allen blended uproarious comedy with the offbeat and thought-provoking musings on love and relationships that had previously been the stuff of his stand-up comedy and written essays.

As the film began, Allen’s Alvy Singer, a New York City comedy writer, ponders the demise of his relationship with the freewheeling singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The film leapt around between New York City and Hollywood along with Alvy’s memories, which include scenes from his childhood, his first meeting with Annie, an ill-fated visit to her family and meetings between the couple when they are both involved with other people. Allen employed unusual cinematic techniques, including split-screen imagery, characters addressing the camera directly, subtitles to explain what the characters are really thinking during a conversation and an animated sequence in which Alvy interacts with the Wicked Queen from Snow White. While the movie originally contained a subplot about a murder, it was completely cut out in the editing, reducing the running time from 140 minutes to a more manageable 95 minutes.

At the time Annie Hall was made and released, Keaton was Allen’s real-life girlfriend. She was born Diane Hall, and the character of the clever but scatterbrained Annie was based loosely on her. Keaton also brought her own fashion sense to the film, and Annie’s effortlessly quirky style, a mix of baggy trousers, hats and oversized jackets, would inspire a wave of imitators. When it was released, Annie Hall grossed some $40 million and was praised by critics as Allen’s best work to date. In addition to Best Picture, the film won Oscars for Allen as Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (with Marshall Brickman) and for Keaton as Best Actress. Allen, who declined to attend the ceremony, received a nomination for Best Actor as well. With his win in the Best Director category, Allen became the first director to win an Oscar for a movie in which he also starred.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Truman signs Marshall Plan

On April 3, 1948, U.S. President Harry S. Truman signs into law the Foreign Assistance Act, commonly known as the Marshall Plan. Named after U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the program channeled more than $13 billion in aid to Europe between 1948 and 1951. Meant to ...read more

Unabomber arrested

At his small wilderness cabin near Lincoln, Montana, Theodore John Kaczynski is arrested by FBI agents and accused of being the Unabomber, the elusive terrorist blamed for 16 mail bombs that killed three people and injured 23 during an 18-year period. Kaczynski, born in Chicago ...read more

Ron Brown killed in plane crash

Ronald H. Brown, the U.S. secretary of commerce, is killed along with 32 other Americans when their U.S. Air Force plane crashes into a mountain near Dubrovnik, Croatia. Brown was leading a delegation of business executives to the former Yugoslavia to explore business ...read more

Jesse James shot in the back

Jesse James, one of America’s most notorious outlaws, is shot to death by Robert Ford, a member of his gang who hoped to collect the bounty on Jesse’s head. Jesse James, born in Clay County, Missouri, in 1847, joined a Confederate guerrilla band led by William Quantrill at the ...read more

Bruno Hauptmann executed

Richard Bruno Hauptmann, convicted in the 1932 kidnapping and murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles A. Lindbergh, is executed by electrocution. On March 1, 1932, Charles Lindbergh Jr., the son of the famous American aviator who made the first solo, nonstop transatlantic ...read more

Pony Express debuts

On this day in 1860, the first Pony Express mail, traveling by horse and rider relay teams, simultaneously leaves St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. Ten days later, on April 13, the westbound rider and mail packet completed the approximately 1,800-mile journey and ...read more

Series of deadly twisters hits U.S. heartland

On this day in 1974, 148 tornadoes hit the United States heartland within 16 hours. By the time the deadly storm ended, 330 people had died. This was the largest grouping of tornadoes recorded in its time, affecting 11 states and Ontario, Canada. At any one moment during the ...read more

Jesse James is murdered

One of America’s most famous criminals, Jesse James, is shot to death by fellow gang member Bob Ford, who betrayed James for reward money. For 16 years, Jesse and his brother, Frank, committed robberies and murders throughout the Midwest. Detective magazines and pulp novels ...read more

Truman signs Foreign Assistance Act

President Harry S. Truman signs off on legislation establishing the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948, more popularly known as the Marshall Plan. The act eventually provided over $12 billion of assistance to aid in the economic recovery of Western Europe. In the first years ...read more

Confederate capital of Richmond is captured

The Rebel capital of Richmond, Virginia, falls to the Union, the most significant sign that the Confederacy is nearing its final days. For ten months, General Ulysses S. Grant had tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate the city. After Lee made a desperate attack against Fort Stedman ...read more