Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1959: Orson Welles in Compulsion

Orson Welles did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning Cannes, for portraying Jonathan Wilk in Compulsion.

Orson Welles received the Cannes prize along with Dean Stockwell and Bradford Tillman who played the leads as the two young intellectuals who decided to commit the "perfect murder", despite not appearing until the last third of the film. Welles though did receive top billing, and I ponder that perhaps being seen as a leading performer kept Welles from ever receiving another acting nomination after Citizen Kane. Either way Welles receiving top billing though is sensible, past his greater prominence, because Welles does really lead the last third of the film in which he appears since the film decides to try to depict how the real Leopold and Leob managed to avoid the death penalty. Jonathan Wilk is a stand in for the killers' real life lawyer Clarence Darrow. Darrow would be portrayed again in all but name a year later by Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind who would also be Oscar nominated for it. Where in Inherit the Wind that film's Henry Drummond took on the case to promote evolution rather than exactly for the specifics of the case itself, Compulsion's Jonathan Wilk is doing the same as instead of trying to prove their innocence he instead is trying to take a stand against capital punishment that the men will no doubt face otherwise.

Spencer Tracy played his version of Darrow as a firebrand in court, and a bit of almost a jovial character out of court. That's actually very different from Welles approach who instead goes about depicting his Darrow quite a bit differently. The various long fights of his career as well as his age can be seen through Welles is own face as he expresses the wear of this sort of life through his own performance. In the few moments we get of Wilk outside of the courtroom or engaged in some other court related proceedings Welles frankly depicts a more realistic sort of man who carries a certain somberness as a man who perhaps has a few hesitations and reservations regarding his duty as normal man would. Welles presents a man who frankly does not have the energy or time to be a character outside of the court, because that life requires so much of him. Of course the majority of Wilk's screen time is devoted to defending the two men. This includes several scenes proceeding the actual trial where Wilk attempts to save the men early by trying to have them both be proven to be insane, this proves difficult though since both men have already confessed to the crimes as well as have been proven to be sane by the prosecutor's own doctors.

This leaves Wilk to basically only use his own considerable talent to try to save them from hanging. This includes several moments where Wilk points out or indirectly insults the method of his opponents. Tracy again played this method as very loud and overt. Welles is even more incisive in revealing Wilk's intelligence in these scenes though he takes a far more understated approach. Welles instead of outwardly just blasting them with his views, as though he's trying to put them into submission, brings a more persuasive quality as though his corrections are not to make himself feel smarter, but actually promote something better for all. Welles quietly exudes this intelligence in Wilk so well and tears into any given scene so well, without ever raising his voice either. It's quite a different approach for this sort of character, but it works incredibly well to realize actually the beliefs of his character in addition to his methods as a lawyer. The shrewd nature of Wilk can only go so far though, and due to the men's obvious guilt it leaves him no alternative to plead guilty in order to directly appeal to the judge for mercy for the men.

Wilk's summation is a particularly long one but Welles is riveting for every moment of it. Again Welles actually stays fairly withdrawn but shows what Wilk is driving it as he's attempting to appeal to humanity itself. There is no sympathy in his words for the act, but Welles instead gives the passion within Wilk's words that advocate for justice not revenge. There is a powerful emotionality in Welles as he expresses the earnest need in Wilk that love will outweigh hate. Again Welles does so well to be persuasive as Wilk as he conveys the way Wilk is most disturbed by the insistence that more blood should be shed, and Welles wonderfully illustrates this philosophy through his sober performance. As Welles is able to bridge a gap from any political statement to instead making the words from Wilk feel only as truths. The scene could have been a long monologue of statements. Welles though brings such a weight to each word and manages to make it absolutely convincing that the men's lives would be spared. As great as that scene is though my favorite moment of his performance is brief one after the men have been sentenced to life in prison and seem to be ready to continue in their pompous "superior" ways. Wilk finally no longer has to defend them, and is able to take them to task. Welles is outstanding as he once again takes that incisiveness in his performance to Wilk's disgust as he breaks down their own foolish philosophy showing just how little regard he had for either man. This is terrific work from Welles as he manages to find quite the unorthodox yet such an effective approach to this sort of role.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1959

And the Nominees Were Not:

Orson Welles in Compulsion

Joseph Schildkraut in The Diary of Anne Frank

Stephen Boyd in Ben-Hur

James Mason in North By Northwest

Laurence Olivier in The Devil's Disciple

Alternate Best Actor 1959: Results

5. Jean-Pierre Léaud in The 400 Blows - Léaud gives an honest depiction of the manner and behavior of a troubled young boy.

Best Scene: Antoine at the psychologist.
4. Alec Guinness in The Scapegoat - Although the film itself under utilizes its own concept Guinness gives a compelling portrayal of two men.

Best Scene: The two's meeting at the end. 
3. Dean Stockwell in Compulsion - Stockwell gives an effective depiction of the various sides of his "superior" killer from the pompous intellectual to the scared psychopath.

Best Scene: The first interrogation.
2. Tatsuya Nakadai in The Human Condition I: No Greater Love - Nakadai gives a great portrayal of one man horrible journey in discovering what it truly means to be human.

Best Scene: The Executions.
1. Cary Grant in North By Northwest - Good Prediction Maciej, Robert MacFarlane, and GM Grant perhaps  the very best wrong man performance through his exceedingly entertaining work in the film.

Best Scene: Thornhill at the auction.
Overall Rank:
  1. James Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder
  2. Cary Grant in North By Northwest
  3. Tatsuya Nakadai in The Human Condition I: No Greater Love
  4. Laurence Harvey in Room At the Top
  5. Tatsuya Nakadai in The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity
  6. Albert Sharpe in Darby O'Gill and the Little People
  7. Dean Stockwell in Compulsion
  8. Alec Guinness in The Scapegoat
  9. Alec Guinness in Our Man in Havana
  10. James Mason in Journey To the Center of the Earth
  11. Eiji Okada in Hiroshima Mon Amour
  12. Anthony Franciosa in Career
  13. Bradford Dillman in Compulsion
  14. Kirk Douglas in The Devil's Disciple
  15. Jean-Pierre Léaud in The 400 Blows
  16. John Wayne in Rio Bravo
  17. Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur 
  18. Burt Lancaster in The Devil's Disciple
  19. Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk
  20. Cary Grant in Operation Petticoat
  21. Richard Widmark in Warlock
  22. Peter Cushing in The Hound of the Baskervilles
  23. Paul Newman in The Young Philadelphians
  24. Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot 
  25. Henry Fonda in Warlock
  26. Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot
  27. Tony Curtis in Operation Petticoat
  28. Ian Carmichael in I'm Alright Jack
  29. Paul Muni in The Last Angry Man
  30. David Wayne in The Last Angry Man
  31. Richard Burton in Look Back in Anger 
  32. Robert Lansing in 4-D Man
  33. Gregory Walcott in Plan 9 From Outer Space 
  34. James Congdon in 4-D Man
Next Year: 1959 Supporting

Alternate Best Actor 1959: Jean-Pierre Léaud in The 400 Blows

Jean-Pierre Léaud did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows.

The 400 Blows is an interesting film depicting the life of a troubled young boy.

Jean-Pierre Léaud plays that young boy who leads the film and it is essential that Léaud passes the child actor test for a realistic film which is to be believable as a kid actually. Well Léaud certainly meets this requirement for Antoine. Although he leads the film though this is not a precocious or endearing young child that we are going to follow. In fact Léaud gives a fairly uncharismatic performance, but don't take that as a criticism. Léaud does not make Antoine an endearing little boy who we're going to enjoy having adventures with. Although really some of the stuff he does is often construed as such in other more lighthearted films that is not the case here. Léaud instead portrays him as the rather unpleasant child that he is. Léaud captures that almost perpetual pout of such a child who always seems slightly at unease even though there is nothing specifically causing him pain. After all he has a family who technically provide for him, he goes to a nice enough school, he even has friends, but nevertheless Léaud portrays the boy as never really being happy.

Léaud's work exudes that sort of indifference of Antoine's behavior in his life. When he behaves poorly in school there is nothing particularly funny about anything he does. He's not doing it for enjoyment he's just doing it. The same goes for the lies that Antoine constantly tells. Léaud never depicts any shrewdness in this, there is not a hint of mischief in it either. Instead he portrays it as a bit of blank action of sorts that again is something that Antoine just does. Even when he lies to his teacher by saying his mother has died in order to explain his absence there is something quite lifeless about the way Léaud delivers in these scenes. That's even the case when he steals, there's Again I am not criticizing his performance at all when I say this, this works instead to accurately show the behavior as really meaningless behavior. Well meaningless in what he's trying to get out of it in the short term, but not meaningless altogether. Léaud does well to allude to the need in Antoine for attention driving this though in a subconscious fashion.

This seems to have developed from Antoine's relationship with his mother, who was unwed when he was born, and did not raise him for many years of his childhood. The problems are compounded through her most recent behavior to him which is quite random as she will become quite cruel one minute than excessively encouraging the next in order to comfort him. Léaud is good in these scenes between Antoine and his mother as he expresses the awkwardness of their interactions. They never quite seem to get along, and even in their moments of warmth there is still something problematic about it. Léaud never depicts a full contentment with Antoine towards his mother as though he's unable to fully understand her own problematic behavior as well as can't quite reconcile her past abandonment of him. They is always that barrier that also extends to his step-father, unfortunately because he is his step father, because Léaud suggests a little more comfort with him as there are not those lingering feelings of betrayal when the two speak with one another.

Although his behavior often is pointless and in general there is a cold demeanor about Antoine, Léaud never makes him emotionless. Importantly because of suggesting where this coldness comes from, but also he shows a bit of difference in himself when he is with his peers. In these moments there is more of an investment he shows, and when he is directly embarrassed in front of them Léaud shows a greater vulnerability in the boy. The friendship he has with another boy clearly matters to him, and there is a very affecting scene for Léaud late in the film when he is pained to see that his friend is not allowed to see him. There is another more open sequence, that might be where the majority of his lines in the film comes from, where he goes to see a psychologist who asks him various things about his life. Léaud uses the scene well to present more overtly though troubled feelings that compel his behavior, but also that even behind his stare that he's just a boy through his shyness when asked if he's ever slept with woman. This is a good performance by Léaud as he simply accurately depicts this sort of child, not as a psychopath, or an elvish scamp, but just as a deeply troubled boy.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1959: Cary Grant in North By Northwest

Cary Grant did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Roger Thornhill in North By Northwest.

North By Northwest is a very entertaining thriller, although I think that early long exposition that puts us ahead of Grant's character is totally unnecessary, about a man mistaken for a spy.

Cary Grant made four films with Alfred Hitchcock. The first two made in the forties were quite atypical Grant with Suspicion where he played a husband possibly planning a murder, and Notorious where he played a very cold government agent. They would re-team again a decade later with To Catch a Thief which likely is more fitting to Grant's usual style, but that film was really just a bit too breezy for its own good with the thriller elements being particular lax in nature. North By Northwest is the only time where Grant collaborated with Hitchcock as one of his wrong man on the run characters. Although he was wrong man of sorts in To Catch a Thief as a thief who just happened to be the thief the police were looking for, he certainly did not seem very worried about getting caught at any point. North By Northwest is a much stronger thriller, and in turn Grant gets a far more interesting role to play in the film. As most wrong man performances though Grant begins the film as a fairly innocuous character, while innocuous in that his biggest concern is to make sure he gets a message to his mother.

Cary Grant is completely in his element in these early scenes as he has such a delicate feather almost feather touch manner towards the proceedings. Grant is his extremely charming self as he is in such a lighter role, although this might be Grant as his most charming. He really does just brighten up the screen with his presence this time, as he makes Thornhill an immensely likable character in just a couple of these early scenes, and by couple I mean two, that by time he is kidnapped, due to a mistake by his captors, we are fully invested into his character's survival. Thornhill realizes he's become the wrong man by being greeted by a group of strange men including a well spoken yet sinister fellow (James Mason). Grant is simply superb in this role as he simply thrives so well in the material he is given. Grant not only fully shows how any average man would react to being confronted with such strange accusations, that being complete confusion, but he also injects so much humor into the proceedings. This scene might not even necessarily have been that funny, but the way Grant plays through it is remarkable. He never takes away the seriousness of the situation yet is marvelous in the way he brings out the joke that's being played on poor Roger.

Of course in perhaps the film's most overt comic scene though where Thornhill attempts to make out where he is exactly after ending up in a police station after narrowly surviving assassination via drunkenness. Well Grant's good at doing a Thomas Mitchell sort of drunk, and is quite enjoyable throughout the sequence. I've particularly loved his surprise while being in a certain daze as he attempts to drive the vehicle that was meant to ensure his demise. Due to not being able to find any exact proof his captors existence this leads Thornhill on a strange chase to try to find out who this person is that those men were so sure he was. This does lead Thornhill any where particularly helpful since one of these places ends up making him another wrong man in a murder investigation. The simple fact of it is Grant is supremely watchable and compelling just to view go through the process of the thriller. The screen could not be more his friend here, because one would be hard pressed to name a performer more at ease than Grant is here, while still keeping one invested in the story. Grant does not slack in this regard in the least and is excellent in the way he reflects every little twist that Thornhill faces in his expression. He's captivating here and flows so well with the style of the film.

Thornhill only gets further into the plot when he runs into a woman Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) on a train who seems to have plenty of secrets of her own since she is perhaps just a little too willing to help Thornhill who by this point is a suspected murderer. Grant's flawlessness in the role only seems to continue in these scenes as maneuvers in these scenes quite adeptly. Although a lot of their talk is Bogie/Bacall sort of innuendos, Grant brings a little more to it then that as he shows the way that Thornhill is swept up a bit by her let's say eagerness. Of course after she leads him into a trap Grant is terrific in the way he projects the coldness and suspicion in Thornhill as starts to figure out she is perhaps another trick being played on him. This brings us to one of my favorite scenes of the film where Thornhill has another face off with Mason's character. Now it needs to be said that Grant has such a wonderful understanding of the tone of the film, and while quite simply the style of the dialogue. There is not a wasted line that Grant delivers that he does not bring something to. This includes Thornhill unorthodox method of getting away from potential assassins by acting as the lout at an auction, and Grant is absolutely hilarious in his realization of Thornhill's plan.

This eventually causes Thornhill to leave his position as the wrong of the film and forces him to become a bit of James Bond figure. It's easy to see why he was approached for the role of James Bond in Dr. No as he certainly shows his chops for that role in the film, particularly in the film's climax. Well Grant already has the charm in spades, and can deliver a line for all its worth. Grant here shows even more than that though in the way he does bring weight to the action sequences, which in a way shows the strength of this performance. You always care about what happens in the action sequences because you care about poor Roger Thornhill throughout, and Grant never depicts Thornhill as some sort of action hero in any of these scenes. In fact he presents him to have plenty of fear of death during these scenes, and helps heighten the tension of each. It actually seems a little odd that it took Hitchcock so long to fully utilize Grant's abilities, but at he finally managed to do so here. Grant could not be a more perfect fit for the role. He is just on top of things throughout the film as he ensures to deliver just about as much entertainment as the film has to offer through his work. Grant here shows that one does not need to bare his soul to give a great performance, since this is a great performance by Cary Grant.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1959: Alec Guinness in The Scapegoat

Alec Guinness did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying John Barratt and Jacques De Gué in the Scapegoat.

The Scapegoat has an intriguing concept, although it never quite takes off as it should as a film, about a man who is given the life of his double, he just chances upon, for an unknown reason.

If someone is coming in expecting this to be Alec Guinness's Dead Ringers they will be disappointed. Guinness does play a dual role, but the two men are not twins. The character of Jacques De Gué is also only in a few scenes, and the film does not strive to make much of a dynamic between the two. Yet the scenes of their interactions are perhaps the most interesting in the film thanks to Guinness. Guinness certainly can handle a variety of voices, as well as transform himself considerably in a role, but he does not do this in his portrayal of the two men. This is not to say that he does not realize each man in their own unique fashion. Our main character John Barratt Guinness realizes as a modest enough proper British Gentlemen. He finds him well simply as a man without presumptions, but also without much of anything in terms of his outlook on life keeping him quite meek in his disposition. As Jacques De Gué he does not acquire a French accent, with good reason since, save one, all the other French characters in the film are played by British actors.

Since part of the story is for John to replace Jacques without much trouble, it makes sense for the man not to differ too greatly. Guinness though does shows Jacques to be a man who has lived much more of a "fuller" life in his more outgoing manner, although like John Guinness conveys a certain exasperation within this as though he's also quite tired of his own particular existence. Guinness is terrific though in the way he naturally depicts a different body language in Jacques which are broader, and freer for a man who seems more use to an outgoing life. In turn Guinness depicts John's own as a much more constricted. The most remarkable thing about the twin depiction though is his slight alteration in voice. Guinness does not use a different accent in either role, but there is an alteration in the way he speaks words with slight faster and smoother pace as Jacques, along with differing use of emphases. I would not have minded more the two together because Guinness's work is quite fascinating since he able to realize these differences while still making it convincing that the ruse would not be questioned.

The majority of the film though is not on the two of them together but rather John being placed in to Jacques's life. Guinness portrays John's earliest reactions as particularly straight and realistic as he's just taken aback by the situation, and refuses to recognize that he has been placed in this ruse. Everyone around him refusing to believe that he is anyone but Jacques begins to wear him down. Guinness does not depict this as though John is convinced to participate in the ruse simply because no one will accept his actual story, but rather Guinness conveys very nicely the moments where he begins to interact with the film, especially Jacques, daughter an understated happiness that begins to develop in John. Guinness strikes up an interesting dynamic because he does not play it as though John is exactly purposefully perpetuating the ruse in terms of his own performance. He still keeps John as his modest self, which is quite different form Jacques, but Guinness makes the ruse believable as the sort of modesty that Guinness depicts could easily be misinterpreted as either a sort of joke, or attempt at being apologetic from a more flamboyant individual. 

The succeeding scenes essentially follow John as he goes from one aspect of Jacques life to another, and frankly this calls upon the genuine class it takes to spell out Alec Guinness's name. Guinness presents John to be as dignified of a figure as possible as he goes about seeing various members of Jacques's family who all have something at least slightly strange about them. Guinness plays this scenes out with a quiet reserve though exudes a certain understanding and warmth as he interacts with each with a slight detachment though with a complete respect for their individual needs. There is a certain sweetness that Guinness is able to develop with almost all the members of Jacques's immediate family, as well as even his mistress. The relationship Guinness develops between John and Jacques's daughter is particularly charming, and Guinness is excellent in showing the way that the relationships gradually develop in creating a stronger familiarity between the stranger and the family. The conceit of the story is that John helps almost all of them through their problems, the writing does not do enough to provide reason for this, but Guinness's performance manages to give at least some sense to these developments.

Eventually something drastic happens, where the purpose of Jacques's ruse comes to light, and Guinness is quite effective in portraying just how much the people in the family have come to mean to John. This leads to a final confrontation between Jacques and John. It's a fantastic scene for Guinness as he fully reveals the cruelty to Jacques, only suggested by the state of his family, bringing such venomous pride in his words as he describes what he has done as well as states his specific demand to have his life back. In turn Guinness brings the right sort of poignancy as he portrays the refined yet palatable passion in John as it becomes clear that he has no intention to give up the life, a life Jacques only gave up in order to commit a despicable act. This confrontation is indeed a high point to go out for the film because he mostly focuses on Guinness's assured performance as both men. The weaknesses of the film reveal themselves when the actual final scenes suddenly suggest as though John's relationship Jacques was suppose to be particularly meaningful, which it was not, and the film adds to far less than it should. Guinness's own work can never be faulted though as he elevates what good there is in the film, and gives a compelling portrayal of both characters. 

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1959: Anthony Franciosa in Career

Anthony Franciosa did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning a Golden Globe, for portraying Sam Lawson in Career.

Career is a decent enough film about an aspiring actors continued attempts to break out on the New York stage.

Anthony Franciosa is not an actor I have been fond of, in fact I found every other performance of his that I have seen pretty atrocious including his Oscar nominated performance. Well this perhaps brought him close to another nomination since he did indeed win the Golden Globe for best actor in a drama, which usually translates to an Oscar nomination. That was not the case for Franciosa. Well this seems like a good thing right? After all this part seems ready to come off poorly since one thing they keep mentioning is that above all else is that his character Sam Lawson is a talented actor. Well I have to admit Franciosa's not bad at all here. I don't know what happened maybe Dean Martin playing it so low-key made him relax a bit, or perhaps Shirley MacLaine chomping down the scenery whole sale made him decide to play it down, because Franciosa plays the part in a pretty calm fashion here. He almost comes across as a different actor as he does not just fall down upon his old tricks as he usually did.

Franciosa is actually likable, that's right likable, as he portrays the early scenes of Sam trying to make it in New York with his wife, despite success seeming so difficult to obtain. Franciosa manages to convey his particular passion quiet effectively actually and is able to realize his dream of the stage in a way that does not at all problematic. It would be very easy for such a character to seem far too self-indulgent but Franciosa manages to bring an honesty in this passion that makes you understand why Sam has this dream. Things do not get better though as he is unable to find steady work and his wife Barbara (Joan Blackman) begins to have some particular strong second thoughts about the venture. Now in these scenes something so bizarre happens, it's almost impossible to comprehend the strangeness of it all, in the scenes where Blackman gets kinda melodramatic and over the top Franciosa stay understated in his performance. Inconceivable. Franciosa goes past that though and is even quite good in portraying just that powerful yet desperate desire in Sam to achieve his dream no matter what, that you do feel sorry for Sam when she leaves him.

The oddity continues in his scenes with his agent Shirley (Carolyn Jones) who is trying her best to find him parts, but nothing ever seems to quite work out. Franciosa and Jones are just really charming together actually, and it enjoyable to see their little reactions with each other as they stay casual as Sam faces one defeat after another. There is such a nice warmth about the two's interactions that is not a traditional sort of romantic chemistry but Franciosa and Jones really make you see the unsaid love the two have for each other. Their relationship being the always the bright spot within the film and both actors earn this wonderfully well. The other main relationship is with another wannabe Maury (Martin), who Sam always comes across throughout his career. Although that start out together in a chummy enough fashion, when Maury finds any success he quickly forgets about Sam. Franciosa does a lot in his moments with Martin by portraying so well the intensity that grows in Sam through the frustrations he faces while dealing with the amoral Maury.

When later on Sam becomes somewhat amoral himself for a brief period, by stealing Maury's girl (MacLaine), Franciosa earns the darker side of Sam as he seems to hate everything, by building it up in the previous scenes. At the same time Franciosa effectively conveys the discomfort in Sam in being such a cruel man, and falling back into a better man feels just as natural. Before that happens though there is one last challenge to be performed. That's when Maury does one betrayal too many, and at a particular painful time leaving Sam to attack Maury while threatening to kill him. Time for good old Franciosa right? Wrong. First of all its though only scene this extreme in the performance, and deserved of the situation. Secondly though Franciosa delivers in making feel like the genuine hate from Sam towards a man who has pushed him too far. This performance is quite frightening to tell you the truth its breaking my whole reality, where things seemed so simple and Franciosa was only capable of a terrible performance. Saying this is the best I've seen from him is not good enough. He's actually good here, and not only that I found endearing. That's right the film had classic feel good moment at the end thanks to how much I found myself caring for Sam as a character thanks to Franciosa.