Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1942: Joseph Cotten in The Magnificent Ambersons and Results

Joseph Cotten did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Eugene Morgan in The Magnificent Ambersons.

Joseph Cotten once again collaborates with Orson Welles in the role of Eugene Morgan a wealthy industrial whose life is very much intertwined with the the lives of those Magnificent Ambersons. As I wrote in my review of Holt's performance as the Amberson heir George, Welles, in the early scenes of the film, purposefully creates a false golden age as we first meet the characters. Cotten, unlike Holt, gives a fairly natural portrayal of the golden age for his character though. In his portrayal Cotten gives just enough charm to his role to make his character likable enough as well as with the right warmth to establish that Eugene certainly cares for his daughter Lucy (Anne Baxter), and in general just wants to see everyone happy in the simplest of ways. It's technically relatively simple, but Cotten never makes it seems as there is nothing, and just makes Eugene honestly a kind man.

Problems arise though when it becomes obvious that Eugene and George's mother Isabel have been in love for some time, and Eugene's presence is because of his desire to pursue this relationship once more after the death of George's father. Although George reacts quite harshly to this revelation Eugene's behavior is nothing to get in arms about. Cotten portrays in a wholly humble and fairly sweet fashion creating the needed sympathy for Eugene while showing George to be a word I won't write here. Anyway though George puts an end to it all by throwing a tantrum leaving Eugene alone. Cotten is moving enough showing Eugene basically just accepting this result in a quiet and somber fashion. The film keeps it fairly simple and short though but Cotten certainly makes us understand and care for his character's plight.

Cotten is consistently good here with some standout moments throughout, particularly his monologue about automobiles, but the material never allows Cotten do anything that notable with the role. He definitely is never bad in anyway, and he definitely steals every scene he shares with Tim Holt but that's not too much of challenge. Whenever he is on screen Cotten realizes Eugene properly as character, and he certainly allows you to understand and empathize with his character. The film is a brief one and the story of Eugene's love and loss seems to be one of the aspects of the film that was perhaps cut a little too short leaving Cotten's impact somewhat diminished. Cotten does solid work in every regard there just is not enough here to allow him to truly make something memorable with the role of Eugene Morgan.
Other Performances:

Roddy McDowall in The Pied Piper - Good Child actors are sometimes hard to come by and bad ones can almost ruin a film like say those atrocious ones in Watch on the Rhine. Luckily The Pied Piper has two of the best from the period with McDowall and Peggy Ann Garner. McDowall plays the overly smart type kid character with a few too many comebacks, which could spell disaster for most. McDowall though does it with such a considerable amount of charm and grace. I particularly found his chemistry with Woolley very endearing and they played off each other in such a wonderful and rather funny fashion. My major complaint with the film is later developments in the plot pushes McDowall to the background and there really is something lost there. The only problem with this performance is how little there is of it, the film never seemed to notice the gold they had with McDowall and Woolley.
Laird Cregar in This Gun For Hire - The more I see of him the more I think perhaps Cregar should be mentioned along with the likes of John Cazale when speaking of a great actor whose career was tragically cut short. Cregar has such a tremendous screen presence which he makes of great use as the liaison between Alan Ladd's hit man and a business man. Cregar has such a unique style about himself and he's one of those actors who is just fun to watch acting. This works well for the role of the weasel he plays here who is quite timid about death even though he is the man who hands out the money to cause death. Cregar makes it that, so you can't help but be a little sorry for his overly gentle fool, who is almost positively petrified by how black everything gets around them. Cregar has a very Peter Ustinov like quality about himself as the way he moves and deliveries his lines as the coward just has the perfect comedic tinge to it. Cregar made me enjoy his performance so much I actually was rather sad to see what happens to his character at the end of the film. It's a nice bit of work and shows his range as he manages to proves himself capable of playing a commanding character through his portrayal of Henry Morgan also in 1942.
Claude Rains in Now Voyager - Claude Rains, a noted player of villains, plays quite against that type as the doctor who plans on helping Bette Davis's character who is about to suffer a nervous breakdown because of controlling behavior of her cold mother. Rains does not have a huge role in the film showing up in various key turning points in the film basically to facilitate the best out of Davis's character. Rains, despite being such an expert at playing viscous could men, is quite adept a playing a warm one. Rains is performance is really quite strong here because it is not just the tender way he speaks that makes his character such a comforting factor. No Rains goes further than that with his performance as through his body language he conveys perfectly always a strong sense of empathy. When Davis character first appears the way Rains interacts and moves with the right delicacy and care.  The doctor just wants to help her get better, succeeding in doing so, and that is extremely easy to believe as Rains is so good at making the doctor so genuinely good. I liked every moment he appeared in the film, and like the other performances mentioned thus far I certainly could have gone for more of him.
I'm sure there's someone who's going to like this ranking.

Overall Rank:
  1. Claude Rains in Casablanca
  2. Claude Rains in Now Voyager
  3. Laird Cregar in This Gun For Hire
  4. Claude Rains in Kings Row
  5. Claude Rains in Moontide
  6. Laird Cregar in The Black Swan 
  7. Otto Kruger in Saboteur
  8. Pierre Larquey in The Murderer Lives At Number 23
  9. Noel Roquevert in The Murderer Lives At Number 23  
  10. Jean Tissier in The Murderer Lives At Number 23
  11. Roddy McDowall in The Pied Piper
  12. George Sanders in The Black Swan
  13. Walter Huston in Yankee Doodle Dandy
  14. Peter Lorre in Casablanca
  15. Joseph Cotten in The Magnificent Ambersons
  16. William Demarest in The Palm Beach Story
  17. Alexander Knox in This Above All 
  18. Walter Brennan in The Pride of the Yankees
  19. Otto Preminger in The Pied Piper
  20. Tully Marshall in This Gun For Hire
  21. Norman Lloyd in Saboteur
  22. Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca
  23. William Bendix in Wake Island
  24. Paul Henreid in Casablanca
  25. Thomas Mitchell in This Above All
  26. Charles Coburn in Kings Row
  27. Bernard Miles in In Which We Serve
  28. Stanley Ridges in To Be Or Not To Be
  29. Thomas Mitchell in Moontide
  30. Henry Travers in Mrs. Miniver
  31. Robert Preston in Wake Island
  32. Paul Henreid in Now Voyager
  33. Rudy Valee in The Palm Beach Story
  34. S.Z. Sakall in Casablanca
  35. Thomas Mitchell in The Black Swan
  36. Frank Morgan in Tortilla Flat
  37. Jimmy Durante in The Man Who Came to Dinner
  38. Robert Stack in To Be Or Not To Be
  39. Ray Collins in The Magnificent Ambersons 
  40. Anthony Quinn in The Black Swan
  41. Philip Dorn in Random Harvest
  42. Brian Donlevy in Wake Island 
  43. S.Z. Sakall in Yankee Doodle Dandy
  44. Anthony Quinn in Road to Morocco
  45. Robert Preston in This Gun For Hire
  46. Sheldon Leonard in Tortilla Flat
  47. Reginald Owen in Mrs. Miniver
  48. Donald Meek in Tortilla Flat
  49. Richard Travis in The Man Whho Came To Dinner
  50. Richard Ney in Mrs. Miniver
  51. Richard Whorf in Yankee Doodle Dandy
  52. Akim Tamiroff in Tortilla Flat
Next Year: 1997 lead

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1942: Results

5. Tim Holt in The Magnificent Ambersons -  Holt's character is an unlikable boring brat, and Holt in no way makes him compelling in any of that.

Best Scene: Fanny's revelation... I guess.
4. Noel Coward in In Which We Serve - Coward obviously had a very specific purpose for his film and his performance which is to give a passionate message for World War II. Well he accomplishes that well leaving other elements of his performance a bit simple.

Best Scene: The Captain delivers a speech to his troops.
3. Alan Ladd in This Gun For Hire - Ladd his the right notes in his portrayal of a brutal assassin, but just never quite seems to go the extra distance with his performance.

Best Scene:  Raven talks about his past.
2. Joel McCrea in The Palm Beach Story - McCrea gets kinda the short end of the stick in terms of screen time but he still gives an enjoyable portrayal of a husband exasperated by his wife's odd behavior.

Best Scene: Tom hears about his "sister's" idea.
1. Pierre Fresnay in The Murderer Lives At Number 21- Easily my favorite out of these five. Fresnay as is a great charmer here giving a highly entertaining portrayal that makes his film one enjoyable mystery to watch.

Best Scene: Inspector Wens stalls the killer.
Overall Rank:
  1. Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca
  2. Pierre Fresnay in The Murderer Lives At Number 21
  3. Monty Woolley in The Pied Piper
  4. Ronald Colman in Random Harvest
  5. James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy
  6. Joel McCrea in The Palm Beach Story
  7. Monty Woolley in The Man Who Came to Dinner
  8. Ronald Reagan in Kings Row
  9. Alan Ladd in This Gun For Hire
  10. Robert Cummings in Saboteur 
  11. Jack Benny in To Be or Not To Be 
  12. Jean Gabin in Moontide
  13. Bob Hope in Road to Morocco  
  14. Tyrone Power in This Above All   
  15. Robert Cummings in Kings Row
  16. Noel Coward in In Which We Serve 
  17. John Mills in In Which We Serve 
  18. Fred Astaire in Holiday Inn 
  19. Walter Pidgeon in Mrs. Miniver
  20. Tyrone Power in The Black Swan
  21. Gary Cooper in The Pride of the Yankees
  22. Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn
  23. Bing Crosby in Road to Morocco
  24. Tim Holt in The Magnificent Ambersons
  25. Spencer Tracy in Tortilla Flat
  26. John Garfield in Tortilla Flat
Next Year: 1942 Supporting

Alternate Best Actor 1942: Tim Holt in The Magnificent Ambersons

Tim Holt did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying George in The Magnificent Ambersons.

The Magnificent Ambersons is a decent enough followup to Citizen Kane by Orson Welles about a fading prominent family, although the fact that is was severely cut by the studio is quite noticeable.

Tim Holt, best known as the far less greedy miner in the Treasure of Sierra Madre, once again plays a role that seems thankless to the showier roles given to much of the cast. Holt plays George who will inherit what is left of the Amberson fortune. Holt in the early scenes plays George extremely straight as the lead character in a family drama like this, really in pretty much the way these sorts of characters are portrayed in parodies. Holt speaks every line as to the point as possible, and in all honesty is quite bland as George seems to just enjoy his status in life as well as the fact that he seems primed to marry his romantic interest Lucy (Anne Baxter). Although I think this was a purposeful directing choice on Welles part, Holt does not find any wiggle room to do something special within his restriction like say the way Daniel Day-Lewis eventually would in A Room With A View.

The reason George just seems the romantic hero is that Welles obviously wanted to give us this golden age appearance for the family of the Ambersons as well as for the life of George. This is torn down rather quickly though when a scandal arises surrounding George's mother and Lucy's father. This leaves George to confront it in a particularly selfish and fairly extreme way showing him to be actually just really a spoiled brat more that anything. Holt again keeps it incredibly straight to almost the point of parody as he plays George's reaction as basically just a temper tantrum. Again I think this does fit the character, and Welles's intent but Holt's performance does it in a particularly standard fashion. His George is just extremely likable Holt suggest no real substance to this, he does it with no style, and never attempts to do it in cleverly humorous fashion either.

Eventually, well rather quickly due to the brevity of the film, George falls on some hard times himself losing Lucy, having to get a job and eventually getting an automobile accident. Again Holt just stays quite bland and very uninteresting. Holt still keeps George as a man of no depth even when distraught, but I suppose that is true to form. Nevertheless George is still one boring man who I could care less about, and Holt does not even turn that into some sort of compelling anti-charisma. Holt's performance and George as a character just seems there to facilitate the more interesting characters who are performed by the likes of Agnes Moorehead and Joseph Cotten. This not a truly bad performance as I do think technically Holt fulfills his duty in a certain way, but that way is particularly forgettable.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1942: Pierre Fresnay in The Murderer Lives at Number 21

Pierre Fresnay did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Inspector Wens in The Murderer Lives At Number 21.

The Murderer Lives At Number 21 is a very entertaining murder mystery about a detective who knows the boarding house where the murderer lives, but does not know who the murderer is.

The Murderer Lives At Number 21 is a bit like the french version of the Thin Man. Both films are murder mysteries with a wide number of suspects, a comedic tone, and a detective who seems to spend just as much time dealing with his off-beat love interest as he does investigating the case. Pierre Fresnay in turn plays the role of Inspector Wens in much the same way that William Powell played Nick Charles in The Thin Man. Fresnay has a real casual demeanor in his performance as he walks along at an leisurely pace even though there is a murderer on the loose. This in turn is seen through his performance as Fresnay always stays quite calm and relaxed all the time, and treats the whole affair as a game, at least in part anyway.  

Fresnay is quite fun in the role actually though and does have that same time of dry delivery that suited William Powell, although Fresnay is a bit less sardonic in style. Fresnay has the same type of charm that is rather unassuming but so perfectly fitting in his creation of the assured detective. Fresnay makes Inspector Wens properly likable with his charm, and his attitude never seems distant rather it simply creates the right relaxed tone for the picture. Fresnay manner also allows him to play well off of Wens's opera singer girlfriend Mila (Suzy Delair) who is rather flamboyant in nature. Fresnay honestly makes Delair's performance work much more, by his manner of downplaying his part, and giving some rather funny reactions to some of her absurdity. 

All of it is not fun and games though as technically Wens does need to find a murderer which means going to the boarding house and interviewing each resident to find the culprit. Fresnay keeps the same tone even as the bodies start piling up but he does so in a convincing fashion. In his scenes of examination Fresnay oozes the right intelligence along with the wit in the character. Every line he delivers he brings the right incisive and piercing quality and he illustrates that Wens's relaxed attitude is actually part of his method of keeping the crooks off guard. Fresnay carefully never seems to aloof to the point that he seems that the murders don't matter, there is a substance that Fresnay subtly brings this in some key reactions, and he cleverly brings the dramatic weight well still being so eloquently lighthearted.

Pierre Fresnay makes Inspector Wens a great protagonist for a mystery. It's so easy to follow him through the mystery to its end by creating the necessary tone for the film creating an enjoyable story, but Fresnay goes further than that in making his own performance just enjoyable to watch all on his own. Fresnay is very entertaining throughout but my favorite scene of his is when he uncovers the culprit but not in the best of ways. It leaves Wens to distract the killer by delaying although this seems technically hard to believe its actually completely works because of the way Fresnay controls the scene so completely and so brilliantly. It's a marvelous scene for Fresnay and it shows how good Fresnay is at the role. Unlike the Thin Man, The Murderer Lives At Number 21 was a single effort without any sequels, which is a bit unfortunate as Fresnay made Inspector Wens such delightful company that I would not have mined seeing him on another investigation.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1942: Joel McCrea in The Palm Beach Story

Joel McCrea did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Tom Jeffers in The Palm Beach Story.

The Palm Beach Story is an enjoyable subversion of the romantic comedy which begins with the happy ending, and slowly reveals perhaps that happy ending wasn't so happy.

Joel McCrea is a common leading man to be found in romantic comedies from the period, and is a good fit for the genre although he takes a bit of a different approach than who is probably the romantic comedy champion Cary Grant. Grant usually played characters who were the schemers and his performance therefore tended to be devious in some way. That is not the case for McCrea's characters who instead roped along by someone else. That was the case for his character in The More the Merrier and it is the case here as well. His character of Tom Jeffers is quite taken aback from the beginning of the film when he finds out his wife  Geraldine "Gerry" Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) has decided to leave him since they are in somewhat dire financial straights and she believes they will be better off separated.

McCrea has a very natural charm and takes on a very unassuming style of his performance. McCrea does not go for an overt flamboyance with his work rather staying very down to earth in his performance. In doing so McCrea makes his character's very likable which is important for the role of Tom Jeffers as we must instantly sympathize with his problematic situation involving his particularly flaky wife. McCrea is quite enjoyable in the early scenes given just enough of a comedic spin in his portrayal of Tom's disbelief at his wife's sudden desire for a separation. McCrea, along with Colbert, are quite together because they both really know how to sell the material. They go with the absurdity just enough to make it funny, while still making their characters people rather than just some strange caricatures.

McCrea despite being the male lead actually gets a bit shaft during the film. For a very long stretch in the the middle of the film, after Gerry has taken off, McCrea entirely disappears from the film.The film instead solely focuses on Colbert's various exploits and we don't catch up with McCrea again until after Gerry has gotten them involved with a plot of mistaken identities involving two rich siblings.  Gerry pretends that Tom is her brother as she schemes to marry the rich man, despite Tom's objections. McCrea is quite hilarious in these scenes as he plays Tom as basically wanting nothing to do with the plot he's in. McCrea is very entertaining as he makes Tom's particularly ticked off reactions extremely funny, and manages to make up for his lost time rather admirably.

McCrea is a nice fit for the lead of a Preston Sturges film as he fits the tone incredibly well, and knows exactly how to delivers the lines. Unfortunately in this case McCrea just is not given all that much to do as the film seems more like a showcase for Colbert than it is for him. McCrea may be the lead but only barely so. McCrea still does excel with the little he is given to do, but it's surprisingly little here. I have to say that I could have gone for more of him as I always liked any scene he was in, and I would not have minded seeing Tom's travels in addition to Gerry's. While it may not technically be anything overly substantial this is a very charming and rather amusing bit of work from McCrea.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1942: Noel Coward in In Which We Serve

Noel Coward did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Captain E.V. Kinross in In Which We Serve.

In Which We Serve is an decent enough film that tells the stories of the men who were on a sunken ship in the Royal Navy during World War II.

Noel Coward does not just star in the film he also wrote, produced it, and directed it along with David Lean. Coward was actually nominated for producing and writing the film. Coward also plays the role of the Captain of the ship who we see grasping for life on a makeshift life boat, on the ship performing his duties and at home with his loving wife (Celia Johnson). This was undoubtedly a passion project for Coward and obviously his way to show his support for his countrymen in the war that was waging when this film as made. Due to this this film takes a very precise depiction of the men to show them all to be good souls who just want a good life which they sacrifice for the greater good. 

Coward's performance is much like his direction and writing here. It's purposefully fairly light in terms of the depth given. Coward portrays the Captain in his home life fairly simply as just a relaxed man who loves his wife and enjoys his life simple as that. Coward brings enough charm, wit and warmth in these scenes always seeming invested enough. Coward seems to frankly give these scenes to Celia Johnson on purpose though, as Coward consistently underplays his role really giving all the emotional moments to Johnson. Obviously the set up was Coward's intention and really it works perfectly fine for the film, even if Coward's performance never becomes all that compelling though.

On the sea Coward is the ship's captain even though Coward physically does not exactly look like a military type. Coward actually offers enough command for the part, and is believable in the role. He also is not overshadowed in the same ways in this scene bringing the needed presence that a Captain should have in such a circumstance. In the scenes of the men trying to survive on the sea without a ship Coward actually is rather could in showing the physical discomfort in the situation and rather effectively loses the usually veneer found in Noel Coward's usual style. Again Coward does not drive especially hard in the role still, he never seems disinterested but always content to be just good enough in the role nothing more.

The one scene where Coward seems to change in this attitude is his last scene where he delivers a passionate speech to his men to fight on and remember the men who died. Coward gives this speech a great deal of passion and you can easily see that the man truly believed these words with all his heart. In that you really see the point of both Coward's performance and the film as a whole. Coward really did not want the acting, or the characters to be the noted thing about the film. No obviously he wanted the message to stand out the most, which makes sense for the time although it makes the film particularly a film of its time only. Coward does not make the other aspects bad though, just very limited and to the point. This includes his performance which is good but ,other than his speech, just good enough. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1942: Alan Ladd in This Gun For Hire

Alan Ladd did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Philip Raven in This Gun for Hire.

This Gun For Hire is an interesting enough film noir that follows a hit man who wants to get revenge on his former employer, while evading the police, after having been double crossed.

Alan Ladd, who I know and I imagine most know best as the titular character of Shane, plays a role that is a bit out of the ordinary for the time which is a bit out of the ordinary. It is not that he simply plays a hit man, the careers of Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney show that playing criminals was a common occurrence, but the role of Philip Raven is rather different from the gangster those actors played. Raven is actually much closer in vein to say the titular Jackal from the Day of the Jackal. It is not powerful explosive emotions that seem to drive Raven, but rather a very cold professional brutality instead which is certainly rather striking to see from a film made in the early forties.

Ladd's performance also is not trying to sugar coat this character really in any regard. The character is cold and brutal and Ladd actually plays him this way. Ladd carries himself well in the part creating a rather intimidating presence with his performance, and he definitely has that death stare down that is needed for a part like this. Ladd gives a particularly dour performance here, and is not afraid to show this character as the sociopath he is. There is an innate viciousness that Ladd brings to his role and he is very effective early on the film as Raven is taking care of business silently. Ladd finds the brutality of Raven's murders not through an emotionally anger, but rather through his rather intense callousness in almost all things he does which includes killing others.  

Ladd is good in the role in that he takes the right approach, but he's never quite great. Part of this comes from when Raven starts to speak a little more, which is unfortunate. Although Ladd is good in the silent portrayal of Raven's menace he is not quite the same when Raven tries to openly threaten others. Ladd seems to try a little hard in these moments to seem intimidating, and although he never bad it actually weakens what he did right with the role when he is not speaking. Thankfully Ladd never goes too far and fully compromise the rest of his performance with some true overacting. This does weaken the character's impact and Ladd's performance here never does become nearly as compelling as Edward Fox's performance as a similar character in The Day of the Jackal.

Being a film from the forties I fully expected the character to be softened as the film progressed especially after he kidnaps a woman (Veronica Lake) who begins to question his pessimistic attitude. Well although the film reveals Raven not to be pure evil, and that his viciousness does come from somewhere he actually still stays fairly cold after all. Ladd is good as I'm glad he still stays with the character even as he reveals more about the man. Ladd reveals that Raven is not soulless and his troubles started at childhood. Ladd is particularly good as he tells his childhood story because he brings such a powerful hate that is entirely fitting for such a hard boiled man. It would have been easy to make these scene emotional in the wrong way, but Ladd keeps Raven as he killer the whole film through.

This is never quite a great portrayal of the almost heartless killer as I do think a truly great performance very well could have come from this character with another actor in the role. Ladd, to his credit though, hits all of the right notes with his performance through taking the right approach. He does not hit all of these notes exactly right as there are definitely scenes where you could see where there could have been a greater impact, yet Ladd still is on mark with how the scene should play in relation to the character. Ladd does not mind being unlikable, and rightfully never compromises his character, making his more emotional scenes bring depth to the character rather than a contradiction. Ladd never makes the absolute most out of the role, but he still does do it some justice giving an interesting portrait of a very unorthodox character for the time.