Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Michael Redgrave & Laurence Olivier in Uncle Vanya

Michael Redgrave did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Uncle Vanya nor did Laurence Olivier did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. Astrov in Uncle Vanya.

Much like the Stuart Burge directed Othello, also starring Olivier, this film isn't quite just a filming of the play but it is close to it. There is no audience, and it is not just one day they decided to film the play. It is shot on a stage set, but the performances/direction, are attuned towards a general cinematic idea, more so than even in Othello, with edits, closeups, etc. being used by Burge, rather than just flatly filming a play performance. In that context, the film does work quite well as a strong staging of a remarkable play.

Michael Redgrave, who rarely played a happy man, plays the titular role of Uncle Vanya, though not necessarily the central role. He is one man within the estate in which the story is set. The old house of Vanya's sister, who is now deceased but left the house, an old maid daughter Sonya (Joan Plowright), and her husband the professor Serebryakov. The professor's visit being the catalyst in the story as he visits the estate with his new young wife Yelena (Rosemary Harris). Vanya is a role that is as unimportant as it is essential in terms of the state of being that defines Vanya. He is a middle aged man, an intelligent one, essentially without purpose within the rural estate. Redgrave's performance perhaps benefits from the pseudo cinematic form the most as so much of his performance are the moments of focusing on him, even when he turned away from whoever is speaking. Redgrave's initial approach is very much the success of his work entirely in realizing his Uncle Vanya. This is as he makes the man in this nearly comical tragic state of a man having had his life been wasted away, seemingly by circumstance. This is not drudgery to watch, as it could've been, as Redgrave tilts within that certain humorous overarching approach that is a rather fascinating one.

A frequent visitor, and fellow denizen of the provincial, is Dr. Astrov, who in many ways is the other side of the very same coin as Vanya. Astrov being played by the great Olivier, who I will praise to no end at any chance, and this will be no exception in that regard. Astrov's role is the more active of the two, which Olivier takes hold of naturally enough. Olivier leading into a given scene with such charisma as a man, who has just a bit more stature within his profession as doctor, but there is a bit more to it than that. Olivier though from the outset is wonderful to watch here playing the part with such a wonderful zest that makes Astrov stand out as he should, as a man who speaks his mind just a bit more than his fellow visitors and residents. Olivier of course takes hold of this idea splendidly with such rapturous deliveries, fitting to Astrov's natural musing upon the situations around him. Olivier delivers the right sort atypical extroverted bent to the man with a love of nature, and just really a general spirited attitude. Olivier exudes the right type of joy of at least the experience of interaction, which is where his performance intermingles with Redgrave's the most. This is as again, Astrov from a cursory look seem like they might be the opposite, which is the fantastic part of what Redgrave and Olivier do together, as the two are in a very similar situation.

Redgrave was an expert at the discontent of life, giving an all-time great performance depicting that in The Browning Version, in portraying such a natural anxiety. This is the case here as Redgrave in a given scene just exudes this discomfort of one's state being. This as making Vanya a man who can find comfort in his own skin even given the discomfort he has had with his life. Redgrave's work again though is terrific because he does not make it this slog and adheres to the idea of Uncle Vanya, the play, is technically a comedy. This is not to say he exactly gives a comedic performance, but what Redgrave does makes sense of the character through this humorous approach. A darkly humorous approach however as Redgrave plays the part as though Vanya can't help but nearly laugh at the expense of himself at every given situation. Rather than cry, Redgrave is rather powerful in making such a painful smile as he just shakes his head at his existence again and again. There is a real pathos Redgrave finds with this, that he carries as almost Vanya's shield from completely breaking down into despair. This even as he declares his love for the young Yelena, Redgrave is heartbreaking as his delivery is inundated with self-deprecating scoffs and grins. This as Redgrave plays the moment quite effectively as one of self-defeat, knowing his attempt for the younger woman will fail, but tries anyway.

Now the two are of the same coin in that Astrov is very much in the same situation as Vanya. In that neither is happy in their place in life, and feel very much out of place within their setting for their existence. Olivier though shows that Astrov quite simply is not as burdened by this knowledge as Vanya is. He instead delivers the mention of their unfortunate circumstances with a blunt straight forward, "yes this is how it is", of a man whose basically made peace with it. Olivier though underlines this though with portraying the doctor as trying to enjoy what there can be found in his life as much as can be found. One of the ways is even within trolling Vanya a bit, as he basically makes fun of him from time to time, which Olivier portrays as biting though with a definite good nature, as his eyes subvert the words with an affectionate warmth. He conveys an empathy within Vanya's plight as he himself is experiencing it, though the way he can experience is taking those bits of joy, which includes pestering Vanya a bit. Olivier accentuates the different nature of this same existence particularly effectively when he also declares his love to Yelena, unfortunately while she was trying to see if the doctor was interested in the "said to be homely" Sonya. This as Olivier portrays this immediate energetic thrust towards the opportunity, attempting to woo her at the chance of something more, which contrasts effectively against the sabotage of Redgrave as Vanya.

Yelena mostly rejects Astrov as she did Vanya, and I love the bit of smug delight Olivier depicts in Astrov's minor victory he can hold over the bitter Vanya. The Vanya who gets worse before he gets better as the story goes on and Redgrave is great in depicting his own breaking point. This as not from denied opportunities, but rather the loss of even the existence he has when the professor suggests selling their home off. Redgrave's exceptional in the moment by finally making his self-deprecating laughs as unbearable, as they sweep away in his eyes towards an abject madness. This as he finally lashes out without hesitations, towards violent action, which Redgrave makes it natural by creating it as this breaking point where Vanya's humor no longer can save him. This leaving Vanya trying to literally kill the professor but failing in that too, therefore left just to sulk within his home again. Redgrave, though he only has a few lines, is great in his final scene by showing Vanya no longer with even that pained smile on his face. This as he attempts to attempt suicide, at least as an act of an attempt by stealing Astrov's morphine, where Redgrave is remarkable just in realizing the sad state of the man now directly living his depression. This again contrasting against Olivier as Astrov who blithely tells Vanya to give him back his morphine and go kill himself properly by shooting himself. Olivier's approach again effectively delivers a comedic bent to it, though in the moment he carefully still grants a genuine concern in the man's eyes for Vanya. Olivier though shows the alternative path as Astrov still is in the same state of existence, however Olivier exudes still just this sense of the simple joy of the little success he had with Yelena and life, though with its own pathos in his pitch perfect reaction as he sadly turns away from Sonya's romantic hopes before leaving the estate. Both Olivier and Redgrave do justice to their roles by finding an effortless tone that serves the material so well, as creating these barriers of comedy, from the tragedy within.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Steve McQueen in Love With the Proper Stranger

Steve McQueen did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Rocky Papasano in Love With the Proper Stranger.

Love With The Proper Stranger is a decent enough semi-comic drama about a relationship that almost accidentally develops due to a one night stand.

The film itself can be noted as an example of a straight drama featuring Steve McQueen in a leading role. McQueen being more typically associated with epics, spectacles and war films. This is a much lower key affair even by "dramatic" McQueen standards, as even his more noted dramatic turns, later on, were typically in film with some sort of grander scale to them. McQueen's just a basic layabout musician looking for a job as we open the film and is a bit befuddled as he runs into a young woman paging him. She's Angie (Natalie Wood), whose not paging for a job but rather finding him to let him know she needs him to find an abortionist after their one night stand. Not a great meeting point for either of them, as Rocky's initial reaction is trying figure out who the woman is before confusion of the sudden bit of responsibility that has fallen upon him. This initial reaction seems to inform McQueen's whole performance which I suppose you might say is a bit of an antithesis of the typical McQueen, in that he makes Rocky decidedly uncool. This might seem a grievous waste of the King of Cool, however it does offer an interesting alternative as he takes a decidedly atypical approach from his usual screen presence.

McQueen usually is someone who owns the screen without trying, and that is typically just a given with him on screen. That is not the case here, as he does not make Rocky some hip cool musician, but rather almost a bit of a doofus. This approach actually is more fitting than expected, as the guy asks another lady friend to try to find an abortionist for Angie, and is obviously not exactly the sharpest tool within any shed. McQueen then very much"tries" more than usual in giving what in some ways feels like a more "active" performance from him. This is as he makes Rocky almost look out of place in a given scene, of trying to play the part of the pseudo respectable romantic. This right down to McQueen's physicality which is bereft of his typical ease, to this cumbersome manner of a non too bright man. Instead of owning a given scene, McQueen awkwardly exists within them, which again actually works in creating a character outside of his typical oeuvre. It is a different sight from McQueen as he comes off as almost petulant, which is quite different from the ultimate man's man that typically defined the McQueen presence.

Steve McQueen's dash outside of his comfort zone is a tad limited here, only as the film does favor Angie more in the narrative, with his only major scenes coming when he directly shares the screen with Wood. McQueen actually doesn't have amazing chemistry with Wood, which I'll again say actually fits the role of Rocky once again. The two are not suppose to be a dream couple by any measure, in fact the first real bonding we see of them as they wait together before being able to see an abortionist. McQueen however is effective in cultivating the certain connection in these moments of interaction. This with this slightly humorous awkwardness as physically he still keeps the same distance, however McQueen uses his eyes towards an understanding and an eventual warmth. Again, it never becomes this rapturous love affair, but rather this slow growth of feeling really between the two. McQueen's performance realizes the difficulty of the situation in every moment, while also slowly finding any ease within the interactions.  He's then effective in the moment of going to the abortionist, who is even shadier than originally expected, to where Rocky, concerned for Angie's safety insists they leave. This is an important moment in McQueen's work as he does not fall into tough McQueen, which would be dishonest to the character. He instead remains consistent in even this more heroic act, he delivers it with a hesitant voice, and without physical command. It is still of a fairly hapless man, but one who finds a better self in the moment. The film after this moment becomes a bit rushed as Rocky is willing to marry Angie, however she rejects his proposal as dishonest. The rest of the film is this dance, with Rocky gradually proving his sincerity. These scenes honestly are a little strangely paced, however McQueen does prove his measure in them. The two have a date of sorts where Rocky's compliments towards Angie come off as insults, unintentionally and in this McQueen finds a genuine charm in each delivery of Rocky's messy earnestness. This along with in his eyes finally conveying a want for her, rather than just a bit of responsibility. This all gets rushed a bit more as the film smashes towards the big romantic gesture of Rocky's that comes off as almost an afterthought in the film's bizarrely handled climax. McQueen's slightly befuddled face though again is rather enjoyable, as we see him present himself with a banjo and bells, with a sincere offer to marry. This isn't extraordinary work by McQueen by any measure, however it is an interesting side to him as a performer. Although limited by the part, McQueen does use it to show off a bit of range outside of his typically dominating presence as the King of Cool. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Alberto Sordi in Il Diavolo

Alberto Sordi did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning a Golden Globe, for portraying Amedeo Ferrettiin in Il Diavolo.

Il Diavolo is an interesting film that follows an Italian merchant through his travels in Sweden.

It is probably fair to say that Alberto Sordi's Golden Globe win for best actor in a musical or comedy, is the most obscure winner in the history of the category. This is to the point that one ought to give that often dubious awards group some credit for recognizing a non-English language performance in a film that was not a major awards touchstone otherwise. They might have been on an Italian kick, with Marcello Mastroianni having won the previous year for Divorce, Italian Style, however that was an Oscar nominated turn as well. I won't diminish the win though as this is rather a different turn to examine from comic actor Alberto Sordi. An actor, I'll admit, I have only a limited perspective of in a few scant, though more than decent turns, in English language films, and his notable devastating turn in An Average Little Man. Of course that turn was one that went to a very dark place, however the nature of this role also has really two sides within it.

Sordi's unique talents so strongly evident in that later performance is evident here as well though in perhaps lower stake circumstances. Our man Amedeo is just indeed an average man as well, but in the circumstances of just a business trip. A trip he foresees more for pleasure despite being a married man, of course. Sordi, even with this intention, brings a such a considerable charm through his affable screen presence. This making Amedeo's endeavor almost have this certain oxymoronic innocence within it. This approach is effective however from his earliest moments of essentially admiring the local women who he comes across early in the film. Sordi brings the utmost earnestness in his energy in every one of his greetings towards these women however he manages to find just the right manner for this. In that he does certainly deliver the requisite lustful quality of Amedeo however he carefully does not over do it to the point of becoming excessively sleazy. He's best instead by being just a bit sleazy however so well realized within Sordi's comic manner that still finds a charm even within that.

Sordi's performance is essential the film beyond his exact journey though in a particular way as he stands as a reactionary lead. This makes enough sense as his communication skills are limited as an Italian in Sweden, however how Sordi reacts to each given situation very much makes both the comedic and dramatic thrust through the film. Although less extreme than in An Average Little Man, Sordi's performance very much functions within both atmospheres to realize Amedeo's journey here. Sordi is very funny in initially keeping that same, lets not beat around the bush here, horny grin across his face with each potential "conquest" he meets. Sordi's equally effective in conveying then the certain disappointment as each opportunity instead opens himself up to a different part of the Swedish culture that isn't sex related. Sordi finds in these moments the right humorous disappointment in his expression in a given moment, but balances that with the right degree of shame all the same. A particularly wonderful scene is as he's met with a carol instead of any sort of tryst, and his eyes convey so well the character's certain dismay though that Sordi so effortless conveys to that quiet appreciation though with a definite embarrassment underlining it all.

Throughout Amedeo's journey he does not discover a sex romp, but instead discovers a perhaps a little strange however still welcoming country with far more to offer him that debauchery. Sordi's performance then becomes one of this interesting discovery of each new situation underlining each with a bit of Amedeo's sort of discovery of each place while also creating a sense of the reflection of it within himself. In the grand finale, of sorts, we get really two sides of Sordi's performance so effectively intertwined once again. This being mostly in a hilarious fashion throughout a sequence of ice car racing where Sordi's reactions are priceless to the insane, rather dangerous, hi-jinks of his female host. When finally though it seems he'll get his initial desire of sex, Sordi derives such a poignancy in his timid way of speaking the truths of a man who has in reality only been honorable to his wife despite his straying thoughts throughout. This is a wonderful turn as Sordi very much delivers on the promise of this goofy tourist looking for all the wrong things in all the wrong ways. His comic reactions are consistently funny throughout the film, but what takes the performance further is creating this honest sense of growth in the character. This in creating a genuine portrait of a man learning more about himself in what is an overarching comedic turn.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Marcello Mastroianni in The Organizer

Marcello Mastroianni did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Professor Sinigaglia in The Organizer.

The Organizer is a rather effective film that follows textile workers as they attempt to organize then maintain a strike.

Marcello Mastroianni appears more than 20 minutes into this film, as just barely the lead. This as his character more than anything acts as a catalyst for how the strike will develop. He is not one of the workers but rather an on the run "organizer"/former teacher who is attempting to help the workers in their efforts for better treatment. This is just a brief description however and this is a rather fascinating performance to examine by Mastroianni that is a far cry from the slick modern Italians you'd find him in his Fellini collaborations. Mastroianni actually leverages his typical charisma to offer a wholly different sort of character for himself, in the professor who is anything but the common man. Mastroianni delivers a very different physicality than is typical to his other performances of the period. He has a very effective meek expressionism in his manner. This as he walks very much around like a slightly fearful and rather modest teacher. An interesting approach actually as really what is about half of his performance is that of a rather comedic take, in a film that in its overarching themes is most certainly a drama. Mastroianni plays him almost as this goofball who sticks out quite sorely across the crowd with his slanted walk, and way of always seeming a bit overly, while also oddly, dressed.

I will say though I rather love the approach Mastroianni takes in this regard in it effectively distances the professor from the rest of the people, though while still managing to show why he'd be able to endear himself to the majority of them. This is as Mastroianni has the right off-beat energy in this manner of a man whose joyful attitude is rather endearing. It also helps that Mastroianni manages to be genuinely amusing here in his comedic moments, which he rather naturally brings to the fairly dramatic narrative. This such as his somewhat trollish expression when reacting to seeing he's stopped a potential sexual rendezvous, or his complete lack of hesitation in his manner in a later scene where a prostitute he's staying with says he doesn't need to sleep alone. The way Mastroianni jumps up in that moment is a bit of comic gold and makes the professor rather likable. He importantly doesn't go overboard in his approach that would stretch the honesty of the character. Mastroianni manages to make his manner both enjoyable to watch but also natural within his character. Mastroianni uses it to portray the man who in many ways doesn't really fit in where he is as a fugitive professor among the working class, however he realizes this essentially in this affable way.

Mastroianni's approach though also works in creating this certain specific dynamic within the man, where he is is this affable sort but with a certain pathos. Mastroianni's work finds the right pathos through his quieter scenes where he explains his motivations. In these moments there's a real sense of history in his eyes of a man who has seen much pain in his time. He's especially strong in the moment where he reflects on the situation forcing a woman to become a prostitute with a quiet discontent that so powerfully realizes the man's convictions as an underlying fact. These though are in a way the fuel within the character that flows from the professor when he must speak to the crowd of the workers to to convince them to keep on the good fight. Mastroianni makes these moments especially pointed as he fashions them in contrast to the near clown we see the rest of the time. Mastroianni however rightly plays this as part of who the man is as he almost brings this hesitation before each moment, portraying the professor purging the strength out of himself in order to make his statements. In turn Mastroianni makes them such genuinely striking moments of a fervent passion from a meek man. This as he calls upon a strict righteousness in his words with such a direct strength within his eyes in these moments. Mastroianni in these scenes shows a man who becomes in his element, in a way that has always been within him, however now as he reveals it with such a direct purpose. His way of spurring this grandiose strength out of such modesty makes it all the more notable, since he shows still to come from a man of that modesty through that hesitation. He's a man who must conduct what he believes out himself, which he can do with such thunder, but must still deliver from within himself. This is very much an against type turn by Mastroianni as he takes his usual casual cool charisma and re-purposes it to this more erratic role. Mastroianni does so successfully in making the professor a real character without a becoming a caricature. He finds the man who is of a different life, in an entertaining way, yet never sabotages the serious intentions of the man that brings out in such a remarkable force. The professor isn't your standard Mastroianni lead, or even union hero, however his work crafts instead such a unique sort, that leaves an equally unique impression both within the film and among his oeuvre.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Patrick McGoohan in Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow

Patrick McGoohan did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. Christopher Syn aka the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh in Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow.

The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh is a very entertaining 3 part adventure mini-series about a pastor who moonlights as a costumed smuggler to thwart the government of King George III and help his impoverished community. I will say the film cut, which qualifies McGoohan for this review, isn't exactly the most inspired cut, though the good qualities of the miniseries are still quite evident, however I'd recommend the three episode version.

This film is technically one the early instances of a masked hero film, though of course there have been others as well a la The Scarlet Pimpernel, a rare exception compared to the modern use of the masked hero. Now the Scarecrow isn't quite a superhero per se, but he isn't too far off of one. This is especially as one could almost see him as a bit of a 1700's England Batman. This is as the masked hero element is strongly emphasized here with the separation of personality between that character and the man who "plays" him. In this we have McGoohan delivering the best Batman performance that has been given, however he is not playing Batman, but nonetheless the qualities of his work realizes that specific duality, if not a bit more. In that we have the monster created that is the Scarecrow, who is the face of the opposition to England, and the known face to his forces made up of local men, except for his fellow masked cohort (or sidekicks) of Mr. Mipps aka Hellspite (George Cole) and the young squire's son John aka Curlew who are part of that duplicity.

McGoohan's portrayal of the Scarecrow begins with his scratchy, almost screeching, voice that is quite befitting of a living Scarecrow. Scarecrow, in that Batman way, is more evocative of fear than of heroism despite his actions and McGoohan's portrayal captures this. His voice that almost of a living monster capable of great misdeeds, but chooses to help the poor. McGoohan's facial work is obviously rather limited given the mask, however one can still see his eyes and in this regard McGoohan does not waste his one place for expression. Obvious technically minor however his eyes are with this nearly dead, haunting quality, that again evokes his Scarecrow as an otherworldly being than simply an outlaw leader. I love that McGoohan presses this point, as much as one can for a generally family friendly film anyways, in creating the idea of a genuine menace within the role. The most notable in this when Scarecrow goes about scaring a traitor to exile. McGoohan is genuinely eerie in his piercing eyes, and cold way of telling the coward "You're dead", followed by that wonderfully mad laugh of his that is more fitting of a creature than a man.

This is of course in sharp contrast to the secret identity of the Scarecrow, in the pastor Christopher Syn. McGoohan already passes the first test in that if you obviously didn't no he played both parts you'd never consider it. He is wholly dissimilar with McGoohan using his oh so wonderfully refined voice of his as Syn. McGoohan accentuates that though in creating really two parts within the idea of Dr. Syn. This is as McGoohan, much like the public/private Bruce Wayne featured in some portrayals of Batman, crafts variations within the two sides of Syn. The Syn where he meets with his two inner circle members, and the public persona of the pastor. Now in both McGoohan brings such a dignified manner however he uses them in two different ways. The public pastor actually could be fairly straight forward, however even in this McGoohan finds a bit of variation. This in moments of genuinely attending his flock McGoohan delivers a calm warmth in his role, with his eyes accentuating a man who cares for these people, even if he's technically deceiving them. This however is only when Syn is interacting directly with the rather unknowing but respectful congregation of his.

One of my favorite aspects of McGoohan's work is as the public persona of Syn as he interacts with those he has a less favorable view of. This is chiefly when he directly speaks with the officials of the crown especially the film's chief villain General Pugh (Geoffrey Keen). McGoohan plays these moments with this certain affable distance, conveying the idea of Syn as essentially an unknowing party when it comes to the politics of the land. This with just the utmost innocence in his delivery, mostly, as the bit of nuance in these moments I absolutely love. This is as McGoohan delivers this sharp wit, as the seemingly guiltless man, with just the most impeccable deliveries. My favorites of these being his moment of dismissing Pugh's accusations that his congregation is helping the smuggler with "you have no proof of that" that he manages to show Syn jesting a bit at the General's expense while being apparently entirely truthful in this. The same feature being realized in a moment of just wishing the general good health after he's caught a cold. McGoohan is cutting in his oh so assuring way with the words of a goodnatured citizen, but his eyes capture this glint of mischievousness that brings such an enjoyable humor within the ruse of the character.

The final "face" is the real face of Syn, who is again is based on this quiet dignity though in a different way than the meek pastor we see at his services. McGoohan is fantastic in capturing this unique power in his presence, through his calm certainty. Within this McGoohan conveys what is this overpowering intelligence within the character that is captivating in every moment of his work, particularly when he is outlining a part of his plans. There is this force of personality that he delivers but what I love about it is how McGoohan does so with this grace and ease in his demeanor. In the one major moment of summing of his philosophy McGoohan is incredible, not through some grandiose speech but rather these sincere and direct words of man of unshakable convictions fueled by a pointed, though unassuming, passion. McGoohan shows a man who knows precisely what he is doing and almost always has a plan to make things right. McGoohan however doesn't over do this and does ensure there is still a humanity within the character, even with the certain mystery within Syn in this film. There's a great moment, where I'll cheat since it is cut out of the theatrical cut, where is partially belated by the young John for not showing a great deal of emotion. McGoohan is outstanding in this moment of just the ever so slight exasperation towards his current problem, actually does portray the emotions within the man. Syn follows the line with telling John that it is essential always keep one's head, and in that moment McGoohan brilliantly captures the internalization of concern while also presenting the exact method of Syn. McGoohan, as much as he so effectively realizes the force of the man defined by a careful will and insight, he never forgets the man within that. These are but the moments of slight disruption though as McGoohan is simply spectacular in creating this marvelous hero where every moment of his work is on point. McGoohan finds something different to explore within each side of the man while still crafting it as an extension of a single man with a mission. McGoohan shows us in proper measure the strengths of the confident Dr. Syn, but again within that nuance creating enough of a man in an honest struggle each time. This is again, I'll restate, this is the greatest performance as Batman in terms of the needed virtues of such a role, even though he doesn't play that part. He owns this role in giving such consistently entertaining and compelling portrayal of his masked hero that I wish the miniseries could've had at least a few more installments.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Maurice Ronet in The Fire Within

Maurice Ronet did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Alain Leroy in The Fire Within.

The Fire Within is a rather effective film following a depressed man as he tries to find a reason for living through a single day.

Maurice Ronet's performance is at the center of this unusual film, for the period, as it takes on its potentially melodramatic setup with this calm mostly naturalistic approach. Ronet's work in turn is essential to the film's approach. This is in the realization of Alain who initially appears as though he may be your typical romantic lead. This is as we see Ronet with a quiet passion as he shows affection to his apparent paramour who leaves for New York. Ronet portrays a somber ponderer, as we see a man prepared for a descent. The film actually skips over the traditional more extreme of the alcoholic, as we jump ahead to Alain as he is prepared to leave a treatment facility, though more of forced out in a way, and is told essentially he must face his life as is. Ronet's performance evokes most vividly this most unbearable state of mind in Alain. This as this quiet anxiety of Alain as he looks off with a distant fear it seems as he is given his supposedly positive prognosis. Ronet effectively underplays this, and naturally creates this internalized agony as the man seems to look inward even as he listens. This creating a most difficult state when within his mind is the last place the man ought to look given his situation.

Ronet's performance sets up initially this terrible state, that does not hide its intention, as Alain decides that he will commit suicide the following day in thought. This thought granted as just a quiet statement within Ronet's work which captures a quietly harrowing certainty regarding this intention. This will contrast with the rest of Alain's life, however in this aspect Ronet shows a man who has already mentally prepared for this action, not even decision, requiring some shattering change to change him from this course. Ronet's work powerfully establishes an atypical lead with this thought as a central element to the character. This element that is an overarching facet of the man. Ronet captures this as this underlying weight within his work, as this understood fact within the man's mind that propels him forward. This in this internalized depression that doesn't reveal itself as open sobs, but rather is this painful constant. This detachment that Ronet so effectively portrays, not from emotion, but rather this certain detachment form the world. This as Ronet reflects this position nearly as the observer combined with this sense of withdrawn sadness that compels his search for essentially a meaning for his life.

The rest of the film then is following Alain around Paris he checks in with his old friends, and just some random people in this quest for meaning. Although as much as this could sound like a directorial exercise, and in some ways it is, Ronet's performance is always an essential element within the success of this approach. This is as Ronet grants a real texture to every situation in creating the man's pointed yet also aimless state. This is as no scene that is merely taken for granted within Ronet's work which captures this act of searching beautifully. There's a brief moment in particular where he grants a ride with some workers where he mentions his state of illness to which they are a bit incredulous towards. Ronet is fantastic in this scene portraying this certain shame and awkwardness in this interaction with people he doesn't really know. This is as Ronet delivers this right stilted quality in Alain as he can't really explain his situation to those who don't know him, as they wouldn't know how, and he may no garner the sympathy from those who have no sense of the fragility of the man's ego. Ronet doesn't undercut the journey in these moments, but rather makes it all the more vivid in granting this honest alternative perspective of sorts.

Alain's quest though is really to attempt to find meaning from his friends, who are all sympathetic to him, to a point. One of his stops is with a friend who is now a family man who tries to essentially convince him there is much to be enjoyed in maturation. Ronet captures this blithe attitude in this scene where he still carries this distance that grows all the stronger as the man essentially tells him he needs to grow up. Ronet's reactions are that of a man who cannot accept this, as this would destroy his idea of life and happiness, even though such a path is the destructive one he is now on. He finds a potential alternative in regression towards a life again towards mind altering substances, which are encouraged by old friends. Ronet is excellent in creating this initial greeting with the smile of an old friend, however this too shifts as he spends more time with these "old friends". This life of meaningless pleasure though is equally worthless in Alain's eyes, as reflected in Ronet's performance which delivers this uneasiness of the one sober man in a room. Ronet delivers this physical discontent as he wanders around the room of the intoxicated. He creates the sense of a pent up energy against this thin contentment that again is a failure in his personal quest. Alain ends up at a dinner party of caring friends who too suggest he try to seek happiness in his past loves. Ronet's performance again is so captivating as a man out of place though this time differently than among the workers, the family or the rakes. This is as Ronet becomes less the reactor and more so the active party. Ronet's performance creates this swell of discontent know as he effectively creates these rather fascinating understated emotional outbursts. This is as again Ronet maintains the state of depression, and fitting to this downtrodden state. He has his moments of anger though of this festering withdrawn bitterness to the one man who outwardly looks down at him. He also though has a wistful moment of trying to express love to his friend's wife. This being not some grand plan but rather this near whimper of a man just trying to grasp onto anything at all. This too is denied, though again with suggestion he can find happiness in his past, to where Ronet returns to a state of resignation. A state all the more certain in a way within its conviction to sorrow. Ronet's work crafting such a unusual power in his portrayal of a man's hopeless crusade, that manages to still lead to the same end, but with a change in the complexity of the final choice.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Peter Breck in Shock Corridor

Peter Breck did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Johnny Barrett in Shock Corridor.

Shock Corridor follows a journalist as he goes undercover to solve a murder, or win a Pulitzer prize...whatever comes first I suppose.

Director Samuel Fuller is one of the interesting rarely mentioned directors of his period. This isn't to say he specialized in making masterpieces however his storytelling offered particularly unique perspectives for the period with a notable daring for the time. This is evident here as he broaches the subject of mental illness. I'll admit the film opens with a fundamental flaw in it damns exploitation of  such things then proceeds to engage in such things itself, especially in its depiction of nymphomaniacs as basically sex crazed zombies. Having said that film captures a vivid atmosphere within its setting and there is a certain fascination to see a film of the period even attempt to broach the subject matter even if it may be rather flawed as such. As is common with a Fuller film, Peter Breck leads and is not a particularly well known actor, or even a character actor of the period. Why this is, isn't exactly a mystery from the outset of the film. We meet his Johnny Barrett as he prepares to go undercover at the mental institute with the help of his editor, a doctor and some begrudging help from his stripper girlfriend Cathy (Constance Towers). Breck isn't all that charismatic of a performer and as he speaks of his wish to either catch the killer, or fame, lacks a requisite drive to really setup Johnny as someone in over his head for the wrong reasons. Breck is very calm at the prospect, a bit too so, and there's no sense initially that anything should go wrong, other than the sledgehammer objections offered by Cathy.

To enter in however he needs to put up the front of a man sexually obsessed with his sister, to be played by Cathy, and here we get Breck's performance within a performance. Well he's a bit better than crazy pretender William Powell in Love Crazy, but Powell was trying to be funny. Actually I shouldn't mock to much as the sort of seething insanity Breck offers with some needed internalized subtlety, however this is usually put aside for a bit of shouting. A lot of shouting from Johnny, and really the other insane cast members, that sadly typically feels more like hot air than genuine anguish as it is all a bit too thin and overcooked. This initially though is just the front towards Johnny's real intention, though really the film's subplot, to find the murderer. In this we return to Breck's somewhat bland, though not entirely bad, approach as the driven reporter. He delivers at least enough of an incisiveness in his eyes as he listens for clues, though only problem is how it is so detached from creating a real sense of who Johnny is. Does he care about the patients? Is trying to care? Is he completely selfish? Is his drive to find the killer leading towards madness? Well the question to all of these is...maybe.

The reason for this is the lack of nuance, and really connection within Breck's performance. In a given scene he very much accentuates what is needed for that given plot development bit, and little more than that. In this even there are somewhat mixed results. His nadir are the yelling and screaming moments, which remain hot air even as it is suppose to be that Johnny is genuinely becoming crazy. There's no notable difference though in the way Breck plays the "acting" from the "reality". He doesn't connect that  growing madness with the drive to solve the case which could've been an impetus towards his eventual madness. Those are separate as a calm and cool reporter. In his moments of the inmates we have the scenes where he is sympathetic towards them and those that are not. Breck portrays both just fine, though doesn't create a sense of conflict in terms of exploitation their testimony. This is as his portrayal of Johnny never creates an complexity in his methods, or in turn his character. He is whatever the scene needs him to be, and his own work does not push the character forward. The one element of his work that does have any forward momentum is his portrayal of the physical wear of the situation. In there Breck actually does create that connective tissue between scenes as his physical work creates a greater sense of exasperation and wear from being in the mental institution. Sadly this does not even connect to his mental state where is the failing of his work. In the climactic moment of the film we have Johnny going hard to find the murderer which should be the revelation but through the deterioration of Johnny. Breck though just plays it as a little angry making his the next scene as a catatonic seem downright goofy. It doesn't help that Breck's blank stare is just kind of vapid and corny, rather than haunting. I love to find a great performance from an unknown actor, however this is sadly not one of those. This is a shame as the elements of a great performance do exist in the character of Johnny, however Breck's middling if not often lackluster approach does not realize that potential.