Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1967: Alain Delon in Le Samourai

Alain Delon did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jef Costello in Le Samourai.

Le Samourai is a very effective thriller about a hit man being slowly driven into a corner after being spotted leaving the scene of one of his murders.

Alain Delon plays the titular character of Le Samourai who obviously is not an actual samurai, but technically speaking just a gun for hire. Jef Costello, which is incidentally a far less awesome title than his titular moniker, does not act as some sort of crude hired killer though. This is evidenced from his earliest scene where he lays in bed where he smokes waiting before he goes on his assignment. Delon's performance is almost a silent performance actually. Delon does speak in the film from time to time but it is mostly in one word responses or in the simplest of sentences that are only meant to serve the most basic instructional purposes. There really is very little in terms of dialogue between Costello and anyone, and there is even less in terms of Costello verbalizing whatever it might be that he is going through. Delon's work is mostly all based around what he does physically in the role, and is an interesting example of what an actor can do in a purposely limited part.

Well Delon is rather brilliant in the way he carries himself in the film. Even the way he just smokes in the bed Delon makes less an act of inhaling smoke to rather some sort of preparatory ritual that the samurai must do before he kills. After stopping smoking though the samurai prepares himself by getting dressed in his trench coat and putting on his hat. Although kudos to the costuming, but Delon certainly wears it his own way. There is something so remarkable even just about that way that Delon always puts on Costello's hat. There is just something so, for a lack of a better word, cool about the way Delon removes and wears that hat. It isn't just some guy wearing a hat, even though technically that's all that it is, Delon somehow makes it more than that. The way he does it has this certain emphasis of a warrior preparing himself for his task rather than of a thug with a gun which again that really is all that Jef Costello really is. 

Delon even in the way he walks there is something special about it. The concise steps he takes at all times show a man absolutely driven for this precision of a master swordsman more than a master with the gun. Everything that Delon does adds to this characterization of Costello as slightly otherworldly in his qualities as a samurai. What is so wonderful about what Delon does though is this never seems something forced in his performance but rather wholly natural to the character. It also makes watching him a compelling experience as he is spellbinding in his creation of the manner of the samurai. Now this is especially important for the success of the film firstly because he doesn't have much to say at all, but secondly Costello is not necessarily a particularly sympathetic figure therefore it could have been easy to make this silent killer uninteresting. Delon though is absolutely fascinating as he makes every movement as the samurai something to witness.

Delon manages to be especially effective in the scenes where Costello does kill as again his movements accentuate the incisive approach he takes to killing. There is no aggression or pleasure from Delon when Costello kills but rather just a very chilling steely gaze as takes their lives away. It's rather interesting though that this is not quite like say Edward Fox in The Day of the Jackal who also played a professional assassin. Fox played the part of the jackal as a hollow shell of figure who would take on any disguise to make his target, and most of all there was a soulless quality at all times. This is not the case for Delon even though he certainly plays the part of the samurai in a rather cold fashion. Delon though does something else in the role instead and this leads to some of the most remarkable moments during the film. Delon goes about revealing more about Costello than we see, but not for a moment does he change from his intensely subtle performance.

One scene that I particularly liked is after Costello has been injured with a meeting with one of the men who hired him. Costello has to tend to his wounds and Delon somewhat drops the manner of the samurai, almost showing that for the moment the injury has almost snapped him out of his peculiar state forcing him to address something directly that does not require any meditation. It's a striking scene as Delon doesn't show the samurai behavior to be fake, but rather that it is indeed a ritual of sorts for the man. Delon creates particularly powerful scenes though by also revealing that there is a heart in the samurai, and although he kills people for money there is a conscious in him somewhere. It might be rather hard to see but there is evidence of it somewhere.

Delon is extremely reserved in this regard though but surprisingly poignant at the same time. Delon earns these revelations and it seems honest to the character in the way that Delon handles it. He has one amazing scene at the end of the film when it seems Costello is sending another person to their fate. Delon mostly does have that steely gaze again but there is this ever so slight sadness he still conveys so beautifully. It turns out not a sadness for his potential victim but for himself as he surrenders to his fate. It is a perfect moment by Delon and especially notable by just how delicately he handles the scene. The whole performance is a completely fantastic example of truly minimalistic portrayal by an actor. I have to admit to merely loving every second of this performance as he creates such a unique and even oddly heartbreaking character out of the samurai.

Alternate Best Actor 1967: Sidney Poitier in In the Heat of the Night

Sidney Poitier did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA, for portraying Detective Virgil Tibbs in In The Heat of the Night.

Sidney Poitier's lack of Oscar recognition in this film seems a bit of strange thing. The film of course won best picture as well as best actor for his co-star Rod Steiger, and Poitier had a banner year with this film, the also best picture nominated Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? and the popular To Sir With Love. Now there were things against him first apparently every awards body agreed it was Steiger's time to win therefore probably deflecting some of Poitier's impact, he also was lead in all three of his films which can be problematic. Also there is not obvious person who upset him since the nominees were made up of Steiger who won, Spencer Tracy giving his final performance, Dustin Hoffman with his very popular breakout performance, Warren Beatty giving his best performance, and Paul Newman who perhaps got in over Poitier due to maybe late surge love for Cool Hand Luke as evidenced by George Kennedy's supporting actor win.

Despite his lack of recognition In The Heat of the Night is perhaps one of Poitier, if not most, iconic roles as Mr. Tibbs a black detective from Philadelphia who finds himself forced into solving a homicide in a racist town. Everything seems set out to make this a memorable role from the outset with the compelling situation he's in, that unique name of his, and even the rather snappy way in which he is dressed. Although it is in the case of most of his roles, starting all the way back with No Way Out as doctor dealing with a prejudiced Richard Widmark, Poitier's character doesn't take any flack from any racist this probably the time where his character was perhaps the most fervent about it. It was most often the case that Poitier would ease into this discontent by first being his usual extremely charming self, this time though Poitier actually begins with a harder edge which makes is fitting since the first thing that happens to Tibbs is that he is charged with the murder himself.

Poitier despite being somewhat more outwardly defiant in this one Poitier still carries himself in his usual classy dignified fashion. Poitier here is the master of frankly the refined anger as he manages to bring such an intensity in Tibbs's objection to his treatment by the police chief Gillespie (Steiger) and his men. Poitier barely even has to raise his voice to still be a palatable force of passion, and when he does raise his voice such as with his famous "They call me Mr. Tibbs!" it is quite powerful. Poitier interestingly doesn't fall upon his substantial charm all that often with this performance, almost holding it as a secret weapon in the reserved persona of Tibbs. Poitier only brings it out in very particular situations when Tibbs needs to derive information out of someone. Poitier very effectively uses his charm in these moments showing it as almost a strategy to make Tibbs instantly likable to the person he's trying to get the information from.

It is no surprise that Poitier went to reprise Tibbs two more times in sequels, although apparently far less successful films in every regard. Poitier has such a commanding presence with Tibbs and he makes for a consistently compelling lead here. Poitier is terrific by realizing Tibbs's method in such an eloquent and precise manner that is always interesting to watch. Poitier is quite good at carrying the film so well, as he's always so good at carrying film yet at the same time he manages to convey Tibbs's particular method of solving the crime. Poitier conveys the methodical nature of Tibbs deductions and makes every revelation he discovers well earned. There is only one moment where Poitier drops this and that is when confronting a known racist who has a motive for the murder. Poitier earns this especially emotional moment, and far from his most calculating, by portraying it as very much the gut reaction of man being forced to deal with an extremely racist individual with a smug sense of entitlement.

As great as Poitier is alone what really makes this performance standout is the way he works with Steiger throughout the film. Both are in top form here as they both are equally brilliant in realizing their characters. They are especially good because In the Heat of the Night is plot driven yet neither Tibbs nor Gillespie ever feel like characters just there to move through the plot. They realize them as fascinating men all on their own and they even come even more to life in their various conflicts during the film. The way the two go from outwardly aggressive to one another to an eventual mutual respect is one of the best elements of the film and it only really works because of Poitier and Steiger. There is not a single moment where the two agree to be friends or to even stop hating each other. There is just a rather slow understanding the two actors build so naturally from scene to scene that they make the transformation in both men not only believable but quite poignant in the end.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1967: Robert Blake in In Cold Blood

Robert Blake did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Perry Smith in In Cold Blood.

In Cold Blood is a very effective film about the true story of two men who go on the run after murdering a family.

The film follows the two men who are both ex-cons although rather different in terms of personality. Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson), who is treated as basically a non-entity in Capote, is the more traditional stick up artist who is part brute part slick con man. Where Dick is quite extroverted as portrayed by Wilson, Blake portrays Perry as a particularly introverted sort. In his earliest scene we see Perry as he makes a phone call to the Reverend from his old prison and attempts to contact someone while indicating that he likely will be breaking his parole. Blake is extremely effective in portraying Perry's particular manner that is somewhat troubling from the beginning although not immediately as something one would think would lead to murder. Blake conveys the emotional vulnerability of Perry incredibly well in the scene as he speaks to reverend showing him as almost begging for some sort of help before he is about to embark on something he definitely will never be able to return from.

After failing to make contact we are given a brief moment with Perry alone before he meets with Dick. Perry looks into the mirror imaging himself performing in Vegas. There are several scenes of Perry either daydreaming or imaging some event in his past or something created in his imagination. This may have seemed tacky if it were not for Blake's performance which makes every one of them work. Blake plays Perry as a man who at times seems partly not of the present as he seems to dream often and constantly. Blake doesn't show this to be that of a romantic dreamer though, but rather there is something unpleasant about this dreaming. Blake infuses in these moments such a palatable pain as Perry is not really dreaming about something or someplace that is better than his current predicament exactly to escape. Perry instead is either thinking about the past events that have permanently changed him or seeing a life he knows he will most certainly never have. 

Blake conveys so much in a single expression in these moments and each one is a memorable moment because of this. In Blake's eyes one can see the past of Perry whether it is remembering his abusive father or the heartache of remembering his dead mother whom he admired deeply. Blake is absolutely haunting in these scenes by realizing the emotional complexity they mean to Perry and how they turned him into the man he is. Although perhaps there is a hint of happiness connected to his mother, Blake suggests mostly Perry is a man who is unable to think without remembering these thing that only cause him distress. This leaves Blake to be especially good in just the way he is in every scene to have a certain morose manner about himself. Blake's performance though is most striking because the state he leaves Perry in isn't just as some sort of sad sack, but rather Blake shows that there is something most unnerving about this sadness.

One thing that stands out about the film are the interactions between Perry and Dick which are most unusual. Although they are partners throughout the film they are hardly friends and Blake and Wilson strikes about a very peculiar chemistry with one another.  There is a certain bit of warmth the two create quite naturally in the moments where they have slight prosperity and they carry the right casual manner with another to show their history together. Their relationship goes beyond that though as it was together that they perpetuated their evil. The two are very effective in portraying a certain aggressive quality and tension in almost every scene between the two that is particularly notable by their personality differences. When they speak about killing comes off as particularly disturbing from both of them since Blake and Wilson show it to have such nonchalance about the subject, and that they seem intent on doing something like it is merely something they feel they ought to do, nothing more than that.

The actual scene of the home invasion that leads to the murders is brilliantly directed by Richard Brooks and portrayed by Blake. This scene plays out in such a low-key fashion that is is becomes especially chilling. Blake does not accentuate any sort of menace in the scene in fact he even has a certain tenderness when Perry prevents Dick from raping one of the women in the house. There is a constant unease in Blake's performance though as if something odd is going on in Perry's mind the whole time as the two men come to realize that there is no substantial payoff to be find in the home. When Perry suddenly decides to brutally murder all the people Blake is especially disconcerting as he shows it as just something that Perry must do. There is no great anger or even that much of great emotion in him, but rather he seems compelled by just a simple mental urge to kill the family. It's a brutally effective scene as both Blake and Wilson are so believable in the matter of fact way the murders play out.

Due to the fact that both men quickly confess they are sentenced to hanging and are forced to spend the rest of their days waiting out for their fate inside the walls of the prison. Where Dick basically stays to his usual self, although Wilson is quite in showing the slowly growing dread that eats away at his confidence, Blake portrays Perry as become even more introverted as he reflects only more on what has happened to him and what he has done. Blake's performance of Perry's monologue, as he awaits, execution is flawless. Blake manages to make the moment so poignant as Perry awaits his own death and reflects on the time when his father almost killed him. There is such a palatable despair that Blake creates as a man revisits one last, unhappy, memory before meeting his own fate. Blake is equally unforgettable in his portrayal of Perry's physical deterioration as Blake shows Perry trying hard to maintain his composure. In his face and in his nervous walk though Blake creates the fear of a man who is about to lose his life.

Robert Blake gives a great performance as Perry Smith because there never seems to be a performance in there. There is not a single moment of his interactions with Wilson as Dick Hickock that seems forced or inauthentic. The idea that is put forth at the end of the film that the only way the two could have did what they did was together is made convincing by both actors. Each of them separately seem as though there is humanity in them yet when they speak and act together they show such a blunt heartless nature in them. Blake's performance works especially well in creating sympathy for the man yet never seeming to create an apology for him either. He is indeed rather terrifying in his moments of presenting a man capable of such deeds by having seeming to be hollow in his view of life. He manages to be quite heartbreaking though by making this part of a man who has suffered, and most of all was indeed still a man not a monster, though a man capable of monstrous acts.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1967: James Garner in Hour of the Gun

James Garner did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Wyatt Earp in Hour of the Gun.

Hour of the Gun is a decent enough telling of the Tombstone story even if the whole thing seems oddly rushed. 

Wyatt Earp is a historical figure who has been played many times by several different actors usually depicting the events of Earp against the Cowboys lead by Ike Clayton. The role of Wyatt Earp is often portrayed as the hero who wages war against the outlaws along with his more flamboyant friend Doc Holliday (Jason Robards in this version). Earp is technically a slightly thankless role since he is somewhat pigeonholed and even set up in a way to be overshadowed by whoever is playing Holliday. Earp is usually played by the actor known for more steadfast roles which is the case here with James Garner in the lead. Garner is probably best known for the often likable romantic or heroic lead. Garner has just a natural likability in his performances to begin with but Garner actually kinda rejects his usually screen persona here as Wyatt Earp. It would be easy enough to see Garner play Earp with a wink and a welcoming smile but he actually chooses to take a very different approach with the gunfighter.

Garner surprisingly gives a rather cold portrayal of Earp actually and seems to purposefully accentuate the fact that Earp's a killer. This makes sense though for this version of Earp which the film presents as revenge seeking, although still justice seeking as well, since it is pretty earlier on in the film when Virgil Earp is wounded and Morgan Earp is killed. This leaves Wyatt for the rest of the film to avenge his brothers by any means necessary with the help by the seemingly self-hating Doc Holliday. Garner carries himself here with a real intensity here as there is such a lack of warmth in his eyes here which is quite different from the way Garner usually is. It's an effective approach by Garner though as he portrays Wyatt Earp as a man truly hard bitten and changed by what happened to his brothers. He does not have any time to be funny or charming he's on a mission to kill men who wronged him, and Garner bluntly shows this through his performance.

Now the way the story is told in this version isn't really in a way to give a character study while portraying the events. It instead takes a pretty strict stance of meeting each plot point even bothering to go over the courtroom problems faced by Earp and company. The film also spends plenty of time with the other supporting character although never enough really to realize them all that well leaving the impact Garner can have some what reduced. It's a bit of a shame as what Garner does do in the role is rather striking as he successfully plays this extremely hard bitten version of the character. He also has some nice enough chemistry with Robards, but the film fails to explore the particularly interesting friendship between the two men, something Tombstone handled particularly well. Garner is consistently good here and has one particularly stand out moment where he coldly kills his last man. Garner gives a strong performance and I only wish the film had allowed him to explore Wyatt Earp a little more than it did.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1967

And the Nominees Were Not:

James Garner in Hour of the Gun

Alain Delon in Le Samourai

Sidney Poitier in In The Heat of the Night

Robert Blake in In Cold Blood

Richard Harris in Camelot

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1953: Results

5. Lee Marvin in The Wild One - Marvin steals the film in just a couple of scenes with his entertaining portrayal of a boisterous biker.

Best Scene: The Beetles arrive into town.
4. Otto Preminger in Stalag 17 - Preminger gives an enjoyable, with just enough menace, performance as the smug camp commandant.

Best Scene: The man trying to "escape" is killed.
3. Jay Robinson in The Robe - Robinson makes himself the highlight of the film by giving a lively energetic performance in an otherwise rather bland film.

Best Scene: Gallio's trail.
2. John Gielgud in Julius Caesar - Gielgud gives a great performance through his devious portrayal of Cassius that acts a particularly effective counterpoint to James Mason's honest portrayal of Brutus.

Best Scene: Cassius before the battle.
1. Ernest Borgnine in From Here to Eternity - This year came down for me between Gielgud who gives a great performance with a great material against Borgnine who gives a gives a great performance with very limited material. Although Borgnine only has a few minutes of screen time he makes a substantial impact with his intimidating portrayal of a vicious soldier.

Best Scene: Fatso warns Maggio
Overall Rank:
  1. Ernest Borgnine in From Here to Eternity
  2. John Gielgud in Julius Caesar
  3. Robert Ryan in The Naked Spur
  4. Marlon Brando in Julius Caesar
  5. Jay Robinson in The Robe
  6. Otto Preminger in Stalag 17
  7. Lee Marvin in The Wild One
  8. Boris Karloff in A & C meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  9. Jack Palance in Shane
  10. Hans Conried in Peter Pan
  11. Richard Erdman in Stalag 17
  12. James Mason in The Desert Rats 
  13. Charles Laughton in Salome
  14. Peter Graves in Stalag 17 
  15. Millard Mitchell in The Naked Spur
  16. Lee Marvin in The Big Heat
  17. Neville Brand in Stalag 17 
  18. Ralph Meeker in The Naked Spur
  19. Gill Stratton in Stalag 17 
  20. Robinson Stone in Stalag 17
  21. William Tubbs in The Wages of Fear
  22. Sig Ruman in Stalag 17 
  23. Robert Strauss in Stalag 17
  24. Edmond O'Brien in Julius Caesar
  25. Scott Forbes in Charade
  26. Robert Newton in The Desert Rats 
  27. Bill Thompson in Peter Pan
  28. Folco Lulli in The Wages of Fear
  29. Brian Aherne in Titanic
  30. Edmund Trizcinski in Stalag 17
  31. Karl Malden in I Confess
  32. Alexander Scourby in The Big Heat
  33. Peter van Eyck in The Wages of Fear
  34. Louis Calhern in Julis Caesar
  35. Harvey Lembeck in Stalag 17
  36. Jack Warden in From Here to Eternity
  37. Adam Williams in The Big Heat
  38. Don Talor in Stalag 17
  39. Reginald Denny in A & C meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  40. Anthony Perkins in The Actress 
  41. Michael Rennie in The Robe 
  42. Tom Tully in The Moon is Blue
  43. Ward Bond in Hondo
  44. Richard Kiley in Pickup on South Street
  45. George Reeves in From Here to Eternity
  46. Elisha Cook Jr. in Shane
  47. Bela Lugosi in Glen or Glenda
  48. Brian Aherne in I Confess 
  49. Emile Meyer in Shane
  50. Ray Teal in The Wild One
  51. Richard Baseheart in Titanic
  52. Rhys Williams in Man in the Attic
  53. Ryosuke Kagawa in Ugetsu
  54. Robert Keith in The Wild One 
  55. Philip Ober in From Here to Eternity
  56. Eddie Albert in Roman Holiday
  57. Cedric Hardwicke in Salome 
  58. Donald Sinden in Magambo
  59. Harley Power in Roman Holiday
  60. Robert Wagner in Titanic
  61. Jean-Pierre Aumont in Lili
  62. Michael Pate in Hondo
  63. Alan Badel in Salome
  64. Brandon De Wilde in Shane
  65. Dean Jagger in The Robe
  66. Harcourt Williams in Roman Holiday
  67. Craig Stevens in A & C meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  68. Byron Palmer in Man in the Attic
  69. Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity
  70. Victor Mature in The Robe
  71. Gregory Moffett in Robot Monster
Next Year: 1967 Lead

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1953: Otto Preminger in Stalag 17

Otto Preminger did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Colonel von Scherbach in Stalag 17.

Stalag 17 has a rather robust ensemble which does a great job of making the barracks of Stalag 17 quite the vivid place. Honestly the academy might have pulled a name randomly out of hat when they chose Robert Strauss from the film, since it certainly seems possible that they could have gone for someone else from the film. Otto Preminger certainly would seem right up their alley as a director, primarily known for directing, acting was something the academy seemed to like as seen by their nominations for John Huston, Erich von Stroheim and Vittorio de Sica. Then again Preminger is playing a Nazi so perhaps that prevented some recognition. Being the camp commandant though that leaves Preminger as one of the main villains, technically the spy inside the barracks could be considered more villainous, but Preminger is the one who gets open and about with his villainy.

Preminger, like Borgnine, Marvin, and Robinson, also only has a few scenes most of which are when von Scherbach is addressing the men at roll call. Preminger doesn't play von Scherbach as some obvious Nazi who wears his evil on his sleeve no rather Preminger takes a bit of a lighter approach much more fitting of a man whose duties are watching men rather than killing them. Preminger brings just enough of a flamboyance to his role as he delivers his lines in a fairly lighthearted way. Preminger never goes too far to seem as though out of character, but brings just enough of a jovial quality to von Scherbach. Preminger does it quite well by having a menace within his antics toward the men. Preminger is cleverly warm well being cold as he makes von Scherbach somewhat amusing in his manner but in a way in which only von Scherbach will be allowed to enjoy.

Preminger doesn't get to do a whole lot as Colonel von Scherbach but he's quite enjoyable whenever he is on screen with his smug overly confidant demeanor. He's particularly good in the scene where he's interrogating a prisoner merely by not allowing him to sleep as Preminger walks about as if von Scherbach does not have a single care in the world. My favorite moment of his might actually be a silent one when it appears as though the man the Nazis have been looking for has been killed as Preminger shows Scherbach look over the body with self-satisfaction only to have it abruptly vanquish from his face when realizing it's not the case, that reaction alone makes the ending of the film all the more satisfying to watch. The limits of the part certainly leave Preminger's performance somewhat limited but within those limits he thrives quite well.