Jose Ferrer received his third and final Oscar nomination for portraying Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and actually his father The Comte de Toulouse-Lautrec.
First the father Comte de Toulouse-Lautrec is a short role, and I must say that it is strange they chose to have Ferrer play the son and the father. He is in flashbacks as a prideful man, and happy one who wants his son be like him. Ferrer is fine but we see little of him as the father. He also has one scene where he is in the same scene as Henri. It is a strange scene to see Ferrer act as himself, and frankly it probably would have been better for someone else to play the father, since it ended up just being mostly distracting. He is basically functional as the father, except at the end where he shows some honest concern for his son, which is well handled actually.
As Henri himself Ferrer seems lacking. I must say it is visually striking to see Ferrer as the dwarfish Lautrec, but this aspect of the character requires little acting from Ferrer. Although when he is clearly actually walking I suppose he had to hide the pain he had from walking on his knees, which to tell you the truth I do not think he managed to completely hide.
Ferrer plays a sad weakened man but he does not try to really ever gain the viewers pity. He never though manages to really bring in the viewers of his feelings too well though. I never really felt what he was feeling most of the time. I will grant that at times in some quiet reaction shots he was fairly effective, but still these are short and most of the time, he does very little to create any honest feeling from his portrayal.
Despite looking like Henri well enough he never really gets under his skin with his performance. He always stays at a distance much like the film. He also fails to really to show any of the brilliance of the painter, or any desire or cause for his artistic desire. He equally has trouble really suggesting the self destruction of his character otherwise than his disability. He drinks in the film, but Ferrer fails to create any underlying causes otherwise that this single facet of his.
Overall Ferrer's performance just is lacking. He has a moment or two, always the quiet reactions that show some promise, but he never capitalizes well on this, and he offsets this a bit with his overacting in many scenes when he is trying to show louder emotions. Ferrer performance overall simply is a missed opportunity. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec should have or could have been a great characterization if an actor really delved deep into the mind of this man, but Ferrer never does this in this lacking performance.