Friday, 3 June 2011

Best Actor 1951: Arthur Kennedy in Bright Victory

Arthur Kennedy received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Larry Nevins in Bright Victory.

Bright Victory is a somewhat interesting film about a soldier trying to cope with his recent blindness from a gun shot wound. I liked much of the film, particularly in the military hospital, but after that it really lost a lot of its steam, and its racism subplot, unfortuantely felt tacked on.

Arthur Kennedy received his only lead actor nomination, mostly being a character actor throughout the rest of his career which earned four unsuccessful supporting acting nominations. Arthur Kennedy never became a leading man, but here he does certianly show an ability to carry a picture by himself.

Kennedy portrays Larry Nevins at the beginning of the film as a slightly cocky soldier who quickly gets a huge dose of reality from a bullet wound which blinds him. It is in these initial scenes where Kennedy really stands out well in the part. Kennedy creates a good amount of empathy for his character without ever visibly wanting it, but rather just earning it by showing Larry to be an average guy in his situation.

Kennedy is incredibly good in his scenes where he is first coming to terms with his blindness, and struggles to accept what has happened to him, as well as feeling guilty for the wounding another man because of going foolishly into enemy territory. Kennedy is good because he always is authentic in portraying the harsh complicated emotions that Larry faces.His first phone call to his parents is particularly heartbreaking because Kennedy is spot on, not ringing a single false note.

Larry though becomes to get a little more comfortable, and starts to be able to live with his blindness. Kennedy does a great job of bringing us into his struggle, without ever making it seem melodramatic. I particularly liked Kennedy camaraderie he shows that Larry creates with the other blind soldiers at the hospital.  They have the right naturalism together that work extremely well for the film, bringing us into a very special world the men have together.

Kennedy though at the same time has a little bit of a problem here, because one of his friends is a black soldier named Joe. He hurts his friendship with Joe, and everyone else when he utters a racial slur. This comes basically out of nowhere in the film, and Kennedy does very little with it. I suppose one could say look Larry is a decent guy in every other way but unfortuantely also racist, but Kennedy failed to really realize this aspect of Larry well enough, but than again the film gives him about a minute to do so.

After this Larry does start a romance with a local woman Judy, which Arthur Kennedy makes properly sweet as somewhat reluctantly pursues the relationship. It is not a great romance by any means but it is sweetly done. Problems strike though when Larry has to go home, to his old girlfriend Chris. In the return home Larry just shown to be uncomfortable basically, and although Kennedy is fine he also is given very little to do, but be uncomfortable, and annoyed by how some act toward him, and briefly his mothers attitude toward black people (again the racism part is very tacked on feeling).

Larry though at the end of the film does decide to go out on his own, and seems to find happiness in the end, and this very sweetly, done and Kennedy has earned this sweetness through his realistic performance, the happiness at the end does not feel at all corny, it is truly earned at the end.

I must say though that this is a good performance for sure, but one that becomes less interesting as it goes on. Kennedy is best at the very beginning where his character has his life changing experience, he simply becomes less interesting as the film goes on. Also the racism part of the film and the character is never properly realized unfortunately. Kennedy still manages to hold the film together though, and he makes the journey of the blinded soldier one I wanted to see to the end, and one made satisfying through the simple honesty of his performance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I feel this was a beautiful and hearfelt performance by Arthur Kennedy (especially the scene in the bathroom where he breaks down and cries after attempting suicide)
and it ranks as one of the most underrated best actor nominated performances along with Stuart Whitman in The Mark and Paul Muni in The Valiant. I wish it would have gotten five jacks, but a score of four from you is still a good rating and i'm glad you liked the performance,