James Whitmore received his second and last Oscar nomination for portraying U.S. President Harry Truman in Give 'Em Hell Harry.
Whitmore's nomination therefore is an especially strange nomination. Whitmore is the only best actor nomination that is not really for a film, but more of happened to be filmed, even Othello with Olivier was adjusted somewhat for film. This is a completely and only one man show about Truman, which includes Truman even talking to other people, that the audience must completely imagine themselves. Whitmore's performance therefore is constant, and is in every moment of this film. It is a rapid fire performance, where basically never stops talking. His portrayal Truman actually really feels far too rushed all the time, he is always coming at you, never ever calming down going from each topic to the next in his over an hour monologue.
Whitmore never relaxes in this performance, which makes sense for the play. He is the only part of the show, and he has to keep attention, and keep everyone interested. I imagine this performance could work in a live theater but as a film the performance really comes off as too much. It is not that Whitmore is bad, but he is most certainly theatrical which makes sense. He is always shouting his lines, and makes his facial expressions in the performance quite obvious to allow the audience to know how he is currently feeling. This again may have worked if you were actually in the theater with Whitmore but watching him on film it feels like a bit much.
Whitmore's performance is a bit repetitive. A constant passionate speech about various problems Truman must deal with, with a minor humorous touch in his delivery to punctuate certain aspects of the story to get a laugh out of the audience. I liked for about the first ten minutes, but it just keeps coming in the same fashion and the same way. There are a few minor instances of something else that this type of delivery, two I would say. One were he reenacts his speech to the Klu Klux Klan which is powerful, and well handled. Also his scene at the end where he gives a heartfelt speech, which again is well done, and not the same of the rest of the performance.
This is not a film performance, that is the key, it is a performance on the stage directed at the audience in the theater, not at the film audience. Due to the fact it is a stage performance, this has some individualistic moments for an Oscar nominee, it is probably one of the few that has to correct a few lines quickly, and probably the only one that seems to almost hold back laughter a few times during his performance. This is a performance that possibly worked on stage, in fact Whitmore shows promise here, and with a performance attuned to film rather than theater he perhaps could have given a great performance. As it is though this performance has its moments, but overall the nature of the performance just never works for a film.