Red Buttons won his Oscar from his only nomination for portraying Airman Joe Kelly in Sayonara.
On entirely his own merit though Buttons does give a good performance as Joe Kelly. He plays Joe Kelly as a fairly average sort of man who wants to do things his way no matter who objects to them. Buttons has a simple charm, and a lively personality that works well for the role. He makes Kelly a likable man who loves his wife rather than a man who wants to be an upstart for the sake of being an upstart. He instead manages to show that Kelly honestly wants to do what he is doing for the right reasons.
Buttons is good throughout the film and has a sweet simple chemistry with Umeki in there scenes together. Their relationship is not anything amazing but they clearly show a love for one another that appropriately fits within the context of the film. The relationship really is not suppose to be anything overly special but just a normal one between these two people, and Buttons and Umeki manage to do that well.
Buttons is passionate, and moving when he needs to be in the role particularly in a scene where Joe tells Kasumi she loves her just the way she is. The only real problem with this performance is the role itself in the end Joe Kelly does not amount to all that much in the end. What he is though Buttons does make the most out of and avoids being dull and uninteresting like the rest of the film. In fact Buttons made me wish Kelly was the main character of the film, since his performance is the only worthwhile one in the film.