Burgess Meredith received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Harry Greener in The Day of the Locust.
Burgess Meredith portrays one of the strange characters a former vaudevillian Harry Greener who is the father of wannabee starlet Faye (Karen Black). Harry no longer has work on the vaudeville scene and instead is a door to door salesman. This sort of film has many character's given little time, and they also sometimes make very little impact. Meredith though even with his short amount of screen time does make quite an impact on the film particularly in his first scene when he tries to move his product to people by doing a bizarre version of his former vaudeville act.
Meredith is superb in this scene having all the energy and joy just like in a genuine vaudeville act, but it comes off as almost grotesque though do to the way it is being used. Meredith though is excellent because he has that spirit of the stage like Harry is performing in front of an entire audience even though he is only performing in front of one for a likely shoddy and overpriced product. Meredith makes an outstanding but bizarre dynamic in this scene clearly showing a very downtrodden man, but still that gleam of hope in his eyes.
Meredith has a fascinating method of portraying his character through out his whole small little section. He shows a heartbreaking portrait of a physically haggard man, which Meredith portrays flawlessly, but as well always shows this as an upbeat portrait. Really this could have just been one depressing character given his sickness in the film, and the sad state of the once great vaudevillian reduced in the way he is, but Meredith never portrays the character as such. There is always a certain joy and charm in his performance to show that even at rock bottom Harry always can still keep a smile on his face.
Meredith certainly has some strange scenes where Harry is coughing, and wrenching, but even in these moments Meredith still shows Harry is playing for a laugh. It is most certainly strange that Harry is always trying to be entertaining even when he is dying, but Meredith throws himself entirely into the role, and actually manages to make the character believable. It is a fascinating portrayal, and even though many of the character's just seem to be odd for odds sake, Meredith actually manages to breath actual life into his role, and makes Harry Greener a person first.
Meredith only has a few scenes but he never wastes one of them, he is particularly good in his later scenes where he tells about the good old days of his life, as well as about his unfaithful wife. Again Meredith miraculously never is overbearing in this moment, he shows a man with regrets in his life certainly, but also a great degree of happiness in these memories as well. Meredith in this scene brilliantly conveys the golden age of this man, as well as his particular history, and his own rather peculiar outlook in his life, particularly when speaking of his wife.
Harry certainly is not proud his wife, most certainly has little regard for her, but still he loves her despite all of it. Meredith is wonderful because of this undying positive quality always is made absolutely genuine in his performance, it never feels false which is incredible. He never makes Harry just seem stupid either, in his reflections he shows Harry certainly had pains, but Meredith just shows that his enthusiasm for life has always overpowered these feelings. This is a great performance by Burgess Meredith creating a unique heartbreaking as well almost inspiring portrait of a dying vaudevillian. I would say I only wished he had been in the film more, but Meredith in his few scenes makes his own distinct and memorable mark on his film.