Lionel Barrymore did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying James Temple in Key Largo.
Lionel Barrymore is probably best known for his portrayal of the town miser Mr. Potter in It's A Wonderful Life, but throughout his career he played both warm and cold characters. In Key Largo as the handicapped hotel owner he stands as the moral good of the film. He is the man who only wishes to do right and wants to see the evil men punished. At first we me just meet him as he greets his late son's old army superior Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart). In these relatively brief scenes Barrymore establishes James as a man with a warm heart as he expresses the appropriate sadness over his son's death but as well a honest sense of the love he had for his son as he hears the stories from Frank.
The good times do not last and all the people are left to be terrorized by the gangster and his crew of thugs. Barrymore serves two roles and serves them very well in these scenes. Even though he mostly has only quick reactionary moments he makes an impact with each. On one side he brings the weight of the situation to life through showing that James takes every evil that the gangsters commit to heart, and it is only made worse when he is blamed for some of the gangsters actions. His somber expression for these scenes and he shows that the accusations and the evil caused hurts James on a personal level.
Barrymore is given that of the moral high ground as James Temple and he uses it quite well. As seen in It's A Wonderful Life as well Barrymore is very adept at confrontational moments. He terrific here giving the snide but earnest remarks throughout their situation that basically tells the gangsters just how low they are. Barrymore gives each line a strong punch and he makes that despite being confined to his wheel chair he is able to a more harm to the gangsters than some of the able bodied men they face against. Also an actor being brave is a word too often used but one does have to give some respect to Barrymore for the one scene he stands which made especially powerful knowing Barrymore was actually confined to his wheel chair.
Barrymore's performance is not the most complex of the male supporting performances in this film, I will be getting to that performance very soon, but he still makes his mark on the film. Honestly James Temple could have been a very big throwaway part of just the old man who is a doormat for the gangsters and nothing else. I could easily have seen some of the character actors from the period giving such a performance. Barrymore though makes the most of what he is given and succeeds in being the moral outrage of the film. He is both the face of the real agony caused by the gangsters as well as the voice of reason against the gangster's selfishness and cruelty.