Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1963: Donald Pleasence in The Great Escape

Donald Pleasence did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe RAF "The Forger" in The Great Escape.

The Great Escape as a large ensemble with so many characters getting their own little spotlights throughout. Most of the cast is quite solid even if the accents used by Charles Bronson and especially James Coburn are a little questionable. The most poignant personal story belongs to Pleasence who plays Colin Blythe who is rather different than every other man int he camp in that he is much more of the bookish type who worked a desk job and only happened to be in the camp because he went for a joy ride in a plane that happened to be shot down. He does serve a very important part in terms of the escape as he is the one who makes the fake documents to help all the escapees.

Donald Pleasence takes great care in his creation of Blythe as a rather sensitive tea drinking fellow who has found himself in the wrong place. Pleasence is very good because he avoids any parody in his portrayal of his manner. Characters like this quite often are used for comic purpose. He gives instead an earnest depiction of this man who would rather be watching birds, and comes off as always rather sweet in his depiction of Blythe that as well suggests the man's past. He doesn't overplay this sweetness either making it a natural part of his character. He also though does show the usefulness of Blythe within the camp portraying a certain cunning that always exists in the same man who wishes he could have milk with his tea. Pleasence, along with pretty much the entire cast, creates a nice sense of camaraderie in his performance. There is always the sense that there is no selfishness in his work and there is a certain devotion in Pleasence performance that suggests properly that Blythe honestly wishes to help all the men escape.

The main conflict of his story though comes in that Blythe is losing his eyesight and it seems he will be unable to attempt escape. Pleasence is very good in these scenes not only in his portrayal of the physical nature of his poor eyesight which he portrays as Blythe always attempting to focus though he can't, but as well the quiet disappointment in Blythe that he portrays so unassumingly that he makes it all the sadder. Blythe is allowed to go because a fellow pow Hendley (James Garner) volunteers to take him along. Pleasence and Garner are an unlikely pair to be sure but they actually have a certain chemistry that really works well in their scenes together. They create a great deal of sympathy for their plight and makes their story possibly the most powerful. Although they are very low key in their portrayal of it their little friendship ends being quite moving particularly their last scene together. Pleasence exit is short but appropriately heartbreaking in that he still portrays Blythe as his pleasant optimistic self even as he faces death. Blythe's story could have easily been a throwaway one but Pleasence gives such an emotionally genuine performance that he makes Blythe one of the best parts of the film.

5 comments:

Michael Patison said...

What'd you think of Garner. From the little you mentioned of him it seems like you though much better of him here than his nominated work in Murphy's Romance.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Not really on topic, but can you please do 1987 as the next 80's year? I really want to hear your opinion of Hopper in River's Edger. Plus it's a DAMN crowded year for leading men.

Michael Patison said...

I completely agree that should be one of the next years from that decade you should review, but Lezlie (I think that's who it was) and I requested 1980 a while back with Leslie Nielsen in Airplane! and Bryan Brown in Breaker Morant. I've been waiting for it for awhile.

That being said, I agree that 1987 is an utterly fantastic year and should be reviewed as the 80s year right after 1980. I mean the list of deservings is so long. In fact, I also know I requested 1981 for either of the leading men from Gallipoli, but if I requested that before Koook asked for 1987, let him leapfrog me. I mean the performances are great:
John Lone in The Last Emperor
Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck
Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona
Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles
John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Klaus Kinski in Cobra Verde
Gaspard Manesse in Au revoir, les enfants
Sebastian Rice-Edwards in Hope and Glory

That's not to mention that you need to rewrite William Hurt's review and that Albert Brooks really is also a lead and not supporting, and I'm sure there are some I forgot to mention. (I chose not to list Michael Douglas as I feel he is an actor with a very limited range, Falling Down probably being the high watermark of his career.) I know I forgetting people but those are some great and underrated ones just by themselves.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Well, I'd recommend Candy for Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for sure.

Louis Morgan said...

Michael: I really liked Garner here.

Michael, Koook: I did plan to do a year from the 80's. I will go with whatever year from the decade was requested first.