Bob Gunton did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Warden Samuel Norton in The Shawshank Redemption.
The first time we meet the warden he welcomes the prisoners might actually be one of Gunton's most disturbing scenes. He opens up the scene as one would expect a warden from the period. Gunton is dignified and dominant with a certain amount of piety. He is the strict and firm administrator, but we see more to him when after he asks if the men have any questions. One man does ask a question causing just the slightest of indication in Norton that makes Captain Hadley violently discipline the man. Norton doesn't change his expression and in that Gunton shows the true evil of the man in this unchanging expression. The expression shows that such cruelty is something maintained as a commonplace institution by Warden Norton.
In the first hour of the film there is not a great deal of Gunton, but from what we do see of him he is very effective in his creation of Norton as a character. What is important about his performance is avoiding stereotype as the man who claims to believe in the teachings of Jesus yet seems to follow none of them is ripe for cliche. Gunton never gives a cliched characterization to Norton, and one of the ways he does this is that he never lays on the piety of Norton too thickly. Gunton instead lets the hypocrisy speak for itself really and never hammers the idea in. Gunton by playing it this way is able to be far more convincing in his character. He is able to make this piousness in Norton something very realistic, and as something that Norton uses almost to hide the true nature of the man.
Gunton does just hammer on just the evil nature of his character, but instead does well to mediate the character in other scenes. There are the moments where he is just handling the day to day operations and reacts appropriately as a man doing his job his way such as in the scenes of his at first reluctance and later frustrations over some of Andy Dufresne's (Tim Robbins) methods to try to bring humanity back to the prison. Gunton also is incredibly good in his scenes of bring the good Warden to the public even though he is only using the public to make himself rich through bribes which are hidden through Andy's abilities from being a former banker. Gunton smile as he is doing this is just perfect in showing the good public servant hiding the truly devious criminal beneath it.
Gunton's variety he brings to Norton allows the moments when the vile monster to finally come out to be especially effective. His best scene in the film is after Andy has been disobeying him and he comes personally to tell Andy what will happen if he continues on this path. Gunton is rather terrifying as he tells Andy his threat with that soft gentle southern accent. It is a brilliantly handled scene because although Gunton keeps the Warden's fairly restrained style in tact the sheer viciousness and hatred in the Warden as he vows to destroy everything that Andy has worked for is chilling. Gunton's delivery of the threat makes one of the best scenes of the film as he presents us with the absolute worst in selfish and uncaring Warden.
Where James Whitmore's performance expresses the sad truth to what happens to man full engulfed in the institution of Shawshank, Gunton's performance expresses the worst that a man can do through the power given to him through the institution. He does this incredibly well never letting the warden just being a one note antagonist as he very easily could have been, and he realistically represents the dehumanizing element in the story. Gunton's portrayal of the Warden here is a terrific example of being the man you absolutely hate in the film. The degree in which Gunton makes you hate Norton serves the film wonderfully as it makes both Andy's fate as well as the Warden's fate an extremely satisfying ending to this great film.