Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1950: Richard Attenborough in Morning Departure

Richard Attenborough did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Stoker Snipe in Morning Departure.

Morning Departure is an fairly effective film about a group of British men stuck on a submarine after a sea mine has exploded.

Richard Attenborough has always been underrated as an actor, and that is not because he is an actor who also directs either although the academy for whatever reason only ever recognized him in that field. I imagine his underrated status mostly comes from the fact that a large part of his career, particularly early in his career, he starred mainly in very British productions. This film is no exception which is a shame considering there is some strong acting to be found in this almost completely forgotten film. Attenborough plays one of the men stuck on the submarine who we briefly meet before the accident involving the sea mine. Attenborough sets his character up perfectly showing Snipe to be a man quietly at unease with the idea of boarding a submarine as well as his wife's rather questionable behavior.

The young Attenborough, as he also showed in Brighton Rock, has such an intensity in his big youthful eyes. He uses this particularly well to amplify the freighting nature of the men's situation as Attenborough shows Snipe as a man who is deeply afraid in the disabled submarine. Snipe's early actions in the film are that of a cowardly man who suffers from claustrophobia, and it is revealed that he only took the position on the submarine for the extra pay it offered. Attenborough is excellent because he doesn't play Snipe as a villain as he explores the weaknesses of the man even though he makes these flaws quite vivid. Attenborough portrayal of the fear is quite powerful as we see it drive him to foolish and selfish actions. Attenborough is always honest in making the fear of a normal man not some sort of monster.

Instead of making Snipe some sort of enemy to the crew when he eventually breaks down and attempts to make some sort of foolish escape Attenborough is able to actually be rather sympathetic in his portrayal of the selfish Snipe. Attenborough always brings an authenticity to this and Snipe's breakdown is rather remarkable because Attenborough while being appropriately intense in the temporary insanity in Snipe he at the same time allows us to see the very human emotions driving Snipe in his actions. Attenborough is able to show us where this man is coming from and even though we probably won't agree with Snipe's actions he does allow us to understand why he is tries his escape. This understanding though is particularly important though as Snipe changes as the film proceeds to a selfless man who stays on the submarine and tries his best to help the other three men still on board.

Attenborough makes this transition completely natural despite just how quick it is by setting up Snipe's actions earlier as those of a man in a truly terrible situation. Attenborough doesn't force it in the least being quite moving performance as he reveals a caring Snipe underneath his fear. Attenborough doesn't just brush off the fear though keeping internalized in his performance for the rest of the film as he should, but Attenborough shows that Snipe is able to remove his minds to the needs of the rest of the crew instead. Attenborough keeps Snipe the same making his change in the film believable when it very easily could have been a severe failing of the film considering that Snipe's discovery of his sense of duty is such a rapid one. Attenborough serves this film especially well bringing a needed friction earlier to the film as the troubled Snipe as well as giving a heartfelt portrayal when Snipe finds his courage.


RatedRStar said...

damn I think my predictions have failed again lol.

Psifonian said...


It is a woefully underseen performance from a man who never quite got his dues as an actor. Attenborough has this gift, this way of owning a film entirely just by virtue of his presence. He could steal a film with one scene (as he does here and in "Doctor Dolittle," where he's my Best Supporting Actor win), and when he's in the lead (like in "Brighton Rock" and "10 Rillington Place") you could hardly ask for a more magnetic focus.

So glad you liked his work here.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I had trouble ranking everyone other than the two from Rashomon, so I just put the last three in a random order.

houndtang said...

his 90th birthday tomorrow!