Sunday, 15 September 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1966: Richard Attenborough and Richard Crenna in The Sand Pebbles

Richard Attenborough did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning the Golden Globe, for portraying Frenchy Burgoyne in The Sand Pebbles.

Richard Attenborough evidently could not catch a break with academy when it came to his acting as even though he won the Golden Globe for his performance and his co-star Mako did manage to be nominated. Richard Attenborough plays one of the ship mates on the warship the San Pablo that resides in the back waters of China. Frenchy is one of the few decent men on the ship and one of the few who befriends the lead character Holman plated by Steve McQueen. Attenborough puts on a bit of an accent in the role to make his character American it starts strong and then quickly softens close to his normal accent it never is a distraction though.

Attenborough plays a bit of an opposite of his character in Morning Departure as in that film he played one of the worst men on a sea vessel and in this film he plays one of the best men. Attenborough has a fairly large supporting performance but it is very quiet part in the scheme of things particularly since French lets Holman make most of the big actions during the course of the film. The subplot of Frenchy as a character is that he becomes smitten with a Chinese woman who is basically up for sale and he wants to save her from having to be prostituted to anyone especially not one of the sleazy crewmen of the San Pablo. Even when Frenchy takes his course to save her it still is a low key affair for French.

Richard Attenborough was the perfect choice for the part as Attenborough is the master of a magnetic yet still low key presence. This is great for Frenchy as much of Frenchy's personal conflict in the film is conveyed by reaction shots of Attenborough from him seeing her to the proceedings scenes of he unease at her potential fate to his determination to save her. Attenborough never makes this feel like a limitation as he Attenborugh conveys exactly as he needs to in every instance. There is nothing loss and even though it is mostly silent in nature Attenborough let's us see exactly what Frenchy is going through. Every little frame you catch Attenborugh presents Frenchy's personal story with quite a strong power and poignancy.

Later on the film there are some longer moments where we see Frenchy as he marries the woman and tries to see her even though the men have been banned from the town. Attenborough is very moving in these scenes bringing out the sense of love in Frenchy quite effectively in their wedding scene and even more so when he visits her later by swimming through the cold sea. Attenborough is terrific showing the physical ailment of French effectively as he is dying from hypothermia and importantly in the final moments of Frenchy, Attenborough still reinforces the emotional power of the scene through the genuine tenderness in his performance. Attenborough is excellent in the role. I only wish his character's story was not cut off as abruptly as it is as I found Frenchy's romance far more affecting then Holman's romance.
Richard Crenna did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Lieutenant Collins in The Sand Pebbles.

Richard Crenna plays a rather thankless role as the captain of San Pablo Collins. For most of the film he fulfills just the role of the good captain who is trying to things together on his ship while he has everyone do their duty. Crenna is very good because he doesn't make the captain a foolish commander as they are often portrayed in films like this and I could have easily this character portrayed that way as well. Crenna though avoids this by infusing the right honesty in the part. Whenever the captain has to take care of something very serious going on and he is forced to make a decision, the struggle to do the right thing is there in captain due to Crenna's performance.

Like Attenborough's performance a great deal of Crenna's best moments are silent although the difference here is that Crenna gets far fewer scenes to go on. There are two very strong scenes one is when the captain is forced to scare away angry locals as his men are ready to mutiny and refuse to follow orders. Crenna's has a great moment of split second intensity as he portrays the captain trying to stay strong even with so many problems around him. The other scene is even shorter as he is alone in his cabin with the ship seemingly having nowhere to go. The captain is interrupted and he holsters a gun. We see his face for a second and that is all Crenna needs to show the despondent man Collins has become suggesting that this situation is something he thought he would never have to deal with.

The only problem I would say for Crenna is the film seems to want a simpler character then the character Crenna wants to create. Late in the film the captain is treated as if he is insane and just a man who wants war for the sake of it. Crenna really does not give such a man in his performance instead bringing much more depth to the part by showing the weight of his position in his performance. Crenna never leaves the captain as a thick headed commander, but finds what there is beneath a man of his position. Again with Attenborough, although I would say to an even greater degree as Crenna really gets the short end of the stick most of the time, Crenna actually suggests that there could have been a more interesting story for captain Collins if the film had given him greater focus.

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