Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1934 and Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1934: Henry Brandon in Babes in Toyland and Boris Karloff in The Lost Patrol

Well this is first for a lead year where there was not at least two performances let alone one that was perceived as obvious snub, or even obviously a great performance. Most of what I hear from this performance is about It Happened One Night, and rightfully so as it is the best film of the year and contains the best actor and actress performance from that year. Well here are some performances at least worth mentioning briefly that I watched in an attempt to find a great performance that was missing from the Oscars line up.

Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel - A surprisingly fun performance from Howard who could also be found in the melodramatic Of Human Bondage. Howard was fine in his usually fairly stuffy mode on the slightly better end but he was not exactly pulling a Pygmalion in that one. Howard is a little different here as the hero Sir Percy Blakeney with a secret identity who pretends to be The Scarlet Pimpernel in an attempt to save those threatened by the reign of terror during the French Revolution. When he is acting as the Pimpernel it is more standard Howard, but he is lively here so he works rather well still. He is rightfully commanding in a sly and sharp fashion to suggest his character's brilliance. The surprising part is how he plays Percy around potential foes which is that of a daffy fool. It is odd to see Howard go so silly and he is pretty enjoyable in these scenes, he is not completely consistent with his portrayal of the mannerisms he comes up with but it is entertaining to see the usually restrained Howard to really play it up a bit. This is not a great performance by Leslie Howard but it is something different from him which is nice to see.
3.5

Clark Gable and William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama - Interestingly the two main contenders for the Best Actor prize in 1934 also competed for also starred together about two childhood friends who find themselves at odds when one goes the way of the criminal and the other the law. Gable is naturally the crook I suppose and the performance is a bit of a combination of his pre-stardom tough guy act with his stardom charming guy act. Gable does the combination act pretty well for the most part although he never is on ay the level of James Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces as Gable does not combine the two sides to perfection. He is good throughout though, and his end scene he handles particularly well where his character Blackie refuses to accept Powell's characters help. In that scene Gable marks the right combination as he gives the sense of Blackie's past, but as well his convictions as a criminal. Powell gets the less interesting role as the straight arrow politician. He does get over on Gable in one way which is Powell does have a superior chemistry with their mutual love interest played by Myrna Loy. Powell plays well off of Gable establishing their history, but most of the time he gets his dead serious morality speeches. Powell gives these enough of a passion but to be honest I like Powell when he's a cynic. Neither reach the heights of their Oscar nominated work, but both are definitely good.
4 - Gable
3.5 - Powell

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in The Black Cat - The Black Cat is not a film I would put up with the best horror films of the period but it is quite a bit of fun. Lugosi actually plays a hero here, although a very troubled one, and it is interesting to see him in such a role. Lugosi honestly brings some poignancy to his part at moments as he portrays a man very much haunted by his past. Unfortunately there are some moments of overacting any time he has to be scared by his cat, and not the good type of Lugosi overacting either. He does get to make up for a bit at the end of the film when he gets an upper hand on the film's villain then he does the enjoyable Lugosi overacting. Karloff gets to be the Satan worshiping architect, is there any other type of architect?, who traps women so he can murder them and put them in glass. Anyway Karloff is a hoot here really playing up the evil to delicious levels wonderfully underplaying every scene but always with such great menace in every single word he speaks.
4 - Karloff
3.5 - Lugosi 

John Barrymore in Twentieth Century - John Barrymore plays Oscar a Broadway director who makes a star out of a former model renamed Lily (Carole Lombard). Barrymore performance is that of either playing it really down quiet intense with a suggested tenderness, or very extreme and loud screaming when barking orders. There are a few instances in the middle where he react to something happening in a broadly comic fashion. Technically all of the insanity is just fine because this is suppose to just be a funny performance as the lead to this screwball comedy. Well Barrymore is good enough here as there are some hilarious moments amidst all of his big moments. He is not always entertaining in every single moment of the film and I think he could have gone a lot further with the part. Overall I would describe his performance as enjoyable though.
3.5 

Victor McLaglen in The Lost Patrol - This time McLaglen actually plays a fairly level headed man opposed to the rather foolish brutes that he portrayed in his Oscar winning and Oscar nominated performances. Here McLaglen plays the Sergeant who tries his best to get his men out of the terrible situation they are in. It is a relatively simple performance in that the Sergeant must stay obviously calm and cool throughout to try to help his men. McLaglen proves him capable of playing a capable man and has the right assured passion in his performance that makes the Sergeant the appropriately calming figure. McLaglen is also effective as the death count piles up by underplaying, in that Sergeant should still remain calm, and instead in subtle fashion at first suggesting how each death does effect the Sergeant although he must still stay in charge. McLaglen remains very effective though even as the Sergeant resolve begins to wain as the likelihood of survival becomes less and less, McLaglen handles the loss of passion and slight loss of sanity in the Sergeant well.
4

Overall Ranking:
  1. Clark Gable in It Happened One Night
  2. William Powell in The Thin Man
  3. Oliver Hardy in Babes in Toyland
  4. Stan Laurel in Babes in Toyland
  5. Victor McLaglen in The Lost Patrol
  6. Clark Gable in Manhattan Melodrama
  7. Boris Karloff in The Black Cat
  8. John Barrymore in Twentieth Century
  9. Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel
  10. Bela Lugosi in The Black Cat
  11. William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama
  12. Leslie Howard in Of Human Bondage
  13. Frank Morgan in The Affairs of Cellini
  14. Fredric March in The Affairs of Cellini
  15. David Manners in The Black Cat
Supporting actually at least had two performances that I felt stuck out.

 Henry Brandon did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Silas Barnaby in Babes in Toyland.

This is the greatest version of Babes in Toyland that I have seen because it throws in Laurel and Hardy for great hilarity.

This is one of the best Laurel and Hardy films as it features some of their best work, but as well has many great elements besides them. One of these elements is Henry Brandon who actually contests for Stan and Ollie for the funniest performance in the film. Brandon plays Silas Barnaby the richest man in Toyland who wants to marry Little Bo Peep even if it means manipulating everyone in the town. Brandon was actually only around 22 years old when the film was made yet he plays the elderly without hitch. He plays the evil old man mannerisms quite brilliantly with his arched back, and the way always raises his head beyond it. He makes it obvious that old Barnaby is the villain, and shows early on that he is going to have as much fun with the part as possible.

Brandon does indeed have a great deal of fun as every line and delivery and every movement he gives a extra evil emphasis to show just how evil Barnaby is. Brandon plays it up to the max, which is exactly how he should be in this film. What is wonderful is that despite being the villain and playing up that fact he also gives a very funny performance in portraying the character. Brandon has this one reaction he always makes to every surprise that Barnaby faces when he is tricked. Brandon mouth is completely agape and his eyes wide open, and it is hilarious every time. His funniest moment in this regard though is when the wooden soldiers comes to stop him at the end of the film and his reaction that time he almost seems to somehow go even wider, I pretty much burst out laughing every time I see it.

What I really like about this performance is that Brandon never settles into just being the bad guy or even being overshadowed by Laurel and Hardy which definitely would be easy enough to do. It is rather interesting that Brandon actually manages to bring some menace into his moments while never stopping with humor though. He particularly combines the menace with the funny well in a scene where Stannie and Ollie accidentally knock off his hat leaving him to lurch toward them. Brandon makes his eyes fierce and determined with the appropriate grimace, yet completely amusing still with well just how intensely he shows that yes Barnaby indeed the mustache twirling villain. Brandon simply never let's the film down in any scene, always bringing an constant energy to the proceedings.

Henry Brandon gives a very enjoyable performance here utilizing each second of his screen time. Whether it is one of his devilish line readings, or one of his moments of great physical comedy, one scene where he takes a broom to the face is a particular highlight, it is just a joy to watch Brandon at work here. The best part is that the part of Barnaby could have been one of the often forgettable villains from the period or just one of those over serious types that are often the villains in the comedies from the periods. Brandon aptly meets all the villainous demands of the part, but he as well goes the extra mile by turning this villainous performance into a completely comedic performance. He goes far enough even to go face to face with Laurel and Hardy in their own film, and he does not falter in their presence.
Boris Karloff did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Sanders in The Lost Patrol. 

The Lost Patrol is an effective film about a group of soldiers lost in the desert.

Well before playing the Satan worshiping architect in The Black Cat he was playing Sanders one of the soldiers in a British regiment who find themselves lost in a desert while be lead by the steadfast Sergeant (Victor McLaglen). Sanders naturally is a very devote man of God. Karloff was a very interesting actor back in the old days as he would give his larger than life lead performances in all those horror films but at the same time he could be found in supporting roles in more "serious" fare. Although many supporting actors from the period just sort of fade into the background usually letting the lead make the only impression if anyone is to make an impression at all. This is not the case with Boris Karloff who makes the strongest impact in the film in his portrayal of Sanders.

The first scene we see Sanders is after one of the men has been killed and has been buried. Before they leave to brave the desert Sanders is quick to remind the Sergeant that nothing has been done for the soul of the man. Sanders reads a few words from scripture and Karloff is fantastic in showing what the words for Sanders. The words to him are most meaningful, although Karloff shows this not to be in the traditional way most religious men would treat the words. Karloff does not express Sanders's faith as something that gives him comfort or any sort of greater pride. Karloff is rather striking instead making it a slightly disconcerting need in Sanders as if he almost suffers from how much his devotion goes into him to the point that the words almost pain him to say.

The religious zealot is an easy enough role to screw up as it can lead to excessive overacting, and often the actors takes entirely the wrong approach. Technically speaking Sanders does many of the usual things such as ridiculing those he deems unfaithful, or becoming more emotionally intense as the situation becomes worse. In the moment of questioning the lack of faith of another Karloff is very powerful because although he does make Sanders overbearing in a certain way so you understand the hatred the other men for him, their is such an honesty in his portrayal. The honesty being in the need that Karloff portrays the strong need to save the others, it is not something he can forget Karloff makes it an intense pull in the man. Karloff establishes it as something that Sanders must do.

As the situation slowly becomes worse Karloff is remarkable in portraying the slowly deteriorating psyche of  Sanders. Karloff makes great use of his very expressive eyes in conveying the growing madness of Karloff. Again Karloff does more than just give us some madness though as he also adds to be always reinforcing the faith of the man within the insanity. There is a strange tenderness that Karloff brings even craziness of his character that really makes every one of his scenes something special. Where in The Criminal Code Karloff stole the picture from beginning to end, despite not even being the lead, as the smartest man in a prison even though he was crook, even though in a far meeker role with greater competition from the rest of the cast Karloff once again steals the film.
Overall Ranking
  1. Henry Brandon in Babes in Toyland 
  2. Boris Karloff in The Lost Patrol
  3. Raymond Massey in The Scarlet Pimpernel
  4. Walter Connolly in It Happened One Night
  5. Felix Knight in Babes in Toyland 
  6. Porter Hall in The Thin Man
  7. Wallace Ford in The Lost Patrol
  8. Louis Calhern in The Affairs of Cellini 
  9. Reginald Denny in The Lost Patrol
  10. Ward Bond in It Happened One Night
Next Year: 1996 lead

14 comments:

Michael Patison said...

What ratings would you give to the rest of the Supporting top 10.

Louis Morgan said...

3.5 for Massey and Connolly, 3 for the rest.

Michael Patison said...

For 1996 Lead:
Liam Neeson in Michael Collins
Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet
Philip Baker Hall in Hard Eight
Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting
Timothy Spall in Secrets & Lies
Denzel Washington in Courage Under Fire
Jeffrey Wright in Basquiat
Mel Gibson in Ransom
Tony Shalhoub in Big Night
Stanley Tucci in Big Night
Jack Nicholson in Blood and Wine
James Spader in Crash
Christopher Eccleston in Jude
Albert Brooks in Mother

Matt Mustin said...

Suggestions for '96 Lead:
Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting
Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet
Liam Neeson in Michael Collins
Chris Cooper in Lone Star
Mel Gibson in Ransom

Anonymous said...

Philip Baker Hall- Hard Eight
Ewan McGregor- Trainspotting
Liam Neeson- Michael Collins
Daniel Day-Lewis- The Crucible

Kevin said...

Liam Neeson - Michael Collins
Daniel Day-Lewis - The Crucible
Ewan McGregor - Trainspotting
Chris Cooper - Lone Star

Anonymous said...

Timothy Spall - Secrets & Lies
Daniel Day-Lewis - The Crucible
Ewan McGregor - Trainspotting
Kenneth Branagh - Hamlet

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Chris Cooper in Lone Star
Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting
Philip Baker Hall in Hard Eight
Liam Neeson in Michael Collins
James Spader in Crash

Michael McCarthy said...

Ewan McGregor-Trainspotting
James Spader-Crash
Jeffrey Wright-Basquiat
Daniel Day-Lewis-The Crucible
Chris Cooper-Lone Star

I'd also welcome a Nicholson review for Blood and Wine even though it haven't seen it.

luke higham said...

Liam Neeson - Michael Collins
Ewan Mcgregor - Trainspotting
Kenneth Branagh - Hamlet
Chris Cooper - Lone Star
Phillip Baker Hall - Hard Eight
Daniel Day Lewis - The Crucible

luke higham said...

Louis: your rating & thoughts on Daniel Day Lewis in The Bounty.

Maciej said...

Daniel Day-Lewis - The Crucible
Chris Cooper - Lone Star
Liam Neeson - Michael Collins
Kenneth Branagh - Hamlet
Ewan McGregor - Trainspotting

Michael McCarthy said...

Honorable mentions:

Christopher Walken in The Funeral
Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy (it's actually quite interesting if you can get into it).

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

4(Day-Lewis indicates his strength as an actor well by making an impact in every single he has through his intense demeanor. He brings the conflict of the ship forward with his performance as he reflects the nature of the situation in his performance.)