Thursday, 25 September 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1983: Darren McGavin in A Christmas Story

Darren McGavin did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Mr. Parker better known as the Old Man in A Christmas Story.

Well where do I begin with a performance like this. Well how about some random trivia that Jack Nicholson was apparently very interested in playing the role of the Old Man. Of course one can't helped but be interested to know exactly how that would have went as the Old Man would have been a very different role for Nicholson. Also knowing that Nicholson began giving some rather indulgent performances in the 80's as well as that director Bob Clark likely would not have been able to restrain him, in addition to how McGavin's performance turned out I think it was an all around good thing that never came to fruition since the studio felt Nicholson would have cost too much. Clark apparently was also glad that did not happen since he felt Darren McGavin was born to play the role, well Clark was absolutely correct with that assessment. McGavin just simply is the Old Man here and there is never a doubt about him being perfectly cast in the role. McGavin though goes a step further than that though by also playing the role perfectly as well.

The role of the Old Man in nature is a pretty flamboyant one since A Christmas Story is a comedy that is fairly broad in a certain way. It never goes fully absurdest though and carefully keeps a certain grounding in reality which makes it the memorable film it is. McGavin has a difficult role in the Old Man who is perhaps the most insane of the characters, and it is not hard to see how the part may have been played. Well McGavin is able to find just the right tone for his performance to make the eccentricities of the Old Man sing fairly loudly well never making him just seem to be too much of a cartoon. The way he strikes up the balance is really the genius of his performance but let's just look at the most obvious thing to talk about which is the more comedic side of McGavin's performance. Well again where does one begin with a comedic performance like this other than to begin at the beginning of it as the Old Man is trying to solve some sort puzzle for a contest. McGavin's whole style he takes is just so natural yet so unique at the same time.

McGavin has this slightly jumbled way of speaking as he goes along in his sentences while slowing down at certain points as well as accentuating others. Possibly weird sounding merely in distribution but McGavin handled it so well, and it only adds to making the Old Man a very particular type of Old Man fitting in his own way with the world the film creates. Now McGavin whole delivery in this film is pure brilliance throughout every situation as he carries quite the amusing style to it while still bringing that sort of a fatherly menace one would expect from the Old Man when it's needed. Of course I need to stop praising the balance though because his delivery is also simply really funny. There is of course his most extreme moments where the Old Man is either yelling at his neighbors dogs or his furnace to work properly where McGavin goes off delivery a slightly legible, surely nonsensical, but altogether glorious tirades of curses of the oddest sorts. McGavin though knows exactly how to approach every scene it seems in order to derive the greatest comic effect whenever it is necessary.

I could almost described every scene McGavin is and the way he goes about portraying the Old Man's reactions to the events of the film. Every one is that good, and McGavin seems absolutely driven to be as ridiculously entertaining as possible. One example is when the Old Man learns he has won major reward. It turns out to be a rather gaudy Leg lamp, but that does not dissuade the Old Man, making sure the whole neighborhood knows of his major reward. McGavin shows such an incredible pride in his eyes and great spirit as if the Old Man had discovered something amazing, or invented something worthwhile. McGavin's makes the pride in the Old Man absolutely fervent and by doing so is absurdly funny. Now McGavin is equally funny when his lamp is destroyed due to his wife hating the lamp. When the discovery is first had McGavin is striking in how intense he is in portraying the Old Man's pent up rage and his glare at his wife for her apparent jealousy, according to him anyway. Perhaps even more perfect, although impossible, is when he discovers his lamp is impossible to repair, and McGavin plays the Old Man's reaction as such a somber acceptance of loss.

McGavin is outstanding because he goes just enough overboard to make a moments incredibly funny yet always keeps it in just the right sort of bounds that it never becomes too much or somehow repetitive. I could go on and on in describing every one of his scenes because that's how good he is here in making the most of it. Of course McGavin does not have to even be the focus of a scene to make an impact though. It could just be one reaction that he makes to be quite memorable. One of my favorites being his face of pure disbelief when he hears his son Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) say the fdashdashdash word, or perhaps his face of pure disgust when he watches his younger son disgustingly plant his face into his food. McGavin's portrayal makes one comedic gem after another through the character of the Old Man. It's exceptional work that particularly thrives in the vignette nature of the film. Of course, I must say once again, A Christmas Story is not just simply some random scenes thrown together. There is the driving force of Ralphie wanting to get the Red Ryder BB gun.

If this was merely about being funny McGavin would already give a great performance, but McGavin manages to go the extra distance with his performance as seen in the scene where Ralphie finally gets his prized gift. It is in this scene where McGavin subtle grounding of the character comes very much in to play as he very much earns this moment in his performance. Despite Mrs. Parkers obvious problems with it the Old Man still decided to get Ralphie his present surprising him after it appears as though he had failed in his mission. McGavin is terrific in this scene by portraying such earnestness and genuine love in his eyes as he watches his son's dream come true. It's a beautifully heartwarming scene and McGavin is wonderful by making it seem completely fitting to the rest of his performance. I really can't praise this performance enough because Darrin McGavin is the Old Man here, and really I left off some moments some of the best moments of his performance. The problem is I would have to describe every second of his performance as this is flawless work.


Michael McCarthy said...

Aaaaaand we have our winner.

He truly deserves it though, what I love about this performance is that he plays the Old Man as a little bit of a caricature, which is perfect seeing as the story is told as a memory from Ralphie's childhood.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

My 8th favorite performance of all time.

Mark said...

Does this make your Top 10 supporting actor performances of all time list Louis?

Kevin said...

Robert, what are your top ten actor and supporting actor performances?

luke higham said...

1. McGavin
2. Harris
3. Rourke
4. Lancaster
5. Ameche

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...



1. Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (he's lead, dammit)
2. Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird
3. Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity
4. Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers
5. James Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life
6. Ray Winstone in The Proposition
7. Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II
8. Jeff Bridges in The Fabulous Baker Boys
9. Toshiro Mifune in High and Low
10. Daniel Day-Lewis in In the Name of the Father


1. Martin Landau in Ed Wood
2. Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity
3. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
4. Darren McGavin in A Christmas Story
5. Dennis Hooper in Blue Velvet
6. Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life
7. David Carradine in Kill Bill Vol. 2
8. Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds
9. Robert Shaw in Jaws
10. John Cazale in the Godfather Part II

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

I'm glad someone else loves Peck, I do to although to a lesser extent I guess. What's everyone else's top 10 lead/supporting?

1. James Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life
2. Adrien Brody in The Pianist
3. Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon
4. Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot
5. Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands
6. Sidney Poitier+Rod Steiger in In The Heat of the Night
7. Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird
8. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
9. John Hurt in The Elephant Man
10. William Holden in Stalag 17

1. John Cazale in The Godfather Part II
2. Gary Oldman in Leon the Professional
3. Edward Norton in Primal Fear
4. Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia
5. Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet
6. Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds
7. Martin Landau in Ed Wood
8. Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future
9. Henry Travers in Its a Wonderful Life
10. Robert Duvall in To Kill a Mockingbird

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

@Robert: your top 10 female leads/supporting

Also I am watching Bridge om the River Kwai for the first time tonight so my rankings may well be completely overturned by tomorrow lol

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...


1. Faye Dunaway in Chinatown
2. Holly Hunter in The Piano
3. Kathy Bates in Misery
4. Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl (yes, really)
5. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard
6. Helena Bonham Carter in The Wings of the Dove
7. Meryl Streep in Doubt
8. Carey Mulligan in An Education
9. Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People
10. Jane Fonda in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?


1. Jane Darwell in The Grapes of Wrath
2. Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously
3. Marion Cotillard in Inception
4. Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet
5. Melinda Dillon in A Christmas Story
6. Mo'Nique in Precious
7. Viola Davis in Doubt
8. Lillian Gish in The Night of the Hunter
9. Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate
10. Katherine Ross in The Graduate

Psifonian said...


luke higham said...

Louis: Your rating & thoughts on Gene Hackman in Uncommon Valor, Under Fire & Klaus Maria Brandauer in Never Say Never Again.

Anonymous said...

Louis, what are your ratings and thoughts on Julianne Moore in Magnolia?

Anonymous said...

I can't really make Top 10s as I haven't seen some of the most praised performances yet, but my favorite performances in each category right now would be:
Lead Actor:
Jack Lemmon - Days of Wine and Roses
Lead Actress:
Vivien Leigh - A Streetcar Named Desire
Best Supporting Actor:
Dana Andrews - The Ox-Bow Incident
Best Supporting Actress:
Sandy Dennis - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Michael Patison said...

Let me remind y'all, these are my favorites, not necessarily what I think are the best (though I obviously don't think any of these are anything less than great).
1. F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus
2. Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot
3. Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote
4. Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon
5. James Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life
6. James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
7. Paul Newman in Hud
8. Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird
9. Peter Finch in Network
10. Albert Brooks in Broadcast News
Honorable Mentions: Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront; Timothy Hutton in Ordinary People; Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood; Brendan Gleeson in In Bruges

1. George Sanders in All About Eve
2. Philippe Noiret in Cinema Paradiso
3. John Cazale in The Godfather Part II
4. Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs
5. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
6. Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity
7. Karl Malden in On the Waterfront
8. Steve Buscemi in Fargo
9. Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects
10. Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia

1. Bette Davis in All About Eve
2. Faye Dunaway in Network
3. Frances McDormand in Fargo
4. Emma Thompson in Howards End
5. Holly Hunter in Broadcast News
6. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate
7. Simone Signoret in Room at the Top
8. Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People
9. Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth
10. Carey Mulligan in An Education

1. Patricia Neal in Hud
2. Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront
3. Lee Remick in Anatomy of a Murder
4. Janet Leigh in Psycho
5. Isabella Rosellini in Blue Velvet
6. Angela Lansbury in Death on the Nile
7. Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas
8. Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility
9. Olivia de Havilland in Gone with the Wind
10. Beatrice Straight in Network

There are many things I haven't seen (Landau in Ed Wood being just one of them), so if it's super duper iconic and not here, it's probably because I haven't seen it yet.

Anonymous said...

@Michael: a lot of performances you've pointed out are absolutely great (the only one I'm not crazy about is Janet Leigh but I think I'm the only one who doesn't love her). Surprised by the absence of Vivien Leigh's two winning performances, though, otherwise great lists.

Michael McCarthy said...


1. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
2. Colin Farrell in In Bruges
3. Brendan Gleeson in In Bruges
4. Toshiro Mifune in Rashomon
5. Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy
6. Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront
7. Richard Attenborough in 10 Rillington Place
8. Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers
9. Gene Hackman in The Conversation
10. Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot


1. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
2. Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs
3. John Cazale in The Godfather Part II
4. Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List
5. Martin Landau in Ed Wood
6. Ralph Fiennes in In Bruges
7. Van Heflin in Johnny Eager
8. Robert Shaw in Jaws
9. Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master
10. George Sanders in All About Eve

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

I recall you giving Rupert Grint and Emma Watskn 3s for their performances in DHPart 1 as opposed to the usual 2.5, any particular thoughts on why?

Michael McCarthy said...

Also, am I the only one who thinks Jean Shepard sounds a LOT like Adam West? I thought West narrated that fil for years...

Michael Patison said...

@Anonymous: I don't have either of Vivien Leigh's listed for two different reasons. 1) I actually haven't seen A Streetcar Named Desire yet, and 2) while I think her work in Gone with the Wind is probably the best I've ever seen, it's not one of my favorites (it's top 20 if I were to list that far, which I won't).

Louis Morgan said...

Mark: Ask me again in the results.


Hackman - Uncommon Valor - 4(Despite the film's serious subject matter it tackles it in a somewhat silly way particularly since Reb Brown is part of his crew of soldiers. Nevertheless Hackman gives a very convicted performance throughout and you believe his character's passion even when the film often forgets about it. His breakdown at the end of the film is particularly powerful)

Under Fire - 4(It's a limited role but one that Hackman handles well as usual of course. For most the film he's just other guy who's perhaps a bit dopey and not understanding, unlike Nick Nolte's "cool" photojournalist. Hackman though brings a needed personality and makes us see somewhat honest need in his character's desire just to settle down. It would have been easy to make his character nothing but a plot point but Hackman managed to derive something out if it. My favorite supporting performance in the film though was actually Ed Harris for a particularly acerbic turn as a cynical mercenary)

Brandauer - 4(Brandauer plays a Bond villain with the appropriate gusto as he manages to be quite entertaining while having enough of a menace. He's also quite good in portraying Largo as being genuinely heartbroken when Bond steals his girl. I do feel the film let's him down somewhat particularly in his lame demise)


Moore - 2(I find her performance to be the weakest aspect of the film although admittedly I also found writing wise it was the weakest as well. Moore is way overwrought here as she over accentuates everything she does. Her character technically should be intense but Moore's work always feels particularly obvious ACTING in the worst sort of way)


Although I obviously still did not love their performances, I thought that film challenged them a little more and I found the did an adequate job of matching that.