Thursday, 20 November 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1946: Henry Travers in It's A Wonderful Life

Henry Travers did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Clarence Odbody, angel second class, in It's A Wonderful Life.

Henry Travers first speaks rather early in the film as he is called upon by God and Joseph to be the one to go down to Earth to help George Bailey (James Stewart) before he takes his life. Before Clarence can go help him though he is first given George's back story which is about the first two thirds of the film. During this time Clarence makes the occasional comment, and you could not ask a better voice for an angel. There is such a genuine warmth and goodness to Travers voice that is hard to imagine anything but kindness coming from him, making his casting as a mean old man in The Bells of Saint Mary's all the more ridiculous I mention this mostly because it's the movie on the marquee in Bedford Falls. Anyway, although we get the very short comments Travers does not appear in the flesh until very late in the film when it takes its last act turn, and Travers's appearance is what indicates this turn in the film.

George is about to commit suicide, due to a lost large sum of money, by jumping off a bridge. In this darkest of moments for the film we suddenly and unexpectedly get a bright beam of light in the face of Henry Travers as Clarence when he makes his first onscreen appearance. Travers could not have a more kindly smile instantly offering some hope to the situation of a possible suicide, which alleviated all the more when Clarence jumps in himself forcing George's good nature to kick causing him to jump in as well to save Clarence. What follows is one of my favorite scenes in the film, although I'll admit I have a lot of favorite scenes in this film, as George and Clarence dry off giving Clarence a chance to introduce himself as his guardian angel.Travers is pitch perfect in the role and he makes his first substantial scene wonderful to watch. Travers establishes such a sweetness in his performance, which never feels too much or forced, but rather is truly angelic.

Travers also manages to bring a certain kookiness to the role that he also so carefully portrays as it could easily become cloying but Travers is only ever endearing in his portrayal of it. Travers has a very sly comic timing and manner in his performance. He never distracts too much away from the importance of the emotions concerning George's story and brings these humorous moments flawlessly into these scenes. Travers is actually quite unassumingly hilarious as Clarence as he makes the character's naivety and somewhat absentmindedness both funny yet just so very charming at the same time. This is one of those performances where you could almost take any line delivery from Travers and find something special in it. Two moments perhaps are my favorite, on the comic side of things, the first being his oh so friendly goodbye of "Cheerio my good man" after scaring a man away in disbelief after giving out what AS2 stands for, and my second is his rather futile attempt to name a drink for himself at a bar.

Travers's work is not just merely funny and sweet even if it is both those things as well because Clarence is sent there with a mission which is to convince George that his life is worthwhile. Travers excels in this regard as well as he carries himself with this otherworldly wisdom that he manages to make a natural part of the daffy angel. Travers is outstanding in the moments where he shows Clarence to merely quietly prod George with the information. There is something so powerful about the way Travers delivers his lines in these scenes as he speaks the blunt truth with such a severity but always with a warmth. Travers brings such a poignancy in every lines he speaks particularly "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?". Travers is excellent as he portrays Clarence as having such an inspiring soulfulness about him that George would have to take notice of Clarence's message.

It is interesting in that the exact final moment of Clarence's exit of the film is not particularly climatic, but it strangely ends up not mattering. Travers makes such a grand impression in the screen time he does have that it doesn't feel like Clarence is shortchanged by the end of the film. The reason being that it feels though Clarence's presence is still with George to the very last frame of the film. Travers accomplishes this by just how good he is in the role. This is an incredibly entertaining performance by Travers to say the least as he's consistently funny and makes Clarence so likable as well. It is more than just a likable characterization by Travers though as he makes Clarence serve an even greater purpose. George going from the worst to finding the will to live is of course beautifully brought to life by Stewart's amazing performance, but Travers also contributes greatly to making the transformation as powerful as it is through his realization of Clarence as a entity of pure goodness.


Anonymous said...

Great review! I thought he was great although I personally liked him less - I think I'd give him either a 4 or a 4.5 but he was certainly great. Would you give Reed still a 4.5 or did you upgrade her score on a rewatch? And, also, what are your top 5 for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for 1946?

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

One of my favourite scenes is the one where the Bridge Caretaker asks Clarence where he's from--his face at the word 'heaven' is just priceless, I love this film so much, my favourite film of all time :D

Anonymous said...

Oh, anyway, I totally agree with you he was completely miscast in The Bells of St. Mary's! The movie also was rather poor, the only thing I liked was Ingrid Bergman's poignant performance, she was incredibly charming for most of the movie and then in the last 15 minutes she was absolutely outstanding.

Anonymous said...

Thoughts/ratings on:
Raymond Massey in Arsenic and Old Lace
Joseph Cotten in Gaslight
Cyril Raymond and Stanley Holloway in Brief Encounter
Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry Wrong Number
Burt Lancaster in The Train
Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins
Gary Oldman in True Romance
James Donald and Charles Bronson in The Great Escape

Anonymous said...

Burt Lancaster in Come Back Little Sheba

luke higham said...

Just saw Mockingjay Pt 1, thought it was fine but not near the quality of the previous films.

Lawrence - 4 (a few moments of overacting could put her down to a 3.5 on rewatch).
Hoffman - 3.5
Moore - 3.5
Harrelson - 3
Hutcherson - 3
Sutherland - 3
Hemsworth - 2.5
Dormer - 2.5
Claflin - 2.5

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Here's my ratings for Mockingjay:

Lawrence: 3.5
Hoffman: 3
Moore: 3
Harrelson: 3
Hutcherson: 2.5
Sutherland: 3
Hemsworth: 2
Dormer: 3
Claflin: 3

luke higham said...

Actually, on recollection I'll upgrade both Claflin & Dormer to a 3 and downgrade Hemsworth further to a 2.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Oh that's out. I have to admit, I didn't really get into the first two Hunger Games, so I'm not sure if this would change my mind.

luke higham said...

Koook160: Most likely won't, since it's the most exposition laden entry so far. It didn't bother me much personally, as I tend to have more patience than most of the general public when watching films.

Matt Mustin said...

I'd just like to say that Mockingjay is by far my least favourite of the books, but I'm still looking forward to the movie(s)

Louis Morgan said...



Ingrid Bergman - Notorious
Lana Turner - The Postman Always Rings Twice
Josette Day - Beauty and the Beast
Jane Wyman - The Yearling
Olivia deHavilland - To Each His Own

Supporting Actress:

Donna Reed - It's A Wonderful Life
Teresa Wright - The Best Years of Our Lives
Leopoldine Konstantin - Notorious
Anne Baxter - The Razor's Edge
Myrna Loy - The Best Years of Our Lives

Raymond Massey - 3.5(Although I do feel that Karloff probably would have been better Massey is a good enough substitute. It is a bit of fun to see the usually stately Massey plays such a character and he succeeds while enough at being menacing while doing it in a mostly humorous fashion. He is overshadowed by Peter Lorre though)

Cotten - 3(Cotten's find at being a comforting enough factor in the role but he can't quite make up for just how limited his character is)

Raymond - 2.5(The film is really all Celia Johnson's show, but Raymond is fine in being the unaware husband type)

Holloway - 3(He's kinda enjoyable in his few minutes of screen time. Does not add up to much but it is just something extra for the film)

Stanwyck - 3(I thought she was fine for the most part, but her performance never gripped me the way it should have. I thought Agnes Moorehead did much more with the role in the radio version. Although it should be noted that this version additions feel like the worst kind of additions)

Lancaster - 4.5(A terrific leading turn by Lancaster as there is just such a passionate force about him, and does create job in terms of the physicality required for the role. He does a marvelous job in showing how each moment of the train ride wears down on the man psychologically and physically)

Van Dyke - 2.5(His accent is indeed terrible, as he admits himself, but I really don't mind him past that)

Oldman - 4(A very good on scene wonder as creates this bizarre and menacing man in such a matter of minutes who seems like he could have had a film of his own)

James Donald - 4(Once again as the seemingly sanest man in a pow camp, but hey he's good at it. Donald carries himself with that proper British manner throughout, but he's quite affecting in showing the subtle moments where he hears the bad news that comes at various stages of the action)

Charles Bronson - 3.5(His accent is extremely dodgy and I will say slight distractingly so, but he is quite moving his depiction of his character's intense claustrophobia)

Lancaster - 4(I thought Lancaster was pretty good in making up for the age discrepancy of his character to begin with and I think his best moments are his purely silent ones where his character is reflecting on his past mistakes. His scenes of being drunk I did not think were anything that special, but I did not feel like he really hammed it up either)