Thursday, 20 November 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1946: Lionel Barrymore in It's A Wonderful Life

Lionel Barrymore did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Henry F. Potter in It's A Wonderful Life.

The previous collaboration before It's Wonderful Life between director Frank Capra and Lionel Barrymore was in You Can't Take It With You where Barrymore played the role of the jovial patriarch of a free spirited family. Well in this their next collaboration Barrymore's character could not be more different. Barrymore plays the antagonist of the film Mr. Potter who is a banker who owns half the town of Bedford Falls to begin with as the film opens. Although Barrymore was certainly quite believable as a lovable old man he's even better here as Mr. Potter who is introduced as being the meanest man in the county. We first introduced to Potter as he is chewing out George Bailey's father for not foreclosing on homes. Even though Barrymore is confined to a wheel-chair he has a considerable presence as Potter, and is actually quite imposing figure despite needing to be wheeled around by a lurch like figure at all times. His brief introduction though is really a warm up though for the rest of Barrymore's performance.

The greatness of Barrymore's performance actually comes most into play as a most worthy opponent for James Stewart as George. There first face off, and Barrymore's second scene, is after George's father has died and the share holders of his father's company the Bailey Building and Loan are there to determine its fate. Potter wants it to be dissolved as it poses a threat to his control of the town, although he has a backhanded praise of George's father. Barrymore is brilliant in how he does this as he stats that Bailey was a man of so called ideals. The way he looks to the side in discontent and pauses with the so called is time so perfectly by Barrymore that gives such an a callousness to his statement. Barrymore continues to excel and is a great counterpoint to Stewart's performance as George makes his passionate rebuttal against Potter's view of the people of the town. Barrymore's reaction is perfect in showing just how little Potter thinks of George's words. What's particularly great is the way he does the yawn, where he kinda tries to hide but in a way to bring more attention to it.

I don't know if I can name a performance where someone makes their face as expressive as Barrymore more does here as Potter. It never feels strange or awkward or any way and in fact Barrymore uses that as well as his hands as an effective way to make up for the fact that he obviously has some physical constraints. Barrymore is great just to watch here with all that he does in his various facial movements and hand gestures. They never feel like too much but only aid in making his Potter all the more memorable as a character. These certainly come into play in one of Barrymore's best scenes when Potter calls in George to his office in an attempt to get George to accept a high paying  job in order to rid himself of his rival. Barrymore is amazing in this scene because he does shed the true nature of the character ever so much as Potter makes his offer. For a moment Barrymore is terrific as he brings a false kindness to Potter as such a sweet offer to George, and makes it so very tempting. My favorite moment is that final smile where he thinks he has George, since there is such deviousness within it.

Well his offer to George is Potter at his most "kind" later on we get Potter at his worst and Barrymore is once again outstanding. George comes to Potter for help due to a misplacement of funds, which actually accidentally fell into Potter's hands, hoping that Potter will help him. Barrymore does not hold back at just how despicable Potter is in this scene as Barrymore begins with Potter almost confused and concerned by George's predicament. As Potter asks about embezzlement or possibly an affair George is thought to be, incorrectly, having Barrymore has almost a fatherly tone as if Potter is trying to mentor the young man on proper business practices, even though he knows the truth. When Potter sees that George has nothing financially to offer him Barrymore brings out the full sinister nature of Potter, and he gives basically a sickly inverted of George's earlier speech against him. Barrymore's is incredible as he matches Stewart's passion from that earlier scene but is quite chilling by making the passion serve such a horrible notion and purpose.

Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers don't share any scenes together and whereas Barrymore has a some scenes throughout Travers's are all one after another, but they fulfill two polar opposites. Where Travers was such a wonderful personification of good, Barrymore is such a personification of evil. Lionel Barrymore succeeds in making Mr. Potter one of the all time great villains of cinema, and Potter does not even need to physically harm a soul. Barrymore's performance makes Potter such a vile sort by realizing the man's cruel ideology. It is interesting to note that Barrymore was originally going to play Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol, but was unable to do to his legs. It is easy to see him, due to his role here as Potter, to play the unreformed Scrooge, but actually Barrymore does not make Potter just the unreformed Scrooge. Barrymore makes Potter a darker sort, a man incapable of seeing the error of his ways. I love this performance, which is even very entertaining due to Barrymore's energetic style, yet that never takes away even an ounce of the viciousness of his characterization.  


Michael McCarthy said...

Damn, Claude Rains is in some serious trouble here...

Anonymous said...

I think Rains is way superior than Travers and Barrymore. Anyway, Louis, can I have your ratings and thoughts on Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Jane Wyman in The Yearling, Leopoldine Konstantin in Notorius and Myrna Loy in The Best Years of Our Lives?

Anonymous said...

I think RatedRStar will still flip his lid if Rains loses since it is his favourite ever performance.

Anonymous said...

Louis what would your top 10 films of 1946 be?

Anonymous said...

thoughts/ratings on the rest of the cast for Its a Wonderful Life

Louis Morgan said...

Reed - 4.5(I've given my thoughts on her before)

Grahame - 3(She doesn't get to do much but she does bring the right sultry quality to her role. It's yet another role of hers where she was better than her Oscar winning performance)

Bondi - 3(She's mostly off to the side but she offers a nice bit of warmth when you do see her, and offers the brutally cold shoulder when we see here in Pottersville)

Mitchell - 4.5(Mitchell is really great in a role where he does not have any scenes to himself but he brings so much life to the role anyway. Every scene he's in he offers something extra with his always remarkable reactions that don't steal the attention from someone else exactly yet still makes his character stand out in his own way. Also he should be given a lot of credit for the scene where a drunk Uncle Billy seems to walk into garbage cans. It's a enjoyable moment but it's kinda even better to learn that Mitchell saved the moment through an ad-lib as the loud crash noise was completely accidental)

Hinds - 4(He has very limited screen time but I think he does a great deal with that time. He makes Peter Bailey the man they talk about later as he brings such a gentle wisdom and warmth in his two scenes)

Warner - 3.5(A very fine one scene wonder from Warner as I think he's rather heartbreaking in portraying his character's grief in the early scene, and is also good in creating the broken man in his Pottersville's scene)

Leonard - 3(I could be tempted to go higher with him because I do think his performance in the Pottersville's scene is rather funny, as he just seems so incredibly annoyed for no real reason)

Anderson - 3(I don't know if I peg him as turning into Jimmy Stewart, but I do feel that he does more than okay in his role)

Bond and Faylen - 3(They both offer some traditionally fine support and are add a nice little bit of humor to the film with their performances)

Edmunds - 3(I think he brings a nice bit of honesty to a role that easily could have just been a rather generic stereotype. It's not much but he's good)

Karns - 2.5(He's not bad at all but there isn't anything special about his performance)

Louis Morgan said...


Turner - 3(I would not say she's quite great in the role, as I do feel she overplays a few moments. She does bring the right allure to the role though and I do feel she successfully overshadows Garfield in the right way to show how her character manipulates his)

Wyman - 3.5(I think her performance may be a bit off putting because of how cold she plays it but it is fitting to her character who is suppose to be somewhat embittered by her harsh life. She actually is quite effective in portraying the particular coldness of her character, and she handles her last minute change well enough I suppose)

Konstantin - 4.5(She technically is the true villain behind Rains's character, and Konstantin is effective in portraying the chilling nature of her character's deviousness. What I like most though is she does suggest her maternal love for Rains's character well still being quite evil otherwise)

Loy - 4(She gives a nice charming performance, even if she does peak a little early as her best scene is the moment where the husband and wife are reunited. She offers a nice support of a concerned warmth for the rest of the film as well though)

Top Ten:

1.It's A Wonderful Life
2.The Best Years of Our Lives
3.A Matter of Life and Death
4.Beauty and the Beast
6.The Big Sleep
7.Angel on My Shoulder
8.The Killers
9.The Stranger