Friday, 20 November 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1928: Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs and Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill Jr. Best Supporting Actor 1928: William Powell in The Last Command and Results

Conrad Veidt did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs.
The Man Who Laughs is an effective film about a surgically deformed to have a constant smile.

A silent actor already not allowed to speak to give life to their character, but Conrad Veidt is technically given even more of a limitation than usual in his portrayal of the titular character. Veidt is not only not allowed not to speak a large portion of his face is already made up for him. That being the constant smile representing the deformity given to his character as an additional punishment for his own father, who was executed, for refusing to recognize King James. A smile large and purposefully grotesque which would ended up becoming inspiration for the creation of the Joker. Despite what the central character looks like, and the villain this film would help to create this is not a horror film, and Gwynplaine is most certainly not a monster. In fact this is not even a case in which his deformity causes people to really mistake him for one since Gwynplaine ends up becoming a clown. In this way the physicality of the performance is not the focal point exactly like say it would later be for Boris Karloff in Frankenstein, as Gwynplaine is a normal man besides what a surgeon did to him. The idea behind the character is past the smile and this presents an intriguing challenge for Veidt to over come with his performance.

Now even though the physical element I still would not say is the most striking part of his performance it still is well worth noting that Veidt's use of his physical presence. Although not a monster Veidt does not exactly carry himself as a wholly normal man either as there is something quite special about the way he physically performs the part. Veidt is someone who is marvelous in terms of making his body language come across the screen and with this as Veidt shows the way Gwynplaine interacts with people. This is this retired restrictive quality that Veidt shows as though he wants to avoid direct exposure with them as he knows what to expect from their reaction. Even in the moments where he is performing as a clown Veidt is tremendous in portraying this hesitation in his physical manner as though he is in a way fighting against his own popularity which seems to come from the crowd's fascination with his smile. Now the one person this is not the case for is the blind woman Dea (Mary Philbin), though Veidt does something fascinating with this well. When they are just interacting in general there is a greater warmth in Veidt's interactions with her depicting his honest nature as a man, but not when she is presenting her love to him directly which then again Veidt has Gwynplaine cower as though once again he is hiding from his own disfigurement, which he's sure would prevent any woman from loving him.

Now what's incredible is that physical element of his performance is not the most notable aspect of Veidt's work here, there is something else, although most of his face is covered by that smile his eyes are as free as any man's. Now the eyes are often the easiest place to spot a silent over actor as absurd bug eyes was too often the standard setting for many actors during the era. This can even be seen in Cesare Gravina's performance as Gwynplaine's caretaker, who always seems a bit surprised by everything at all times. The eyes though are the center of Veidt's work and this is masterstroke of his performance as so brilliantly uses it to reveal the man behind the "laugh". There is so much humanity that Veidt brings out of his eyes that is is absolutely heartbreaking to watch him in the film because of the sheer emotion that Veidt brings in just the top half of his face like that. The moments of sadness, as Gwynplaine is continually seen only for his smile and he starts to feel as though no one could see past that, are so palatable because of that heartbreak Veidt so well realizes in every torn look and tear. It's an astonishing performance in the way that Veidt makes the audience always see the man as the emotions from him are so keenly felt because he always offers as access to the very soul of the man that Gwynplaine is, not the freak he is mistaken for. The performance it reminds me most of is John Hurt's work in The Elephant Man, both actors are severely limited in that they must be covered to represent what so many see their characters as in the story. The beauty of the portrayals of Hurt and Veidt as their respective characters is that using the little they have they force we the audience to see what the others could not, the man not the monster. 
Buster Keaton did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying William Canfield, Jr. in Steamboat Bill Jr.

Steamboat Bill Jr. is an enjoyable comedy about the son of a captain who fails to live up to his steamboat captain father's expectations due to his meek demeanor and the fact that he's romantically involved with his chief rival's daughter.

Buster Keaton is most often compared to Charlie Chaplin obviously since they were both silent comedians, but also because they both frequently directed their films as well. It is interesting to compare their styles as both a director and an actor, and they certainly hold similarities in terms of the materiel. Both of them would stare as a fairly unassuming man who would fall into some absurd situation often in some way associated with his love interest. Now an obvious difference is found in Keaton being a tad more informal in terms of the character, Chaplin was most often the Tramp, whereas Keaton had less defined of a comical character. He did not have an exact suit nor was he made up in the way Chaplin was, and the defining element was the fact that it was Buster Keaton. As directors their films, although I must admit I've currently seen less of Keaton, often have a similair set up to get to the physical gags, though Keaton's approach is in way more realistic than Chaplin's more romantic approach. That's not to say the gags are not as absurd, but there is something grittier about them, as the danger often seems more real, perhaps because it was as Keaton really was simply standing in place as the whole front of a house fell around him in this film.

This carries over in a way to their separate performances as Chaplin would be grander in a certain way in regards to his character's emotions, as well as even with some of the gags seemed more apart of them in a different fashion than Keaton's approach. Keaton again is much more low key in his approach taking a rather dead pan approach, not quite the usual dead pan of indifference rather this sorrowful simple expression that is most often seen across his face. Keaton manages to derive this charm from just his whole sad sack manner that ends up being quite endearing while working particularly well, in technically the center of the film, that being the physical comedy. Again with Keaton there is something less exact, though most certainly was perhaps even more exact than Chaplin when filmed, in the gag sequences than Chaplin who often times there were specific moments where the Tramp was supposed to be performing within the film.

With Keaton his character usually is forced into the physical madness, which Keaton also makes incredibly funny in how off the cuff it feels within the film which is always aided to by his facial and physical reactions which always keep that meekness that makes it seem all the more haphazard and amusing. Now with Steamboat Bill Jr. I'll admit that it does not quite muster up the poignancy of some of Chaplin best efforts, although I quite preferred this film as well as Keaton's work than Chaplin's own film from 28 The Circus. That is not to say that Keaton purely aims for laughs, sine he does spend enough time to develop something in terms of father and son relationship as well as the romantic one. Neither are anything too substantial though still well realized in their own modest way. It is more than enough to in a way insulate the comic the moments with a certain dramatic pull, and for Keaton to be both a hero we can invest in while just being a guy with laugh at.
Overall Rank Lead Actor:
  1. Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs
  2. Erich von Stroheim in The Wedding March
  3. Emil Jannings in The Last Command
  4. Louis Wolheim in The Racket 
  5. James Murray in The Crowd
  6. Jean Debucourt in The Fall of the House of Usher
  7. Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill Jr. 
  8. Warner Baxter in In Old Arizona
  9. George Bancroft in The Docks of New York
  10. Charles Chaplin in The Circus
  11. Charles Farrell in Street Angel
  12. Thomas Meighan in The Racket
  13. Edmund Lowe in In Old Arizona
William Powell in The Last Command. The supporting cast is not always one where one would find great supporting performances in silent films simply as too many often reverted to that bug eyed expression, or they just were to unremarkable to come across the screen without actually saying anything. Powell, who made his name soon afterwards as an actor for the talkies, does make an impression within the limitations of silence. I won't say Powell is 100% without the occasional indulgence of just a bit of ham to be found, but he does not allow it to define his whole performance. Powell plays a man in the flashback sequences of the film who in turn suffers a bit of the wrath of the Russian General Sergius Alexander (Emil Jannings).  What's great is the sardonic king of the 30's is able to even get across quite a bit that trademark snark without even speaking a word. Even the two phases of it with at first the young man with a chip on his shoulder trying to act tough against a man of great power. Then in the present scenes Powell brings it with the confidence of a man well in charge as a successful film director who plans to humiliate that very same General by putting him in his film. Powell is so enjoyably smug and it's interesting to see him be able to bring that across so well without even use that great voice of his. This isn't a large role though Powell manages to make an nice impact, he even manages to see the extremely quick reversal of his character fairly well all things considered. It's a good performance from Powell that rises far above the the frequently forgettable performances by many of the minor players in silent films.
Supporting Top Ten:
  1. William Powell in The Last Command
  2. Lionel Barrymore in Sadie Thompson
  3. Eugène Silvain in The Passion of Joan of Arc
  4. Ernest Torrence in Steamboat Bill Jr.
  5. Lars Hanson in The Wind
  6. Montagu Love in The Wind
  7. Lewis Stone in A Woman of Affairs
  8. George E. Stone in The Racket 
  9. Tom McGuire in Steamboat Bill Jr.
  10. Bert Roach in The Crowd
Next Year: 1962 Lead

34 comments:

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Ratings & Thoughts on your Female Lead Top 4 and Erich Von Stroheim in The Wedding March.

Psifonian said...

The "Cape Fear" boys, Mason for "Lolita," Stewart for "Liberty Valance," Patrick McGoohan for "All Night Long."

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Wolheim, Murray and Debucourt.

I'm not gonna bother with suggestions, since you'll be going with 10 anyway.

RatedRStar said...

Here you are Louis, my ten since of course you will be doing ten for this special occasion =D =D =D.

James Mason - Lolita
Tom Courtenay - Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner
Laurence Harvey - The Manchurian Candidate
Montgomery Clift - Freud
Oskar Werner - Jules And Jim
Toshiro Mifune - Sanjuro
James Stewart - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Anthony Perkins - The Trial
Tatsuya Nakadai - Harakiri
Robert Mitchum - Cape Fear

Robert MacFarlane said...

I just want Harvey for Manchurian Candidate. Just rewatched that a few months ago, and even more certain that he's great.

Anonymous said...

James Mason in Lolita
Tom Courtenay in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear
Ralph Richardson in Long Day's Journey Into Night
Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate
Oskar Werner in Jules and Jim
Montgomery Clift in Freud
Anthony Perkins in The Trial
Toshiro Mifune in Sanjuro
Louis: What are your ratings and thoughts on:
Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn and Road to Morocco
Vincent Price in Song of Bernadette, Wilson and The Keys of the Kingdom
Raymond Massey in Come and Fill the Cup and Arsenic and Old Lace
Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace and Topper

RatedRStar said...

I havent seen The Man Who Laughs yet, but man this scene in the film is excellent and quite moving.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90WCUZq6pAY

RatedRStar said...

Louis: I am very happy that William Powell has been given a win as well, I imagine that made you feel good 2 since he always seemed to finish 2nd place or just outside the top 5.

JackiBoyz said...

Louis what would be your top 5 films of 1928 since I imagine there wouldn't be 10, or would they?

Michael McCarthy said...

James Mason-Lolita
Tom Courtenay-The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
Laurence Harvey-The Manchurian Candidate
Oskar Werner and Henri Serre-Jules and Jim
James Stewart-The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Robert Mitchum-Cape Fear
Richard Attenborough-The Dock Brief
Anthony Perkins-The Trial
Montgomery Clift-Freud

If you're gonna do 10 those are the ones I'd wanna see. If for some reason you choose to do 5 or just have a different one you really want to review, you have my permission to save one of my requests for a Bonus Review.

Calvin Law said...

YES VEIDT, love it!

1962 Lead
Tom Courtenay in Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (he's back, can't wait for his review)
James Mason in Lolita
James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate (re-watched it last night and I have to say I agree with Robert, he is very good and just on the verge of making my intensely competitive 1962 lead lineup)
Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate
Ralph Richardson in A Long Day's Journey into Night
Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear
Alan Bates in A Kind of Loving
Oskar Werner in Jules and Jim
Toshiro Mifune in Sanjuro

Calvin Law said...

Also, might as well do my suggestions for 1962 supporting:

Robert Duvall for To Kill a Mockingbird (my request)
The Lawrence of Arabia boys (including Mr Anthony Quayle please!)
Robert Ryan in Billy Budd
Trevor Howard in Mutiny on the Bounty
Lee Marvin/John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (you could make an argument for Wayne as supporting but don't if it goes against your standards)
Peter Sellers in Lolita
Brock Peters in To Kill a Mockingbird/The L-Shaped Room
Michael Redgrave in Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
Tatsuya Nakadai in Sanjuro

Calvin Law said...

Also if you were to review Peck alongside Mitchum for Cape Fear as Psifonian suggests I would be very happy as I think good ol' Greg's work in that film is particularly underrated, I think largely because Nick Nolte did a pretty good job in the remake and thus made the contrast less jarring than De Niro/Mitchum.

Anonymous said...

Calvin: So is Peck a 4 or a 4,5 for you in Cape Fear?

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

Louis:Thoughts and ratings on Hanson and Love in The Wind.

Anonymous said...

Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

Watching The Quiet Man now. It has been a while since I have seen it. The last time I saw it was the day after I had my wisdom teeth out, so most of my memories of the movies have to do with pain.

Calvin Law said...

Anonymous: Probably a 4.5, same as Mitchum.

Anonymous said...

Louis: So, who would be your cast and director for:
Gone Girl (30's, 40's, 60's and 70's version)
Sin City (40's version, 60's version and 80's version)

tahmeed chowdhury said...

James Mason-Lolita
James Stewart-The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Robert Mitchum-Cape Fear

tahmeed chowdhury said...

Also, does anyone think Omar Sharif will get re-rated to a 5 on rewatch?

Anonymous said...

tahmeed chowdhury: He probably could be upgraded to a 5.

RatedRStar said...

I really hope Terence Stamp improves for you Louis, I really like to think that Sharif vs Stamp was a difficult choice for you.

RatedRStar said...

ruthiehenshallfan99: One of the most charming films ever =D I am sure those painful memories will go away lol.

tahmeed chowdhury: I think he could, I personally think he would have been my choice to be nominated if I chose a supporting Lawrence nomination, I dont think he will win the overall though.

Maciej said...

James Mason - Lolita
Tom Courtenay - Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
Robert Mitchum/Gregory Peck - Cape Fear

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

Louis: Also, what are your thoughts and ratings on John Gilbert and Greta Garbo in A Woman of Affairs?

Anonymous said...

ruthiehenshallfan99: Garbo's a 4,5.

Psifonian said...

Saw "Spotlight" last night. Here's my review: https://psifonian.wordpress.com/2015/11/21/spotlight-tom-mccarthy-2015/

And because I know everyone wants to know how I rate the cast:

1. Tucci
2. Schreiber
3. Keaton
4. D'Arcy James
5. McAdams
6. Slattery
7. Creighton
8. Huff
9. Crudup
10. Sheridan
11. Cariou
12. Ruffalo (by far the weak link)

Robert MacFarlane said...

So, uh, just got back from Brooklyn and Spotlight.

Remember all those horrible things I said about Emory Cohen? About how I viewed his performance in Pines as the worst of the decade? I still stand by that, but, uh, well...

I hope wins Best Supporting Actor. Not kidding.

Matt Mustin said...

What's your thoughts on the cast of Spotlight, Robert?

Robert MacFarlane said...

In a nutshell, I think the whole cast is great, though my favorites were Tucci, Crudup, and Schreiber.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

von Stroheim - 4.5(Strong work from von Stroheim as he very effectively realizes the needed personal command and power for a man of his position, though he undercuts it while with almost casual quality about him that suggests his interest and love to be in places which are not expected from him)

Wolheim - 4.5(Wolheim is a great gangster, and just like all his other performance is he's just so good at understanding film. The purpose of his character always comes across so well whether it is portraying the viciousness of his gangster or actually the certain likability of him. The greatest weakness of the film is the fact that he's not the only lead, since Wolheim is such a compelling performer)

Murray - 4.5(A strong performance in an interesting way in that he plays the part in such a thoroughly normal way, which seems like something that might not work so well for a silent film, but it does. As Murray's performance always accentuates the honest emotions of every moment of the story whether it is joy or happiness, Murray always finds the power within in it, which could have potentially been lost within the spectacle of the film)

Debucourt - 4(Debucourt captures well this certain otherworldly quality in his work that is rather effective in supporting the atmosphere of the film)

Falconetti - (Where does one even begin with this performance. A performance difficult to describe just how great it is in just a few sentences, and for the moment I'll say it is deserving its placement as one the all time great cinematic achievements)

Gish - (Although it was an easy choice for the number 1 that is not to diminish Gish's own performance which is a great work as well. Gish certainly has that luminous quality that works so well on the screen it is something so special in terms of her presence. This works so well for the film as you feel of the anxiety and potential madness developing within her character that she gradually develops so well without ever falling onto anything obvious. It's a tremendous performance, as Gish so vividly realizes every moment)

Swanson - (Swanson is terrific in being just so sultry and in a interesting way rather sarcastic in her portrayal of her prostitute. Swanson is able to really realizes the power of the character's personality and the way she is able to manipulate others with her sexuality. When the film takes its more dramatic turn I don't think it does so perfectly, although that may be due to the lost moments in the end, but Swanson handles those scenes well too though her best scenes are her early scenes)

Garbo - (The love of the camera for Garbo is once again evident with her performance here. Once again though there is just so much life to her performance as well that makes the tragic elements that eventually come work all the more because Garbo is so good at making you honestly care for this woman before her life is shattered, which she depicts in heartbreaking detail)

Anonymous:

Crosby - Holiday Inn - (I never love Crosby's "charming" singer routine all that much. I mean this is a decent enough rendition of it, but I still don't love it by any measure)

Road to Morocco - 2.5(Okay once again but really I don't like his smug routine all that much, plus I think Hope thoroughly overshadows him)

Lombard - 3.5(I could use a re-watch of the film though I recall being fairly charming and enjoyable in the film)

Louis Morgan said...

Price - Song of Bernadette - 4(It seems strange to even say that Price is a good villain since that's always the case. Here though Price proves quite capable of adjusting for circumstances. He's still an effective villain though he adjusts well to a more subtle form of villainy in depicting his character's cynicism. He's particularly good in his last scene that might be my favorite moment of the film)

Wilson & The Keys of the Kingdom - (He's fine but kinda wasted in both since Price is a guy you want a role he can really sink his teeth into)

Massey - Come and Fill the Cup - (Fine just not given much to do)

Arsenic and Old Lace - 3.5(I'm probably not being completely fair to his performance but it is one where you do always just want to see how Boris Karloff would have been in the role. Massey though isn't a bad replacement at all, and it is actually rather fun to see him effectively play such a sinister role that is so opposed to the dignified roles he usually played)

Grant - Arsenic and Old Lace - 3(I can't help but feel his performance is too much of a good thing. As his wild antics are funny in parts, though sometimes he does go just a bit too broad that it does become too much, Grant himself felt he went to overboard, and I am forced to agree)

Topper - 2.5(This one is a weird one in that Grant just seems a bit subdued the whole time and his performance just never quite comes to life which is weird thing to happen in a comedic film)

Anonymous:

Gone Girl 30's directed by W.S. Van Dyke

Nick: Clark Gable
Amy: Joan Crawford
Desi: John Carradine
Tanner Bolt: Edward Arnold
Margo: Mildred Dunnock
Detective Rhonda: Bessie Love

40's directed by Billy Wilder

Nick: William Holden
Amy: Joan Fontaine
Desi: Elisha Cook Jr
Tanner Bolt: Edward G. Robinson
Margo: Ida Lupino
Detective Rhonda: Myrna Loy

60's directed by Robert Aldrich

Nick: Steve McQueen
Amy: Julie Christie
Desi: Dean Stockwell
Tanner Bolt: Rod Steiger
Margo: Carolyn Jones
Detective Rhonda: Lee Grant

70's directed by Brian DePalma

Nick: Warren Beatty
Amy: Faye Dunaway
Desi: John Cazale
Tanner Bolt: Hal Holbrook
Margo: Shirley MacLaine
Detective Rhonda: Anne Bancroft

Sin City 30's directed by James Whale

Nancy: Fay Wray
Senator Roark: John Barrymore
Cardinal Roark: Lionel Barrymore
Gail: Kay Francis
Goldie/Wendy: Jean Harlow
Miho: Anna May Wong
Becky: Margaret Sullavan
Jackie Boy: Humphrey Bogart
Manute: Paul Robeson
Dwight: James Cagney
Marv: Louis Wolheim
Yellow Bastard: John Carradine
Det. Hartigan: Harry Carey
Kevin: Elisha Cook Jr.

80's version directed by Francis Ford Coppola:

Nancy: Diane Lane
Senator Roark: Philip Baker Hall
Cardinal Roark: Jason Robards
Gail: Jennifer Jason Leigh
Goldie/Wendy: Penelope Ann Miller
Miho: Vivian Wu
Becky: Patricia Arquette
Jackie Boy: Jeff Goldblum
Manute: Michael Dorn
Dwight: John Travolta
Marv: Stacy Keach
Yellow Bastard: Willem Dafoe
Det. Hartigan: Charles Bronson
Kevin: Michael Keaton


Ruthiehenshallfan:

Love & Hanson - 3.5(Importantly both avoid the usual overacting, which would be especially easy to fall upon with this sort of role for Love in particular. Both are quite in finding their different men well with Love accentuating a certain roughness without going overboard, and Hanson having a nice unassuming warmth about him)

Gilbert - 2.5(Find him rather forgettable and bland especially when compared to Garbo)

Louis Morgan said...

Jackiboyz:

1. The Passion of Joan of Arc
2. The Wind
3. Docks of New York
4. The Crowd
5. Steamboat Bill Jr.
6. The Wedding March
7. The Fall of the House of Usher
8. The Last Command
9. The Circus
10. Street Angel