Donald Pleasence did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Doc Tydon in Wake in Fright.
Now the film is often described as a thriller though I don't feel that's quite accurate since those usually need more of an exact plot than this film has, although describing the film as a horror film might give the wrong impression as well. It is a horror film just you won't find your usual supernatural monsters, or even serial killers here. You'll just find people. It's all about the people though. Our main character John first enters the mining town, and is shown around by the local sheriff. The place seems like it could be harmless enough, though he finds two of the main sources of entertainment are constant drinking and gambling over a game that involves flipping two coins. As his little tour ends he comes across a man who immediately changes the tone set by the sheriff. That being Donald Pleasence who breaks any possibly positive sentiments with the incisive cynicism in his flawless delivery of his introductory line "All the little devils are proud of hell". Pleasence, as he would later prove with his performance in a Halloween as well, is a master of infusing a sense of dread in words and sets the tone for the rest of the film, which is not a horror of a single event but rather the horror of the very existence of the people in the Yabba, which again is not what you'd expect it to be.
Now with that introduction one might think Doc is somehow separate from the rest of the Yabba, but that's not quite the case, and with that is the brilliance of Pleasence's performance. Pleasence opens with that harsh truth of a man who has no delusions about where he lives, but in just a few moments afterwards we see Doc playing the coin toss game as though he's enjoying it just as much as anyone else. Pleasence plays this as the truth as well, which is very important to the way he develops Doc's character throughout the film. After these initial moments with Doc, where John loses all his money on the coin toss game and becomes stranded in the Yabba. This is where the horror starts which is found in the lifestyle of the men which involves brutal kangaroo hunts, gambling, and almost non-stop drinking. Despite being often in the open air there is a distinct sense of claustrophobia that amounts from the crudity of this life, which slowly seems to penetrate John's sanity. Most of the other denizens are of the place, and every moment is unexplained yet natural, as this is their existence. Pleasence though offers a different view through his portrayal of Doc, who does not quite fit with everyone else, but not in the way John fails to do so.
Again when Doc turns up again it is a card game, where there once again is plenty of drinking, and Pleasence only reveals Doc as a man completely at harmony with the other men as they go about downing yet another beer while making one crude remark after another. However the next morning when John finds himself in Doc's house, his association with the town becomes understood. Pleasence is terrific as Doc explains his enjoyment of what the town of Yabba has. There is devilish quality in Pleasence's grin as he states his ability to have all his sexual desires fulfilled and only looks down upon those who question his lifestyle. The sheer pleasure is shown by Pleasence as something more to the Doc than any of the other people who only know that way of life. Pleasence reveals instead this certain understanding and intelligence in the Doc's words actually, as he basically uses the nature of Yabba to live the life he wishes live, which would not be possible in a more savory place. the thrill Pleasence reveals of a man who has found his place, though again Pleasence does not allow this to be a simplification. Pleasence in that same smile still finds a definite self-loathing within, as he knowledge to perceive the sort of man he has to be to thrive in such a place.
Pleasence sort of takes over the film in its last act in an interesting way, in the way Doc seems to control John. Pleasence again does not do this as one would expect, in that he does not become commanding in the traditional sense. Instead Pleasence exudes an influence in an interesting, organic fashion as though the pleasure oozes from him in a way that spreads into John's mind. Pleasence is excellent as he goes full force to the point that this behavior is made grotesque, as the film intend, though he never makes it inhuman. The base qualities within it are always found deep rooted in Pleasence chilling yet always honest portrayal of this hedonist. This is pivotal to Pleasence's approach which succeeds in being more than just a personification of the Yabba. Pleasence is outstanding in his final scenes that he again subverts. This includes an implied homosexual encounter with John, which Pleasence carefully makes less exploitative than it might have been if the film had been completely left to its own devices. This is found in the surprising tenderness found in Pleasence's interactions with towards John, that again is comfortable with what he's doing, though it places John in a place he's most decidedly not comfortable in. I love Pleasence's final scene as once again presents a warmth as Doc comforts John with an apologetic tone acknowledging he went too far with him. This never feels like an inconsistency as Pleasence makes every aspect of the Doc only part of a cohesive whole. This is exceptional work for Pleasence as he helps craft the horrific atmosphere, though never simplifies his character, creating a fascinating portrait of a man who, for better or worse, has found his place in the world.