Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1937: Henry Fonda in You Only Live Once

Henry Fonda did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Eddie Taylor in You Only Live Once.

You Only Live Once is a somewhat effective film, Fritz Lang always seems like he's being a little held back in his American films, about an ex-convict attempting to reform yet falling into a series of unfortunate circumstances.

As with his friend Jimmy Stewart very few of Henry Fonda pre-1939 films receive much mention. The period in the 30's is interesting for both of them as you can see the development towards their onscreen persona that they would be best known for. Fonda, like Stewart, was sometimes cast as the romantic lead often in very simple roles. That is what appears you'll find here in You Only Live Twice. There are hints of another turn, but early on it feels like it may be a fairly straight forward romance film between Fonda's Eddie and his wife Joan (Sylvia Sydney). As one would expect Fonda is charming enough, though his aw shucks routine never was quite as as endearing as old Stewart's. He still makes Eddie likable enough just as his fortunes begin to turn south because of his history as an ex-con.

As the film takes its darker turn, where Eddie is wrongly accused and convicted of murder as well as sentenced to death by the electric chair, Fonda is actually challenged within the role after this point. There is further challenge though in the structure of the film as well though which often gives as much of an emphasis on those around Eddie than Eddie himself. Fonda though actually is quite good even early on in conveying the underlying sense of discontent in Eddie as he is consistently given the short end for his background. He's mostly aw shucks, but he does grant bit of darkness in there alluding to the background as well. When he's actually put in prison Fonda helps to carry the tone away from the earlier lighter style to where it goes, and where it goes is actually fairly surprising. This is not a story about an innocent man being put away and it just focusing on him getting out. In fact it actually feels at least little bit like Straight Time with Eddie's descent basically caused by societies refusal to believe that he can reform.

When Eddie is taken to prison, and basically given a set date for his own death, Fonda's performance reflects the anguish of this. He drops any notion of an aw or shucks in his honest portrayal of the disbelief at his terrible luck, but also even a definite intensity portraying the man's hatred against the lot he's been given. As it seems as though nothing will turn in his favor the film actually depicts Eddie attempting suicide. It is a great scene for Fonda as he so powerfully exudes the despair in Eddie as he begins to fashion his "tool", but also still gives this certain discontent as though Eddie is doing it in part to at least get something his way for once. Eddie is saved though just to be killed which leads to an escape attempt. Again Fonda manages to take the role where it needs to go in depicting the viciousness in Eddie as he lashes out believing that almost everyone has wronged him. Fonda maintains a descent in Eddie even after he escapes with his wife and they go out on a lamb. He importantly never returns any happiness in Eddie even as they seem to have a chance, staying true to the character as kind of a broken man. The film itself could have been better if it gave more time for Fonda to develop this progression, though he does well with the little he has it doesn't quite have the impact it could have. The performance though is strong, while doesn't hit the heights of his later work, it does suggest that same talent.

49 comments:

Charles Heiston said...

Ratings and thoughts on the rest of the cast?

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your casts and directors for 1950's versions of Ordinary People and Big Red One.

Louis Morgan said...

Charles:

Sidney - 3(She's decent in her limited role almost reprising the role she played in Fury. She's more than fine in offering kind of the same calming support, but her character always seems slightly disengaged.)

No one else makes much of an impact aside from Jerome Cowan's doing his enjoyable usual routine as a scared captive.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Ordinary People(1950's directed by William Wyler):

Conrad: Dean Stockwell
Beth: Mary Astor
Calvin: Fredric March
Dr. Berger: Joseph Cotten

Big Red One (Still Fuller):

The Sergeant: Clark Gable
Griff: Charles Bronson
Zab: Lee Marvin
Vinci: Richard Crenna
Schroeder: Walter Slezak
Crazy Woman: Anne Revere

Calvin Law said...

Louis: cast for a Kurosawa version of Drive? I've got a Korean one:

Drive (2000s directed by Kim Jee-woon)
Driver: Lee Byung-hun
Irene: Lee Young-ae
Standard: Hwang Jung-min
Shannon: Choi Min-sik
Bernie: Song Kang-ho
Nino: Kim Roi-ha

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Drive (1950's directed by Akira Kurosawa)
Driver: Toshiro Mifune
Irene: Shirley Yamaguchi
Standard: Minoru Chiaki
Shannon: Takashi Shimura
Bernie: Masayuki Mori
Nino: Kichijiro Ueda

Michael McCarthy said...

1. Jean Gabin
2. Ronald Colman
3. Robert Donat
4. Edward G. Robinson
5. Henry Fonda

Giuseppe Fadda said...

1. Gabin
2. Colman
3. Donat
4. Robinson
5. Fonda

I usually like him as an actor, haven't seen this yet though.

RatedRStar said...

Speaking of Henry Fonda, and since Luke mentioned War and Peace in the last post, I really dont think anybody would like the 1956 version directed by King Vidor, it looks great and Fonda is decent enough, but its just so so long lol.

RatedRStar said...

Calvin Law: You mentioned on FB that John Wayne and Wallace Beery werent exactly saints themselves in regards to actors like Casey Affleck and Emil Jannings, what was it that Wayne and Beery did, was Wayne simply racist and well I dont know what Beery did?

Matt Mustin said...

RatedRStar: Wallace Beery raped Gloria Swanson on their wedding night and tricked her into terminating a pregnancy. This info allegedly being in her autobiography.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: I hate to annoy you with the same questions over and over again, but is an upgrade for James Stewart and/or Frank Morgan possible for The Shop Around the Corner? Having rewatched it, their performances left an even bigger impact than it did before.
Also, I don't want to plug or anything, but if anyone here wants to add me on Facebook, my profile link is here- https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008158535737

RatedRStar said...

Matt Mustin: Oh..

RatedRStar said...

Tahmeed: It wont let me for some reason lol.

RatedRStar said...

Tahmeed: it says "This person isn't available at the moment", you might have to be online for me to send a message.

John Smith said...

1. Gabin
2. Colman
3. Donat
4. Robinson
5. Fonda

Anonymous said...

Not that there's anything wrong with it, but do you ever change your reviews? Because in 1993, right now Liam Neeson is at #2 and has 5. But I'm pretty sure he used to be #1 and have 4.5.

John Smith said...

Hey guys, I was having a breaking bad marathon these last few days with my ex-girlfriend. And she thought that Jesse's parents are assholes? I thought that was a bit harsh. Do you guys agree with her or me?

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Anonymous: Yes he does. Louis's thoughts on a few performances do change over the years (for slightly better or slightly worse), for instance he used to rank DDL at #2 with 4.5 for 2007, who is now #1 and a 5.

Calvin Law said...

RatedRStar: Yeah Matt's gotten one of the points spot on. My main point was that Jannings (well more so for him), Beery, Mel Gibson, Roman Polanski, etc. all have different issues that surround their awards successes. Polanski's I'd say is different because he was actually found guilty. But for Affleck's case I got annoyed when arguing from his side because people seem to want to blame him for Hollywood's general bias towards and exclusion of punishment towards 'white men'. I can kind of see what they mean, but to use some one who settled out of court and might not be guilty seems a bit wrong to me. I don't know though, it's a tough topic.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

John Smith: I definitely agree with you, man. The whole point of Jesse's relationship with his parents is the fact that he made some mistakes and they obviously do have some reason to not trust him blindly. It also made the moment where Jesse and his brother have a certain conversation all the more poignant.

Robert MacFarlane said...

@John Smith: Jesse's parents are in a weird position of being sort of right about him and failing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Jesse IS a chronic fuck-up. But their failure to give him credit for how he stepped up to the plate and helped his aunt shows that they refuse to see him as anything other than that.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Calvin: Believe me, I know. As a film lover and a debater, I find myself in two minds over Affleck's allegations. I've argued with my sister in his defense, and her point is that when proven guilty, the problem is not the fact that abusers win awards, but that it's the fact that they get these roles in the first place.

The problem when people settle out of court is a double-edged sword: it makes the defendant seem as if he/she have something to hide and people construe that for guilt, while it makes the accusers seem like they're motivated for financial reasons instead of justice. It's really hard to tell when it comes to cases like these, and I do believe the Fatty Arbunckle incident (a 20s silent comedian falsely accused of raping and murdering an actress, which ruined his career) is a textbook example of how we might screw things up with our preconceptions.

John Smith said...

These allegations are hard. I mean Polanski was deserving for 'The Pianist' but was it right to give him the award considering what he did?

Calvin Law said...

I mean, I thought Polanski deserved the award in an artistic sense, but frankly I'd have rather they'd given The Pianist Best Picture, Scorsese Best Director maybe?

Calvin Law said...

I mean if it was going to affect the film somehow.

John Smith said...

Calvin: Gangs Of New York was extravagant, fun but extravagant still. What Polanski achieved with his direction was a lot more deserving according to. But I still understand your viewpoint.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

I haven't seen Gangs of New York in a terribly long time, but I definitely think The Pianist deserved Best Picture and Director.

John Smith said...

Tahmeed and Calvin: But do you guys think it was right, considering what he did? Or should you just care about artistic merit?

Calvin Law said...

Polanski is my personal win too, but I just think if people considered it to be a problem I'd prefer that instead.

Tahmeed and John: It's strictly speaking an awards show for film so it should be about artistic merit purely. But there is something to be said for how it affects the hierarchy of the film industry. As Michael said before though, only if the person is indeed proved guilty, and even then it's never clear cut, am I right?

John Smith said...

Calvin: it's not black and white. People seem to forget that.

Robert MacFarlane said...

The harsh truth is that ultimately honoring the merit is still honoring the person, horrible or not. The question is whether or not it's a dealbreaker for you as a person. As for me, I don't have an answer. The one thing that should be avoided is making excuses for their behavior because we like their work. I've seen people try and defend Mel Gibson just because they love his direction, but that doesn't change all of the homiphobic, racist, and anti-Semitic things he's said.

Calvin Law said...

You know what, Robert? You're right. And I do think you do the right thing in criticizing Gibson as a person, and as a filmmaker, but dividing the two apart. Personally, I love him as a director, but that bears absolutely no relation on how I feel about his personal life which I do think is extremely problematic.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Talent and personal life should be separate, if you ask me. I also really don't know how to think or answer, in regards to honoring people who have done immoral acts. Like look at it from another angle: Ashton Kutcher's a bad actor who hasn't done award calibre work yet, but I can't deny all that he's been said to do about reducing trafficking. Akon (an artist I enjoy, personally, though he isn't a critical favorite) has helped children receive electricity in Africa. Now, does any of that change how I perceive their work? Nope, but it allows me to admire them outside of their professional lives.

Similarly, I can readily call Mel Gibson an anti-Semitic asshole, Roman Polanski a pedophile, and Emil Jannings a Nazi, but still love the work that they put onscreen, cause all three of them do have tremendous talent that they used to entertain the masses.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Can I have your thoughts on Taboo and the cast after watching the finale.

Charles Heiston said...

Affleck's performances should be viewed objectively, there's no question to that. His performance and personal affairs are 2 different things.

Louis Morgan said...

Tahmeed:

It's possible for The Shop Around the Corner pair.

Luke:

Now that ending was pretty amazing and I doubt it would fall out of my top ten episodes for the year. This is a show though that I probably wouldn't recommend to anyone even though I did personally like it. It is one of the most atmospheric shows I've ever seen and its technical achievements are quite substantial. It is a slow, very slow burn though and maybe too much of one at times. It really takes it time, and though the payoff was there the build up wasn't always engaging unfortunately. I felt more characters needed more to do, and there were a few characters that felt just like a waste of time which I will get to in a moment. It's good show not quite a great one. I will certainly watch the next season of it though.

Hardy - (As Hardy's work go I did not think this was one of his best despite the greater amount of time at his disposal, it probably also doesn't help that Delaney is still mostly an enigma even by the end of the season. Luckily Hardy is an actor who knows how to work within such boundaries, and is a master of making a grunt mean something. That's the case here and he as usual brings his strong presence to the show. He has the right menace but with just enough pathos within it. Again though Hardy set up Delany beginning here I feel suggests a greater depth even if we only touched the surface of it at the moment.)

Bill - (I felt his performance was effective and occasionally affecting though I couldn't help but feel a certain distance from his character. I don't think the relationship with James was quite established enough. Not anything in terms of the relationship as portrayed by the actors, but rather how it was given in a single short scene in terms of the writing then just made a given from then on. Again the seeds are planted there, but it left me wanting maybe a little too much.)

Buckley - (MVP for me as I felt she brought some much needed upbeat energy to the show without ever seeming out of place either. She perhaps had the most complete arc for the season and I thought she quite eloquently realizes her turn from opportunist to genuine supporter. I love the way she actually kind of one me over through every episode in revealing much more of an honest side, and slowly bringing out this actual charm from the role. All the while she handled in a way that felt natural to the character, I hope there's more of her in a season 2.)

Louis Morgan said...

Chaplin - (LVP I thought she was frankly kind of terrible most of the time, and I felt relief rather than sorrow in the final episode. Never felt she got a real bead on her character, and almost seemed kind of out of place in every episode she was in because of it.)

Pryce - (Prycing it up in the best of ways. He's done this before in more complicated roles, but this was good example of him doing his refined evil routine.)

Watkins - (Honestly I might put him as second best of the cast. He shares a similair role to Pryce and offers the same curiously refined intensity. Watkins goes even further though by bringing a certain empathy within even his most sinister act. I like the way he portrayed him as a man who was doing his evil work like a job, yet was still aware it was evil work after all.)

Hollander - (Hollandering it up in the best of ways. He's just a bit of fun in any scene he's in offering just the right sort of sleaze and humor in an oddly an endearing fashion.)

Graham - (Wanted more of him as I felt Graham managed to convey more to his underworld tough guy than was even required of him. He brought the right sort of intelligence to the role, as well certainly bringing the needed vicious edge as well.)

Hall - (Close to LVP, like his onscreen wife just seemed like a waste of time whenever he appeared. Hall though did not help matters by playing his role in such a one note and over the top fashion.)

Gatiss - (A great piece of grotesque work from him. He thankfully doesn't quite over do it, coming close but not going over the line. He brings just the right sort gluttony to the role of a man who has basically always gotten exactly what he's wanted.)

Fox - (Were his flashbacks cut out or something? Seems odd to cast him as a corpse.)

Luke Higham said...

Louis: If you loved Buckley here, you'll certainly like, if not love her work in War & Peace from the previous year.

Calvin Law said...

I gave up on Taboo after the first 40 minutes of the pilot I'll admit.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: I remember you saying that awhile back. I quite liked it, but it's certainly not for everyone.

Louis: Since there's not much to watch from 1937, could you watch War & Peace (2016) for me. I can't stress enough, how much I've been wanting you to watch that series and as someone who's greatly admired Paul Dano's work lately, he gives the best performance of his career so far and should've been nominated at the globes.

Michael McCarthy said...

Does anyone know of a decent link to watch Pepe le moko with english subs?

Luke Higham said...

Michael McCarthy: I know that you want to see all the performances first, before making a prediction, but either Gabin or Colman will win this lineup.

By the way, have you thought about your next request.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Who would you've cast instead of Clooney and Woodley in The Descendants.

Charles Heiston said...

Calvin: I also didn't care for it, but i did get past the pilot.

Calvin Law said...

I should also note I saw Certain Women today and I found it pretty boring, actually. I feel like if they'd just focused on the Gladstone/Stewart stuff it could have been great though.

Michael McCarthy said...

Luke: I already posted my predictions, but I'm still interested in watching it.

I'm still thinking about it.

Luke Higham said...

Michael: My apologies, I overlooked it.

Luke Higham said...

Has anyone seen The White Ribbon, if so, were there any performances that stood out to you.