Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1968: Burt Lancaster and Ossie Davis in The Scalphunters

Burt Lancaster and Ossie Davis did not receive Oscar nominations for portraying Joe Bass and Joseph Lee respectively in The Scalphunters.

The Scalphunters is a very entertaining western about a fur trapper and a former slave attempting to take on a group of vicious scalp hunters.

The Scalphunters fits into that apparently too rare sub-genre of the unlikely pair western, the western equivalent to the buddy cop movie. Like Red Sun and much later Shanghai Noon it takes the enjoyable formula of mixing two types that normally wouldn't go on a western adventure together. In this one we get technically the more typical western hero with Burt Lancaster's Bass who is just trying to make his living trapping yet gets cheated by an Native American chief who forces him to trade his furs for the slave Joseph played by Ossie Davis. Of course Joseph goes around claiming to be a Comanche Indian rather than a slave. There we have our set up but what needs to make this truly work is our two leads. First we have Lancaster who nicely is actually giving a bit of a mix of what are his two usual starting points of either the stoic man or the crazy one. Lancaster nicely plays this one in that Lancaster begins physically looking as though he may be a your more usual typical western hero but the moment he opens his mouth Lancaster strongly suggests otherwise. Then we get Ossie Davis who is usually quite the welcome presence in any film that he appears, this film is no different in that regard.

What sets any film of this sort apart, and what often determines its success is the chemistry between the leads. This is established well to begin with, through the very differing styles of the characters which are properly realized by both Davis and Lancaster. Davis brings this consistent energy as Joseph Lee portraying him as a man with often a smile on his face, but this is not a simple sort that Davis makes. There is always this certain glint that Davis brings to his eye, though more on that later. Lancaster on the other hand is entertaining by his method of portraying Joe Bass as this "hard man". Although technically speaking Bass does have the requisite skills of a western hero Lancaster skews this to begin with by having this comedic element with the character perceived toughness. Lancaster is terrific in the way he portrays the character's constant fussy state that cleverly undercuts the usual western type. After all Lancaster does indeed stand tall, he's technically the right type to begin with yet Lancaster purposefully subverts that by showing those frustrations, that Bass has over losing his furs and most things for that matter, in this sort of childish manner.

The two of them are great fun together in their clashing styles of essentially comedy. Lancaster so intensely portraying Bass while Davis carrying such an easy going approach to Lee. The two of them strike up that right type of antagonist friendship through that conflicting approaches. Davis delivering his long eloquent statements by Lee showing off his considerable skill as a orator, while Lancaster depicts such pained reactions at being unable to compete at the same verbal level is a particular delight. The two though importantly, even initially as the two try to get up on the other in some way, portray this underlying warmth between the interactions even when they fight. This is something just small in their interactions though it properly plants the seeds of a real camaraderie once the plot gets started.The plot being when the group of scalp hunters, lead by Telly Savalas's Jim Howie, not only steal Bass's furs themselves but also capture Joseph Lee. Although this might seem a somewhat swift separation of our co-leads, they thankfully have many more moments together throughout, but also get their chances to shine on their own as well.

Davis fittingly for Joseph Lee gets the most to say as he tries his usual routine with the scalp hunters in order to gain some favor, even though they plan to sell him when given the chance. Davis though again gives such a charismatic portrayal that he makes it wholly believable he would sort of win his captors over. Again though Davis even as he charms with his elegant ability with words, which Davis grants such an innately pleasant quality to, there is that glint in his eye still. That glint though revealed to be a definite cunning by Davis in Joseph Lee who is never quite as carefree as he makes him out to be. Davis does this even when technically Joseph is playing the part of the likable companion, as he brings this certain incisiveness in even his kind words, and always that knowing quality beneath his delivery. Lancaster's scenes are technically a tad more limited given that all he can interact with is his loyal horse yet he still makes the most of these moments. Again Lancaster sort of charges his performance the right way as he is quite humorous while convincing in portraying the perhaps misplaced intensity in Bass as he strives to get his furs back no matter what in a sort of vengeance more fitting to familial loss than monetary loss.

Thankfully though we still get the two occasionally meet whenever they have the chance which generally results in some marvelous comedic moments as Lancaster and Davis know exactly how to play off each other to make their friendship just so endearing. They successfully earn the weight that is granted as the situation becomes more severe and they both start to get into life or death fights. Lancaster and Davis give such an honesty to portraying the concern the two have for each other in the end, though they do this so well by playing these moments so quietly, almost as though the men are hiding their concern yet absolutely earnest in it. The two naturally come together as a real duo even though their final act really is a extended fight scene between the two, but they even manage to create this sense of good nature within that despite their frequency of going for the dirty blows. The two of them capture that remarkable ease in creating the right dynamic that makes all their fighting almost a show of affection, though it just be a most curious show. Lancaster and Davis just exude that fun right in their performances which is infectious to watch as well. The two  are a classic entertaining mismatched pair throughout the film, and really if the film chose to continue on their final quest I could have gone right along with them.

63 comments:

Calvin Law said...

Thoughts and rating for Shelley Winters? Glad you liked it a lot, very entertaining film.

Also Louis: your top 10 scenes from The Room.

Charles Heiston said...

I love this film. Although not the best western of 1968.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Really have to check this out.
Louis: Have you seen Silicon Valley S04E03, E4 and E5? If so, and if it's too hard to remember, I'll be ok with just your thoughts on E05.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Not sure if you've given them before, but I'd like your thoughts on Aidan Gillen's work on Game of Thrones.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your top 5 acting moments for Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Liam Cunningham, Charles Dance and Alfie Allen in Game Of Thrones.

Luke Higham said...

Tahmeed: He has given his thoughts on Gillen, though I doubt they've changed much since he gave them.

Charles Heiston said...

Luke: I think he's covered Dance and Cunningham here:

Cunningham:
1. Being asked about his son's fate - Game of Thrones
2. Confronting Melisandra over Shireen - Game of Thrones
3. Convincing the Iron Bank - Game of Thrones
4. Returning to Stannis after Blackwater - Game of Thrones
5. The Scene - Hunger

Dance:
1. His "sacrifice" - Game of Thrones
2. Preparing the Stag - Game of Thrones
3. Teaching Joffrey who truly rules - Game of Thrones
4. "You're no son of mine" - Game of Thrones
5. Speaking of his own father - Game of Thrones

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your #5 Cunningham moment in Game of Thrones.

Luke Higham said...

Happy 40th Anniversary Star Wars. :)

Robert MacFarlane said...

I kind of hate Gillen for the first three and a half seasons of GoT, but he's gotten less hammy in recent years.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Winters - 5(Loved every second of her performance, and I loved that she and Savalas had a real chemistry despite being the villains. The two of them really had a warmth together that quite honestly gave their relationship a surprising depth that brought more substance to some the later scenes then would have been there otherwise. She offers a real concern in her scenes where Davis talks about the bad signs for Howie rather than just merely being a comedic role. Of course she is also hilarious in portraying the earthy style of her character. I particularly like the way she manages to make her ball busting play right in tandem with her concerns into a natural character. There are a lot of moments that could have come across poorly, particular her final declaration, but Winters owns the part that makes it all work.)

1. Flower Shop
2. "I did not hit her"
3. "You're tearing me apart Lisa"
4. Chris-R wants his money
5. Johnny's Advice
6. You're just a chicken cheep cheep
7. Johnny destroys the room
8. I'm fed up with this world
9. So how's your sex life?
10. Pizza

Tahmeed:

I have. Big Head as the professor was hilarious, as is Jared becoming such an intense right hand man, though I do think they are doing too much plot flipping at the moment making it so nothing is really building in any way. It's all still funny so it's not a major problem but I think the show is at its best and funniest when it settles it a little which it's not doing at the moment.

Gillen - (Well to expand my thoughts a bit and take an overarching view I have to say in terms of the formula of Great Part/Performance quality, he doesn't have a great percentile. Little Finger is a fantastic role that should result in one of the best performances in the show, but it doesn't. Gillen is at his weakest in the early seasons and I have to say I'm not sure he understood the role at that time. He uses the same evil English accent he used in Shanghai Knights in the first season suggesting he thought he was just playing a broad villain but Little Finger should have been so much more. He's gotten progressively better, even switching to his own accent has only been a benefit, as he has added the right complexity to the schemer but he has never quite had the same firm grasp on his character that so many of the other performers on the show do.)

Luke:

Harington:

1. Ending of Hardhome
2. Executing the Mutineers
3. Battle of the Bastards
4. Waking from Death
5. Battle for Castle Black

Coster-Waldau:

1. Jamie's Confession
2. Saving Brienne From Locke
3. Threatening Edmure
4. Pleading with Tywin for Tyrion
5. Gift to Brienne

Allen:

1. "I've Gone too Far"
2. Shaving Ramsay
3. Goodbye to Sansa
4. Confession to Ramsay
5. Ironborn Speech

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

5. Stannis meeting with an imprisoned Davos

Calvin Law said...

What do you think of Shanghai Noon and Knight Louis? Also glad we're in a complete agreement about Winters and Flower Shop.

Calvin Law said...

And also, your 2010s choices for The Scalphunters cast and director?

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the Chris-R scene.

Calvin Law said...

Also, your thoughts on Jimmy O. Yang in Silicon Valley.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Can I have a dozen red roses please?

Both films I do think are enjoyable, in fact I think Noon's a whole lot of fun on the whole. Very much western Rush Hour with plenty of fun action sequences with Chan's signature fight style and Wilson making for a good foil for Chan. Knights suffers from some sequenlitis, most notably Roy completely losing all his development from the first film though it still is better than most comedy sequels, and I'd actually say the villains are bit more memorable in Knights.

Yang - (Actually feel his character has become overused at this point as he was originally set up for the quick side joke that were funny. He played his role in a one dimensional fashion, which work for the purpose of his character in the first two seasons. The problem though is now the character really is trying to expand a little further but that's not working because of that original set up. He's still funny when he's just there for the quick joke, but when there's more of him it doesn't really fit what Yang did originally.)

The Scalphunters directed by The Coen Brothers:

Joe Bass: Matthew McConaughey
Joseph Lee: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Jim Howie: George Clooney
Kate: Melanie Lynskey

Anonymous:

Such a powerful scene that covers such important issues while being set on a roof, while establishing the pivotal backstory to explain the bizarre character that is Denny. Few scenes set on a roof are as harrowing as that one. Also truly an Oscar caliber turn from the titular strangely named man (all seriousness he actually gives the one legitimately good performance in the film).

Alex Marqués said...

I think David Thewlis could've been great playing Lord Baelish.

Luke Higham said...

Another five for the greatest supporting actress of all-time. :)

Saw Pirates 5, nothing to write home about. Bardem was fun enough but he can't rise above a formulaic script and a franchise that is unwilling to die. Since no one else will be seeing this film, they're hinting at a Davy Jones return for Pirates 6.

Charles Heiston said...

Louis: This may have been asked before, but can Kingsley go up for Gandhi.

Anonymous said...

Louis: So, are you going to review Savalas for supporting?

Louis Morgan said...

Charles:

It's quite possible.

Anonymous:

Possibly.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the Flower Shop and the I did not hit her scene. I think Doggy did a great job with his part.

Louis Morgan said...

Well the Flower shop scene really does speak for itself, Doggie's amazing performance, the commentary that sunglasses can hide even the most familiar humanoids, the choice to hold the flowers upside down, only a filmmaker on the level of Tommy Wiseau would even have included such a scene in a film.

On purely a technical level the I did not hit her scene is incredible in its daring, to keep the audio mix so disjointed and the skyline blurry clearly suggests Wiseau was playing with our expectations of what a film should look and sound like, keeping us on edge in order to make us sympathize with Johnny's plight all the more.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Thoughts on Amanda Crew and Suzanne Cryer in Silicon Valley.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Also, having seen the show before reading the books, I actually liked Aidan Gillen's work in the early seasons, especially his scenes with Conleth Hill (although the latter's work is certainly better). Then again, I do have to admit that a more subtle approach would have resulted in an even more memorable performance.

Anonymous said...

I dont think Savalas should be reviewed, 1968 already has a bunch of performances that I think are way better that have been mentioned a lot.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: What do you think of the Simpsons episode "Homer's Enemy" which got a ton of flak for being too "dark"?

Robert MacFarlane said...

Homer's Enemy is my favorite episode in the series.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Robert: I also admire it a lot, but I've read reviews that criticize its cynicism, so to speak.

Alex Marqués said...

That episode is one of my favourites as well, Grimes is such a brilliantly tragic character. And it's a hilarious episode to boot.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

I love it because it's a terrific deconstruction of the question that we all have, "how would a sane person from the real world last in this show" xD.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I also think Grimes is Azaria's best performance on the show.

Matt Mustin said...

Robert: I think it's Azaria's best too.

Charles Heiston said...

I'd say it's his best as well.

Anonymous said...

Just saw Ghost in the Shell. It looked pretty, but was meh.

Louis Morgan said...

Tahmeed:

Crew - (Her performance is very much like Middleditch's in that her work is mainly facilitating the more technically dramatic elements of the show for the most part. In that sense her performance is all that funny but nor does it really need to be. It works in doing exactly the intention which is giving a lightweight though technically dramatic performance which works well for the show, and she delivers whenever those moments come up thought they are technically slight as dramatic scenes go.)

Cryer - (I find her performance to be kind of a weak imitation of what Christopher Evan Welch did. She's never distracting or anything but she's not especially funny for how obtuse her character is.)

I think Homer's Enemy is one of the best episodes of the Simpsons and perhaps the last truly great episode of the show, really Mr Burns's judging of the model contest alone makes it great episode. Those who think it's too cynical I'd say actually are taking the show too seriously. It's ridiculous to have a normal guy interact with Homer at his most absurd, and that's how the episode plays in a hilarious fashion. There is nothing serious about Grimes's plight in the style of the episode it's played purely for laughs which there are plenty of, even his demise plays very much into classic animated dark humor that you can even find in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on these scenes:
The Transformation - Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs
Monstro - Pinocchio
The Gifts/Maleficent Intro - Sleeping Beauty
The Opening, Be Prepared and Mufasa's ghost - The Lion King
Bells Of Notre Dame (Intro), Heaven's Light/Hellfire and Frollo's fall - The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

Luke Higham said...

Louis: And your top ten Return of the King pieces.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on Azaria's performance as Frank Grimes. And also thoughts on Charlie Schlatter as Flash (you forgot to post them in another review).

Calvin Law said...

Speaking of Flash, that DC movie's never going to be made at this rate.

Anonymous said...

Calvin: Yeah, you're right.

Alex Marqués said...

Who would have thought that Sandler and Pattinson would give two of the most acclaimed performances at Cannes festival?

Anonymous said...

Alex: That's something that I never thought it'd be possible.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Finally finished 11.22.63, and I loved every minute of it. The only qualms I really had was some of the writing behind George Mackay's character later on, but the strength of his performance was enough to overcome it. I LOVED Franco and Gadon's performances, and the ending did indeed make me emotional.

Cast ratings-
Franco-5
Gadon-5
Mackay-4.5
Webber-4
Fry-4
Cooper-4.5

Alex Marqués said...

I had some problems with 11.22.63 regarding the writing of some characters, but the ending was so good.

Alex Marqués said...

It seems that Joaquin Phoenix gave another impressive performance in "You Were Never Really Here".

Luke Higham said...

Has anyone seen Band Of Brothers. If you have, which cast members stood out the most to you.

Anonymous said...

Luke: I haven't seen Band of Brothers yet. I will at some point.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I personally thought Rick Gomez was MVP of Bamd of Brothers, but I was impressed with Damien Lewis as well.

Luke Higham said...

Also, has anyone seen The Kennedys with Kinnear, Pepper, Holmes and Wilkinson.

94dfk1 said...

Luke: I have actually. Really felt more like a soap opera to me and a little by-the-numbers but it's entertaining enough and the performances were solid. Saw it about 5 years ago or so.

94dfk1 said...

Luke: It's also somewhat corny at times but Williamson is very good in it. A mixed bag for me but I don't regret watching it.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Would you consider upgrading Michael Lerner for Barton Fink.

Charles Heiston said...

I didn't mind the writing behind Bill's character in 11,22,63. I adored the whole show.

Louis Morgan said...

Watched War Machine, I don't think it would have been a great film no matter what but Pitt's performance just about ruins any potential it might have had.

Luke:

The Transformation - (Legitimately effective horror scene that perhaps is the best scene in the film with the animation of the transformation itself particularly with extreme nature of the change, the revelation itself is a particularly creepy moment.)

Monstro - (As often with Pinnochio it really capture quite the intensity though this time of a different sort through kind of a sheer grand terror personified through Monstro, which is beautifully animated as a sort of wonder yet is "terrible" all the same.)

The Gifts/Maleficent Intro - (Thinking about it the film is sort of book ended by great scenes. The animation of the whole introduction is incredible in terms of making the most in terms of the highly stylized animation, particularly in the use of colors around the giving of the gifts and Maleficent's entrance. In terms of the story it's also really best scene as it contains the most of the best character particularly in Maleficent's introduction which is one of the very best Disney villain scenes.)

The Opening - (Hey it's become iconic for a reason as it shows the full extent of their animation prowess at the time with the epicness to the scale of animals, and even the horizon itself all amplified by the central song of course.)

Be Prepared - (Proper use of Nazi imagery for your kid's movie since it works so well in creating the evil of scar, and it goes overboard in a fun way with the ground rising, that actually makes no sense if you think about, but boy does it make for a great musical sequence.)

Mufasa's ghost - (Although I feel the whole aspect of Simba coming to terms with himself isn't the strongest aspect of the Lion King this is also another iconic scene for a reason particularly through the image of the cloud ghost and Jones's voice coming from it.)

Bells Of Notre Dame - (An amazing scene in terms of sheer exposition prowess through the use of the story teller, but also in terms of emotional power and animation. It sets the stage for the film with such an incredible opening with that clouds to the city, but the use of the song the imagery is in just about perfect tandem particularly the "eyes" of Notre Dame moment.)

Heaven's Light/Hellfire - (The juxtaposition actually is pivotal, even though Hellfire is most often looked at alone, as the introduction of Heaven's Light does amplify Hellfire as it basically examines the two point of views of both men towards Esemeralda but also how both men use religion which is realized through the vastly conflicting songs and imagery set around both. With Quasimodo it being such a modest scene but fitting his personality and gentle purpose, against the fire and brimstone of the images Frollo further amplified by lust that only seems to amplify the fire. It's a brilliant absolutely transfixing sequence.)

Frollo's fall - (One of my favorite villain deaths for the transformation, fitting for Frollo, falling into the fires below, a perfect hellish sendoff for his puritanical sinner.)

Return of the King:

1. The Fields of Pelennor
2. The End of All Things
3. Minas Tirith
4. The Steward of Gondor
5. The Black Gate Opens
6. Shelob's Lair
7. The White Tree
8. The Return of the King
9. Twilight and Shadow
10. Ash and Smoke

Tahmeed:

Yes.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your In-Depth thoughts on War Machine and ratings/thoughts on the cast. I heard Swinton was the highlight, though she's in it briefly.

Charles Heiston said...

I got a feeling Pitt's going to get a bad rating, he's back to being bland lately.

Luke Higham said...

Charles: Too broad, I'd say.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Who would you've preferred in Pitt's role.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on The Stampede/Mufasa's Death (The Lion King).

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Azaria gives a great performance inspired by William H. Macy, and you hear that in the right ways. He has that delivery that just emphasis a guy who just doesn't quite have it. He's unassuming though in this not quite having it and makes the frustrations so real yet so hilarious. In fact that is what really makes it so funny because Azaria, even in the final scenes, gives straight performance that represents such earnest frustrations than earned madness.

From what I recall, it's been a long time since I thought that episode, he gave a charismatic and funny portrayal fitting to the Wally West style Flash.

Luke:

I'm not sure if Michod was the right director as a dark satire is a hard genre to pull off, and Michod's style would need a Kubrickian approach, a la Dr. Strangelove, Paths of Glory, Full Metal Jacket, yet he kind of tries a more Scorsese style, particularly through his use of narration, that just doesn't meld together. In the end of it reminded me a bit of the Lord of War as its transitions from serious to comedic are never smooth, though it is better focused than that film was. What could have brought together though was a charismatic and brilliant lead performance that could melded the tone instead we have Pitt, speaking of that.

Pitt - 1.5(He's technically more a 2, in that he has some decent moments in his most emotionally moments physically, but he's too detrimental to the film for that. Pitt could have melded the tone but the problem is he's not in a dark satire nor is he in a serious war film. He's in a parody cartoon. Someone needs to give him a cease and desist order for that Aldo Raine voice, it has gone too far at this point. Pitt just can never be taken seriously because of that, but not only because of that. He occasionally throws in weird lip movements that just make him mostly a one note caricature that is impossible to believe. He's neither funny nor does he offer any real insight into the personality. He's just ridiculous, but not in a believable way. He's just a cartoon, except for when the general is upset but that's not enough. I guess he may have been going for what George C. Scott did in Patton, but he missed the mark terribly if that was the case.)

Louis Morgan said...

I probably would've preferred Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey, Michod's frequent collaborator Guy Pearce, or Russell Crowe who's even in the film.

Kingsley - 2(He's also perhaps a bit too ridiculous himself though he holds back enough not to be as absurd as Pitt.)

Cohen, Hayes, Betts, Grace, Hall - 2.5(They're all fine but basically there to say one liners as a group circus. With a better ringmaster they probably would have worked better.)

Stanfield - 3(He's actually moving in his brief individual scene that could have added the right reality in the film if the rest of the satire had been working. His performance though works as a bit of straight humanity within that though.)

Poulter - 2.5(He's fine but just really a standard soldier in every sense.)

Tilly - 2.5(Just there to smile by Pitt, and she does that well. Her limitation though was probably the point though.)

Dunne, Ruck - 3(They kind of allude to what the film could have been as well with the right lead as the capture the right humorous tone in their performances while they still are believable g-men.)

Magaro - 3(I liked his performance as he not only gave a great Bruno Kirby style performance I think he also managed to find the right tone in that he was funny but never too ridiculous which is what the tone needed to be closer to.)

McNairy - 3(Well a major improvement over his last collaboration with Michod. His performance is mainly there for that narration which actually is fairly effective in just how much quiet vitriol that McNairy brings to his delivery.)

Swinton - 3.5(Again a performance that I think would have had an even greater impact with the right lead in that she should have been the blunt reality against his delusions. Swinton though still provides the reality in her performance that brings the incisiveness to her words with such palatable passion within the precision still. It's a strong performance that could have been a knock out moment if the film had been better.)

Crowe is in it for two seconds.

Stampede - (Oh its a terrific scene with a real visceral intensity within the action of the stampede through the animation. There is as well as quite the moment for Scar with just how brutal that death moment really is. It caps it up though with ripping your heart out through just how long it lingers on Simba's realization that his father is dead.)