Erich von Stroheim did receive Oscar nomination for portraying Walter, the English teacher in Les Disparus de Saint-Agil.
Spoiler Alert, as I write about the best known actor among the supporting cast of a mystery. That usually means only one thing, well that seems to be the point in this case. Actor/director Erich von Stroheim didn't always play the villain, however he does carry a natural striking presence that is also more than a little menacing. This is merely a side effect though rather than a strict intention. This makes him perfectly cast here as Walter the English teacher of the boys school who everyone views as a little scary. von Stroheim's approach in this really is perfect by not trying in a certain sense. Of course he tries but von Stroheim rather delivers just that ease of menace that naturally comes from his presence without really adding much on top of it. The one notable thing he does is to avoid diminishing it, but also not amplifying it either. He rather establishes this natural state of Walter as this very calm and demure individual. He speaks with a quiet yet direct and assured manner. He walks as a man who is essentially a loner, in his very small and very internalized method of moving. von Stroheim presents a man who is not trying to bring attention to himself, however through that brings attention to himself as this overly insular man. There is an early moment that represents this so well where Walter asks the kids essentially if they think he is scary, which von Stroheim delivers beautifully as there is both a solemn hollowness in his manner yet an earnestness deep within it all the same as a man who doesn't want to be seen as scary.
The character of Walter the English teacher for most of the film is quite the red herring which is played up so well by von Stroheim. Again how von Stroheim plays it though is essential in this by carrying that casual unintentional menace. This is through his way of playing every weird action of the man as though he is unable to be anything but a little creepy. I love that von Stroheim doesn't create any false moments just to mislead you in the mystery, but rather makes it this accidental frustration. In the end von Stroheim reveals the truth by so consistently presenting the man as he is, and as this genuine person even if the genuine man always looks a little suspicious. Eventually though suspicious are lifted from him as he ends up helping one of the young rebellious boys trying to solve the mystery. This portion of the film is sadly a little rushed, typical to so many films from the period that want to keep their running time short. Thankfully we do get a bit of it and von Stroheim is rather entertaining as he is tries to go along with the boy. What is entertaining about this is actually von Stroheim once again sticking to the consistency of the character through his performance. von Stroheim still performs him in the same way, which works as both once again reinforcing that the man was honest the whole time, but also makes it a little funny to see Walter become a bit of a Sherlock Holmes of sorts along with the boy. Sadly this does not last nearly long enough. It is however enough to make the final scenes of the film, where a few of the boys welcome Walter into their secret club, properly heartwarming particularly through von Stroheim whose expression still is consistent in his stoic manner yet still reflects a very subtle appreciation in the reserved man. Although I wish the film made a greater use of his work this is a fun little performance from Erich von Stroheim that makes such great use of his onscreen persona.