Monday, 29 July 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Burt Lancaster in The Leopard

Burt Lancaster did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina in The Leopard.

The Leopard is a rather effective film following aristocrat attempting to uphold his family's position within Sicily during a time of upheaval.

Burt Lancaster joins of one of many of the American or international leads taking on the center role of an Italian film...often in Italian. Well having both watched the film in Italian and all of Lancaster's scenes in English, with his own vocal performance, that's is just something to note more than anything else. What the film though does offer a rather a different role for Lancaster, who was perhaps one of the more covertly versatile actors of his period. This as Lancaster inhabits this role from the first scene of the film as we see his Prince taking in a prayer service with his family, before receiving somewhat troubling news of the ongoing revolution around them. Even with his own voice Lancaster embodies this role beautifully in a rather unique way among his own work. This is as Lancaster is almost always a commanding presence. That is just part of his nature as a performer, but what is striking here is how he manages to deliver that in a wholly different way as the prince. His whole physical manner here is remarkable in the way he creates such a powerful presence. This with a perfectly dignified walk, fitting to a royalty that was bred to be as such, but everything he does here Lancaster does so with that regal quality. What is most essential in this, and in a way more notable, is that Lancaster does so with such a genuine ease and grace. Lancaster makes for a most convincing Italian royal, through this brilliant adjustment toward his typical presence, that uses that power but in a new way.

The Leopard, along with director Luchino Visconti's previous film, Rocco and His Brothers, was undoubtedly a great influence on the far better known The Godfather, with all films being about the life of an Italian family. Where "Rocco" you can see perhaps the influence on the life of the family and sibling dynamics of the Corleone family, here though it is difficult not to see at least some influence on the patriarch of the Corleone'sm, Vito, in Lancaster's prince. This is evident within Lancaster's performance, who just visually isn't a far cry from Brando's appearance in that film, but the comparison stretches further than this. This is as we find the Prince who is essentially our hero in the film, though like Vito, a hero who seeks to maintain the way of life and prominence of his family, whom the viewer may or may not agree with. The method of the man is perhaps what sells the sympathies, which is so impeccably realized by Lancaster's portrayal. This as the prince is a man of this quiet power. Again realized in Lancaster's work, where that ease in manner just carries the immediate strength of the man, but as does his voice that carries this careful precision. This as Lancaster finds something essential in his portrayal which is a careful intelligence that the prince uses to ensure his family survives within the upheaval around him.

Lancaster delivers on the expected confidence within the character which he exudes in every encounter. This even when speaking of the most potentially troublesome developments Lancaster's eyes conveys the right degree of calculation as though the prince is immediately deciding on what his next move needs to be. The essential facet though, that I would say is most similar to Vito, and helps to design that sympathy for the man is this unquestioned concern for his family. This is as Lancaster delivers this understated, yet palatable warmth within the role. This particularly well shown as he wishes his nephew, Tancredi (Alain Delon), good fortune in actually joining the rebel army even donating something to it. Lancaster keeps a reserved expression, but is magnificent in delivery such an overpowering still, sense of affection for the young man. In that moment too, Lancaster finds just the right degree of wistful optimism in the encouragement. This is as Lancaster is able to express in the moment, care for his family but also an enjoyment of the the idea of the idealism of joining in the fight. Lancaster holds back enough though as he still keeps the prince within his station as a prince, who theoretically should support the old guard, but carries this natural sense of the appreciation for those potentially trying to create a better world.

That revolution is technically successful however it is worked for the royals to maintain position through a constitutional monarchy, which the prince endorses. This in a series of a few of the public scenes of the prince as he works his will to ensure the survival of his family, by dealing with some corrupt men, or at least all too eager to find power. Lancaster is outstanding in carrying the technically manipulative charisma within the prince. There is a particularly great scene where the prince goes to vote in a fixed election that will maintain his family's prominence essentially through the creation of allies. Lancaster's fantastic in the scene as he's able to carefully play the scene so we see the prince's manipulation even as he's technically had compromised to meet his goal. Lancaster delivers this perfect twinkle in his eye as he charms the local corrupt Don, through his voting, while also carefully ensuring no disfavor comes to his family's priest who likely would not vote the expected way. Lancaster's magnificent because in every moment we see him as the man in command of the situation even as the prince plays into the fix. This with his bright smile that appeases the crowd, but still with the quick incisive eyes of the man who knows he is working his will.

In private though we find a different man, where Lancaster too excels in creating the very real sense of the man. This particularly in the private discussions with his priest. Lancaster again delivers two things so well in this the first again being that genuine warmth. This even extends to discussing his own reasons for adultery, which Lancaster manages to speak without excessive hypocrisy, underlined perhaps as he speaks every moment regarding his family with that with only this honest concern. This that he underlines more with a strict passion as he discusses his reasons for his own political maneuvers. He calmly explains the needs for his family's survival with a striking devotion and even a humble sincerity regarding the path. Lancaster is captivating but also creates the essential concern for his position. This is particularly essential again, as Lancaster makes one care for the royal family maintaining their status, just as Vito Corleone did so for his criminal enterprise. Lancaster embodies a the true sense of the leader as he advocates for his position, not through grand statements but through precise action and compromise. This even to the point he rejects potential real power as a senator, which again Lancaster is outstanding by managing to convey in the moment of rejection again this repressed enthusiasm showing that while the prince's heart would be in it, his sense forces him against it.

The film ends as he sees the success of those who are the most opportunistic, and perhaps not the most principled, succeed including his nephew Tancredi, who switches from the revolutionary to the royal army without a second thought. This technically culminating in an alliance as Tancredi marries the daughter of the opportunistic Don, Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), to their mutual benefit. Lancaster, as great as he is in the rest of the film, is downright extraordinary in the final sequence celebrating essentially the new alliance and really the new world. This sequence doesn't even require one to watch the film with Lancaster's voice, as he carries such a poignancy just within his face throughout the sequences. This as the prince goes off to passively look upon the extravagance of those around him and the somewhat questionable fruits of his labor. The sense of melancholia is particularly moving as there is almost the sense of second guessing all that he has played for, in the quietly, yet so strikingly distraught expression as he looks upon seemingly nothing of value around him. The one respite in this being in seeing the young couple of Angelica and Tancredi, which despite the opportunistic pairing do genuinely love each other. The expression of this is best scene in the moment where the prince dances with Angelica. This in the brief moment Lancaster evokes the spark of the prince so beautifully as he looks upon her with the eyes of appreciation for some future, or at least something worthwhile within it. This is but a respite though as after this moment, the prince resigns himself as basically a fading past. Lancaster's amazing again as delivers that understated yet so resonate in his portrayal of this despair, of a man accepting yet still haunted by essentially being an extinct breed. This is an incredible performance by Burt Lancaster, that is unlike any other performance of his I've seen, in delivering this rather effortless yet always compelling depiction of a man both strict in his conviction for his family though with the intelligence to know when to compromise for that conviction.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Robert Shaw & Donald Pleasence in The Caretaker

Robert Shaw did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Aston nor did Donald Pleasence for portraying Mac Davies in The Caretaker.

The Caretaker is the most effective cinematic adaptation of the three Harold Pinter play's I've seen. This still, as with the other films, being largely a direct translation, though here with some careful cinematic additions within the film, most noticeably the film's eerie sound design.

Obviously, performances are essential with any play adaptation, however they seem to take on an even greater purpose within the ambiguous writing of Harold Pinter. His writing rarely spells things out, more of granting subtle shades of ideas, and alluding to things while rarely ever flatly telling you the direct truth of a matter. In this in mind we are introduced to two men walking down the streets as this film opens, observed by a third man. The first man appears to be a basic hobo played by Donald Pleasence. An actor who is best known today for his genre turns as Dr. Loomis in Halloween or perhaps as one take on James Bond's arch nemesis Blofeld. Although even as those turns show the evidence of the man's talent, they barely even skim the surface of his great ability as a performer. If one were to witness his turn here, one will immediately see all the greater dynamic of a performer, who already seemed rather remarkable. Pleasence is a far cry from the troubled yet clearly affluent Doctor Loomis, this as a lower class man, that Pleasence immediately embodies in a wholly transformative turn. Pleasence's whole physical manner is of this retiring behavior, a manner clearly defined by a hardship of some sort, a messy existence of a man living in the cracks of society. There's a particularly brilliant way with one hand Pleasence keeps warm essentially, as the other, reaching for expressions, keeping the man protecting himself, while seeming to attempting a conversation of some kind with the other man.

The other man is Aston, played of course by Robert Shaw, an actor who thankfully is best known for his greatest performance, however the greatness of his ability is perhaps still under looked. Shaw here though seems perhaps this is within a certain element of his wheelhouse. This being the cold man. This as there is such a stark contrast between Pleasence and Shaw, as Shaw walks barely with a glance to Pleasence, with a careful step, every movement along their pathway. The idea of interaction even seems almost alien, as Shaw makes Aston appear ever so distance. This curious state continues as Aston shows the elder man into an apartment, which he claims is a place he'll be able to stay for at least the night. Shaw's performance in this film actually is one of the result, and a most fascinating one. Because again, this appears as Shaw is working within the idea of the refined English gentleman, who is so austere in his manner, that there appears a contradiction as Aston makes this invitation to Pleasence's Davies. Shaw seems most peculiar, almost as though he is perhaps a calm collected murderer, as he just quietly delivers each line, while keeping this rather consistent eye contact with him. This as Aston remains always so observant yet so detached within Shaw's portrayal, that seems contradictory, at first.

Speaking of contradictions, of the more obvious sort, is the man that is Davies, who gives the name of Bernard Jenkins, along with a variety of different claims, depending on the slightest hint of an idea from Aston. Pleasence is downright amazing in realizing the rather tricky dialogue, of sorts, at hand in Davies who when in conversation imparts a constant stream of various thoughts, typically half-thought. Pleasence thrives with this, with an entirely different accent from his typically posher sort, that is not only crasser but also a natural lisp fitting to a man whose teeth are familiar with the street than a dentist's chair. Pleasence's accent, along with aforementioned physicality is not only so naturally realized, but immediately grants you a sense of this man as any presumed notions of a Pleasence performance are wiped away. Pleasence's ability with that the tricky dialogue is part of this, as he manages to make it sing, in the properly disjointed way it should be. He grants this perfect rambling tempo, when no one gets in the way of Davies's speech, that evokes so effectively a man who has basically made a good portion of his life just blathering to whoever is in ear shot. A man you may believe seems is eager for conversation, establishing why it is perhaps that Aston is walking with him as the film opens.

As great as the transformation already is by Pleasence, it theoretically could be easy enough to stop it there and leave him just this flat kook of a strange sort. Pleasence though takes this performance far beyond that, and in many ways, makes the film through how dynamic his portrayal is in terms of creating the nature of Davies. This is especially within portraying the shades of the man depending on his audience and depending on his circumstance. In that opening Pleasence has a false affability, in that it is very much egotistical in the grand standing way he speaks every word as this accomplishment, however brought to life in this outgoing fashion that one might believe is friendly, if one is poorly experienced in such things. This changes rather subtly in Pleasence's work as Aston offers Davies a place to stay. Pleasence so cleverly begins to subvert the initial impression a bit as he starts to eye the place with both a curiosity and suspicion. This as he conveys so effectively that Davies isn't quite sure what to make of Aston's offer, yet given his current circumstances is more than willing to utilize it. As he continues with this process Davies quiets just a bit, only a bit, and Pleasence is fantastic in a moment of scoffing at the lack of a usable gas stove. This with a directness, that Pleasence emphasizes within his delivery, that establishes sort of the essential "secret" of his character.

There is more to Davies as he comes into interactions with our third character, the observing man from the opening, Mick (Alan Bates) who is Aston's brother. He initially comes in though hectoring Davies by trying to scare him. Pleasence capturing an initial vicious reaction to attempt to push off any real threat, fitting to a man of the street as though he would be attempting to scare off any mob of men harassing him. When Mick reveals himself, and plays verbal games as well, Pleasence is great in portraying Davies finding his gear of dealing with this brother as well. This initial with these more hostile ramblings, when it appears Mick himself might be hostile, ramblings that build himself up. Pleasence is excellent in each bit of banter as though it is this exact, slightly mad, yet still skilled attack to attempt to settle his place. This almost drowning out any attacks on him through the sheer amount of lies he can espouse in single conversation. Pleasence realizes this beautiful mess in his work, as he manages to create the right degree of mania, with also a certain astuteness. Pleasence doesn't exactly portray this as wholly a lie in the man, but rather the man's method of defense, and as we will also see, attack.

Meanwhile we have Shaw's Aston who continues to seemingly be rather friendly in terms of his offerings to Davies. This is as he gives the man a place to stay and recommends that he have a job as well as the caretaker. This while also consistently mentioning his need to build a shed, a exceptionally performed and especially important line for him. This as he delivers it with this certain fixation on the idea, which matches this fixation we see in his eyes upon Davies. This as Shaw speaks as though he constantly looking for something from the man, something that Shaw doesn't portray as intense outwardly, but rather this internalized intensity towards an interest. This is the key to Shaw's performance though as we find in Shaw's major moment within the film, and the most concrete bit of information within the story. Once again proving the master of the monologue, Shaw's delivery of Aston's story is spellbinding. This is as he finally really speaks and Shaw pulls you into every word. This being another harrowing story of the past, but with a different tilt to the one he would become legendary for. This is as Shaw reveals a man essentially broken mentally, relating the story of the electroshock given to him. Shaw is haunting in every word by finding this most unique emotionalism, within just his eyes, and even the sharp distance of his story. This as he fashions this searing pain of the past within his words, that ends up being reflected into the present. This as he grants sense to the entirety of his performance, as explaining a man who has been stunted and detached emotionally. Shaw realizes this as man though, with still emotion, that still exists within him, but hidden within his hide damaged by perhaps illness, perhaps this trauma. Shaw's quiet intention to harm the man who had done this act to, he brings as this moment of remarkable clarity, as he conveys it as a bit of something Aston can hold onto in his difficult state. This is especially well realized as Shaw then segues back to Aston's statement of shed building, again as fixation he also uses as his base attempt at communication.

Shaw manages to convey the real purpose of Aston's long stares, and kindly actions as he seeks for human interaction yet struggles to find it. This making Davies seem the ideal candidate from his boisterous words, that again could seem affable enough, particularly for someone as socially stunted as Aston. Pleasence excels as he slowly portrays Davies not so much as changing, but revealing himself. This as he begins to slowly find friendlier terms with Mick, at the same time Aston attempted to reveal more of himself. With the former brother Pleasence fashions this almost good old boy attitude, as he revels in joy with the back and forth with almost this maniacal glee. This turns even more so to this as Pleasence speaks with quiet venom these little words of antagonism towards Aston to Mick, and reveals a subtle manipulation within the man. This is against his scene with Aston, as even when Aston really reveals his deepest vulnerability to him, Pleasence is terrific actually by making Davies's reaction so limited. This as this almost confusion of why the man would share such information, almost a disinterest as Pleasence reveals the secret of Davies, which that he's an entirely self-serving freeloader. I especially love the moment in which Davies's ramblings, which are usually false pleasantries, fake bake stories and general odd ego stroking, fall into threats. Pleasence rambles these off as he would any other, making them particularly cruel as Davies mentions he could have Aston returned to the electroshock, as though it is just a casual idea to him, and revealing just how little Aston's moment of vulnerability meant to him. This however making Davies's game becoming a bit more obvious as the manipulator, as he attempts to pit the brothers against one another for his benefit. There's a particularly simple scene in this regard where in the night Davies makes random noises while Aston is trying to sleep, again to be another manipulation. Pleasence is an amazing weasel as again he brings just such a casual earnestness in the self-serving suggestions, claiming an alternative job offer from Mick, even with the act having this fiendish intelligence revealed within his eyes as he makes his seemingly noises. Shaw is also great in this scene in portraying Aston's distaste finally with Davies's behavior, again through so little, that Shaw excels with in still conveying this disappointment in his eyes, rather than the eyes of interest and a hope for connection that we had seen before.

This eventually leading to the final confrontation of sorts as Davies duplicity perhaps gives a chance for connection for the brothers as Aston decides to evict Davies. Shaw does so much with so little in this scene as we are granted the one major interaction between the brothers, where Shaw finds a real poignancy in just the smallest sense of familiarity and affection he grants in the tiny glance between the brothers. This showing that perhaps Aston finally has found his connection with another person. This against his moment with Pleasence, where Shaw speaks volumes through his retiring manner, that distance himself as much as possible. This without uncaring deliveries, that are so notable, and make actually the sense of his earlier ones all the more. This now showing there's a truly detached Aston, from a sense of uncaring, rather than that early detachment in Aston due to his damaged mind, the two sides that Shaw flawlessly brings to life. Shaw says very little, but shows that Aston has no interest or purpose for Davies who abused his kindness. Pleasence offers one more magnificent scene, which is almost not necessary to say I suppose as Pleasence is outstanding every second he's onscreen here. I love what Pleasence does though as we have him again riffing through different terrible self-serving ideas, that are particularly obvious at this point, towards Aston to allow him to stay. As much as Pleasence does allow one to see just how despicable he is, he manages to find just the modicum of humanity in conveying a very real fear between each suggestion, of man with a very uncertain future. Both actors give downright brilliant performances. This is as each realizes a very tricky character, but grants a real sense to them and power to their existence. Shaw through a rather minimalist yet impactful turn of slowly revealing the truth of a broken, and Pleasence through a grand, yet nuanced and oh so complex portrayal of a broken man of an entirely different sort.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Michael Redgrave & Laurence Olivier in Uncle Vanya

Michael Redgrave did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Uncle Vanya nor did Laurence Olivier did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. Astrov in Uncle Vanya.

Much like the Stuart Burge directed Othello, also starring Olivier, this film isn't quite just a filming of the play but it is close to it. There is no audience, and it is not just one day they decided to film the play. It is shot on a stage set, but the performances/direction, are attuned towards a general cinematic idea, more so than even in Othello, with edits, closeups, etc. being used by Burge, rather than just flatly filming a play performance. In that context, the film does work quite well as a strong staging of a remarkable play.

Michael Redgrave, who rarely played a happy man, plays the titular role of Uncle Vanya, though not necessarily the central role. He is one man within the estate in which the story is set. The old house of Vanya's sister, who is now deceased but left the house, an old maid daughter Sonya (Joan Plowright), and her husband the professor Serebryakov. The professor's visit being the catalyst in the story as he visits the estate with his new young wife Yelena (Rosemary Harris). Vanya is a role that is as unimportant as it is essential in terms of the state of being that defines Vanya. He is a middle aged man, an intelligent one, essentially without purpose within the rural estate. Redgrave's performance perhaps benefits from the pseudo cinematic form the most as so much of his performance are the moments of focusing on him, even when he turned away from whoever is speaking. Redgrave's initial approach is very much the success of his work entirely in realizing his Uncle Vanya. This is as he makes the man in this nearly comical tragic state of a man having had his life been wasted away, seemingly by circumstance. This is not drudgery to watch, as it could've been, as Redgrave tilts within that certain humorous overarching approach that is a rather fascinating one.

A frequent visitor, and fellow denizen of the provincial, is Dr. Astrov, who in many ways is the other side of the very same coin as Vanya. Astrov being played by the great Olivier, who I will praise to no end at any chance, and this will be no exception in that regard. Astrov's role is the more active of the two, which Olivier takes hold of naturally enough. Olivier leading into a given scene with such charisma as a man, who has just a bit more stature within his profession as doctor, but there is a bit more to it than that. Olivier though from the outset is wonderful to watch here playing the part with such a wonderful zest that makes Astrov stand out as he should, as a man who speaks his mind just a bit more than his fellow visitors and residents. Olivier of course takes hold of this idea splendidly with such rapturous deliveries, fitting to Astrov's natural musing upon the situations around him. Olivier delivers the right sort atypical extroverted bent to the man with a love of nature, and just really a general spirited attitude. Olivier exudes the right type of joy of at least the experience of interaction, which is where his performance intermingles with Redgrave's the most. This is as again, Astrov from a cursory look seem like they might be the opposite, which is the fantastic part of what Redgrave and Olivier do together, as the two are in a very similar situation.

Redgrave was an expert at the discontent of life, giving an all-time great performance depicting that in The Browning Version, in portraying such a natural anxiety. This is the case here as Redgrave in a given scene just exudes this discomfort of one's state being. This as making Vanya a man who can find comfort in his own skin even given the discomfort he has had with his life. Redgrave's work again though is terrific because he does not make it this slog and adheres to the idea of Uncle Vanya, the play, is technically a comedy. This is not to say he exactly gives a comedic performance, but what Redgrave does makes sense of the character through this humorous approach. A darkly humorous approach however as Redgrave plays the part as though Vanya can't help but nearly laugh at the expense of himself at every given situation. Rather than cry, Redgrave is rather powerful in making such a painful smile as he just shakes his head at his existence again and again. There is a real pathos Redgrave finds with this, that he carries as almost Vanya's shield from completely breaking down into despair. This even as he declares his love for the young Yelena, Redgrave is heartbreaking as his delivery is inundated with self-deprecating scoffs and grins. This as Redgrave plays the moment quite effectively as one of self-defeat, knowing his attempt for the younger woman will fail, but tries anyway.

Now the two are of the same coin in that Astrov is very much in the same situation as Vanya. In that neither is happy in their place in life, and feel very much out of place within their setting for their existence. Olivier though shows that Astrov quite simply is not as burdened by this knowledge as Vanya is. He instead delivers the mention of their unfortunate circumstances with a blunt straight forward, "yes this is how it is", of a man whose basically made peace with it. Olivier though underlines this though with portraying the doctor as trying to enjoy what there can be found in his life as much as can be found. One of the ways is even within trolling Vanya a bit, as he basically makes fun of him from time to time, which Olivier portrays as biting though with a definite good nature, as his eyes subvert the words with an affectionate warmth. He conveys an empathy within Vanya's plight as he himself is experiencing it, though the way he can experience is taking those bits of joy, which includes pestering Vanya a bit. Olivier accentuates the different nature of this same existence particularly effectively when he also declares his love to Yelena, unfortunately while she was trying to see if the doctor was interested in the "said to be homely" Sonya. This as Olivier portrays this immediate energetic thrust towards the opportunity, attempting to woo her at the chance of something more, which contrasts effectively against the sabotage of Redgrave as Vanya.

Yelena mostly rejects Astrov as she did Vanya, and I love the bit of smug delight Olivier depicts in Astrov's minor victory he can hold over the bitter Vanya. The Vanya who gets worse before he gets better as the story goes on and Redgrave is great in depicting his own breaking point. This as not from denied opportunities, but rather the loss of even the existence he has when the professor suggests selling their home off. Redgrave's exceptional in the moment by finally making his self-deprecating laughs as unbearable, as they sweep away in his eyes towards an abject madness. This as he finally lashes out without hesitations, towards violent action, which Redgrave makes it natural by creating it as this breaking point where Vanya's humor no longer can save him. This leaving Vanya trying to literally kill the professor but failing in that too, therefore left just to sulk within his home again. Redgrave, though he only has a few lines, is great in his final scene by showing Vanya no longer with even that pained smile on his face. This as he attempts to attempt suicide, at least as an act of an attempt by stealing Astrov's morphine, where Redgrave is remarkable just in realizing the sad state of the man now directly living his depression. This again contrasting against Olivier as Astrov who blithely tells Vanya to give him back his morphine and go kill himself properly by shooting himself. Olivier's approach again effectively delivers a comedic bent to it, though in the moment he carefully still grants a genuine concern in the man's eyes for Vanya. Olivier though shows the alternative path as Astrov still is in the same state of existence, however Olivier exudes still just this sense of the simple joy of the little success he had with Yelena and life, though with its own pathos in his pitch perfect reaction as he sadly turns away from Sonya's romantic hopes before leaving the estate. Both Olivier and Redgrave do justice to their roles by finding an effortless tone that serves the material so well, as creating these barriers of comedy, from the tragedy within.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Steve McQueen in Love With the Proper Stranger

Steve McQueen did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Rocky Papasano in Love With the Proper Stranger.

Love With The Proper Stranger is a decent enough semi-comic drama about a relationship that almost accidentally develops due to a one night stand.

The film itself can be noted as an example of a straight drama featuring Steve McQueen in a leading role. McQueen being more typically associated with epics, spectacles and war films. This is a much lower key affair even by "dramatic" McQueen standards, as even his more noted dramatic turns, later on, were typically in film with some sort of grander scale to them. McQueen's just a basic layabout musician looking for a job as we open the film and is a bit befuddled as he runs into a young woman paging him. She's Angie (Natalie Wood), whose not paging for a job but rather finding him to let him know she needs him to find an abortionist after their one night stand. Not a great meeting point for either of them, as Rocky's initial reaction is trying figure out who the woman is before confusion of the sudden bit of responsibility that has fallen upon him. This initial reaction seems to inform McQueen's whole performance which I suppose you might say is a bit of an antithesis of the typical McQueen, in that he makes Rocky decidedly uncool. This might seem a grievous waste of the King of Cool, however it does offer an interesting alternative as he takes a decidedly atypical approach from his usual screen presence.

McQueen usually is someone who owns the screen without trying, and that is typically just a given with him on screen. That is not the case here, as he does not make Rocky some hip cool musician, but rather almost a bit of a doofus. This approach actually is more fitting than expected, as the guy asks another lady friend to try to find an abortionist for Angie, and is obviously not exactly the sharpest tool within any shed. McQueen then very much"tries" more than usual in giving what in some ways feels like a more "active" performance from him. This is as he makes Rocky almost look out of place in a given scene, of trying to play the part of the pseudo respectable romantic. This right down to McQueen's physicality which is bereft of his typical ease, to this cumbersome manner of a non too bright man. Instead of owning a given scene, McQueen awkwardly exists within them, which again actually works in creating a character outside of his typical oeuvre. It is a different sight from McQueen as he comes off as almost petulant, which is quite different from the ultimate man's man that typically defined the McQueen presence.

Steve McQueen's dash outside of his comfort zone is a tad limited here, only as the film does favor Angie more in the narrative, with his only major scenes coming when he directly shares the screen with Wood. McQueen actually doesn't have amazing chemistry with Wood, which I'll again say actually fits the role of Rocky once again. The two are not suppose to be a dream couple by any measure, in fact the first real bonding we see of them as they wait together before being able to see an abortionist. McQueen however is effective in cultivating the certain connection in these moments of interaction. This with this slightly humorous awkwardness as physically he still keeps the same distance, however McQueen uses his eyes towards an understanding and an eventual warmth. Again, it never becomes this rapturous love affair, but rather this slow growth of feeling really between the two. McQueen's performance realizes the difficulty of the situation in every moment, while also slowly finding any ease within the interactions.  He's then effective in the moment of going to the abortionist, who is even shadier than originally expected, to where Rocky, concerned for Angie's safety insists they leave. This is an important moment in McQueen's work as he does not fall into tough McQueen, which would be dishonest to the character. He instead remains consistent in even this more heroic act, he delivers it with a hesitant voice, and without physical command. It is still of a fairly hapless man, but one who finds a better self in the moment. The film after this moment becomes a bit rushed as Rocky is willing to marry Angie, however she rejects his proposal as dishonest. The rest of the film is this dance, with Rocky gradually proving his sincerity. These scenes honestly are a little strangely paced, however McQueen does prove his measure in them. The two have a date of sorts where Rocky's compliments towards Angie come off as insults, unintentionally and in this McQueen finds a genuine charm in each delivery of Rocky's messy earnestness. This along with in his eyes finally conveying a want for her, rather than just a bit of responsibility. This all gets rushed a bit more as the film smashes towards the big romantic gesture of Rocky's that comes off as almost an afterthought in the film's bizarrely handled climax. McQueen's slightly befuddled face though again is rather enjoyable, as we see him present himself with a banjo and bells, with a sincere offer to marry. This isn't extraordinary work by McQueen by any measure, however it is an interesting side to him as a performer. Although limited by the part, McQueen does use it to show off a bit of range outside of his typically dominating presence as the King of Cool. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Alternate Best Actor 1963: Alberto Sordi in Il Diavolo

Alberto Sordi did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning a Golden Globe, for portraying Amedeo Ferrettiin in Il Diavolo.

Il Diavolo is an interesting film that follows an Italian merchant through his travels in Sweden.

It is probably fair to say that Alberto Sordi's Golden Globe win for best actor in a musical or comedy, is the most obscure winner in the history of the category. This is to the point that one ought to give that often dubious awards group some credit for recognizing a non-English language performance in a film that was not a major awards touchstone otherwise. They might have been on an Italian kick, with Marcello Mastroianni having won the previous year for Divorce, Italian Style, however that was an Oscar nominated turn as well. I won't diminish the win though as this is rather a different turn to examine from comic actor Alberto Sordi. An actor, I'll admit, I have only a limited perspective of in a few scant, though more than decent turns, in English language films, and his notable devastating turn in An Average Little Man. Of course that turn was one that went to a very dark place, however the nature of this role also has really two sides within it.

Sordi's unique talents so strongly evident in that later performance is evident here as well though in perhaps lower stake circumstances. Our man Amedeo is just indeed an average man as well, but in the circumstances of just a business trip. A trip he foresees more for pleasure despite being a married man, of course. Sordi, even with this intention, brings a such a considerable charm through his affable screen presence. This making Amedeo's endeavor almost have this certain oxymoronic innocence within it. This approach is effective however from his earliest moments of essentially admiring the local women who he comes across early in the film. Sordi brings the utmost earnestness in his energy in every one of his greetings towards these women however he manages to find just the right manner for this. In that he does certainly deliver the requisite lustful quality of Amedeo however he carefully does not over do it to the point of becoming excessively sleazy. He's best instead by being just a bit sleazy however so well realized within Sordi's comic manner that still finds a charm even within that.

Sordi's performance is essential the film beyond his exact journey though in a particular way as he stands as a reactionary lead. This makes enough sense as his communication skills are limited as an Italian in Sweden, however how Sordi reacts to each given situation very much makes both the comedic and dramatic thrust through the film. Although less extreme than in An Average Little Man, Sordi's performance very much functions within both atmospheres to realize Amedeo's journey here. Sordi is very funny in initially keeping that same, lets not beat around the bush here, horny grin across his face with each potential "conquest" he meets. Sordi's equally effective in conveying then the certain disappointment as each opportunity instead opens himself up to a different part of the Swedish culture that isn't sex related. Sordi finds in these moments the right humorous disappointment in his expression in a given moment, but balances that with the right degree of shame all the same. A particularly wonderful scene is as he's met with a carol instead of any sort of tryst, and his eyes convey so well the character's certain dismay though that Sordi so effortless conveys to that quiet appreciation though with a definite embarrassment underlining it all.

Throughout Amedeo's journey he does not discover a sex romp, but instead discovers a perhaps a little strange however still welcoming country with far more to offer him that debauchery. Sordi's performance then becomes one of this interesting discovery of each new situation underlining each with a bit of Amedeo's sort of discovery of each place while also creating a sense of the reflection of it within himself. In the grand finale, of sorts, we get really two sides of Sordi's performance so effectively intertwined once again. This being mostly in a hilarious fashion throughout a sequence of ice car racing where Sordi's reactions are priceless to the insane, rather dangerous, hi-jinks of his female host. When finally though it seems he'll get his initial desire of sex, Sordi derives such a poignancy in his timid way of speaking the truths of a man who has in reality only been honorable to his wife despite his straying thoughts throughout. This is a wonderful turn as Sordi very much delivers on the promise of this goofy tourist looking for all the wrong things in all the wrong ways. His comic reactions are consistently funny throughout the film, but what takes the performance further is creating this honest sense of growth in the character. This in creating a genuine portrait of a man learning more about himself in what is an overarching comedic turn.