StinkyLulu, if you don't know, is one of the greatest voices on the internet. His Supporting Actress Smackdown series was, as you can tell, extremely influential not just on me, but on how Oscar races and individual categories were and are discussed. And if it wasn't for this specific category, Best Actor 1935, such work as he has done in that regard would not have been possible.
From the 1st Academy Awards through to the 8th, there were only two acting categories: Best Actor and Best Actress. The supporting categories would not be introduced until the next year honoring the films of 1936, and it is generally assumed and accepted that the three-peat of Mutiny on the Bounty is the reason why. Franchot Tone was certainly a leading man in films at the time, but neither his character in the film nor his status against his co-stars (1934 Best Actor winner Clark Gable and 1932-33 Best Actor winner Charles Laughton) would have made his Best Actor nomination a given in a world where supporting is an option. Personally, I feel any nomination for this guy is a stretch, but we'll get into that. In fact...let's:
Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian
Mutiny on the Bounty
previous winner, second of three nominations
Reliably terrific actor delivers reliably terrific performance. Accent be damned, he's marvelous as a man trying for empathy and understanding, every injustice he's forced to uphold a nick at his principles. He's perfect in depicting patience. at taking a thousand cuts, at finally making a decision that clearly pains him but might be the lesser of two evils.
Charles Laughton as Captain William Bligh
Mutiny on the Bounty
past winner, second of three nominations; NYFCC Awards winner for Best Actor
Frightening, cruel, malicious, unshaded by any complexity. It's effective, I suppose, but somewhat cartoonish, and I think he's much better as the titular valet in Ruggles of Red Gap (which was included in his NYFCC citation) and as Javert in Les Miserables (it is interesting, but also a testament to both the filmmakers and the novel by Victor Hugo, that his black-and-white morality cop is more complex than the seafarer). As a fan of Laughton's, I was disappointed.
Victor McLaglen as Gypo Nolan
first of two nominations; NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Actor
The most magnetic performance nominated this year: I could not tear my eyes away, even to glance at my cat, 'less I miss a wipe of the face (a tic Gypo uses when he's trying to think), an unsteady stare (he's progressively drunk in the film, unslurred but unsteady), a pained expression (guilt, desperation, impotence - he feels them all). He can fight, but he's a big bear with a big heart, but he's also not to be trusted, but he's also moral, but he's also a coward, but he truly loves his girl, but he's thoughtless - but he's worthy of forgiveness. This character is more complex than at first glance, a difficult one to portray persuasively (see Uptight's Julian Mayfield), but McLaglen...man, he digs deep and gets it.
Franchot Tone as Ensign Roger Byam
Mutiny on the Bounty
first and only nomination
One of six films he appeared in this year, each of them providing a great showcase for his talents. This is probably the best of them, with his Ensign Byam an eager sailor who befriends Christian, resents Bligh, but objects to mutiny. Tone is not necessarily an unlikable presence, just very unengaging to watch, like when the most boring person you know tries to tell a "crazy" story. I just...I don't know how else to put it, other than I take an instinctual dislike to Tone every time I see him onscreen, and certainly, his mewling Byam was no exception.
In first place came Victor McLaglen. In second place came a write-in candidate - Paul Muni, who I adored in Scarface, was cited for portraying an immigrant miner in the labor drama Black Fury. A great movie, beautifully scriped; an odd performance, very theatrical in a way that does no service to the role or the film. Anyway, I must once agree with the Academy and award my vote to:
Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Actress - all six of them! We're talking about Elisabeth Bergner (Escape Me Never), Claudette Colbert (Private Worlds), Bette Davis (Dangerous), Katharine Hepburn (Alice Adams), Miriam Hopkins (Becky Sharp), and Merle Oberon (The Dark Angel).