Thursday, July 13, 2023

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1948: Best Actor

The question that haunts this category for this particular year: where's Humphrey Bogart's nomination for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

From the Los Angeles Times: "There is nought but credit to give to the actor for his very fine performance. He has a terrific dramatic summit to reach in the later scenes, and does this with notable effectiveness." From the New York Times: "His performance in this film is perhaps the best and most substantial that he has done." From Variety: "Bogart...comes through with a performance as memorable as his first major film role in The Petrified Forest was in 1935. ...In a remarkably controlled portrait, he progresses to the edge of madness without losing sight of the subtle shadings needed to establish persuasiveness."

To many, this is the performance Bogart should have won for (possibly clearing the way for a Brando win in 1951). Perhaps the reason for Bogart's absence is the about-face. Every review notes that his fans may be disappointed to find that instead of another "indestructible private eye" or flawed good guy, he plays a real asshole. Allegedly, he himself told a critic weeks prior to the film's opening, "I play the worst shit you ever saw." It's a great performance but a challenging part, one that perhaps fans weren't ready to see and co-workers weren't ready to award.

Here's who got nominated instead:

Lew Ayres as Dr. Robert Richardson
Johnny Belinda
only nomination

A good guy who teaches a deaf girl to communicate in sign language, risking the town's ire by not backing down even when he's suspected of getting her pregnant out of wedlock (actually, she's raped by another local, but how's she gonna tell people?). A noble role, a soft sell no matter who's cast. Ayres happens to be shockingly dull. There's no spontaneity or feeling in his lines: everything he says is delivered like it's part of a long-ago memorized lecture, as though if he changes the rhythm now, he'll lose his place. Blank face, blank line readings - this guy was a star, an Oscar nominee?

Montgomery Clift as Ralph Stevenson
The Search
first of four nominations

An American soldier who befriends and more or less adopts a Czech child in post-War Germany. A lovely, open performance and I mean fully: he's communicating likability, the willingness to do the right thing, without making it so noble. That is, you can see the uncertainty, the frustration, the fulfillment. If you don't fall for Clift here, there's no hope for you.

Dan Dailey as "Skid" Johnson
When My Baby Smiles at Me
only nomination

A burlesque star whose star rises as his wife's plateaus, the real problem is his tendency to drink: one's too many, three's not enough. I really, really wish this movie had that extra something, because Dailey's terrific here. The song-and-dance numbers? Well, if you're familiar at all with his work, you know he knocks those out of the park. His chemistry with Betty Grable? Well, if you're familiar at all with his work... What about the alcoholism? He's great there, too: charming and funny when he's buzzed, perfect comic timing despite wifey's worries - neither he nor the audience could expect this to become an addiction drama instead of a showbiz drama with an "amusing" character flaw. But it does, and he plays the downward spiral perfectly, heartbreakingly. A surprise nomination, then and - honestly - even now, but a worthy one.

Laurence Olivier as Hamlet
fourth of ten acting nominations; Golden Globe winner for Best Actor, NYFCC Awards winner for Best Actor

The depressed Prince of Denmark seeks to avenge his father's death and is really weird about his mom. He's decades too old for the part and looks it - one rather wonders what he could have made out of King Claudius... I think he's quite good on a scene-by-scene basis, really focusing on the prince's mopiness. I don't know that it's a coherent character as performed, but as directed...well, hold on, we'll save that.

Clifton Webb as Mr. Belvedere
Sitting Pretty

Mr. Belvedere is a housekeeper-nanny openly dismissive of his employers, openly despises children, openly proud of his genius IQ, clandestinely writing a roman a clef about his small town. Webb is superb precisely because he does not give Mr. Belvedere any subtleties or subtext. He is rude. He is unpleasant. He is funny. He is always, frustratingly, correct. If there's any subtelty to Webb's performance, it's the implication that he is so honest that he values such in others, and so genuine people, no matter how bothersome, appeal to him. So superficial a role in such flotsam of a film, I'm surprised it got nominated, and yet....


Olivier became the first person to direct himself to an Oscar win. My vote goes to, haha:


Like I said, I'm surprised, and yet... When you're good, you're good!

Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Director: John Huston (Treasure of the Sierra Madre), Anatole Litvak (The Snake Pit), Jean Negulesco (Johnny Belinda), Laurence Olivier (Hamlet), and Fred Zinnemann (The Search).

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