Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Oscars 1941: Best Actor

Gary Cooper was the star of the biggest hit of the year, a heartthrob and a serious actor who had headlined the first Best Picture winner and many nominees in that category since. A previous nominee, is it any surprise that it was he who took home the prize?

Not really. But I do feel...well, let's talk.

Gary Cooper as Alvin C. York
Sergeant York
second of five nominations; National Board of Review's Best Acting of 1941, NYFCC Awards winner for Best Actor

The kind of character whose portrayal could quickly go awry if you lean too heavily on folksy Appalachian naivete and fail to thread the needle between the cynical hellraiser and the born-again peacemonger. He gets it in the last half-hour, when Alvin is overwhelmed by the fame his acts of violence have afforded him. I don't know that he rises above the limitations of the role, but he certainly meets them. If the movie works at all, it's because of Cooper.

Cary Grant as Roger Adams
Penny Serenade
first of two nominations; NYFCC Awards second runner-up for Best Actor (a tie)

We know he has terrific chemistry with on-screen wife Irene Dunne. And after seeing him be oh-so-charming and then struggle for a bit, we get to see Cary Grant actually break down in tears so that he may become a father and raise a child. He seems a little embarrassed to have to "sing for his supper" in this fashion, so to speak, but maybe I'm just reading into how unusual it is to see him emote like this. It's admirable.

Walter Huston as Mr. Scratch
All That Money Can Buy
second of four nominations; National Board of Review's Best Acting of 1941

This might be the role he was born to play. That arched brow, the sardonic grin, that mischievous, hoarse, American burr, all put to their most effective use as ol' Scratch himself. And the gleam in his eye - he's terrifying and magnetic all at once, irresistible though he's obviously up to no good. A lead role? I don't think so, but it's a testament not just to Huston's stardom but to the impact he makes in his less-than-20 minutes of screentime that he could pass for lead. His is the performance you leave thinking about.

Robert Montgomery as Joe Pendleton
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
second and final nomination; National Board of Review's Best Acting of 1941; NYFCC Awards second runner-up for Best Actor (a tie)

Great work from Montgomery, who doesn't obviously "play" the comedy but seems to just live through situations and scenes that are funny. He's touching as a romantic, amusing as a reluctant body-swapper, understandable as a champion who wants to make good on his promising career. Great work.

Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane
Citizen Kane
only nomination in this category; National Board of Review's Best Acting of 1941; NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Actor

Takes Charles Foster Kane from youth to death, using that wonderful voice of his ironically, seductively, cruelly...declamatorily? I love the look on his face when he's embarking on a new venture, like a kid who knows he's about to get into trouble but, oh, it's so worth it. I love that he makes sure his romance with Susan Alexander actually plays romantically, not a rich man exploiting a poor girl, but a genuine connection - and I love how he portrays the dissatisfaction with that connection in later years. I will forever have the way he bellows, "Sing Sing, Gettys!" ringing in my ears.

Oh, please, my winner is obvious:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Actress: Bette Davis (The Little Foxes), Olivia de Havilland (Hold Back the Dawn), Joan Fontaine (Suspicion), Greer Garson (Blossoms in the Dust), and Barbara Stanwyck (Ball of Fire).

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