Spencer Tracy: Bad Day at Black Rock
James Dean: East of Eden
James Cagney: Love Me or Leave Me
Frank Sinatra: The Man with the Golden Arm
Ernest Borgnine: Marty (winner)
There are some solid performances nominated in 1955 for actors and all five are solid. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t some room for improvement, though. The first miss in my opinion is Henry Fonda in Mister Roberts. I tend to like Henry Fonda and his performances, and this is one of my favorites of his, and it’s better than several of the actual nominations. I’d also suggest that Robert Mitchum deserved more than his one career nomination, and in 1955, he did Night of the Hunter. James Dean was nominated, but he was nominated for the wrong film; he should be here for Rebel Without a Cause. Finally, both Glenn Ford in Blackboard Jungle and Jacques Tati in Mr. Hulot’s Holiday aren’t the sorts of performances that get nominations, but I like them both.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I don’t like putting James Cagney fifth, but I can’t get beyond the thought that the man was nominated for the wrong Oscar and the wrong performance. He should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Mister Roberts. His work in Love Me or Leave Me isn’t a bad performance, but I’d rather see Henry Fonda or Robert Mitchum here. I get that there may have been an effort to avoid two people nominated for the same film in the same category, but there’s precedence for that, and that should have been done here as well. Sorry, Cagney—this was the wrong place for you.
4: Just as James Cagney was nominated for the wrong performance, so too was James Dean. I have nothing specific against East of Eden except that it’s not nearly as good a movie as Rebel Without a Cause and I don’t think his performance is as good in East of Eden. I like that he was nominated; he just should’ve been nominated for something else. This isn’t the first time that Oscar did this. It just seems like this is one of the more egregious examples of having the right person but the wrong movie.
3: I have a fondness for Spencer Tracy, and I like Bad Day at Black Rock pretty well. It’s a short little movie, but it brings up some interesting ideas and gives Tracy a chance to kick a little ass and demonstrate that, as he always had been, he was still a master on camera. He comes in third for me not because of something wrong with the performance, but because I like the other two options better. Tracy was rarely a bad choice for an Oscar and I rather like this nomination, but I still think I’d put both Henry Fonda and Robert Mitchum above this for 1955.
2: I haven’t put more than one film or performance as a potential choice for some time, but here’s a case where I went back and forth for a good chunk of the day and came close to a coin flip. I’ve decided to put winner Ernest Borgnine and his work in Marty as a great choice and a worthy choice, but not my choice. I really like Marty, and a main reason that I do is because of Borgnine’s sensitive and smart performance. Borgnine doesn’t look like an Oscar actor and definitely not a romantic lead, and he makes it work. I like that he won and I wouldn’t want to take his statue away from him. But given the choice, I’d vote differently.
1: I’ve said before that I find myself fascinated by Frank Sinatra as a dramatic actor. The Man with the Golden Arm was his only nomination for Best Actor and I think it’s his best performance in a strong field. This is not a film I want to revisit that often, but it’s a gutsy film and Sinatra goes for the whole thing without blinking. As I said above, I wouldn’t want to be the person to take away Ernest Borgnine’s Oscar, but if I had the chance, I’d have given this one to Frank and the awesomely named Frankie Machine.