Alec Guinness: The Bridge on the River Kwai (winner)
Anthony Franciosa: A Hatful of Rain
Marlon Brando: Sayonara
Anthony Quinn: Wild is the Wind
Charles Laughton: Witness for the Prosecution
Weeding through the Nominees
5. This could have been a really difficult year to pick, but I’m given what I think are two worthy performances and three not so much. On the bottom is Anthony Quinn’s blustery, bombastic turn in Wild is the Wind. For me, the film is all about Anna Magnani, not Quinn. I’m certain that Quinn’s performance is exactly what George Cukor wanted from his male star, but that doesn’t mean that the performance is a great one or worthy of being considered for an Oscar. Quinn lacks the subtlety that this performance and film could really use. A more nuanced turn would move him up, but we didn’t get that.
4. This is right in the meat of Brando’s career, perhaps at the end of his best years, and he’s not bad in Sayonara, but he’s also not Brando at his best. The biggest sticking point for me is the accent. The accent isn’t bad and it’s mainly consistent all the way through, but it’s also incredibly annoying, especially for this long. I also didn’t love other aspects of the movie. That shouldn’t reflect on Brando’s performance, but he’s usually on screen for the things that I don’t like, and it can be hard to differentiate at times. In any event, there were better performances left off the ticket, so I don’t think he should be here.
3. When it comes to Anthony Franciosa and A Hatful of Rain, my issue is less with Franciosa then it is with other performances. Franciosa is fine in this role, but it’s a role that has shown up in other movies in a sense, and it’s a role that has been done better. That’s actually true across the board here. This is a story that has been better handled elsewhere, and every role here is more interesting in other movies. With that said, I’d be willing to reconsider these bottom three and rearrange them in virtually any order. The truth is that all three seem so below the other two and the ones that I mentioned in the first paragraph that the differentiation between them in terms of ranking is very difficult for me.
2. With Charles Laughton and Witness for the Prosecution, we’re finally getting to someone where a nomination might be more understandable. I like Laughton, and I especially like Laughton when it becomes evident that he’s having a lot of fun with a role. He’s clearly having fun here. I’m a fan of many Billy Wilder films, and while there are a number I like more than Witness for the Prosecution, Laughton’s performance here is one of my favorite Wilder film performances. I love the way he and Elsa Lanchester play off each other here, and Laughton is capable of turning on a dime, something he does with precision and joy. I like this nomination. I just don’t like it for the win.
1. Of all of the nominations, the only one who absolutely belongs here is Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Guinness is absolutely perfect here and this is a performance that ranks for me in the top-10 all-time across more than a century of film. There is not a motion out of place, a facial expression that doesn’t work, or a nuance that doesn’t create and enhance the character he is building. No matter the line-up we are given, Guinness is my pick. I’d have a much tougher time figuring out 2-5 with different actors here, but Guinness wins in every case, and he probably wins Best Actor for the decade. As poorly as Oscar nominated, they got the win correct.