Monday, February 27, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1944

The Contenders:

Charles Boyer: Gaslight
Bing Crosby: Going My Way (winner)
Barry Fitzgerald: Going My Way
Cary Grant: None but the Lonely Heart
Alexander Knox: Wilson

What’s Missing

Where to start here? First things first: Fred MacMurray not being nominated for Double Indemnity is a staggering omission. I can see some wanting a nomination for Dana Andrews in Laura, but I wouldn’t put him in the list. Eddie Bracken isn’t a typical leading man, but his turns in both Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek should have earned him something. I’d rather nominate Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet. I’d consider Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not as well. I’d consider Laurence Olivier in Henry V, too. There’s one more I’d like to add here, but we’ll get to that below.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. There have been posts like this in the past where I haven’t wanted anything to win, but I can’t remember the last time I wanted to put so many of the actual nominees last. That said, I’m tossing Barry Fitzgerald first, and this is strictly for political reasons. Fitzgerald was nominated for this award and won for Best Supporting Actor for the same role. There’s no good reason for him to be here, since his role was clearly a supporting one. This was a complete misstep on the part of the Academy, especially when there were so many other roles worth putting here.

4. Alexander Knox had no business being here. Wilson is a bloated and boring film of people standing around talking at each other. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Knox’s performance, but this is a film that didn’t belong here in any sense. In a collection of nominees I don’t love, he goes out next. Had Barry Fitzgerald not been nominated for a role that didn’t belong in this category, I can pretty much guarantee that Knox would have been the first one I’d have removed.

3. I don’t have a serious problem with Cary Grant being nominated, but he was nominated for the wrong film. Had he been nominated for Aresenic and Old Lace, he wouldn’t be in third place here. My biggest problem with None but the Lonely Heart is that the film itself is stunningly boring. Grant is fine, but for this role? There was no business nominating him for this one. I can’t fathom what they were thinking with this nomination instead of Arsenic. Seriously?

2. I rather like Gaslight, and Charles Boyer is benefitting from that here. His performance in the film is fine, if not great or really even nomination-worthy, but since his role wasn’t nominated elsewhere and the film is actually a good one, he winds up in second place. It’s rather sad that I’m putting Boyer second for a performance that I’m not sure belonged on the list in the first place, and that it’s the film that is getting the nomination from me more than the actual performance. Such is this award for 1944.

1. Limited to the nominations, the Academy did the right thing in giving it to Bing Crosby for Going My Way. It’s a good performance in a surprisingly good film. Crosby is likable and funny, never gets maudlin when he could, and doesn’t even get too mushy when that was certainly a possibility. In an open field, Crosby would make my list of five nominations, but he wouldn’t win. In a collection where he was the only nominee who deserved to be here, though, at least the Academy managed to put the Oscar in the right hands.

My Choice

Really, though, this is a sad list of nominees given the people who were left off. If I could name the nominees myself, I’d keep Crosby and change Cary Grant’s to Arsenic and Old Lace. I’d also tap Eddie Bracken for Hail the Conquering Hero and probably Dick Powell for Murder My Sweet. But all of them would take a backseat to Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity. MacMurray had such a career playing a nice guy that seeing him go against type this well should’ve gotten him on the list and with a statue.

Final Analysis


  1. I suppose in your book Double Indemnity could have won the Oscar in every category :)
    I do agree though, this is a good performance that should have been recognized.

    1. Well...not every category. It can't win for both Adapted and Original Screenplay.

      That said, I think it's absolutely the best movie of its year on almost every front. I'm not going to be shy about that.

  2. Don’t feel bad I’d jettison the entire lineup too. The thing is I really like all these actors and think all the performances are decent ones. I agree about the misplacement of Fitzgerald but at least it led to a clarification of the category rules, now if they would just address lead performers campaigning in supporting cheating actual character actors/actresses of their due.

    Knox does the best he can with the stick figure his film makes of Wilson but I would have rather seen him receive a nod for his work in The Sea Wolf, Chase a Crooked Shadow or several other performances.

    I was pleasantly surprised by Going My Way, I sat down to it expecting a sugar fest that would rot my teeth but it was involving and touching while holding off the schmaltz and Bing plays a large part in the reasons why. But would I nominate him for it? No…well maybe in a field of 10.

    Same goes for Boyer who plays his cad well but is put in the shade by Ingrid Bergman, there’s just stronger more penetrating work out there to take his place.

    As to who’s missing, I can’t agree about Bogart. The only thing memorable about To Have and Have Not is his initial pairing with Betty Bacall, he’s been much better elsewhere and the story was told much more strongly and concisely in 1950 when it was remade with John Garfield & Patricia Neal as The Breaking Point.

    I like your mentions of Dick Powell and Eddie Bracken. Even though they wouldn’t make my list their work is better than anyone in the actual lineup.

    I’d also include Cary Grant but not for the morose None But the Lonely Heart subbing his work in the hysterical Arsenic and Old Lace. Someone I would include even though I struggled through his film is Claude Rains in Mr. Skeffington. He really made something of Job Skeffington holding up well against Bette Davis and the nails on a chalkboard voice she adopted for the part. His screen time skirts supporting despite being the title character so if he did fall under that category I'd substitute Bracken for him.

    I’d add in the woefully underappreciated Dana Andrews in Laura who signals all the conflict Mark has roiling beneath the surface without ever letting it mar his grounding of the film. Then there’s George Sanders as the tragic Fedor Petroff in Douglas Sirk’s adaptation of Chekov’s The Shooting Party renamed Summer Storm. He’s quite wonderful. But nobody tops Fred MacMurray, I wonder if he realized that if they didn’t nominate him for this that he was never going to be acknowledged? There’s literally no other feasible choice and I’m at a total loss how he could have been slighted.

    So my list would run thusly:

    Dana Andrews-Laura
    Cary Grant-Arsenic and Old Lace
    Fred MacMurray-Double Indemnity-Winner
    Claude Rains-Mr. Skeffington
    George Sanders-Summer Storm

    Alternate for Rains-Eddie Bracken-Hail the Conquering Hero

    1. I think Laura is a fine film and Dana Andrews is good, but I don't love the character, an that does get in the way for me a little. The thought for a moment about Claude Rains, and I love Claude Rains, but I absolutely hate Mr. Skeffington as a film. Anyway, he was nominated for Supporting Actor for the role, so I don't feel guilty about leaving him out. Summer Storm is one I don't know.

      I have a warm fuzzy for Murder, My Sweet because I always love it when an actor plays against type. Seeing former musical comedy juvenile Dick Powell playing a hard-bitten detective with kick-ass voiceovers is going to work for me every time.

      As for Fred MacMurray, I could've seen him nominated in supporting roles for The Caine Mutiny and possibly The Apartment.

      I would keep Crosby here only because I find him surprisingly charming on screen in Going My Way. Crosby was easy to like on screen. However, true to form, I mostly love him in The Country Girl.

  3. Completely agree. I've only seen Going My Way of the nominees, and while sweet as a film, there are certainly better ones from this year. I do love Arsenic and Old Lace and Cary Grant, so I would have nominated him (also, comedy deserves more recognition). However, Double Indemnity is one of the best films ever, and McMurray's performance is part of its overall greatness.

    1. Gaslight is worth seeing if only because it's kind of a cool story. Boyer isn't bad in it, and I hope I didn't imply that at all. There were just plenty of better actor performances from this year.

      You can safely ignore None but the Lonely Heart and you should pretty much actively avoid Wilson.