Charles Boyer: Fanny
Paul Newman: The Hustler
Maximilian Schell: Judgment at Nuremberg (winner)
Spencer Tracy: Judgment at Nuremberg
Stuart Whitman: The Mark
This is one of those rare cases where I think Oscar did a pretty good job in terms of the nominations. I don’t really have snubs so much as I have a few suggestions. I think it could be argued that The Guns of Navarone was so much an ensemble cast that there wasn’t really a lead actor. Warren Beatty might have deserved some consideration for Splendor in the Grass, except that Natalie Wood was so overwhelming in that, he was a little hard to see. Marcello Mastroianni was brilliant in Divorce, Italian Style, but he was nominated in 1962. I could make a case for Vittorio De Sica in General Della Rovere. Really, the one I’d like to add here is Toshiro Mifune for Yojimbo.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. If I could add Mifune, he’d be replacing Charles Boyer in Fanny without question. I think Boyer was a fine actor, and he’s not bad in Fanny. The issue is that he’s also not memorable in the role and the film itself is pretty forgettable. This is a good example of just how the Academy has changed over time. There’s no way that a film like Fanny would earn a bunch of nominations today. Honestly, this feels like a case where everybody just liked Boyer as an actor and felt like nominating him for a role in which he was good.
4. I also tend to like Spencer Tracy, and while he won a few Oscars, he was also probably nominated a few times more than he needed to be. He’s very good in Judgment at Nuremberg and I like him in the movie. It’s a hard movie to judge in terms of individual performances, though. The cast is so big and so good that it’s hard to suss out a specific person in many of the roles. I understand his nomination and don’t entirely disagree with it. I simply find it difficult to judge.
3. The Mark, about the rehabilitation of a pedophile, a pretty upsetting topic for any year, but almost entirely out of place in 1961. Stuart Whitman is excellent in a difficult role, and for that, I really like the fact that he was nominated. The problems with The Mark aren’t specifically Whitman, but they do involve him. The psychology of the film is terrible, and it’s Whitman who is forced to deal with that. It’s not a movie I want to watch again, but if I do, Whitman would be the reason. He’s just not the best of his year.
2. I’ve complained about separating performances in Judgment at Nuremberg, but that’s less a case with Maximilian Schell. Schell had the unenviable task in the movie of being the defense attorney of Nazi judges. It’s a hard line for anyone to walk, and I would imagine desperately difficult for an actor who everyone simply considers German by default (he was Austrian, raised in Switzerland) to attempt that role and do it so well. I get why he won. He’s brilliant in the role. He’s not my choice, though.
1. I don’t think I’ll get a huge amount of disagreement on this one—Paul Newman should have won for The Hustler. It’s not that the other performances aren’t good and aren’t worthy of some acclaim. It’s simply that Newman is so damn good that no one else really deserves a great deal of real consideration. Perhaps things were different in 1961, and as I’ve said above, I understand why Schell won. But this should have been Newman’s statue to lose, and there really aren’t any good justifications for someone else to win. This should have been Newman's Oscar, and I think most people know that.