Humphrey Bogart: The Caine Mutiny
Bing Crosby: The Country Girl
Marlon Brando: On the Waterfront (winner)
Dan O’Herlihy: Robinson Crusoe
James Mason: A Star is Born
Well. The Best Actor nominees for 1954 are pretty remarkably strong all the way around, with four performances that could probably have won in other years. I don’t really have any major complaints here about what we’ve been given, although there is a little room for improvement. 1954 was still a year when Oscar didn’t show a lot of love to non-English language films, which almost certainly prevented a nomination for the great Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai. Humphrey Bogart, nominated already for The Caine Mutiny, also did both Sabrina and The Barefoot Contessa in 1954, giving him a hell of a good year. I didn’t like Carmen Jones that much, but it cannot be denied that Harry Belafonte is a force on screen. The big miss, though? James Stewart in Rear Window.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. In a year as strong as this one, coming in fifth is no shame, and that’s where I’m putting Dan O’Herlihy and Robinson Crusoe. This isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, and O’Herlihy is good in his role, but it’s also the least compelling of the five films and the least compelling performance of the five nominations. I don’t really feel a need to go back and watch this again, and as I think back on all of these films, it’s the one I remember the least despite (I think) having seen it the most recently. I’d much rather have James Stewart here.
4. And now things get tough. I almost feel as if I could put the “My Choices” banner here, because I think I can legitimately make a solid argument for the four who remain and I don’t want to put anyone fourth. Your placements of these four performances will likely differ from mine, and I’ll just say now, I don’t disagree with your placement. It kills me a little to put one of Bing Crosby’s great performances in fourth, but on the strength of all of these performances, it’s where he goes. The Country Girl was such a stretch for him and he nailed it so well, that in a lot of other years, he’d be my winner.
3. Similarly, I hate putting James Mason in third place in anything. I love Mason as an actor and will watch him do just about anything. To see him tackle this difficult role so brilliantly is one of the joys of watching film from this era. Mason is staggering in this film, one of the great performances of a career absolutely filled with great performances. He is tragic and wonderful, and not a moment of him on screen doesn’t feel real. As with Crosby, I’d give Mason’s incredible turn in A Star is Born an Oscar in a lot of years.
2. Humphrey Bogart had one of the all-time great years in 1954. With Sabrina and The Barefoot Contessa, he played interesting roles. More to his credit, he played three incredibly diverse roles when you add in the nomination for The Caine Mutiny. I love The Caine Mutiny, and given the choice, it’s the one I’d nominate him for, and he’d win in almost every other year in this decade for this role. He just had the misfortune of being nominated in 1954, and he’s not my winner (although that pains me).
1. No, it’s all about Brando and On the Waterfront. If A Streetcar Named Desire was Brando at the height of his sexual magnetism and power, On the Waterfront is Brando truly commanding an entire film not just with charisma but with every bit of his talent. Other films made Brando a star, but this is the film that cemented him as being one of the most compelling and fascinating actors of his generation. This is not merely a great movie, it’s a statement that Marlon Brando (at least before he got weird) could do anything on screen.