Raymond Massey: Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Henry Fonda: The Grapes of Wrath
Charlie Chaplin: The Great Dictator
James Stewart: The Philadelphia Story (winner)
Laurence Olivier: Rebecca
1940 is a year that I admit I don’t know particularly well. I don’t know a lot of the films from this year other than those that I’ve watched for this blog. It’s worth noting that a few people had some pretty exceptional years, though. James Stewart won this Oscar, but he was also in The Mortal Storm, a film that is surprisingly hard to find. Cary Grant somehow didn’t get nominated this year despite his roles in both The Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday, and he certainly deserved some credit for at least one of those. The other person I think I’d like to see here is Joel McCrea for his work in Foreign Correspondent. I’m sure there will be other mentions in the comments eventually.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. The nomination I understand the least here is Laurence Olivier for Rebecca. He’s certainly in the movie, but he’s hardly important in the movie other than as, more or less, plot points. The entire film is instead entirely about the relationship between the Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson characters. As good as Rebecca is, I find Olivier’s part of the film to be pretty forgettable. It’s a fine film, but he’s very much a third wheel in terms of the plot and in terms of how everything plays out.
4. The problem with Raymond Massey’s nomination really has nothing to do with Raymond Massey or his performance. It’s actually a pretty good one, even if this is clearly a warts-free biography of the 16th American president. The problem is that there are clearly three better performances nominated, and a few others that I’d rather see nominated here. It’s good, and might even be a great performance, but in a year that has some really solid work, he just misses out on a nomination from me.
3. In a way, the issue I take with Henry Fonda’s performance in The Grapes of Wrath is similar to that I mentioned above with Olivier. Fonda is a lot more memorable here than Olivier is in his role, but he’s also eclipsed by Jane Darwell’s Oscar-winning performance as Ma Joad. Fonda is the angry center of the movie, but it’s Darwell’s warm, tender performance that is the film’s heart. She is the most memorable part of the film, although Fonda is not entirely forgettable. Still, as much as I’m fine with him not winning, I get the nomination.
2. I understand completely why James Stewart won for The Philadelphia Story. It’s one of his better roles, which is saying something. But it’s also in a movie that is packed to the gills with great performances, not the least of which come from Katherine Hepburn (who was nominated) and Cary Grant (who wasn’t). I feel terrible in this case of removing the one competitive Oscar the Stewart won. The man clearly deserved at least one in his career, and I fully understand his winning this one. I’m just not convinced he was the best choice for this movie and this role.
1. I’m giving this to Charlie Chaplin, who, in retrospect, was kind of a surprise nomination given the amount of controversy that surrounded The Great Dictator. Honestly, had the film not created a certain controversy with its release, I think this Oscar would have clearly been Chaplin’s. Dual roles weren’t unheard of in 1940, but I don’t know that anyone had really done it better than Chaplin did for this film at this point in history. The Academy should have nutted up and given the man his Oscar. He deserved it.