Jose Ferrer: Cyrano de Bergerac (winner)
Spencer Tracy: Father of the Bride
James Stewart: Harvey
Louis Calhern: The Magnificent Yankee
William Holden: Sunset Boulevard
There is a surprising number of good leading performances from 1950 for both men and women. It’s an almost obscenely good year for actors, making a nomination or two complete head-scratchers. In the “never nominated in 1950” group, Toshiro Mifune in Rashomon jumps out. An odd little noir like Gun Crazy was easily overlooked, but it’s a great John Dall performance. No Way Out May have been too racially raw and controversial, but I think it’s one of Richard Widmark’s great roles. The same could be said of Sterling Hayden in The Asphalt Jungle. 1950 was a career year for James Stewart. He was nominated for Harvey, but could just as easily gotten the nomination for Broken Arrow or Winchster ‘73. Marlon Brando’s first major role was in The Men, and it’s a doozy. Kirk Douglas absolutely kills it in Ace in the Hole and seemed nomination-worthy. Humphrey Bogart seems woefully overlooked for In a Lonely Place, which may have been just a touch too brutal for consideration. Finally, while The Third Man was a 1949 release, Carol Reed was nominated in 1950, which means Joseph Cotten could have been nominated as well.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Based on the huge number of genuinely great performances from actors in 1950, I have absolutely no idea what the hell Louis Calhern is doing here for the snore-fest that is The Magnificent Yankee. The life story of Oliver Wendell Holmes as a Supreme Court justice is far less exciting than it sounds, and it doesn’t sound very exciting. I could barely stay awake for this, and while Calhern is fine in the role, he’s not the shadow of anyone I mentioned in the paragraph above. There’s no excuse for this nomination.
4. As much as I tend to like Spencer Tracy, I can say the same thing about his role in Father of the Bride. Tracy seems in some ways like the Meryl Streep of his day—let’s nominate him because he’s Spencer Tracy and damn good at what he does. True, but when it comes to this movie, there’s not nearly enough going on here to warrant a nomination, particularly with those others I’ve mentioned being left off the ballot. I like Tracy. I’m happy the man won some Oscars in his career. He had no business being in this set of nominations in a year this strong.
3. Sunset Boulevard has been my go-to movie for 1950 Oscars in general. I think it’s one of the great movies of all time, one of the best of its decade, and arguably the best of its year. So why is William Holden in third? Well, it’s because I like the other two performances better. In an open field, I’m not sure I nominate Holden, although he’d probably be at the top of the list for those just missing the cut. It’s a damn good performance, but he’s overshadowed (as is pretty much everyone on the planet) by Gloria Swanson. He’s just not the most interesting thing on the screen.
2. There was pretty much no way to avoid James Stewart getting a nomination in 1950 with three (at least) powerhouse performances. Of the three, I appreciate the raw power of Stewart in Winchester ‘73, but Harvey is the sort of film for which he is better remembered. For a story that is light and breezy and where Stewart plays an amiable eccentric, the performance is surprisingly nuanced. It’s sweet, and it manages to be so without being cloying or diving too hard into being syrupy. It’s clearly a fantasy film in many ways, and yet Stewart manages to be beautifully real and human. I love him being nominated, and I love him being nominated for this. He’s just not my winner.
1. Jose Ferrer’s version of Cyrano de Bergerac appears to be forgotten in the main, and that’s a damn shame because he’s just about perfect. In an incredibly strong year, the Academy managed to not only nominate the right person, but pick the right person for the award. My own list of five nominees would be very different, but it would still end up with Ferrer on the top. His Cyrano is equal parts panache and pain, playing the role exactly as it was meant to be done. Steve Martin did the comedy Cyrano well in Roxanne and Gerard Depardieu played the role spectacularly in his version of the film, but it’s Ferrer who gave us the complete package of comedy and tragedy, style, wit, and grace. He was the right choice.