Monday, December 18, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1945

The Contenders:

Gene Kelly: Anchors Aweigh
Bing Crosby: The Bells of St. Mary’s
Gregory Peck: The Keys of the Kingdom
Ray Milland: The Lost Weekend (winner)
Cornel Wilde: A Song to Remember

What’s Missing

There will almost certainly be some suggestions in the comments for Best Actor 1945, because I’m finding the year to be pretty unimpressive for this award. Some might suggest Gregory Peck could have been nominated for Spellbound instead of The Keys of the Kingdom, although I won’t make that suggestion seriously. Barry Fitzgerald would make an interesting nomination for And Then There Were None, even if the role is kind of supporting because of the ensemble cast. The same is kind of true for Burgess Meredith and The Story of G.I. Joe. Two I think I can make a case for are Lawrence Tierney in Dillinger, since the issues with that film don’t fall on Tierney; and John Wayne for They Were Expendable, a movie sadly forgotten these days. A third is nominating Paul Muni for A Song to Remember rather than Cornel Wilde.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I can’t claim to be a huge fan of Cornel Wilde and I wasn’t much of a fan of A Song to Remember. Wilde spends the entire film looking aggrieved about something until the end of the film when he looks aggrieved and is covered in sweat. Paul Muni is far and away the best thing in the film aside from the music of Chopin. I have no idea what Wilde did to earn a nomination here other than constantly look like he had a case of indigestion. For this we didn’t get John Wayne? I simply don’t understand.

4. I spent a lot of time switching third and fourth place here, but finally settled on putting Bing Crosby and The Bells of St. Mary’s here. It’s fair to say (in fact, I feel obligated to say) that this is not the fault of Crosby who, as he generally was, is likeable and entertaining on screen. The role is a nothing, though, and doesn’t really ask him to do anything beyond being simply likeable. He created the role the previous year and, based on the five nominations, rightfully won the Oscar. Not for something that is essentially a decent rehash, though.

3. Everything I just said about Bing Crosby I could virtually repeat for Gene Kelly and Anchors Aweigh. Kelly, like Crosby, was easy to like on camera, and that’s no different here. The film, though, doesn’t really try to do anything beyond have some good song and dance numbers and entertain for its running time. I honestly have no problem with that, but Kelly is asked to do so little here beyond the singing and dancing that I wonder precisely what he was nominated for. Sure, he earned a few in his career, but not for this.

2. I said at the top that some may wish to see Gregory Peck nominated for Spellbound in which he is the best part of a Freudian mess. I disagree, because he’s the best part of The Keys of the Kingdom, and it’s a far better film. The issues I take with the film aren’t the fault of Peck and are also far less than I expected them to be. Peck, as was usually the case, presents a character beautifully and with real care to make the character something real rather than just simply a person in a movie. In another year, I could see awarding him.

My Choice

1. This is a case, though, where the Academy was right in its choice. Ray Milland’s work in The Lost Weekend is as good as you’re going to find from the era. The major problem with the film—the ending it doesn’t really earn—are hardly the fault of Milland, who gives a gripping performance that is just far enough ahead of its time that people were able to recognize it for what it was. That Milland never reached these heights again is probably understandable—not many people do in their entire career. He was the right choice.

Final Analysis


  1. So great to see some love for They Were Expendable, though I would probably nominate Robert Montgomery. But you are right that it's one pf Wayne's better performances.

    But this award totally belongs to Milland.

    1. Montgomery should probably be mentioned as well, but it's Wayne I remember from it. Still, this was clearly Milland's win.

  2. It seems that 1945 was a very weak year in film, but most of that has to do with the WWII. Anyway, the Oscar went to the right actor, I just wonder how they would have split it had Ray and Rosey won for "The Thing With Two Heads." But Stuart Gordon & Joe Dante are right when they say that Ray always gave it his all in all of his films, be it as an alcholic, a father trying to save his family during a nuclear apocalypse, or a man doing whatever it takes to stay alive--even if that means transplanting his head on Rosey Grier's immense body without Rosey's head being first removed.

    1. Ray's career did take him to some pretty weird places. Of all of the low-rent movies he did, my favorite is X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. It reminds me of The Incredible Shrinking Man in the sense that it's a cheap B-horror movie, but there are some really interesting existential questions brought up in it.

  3. What a very strange crop of nominations. I love The Bells of St. Mary and Bing in it but an Oscar nomination for being genial? Just no, Ingrid's performance is more nuanced and I wouldn't nominate her for this either.

    Gene Kelly was an amazingly gifted performer but I don't think I've ever seen him give an acting performance that could be considered deep and surely not the one in Anchors Aweigh.

    Cornel, so handsome so limited. A Song to Remember (which could have just as fittingly have been called A Song without End it was so interminable) didn't give him much to work with and he did nothing special with it.

    I like Gregory Peck and he did well in Keys to the Kingdom but there were other more insightful performances to choose from.

    But Milland is brilliant and in this group the unquestionable winner with no one even approaching him as an also ran.

    If it were up to me I'd chuck the whole lineup excepting Ray and start over and in that case of an open field he wouldn't be my winner but a very close runner-up.

    My list would run thus:

    Dana Andrews-A Walk in the Sun
    Laird Cregar-Hangover Square
    Ray Milland-The Lost Weekend
    Edward G. Robinson-Scarlet Street-How the great EGR never received a nomination is so hard to fathom especially when he gave so many worthy performances among them this one which should have taken the prize.
    George Sanders-The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry

    1. Scarlet Street is admittedly a large hole in my viewing.

      But I do agree. I'd probably keep Peck, because I think it is a good, nuanced performance and one that could have very easily and quickly dipped into syrup and melodrama. Peck's force of personality keeps it from doing so, and his performance was one of the reasons I liked the film a lot more than I thought I would.

      As for Robinson, I agree completely. It staggers me that he never earned even a nomination for so many great and memorable roles.

  4. Had it been nominated it would have been Robinson for me all the way. Another couple I would have liked to see there are Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter and Jean-Louis Barrault in Children of Paradise.

  5. In an open field I might have given a slight edge to Robinson. Two other conspicuous absences from the roster, IMO, are Trevor Howard for Brief Encounter and Jean-Louis Barrault for Children of Paradise.

    1. Trevor Howard is a great addition to the list. I tend to think of Children of Paradise as a film that stars Arletty and some other people, so when I think of it, I tend to think only of her.

  6. Ray Millard is a no-brainer. I cannot think of anybody else I would consider. I like Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter, but I am not sure it counts as a 45 movie. Besides that movie belongs to Celia Johnson.

    1. It's a fair point about Brief Encounter. While the release date was in 1945, David Lean, Celia Johnson, and the screenplay earned nominations in 1946.

  7. I agree, Milland’s work in the The Lost Weekend is as good as acting of the era gets. Very happy he won there.

    1. Same. This is as good as Milland ever was, and for this year, I don't think there was anyone better.