Walter Pidgeon: Mrs. Miniver
Monty Woolley The Pied Piper
Gary Cooper: The Pride of the Yankees
Ronald Colman: Random Harvest
James Cagney: Yankee Doodle Dandy (winner)
When we’re in the heart of World War II, the choices are particularly interesting. There are a lot of movies from this era that I love, though, and that’s certainly going to color some of my suggested nominations. Case in point is Paul Henreid in Now, Voyager. Truthfully, Henreid is likely a better choice for Supporting Actor, but I’m going to mention him anyway because I love the film. Fredric March is charming in I Married a Witch, but that’s really Veronica Lake’s film. Joseph Cotten was never nominated, but he certainly could have been for the butchered remnants of The Magnificent Ambersons. Finally, Jack Benny really deserved some recognition for To Be or Not To Be. Two other movies I like from this year, In Which We Serve and Went the Day Well? feel too much like ensemble casts.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I like Ronald Colman well enough, but Random Harvest is some pretty thick goo to get through. He’s also a bit miscast. Actually, he works pretty well for the second half of the film (although he is far too old for his paramour), but he doesn’t fit for the younger version of his character at all. It’s also not a great film in general, although it is a decent one. But it’s also ridiculously melodramatic. I suppose in some part I am punishing the performance for the sins of the film, but hey, I’m human.
4. I like Walter Pidgeon, too, but I’m not entirely convinced of his nomination for Mrs. Miniver. In this case, it has virtually nothing to do with him and pretty much everything to do with Greer Garson, the start of the film. Garson is magnetic in this film, and while Walter Pidgeon is good, there isn’t a moment where he holds a scene over Garson. I find it difficult to seriously consider someone for an acting award in situations where that person doesn’t command the screen as much as possible. Pidgeon doesn’t, and that’s why he comes in fourth.
3. Monty Woolley is the sort of actor who is instantly likeable. He is just about everyone’s idea of a curmudgeon from this era; the sort of character actor who regularly had a collection of lines about children or animals, but ended up being a softie by the end of the second act. This is exactly the role that he plays in The Pied Piper. In truth, it’s not a great movie, but it is a heartwarming one, and Wooley (as always) is a magnificent Scrooge equivalent. This is a fine performance, but it’s nothing new and it goes right where you think it will.
2. I have no serious issue with Pride of the Yankees. This is the sort of role, one filled with a sort of mild, noble humility that Gary Cooper was born to play. And he does. It would be incredibly easy for this to be maudlin, but it never does. It could get clinical, which it also doesn’t do. It is instead a very human film, and a human portrayal of its lead character. In a lot of years, this sort of perfect marriage between great star and great role would win without question. But not this year.
1. This had to be Cagney’s Oscar. I rather love the fact that Cagney, who spent the bulk of his career playing tough guys and mobsters, won an Oscar for a portrayal of George M. Cohan. There’s a sense of wonderful…not quite irony, but certainly celestial humor at this. But this is not a career Oscar in the guise of a competitive one. No, this is Cagney doing the sort of thing that not everyone knew he could do. It’s bold and fresh in so many ways, and frankly, just as exciting and fun now as it was in 1942. It was the right choice, and Oscar made it.