Friday, October 28, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1957

The Contenders:

Alec Guinness: The Bridge on the River Kwai (winner)
Anthony Franciosa: A Hatful of Rain
Marlon Brando: Sayonara
Anthony Quinn: Wild is the Wind
Charles Laughton: Witness for the Prosecution

What’s Missing

It was a good year, 1957 was, although I’m not enamored of more than half of our Best Actor nominees. It’s a bit of a shock that no actor was nominated from 12 Angry Men, a film that is virtually nothing more than great acting performances. It’s also an ensemble cast, but I think a case can be made for both Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb. There’s not a bad performance in the bunch, though. The same could be said for both Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success and both Glenn Ford and Van Heflin in 3:10 to Yuma. Joining the list of the overlooked is Kirk Douglas in Path of Glory. I didn’t love Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, but I do love Robert Mitchum and he never got enough Academy love during his career. In the “never would be nominated” category we have Grant Williams and his affecting performance in The Incredible Shrinking Man. There was rarely foreign movie love in the ‘50s, but Victor Sjostrom in Wild Strawberries, Max von Sydow in The Seventh Seal and especially Toshiro Mifune in Throne of Blood merit consideration as well.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. This could have been a really difficult year to pick, but I’m given what I think are two worthy performances and three not so much. On the bottom is Anthony Quinn’s blustery, bombastic turn in Wild is the Wind. For me, the film is all about Anna Magnani, not Quinn. I’m certain that Quinn’s performance is exactly what George Cukor wanted from his male star, but that doesn’t mean that the performance is a great one or worthy of being considered for an Oscar. Quinn lacks the subtlety that this performance and film could really use. A more nuanced turn would move him up, but we didn’t get that.

4. This is right in the meat of Brando’s career, perhaps at the end of his best years, and he’s not bad in Sayonara, but he’s also not Brando at his best. The biggest sticking point for me is the accent. The accent isn’t bad and it’s mainly consistent all the way through, but it’s also incredibly annoying, especially for this long. I also didn’t love other aspects of the movie. That shouldn’t reflect on Brando’s performance, but he’s usually on screen for the things that I don’t like, and it can be hard to differentiate at times. In any event, there were better performances left off the ticket, so I don’t think he should be here.

3. When it comes to Anthony Franciosa and A Hatful of Rain, my issue is less with Franciosa then it is with other performances. Franciosa is fine in this role, but it’s a role that has shown up in other movies in a sense, and it’s a role that has been done better. That’s actually true across the board here. This is a story that has been better handled elsewhere, and every role here is more interesting in other movies. With that said, I’d be willing to reconsider these bottom three and rearrange them in virtually any order. The truth is that all three seem so below the other two and the ones that I mentioned in the first paragraph that the differentiation between them in terms of ranking is very difficult for me.

2. With Charles Laughton and Witness for the Prosecution, we’re finally getting to someone where a nomination might be more understandable. I like Laughton, and I especially like Laughton when it becomes evident that he’s having a lot of fun with a role. He’s clearly having fun here. I’m a fan of many Billy Wilder films, and while there are a number I like more than Witness for the Prosecution, Laughton’s performance here is one of my favorite Wilder film performances. I love the way he and Elsa Lanchester play off each other here, and Laughton is capable of turning on a dime, something he does with precision and joy. I like this nomination. I just don’t like it for the win.

My Choice

1. Of all of the nominations, the only one who absolutely belongs here is Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Guinness is absolutely perfect here and this is a performance that ranks for me in the top-10 all-time across more than a century of film. There is not a motion out of place, a facial expression that doesn’t work, or a nuance that doesn’t create and enhance the character he is building. No matter the line-up we are given, Guinness is my pick. I’d have a much tougher time figuring out 2-5 with different actors here, but Guinness wins in every case, and he probably wins Best Actor for the decade. As poorly as Oscar nominated, they got the win correct.

Final Analysis


  1. How was Fonda not nominated? I would say the same for Andy Griffith in A Face in the Crowd. That being said, Guinness is great in Bridge on the River Kwai and I'd have to pick him as well.

    1. Ah, I missed A Face in the Crowd at the top! Dammit! Griffith would probably be my #2 for this year, and I passed right over him!

  2. Again I was right in sync with you until the top two which I'd flip flop. It is a tough choice, Guinness is quite extraordinary in River Kwai but Laughton's is the performance that I return to again and again and take delight in every time. He just interacts so flawlessly with every single performer he shares scenes with and when he faces off with Marlene Dietrich, where the hell was her nomination for this totally brilliant piece of work, it's gold.

    Of the three others I think only Franciosa deserves to even be in the long list of contenders but not have an actual nomination.

    '57 was an incredibly rich year for film overall but especially in actor. I'd second the mention of Andy Griffith in Face in the Crowd, another film that contains a magnificent performance from Patricia Neal that was snubbed, and add these to the others you pointed out.

    James Cagney in Man of a 1,000 Faces, Anthony Perkins in Fear Strikes Out, Frank Sinatra in The Joker is Wild and Ben Gazzara in The Strange One

    1. I love Laughton's performance, and I'd probably include him in the top-5 if I made my own list. I think Guinness is perfect, though. I wouldn't change a single aspect of him on screen in any moment he is on screen.

      I haven't seen Man of a Thousand Faces, but it's coming.

  3. I'm stunned that Burt Lancaster wasn't nominated for Sweet Smell of Success. Curtis is good, but Lancaster is astounding. I've only seen the top two performances, and both were deserving.

    1. I agree, although Andy Griffith is absolutely the biggest miss. I'd want Toshiro Mifune here as well, but that's pretty much true of every year in which he did a film with Kurosawa.

  4. Of the nominated five I have only seen the winner, but considering how great it is I still agree wholeheartedly with you (and the Academy) ;-)

    1. Witness for the Prosecution is very much worth tracking down. A great film all the way around, and one that really should have been considered for the book.