Orson Welles: Citizen Kane
Walter Huston: The Devil and Daniel Webster
Robert Montgomery: Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Cary Grant: Penny Serenade
Gary Cooper: Sergeant York (winner)
So let’s start with the fact that the only acting nomination for The Maltese Falcon was for a deserving Sidney Greenstreet in a supporting role. The miss on Bogart is tragic, though and almost unbelievable, especially in a year where he also did High Sierra. I’m a little surprised that Henry Fonda was missed for The Lady Eve even if I wouldn’t put him in the running. The same is true of Joel McCrea in Sullivan’s Travels. It’s worth noting that Cary Grant was probably nominated for the wrong film, too; Suspicion isn’t a great film or a perfect role for him, but it’s an improvement over what he was nominated for. I’m mildly tempted to say the same thing about Gary Cooper and Ball of Fire. Spencer Tracy gives an interesting performance in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and of course Lon Chaney Jr. will live forever in The Wolf Man. Finally, if I don’t mention Victor Mature in I Wake Up Screaming, someone else will.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Let me say right now how painful it is to me personally to put Cary Grant in last place in anything, but he doesn’t belong here for Penny Serenade. It’s one of the curses of his career that he was nominated for roles that didn’t deserve it and ignored for roles that did. Penny Serenade is a movie I never plan on watching again for some egregious plot issues, but in terms of Oscar, Grant’s performance is nothing more than serviceable, and not even in his top 10 career-wise. This doesn’t belong here.
4. I could say much the same thing about Robert Montgomery in Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Montgomery is fine in the role and it’s a good role, but he’s not close to the best thing in the movie. This one is so much more interesting when Claude Rains is on the screen and it suffers when he disappears. When you can’t hold scenes against a fellow actor, you don’t have a good chance at a nomination in my book, let alone a win. Truthfully, I almost put Montgomery in last place, but Grant’s nomination actually makes me angry based on the rest of his career.
3. Gary Cooper is arguably very good in Sergeant York, and the film is a good one, if a bit on the preachy side. I think I could argue that Cooper deserved the nomination equally for Ball of Fire (as mentioned above), and based on his whole year, I can kind of see why he ended up winning. Sergeant York is very much a propaganda film in a year when the country had just entered a war, which gave Cooper a lock. With the wisdom of hindsight and more than seven decades, I’m satisfied with his nomination, but I don’t give him the statue.
1. In my opinion, the two best male performances of 1941 in leading roles were Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. Truthfully, I enjoy The Maltese Falcon more as a movie, but Charles Foster Kane is a towering character and he’s entirely the creation of Welles. This is an award I would give to either of these two men for these two roles, but on this blog, the tie always goes to the Academy, so at least they nominated someone who should have won.