Jack Lemmon: The Apartment
Burt Lancaster: Elmer Gantry (winner)
Laurence Olivier: The Entertainer
Spencer Tracy: Inherit the Wind
Trevor Howard: Sons and Lovers
There are some surprising misses from 1960 Best Actor. Leading off is Kirk Douglas in Spartacus, which seems like an absolutely natural choice for the category. Albert Finney’s work in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning would seem to be the sort of performance that would normally get a nomination as well. Less likely to be nominated are Robert Mitchum in The Sundowners and Ralph Bellamy for Sunrise at Campobello. It should be noted that I wouldn’t nominate either of them, but I think someone might make a case for them both. The two really big outside nominations for me, but I think I could make them stick, are Anthony Perkins in Psycho and Karlheinz Bohm in Peeping Tom. The latter of those is a more personal choice for me. Perkins genuinely deserved to be here.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I’m dropping Trevor Howard off the top here. This has nothing to do with the quality of Howard’s performance in Sons and Lovers. It has everything to do with the fact that he shouldn’t have been nominated in the first place. To my knowledge, this is the shortest performance on record to be nominated for either Best Actor or Best Actress. At only 20 or so minutes of screen time, Howard clearly should have been nominated in the supporting category. With the snubs we have, Trevor Howard shouldn’t be here.
4. Things get tougher now that we’ve got the clear wrong category choice out of the way. I like Laurence Olivier, but I’m putting him and The Entertainer in fourth for no reason other than I like the other three performances better. Olivier was always worth watching, of course, and he’s worth watching here. He’s also clearly the best thing in the film, which works to his credit as well. I simply like the other three performances more, and in an open field, I’m not sure I’d even nominate him. I could be convinced otherwise.
3. I like Burt Lancaster and I’m happy that he won an Oscar, but I wouldn’t have voted for him to get his Oscar for Elmer Gantry. Lancaster is a force of nature in this film, and he’s brilliant in this, but again, I simply like the other two performances better. In this case, it might be that I like the other two characters more than I like the character of Elmer Gantry. That’s not Lancaster’s fault, of course, but sometimes that does rear its ugly head into these write-ups. Give him the supporting Oscar for Field of Dreams; he shouldn’t have won this one.
2. And now we’ve got an issue. I find it very difficult to distinguish who deserves this a little more. I’m going to put Jack Lemmon and The Apartment in second for one reason, which I’ll get to in the paragraph below. Lemmon was such a talented actor, capable of doing so many different roles and styles. In The Apartment, he got to play both comic and dramatic moments. It’s one of his best all-around performances on the screen. He’s close to my pick from the nominees, but he’s not my pick.
1. For the nominees, I’m giving this to Spencer Tracy for one of my favorite performances of its decade. Literally the only reason I’m giving this to Tracy, though, is that I like Inherit the Wind more than I like The Apartment. That’s clearly unfair to Jack Lemmon, but it’s also the sort of thing that can happen on this blog. It’s probably cold comfort to Lemmon, then, that I really wouldn’t give the Oscar to Spencer Tracy, either, although he is who would get my vote if I had these five choices.
I think the best male starring performance in 1960 came from Anthony Perkins in Psycho I actually prefer Peeping Tom as a movie to Psycho, but I can’t take a thing away from everything Perkins was able to accomplish. He was required to be so likeable and yet still have that hint of madness behind his eyes. Watch the film a second time, and you can see everything that Norman is in the first two acts of the film, which is what makes the third act work. Perkins should have been on the docket, and he should have walked with the statue.