Monday, June 12, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1960

The Contenders:

Jack Lemmon: The Apartment
Burt Lancaster: Elmer Gantry (winner)
Laurence Olivier: The Entertainer
Spencer Tracy: Inherit the Wind
Trevor Howard: Sons and Lovers

What’s Missing

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.

My Choice

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.

Final Analysis


  1. I have to admit I’m a little surprised, pleasantly so, by your winner. I’m not sure why but when I saw the year and the lineup of choices I was fairly certain Jack Lemmon would come out on top. I say pleasantly because Tracy would likewise be my choice as winner, and that would hold true even if Perkins, who was robbed!, was in the running.

    Inherit the Wind is a huge personal favorite of mine and Henry Drummond maybe my favorite Tracy performance. It’s just so lived in and sly, he and Fredric March-who I’d say deserved consideration for a nod as well-do a beautiful dance and Tracy interacts with every character in an individual way.

    I agree mostly with your other rankings as well, though I might move Lancaster up a notch but still would never have handed him the award….now his un-nominated costar Jean Simmons would be another matter, she’d be my winner on the actress side had she been among the eligible choices.

    For who should be here I completely agree about Perkins and Kirk Douglas-his exclusion is a real head scratcher. Spartacus just screams Oscar consideration especially when you consider Ben-Hur’s mother lode the year before. Finney is also a great suggestion. The only other two I’d propose are Richard Attenborough in The Angry Silence and particularly Robert Preston in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.

    1. The Angry Silence is one I have yet to see. It's coming eventually. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs is one I don't know at all.

      Inherit the Wind is a film I have trouble actually rating well because it really is one of my favorite movies. March should have clearly been nominated for something, probably supporting, but Dick York is tremendous as well, as are Harry Morgan, Claude Aikens, and especially Gene Kelly, who was absolutely robbed of a nomination for his brutally snarky and sardonic E.K. Hornbeck. The courtroom back and forth with Brady on the stand is the model for pretty much every courtroom scene that has followed it. You can see the echoes of it in films like A Few Good Men.

      I wouldn't have been terribly upset had Tracy gotten the win, but Perkins is near perfect in Psycho, and he's better on a rewatch.

    2. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs is based on a William Inge play that very much has a feeling of one of his works, most reminiscent of Splendor in the Grass but quieter.

      It's well observed but what really puts it over is its cast which aside from Preston includes Dorothy McGuire, Eve Arden, Angela Lansbury (all quite impactful) and Shirley Knight who earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work.

    3. I'll add it to the list of things I should see that are otherwise not on one list or another.

      So yes, I have a list of films that aren't on a list.

  2. I think I already posted a comment, but it seems to have been lost.
    In any case I can only agree with you on Anthony Perkins. His perfomance is in a class of its own this year.

    1. Yeah, he really is letter perfect as Norman. Sadly, Psycho "won" by getting Hitchcock and Janet Leigh nominations. Perkins really should have been on the list.