Raymond Massey: Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Henry Fonda: The Grapes of Wrath
Charlie Chaplin: The Great Dictator
James Stewart: The Philadelphia Story (winner)
Laurence Olivier: Rebecca
1940 is a year that I admit I don’t know particularly well. I don’t know a lot of the films from this year other than those that I’ve watched for this blog. It’s worth noting that a few people had some pretty exceptional years, though. James Stewart won this Oscar, but he was also in The Mortal Storm, a film that is surprisingly hard to find. Cary Grant somehow didn’t get nominated this year despite his roles in both The Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday, and he certainly deserved some credit for at least one of those. The other person I think I’d like to see here is Joel McCrea for his work in Foreign Correspondent. I’m sure there will be other mentions in the comments eventually.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. The nomination I understand the least here is Laurence Olivier for Rebecca. He’s certainly in the movie, but he’s hardly important in the movie other than as, more or less, plot points. The entire film is instead entirely about the relationship between the Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson characters. As good as Rebecca is, I find Olivier’s part of the film to be pretty forgettable. It’s a fine film, but he’s very much a third wheel in terms of the plot and in terms of how everything plays out.
4. The problem with Raymond Massey’s nomination really has nothing to do with Raymond Massey or his performance. It’s actually a pretty good one, even if this is clearly a warts-free biography of the 16th American president. The problem is that there are clearly three better performances nominated, and a few others that I’d rather see nominated here. It’s good, and might even be a great performance, but in a year that has some really solid work, he just misses out on a nomination from me.
3. In a way, the issue I take with Henry Fonda’s performance in The Grapes of Wrath is similar to that I mentioned above with Olivier. Fonda is a lot more memorable here than Olivier is in his role, but he’s also eclipsed by Jane Darwell’s Oscar-winning performance as Ma Joad. Fonda is the angry center of the movie, but it’s Darwell’s warm, tender performance that is the film’s heart. She is the most memorable part of the film, although Fonda is not entirely forgettable. Still, as much as I’m fine with him not winning, I get the nomination.
2. I understand completely why James Stewart won for The Philadelphia Story. It’s one of his better roles, which is saying something. But it’s also in a movie that is packed to the gills with great performances, not the least of which come from Katherine Hepburn (who was nominated) and Cary Grant (who wasn’t). I feel terrible in this case of removing the one competitive Oscar the Stewart won. The man clearly deserved at least one in his career, and I fully understand his winning this one. I’m just not convinced he was the best choice for this movie and this role.
1. I’m giving this to Charlie Chaplin, who, in retrospect, was kind of a surprise nomination given the amount of controversy that surrounded The Great Dictator. Honestly, had the film not created a certain controversy with its release, I think this Oscar would have clearly been Chaplin’s. Dual roles weren’t unheard of in 1940, but I don’t know that anyone had really done it better than Chaplin did for this film at this point in history. The Academy should have nutted up and given the man his Oscar. He deserved it.
I LOVE Jimmy Stewart, I really like Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story, he's charming in his gangly. exasperated obstinate way and I really enjoy the film but I can't believe he won an Oscar for it! As you said he's competing against two more memorable performances (really four counting Ruth Hussey and Virginia Weidler). If he had to win what is so very clearly a make-up Oscar for losing previously for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington than he had a much more complex, deeply felt piece of work staring the Academy right in the face with The Shop Around the Corner.ReplyDelete
As it stands the only two from the actual nominees in these films that I'd retain are Fonda and Chaplin, though I prefer his work in both Modern Times and Limelight to this. But then I think all the acting categories this year have room for massive improvements (Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle? Really? A third Oscar for Walter Brennan for the vomitous Kentucky! Ugh!)
I lean towards Fonda as it stands, if Stewart was in for Shop it would be a tougher decision, but agree Jane Darwell is the heart of their film. Still as much as I admire her I'd have voted for Judith Anderson in Rebecca over her.
I like the suggestion of Joel McCrea and poor Cary Grant-three exemplary performances-Philly Story, His Girl Friday and My Favorite Wife-and still no nomination. I'd add for consideration Anton Walbrook in the original Gaslight, Edward G. Robinson in the delightful Brother Orchid, perhaps Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro. I don't love the film nor find the performance extraordinary but I'm really surprised considering the academy love of biographies and that it was Spencer Tracy that he wasn't up for Edison, the Man.
I don't know the films you mention in your last paragraph. The only Edward G. Robinson film I know from this year is Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, which is interesting, but hardly noteworthy in terms of his performance.Delete
I agree completely on Stewart. He was my pick for Best Actor 1939, and I think you may be right as to why he won here. Judith Anderson would be my choice for Supporting Actress as well. That's a chilling performance front to back.
I'm not sure I prefer Chaplin in Modern Times. I like the film better, but I think the performance in The Great Dictator is a lot deeper and richer.
As for Best Actress? Well, we'll get there eventually.
Brother Orchid is one of three EGR pictures in '40. Besides Dr. Ehrlich which I agree is okay but ordinary, he also did another more obscure flick, another bio A Dispatch from Reuter's. Made in England for Warners it details how Reuter build his wire service starting with carrier pigeons. It's not horrible by any means but the lesser of his 40 trio.Delete
But Brother Orchid puts a spin on his patented crime boss persona in a serio-comic way. He's a mobster who goes to Europe to get class and when he returns finds he's muscled out of the top spot. During the squabble he's injured and hides out in a monastery as a monk, complications ensue. It's a zippy little film with Robinson terrific of course with the bonuses of Ann Sothern and in probably his last supporting gangster part before he finally broke through to full on stardom, Humphrey Bogart.
I'll keep an eye out for it. Here's hoping TCM might run it one of these days.Delete
Stewart was my pick for best actor of 1939, too. While Thomas J. Destry, Jr. didn't get him an Oscar, it did get him Marlene Dietrich. I know which one of the two I'd choose. And he even got the added bonus of stepping into the great Frenchy-Lily Belle Callahan bar fight. One of the best fights in film history.ReplyDelete
I'm not a huge fan of Destry Rides Again, but I should probably give it another chance. Since I own a copy, that shouldn't be too hard.Delete
I'd agree with all your placements (though I haven't seen Abe Lincoln). I still can't believe Cary Grant wasn't nominated for anything: he must have been the Amy Adams of 1940, having too many great performances that the Academy got confused and decided to nominate neither.ReplyDelete
Grant never got nominated for the roles he should have. He was nominated twice, for Penny Serenade and None but the Lonely Heart, two completely forgettable roles in two completely forgettable movies. His great roles--The Philadelphia Story, North by Northwest, Charade, Notorious, Arsenic and Old Lace, His Girl Friday, Only Angels Have Wings and even also-rans like Talk of the Town...goose egg.Delete
Stewart with equal (or possibly more justice) could have been nominated for Shop Around the Corner. Grant had a third fine comedic performance in My Favorite Wife and was certainly shafted. Obviously I'm not going to quarrel with a nod to Joel McCrea.
This was not a particularly strong year for actors and I think you've mentioned most of them. My favorite performance was probably Anton Walbrook in the original Gaslight. So really nasty. Bogart was good in They Drive by Night but that might have been supporting, I don't know.
Looks like I'll be adding the original Gaslight to my list of movies that aren't on my lists.Delete
I might give a slight edge to the original over the remake and it's all due to Walbrook's performance.ReplyDelete
Well, it's on the list, so I'll get to it eventually, I hope.Delete
How about nominating Pinocchio?ReplyDelete
Oh, yeah, forgot, he is just a doll and does not qualify.
I quite liked Henry Fonda in Grapes of Wrath and this he did a fine job there. I could have lived with him winning.
On Chaplin I think hindsight, knowing what came after, makes me want to credit him and his perfomance more than his contemporaries. It was a good performance, but was it significantly better than in his previous movies?
Does it have to be? After all, this award is for the best performance in the given year, not the best performance in the actor's career.Delete