Monday, February 18, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1947

The Contenders:

John Garfield: Body and Soul
Ronald Colman: A Double Life (winner)
Gregory Peck: Gentleman’s Agreement
William Powell: Life with Father
Michael Redgrave: Mourning Becomes Electra

What’s Missing

So many good performances from this year, and while the collection of nominations isn’t bad, there are a few that I think are significant misses for this year. I’d love to include David Farrar in Black Narcissus in this list, but he feels far more supporting than main. Tyrone Power could have swung a nomination for Nightmare Alley, but it’s likely that the film was simply too brutal to warrant serious consideration in 1947. I’m honestly surprised at Rex Harrison’s performance in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir didn’t put him on the list. The final three I’d love to see added are three men who never got their due from the Academy. In no particular order, these are Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past, Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife, and James Mason in Odd Man Out.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’ve been on record as a fan of William Powell, but I genuinely can’t see nominating him for Life with Father. This isn’t a terrible role and it’s a fine performance from a guy who didn’t tend to give bad ones, but the role is a complete nothing. Powell was enough of a professional to not phone in the performance, but if there ever was one, it could have been this one. I mean, it’s not Powell’s fault that Life with Father is meandering and pointless, but it does make me question why he got a nomination.

4. I could say something similar about Gregory Peck and Gentleman’s Agreement. I like Peck as an actor and I even like this movie well enough, but there are plenty of capable actors who could have played this role without a huge loss in quality from Peck. This isn’t a knock on Peck himself, but a comment on the role. In short, I think this is a case where the role itself was nominated rather than the performance specifically. This happens all the time, and while it’s a shame when it does, it’s explainable—and it would have felt odd to have the Best Picture winner not get a nomination in this category.

3. Michael Redgrave gives a performance in Mourning Becomes Electra that is initially difficult to qualify. For the first hour of the film, I had no idea of why he would have been nominated for this role. And then the second half of the film happens and it becomes apparent that the nomination wasn’t a favor to someone or a case of politics. Based on the unnominated performances of this year, Redgrave is right on the cusp of making the cut for me, but at least it’s a nomination I understand, even if I only half-heartedly endorse it.

2. A Double Life gets a lot of things wrong, like the tone of the third act and some of the pacing, but none of what it gets wrong is the fault of Ronald Colman. Colman, who won this Oscar, gives a gripping performance as a man who becomes far too involved in a role to act rationally. It’s a damn good performance, one that Colman is rightly remembered for. I can’t even really be too upset with the Academy for awarding him the Oscar. It’s rare back in this era that someone would win for playing such a morally conflicted role.

My Choice

1. In the world of this blog, ties always go to the Academy, and that’s the only reason we don’t have a different result here. Based on the five nominations, my winner is John Garfield in Body and Soul, and I’ll add the caveat that I am a big John Garfield fan. In a completely open field, I’d have a hard time choosing between Garfield and Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past, which I find to be one of his best performances. I’d likely have Cary Grant in third. But, since ties do go to the Academy, Oscar only got this one wrong instead of failing in a much more serious way.

Final Analysis


  1. Robert Mitchum for me. He was genre defining in Out of the Past and deserved an award for either that or The Night of the Hunter.

  2. My choices would run the same as yours and for very similar reasons, even Redgrave finishing just out of the money but very close to making the list.

    I am always predisposed to John Garfield taking any prize possible that he might be considered for. Since this is the only time he competed in lead actor (which is just so wrong) I would have loved to see him take it even if I think his most deserving performance came a couple of years later in The Breaking Point.

    That said I’m not sorry that Ronald Colman won. Perhaps not as varied a talent as Garfield he was a fine actor who gave many excellent performances and A Double Life might be the best of those. So him taking it for a superior piece of work can’t be looked at as a mistake.

    LOVE all your suggestions, this was a very strong year for men. I would also include Robert Young who turned his good guy image on its head as the opportunistic heel in They Won’t Believe Me. Although I’m sure they’d never be considered Lawrence Tierney contributed the one-two punch of The Devil Thumbs a Ride and Born to Kill. He’s eerily unsettling and malevolent in both.

    So in an open field Garfield would make my list as would Ronnie Colman. The other three slots would go to Young and Robert Mitchum who would be my runner-up but my winner is Tyrone Power, the best he ever was by far in Nightmare Alley. What doomed him was the fact that while the film was a passion project for him it was a huge financial disaster for Fox so they would never have backed a nomination for him. He bounced right back with Captain from Castile and then a series of swashbucklers, comedies and Westerns but from what I read the failure of Nightmare Alley cooled his attitude towards his film career.

    1. Limited to a selection of five, I'm putting Garfield and Mitchum battling for the top two spots, followed by Grant, Power, and Colman in some order. Admittedly, I'm probably doing that more out of love for Mason than love for that role. Rex Harrison and Michael Redgrave would land just off the podium for me, with Powell and Peck being nowhere near it.

      I should probably watch Nightmare Alley again. It's so damn dark, though, that even had it been a hit, I think 1947 Oscar might have had a real issue with it.

  3. If you haven't seen Richard Attenborough in Brighton Rock I would highly recommend it. It is an unforgettable performance in a brutal British noir based on a novel by Graham Greene. I think Nightmare Alley was Power's greatest performance. And you know how I feel about Mitchum. I've loved Michael Redgrave in everything I've ever seen him in so I need to give Mourning a try.

    My open field would be Garfield, Mitchum, Attenborough, Power, and Mason. And I wouldn't like to choose between them.

    My open field would be

    1. I should track down Brighton Rock. I'm a big fan of Graham Greene, after all.