Montgomery Clift: From Here to Eternity
Burt Lancaster: From Here to Eternity
Marlon Brando: Julius Caesar
Richard Burton: The Robe
William Holden: Stalag 17 (winner)
1953 is a ridiculously good year for actors, and, for a wonder, Oscar actually didn’t do a terrible job with nominations. That said, it really says something that I could create two completely different lists of legitimate contenders for Best Actor. The two I’d like to mention, but not with a great deal of seriousness, are Jack Hawkins in The Cruel Sea and Gene Barry in War of the Worlds. In the first case, it’s much more of an ensemble cast where pretty much everyone is supporting. In the second, Barry is fine, but that movie is all about the special effects. On the horror front, we have Vincent Price’s lovely scenery chewing in House of Wax, the movie that started his horror career. From across one pond or another we get Jacques Tati in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Masayuki Mori in Ugetsu, Chushu Ryu in Tokyo Story, and Yves Montand in Wages of Fear. Noirs were still a thing in 1953, evidenced by Glenn Ford in The Big Heat, Richard Widmark in Pickup on South Street and Robert Mitchum in Angel Face. I often get pushback on suggesting Alan Ladd in Shane, but it’s a performance I really like. Finally, while Roman Holiday is all about Audrey Hepburn, it’s so much less without the lovely and kind work of Gregory Peck.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. It feels like sometimes Oscar felt that it should nominate Richard Burton just because. When Burton was great, he was really great, but when he wasn’t, he was a solid block of salty actor ham. In The Robe, he is nothing more than that and his staggering overreactions, intended to be dramatic and evidence of the “Powah of Jeeeeezus” are instead broadly comic and belong in a pantomime show. With a year this good, this is an absolutely ridiculous nomination. I’d take anyone listed above over Burton.
4. I was surprised that I liked Marlon Brando’s performance in Julius Caesar because it seemed like such a stretch. It’s worth noting that this comes directly in the middle of the height of Brando’s career when he is at both the top of his acting skill and his raw sexuality. He’s really good in this, and that’s surprising, but the truth is that he’s not so good that he deserved a nomination in a year this packed with great performances. I like this one, but it’s not one that I’m going to nominate, given the choice.
3. It’s a difficult choice for me to pick between Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity, and ultimately I would probably have them tied. I’m going to put Burt Lancaster in third for one simple reason: he shares a lot of scenes in this with Deborah Kerr, and she is absolutely the class of this film. She is perfection on the screen, and because of this, everyone who shares the screen with her shines just a little more dimly. Lancaster is great, but he can’t stand up to what Deborah Kerr did, and because of that, I’m putting Lancaster in third, the smallest measure behind his costar.
2. When I started blogging, I really didn’t like Montgomery Clift for some reason. The longer I’ve been blogging and watching movies, the more I’ve come to appreciate him. He’s not always great in roles, but when he is given something to really sink into, he’s one of the best around. He’s in his element here, and this is a performance I really like. He is relatable, understandable, and completely pitiable, which is something Clift could do well. Given the opportunity to create the slate myself, I’m not sure he gets nominated, but he might.
1. The long-standing position of this blog is that the tie always goes to the Academy. Had this award gone to anyone else, we’d have something to really talk about here, but I’m perfectly fine with this going to William Holden for Stalag 17. It’s a gutsy performance and a hell of a role to play a “hero” who is this genuinely dislikable and disliked. Holden nails this perfectly, being both contemptible in his thoughts and actions, and made all the more hateful by constantly being right. I love this movie a lot, and Holden is the main reason why. He’s my winner, and evidence that Oscar now and then picks a winner.