Friday, January 24, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1949

The Contenders:

Broderick Crawford: All the King's Men (winner)
Kirk Douglas: Champion
Richard Todd: The Hasty Heart
John Wayne: Sands of Iwo Jima
Gregory Peck: Twelve O’Clock High

What’s Missing

As is usual, I have a few suggestions to make when it comes to our nominees for Best Actor. 1949 was a good enough year; it’s not surprising that a lot of the cinematic content for the year was based on World War II. It’s also a year where there are fewer “couldn’t be nominated” entries. The closest to that would be Cary Grant in I Was a Male War Bride or Alec Guinness and his multiple roles in Kind Hearts and Coronets. James Cagney in White Heat was a bit of a throwback to his earlier years and might have been a fun choice. Had they wanted one more World War II choice, Van Johnson in Battleground would have been the natural go-to. The biggest misses, though are both Academy-hated Orson Welles and Academy always-snubbed Joseph Cotten in The Third Man.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I have virtually no memory of The Hasty Heart, and I watched it just a couple of years ago. That’s not something that bodes well when it comes to an Oscar winner. Looking back, what I see from my original review is that I didn’t specifically dislike the performance of Richard Todd, but I did find it weird. Again, “weird” isn’t a word that inspires a great deal of confidence when it comes to deciding who gets an Oscar or not. It not registering much in my memory is probably the biggest issue, though.

4. Sands of Iwo Jima is a fine World War II film and John Wayne is absolutely the reason to watch it. That being the case, why am I putting him in fourth place? Simply because I’m not entirely sure how much John Wayne had to act to play his role. Sure, there’s something to be said for playing a role really well, but when someone is more or less just playing him- or herself, I question the amount of work that went into the performance. Perhaps that shouldn’t matter, but to me at least, it does.

3. I’m a fan of Gregory Peck, and I would typically put him above third place for his nominations, but that’s not the case for Twelve O’Clock High. Peck is fine in this movie, but it’s also one where I’m not entirely sold on the nomination. Peck comes across as cold and domineering in this role, which is perhaps evidence for how good the acting is here, but at the same time, it’s a cold and distant performance. That’s a problem, since it really is detached in a lot of ways.

2. Since All the King’s Men won Best Picture for this year, it’s not terribly surprising that Broderick Crawford won this Oscar. I don’t dislike his performance, and I don’t dislike the nomination, but I also don’t think he gets higher than this for a significant reason. While it’s clear that he’s the main character here, a strong case could be made that it’s less his movie than it is John Ireland’s. Crawford may be the best thing on the screen most of the time, but both Ireland and the great Mercedes McCambridge are his match.

1. The worst part of Champion is the rather terrible boxing. Fortunately, for a boxing movie, there isn’t a great deal of boxing in the actual film. It’s more about life outside of the ring, and it’s here the Kirk Douglas shines. He’s helped by a very good screenplay that focuses on the characters, of course. But, importantly, Douglas is very good in the role. He’s completely believable, and that’s probably the most important thing here. Limited to the nominations, he’s my choice, but, as I say frequently, its my blog and I’ll do what I want.

My Choice

I realize that at this point in his career, the Academy already hated Orson Welles, but that’s not an excuse for snubbing Joseph Cotten for The Third Man. After all, The Third Man was a Carol Reed project, and while Welles was critical in the film (if possibly supporting), it was Cotten, a man who never got an Oscar nomination, who makes the film what it is. He should have been nominated, and once nominated, should have been the clear winner.

Final Analysis


  1. None of those nominated actors are from movies on the List!?
    That is sort of sad.
    In any case The Third Man is the best movie of the year in any respect, so why not also Best Actor.

    1. It happens. Champion is worth seeking out, as is Twelve O'Clock High. All the King's Men also tends to feel constantly relevant, so it's worth tracking down as well if you get the chance.

  2. Given these five I’d agree that Kirk Douglas should have come out on top. It is great though that a dependable journeyman performer like Crawford managed to capture the prize, it’s much like Ernest Borgnine’s story.

    How did John Wayne get nominated for this performance and nada for The Searchers? He’s not terrible but his work in Iwo Jima isn’t notably different from dozens of his others.

    I can’t say that Joe Cotton is a bad choice as an alternate winner even if he wouldn’t be mine, though he’d definitely should have been nominated.

    I’d scrap every one of the nominees but Douglas with a list that would run like this:
    James Cagney in White Heat
    Joseph Cotton in The Third Man
    Kirk Douglas in Champion
    Edmond O’Brien in D.O.A.
    Robert Ryan in The Set-Up

    There’s also Paul Douglas in A Letter to Three Wives, Burt Lancaster in Criss Cross, James Mason in The Reckless Moment and Ray Milland in Alias Nick Beal who all were worthy of a nod. But my winner would be Robert Ryan in The Set-Up. Like Champion it’s a boxing flick but told in real time and where Douglas is a brash up and comer Ryan is a burnt out mug near the end of the line and he’s just great in the film. Unlike Cotton he received one Oscar nomination in his career, the year before this for Crossfire, but he deserved so many more.

    1. As tends to be the case, I don't know a lot of your suggestions. I didn't love The Reckless Moment; it's one of the few James Mason films where I'm not bowled over by him.

      Why didn't John Wayne get nominated for The Searchers? The world may never know.

  3. Joseph Cotten should've won the Oscar that year. I would've also made some consideration for Chishu Ryu for Late Spring by Yasujiro Ozu as Toshiro Mifune for Stray Dog, David Farrar for The Small Back Room, and Howard Vernon for Le Silence de la Mer by Jean-Pierre Melville.

    1. I really need to watch more Ozu. I've loved all I've seen, but there's too much I haven't.