Emil Jannings: The Last Command (winner)
Richard Barthelmess: The Noose
Richard Barthelmess: The Patent Leather Kid
Emil Jannings: Way of All Flesh (winner)
Normally, I can figure out exactly what the dates are for one of these early Oscar races, but for the first set of Oscars, I’m just going to include everything from 1927 through the end of July 1928. This opens up the field to a lot of possibilities. While I didn’t love The Jazz Singer or Al Jolson’s performance, I’m genuinely surprised that he wasn’t nominated. Oscar’s dislike of horror started early, leaving out Lon Chaney in The Unknown. Comedies also have a harder run during Oscar season and Oscar has never cared much about stunt work. This will leave out Harold Lloyd in The Kid Brother and Buster Keaton in both Steamboat Bill, Jr. and The General. Gustave Frohlich and Rudolf Klein-Rogge would have been interesting picks from Metropolis. I’d have loved to have seen James Murray in The Crowd in the mix, as well as George O’Brien in Sunrise.
Weeding through the Nominees
N/A. Only two men were nominated for Best Actor with two films each. Actually, Charles Chaplin was nominated for The Circus as well, but was removed from contention and given a special award. Anyway, I have no real hope of seeing The Noose, which evidently exists only in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I don’t have any real fondness for Richard Barthelmess as an actor, although I don’t have a negative opinion of him, either. What’s most interesting is that I can’t find a genuine critical opinion on this film anywhere.
N/A. I have less hope of seeing Emil Jannings in The Way of All Flesh, which is considered a lost film. I have a particular fondness for Emil Jannings of this period. My high school German teacher made us watch Der Blaue Engel every year. The plot of this one seems ridiculously melodramatic. I’d love to be able to have seen it, but my guess is that I probably wouldn’t have loved it too much based on what I know. But, I guess we’ll never know, given that the film doesn’t exist.
2. Richard Barthelmess overacted to a tremendous degree in The Patent Leather Kid, but that was par for the course in the silent era. Emoting was all the rage because of the desire to communicate as much as possible to the audience. In that respect, Barthelmess is right in line with just about everyone else in the era. It doesn’t translate well, but that’s not his fault and so I’m not going to hold him responsible. But I can compare him to other actors and performances of the era. Is he good to great? Not really. It feels like a standard performance of the age.
1. I made the decision when I started this feature on this blog that the tie would always go to the Academy. In this case, I would be very happy to see Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton in the mix here. George O’Brien would have been a great pick. But I can’t really disagree with the choice of Emil Jannings from The Last Command. Sure, it’s overacted, but that’s consistent with the era, and Jannings is great in what he’s asked to do. He brings real passion to this role and to the idea of the film, and while I would love a mostly-changed set of nominations, I can’t ultimately disagree with this choice.