Wallace Beery: The Champ (winner)
Fredric March: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (winner)
Alfred Lunt: The Guardsman
These early years of Oscar are difficult in the sense that it takes me a great deal of time to figure out what movies are eligible. Five months of 1931 and seven months of 1932 are eligible, but a lot of the movies that are great from that era don’t fit into these twelve months. Two movies that are eligible are Freaks and Grand Hotel, both of which I like a great deal, but neither of which have a relevant performance for Best Actor. Boris Karloff’s performance in The Mummy is a great one, but also not a likely nomination with Fredric March already here. I don’t love The Smiling Lieutenant, but Maurice Chevalier seems like someone prime to be on the list. Bad Girl I liked more, and I rather liked James Dunn in it, but he seems like a stretch for a nomination as well. Rather astonishingly, Edward G. Robinson was never nominated. Five Star Final wouldn’t be my choice for him, but it wouldn’t be the worst choice, either. Oscar didn’t love foreign movies in this era, but Michel Simon’s work in La Chienne deserved some love. The big miss, though, was Paul Muni in Scarface.
Weeding through the Nominees
3. I have nothing against Alfred Lunt’s performance in The Guardsman. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s exactly what was intended for the movie. Lunt plays the character broadly and with some level of ridiculousness, but this is a screwball farce and it’s warranted. The reason I’m putting him in third is, at least in large part, the fact that this is such a cream puff of a movie. Lunt isn’t asked to do a great deal here, and what he is asked to do is, in large part, make goo-goo eyes at his real-life wife. It’s a cute movie and I don’t hate the nomination, but I’d only keep it in an expanded field.
2. The biggest problem with The Champ is just how melodramatic and maudlin it really is. The story is one that plays out in the most obvious of ways; you know what’s going to happen long before it does. Wallace Beery, however, is fine in the role and in the movie. He also manages to have, if not a believable relationship with young Jackie Cooper, a relationship that is entertaining and contains some genuine chemistry. It’s fine, and I don’t hate the win, but I wouldn’t have given the statue to Beery.
1. I’m going with Fredric March. I like March as an actor, and I’m comfortable with him winning an Oscar in his career. I also rather like that he won for what is essentially a horror movie role. They’re nominated so rarely and given such little respect that when one wins, it’s fun and special. Of course, you could just as easily argue that it was the special effects that won this for March. However, that’s not really fair. March really is great in this, and a lot of fun, especially as Hyde, where he can really let himself loose.