Chester Morris: Alibi
Warner Baxter: In Old Arizona (winner)
Lewis Stone: The Patriot
George Bancroft: Thunderbolt
Paul Muni: The Valiant
So here it is, the final Oscar Got It Wrong post, and through either good luck or bad, I’ve managed to end on Best Actor for the clunky and depressing Oscar “year” covering 1928-1929. Silent film had become a established art form in the 30+ years before talkies, and no one knew what to do with talkies yet. This is evidenced by how much better the nominations were—flawed as they were—in the first ceremony compared with this. I’m tempted to not suggest any possible replacements as a sort of protest, but that would be unfair to George Bancroft in Docks of New York. Other movies I like from this “year” don’t have much in the way of a lead male performance--Pandora’s Box and The Man with the Movie Camera are examples of this.
Weeding through the Nominees
N/A. What can I say about Lewis Stone and The Patriot? Not much, as it turns out. Aside from a still or two and a Wikipedia plot summary, I have nothing to go on and no real information. Perhaps someday an extant copy will be discovered and I can complete this particular quest. I’m not a religious man, but if there is an afterlife, asking for this movie will be high on my list.
4. Of the four nominations that I have seen, Chester Morris in Alibi is the hardest for me to remember. Since I remember the others positively, that’s not in Chester’s favor. This isn’t a very good movie, and Morris isn’t asked to do that much in it. Since my only real suggested replacement was nominated for another performance, I don’t have anyone to replace him with. I wish I did—Morris’s work here isn’t worthy of that much acclaim. Oh well. You work with what you have, right?
3. I consider myself a fan of Paul Muni, so it’s a little sad to put The Valiant, his film debut and first Oscar nomination, in third place, but that’s where it belongs. This film is very short—barely feature length—and while it’s clearly Muni’s film from stem to stern, he also got a hell of a lot better in his career. Saying that he’s the best part of this movie isn’t saying much, sadly, but it is true; he’s the only reason to watch it. And, that said, there’s not a single reason to ever watch this a second time.
2. Warner Baxter won this Oscar for In Old Arizona, and he’s not the worst choice. In fact, I don’t really hate the nomination or the award at all. This is another case where the nominated performance is by far the reason to watch this movie. Baxter’s character is the most interesting and his performance is the best one in the film. It also helps that, as melodramatic as this turned out to be, the movie is surprising in where it goes by the end. Baxter benefits from a good screenplay and the chance to do some really interesting work.
1. George Bancroft is my choice, and I think I’m okay with him winning for Thunderbolt rather than Docks of New York. While Docks is a better movie, Bancroft is a lot more interesting and does a lot more with his role in Thunderbolt. Once again, he’s the best part of the movie, and in this case, he’s pretty much the only person involved who doesn’t fall into the silent movie style of over-emoting and overacting. It’s probably not a movie that needs to be seen a second time, but Bancroft makes it worth one watch. He’s my winner.