Monday, August 13, 2012

A Closer Look: 1939 Supporting Actor

Fellow blogger and friend of ‘A Fistful of Films’ Josh, over at The Cinematic Spectacle, had given a suggestion for the Closer Look series I started last week.  He actually gave a slew of them and I picked 1939 because it was one I was very ready to talk about.

I love this year.

As much as I love the year as a whole, I can’t say that I really love this particular lineup (in fact, I disagree with Oscar a lot this year).  For me, this lineup is a tad underwhelming.  When looking over the year that was 1939 and all of the fantastic films that were released, there were so many performances to choose from that I’m a little stumped as to how some of these performances got swept in for a nomination. 

To begin with, let’s look at the lineup:

I want to say that I’m really happy to see Donlevy solely because I consider ‘Beau Geste’ to be the best film of the year (oh my god YES) and so any nomination for the film is a plus for me.  That said, I am not the biggest fan of his particular performance and I would have much rather seen Robert Preston nomination, as his spirited performance was so much more engaging and noteworthy.  For me, what Donlevy does is similar to what netted Louis Gossett Jr. an Oscar back in 1982.  He basically plays a prick in a position of authority.  It’s the same kind of role that made R. Lee Ermey a household name back in 1987.  In all three cases, they were easily outshone by a more complex performance given by a different actor (I would have easily nominated Preston, Keith and D’Onofrio over the aforementioned performances).  That isn’t to say that Donlevy gives a bad performance.  He is stern and effectively despicable, but there are no layers to what he has to portray.

Still, he is far more qualified a nomination than Harry Carey.  I’m still trying to figure out what it is that he does in ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’.  It isn’t that he gives a bad performance, he just barely registers as doing much of anything.  If they needed two actors from the beloved film (and believe me, I love the movie) then why not nominate Edward Arnold.  Thomas Mitchell was also far better than Carey in the same film, but he was already destined for Oscar gold under another title.

Yes, Thomas Mitchell had a stellar year in 1939.  His scene stealing antics in ‘Stagecoach’ sealed the deal and won him the Oscar, and it is an Oscar win I can certainly get behind.  I actually slightly prefer him (ever so slightly at that) in ‘Only Angels Have Wings’, where I think he adds a little more depth to the character at hand, but even in ‘Stagecoach’ he manages to stand out in a rather hefty ensemble and deliver a scene stealing, multi-faceted and certainly enjoyable performance from start to finish.  I honestly think that Brian Aherne gives the best performance in the bunch though.  I just consider him UNDENIABLY lead.  I mean, the film, while named ‘Jaurez’, is without a doubt all about Hapsburg and so Ahern should have been nominated in Lead Actor and not here.  If we are going on the performance and not the category though, Aherne should have won.  He delivers such a beautifully sincere portrayal of this man’s complex inner emotional battle.  His facial expressions alone are so powerful and captivating.

Rains is in ‘Juarez’ also, but he was nominated for his performance in ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’.  I can understand this one.  I personally wouldn’t nominate him (I only nominate Mitchell out of Oscar’s five, and that is because I have Aherne in lead) but this nomination is far more understandable than Carey’s.  At least Rains, who was a phenomenal actor to begin with, gives us something to watch.  His stature is so commanding and the way his eyes betray his stance in the film is so remarkable.  He’s the type of actor (much like Robert Loggia) who remains in character always.  Even when he’s out of focus and not really a part of the scene, you can see him ripping your attention into his direction because he understands the character so well.

He does that here as well.

So as a recap, I’d rank the nominees like so:

1)      Aherne

2)      Mitchell

3)      Rains

4)      Donlevy

5)      Carey

I feel as though doing a career assessment here wouldn’t be advantageous considering that I am not completely familiar with the careers of these actors.  Of what I have seen, Rains would take this in a cakewalk, but it would be unfair to the rest considering that I’ve seen so much more from Rains, which isn’t to say that I’ve seen a lot since the 40’s in particular are a huge blind spot for me in almost every regard.

But what I can provide for you is my personal lineup.  I went ahead and closed this out for myself.  I probably won’t get to posting much else from this year for a while, since my Fisti concerns lie with wrapping up the aughts and getting the 90’s going.  Still, 1939 is one of those film years that I am very familiar with since I’ve seen every Oscar nominee (in all categories) and a slew of other films, so finalizing this was pretty easy.  I’ve opened a 1930’s Fisti Awards page and dropped this there as well, but like I said…it will probably be lonely for a while.

Anyways, thanks Josh for the suggestion.  Working on another one for next week, and any and all readers who have suggestions for another write up in this ‘Closer Look’ series, let me know.


  1. Great post, and thanks for the mention!
    For some reason, I've never heard of Beau Geste. And I have Osborne's 80 Years of the Oscar on my desk, so that's strange.
    How did Carey ever get in? It's really odd. Arnold for sure. He was coming off You Can't Take It with You from the previous year, so you'd think he'd have been nominated.
    I need to see Juarez now.
    Love the Hardwicke nod and the Mitchell double nod. I give Mitchell the win just barely for Stagecoach though. Looks like more homework, because I haven't seen Midnight, Golden Boy, or The Four Feathers yet.
    My lineup: Bogart (The Roaring Twenties), Lon Chaney Jr. (Of Mice and Men), Hardwicke (Hunchback), Bert Lahr (Wizard), Mitchell (Stagecoach)

  2. Bogart was great, and I really loved The Roaring Twenties. I nominate it in Director, Editing, Sup. Actress and Lead Actor and I flirt with giving Cagney the win most days. Bogart probably just misses my top twelve, mostly because it isn't really a stretch for him and I found the other actors in the film a tad more compelling, especially Cagney. Gladys George is brilliant in that movie. I also loved Of Mice and Men, and I give Burgess Meredith a nomination in lead. He's great in that movie! Now I want to finish up 1939. It was such a stellar year.

  3. Bogart gets in right now because I need to see more performances from 1939. The film would definitely get Picture, Director, Actor, Sup. Actor, Sup. Actress (George), and Screenplay noms, but I haven't actually sat down and done a ballot for that year. Meredith would probably get a nomination as well.