Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Closer Look: 1957 Lead Actor

It’s time for another entry in the ‘Closer Look’ series, and since I’ve been wrapping up my required viewing for 1957 I figured I’d go with that.  I’ve decided on the Lead Actor category.  As a refresher, here is what Oscar went with this year.


I don’t know much about the actual Oscar race, since I wasn’t alive back then, but it appears that Alec Guinness walked away with this win rather easily.  He also won the Globe, the BAFTA, the NBA and the NYFCC.  Those are pretty notable wins, and today if an actor or actress won those they would be all but guaranteed the Oscar (unless they lost the SAG, which could mean trouble).  The only other actor in the lineup with any notable wins was Anthony Franciosa, who won the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival.  Yeah, I don’t get that win either.


So, breaking this down we’ll start at the bottom of the heap with that very Volpi Cup winner, Franciosa.  Good lord, what a hammed up exaggerated mess of a performance.  I actually kind of liked the film itself, and I LOVED Eva Marie Saint, but Franciosa merely played a gimmick and did it with horrendous overacting.  I would have much preferred his onscreen brother Don Murray been nominated, for he played his part with a beautiful subtlety that Franciosa lacked.  LOL, that is probably a good idea for a series; nominated roles that should have been replaced by a co-star.  Seriously, I’ll be doing that again in like two paragraphs.  Anyways, back to Franciosa.  I understand that there is a level of gimmick involved when portraying a drug addict with emotional issues, but there is certain level of restraint that needs to be used in order to convey it perfectly, and Franciosa is obviously of the mindset that more is more here; which it isn’t.


Next up we have Laughton.  This isn’t a bad performance, but it isn’t a great one either.  Actually, that’s kind of how I feel about Brando too, which is odd because Brando is usually such a powerful force.  Neither actor gives a bad performance at all, but they are somewhat forgettable to be honest.  They service their films fine, but they didn’t warrant Oscar attention.


While Guinness had an easy win back in 1957, I don’t think he should have won at all.  He gets my runner-up status here.  He gives a great performance, one full of nuance and restrained passion.  Still, I actually prefer his co-star William Holden to be honest.  I think that Holden offered a few more layers and actually gave his character a truly memorable arc as opposed to a truly memorable climax.  You can’t fault Guinness this win though.  I mean, he really delves into the depths of the man and remains a constant presence in the film; one that is felt with a dignity and grace.


Still, of the nominees, I would have easily handed over the Oscar to Anthony Quinn.  He gives a tremendous performance, and I have a feeling that if he hadn’t already won TWO Oscars by this time he would have given Guinness a real run for his money.  Guinness probably still would have won, considering that his film was better received and actually took Best Picture, but Quinn delivers a similarly styled performance and so they are truly the standouts in the lineup.  The layers that Quinn gives to his performance are beautifully laced with such authenticity.  He understands the importance of creating a man we can adore while we are supposed to detest his actions.  We understand his actions.  We see his frustrations and so this endears us to him even when we disagree with his abrasive need for control.  It’s a beautiful performance.


So, for me:


1)      Quinn

2)      Guinness

3)      Brando

4)      Laughton

5)      Franciosa


And then, we think of their careers.  In unfairness to the rest, I’ve seen far more of Brando’s career than anyone else.  I guess that’s to be expected, since he’s the most famed actor in the world and his career lasted for decades and continued to be lauded, even after his prime.  He didn’t really have a prime.  His career was his prime.  Guinness was a superb actor, and one thing I really appreciated about his career was that he was able to transition from comedy to drama rather effortlessly.  His comedic performances were nearly all outstanding, so it is kind of sad that a comedian has to convert to Drama in order to actually win an Oscar.  Why can’t Oscar appreciate comedy?  Laughton was a good actor, but outside of his stunning performance in 1939’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, I was never truly struck by his abilities.  He was a fabulous director though, and his work on ‘Night of the Hunter’ was remarkable and holds up as one of the best directorial debuts, like EVER.  Quinn had a very long and lauded career.  I haven’t seen many of performances, but from what I’ve seen I really liked him.  The funniest thing about Franciosa was that I’ve only seen three of his films and they are all from 1957.  I liked him a lot in Wild is the Wind, but year…he has nothing on Quinn.  He was somewhat forgettable in A Face in the Crowd and he was atrocious in A Hatful of Rain.


Go figure.

So, with my limited scope of their full careers, I’ll rank them like so:


1)      Brando

2)      Guinness

3)      Quinn

4)      Laughton

5)      Franciosa


Now, as far as my Fisti Awards are concerned, I’m not entirely finished.  I still have three films I’m waiting on seeing before I finalize anything, but at the moment these are the twelve actors/performances that I’m considering for my final lineup.

Oh, and Tony Curtis is winning this in a landslide, so really I’m just trying to figure out the other four nominees.



James Cagney/Man of a Thousand Faces

Tony Curtis/Sweet Smell of Success

Kirk Douglas/Paths of Glory

Cary Grant/An Affair to Remember

Andy Griffith/A Face in the Croud

Alec Guinness/The Bridge On the River Kwai

Van Heflin/3:10 to Yuma

William Holden/The Bridge On the River Kwai

Marcello Mastroianni/Le Notti Bianche

Toshiro Mifune/Throne of Blood

Robert Mitchum/Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

Anthony Quinn/Wild is the Wind


  1. This a year that I have to catch up on. Of the Academy's noms, I've only seen The Bridge on the River Kwai.

    Curtis was amazing, but I've got to go with Max von Sydow for The Seventh Seal. I do need to rewatch Sweet Smell of Success though. Incidentally, do you consider Burt Lancaster supporting in that film? I would, but I'm still on the fence.

    My current lineup:

    Tony Curtis (Sweet Smell of Success)
    Henry Fonda (12 Angry Men)
    Alec Guinness (The Bridge on the River Kwai)
    Marcello Mastroianni (Le Notti Bianche)
    Max von Sydow (The Seventh Seal)

  2. I loved The Seventh Seal and have it up for Best Picture and Director and a slew of other awards, and it even wins Supporting Actor, since I strongly consider Gunnar Björnstrand's performance to be the BEST Supporting Actor performance of ALL TIME...but I strangely found von Sydow a tad vacant. I know that is what the character called for, but he was consumed by the supporting players.

    And yes, Lancaster is supporting and makes my ballot.

    1. Gunnar Björnstrand's performance is phenomenal. Of course, he gets a win for this and one for his performance in Winter Light from me.

      Max von Sydow's role is so iconic. That's probably what gives him the win. Plus, the film is my #4 of ALL TIME, so that helps his cause.

    2. YES, Bjornstrand has BOTH of those Fisti's as well! He was such a marvelous actor. I really liked The Seventh Seal, but not as much as you. I think it comes in around #3 for me this year...right behind Nights of Cabiria and Les Girls.

  3. YAY for those Fisti's! Nights of Cabiria was underwhelming for me, but I caught the end of it on TV recently and really loved it. I need to rewatch it, and see Les Girls as well.