The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1947
Oh, I don’t like 1947. This year just reeks of weak to me. Not that Gentleman’s Agreement is a bad film, it’s just — the rest of the year is so weak around it, to me, it feels like a weak choice. It’s a great film, and in the category, it totally should have won Best Picture. It also won Best Director for Elia Kazan, which — no objections there, and Best Supporting Actress for Celeste Holm, which I’m cool with. I like her. And the category was weak.
Best Actor this year was Ronald Colman for A Double Life, which is a really weak choice. Gregory Peck was so much better in Gentleman’s Agreement. Best Actress this year was Loretta Young in The Farmer’s Daughter, which is one of the worst Best Actress decisions of all time (probably second, maybe third, still, really, really bad). Rosalind Russell definitely should have won for Mourning Becomes Electra. The performances aren’t even close.
So that’s 1947. Just a weak set of films, Academy-wise, and overall weak choices outside of Best Picture and Director. Fortunately, though, this category does redeem a lot of it, because — Santa Claus. Instant redemption.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1947
And the nominees were…
Charles Bickford, The Farmer’s Daughter
Thomas Gomez, Ride the Pink Horse
Edmund Gwenn, Miracle on 34th Street
Robert Ryan, Crossfire
Richard Widmark, Kiss of Death
Bickford – The Farmer’s Daughter is a film that will forever hold the distinction of containing one of the worst Best Actress-winning performances of all time. And that will always taint its reputation. Not that it’s a particularly great film outside of the win. It’s okay. The win just makes it infamous.
It’s about a Swedish family of immigrants. And Loretta Young is their oldest daughter, who goes to school in the city, and gets a job working as a maid in the home of a politician. And pretty soon, she impresses them with her blue collar common sense, and the politician (Joseph Cotten) falls in love with her. Then, a congressman dies and they need a replacement. And they go to choose this one guy, who Loretta Young knows is a crook. So what she does is, at a rally, she embarrasses him with a bunch of leading questions, which leads everyone in the party to back her for the election. But then the corrupt dude starts slandering her in public, and she gets upset, because she was brought up to be honest. But then Cotten tells her he loves her and proposes, and that gives her the strength to go on. And eventually she wins the election. Yay.
The film is okay. It’s really not a bad film at all. A bit too — well, you can probably tell by the synopsis.
Charles Bickford plays a political consultant for the family Young works for, and he is the first one to become her big supporter. He’s sort of the dude who helps plan the strategies and make all the moves. And he’s pretty much there in a lot of political scenes, but his character doesn’t serve a huge purpose in terms of an arc. I mean, he functions within the plot, but the character isn’t really one that exists outside of a couple of flashy scenes. So I wouldn’t vote for him here. Bickford did a much better job the year after this in Johnny Belinda. He couldn’t win there, of course, because Walter Huston gave one of his best performances in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but I’m just pointing out that of all of Bickford’s nominated performances, the one he was most likely to win for was not this one.
Gomez – Ride the Pink Horse has the distinction of being one of the worst films I saw on this Oscar Quest. Not that it’s awful awful, it’s just — I really didn’t like it. And, by process of elimination through all the films, some had to be the worst. And this, is one of the worst.
The film, which is just so unfortunately titled, stars Robert Montgomery as a dude who comes into town to blackmail a dude who killed his friend. And it’s kind of a noir — he gets in some shit, it gets dangerous, there’s shoot outs — basically, the dude comes into town for revenge, and, in some way, gets it. Not in the way he planned, but in a way. It’s a B movie noir. That’s all. Not a very good one either.
Thomas Gomez plays Pancho, the owner of a carousel. He becomes friends with Montgomery and he pretty much exists to be the dude’s friend. Sure, he’s lively, but come on — would anyone who saw all the performances put Gomez at anything other than a 5? Sure, he was fine, but — no. Just no.
Gwenn – Miracle on 34th Street – this should be one of the quickest recaps I’ll ever have on this Quest.
A dude shows up at the Macy’s Parade claiming to be Santa Claus. No one believes him. They put him on trial. Of course he’s Santa Claus.
Edmund Gwenn is Santa Claus. The end.
Seriously, how can anyone go against him winning this category?
Ryan – Crossfire is a sister film to Gentleman’s Agreement. Although, it’s a B-movie.
It opens with a Jewish man being killed. The police investigating believe the murderer is among a group of soldiers who were in the bar, drinking with the guy, earlier in the night. And the film is kind of a procedural. The cops question one guy, go to another, bounce back and forth, corroborating stories, that sort of thing. And we see the guys trying to deal with this, watch each other’s backs and stuff. And the whole thing becomes about which one of them did it. Obviously, based on the nomination, you can guess which one of them did it.
The film itself is pretty good. It’s a B-movie, so you have to modify expectations. And if you go in expecting B, you get A-. Which is pretty good.
Ryan is fine in the film, though, I always found him kind of wooden as an actor (which is why he worked well in westerns). Though he does a good job with the dude’s state of mind late in the film. Still, it’s not a performance I can vote for. I really didn’t think this was an Oscar-caliber performance.
Widmark – Now we’re talking. This is a performance. And a film that you wouldn’t think would come anywhere near Oscar territory, but does, because Widmark is psycho as fuck in this movie.
Victor Mature plays an ex-con who robs a jewelry store. But the alarm goes off and he’s arrested. The DA tells him he’ll get a lighter sentence if he gives up his accomplices. He refuses, figuring his friends will take care of his family while he’s in jail. So he gets 20 years. A few years later, he finds out his wife is dead and his kids are in an orphanage. Basically — they didn’t take care of her. So he decides to help the police. The thing is — the information won’t get his sentence reduces now. So, what they do is, they tell him, if he helps with another case, they’ll parole him.
Now, enter Richard Widmark. Widmark plays a crazy psychopath who is an enforcer for Mature’s criminal buddies. Mature implies that one of the men he pulled the job with (who he also found out had an affair with his wife before she killed herself) ratted him out. So what happens is, they send Widmark to find the guy. They go to his apartment, and all they find is the dude’s wheelchair-bound mother. Widmark sees the guy has probably skipped town, but, since his mother lied and says he’ll be home later that evening, Widmark ties her up and pushes her wheelchair down the stairs. Here’s the clip. It’s one of the most famous moments in film history:
So Mature is paroled, and he’s working with the cops on their case, meanwhile, he meets up with Widmark, who has no idea and takes him around to clubs and openly talks about killing people, which is enough to get him arrested. And then Mature is let go, and he gets his daughters and moves upstate. However — Widmark is acquitted at his trial. Which means he’s coming after Mature for setting him up. And then there’s a big showdown, and it ends — well, how does it end? That’s an interesting point with this film. It does have a definite happy ending, but the thing is — the way they do it — it’s not quite happy. It’s interesting.
Anyway, the film is great, and it’s one of the best noirs ever made. It’s kind of a film you need to see because it’s so revered. And Widmark — as you can see in the clip — is fucking amazing as Tommy Udo. This dude just oozes unpredictable psychopath. It’s just a brilliant piece of acting.
Now, the thing is, though — his performance — he’s up against Santa Claus. How do you vote for either of them? Good vs. Evil? How do you vote?
My Thoughts: This category comes down — as it does most of the time, it seems — to likable and unlikable. Santa Claus vs. a dude that pushes old ladies in wheelchairs down the stairs.
Now, personally, I vote for the dude pushing old ladies down the stairs almost every time. The Academy always votes for Santa Claus. That’s just how it is.
What I’m saying is — only Gwenn and Widmark were worth a vote here. And while I vote Widmark (just because he really is a crazy psycho in this movie), Gwenn winning is totally okay. I understand it, and — it’s fucking Santa Claus. Of course I’m gonna be okay with it. But, I vote Widmark, just because — he pushes an old lady in a wheelchair down the stairs.
My Vote: Widmark
Should Have Won: Gwenn, Widmark
Is the result acceptable?: It’s Santa Claus. Plus it’s Edmund Gwenn. Yes. A thousand times yes.
Performances I suggest you see: Miracle on 34th Street. Have you not seen this? Don’t tell anybody.
Kiss of Death. Because a dude pushes an old lady in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs. Why wouldn’t you want to see that?
The Farmer’s Daughter is okay. I mostly recommend it so you can really decide whether Loretta Young or Rosalind Russell should have won this year. (And by that I mean, watch it so you can see what a shitty decision they made.)
Crossfire is fascinating because it’s the first B-film to be nominated for Best Picture. Plus, it works awesome as a double bill with Gentleman’s Agreement. It’s actually a pretty awesome little movie. I recommend you check it out.