The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1953

1953 is one of my personal favorite years for films. There’s such great stuff that came out this year. From Here to Eternity won Best Picture, and while that wouldn’t be my choice for Best Picture, it is without a doubt a great film and a classic.

Just to show you how great a year 1953 was — here’s a list of films that came out this year (Note: You may not know them all, but, I promise, by the end of this Oscar Quest, you will): Roman Holiday, Shane, The Robe, Peter Pan, The Band Wagon, How to Marry a Millionaire, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Mogambo, The Moon is Blue, Julius Caesar, House of Wax, Stalag 17, The Glenn Miller Story, The Big Heat, The Naked Spur, The Earrings of Madame de…, Hondo, Trouble Along the Way, Lili, I Vitelloni, Beat the Devil, M. Hulot’s Holiday, Pickup on South Street, Tokyo Story, Ugetsu, The Wages of Fear, and some little film called War of the Worlds. Pretty fucking strong, wouldn’t you say? This ranks right up there with 1939 for me as tops for film.

To recap the Oscar year, which, as you can imagine was so insanely strong it really becomes a matter of personal preference and no bad decisions — Best Actor was William Holden for Stalag 17, Best Actress was Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday, Best Supporting Actress was Donna Reed and Best Director was Fred Zinnemann, both for From Here to Eternity. I am in awe of this year.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1953

And the nominees were…

Eddie Albert, Roman Holiday

Brandon de Wilde, Shane

Jack Palance, Shane

Frank Sinatra, From Here to Eternity

Robert Strauss, Stalag 17

Albert — Roman Holiday is one of the greatest romantic comedies ever made. It’s a film everyone needs to see once in their life. The film is about Audrey Hepburn, a princess, who is visiting all the European countries on a diplomatic tour. She’s bored with her inability to do anything — she has to sit and greet boring aristocrats while in some of the most beautiful places on earth. One night she feigns sickness and sneaks out to see Rome. On the way, she meets Gregory Peck, a reporter, and she ends up passing out in his hotel room. (The doctor who treated her gave her a sedative.) Peck realizes who she is and makes it his goal to follow her — along with his trusty cameraman, Eddie Albert — as she goes about Rome, and get the exclusive story. However, along the way, Peck falls in love with her, and finds it difficult to go through with publishing the story. It’s a brilliant, brilliant movie.

Albert plays the womanizing photographer friend of Peck. We first see him playing a kinky sex game with some woman — don’t worry, its the 50s, they make it seem innocent enough. And then he acts as sort of the screwball foil for the rest of the movie. Peck “accidentally” spills coffee on him several times, pushes him out of the way — that sort of thing. And he gets a lot of opportunities to react to things. But he also gets his fair share of the action too. It’s a great part, and he gets to have the classic supporting Rom Com role. The kind of role that’s become so diluted that everyone can spot it from a mile away at this point. But, Albert manages to be very charming here, and, for a long time, was going to be my vote. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s a matter of history. But, still, Albert is awesome in this. So, there’s always that.

de Wilde — This might be the first time I have two nominees in the same category. This should save me some time.

Shane is about a family homesteading out west. Van Heflin is the father, Jean Arthur is the mother, and de Wilde is the son. And they, along with the other homesteading families are threatened by a rich cattle baron who wants to force them off the land. And out of nowhere rides in Shane, a cowboy, who stays with the family. And he sort of finds himself taking on the role of protector to these families. And that’s pretty much the movie. Shane protect the families from the cattle baron.

de Wilde plays the son of the main family in the movie, and, I’m not really sure why he got an Oscar nomination here. He’s kind of loud and annoying, and screeches a lot in the movie. But, you know, whatever. He’s here. Clearly the #5. More support for the movie. Never gonna win, never gonna get a vote. Though I will say, the best part of the movie is the homosexual undertones. There’s a scene where Shane and the father uproot a tree stump, shirtless, sweating, and it’s so gay I think Boy George blushes when he sees that scene. Also, at the end, as Shane leaves (and the boy shouts after him), he tells the boy to “grow up strong, and straight.” Absolute hilarity. Anyway, no vote on the kid.

Palance — Now, Jack Palance is another story. This is a performance I can get behind. He plays the ruthless gunslinger hired by the cattle baron. What makes this part so good is that they dispense with all the extra bullshit and whittle the character down to his bare essentials. He barely talks, and all he does is smile and kill people. I am not joking. There’s one scene where he dares the men of the town to draw on him. And the whole time he just stands there with the biggest smile on his face. Because he knows he’s going to kill them all. And he does just that. And that’s the character. It’s so brilliantly understated.

Palance totally deserved this nomination. I can’t vote for him, because of Sinatra, but, man, did he deserve this. This is one of my favorite characters in all westerns. It’s so simple that it’s perfect.

Sinatra — Now this is a performance. It’s weird to think that Sinatra’s career was cooling at the time he got this role. He was a huge star in the mid-40s, had the big starring roles with Gene Kelly, and then, by 1950, had sort of lost steam. Mostly because of the rise of Elvis. I would think. I haven’t exactly studied it. Then, this role brought him a nice career renaissance.

The film is about a platoon on the eve of Pearl Harbor. Montgomery Clift is a bugler who is transferred into the platoon because of some problems with the former one. He used to be a company boxer and I think he accidentally killed someone in the ring. Or rather, his opponent died, but it wasn’t exactly his fault. At which point he stopped boxing and everyone got upset. Now, he’s transferred, and the company commander wants him to fight. He refuses. So the commander makes his life a living hell, because he’s kind of a douche. He’s in a loveless marriage with Deborah Kerr and goes into town and cheats on her all the time. While this is happening, his chief aide, Burt Lancaster, begins an affair with his wife. And they have to struggle between the affair, running away together, and Lancaster’s complete dedication to his profession. With all of this, Sinatra plays one of the more, charismatic soldiers in the platoon. And his main storyline is, he likes to go out to the bars, is very popular with the women — he likes to have a good time. And one small incident occurs early on, where, Ernest Borgnine is at one of the bars playing the piano, and Sinatra drunkenly tells him to stop. And they almost get into a fight over it, but they pull Sinatra away when they realize that Borgnine is the chief officer of the stockade, and will beat the shit out of him if they fight. Then, later, as all the men are going out with their weekend passes, Sinatra takes too long and ends up getting stuck on guard duty. This was the weekend where he was planning on really having a good time. Upset, he sneaks off duty and goes out drinking. Which gets him put in the stockade, which — isn’t good. Borgnine runs that joint. So, Borgnine then systematically beats the shit out of him, really pummeling him, but doing it so no one can tell. And Sinatra ends up escaping from there, but not before succumbing to the internal injuries and dying.

That’s the part. It’s a great part, and Sinatra didn’t need to do much in order to make it a good part. But he does. He does manage to make the part really well done. It’s the most developed of all the parts on this list, and Sinatra was always the one that was gonna win this award. Even if I didn’t like him the best out of all the performances, he still was the one that deserved to win. And that’s without factoring the historical standpoint, which is, he deserved to win Best Actor in ’55, but lost to Ernest Borgnine (a nice coincidence). It’s a tough break, but one that wasn’t as bad as it could have been because he won this award already. So, however you slice it, Frank’s the one to win this.

Strauss — This part, to me, is the one that makes Stalag 17. I mean, sure, Animal and Shapiro are like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and are very much the comic relief of the movie, but, still, they’re great to watch. There’s a very human element to them, and they do function as more than just comic relief. Animal being the more human of the two.

The film is about a bunch of POWs in World War II. A few of them plan escapes, but they somehow get foiled every time. So the men surmise that one of the men amongst them is spying for the Germans. One of the men, William Holden, seems like a prime example. He’s not a particularly likable guy, he’s very terse, and is the scrounger. He always has items that most of the men would kill for. The men assume it’s him, and tensions arise as they try to plan the escape of an important officer, believing him to be the traitor. It’s a great film. One of those films that everyone who sees ends up loving. And yet, it’s also a film that somehow slips through the cracks of history a little bit. Not so much as to be forgotten, but it’s at the second level of classic films. It’s not gonna be mentioned in the first sentence of classics, but once it does get brought up, either by someone like me who champions it or in that second sentence — everyone is always like, “oh, yeah!” It’s really worth checking out.

As for Strauss’s performance, it’s really great. Animal is one of the clowns of the barracks, but is also very relatable. His fantasy is to get with Betty Grable, but, his real goal in the film is to get over to the camp next to theirs — the one that houses the female Russian soldiers. Since the film is as much about life in the barracks as much as it is about the escape attempts and the quest to find the stool-pigeon, the scenes with Animal fit right in with the film. He’s a nice breath of fresh air to the film and without him, the film wouldn’t (probably, though it’s still a Billy Wilder film) be as interesting. I loved this performance, though I do understand it’s not really one I can vote for. So, while it’s my favorite, it’s not really one I’m gonna vote for. It’s like Eddie Albert — awesome, but, there is a better person to vote for.

My Thoughts: While Strauss is my favorite performance, I can’t vote for it. It’s gotta be Sinatra. He had the most developed storyline, and was the best overall character of the group. He deserved this Oscar.

My Vote: Sinatra

Should Have Won: Sinatra

Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. Even if I did prefer someone else winning this category, this is by far the best decision they could have made, historically. Sinatra losing for The Man with the Golden Arm in 1955 to Ernest Borgnine would have hurt a whole lot more if he hadn’t had an Oscar already. He got his Oscar, and that’s what counts.

Performances I suggest you see: ALL OF THEM. I am not kidding. All are CLASSIC movies that should be seen. Roman Holiday is one of the best romances of all time, and Eddie Albert does a nice job as the pseudo-comic relief. Shane is one of the best westerns ever made, and, while the kid is kind of annoying, it’s still a good performance. Jack Palance, though, is unreal. He’s so awesome. All he does in this movie is smile and kill people. It’s so awesome. From Here To Eternity is also a great film, and Sinatra is the most lively part of it by far. And Stalag 17 is also an amazing film and Strauss is the character in it that most people end up remembering and liking the best throughout. He’s very, very enjoyable. These are all great movies and you should watch them all. And that’s not even remotely embellishment.

Rankings:

5) de Wilde

4) Palance

3) Albert

2) Sinatra

1) Strauss

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