The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1944

1944. Don’t love it. Like Going My Way a lot, don’t like it as a Best Picture winner. Double Indemnity was a much better film and choice. Bing Crosby as Best Actor (which I talked about here) I like as a decision. Leo McCarey as Best Director for the film (which I talked about here), I do not like.

Ingrid Bergman winning Best Actress for Gaslight is a choice I think had to happen. I, personally, would have went with Barbara Stanwyck, but, as a decision in and of itself, it makes sense. Ethel Barrymore as Best Supporting Actress for None But the Lonely Heart — it is what it is. Veteran Oscar. Don’t like it, but, what can you do? So, the year is pretty ho-hum for me. It’s just kind of there.

This category in particular — there was really no other option. It was pretty weak, and you had a lead role going supporting, one that was really good at that — there was no other choice.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1944

And the nominees were…

Hume Cronyn, The Seventh Cross

Barry Fitzgerald, Going My Way

Claude Rains, Mr. Skeffington

Clifton Webb, Laura

Monty Woolley, Since You Went Away

Cronyn — The Seventh Cross is a film that’s — pretty forgettable for me. It just never really clicked for me. A lot probably has to do with the fact that it’s a Spencer Tracy film. Even so, it’s not really my cup of tea.

The film is about seven men who escape from a concentration camp — or rather POW camp –and the Germans hunt them down. And six of them end up dead very quickly — hence the six crosses — and Tracy is the last man to make it out. And the whole film is all of Germany looking for him and him hiding out. And he ends up hiding at his old friend’s house — that’s Cronyn. Cronyn actually has his real-life wife, Jessica Tandy, playing his wife in the film, which is something they did a lot. And they work to get him to safety, and that’s the film. He gets in touch with the underground, and they work to get him to safety.

The film is okay. Watchable. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just — I’ve watched a lot of films. Some of them are just gonna be blanks for me. This was one of them. You might feel differently. And that’s what’s beautiful about film (and life) in general.

Cronyn for me is just there. Just kinds does the thing. Nice that he got nominated. I like when recognizable actors get at least one nomination, so that way they’re not forgotten forever. But, in terms of a vote — no. #5. This just seems obvious.

Fitzgerald — Going My Way is a very enjoyable film, that, at first glance you’d think is one type of film, but, in actuality, isn’t. I thought it would be a musical. I mean — Bing Crosby. But it isn’t. There are songs, but, not many. You think it’s a comedy. It is. Kind of. There are funny scenes. It’s actually kind of a drama also. There are serious moments here. It’s an interesting little hybrid of a film.

The film is about a failing parish in New York that Bing Crosby, Father O’Malley, is sent to. The plan is for him to take over for the aging priest in charge, Barry Fitzgerald, Father Fitzgibbons. The first half of the film deals with the differences between Crosby and Fitzgerald. Crosby is very progressive — he plays baseball with the kids, he sings songs, he plays golf. He does things in a new and fun way. Fitzgerald is old school. He believes in going to church, praying, asking for forgiveness — all that stuff. And that just doesn’t work anymore. And Fitzgerald believes Crosby was sent there to be his aide, and Crosby doesn’t tell him the real plan, so as not to create animosity. And Fitzgerald doesn’t really buy into Crosby’s methods at first, and eventually they grow to respect one another. And there are a bunch of vignettes and such, and it becomes about them raising money by organizing an event where the boys sing a song Crosby wrote in order to save the parish — and they do it and it’s great — and then the parish burns down. So they all go their separate ways, and that’s the film.

Fitzgerald is really good in the film. He’s really great as the aging priest. It’s the kind of role that’s sort of a lead and also sort of a supporting. It’s right between the two. And I’d say — it’s more supporting than lead, just because Crosby is really the lead, and Fitzgerald, while he appears a bunch, there are a lot of scenes where stuff is going on, and he shows up and is like, “What the fuck is going on?” So, it really fits better in Supporting. And as such — it’s really the only person worth voting for. He’s a great character actor, and he got nominated for Best Actor for the same performance. How do you not vote for it?

Rains — Mr. Skeffington is a Bette Davis melodrama. Know that up front. I have very definite feelings about these. Bette Davis movies in general. They’re just not my cup of tea. I think I’ve liked maybe like, four of them. Maybe. It’s like Woody Allen movies. I just don’t do them.

Anyway, this is about Bette Davis as a spoiled rich girl who finds out her brother stole money from his boss — Claude Rains. To save her brother, she marries Rains. And Rains is Jewish, and that’s not okay (it’s one of those films). And she doesn’t like him, she’s only married for her brother, but Rains loves her. And then her brother dies in WWI, and she figures she’s stuck in the marriage (plus she’s pregnant) and then she turns cold to her husband. She starts sleeping with other men and he starts sleeping with his secretaries. And she divorces him, and he takes the child, and Davis starts living the crazy lifestyle, and eventually gets sick and gets old and ugly, and her latest suitor falls in love with her daughter instead, and then it’s WWII, and Rains comes back and is blind, and then he’s old and blind and she’s old and ugly, and she finally realizes she loves him. Yawn.

The film is okay. Rains does what he does. But, in terms of the performances he was nominated for, this is not the one he should have won for. So, I can’t vote for it. But it’s Claude Rains, you know he’s gonna bring the goods.

Webb — Laura is a film I thought I was gonna hate. It’s regarded as a classic, but I thought — “I’m gonna hate this.” And yet, I didn’t. I actually liked it. It’s an interesting little noir.

The film is about the murder of Laura, played by Gene Tierney. And Dana Andrews is investigating it, and he talks to all these people, including Clifton Webb, who plays the kind of character he usually played, the cold, but charismatic, dude who seems like he might be gay. And then there’s Vincent Price as her fiance, and a stuffy aunt, and a housekeeper — all these people, and he questions them all to see who killed her. And the whole thing is done in flashback, and there’s all these melodramatic elements and Andrews starts falling in love with Laura based on what he hears, and basically, we find out that Laura isn’t dead, but rather another girl is dead. And we find out Webb was the one who killed her, thinking she was Laura, and when he finds out, tries to kill the real Laura, then is killed himself. You know how it is. The film is pretty good.

Webb is good in the role. He’s very charismatic, and it’s the kind of performance that’s perfect for a nomination in this category. Personally, I wouldn’t vote for him. But he’s a solid #3 in terms of rankings. I’d probably vote Rains over him, purely because — he’s Claude Rains. But Webb was good, and was a perfect choice as a nominee in this category.

Woolley — Since You Went Away is a David O’ Selznick movie — it was actually his big followup to Gone With the Wind. I mean, he did Rebecca, but he was kind of developing that at the same time, and it went into shooting right after Gone With the Wind finished, so it was kind of all one big thing. After that, four years later, this was his next big undertaking. It’s three hours long, it’s big, it’s epic — he was gunning for an Oscar with this. It’s how it works. You win an Oscar, you try to do it again, so you start doing all these really overly prestige pictures.

The film is about Claudette Colbert as a woman whose husband goes away to fight in World War II. And it’s about her trying to keep her family together. She has two daughters — one is Jennifer Jones and the other is Shirley Temple. As you can see — they stacked the cast here. It’s a very sentimental film. It’s meant to get people to like it. And yet — it has its moments that feel very real. Like, they have a game of charades at one point that goes on for like five minutes. And it just feels real. But it’s three hours, so it’s overly done. But I liked it though. I thought it was really great. Not perfect, but really great. Selznick knew how to make good films. And after Gone With the Wind, he tried to recreate perfection, so the films ended up being good, but the usually ended up veering over into too much instead of greatness. But still, good film.

Monty Woolley plays a professor who moves in with the family. They rent out a room in order to help pay the bills, and Woolley moves in. And he’s a stuffy professor who is very grumpy all the time, and then he warms up to the family and becomes this warm, nice old man figure. I really, really liked the performance. This is a performance that, I’m convinced, had Barry Fitzgerald not been in this category (or not nominated at all), Monty Woolley would have won. And even though he was, Woolley still was strongly considered for a vote. So I think that’s all you need to know about that.

My Thoughts: There’s really no other choice here. He got nominated lead too. His performance was somewhere between lead and supporting. There was no way he wasn’t winning here. Fitzgerald is the only one that I could really vote for. Woolley was really good, and I considered him. Same for Clifton Webb, a little bit. Claude Rains always gets consideration because of who he is, but, if they didn’t give it to him for Casablanca, this really wasn’t the film for him to win for. So, Fitzgerald is really the vote.

 My Vote: Fitzgerald

Should Have Won: Fitzgerald

Is the result acceptable?: Yeah. Great character actor, great in the film, also nominated for lead. There’s no way this could have been unacceptable.

Performances I suggest you see: Going My Way is a very enjoyable film, a lot of fun to watch (as is it’s sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s). They’re films I want to put on at Christmas and just watch them. That’s the kind of films they are. They’re just so fun. Maybe I wouldn’t have voted it Best Picture, but it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s a very enjoyable and great film. So, I really, really suggest people see it.

Since You Went Away, if you can handle the three hours, is a really great film. I think any fan of film and film history — especially fans of David O. Selznick — need to see this one. You really see what a prestige picture made during the war looks like. And a Selznick picture too. It veers into excess at a certain point, but it’s still really well done, and I thought this film was really great. Like, really great. Highly, highly recommended.

Laura is also a classic film and a good noir at that. Since it’s a film that comes up a lot in the circles of great films — it finished as #4 on AFI’s list of Top Ten Mystery Films, behind Rear Window and ahead of The Third Man, The Maltese Falcon, North by Northwest Blue Velvet, Dial M for Murder and The Usual Suspects. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but the fact that it’s there should tell you that you should probably see the film better than I can do right now.

Rankings:

5) Cronyn

4) Rains

3) Webb

2) Woolley

1) Fitzgerald

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