The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1952

This year and this category are both pretty bad. This will not be fun.

The Greatest Show on Earth wins Best Picture over High Noon. It’s generally listed among the worst Best Picture decisions of all time. It’s not a bad film, but it is a bad decision. You can tell it was a cop out decision because they didn’t even give it Best Director. That went to John Ford (his fourth) for The Quiet Man. Probably the second best possible decision, but it wasn’t for High Noon, as it should have been. Then, making things even more complicated, Gary Cooper wins Best Actor for High Noon a film they decided they didn’t want to vote for because it was too controversial (I talked about it here). It’s very confusing. Then Best Actress was Shirley Booth for Come Back, Little Sheba (which I talked about here), and Best Supporting Actress was Gloria Grahame for The Bad and the Beautiful (which I talked about here).

Which brings us to this category. It’s not good. It’s not strong at all. I don’t like three of these nominees. Which means — oh that’s right, you guessed it — it’s time to look for alternatives. Is this a bad category or a bad year? Let’s see: no, it’s a pretty bad year. The only other possibility I can think of are either Walter Pidgeon or Barry Sullivan for The Bad and the Beautiful. It would have made me feel better, at least. Definitely wouldn’t have added to the category, though. So I guess it was just a weak year for supporting actor roles.


And the nominees were…

Richard Burton, My Cousin Rachel

Arthur Hunnicutt, The Big Sky

Victor McLaglen, The Quiet Man

Jack Palance, Sudden Fear

Anthony Quinn, Viva Zapata!

Burton — My Cousin Rachel is such a weird film. It doesn’t feel like it it’s right for the era it was released in. It feels ten years too late. It’s about Richard Burton — that’s right, he’s the lead (which means, this is them promoting an unknown, despite him being the lead) — who finds out his brother is dead. He’d just gotten married to Rachel, played by Olivia de Havilland. Then he got sick and died. Burton goes to talk to Rachel, and falls in love with her. However, he also thinks she may have killed his brother in order to get his money. And the film is about him trying to wrestle with his feelings. Then he relents and marries her, and then is worried she’s doing the same thing to him. It’s — come on. Really? Do you really think we don’t know how it’s going to end?

Burton is — he shouldn’t even be on this list. He’s the lead of the movie. This is clearly them promoting him as a classy actor. Which, be became. He didn’t really need this. But, whatever. I’m never voting for him. this is clearly category fraud. I refuse.

Hunnicutt — Where the hell did this come from? What is this? The film itself is not very good, and — I just don’t get this. It’s a weird role to nominate, and a western on top of it. The Academy isn’t really big on Westerns (typically), at least, or especially, in the acting categories.

The film is about Kirk Douglas and another guy who look for his father, played by Hunnicutt, a half-Indian, who had been missing for a while. They find him, in jail, and he helps them travel up the Missouri River. That’s basically the film. Some other shit happens, and Hunnicutt acts all weird and such (because he’s an outcast of sorts, living with the Indians and traveling between them and the whites. So he’s quirky), he waxe poetic, and they do stuff. I just don’t get this movie or this performance at all. It’s not a very good western, and the performance is just okay. This really just baffles me.

In case you didn’t know, I’m not voting for it.

McLaglen — The Quiet Man is a wonderful film. John Ford made Rio Grande just so he could finance this movie. He shot it on location in Ireland, and it looks beautiful. It’s really just a fantastic movie.

John Wayne is an American boxer, who leaves the country after accidentally killing another man in the ring. He goes back to his home country, to visit the town where he grew up. He meets Maureen O’Hara, and wants to marry her. However, to do so, she has to go around her brother, Victor McLaglen, who is unmarried himself. He refuses to let her marry (he controls the dowry) until he gets married. So the town creates a fake proposal between him and a local widow, and they get him to agree to let Wayne marry O’Hara. Then they get married, and he finds out his marriage proposal was a sham, and is upset. And the film culminates with a boxing match/brawl, all along the town, between McLaglen and Wayne. It’s awesome.

McLaglen is amazing in the role. He’s amazing in every role, but especially here. You can just see it when you watch the movie. He stands out. And given the weak category, it’s pretty clear he’s in the top two here. Just by default. He’s also good enough to win. So that’s good. This category isn’t totally useless.

Palance — Yeah. I love Jack Palance, and I don’t really disagree with this nomination (after the fact), but, this movie wasn’t particularly great.

Joan Crawford (great. One of her movies) plays a playwright, who sacrificed marriage in order to have a successful career. (As always…) And she’s auditioning people for her play, and we see her turn down Palance. However, later on, she meets him again and falls for him. And they get married. And life seems good. But then — she kind of gets the feeling that he’s planning on killing her. You know how it is. (Note: This film is basically what inspired the Simpsons episode with Sideshow Bob and Aunt Selma. So, you can pretty much guess how it’s going to go.) The problem here is, seeing it 60 years later, and having an actor like Jack Palance in this role — I know how it’s going to turn out. And they try to keep it a secret for more than half the film. So I’m sitting there, bored out of my mind, going, “Jesus, just get to the killing plot already!” (It’s like The Shining. Do you really take one look at Jack Nicholson and go, “No, there’s no way a dude who looks like that will lose his mind by the end of the movie?”)

So, it’s pretty obvious what the deal is with Palance’s character. And the thing with Palance as an actor is — I think, especially as a younger man — he’s a bit of a ham. He overacts a bit. I felt him going a bit too over the top here. (If you really want to see Palance going over the top, watch him in Robert Aldrich’s Attack! He’s got a death scene so intense that he literally has to spend an entire scene with his mouth open after he’s dead just because he overdid the dying part so much.) The only times I didn’t see Palance go over the top were in Shane (he was awesome in Shane) and in City Slickers, which — yeah. So, no vote. Come on, now. I love Jack Palance, but no.

Quinn — Viva Zapata! is one of those Mexican films. It’s a clear sequel to the Viva Villa! film from 1934. I’m always surprised that America made so many movies about Mexican revolutionaries, especially since, as students, I don’t even think we know what happened down there. (I think of Mexico, I think, “large, poor, badly governed. Drugs. Tequila. Lots of drugs. Cops getting killed by drug dealers. Fat people. Burritos. Don’t drink the water.” I think of Mexican history, I think, “Alamo (though that was on our side), that telegram thing during World War I, Zapata and Pancho Villa, don’t really know what they did, but I know they existed and did some stuff, and — that’s it, really. Really, does anyone know anything about Mexico?)

So, the film is about Zapata — played by Marlon Brando, because, that makes sense — doing his thing about revolution and whatever. He’s got his brother, played by Anthony Quinn, who is spirited here. And he gets married, and they fight for the country against the government (which is not for the country), and basically Zapata gets killed but becomes a martyr for freedom. You know how it is.

Quinn is, like I said, spirited as Eufemio. He does a good job. He has a great moment in the film where he’s sitting in a chair on a wooden porch, with his feet up. And a woman passes by. And we only see her from her skirt down. And he stops her, with his gun. She stops, and he uses the gun to try to look up her skirt. She pushes him away, fixes her skirt and walks away angrily. Then, there’s a long beat, and he goes, “I’ll be right back,” an gets up and walks away. That was a fantastic moment. Anyway, I don’t really think he was good enough to win, but, I like him as an actor, so I’m ultimately cool with him winning. Anthony Quinn is great. But, I wouldn’t vote for this at all.

My Thoughts: The best two here were McLaglen and Quinn. As is pretty clear, I think only McLaglen should have won, performance-wise. But, since he already had a Best Actor (1935, The Informer), it was okay that he didn’t win. Anthony Quinn is great. But, still, McLaglen was the best here, and I’m going with him.

My Vote: McLaglen

Should Have Won: Does it really matter?

Is the result acceptable?: Sure. McLaglen had an Oscar already. He didn’t need this. Burton was never gonna win, Palance wasn’t either, plus he had one, so that was that. and Hunnicutt — don’t make me laugh. The only two here to vote for were McLaglen and Quinn, and it’s nice to see Quinn get an Oscar. Did he need the second one? Well, that’s a matter up for discussion. This one — totally fine.

Performances I suggest you see: The Quiet Man is really the only film I can recommend here. It’s a perfect film, and needs to be seen by any serious film fan. It’s just so great on so many levels. But, if you’re looking for films to see, this is a must-see. So, see it.


5) Hunnicutt

4) Burton

3) Palance (wow. The fact that he made #3…)

2) Quinn

1) McLaglen

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