The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1943

You can’t help but love 1943. Casablanca is one of the greatest films ever made. Of course it should have won Best Picture, and Best Director for Michael Curtiz (talked about here), who desperately deserved one of these. It also should have won Best Actor, Best Actress and this award, but it didn’t. And all three are, to varying degrees, bad decisions. Only one of the three was atoned for. The other two — the worse decisions — were not.

Paul Lukas wins Best Actor for Watch on the Rhine, which is one of the worst five Best Actor winning performances of all time. It’s truly not good, and it’s shocking that Humphrey Bogart didn’t win. Then Best Actress was Jennifer Jones for The Song of Bernadette. This, I understand. Because — Ingrid Bergman, who should have won, wasn’t nominated for Casablanca. She was nominated for For Whom the Bell Tolls, which is a performance she shouldn’t have won for. So the Jennifer Jones vote makes perfect sense. Though it screwed up the year before this, when Ingrid Bergman did win and screwed Barbara Stanwyck out of an Oscar. Then Best Supporting Actress was Katina Paxinou for For Whom the Bell Tolls, which, I don’t really have an issue with, mostly because the category sucked. It’s a blank in history.

So, 1943 — they got the big decisions right, the medium decisions wrong (though both were atoned for later, in the sense that both Bogart and Bergman won Oscars), and the small decisions either wrong or indifferent. And this one — this hurts. There were two performances that should have won, but — after all is said and done, I consider this a bad decision. But it’s still a great performance. And that hurts more.


And the nominees were…

Charles Bickford, The Song of Bernadette

Charles Coburn, The More the Merrier

J. Carrol Naish, Sahara

Claude Rains, Casablanca

Akim Tamiroff, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Bickford — The Song of Bernadette is an unabashedly religious film, about a young gil in France, who comes from a poor family, isn’t a very good student, but is earnest. And one day, while playing in the city dump (as children are wont to do), she stumbles upon a vision of the Virgin Mary. She kneels down and prays to it. Then, she goes back and tells people about it, and it causes quite a stir. Everyone thinks she’s lying, except her mother, and they put her through the ringer. But slowly, as they see that she’s incapable of lying, they begin to believe her, and question what it means. And she eventually is taken into a convent and stuff, and becomes really famous, and then she dies (as people in religious films are wont to do), because — turns out, the reason she was seeing the visions was because the dump had some toxic waste, which was slowly poisoning her. So every time she went back to pray to this woman, she was killing herself. But, of course, the message is faith and all — you know the drill.

Charles Bickford plays a local priest, who, at first, doubts Bernadette. He thinks she’s just some crazy kid looking for attention. But then, he becomes her biggest ally over time. That’s pretty much the role.

I’m gonna be honest with you — while I enjoyed the film more than I thought I did (it was shot gorgeously and I wasn’t too bored out of my face) and while I loved Jennifer Jones’s performance (so much so that, while I wouldn’t vote for her, I think she probably did deserve to win in the event that they didn’t nominate Ingrid Bergman for Casablanca), I don’t think anyone else from this film deserved to win an Oscar. I do not support religious films whatsoever. I like Charles Bickford, and I think he gave a performance good enough to win in 1948 (even though he couldn’t have won), only Coburn and Rains had a shot here.

Coburn — The More the Merrier is a terrific film. It’s about the housing shortage during World War II. People were encouraged to take on extra roommates to help out in the war effort. The film begins with Charles Coburn, a retired millionaire, coming to DC to meet a friend. He’s told that because of the shortage, his hotel room won’t be available for a few days. So, in the meantime, he sees an ad taken out in the paper by Jean Arthur, looking for a roommate. So he goes and moves in with her. And she’s very particular — she organizes rigid schedules for how they plan their mornings (like, 8:03, she goes into the bathroom and he goes and makes coffee. 8:08 she goes to get dressed and he goes into the bathroom, etc), and he’s very — he’s Charles Coburn. He’s very disorganized and drives her crazy.

Then, while she’s at work, he meets a soldier on leave who doesn’t have housing. So Coburn takes him in, without talking to Arthur. And she’s understandably upset. But Coburn — wily old coot that he is — decides he’s going to set these two up. So for the rest of the film, he tries to make it so they fall in love. And it’s a wonderful screwball comedy that’s really, really funny. I mean it. Don’t think, just watch this. You’ll love it.

Coburn, in this film, is hilarious. He’s great. He has this one line that he repeats throughout the film, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” that just cracked me up every time he said it. He’s really great. It’s the perfect role for him. He’s always great.

Thing is, though — two things. First, he’s kind of the lead of the film. But I can buy him being a supporting role. It fits with a lot of performances that won. The other thing — Claude Rains. I love his performance too much to not vote for him. It’s Louis Renault. I can’t not vote for that performance.

Naish — Sahara is a classic war picture. Humphrey Bogart is a tank commander who got separated from his unit. And he and his group of men are trying to catch up to them. And the film is about them on these adventures. They pick up some people, some people die, etc. Of course they end up in a series of battles, and — just see the picture. It’s pretty awesome.

J. Carrol Naish plays an Italian prisoner who volunteers to help lead them to water. And he serves to be the humanizing version of the enemy. That is, he fights for Italy, but he doesn’t necessarily agree with the reasons his country is at war. He doesn’t like fighting. He just wants to go home to his family. But, he needs to fight in order for that to happen. He gets a few big moments, and then is killed when a captured German escapes in the final battle. To me, this is one of those performances where — it’s a film where there’s an ensemble of characters, and each one gets their two or three moments to shine. And he gets his moments, does a good job with them, and dies heroically. I see why he was nominated, but, in this category, he has no shot whatsoever. None. Rains, Coburn and Bickford (just because of his stature with me) would get votes before Naish on my ballot.

Rains — Casablanca is — you should have seen this. I’m not going to bother to give you a synopsis, because you don’t like movies if you haven’t gone out of your way to see this film.

Claude Rains plays the wonderfully corrupt (by his own admission, even) Louis Renault, who loves denying women exit visas in order to have them sleep with him in order to get them. Rains is so fucking wonderful here. He gets some of the best lines in the film, and really — there’s no reason why he shouldn’t have won here. I mean, there is — Charles Coburn — but, the fact that Rains never won an Oscar is one of the biggest blemishes on the Academy’s record. I’m not even gonna pretend that he’s not my vote here.

Tamiroff — For Whom the Bell Tolls is based on Hemingway. For those who’ve read it — is the book as boring as the movie is?

It’s about Gary Cooper as a dude fighting alongside a bunch of Spanish revolutionaries. And they fight for — whatever — and he falls in love with Ingrid Bergman, and they fight, and he dies — and the film is two and a half hours. I was so bored when I watched this movie. I tried watching it twice more after the first time, thinking my memories of finding it boring were just me not watching it. No — I couldn’t even get through it the other two times. This is not my kind of film at all. The only thing it has going for it is the Technicolor and Ingrid Bergman looking so good. That’s it.

Akim Tamiroff plays the leader of the group. And he’s big and boisterous and quick-tempered — it’s a role that was unquestionably going to be nominated. I don’t think he should have won because Rains and Coburn were so good, and because I don’t like the film. So, he doesn’t contend for me. He may for other people, but, I don’t think anyone will really vote for him over Rains and Coburn. And if so, chances are, we don’t have remotely similar tastes at all. Tamiroff was good here, but — come on now.

My Thoughts: There are only two options here — Charles Coburn and Claude Rains. This is how a few categories of the 40s went. The thing with this one, though — you have to vote Claude Rains. He’s just so good as Louis. Coburn (or Rains, for that matter) could have won in 1946. So, while either one winning is okay, I have to vote Rains. That moment of, “I am shocked to find out that gambling is going on here,” as he shuts down Rick’s, and the dude comes up, like, “Your winnings, sir,” is just one of the great moments of all time. I can’t vote for Coburn here, as much as I loved his performance. It’s Claude Rains for me.

My Vote: Rains

Should Have Won: Rains, Coburn

Is the result acceptable?: I guess. Coburn was very entertaining in the role, and was the best thing about the film. But he’s kind of, sort of, a lead role, but not really, and also, he had other years he could have won. That’s the big thing about it. This was Claude Rains’s best opportunity to win an Oscar, and lord knows, he deserved one. So I say it’s kind of acceptable based solely on the individual category, but less so in history, because Coburn could have easily won in 1946 instead. So, you know — I’m torn. Yes. Yes and no. I say no. I love Claude Rains too much.

Though, again, the real screw-up here was 1946. Because, even though I prefer Rains here, they could have given it to him there, making up for never giving him an Oscar. And then they gave it to a non-actor. So that’s the real unacceptable part of this — that Claude Rains never won an Oscar.

Performances I suggest you see: Casablanca. If you haven’t seen it, you’re dead to me.

The More the Merrier is a hysterical film. Really, really funny. See it. You won’t be disappointed, even if you hate old movies.

Sahara is a really good film. A nice war picture. Not for everyone, but if you like Humphrey Bogart or war pictures, you’ll enjoy this one. Recommended.

The Song of Bernadette is — it’s too long, too religious, and too heavy-handed. Yet, I’m recommending it. Because Jennifer Jones is charming. It’s worth a watch for her performance. You don’t need to, but if you want to, it’s not terrible. I don’t love it, but, it’s not awful by any stretch. (And I hate religious pictures.)

For Whom the Bell Tolls — I don’t like at all. But, I recognize that it’s a pretty major film, and some people might like it. But I don’t. I think it’s overly long, boring — nothing in it for me. But you might like it, so I mention it for that. Use your instincts.


5) Tamiroff

4) Bickford

3) Naish

2) Coburn

1) Rains

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