The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1956
I don’t know what to do with 1956. I don’t hate it, but I don’t really like it either. I just end up shaking my head, going, “What can you do?”
Around the World in 80 Days wins Best Picture, and, again — what can you do? I understand that it’s big and expansive and a greatly entertaining film. But did it need to win Best Picture just because it was the biggest thing out there? (Note: This same argument would be had with Titanic.) Best Actress was Ingrid Bergman for Anastasia (talked about here), which I consider one of the worst single Best Actress decisions ever made, just because she had one already, and all of the other nominees gave much better performances than she did. Best Supporting Actor was Anthony Quinn for Lust for Life, which I’m not the biggest fan of, but he’s Anthony Quinn, so, meh. Best Supporting Actress was Dorothy Malone for Written on the Wind (talked about here), which I love as a decision. And Best Director was George Stevens for Giant (talked about here), which — thank god they didn’t fuck that one up. That’s one of the best directorial efforts ever put to film.
Which brings us to this category. I don’t like this. I love Yul Brynner, but I don’t like this decision.
BEST ACTOR – 1956
And the nominees were…
Yul Brynner, The King and I
James Dean, Giant
Kirk Douglas, Lust for Life
Rocky Hudson, Giant
Laurence Olivier, Richard III
Brynner — The King and I is a film you probably should have seen by now, because it’s so classic.
Deborah Kerr — English governess, moves to Siam to tutor the King of Siam’s many children. Brynner is the charismatic king, who learns a thing or two from Kerr. “Getting to Know You,” lots of music, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. If you don’t know it, it ‘s because you’ve been living under a rock.
Brynner is great here. There’s no denying how good he is. But it’s like Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins — sure he’s great, but where’s the acting? Especially when Harrison had to go up against Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove and Brynner here has to go up against Rock Hudson and James Dean. Not to mention, Brynner is like a strong supporting role and not really a lead character. A lot of the film is Kerr and the children. And Brynner gets to walk on, have his big scenes, and then leave. It’s almost a cop out to have him win. So I can’t in good conscience vote for him, even though he is Yul Brynner and he is awesome.
Dean — Double nomination. Score. And it’s Giant, which is even better, since it’s a great film. Only trouble is, the bulk of the film is about Rock Hudson and not Dean. It would have been so much easier to do Hudson first. But, alphabetical order conspires against me once again.
Giant is an epic film about oil. Rock Hudson is owner of a big ranching empire in Texas. We first see him traveling to buy a prized horse from Elizabeth Taylor’s family. He takes a fancy to her, and marries her. And he takes her back to the estate. And the first hour is him meeting her and her coming back to the ranch and her learning to be more of a ranch girl. She toughens up and becomes a better wife. Then the film becomes more about oil. James Dean is a ranch hand who has a crush on Taylor. And he deeply resents Hudson because of it. And he’s always bitter toward him. And when Hudson’s sister dies, she (because she liked him) leaves Dean a piece of land on the estate. It’s on that land where Dean strikes oil and suddenly becomes rich. And soon he becomes really rich — nouveau riche — flaunting around his wealth and being a huge asshole about it — constantly trying to get back at Hudson, like, “Look at me, I have more money than you.” But ultimately, Dean realizes he has no family, and now has money but not happiness. This is shown by a great drunken speech he gives to an empty room. It’s a powerful moment.
The majority of the film, however, is about Hudson and Taylor. They have some fights over things, and the marriage is pretty tumultuous, and eventually she leaves for a while, but then they reconcile. And then their kids grow up (becoming Dennis Hopper and Carroll Baker), and the son marries a Spanish woman, which causes some race issues down there, and eventually Hudson, who used to be adamant about his son taking over the empire, grows, and discovers that life is about more than that, once he discovers the racism that exists in the south — there’s a great moment at the end where a diner refuses service to Hopper’s wife, and Hudson finally takes a stand, but ends up getting his ass beaten. It’s a powerful moment, because you’d think he would win. But he doesn’t.
I’m not doing the film justice. It’s so much more than anything I can summarize here. Just watch it. Not only is it captivating for its entire run time (almost 3 1/2 hours), but it’s one of the most beautifully shot films ever put to screen. It’s just gorgeous. And the performances — all of them — are just fantastic. Really, really tremendous.
Now — how to deal with this. Well, first, we’re dealing with Dean, I guess.
This was Dean’s final Oscar nomination — he got nominated for East of Eden the year before this (he also did Rebel Without a Cause that year too), and that was a posthumous nomination. So him being nominated here makes him the only actor to be nominated for two posthumous Oscars.
Dean is good here. He’s really strong. I’d certainly vote for him over Yul Brynner. Thing is, though, the performance is way too method to vote for, for me. I watch this and go, “I don’t get it.” I don’t really get the whole James Dean love. Same thing with Brando. I watch a lot of Brando’s performances, and, in some of them, I just see method. And it’s awkward. But sometimes, you see Brando, and he just transforms himself. I feel like Dean would have done that if he lived longer. Here, though, I see him going method on it, and, honestly, I’d vote for Rock Hudson over him, because I felt Hudson was much better in the film.
Douglas — Lust for Life is a biography of Vincent Van Gogh. Douglas plays Van Gogh, and the film is about how he obsesses over his art. He has no way to fit in, loses himself in art, and goes crazy. The film is not about the plot, but about the performance. You know this is a performance that’s bound to be nominated for an Oscar. And Douglas doesn’t disappoint. He’s really strong here. Only thing is — it’s not good enough to win. It’s not as good as his Bad and the Beautiful performance, and not as good as Hudson’s and Dean’s performances. So, as much as Douglas should have an Oscar, I can’t vote for him here. Love the performance, though. The film is all right, too.
Hudson — Hudson, as I said up there, I felt, gave a better performance than Dean did in Giant. Part of that is because — Hudson is the one that has to carry most of the film. Compared to Hudson, Dean is basically a supporting character. And Hudson — while most people rank on him for being so wooden all the time — I watched him here, and I’m totally convinced he should have won this statue. I was blown away by how good he was in the film. To me, there’s no one else to vote for in this category. It’s Hudson all the way.
Olivier — Clearly a #5. Fuck you if you don’t think so.
This is a film version of Richard III. The third of Olivier’s four Shakespeare films. He won for Hamlet, and that’s that. He shouldn’t have won for more than one. This is cut and dry.
Of course he’s good — he’s Laurence Olivier, and he’s doing Shakespeare. In fact, this is my second favorite of his performances, after Hamlet. Here, he’s much more — he chews up the scenery more. He’s more more scheming and dickish, and I like that. Still, though, definitely not gonna vote for him. Come on, now.
My Thoughts: I’m not even gonna sugar coat it. It’s Hudson all the way for me. I felt he gave, by far, the best performance of everyone in the category. Dean was too method for me, Brynner was too much of a supporting character, Douglas was better elsewhere and Olivier had his Oscar. To me, it’s a no-brainer. Hudson.
My Vote: Hudson
Should Have Won: Hudson
Is the result acceptable?: No. And Yes. The performance isn’t really a lead role, even though it is. Also, it’s not that great a performance. Hudson had to do a much tougher job, and does it fantastically. Brynner just got to walk on and do his thing. So, based on the performances, this is absolutely not acceptable. Based on the actor, it’s fine. Everybody loves Yul Brynner. I still say Hudson should have won this.
Performances I suggest you see: Giant. You need to see this film. Holy shit, is it amazing. This is a personal choice. As in, if I made a list of films I would personally make you sit down and watch, this would be on it. Objectively, it’s a great and classic film, but not quite essential (I think). But it doesn’t matter, because I’m saying it’s essential. So see it. I won’t respect your opinion as much if you haven’t.
The King and I is a classic and is a very enjoyable film. You know the story, and this is the best version of it. Of course, you could also watch Anna and the King of Siam, which is the non-musical version of the same story, but this one’s so colorful and joyous, and has Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. It’s probably essential, just because, what kind of moron hasn’t seen The King and I? How dumb would you look not having seen this movie?
Lust for Life — not a bad film. Great performance by Kirk Douglas. Definitely worth checking out. Really strong. Strong recommendation.
Richard III — if you like Shakespeare, and like Olivier Shakespeare — it’s definitely worth checking out. He’s really good in it. The Olivier Shakespeare films definitely got more stagy as they went on. Henry V was the most cinematic, with the battle scenes and location shooting and what not. Then Hamlet was cinematic because it was so foggy and such. This was pretty much a play on screen, but it’s colorful, so that’s something.Then Othello is just a straight play. Either way, Olivier is really great here. So if you can deal with Shakespeare films, you’ll like this just fine. Otherwise, you know you don’t need to see it.