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The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1945

1945 is another year I don’t like too much. It’s like 1947. I don’t dislike the choice, I dislike the weakness of the nominees. The Lost Weekend is actually a really great film, and one of the better films ever made about alcoholism. It was a strong choice, considering the nominees. They were a really, really weak set. Billy Wilder also won Best Director for the film, which is a good choice, since not only did he direct the Best Picture nominee, it was a good way to also make up for not giving him the Oscar the year before for Double Indemnity. It was like Fred Zinnemann in 1953. It worked out.

Best Actress was Joan Crawford for Mildred Pierce, which was a fine decision. Crawford should have won one of these, and this was the perfect year for her to do it (though, I might be partial to Gene Tierney’s performance in Leave Her to Heaven. I’ll have to watch them both again before I write up the category). Best Supporting Actor was James Dunn for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which was a terrific decision. He was absolutely phenomenal in the film (and the film is amazing too). And Best Supporting Actress was Anne Revere for National Velvet, which is also a terrific decision, since both she and the film are incredible. I actually like the Supporting categories best this year.

Then, with this category — it’s really cut and dry. There was no one else, and Milland gave a terrific performance.

BEST ACTOR – 1945

And the nominees were…

Bing Crosby, The Bells of St. Mary’s

Gene Kelly, Anchors Aweigh

Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend

Gregory Peck, The Keys to the Kingdom

Cornell Wilde, A Song to Remember

Crosby — The Bells of St. Mary’s is a sequel to Going My Way. Following the same structure of the other film, it’s about Bing Crosby, as a progressive priest who sings, going to help a failing parish. And this parish, rather than being run by an old man, is run by Ingrid Bergman, who is a proper nun on the outside, but also is feisty inside, as she shows when she secretly teaches one of the children to box so he can fight back against some bullies. And the main plot of the film is about how a rich businessman is about to buy up the land and knock it down to make a strip mall or parking lot or something, and they have to convince him not to do it. Of course the dude comes around and it all ends happily, and there are a few songs along the way.

Crosby plays FatheR O’Malley, and he’s great as always. But he won for the role the year before this. Would anyone give him back-to-back Oscars? The performance isn’t that good. So he gets bumped to the back of the line for a vote, even though he’ll be ranked very high, because it is a very delightful film.

Kelly — Anchors Aweigh is a Gene Kelly musical, and if you’ve seen Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, Brigadoon, etc, you know how the Gene Kelly musical works.

This one is about two sailors — Kelly and Frank Sinatra — who get leave. Kelly has definite plans for the weekend. He’s got a hot little actress out in Hollywood who is willing to do just about anything. So ready to get wet. But Sinatra — he has no such luck, so he has no one to hang out with, so his plan is to just follow Kelly around, because he looks up to him. And basically the film is about everything going wrong for Kelly as he tries to get some pussy. Pretty soon after they hit the town, they’re tasked to return a young boy back home. The young boy is obsessed with the navy and wants to be a sailor, and snuck out so he can enlist. Problem is — he’s 7. So they bring him back, and as that happens, they meet the boy’s mother, whom Kelly falls in love with. And the film is about him falling in love with her but thinking he still wants to go with the actress, and there’s singing and dancing, and Sinatra meets a fellow New York gal at a restaurant and starts a thing with her — and it’s all singing, all dancing, and great entertainment.

Personally, I’m a bit surprised that Kelly got nominated here. He doesn’t seem much different here than he is in any of his other musicals. Maybe he’s a bit more comedic here, but really no difference. So he was probably nominated for his dancing, which, actually, is totally fine by me. Only problem with it is — I can’t vote for him. Because as good as Kelly is, and was in this film, Ray Milland knocked that shit out of the park.

Milland — The Lost Weekend is a film about a guy on a bender. That’s what it is.

Ray Milland is a writer who has an alcohol addiction. His brother looks after him, and because of that, he’s been clean for a couple of days. But now his brother is going away for the weekend. And he proceeds to drink himself silly. And at the bar, he recounts his addiction to the bartender, which shows us a series of flashbacks that are really fucking harrowing. And his girlfriend (Jane Wyman) is dead set on helping him, but he remains a pitiful drunk. And he soon runs out of money to pay for his drinks, and steals the money from a woman’s handbag. And she feels bad for him and doesn’t press charges. And he starts pawning things to get drinks, and eventually passes out and wakes up in the hospital. He’s stuck in the hospital as he detoxes, but manages to escape. He gets more liquor by stealing it and goes back to his apartment. And he starts having hallucinations, which causes his girlfriend to stay and look after him. And while she sleeps, he goes out and pawns an expensive coat he got her for a gun (planning on killing himself to stop the hallucinations). And then he realizes his problem, and endeavors to write a book about his struggles, and wonders how many people have the same problems he does.

It’s a really great film. Very few films made today could be as frank about alcohol addiction. It’s really great. And Milland is fucking fantastic as Don. This dude really deserved this Oscar. The performance is that good.

Peck — The Keys to the Kingdom is a film that surprised me very much. I thought I wouldn’t like it, but I ended up liking it very much. It’s about Gregory Peck as an American missionary in China. And he struggles to get the respect of the local people, and eventually gets embroiled in war, and all that stuff. All the missionary films are essentially the same. The joy here isn’t so much in the plot but in the execution. It’s just — interesting. And I can’t explain it, because I hate films like this. Religious overtones. Hate that.

Peck is actually really good here. This a nice star-making performance for him. Not good enough to win, but good enough to make people take notice. Peck would be good enough to win in 1947, and would win in 1962. This is just a step in the right direction and a really fine performance. But he had no shot of beating Ray Milland here.

Wilde — You know when actors say, “I’m just lucky to be nominated”? Well, those words were never more true than right here.

A Song to Remember is a biopic of Frederic Chopin. And trust me, it leaves no biopic stone unturned. The film is mostly about Chopin’s love of his native Poland. But honestly, it doesn’t matter. Nothing really seems to happen in the film, and it bored me to tears. Very few films on this Oscar Quest actually bored me to tears. This was one of them.

Add that to the fact that Cornel Wilde has about as much charisma as Charles Boyer after a stroke. This dude should not have been nominated for this award. He is clearly a number five here, and I’d even go so far as to say I’d give Bing Crosby a second Oscar for Father O’Malley before I voted for Wilde here. That’s how much I didn’t like this performance. (In reality he was fine. But that’s just it. A performance like this should just be there, not be nominated for the highest acting award an actor can achieve.)

 My Thoughts: Just looking at this, it’s pretty clear Ray Milland blows everyone else out of the water. In a stronger year, he’d just be a solid nominee who might contend for a vote but probably wouldn’t win if there were someone else with a strong performance who is more well-known. But, here, he wins this very easily.

Bing Crosby won for the same role he played here the year before. Not happening. Cornell Wilde — lucky to be nominated. (For my money, very lucky.) Gregory Peck — great, but not gonna win. This was his first leading role. This is one of those, “Welcome to the party, pal,” nominations. They recognize him as a good actor. He wouldn’t give a win-worthy performance until 1947 (where he totally should have won), and then in 1962, where he did win.

So, that leaves Gene Kelly and Ray Milland. Now, I’d have been all for Gene Kelly winning an Oscar. Astaire never got one, so, Kelly winning this would have felt unfair, historically, but, I’d be all for him winning. We’re all pretty clear that this nomination was for his great dancing skills, and not for a great performance. Which, I’m also not against. It’s a fun film. But, Ray Milland played a drunk. A drunk who is pitiful, tragic, and almost loses his mind in a sanitarium. He wasn’t losing. Gene Kelly did not dance well enough to beat that.

My Vote: Milland

Should Have Won: Milland

Is the result acceptable?: Best decision in the category. By default, that makes this very acceptable.

Performances I suggest you see: The Lost Weekend is a terrific film. It’s really amazing. You need to see this film, just to see how great it is. Few films made today about alcoholism could be any better than this one. I cannot recommend this film highly enough.

Anchors Aweigh is a great film. Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, lots of singing and dancing — where can you go wrong? It’s terrific. See this movie. It’s awesome.

The Bells of St. Mary’s is also a great film. Going My Way is great, and this is just as good. It’s a lot of fun. I highly recommend this film. This is a great film to watch in December. It’s so joyous.

The Keys to the Kingdom is actually a really engaging film. Maybe it’s Gregory Peck, but for some reason — I don’t know. Films about missionaries in China seem to work for me. I’m judging this of course on both this and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, both of which I thought I’d hate but ended up enjoying very much. It surprised the hell out of me. But, this is actually a good film, and worth checking out. I recommend this highly.

Rankings:

5) Wilde

4) Peck

3) Crosby

2) Kelly

1) Milland

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