The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1946

Love me some 1946. Two great films atop the Best Picture nominees list, The Best Years of Our Lives and It’s a Wonderful Life. I know everyone gets up in arms about It’s a Wonderful Life not winning, but The Best Years of Our Lives was a fitting Best Picture choice, given the year (and the subject matter).

William Wyler also won Best Director for the film, which makes sense, and Frederic March wins Best Actor for it as well. Personally, I love all of the decisions, and think March was incredible in the film, and deserved the Oscar. Best Actress this year was Olivia de Havilland for To Each His Own (talked about here), which she was owed in spades by this point, and she was definitely good enough to win (even though I really liked Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter). And Best Supporting Actress was Anne Baxter for The Razor’s Edge, which was a great decision. She was fantastic there.

Which leaves us with this category. This is one of those categories where, while I understand how they made the decision they made, it still baffles me.


And the nominees were…

Charles Coburn, The Green Years

William Demarest, The Jolson Story

Claude Rains, Notorious

Harold Russell, The Best Years of Our Lives

Clifton Webb, The Razor’s Edge

Coburn — The Green Years is a coming of age story. A meek little kid who is orphaned and goes to live with his aunt and uncle (I believe) and his grandfather. And Coburn plays the grandfather, and he’s a drunk who the aunt and uncle think is a bad influence on the kid, and he might not be, sometimes, but he’s actually a really great figure for the boy, and the boy gets really close to him as he grows up. That’s pretty much the film. There’s no real plot to the film. It’s just a series of moments throughout this kid’s life. Coming of age story.

Coburn is fucking incredible in this film. It’s his best performance since The More the Merrier. He’s so fucking great. I’d give him this Oscar hands down… if he didn’t already beat Claude Rains in 1946. I have to pull a trump card here, which is — Claude Rains never won an Oscar. Based solely on performance, Coburn wins this for me. But, we can’t be objective here, because Claude Rains deserves an Oscar.

Demarest — The Jolson Story is a biopic of Al Jolson, vaudeville star and star of The Jazz Singer. If you’re reading this blog, you should know what The Jazz Singer is.

The film is about him growing up, a nice Jewish boy, who goes to star in vaudeville as a kid, then works through, and eventually becomes a star in blackface. Ah, how that could happen in the 20s for a white man. And it’s basically about his rise to fame. Not too many troubles occur, but it’s an interesting film anyway.

William Demarest plays the man who gives Jolson his big break. He takes him onto his act at the local vaudeville. He puts Jolson in the seats as a plant and has him stand up and sing. And it goes over huge, and eventually they become partners, but he starts ascending, and no one wants Demarest, because Jolson is gonna be a star, and Demarest is a ham and egger. But Jolson stays loyal, and brings Demarest with him, as his most trustworthy friend. It’s a nice performance. And a pretty good film.

Demarest is an actor I love very much. His work in Preston Sturges’s films is incredible. To me, he should have been nominated (and probably won) for The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. He was so fucking great there. And his character’s name was Kockenlocker.

But, while I love Demarest, this feels like — about to drop a musical reference — when Jay-Z dropped Blueprint 3 recently, and they led off with “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” as the first single, meanwhile there were such better tracks on that album that would never be released as singles. It’s like picking the most mainstream thing he did to nominate him for. And as such, I can’t vote for it. (This happens a lot with character actors. People like Robert Loggia, James Woods — their only nominated performances are things you can’t vote for.)

Russell — The Best Years of Our Lives is a tremendous, tremendous film. The perfect example (and when I say perfect, I mean perfect) example of what the country was going through during the post-war years. Because the country, while in an economic boom, was still having these mixed feelings. Soldiers were having trouble adjusting to home life after the war. And the country got kind of dark. This is when noir really took off. People started getting cynical, and it would be like this until the 50s, when the Cold War was in full swing and Eisenhower was scaring the shit out of everyone (“Watch the skies!”). But, for 1946, this film perfectly captured the prevailing feelings of the country, so that’s why I think it was a great choice for Best Picture.

The film is about three soldiers — Frederic March, Dana Andrews and Harold Russell — who all return home in various states. March can’t adjust to home life, and drinks a lot and is just unable to return to his normal existence as a bank manager. Things like that. Russell (to keep it short, since you kind of need to see this one if you really are a film fan) comes home without his hands. And that’s basically what he does in the film. Is like, “I lost my hands, but I can still do stuff, I won’t give up.” The thing is, Russell himself lost his hands in the war, and he’s also not really in the film all that much. To me, this was the Academy honoring a  war veteran for essentially playing himself. And that’s fine. I just won’t vote for it. I can’t. This is about acting. It’s like when they gave Jennifer Hudson an Oscar. No way. Do not condone this. She is not an actress. Give the award to someone who does this for a living.

So no vote. Don’t care that he won, though. I’m not completely heartless.

Rains — Notorious is a Hitchcock film, and one of his better ones.

Ingrid Bergman is the daughter of a Nazi spy who is recruited by Cary Grant, a CIA Agent, to spy on the Boys from Brazil. Or rather, the Nazis in Brazil. Not the boys. That’s another movie. And they fall in love, and she infiltrates Claude Rains, a Nazi, seduces him and actually ends up marrying him. And this complicates her and Grant’s relationship, but the whole thing is about Bergman getting evidence to catch the fact that Rains was actually a Nazi. It’s a great film. I think everyone should see this one, because it’s so good.

Rains is fucking awesome in this film, as he always is. Not my favorite performance of his, but god damn it, this man deserved an Oscar so badly that this performance is more than adequate for him to win for.

Webb — The Razor’s Edge is based on the Somerset Maugham novel, which means — well, you know what you’re getting with the film version. A-Picture to the max.

Tyrone Power returns from World War I looking for spiritual meaning. And the film is two and a half hours long, and lots of random shit happens. I won’ter get into it all, but there are two women, one ends up a drunk, he ends up leaving to go to India — it’s a whole thing. Clifton Webb and Anne Baxter are the best parts of the film.

Webb plays Power’s uncle, I believe, whose sole purpose in life is to schmooze with all the high society people. He loves living in luxury, and loves to gossip, and is hugely unrepentant about everything he does. And he dies late in the film.

It’s a standard Webb performance. He has that upper class condescension thing going on, and that usually leads to Oscar nominations. It works. He really is very enjoyable with his demeanor. It works really well in this, and in Laura and in Sitting Pretty, all of which he was nominated for.

And although he was really good — I really need to give this one to Claude Rains. I can’t vote for him.

My Thoughts: Okay, this, to me, comes down to three people. Clifton Webb, who was positively delightful in The Razor’s Edge, Claude Rains and Charles Coburn. Demarest was good, but not win material, and Russell, he really just played himself. I understand them voting him in with the sweep and with him being a veteran and all, but — come on. Now, Coburn beat Rains in 1943, so Coburn isn’t getting my vote, even though he was my favorite performance on this list. So it’s really between Rains and Webb. Both of these men deserve Oscars, but I feel Rains had earned it more (Casablanca and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington alone) so, so Rains gets my vote.

My Vote: Rains

Should Have Won: No preference based on performance (because Coburn won already), but based on who the actors are, Rains or Webb were the best choices here.

Is the result acceptable?: God, I hate to do this, but, no. Nothing against Harold Russell. He was a veteran and lost his hands in the war, but, really, all he did in the movie was play himself. To me, Frederic March and Dana Andrews were much more interesting in the film, with their storylines and with their performances. Plus, Claude Rains and Clifton Webb are such respected actors and never won Oscars. I really think they ought to have won one instead. While I understand why Russell won, I still think it was a poor decision.

Performances I suggest you see: The Best Years of Our Lives is a film you need to see. That’s all there is to it.

Notorious is one of Hitchcock’s better films and is really great. Hitchock adds a certain amount of essential to a film, and then Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergma and Claude Rains — I think you should probably see this, based on the pedigree.

The Green Years is actually a very entertaining film. The best part about it is Charles Coburn. It’s worth seeing just for him. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.

The Razor’s Edge is partly a good film. I don’t like Tyrone Power, but Anne Baxter, Gene Tierney  and Clifton Webb did great jobs with their roles, and the film has enough interest to make it worth recommending. Not great, but good enough.

The Jolson Story is really interesting. Pretty standard asa biopic, but I liked it a lot. I think it’s worth checking out.


5) Russell

4) Demarest

3) Webb

2) Rains

1) Coburn


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