The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1972

Well — this’ll be quick.

1972. The Godfather wins Best Picture. Bob Fosse wins Best Director (talked about here) for Cabaret, Liza Minnelli also wins Best Actress and Joel Grey wins Best Supporting Actor (talked about here) for it. Eileen Heckart wins Best Supporting Actress for Butterflies are Free (talked about here). In all, a successful year. The only category I disagree with is Best Supporting Actor (and maybe Supporting Actress, but the category was terrible). And Best Director, but, that all basically worked out in the end.

Do we even need to waste the breath with this one?


And the nominees were…

Marlon Brando, The Godfather

Michael Caine, Sleuth

Laurence Olivier, Sleuth

Peter O’Toole, The Ruling Class

Paul Winfield, Sounder

Brando — It’s The Godfather. It’s Don Corleone. The end.

Caine — Sleuth is a wonderful, wonderful film. This is a perfect film. It really is.

Laurence Olivier plays a mystery novelist (the kind that writes like one or two a year, with the same character). Michael Caine is a salon owner who is having an affair with Olivier’s wife. Olivier, knowing this, calls Caine over to the house. Caine goes over, and Olivier persuades Caine to stage a fake robbery at his house. He shows him exactly how to go about it, and basically convinces him to go through with this, since he said that if Caine does this he won’t make a big deal about his wife leaving. Caine then goes through with the robbery, and Olivier tells him the whole thing was just a ruse to get him into the house so he could shoot him legally.

From here on out, everything will be separated, because I feel you should see the film and not know about it beforehand. Because it’s just wonderful. I suggest you skip below the bottom of the segregated area.

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What happens after the “robbery” is, three weeks later, a detective comes to Olivier’s house, asking questions about Caine’s disappearance. Olivier confesses to having shot him, but says the gun was loaded with blanks. The whole thing was just to humiliate Caine. And he says he never shot him and he passed out from shock and probably just ran off to hide his shame. But then the detective finds blood on the stairs where Caine was “shot.” And starts finding more evidence to suggest that Olivier might have killed someone. And Olivier starts getting nervous, and it starts to look like he’s going to be convicted of a crime he didn’t even commit — until the detective reveals himself to be Michael Caine in disguise. It’s very well done. They even created a fake actor to list in the credits, so as to mislead people.

And Caine, now very upset, tells Olivier that it’s time for another game. Only this one’s not really a game. Not for Olivier, anyway. Caine tells Olivier that he killed Olivier’s mistress (Olivier claimed earlier to not care what his wife was doing because he’s got his own mistress). He says he killed her and hid a bunch of condemning evidence around the house, which the police (whom he called) will find once they arrive. And Olivier needs to figure out what the evidence is (which Caine tells him through a series of rhyming clues, the kind Olivier had used in the first half of the film. The whole thing is structured perfectly) and destroy it before the police arrive. And the whole thing gets very tense, since Olivier literally might have thirty minutes before he’s framed for a murder (he doesn’t take it seriously at first, until Olivier calls his mistress’s roommate, and she confirms the girl, in fact, is dead).

And eventually, once the time is up, Caine reveals that the whole thing was fake, and that he was just fucking with him. His only goal was to get inside the house and get some of Olivier’s wife’s clothes. He created the whole game to humiliate Olivier for having done it to him earlier. He makes fun of Olivier, because he got his mistress and her roommate to be on on it (he reveals that Olivier is impotent, and that his “mistress” is actually a girl he’s interested in, but she’s not interested in him), and basically tells him how he’s nothing but an old man who resorts to humiliating others to hide his own impotence. And Olivier pulls a gun and says this time he’s actually going to shoot Caine, and that since the police are coming, no one will ever know. And Caine says he really did call the police, and Olivier says he’s fucking with him again, and shoots him. And then, the police actually arrive. And Olivier pretends he isn’t home, but Caine, in his last act, sets off a bunch of puppets and noisy things that had been used throughout the film.

It’s really, really well done.

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It’s a fucking great film. Seriously, just watch it. You’ll love it. I’m almost certain.

Olivier — As for the performances — double nomination. I love these — Caine and Olivier are both note perfect in their roles. Notice how I’m structuring this one. Caine and Olivier are both really perfect in the roles. If I have to choose which one I’d vote for between the two, I’d go for Caine. Originally I thought it was Olivier, but after I thought about it, I realized that Caine had the harder part to pull off. I won’t spoil it, since you weren’t supposed to read the part that was sectioned off. But, if you have, or if you’ve seen the film, based on what happens in that middle section, I think you’ll agree, for Caine to do what he did, and do it convincingly, that definitely deserves a vote. And, to a much lesser extent (since neither are getting voted for anyway), Olivier had his Oscar already, and Caine was really owed one. So that helps Caine become a sort of second choice here. Even though — it’s pretty clear, this is a huge vote split. Neither of these two were ever going to win. But still, they were both perfect, and the film is perfect.

Also, this is one of three films in Academy history (I’m about 90% sure it’s only three. If not, I fucked up) to have their entire credited cast be nominated for acting awards. Oh, wait, I’m kind of wrong. But, first, let’s talk about the films. The two for certain are this one, and Give ’em Hell, Harry, which, is a one man show. So, obviously, that’s the entire cast. The other one for certain is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which only had four credited actors in it. There are two other people in the film (during the diner interlude), but they weren’t credited, so, technically the entire cast was nominated. The unofficial fourth film is Doubt, which only credited the four actors who were nominated. But, there are lots of people in that, so, that doesn’t count.

Anyway, my point here is, the film, the performances — perfect. Watch this motherfucking movie.

O’Toole — The Ruling Class — oh my god, what a film. I knew nothing about it until very late in my Quest. I saw the cover of the Criterion DVD, and for some reason, thought it was another boring stuffy British drama. Plus the run time was two and a half hours, so I pushed it aside and said I’d get to it later.

Holy shit, was I mistaken. I should have read a synopsis.But, for those of you who know nothing about this film, prepare to read something that will make you want to go out and see this film, right now. Trust me on that.

The film begins with an Earl of Gurney (rich, British, has a castle and a title), who is pretty crazy, and dies performing autoerotic asphyxiation. Yes, you read that correctly. This happened in a film made in 1972. You almost wonder what the fuck is going on at first, because, you think, “Where’s Peter O’Toole?”, “Why is this guy acting so nuts?”, “Is he talking about a woman’s tits?” That’s the great thing about it, it looks like something set in the 17th century, and they all talk like it’s 1972. Just, if they were all upper class Brits.

And Peter O’Toole becomes the new Earl of Gurney (Gurney, get it?). The only problem? He’s a schizophrenic who believes himself to be Jesus Christ. And he is fucking crazy. You watch him preaching and doing all this crazy shit, like — one scene begins and he’s up on a cross, standing on a ladder, holding the nails in his hands, pretending to be crucified. And the people in the scene just talk around him like it’s nothing. Then there are random musical numbers for no reason, people talk to the camera — O’Toole’s wife does a striptease while talking to the camera like Alfie — and O’Toole just runs around acting crazy the whole time. He rides into the bridal chambers on his wedding night on a tricycle. It’s amazing.

Midway through the film, they try to convince him that, instead of being Jesus, he’s Jack (that’s his name). And they give him electroshock — which is the craziest electroshock therapy I’ve ever seen. I don’t even want to ruin it for you, it’s so fucking incredible. And just when you think it couldn’t get any weirder, a dude in a gorilla costume shows up. It’s so fucking surreal. And he comes out of it saying, “I’m Jack.” Problem is — he thinks he’s Jack the Ripper.

And the film is really about O’Toole’s family trying to get him declared insane and put in an asylum, and in classic screwball fashion, it never works out. Kind of the way it doesn’t work out in Harvey. O’Toole, thinking he’s Jack the Ripper, is now a psychopath who is able to pretend to be sane at the right moments. He literally murders a woman and frames somebody else for the crime. This is where the dark part of the comedy comes in.

He kills a woman in the house, and gets the butler — who was always his closest ally — framed for it. Then he takes his seat in the House of Lords, and goes on this fucking insane rant where he talks about how they need to bring back capital punishment, and how the government needs to rule by fear and punishment, and spouting all these crazy ideas that are basically a sick twist on the Jesus ideals he had earlier. And, naturally, this being a dark comedy, the speech gets a standing ovation. At first, when he was Jesus, they thought he was crazy, and now, when he’s actually crazy, they love him. Then, to top it off, when he goes home at night, his wife tells her she loves him, and he kills her too. That’s how the film ends. He stabs his wife, we hear her scream — credits.

The film is fucking brilliant. Peter O’Toole, if it weren’t for Marlon Brando this year, should have won this fucking Oscar. Oh man, I wish this film got released a year earlier, he’d have fucking won so easily. My god, Peter O’Toole was brilliant in this movie. The movie itself is just so wonderful. It goes from being the most madcap comedy in the world to this deadly serious, dark, dark comedy about a dude being seriously ill. It’s just incredible. O’Toole really was good enough to win here, and, honestly, I almost even consider voting for him anyway. I won’t, but, the fact that I thought about it even for a second should tell you something.

Winfield — Sounder is a film based on the young-adult novel of the same name. There’s the family of poor black sharecroppers who have the dog, Sounder. And every night, the father (Winfield) and Sounder go hunting. One day, the police come and arrest the father for stealing a ham. The dog runs after them, and one of the cops shoots at him. And the father is put on the chain gang for a year, while Sounder never returns home. And we deal with the mother and the son dealing with survival without the father, as well as all the racism they encounter. And eventually, the father, and Sounder, return, and it’s happy.

Winfield plays the father, and he does a fine job in the film. Absolutely nothing wrong with the performance. But we all know that ain’t nobody beating Don Corleone here. Just ain’t gonna happen. So I won’t waste time coming up with a reason I’m not voting for Winfield. But the film is pretty good.

My Thoughts: It’s Brando. No contest. Come on.

(However, if Brando isn’t here, the vote would be O’Toole, then Caine, then Olivier. In that order.)

My Vote: Brando

Should Have Won: Brando

Is the result acceptable?: Perhaps the best decision they ever had in this entire category. Top three, for certain. Real shame about Caine, Olivier and O’Toole. They were all legit good enough to win. But, there wasn’t anyone beating Don Corleone this year. Wasn’t happening.

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen The Godfather, kill yourself. If you’re a film lover and haven’t seen Sleuth, get on that shit right now. Trust me on that. You will love this movie. It is fucking perfect.

And The Ruling Class — just see it. It’s fucking brilliant. It’s so batshit insane, you just have to see it. Because at every turn, you’re just gonna go, “Wait, WHAT?”, because it just gets crazier and crazier, and it’s just so fucking brilliant. Trust me, you need to see this movie, just to say you’ve seen it. You can go, “Oh my god, I watched the craziest fucking movie, you need to check this out.”

Sounder is also a pretty good movie. I didn’t love it, but it’s not bad. Some people might love it.


5) Winfield

4) O’Toole

3) Olivier

2) Caine

1) Brando

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