The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1962

You know why I love 1962? Because you can say either Lawrence of Arabia or To Kill a Mockingbird should have won Best Picture — and you’d be right either way. They’re both perfect films. Lawrence of Arabia wins Best Picture, but that was always gonna happen. It also won Best Director for David Lean (talked about here), which was gonna happen no matter what and was the better decision there.

Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress this year were Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke for The Miracle Worker. If you’ve seen the film, you know how perfect those decisions were.

The lone poor decision made this year was Best Supporting Actor, which went to Ed Begley for Sweet Bird of Youth (talked about here). There’s a category where you have Omar Sharif, Telly Savalas and Terence Stamp, any of whom would have been much better decisions. But for a year with five out of six really strong categories (like, Top Ten or Top Five of all time strong), that’s still really good.

As for this category, you can pretty much take care of it with two words: Atticus Finch.

No one will ever be able to argue against this decision, ever. Not ever.


And the nominees were…

Burt Lancaster, Birdman of Alcatraz

Jack Lemmon, Days of Wine and Roses

Marcello Mastroianni, Divorce, Italian Style

Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia

Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird

Lancaster — Birdman of Alcatraz is a perfect film.

Burt Lancaster is in prison for life for murder. He’s ordered to be in solitary the entire time. While he’s there, he finds a wounded bird and starts caring for it. Soon, he’s got a whole bunch of birds. And he starts learning about their diseases and stuff, and soon becomes one of the foremost authorities on birds in the US, which eventually allows him to be transferred to a minimum security prison.

It’s a great film. Burt Lancaster is amazing in it, and I’m glad he had his Oscar from two years before this, because he was not beating Atticus Finch.

Lemmon — Days of Wine and Roses is such a great film. Jack Lemmon meets Lee Remick and they fall in love. He’s a social drinker and she doesn’t drink at all. He introduces her to it, and very soon, they both become alcoholics. And we watch them as they sink deeper and deeper into alcoholism. Then they both realize how bad things have gotten and get sober. But then, he falls off the wagon hard and ends up in a sanitarium. But then he gets sober agin, and tries to help his wife. But then he falls off the wagon again. But then he gets sober for real, and tries to stay away from his wife, who is now disappearing for long stretches and going home with random people from bars. And she comes back, trying to get him back, but he says she has to get sober, and she refuses to admit she has a problem, so he leaves.

It’s such a fucking good movie. Such a great film about alcoholism, and it’s so — these people are pitiful. That’s what makes the movie work as well as it does. Honestly — and I’m being totally honest here, Jack Lemmon made me think twice about Gregory Peck in this category for about a half a second. That’s how good he was. He gives this performance one year in either direction, he wins the category. And she wins too. That’s how good they are.

But it’s still Atticus Finch.

Mastroianni — Divorce, Italian Style is about Marcello Mastroianni, an Italian nobleman who wants to kill his fat and unattractive wife and marry his cousin. The only way to do that would be for him to catch her cheating on him and then to kill her, which would have been looked at as a mercy killing. So he tries to organize it so he “catches” her with someone else — which of course leads to many different comic situations.

The film is pretty good, and Mastroianni is good in it, but he’s a foreign actor, Jack Lemmon and Peter O’Toole did not have Oscars and were really good in their roles — plus it’s Atticus Finch. No shot. Sorry, Marcello.

O’Toole — It’s Lawrence of Arabia. You need to have seen it.

He’s Lawrence.

The film is great. He’s great. Ain’t beating Atticus, though.

(Note: If you can, try to see this film in 70mm. It is stunning.)

Peck — It’s To Kill a Mockingbird. He’s Atticus Finch. This conversation is over.

My Thoughts: I mean, come on.

My Vote: Peck

Should Have Won: Peck

Is the result acceptable?: Come on.

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen To Kill a Mockingbird — and I mean this sincerely — you probably should just end it all.

If you haven’t seen Lawrence of Arabia, you’re dead to me.

If you haven’t seen Days of Wine and Roses or Birdman of Alcatraz, you don’t really love movies. I cannot begin to explain to you how good these movies are, so if you want to have a conversation with me in which I take what you say even remotely seriously, you should see these movies.

Divorce, Italian Style is pretty funny. Not essential, but not bad. I don’t like it so much, so I can’t say too much about it, but it’s not bad. A lot of people seem to like it.


5) Mastroianni

4) Lancaster

3) Lemmon

2) O’Toole

1) Peck

5 responses

  1. chandlerswainreviews

    Probably right, but I’m not so certain. O’Toole was pretty impressive; and to carry a film of that nature without getting obscured in the scenery is not an easy task. But certainly Atticus was the most admirable character of the lot. Hands down Angela Lansbury in “The Manchurian Candidate” over Patty Duke anyway. I have a natural aversion to overly awarding actors who play handicapped; it seems to be a magnet for the Academy.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    • The reason I’m convinced it was a perfect choice (aside from the obvious) is because Peck was on the downswing at this point, while O’Toole was just getting started. Peck didn’t really do anything of this quality after this, while O’Toole should have won thrice over after this (and that’s not even including this performance). O’Toole carrying the film is very impressive, and if were not Gregory Peck in this role, O’Toole would have been a landslide winner. But Peck’s a guy who should have had an Oscar before this. Taking all those wonderful Oscar logistics into account (the kind that give Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne Oscars over Brando and Burton), I see no other choice but Peck here.

      Also, I love Angela Lansbury and her performance, but your aversion to actors playing handicapped is exactly the same as my aversion to people talking up certain performances. This is one of those performances where everyone’s like, “Oh my god, why didn’t she win?” And I hate that. Because at least 70% of the people claiming that probably haven’t even seen The Miracle Worker. I don’t see this so much as them awarding her playing handicapped. Because if you see the performance — she does a really good job with it. She has to do a lot in that role. Lansbury’s performance — I don’t see it as much more than a really good performance that’s been talked up to more than it is. (Though, I’ll admit, put that performance in either of the two years after this and she wins easily.) And, I know this is probably just a “Me loving Mockingbird” thing, and I’ll freely admit that, but I’d even take Mary Badham over Lansbury this year.

      God, I love 1962, that we can have these disagreements and everyone can be right. If only more years could be this strong.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm

      • chandlerswainreviews

        I’ll concede you Peck, as I agree actually, and your reasoning is quite impeccable. However, I truly think Lansbury was extraordinary. I’m not denying Duke wasn’t accomplished in the film, she was, but I always feel the playing field is not quite level with the Academy when an actor portrays a disability or plays mentally challenged. And who couldn’t love the abundance of riches in a year like ’62? You haven’t even mentioned (as the Academy skipped over their performances) the stellar work of James Mason in “Lolita” and Robert Mitchum in “Cape Fear”.

        December 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm

      • Chad

        I agree with you on this category completely.
        My rankings:
        1. Gregory Peck (not even close)
        2. Peter O’Toole
        3. Jack Lemmon
        4. Burt Lancaster
        5. Marcello Mastroianni

        September 5, 2013 at 3:23 am

  2. Victor Casassa

    In Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O’Toole gave not only the best of his eight career nominated performanes as best actor, but one of the best of all time. If you know anything about the life of Thomas Edward Lawrence, you can appreciate how tremendously difficult this role was to play convincingly. O’Toole did more than convince us, he was absolutely brilliant.
    While Mockingbird was Peck’s best performance, it was also his fifth nomination for best actor, after four prior nominations for best actor had failed to garnber the prize (1945, 1946, 1947, and 1949). He had always been a darling of the Hollywood crowd and was sorley overdue for the ultimate recognition. Lawrence was O’Toole’s first nomination and the film that made him a film celebrity. There’s no denying that these factors pushed the oscar towards Peck. Still, O’Toole’s performance was the betrer of two great performances.

    July 8, 2015 at 2:22 pm

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