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The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1946

Love me some 1946. I’m always a fan of years that have definitive winners, yet other nominees that are strong enough to make people vehemently argue that those films should have won instead, and yet not be wrong to argue for them. 1939 is one. 1957. 1997, 1994, 1991 — there are lots of them. Here, The Best Years of Our Lives wins Best Picture, as it should have (historically this is a big film for Hollywood), and It’s a Wonderful Life is the film everyone argues for. And no one is wrong. I love that.

The Best Years of Our Lives also won Best Director for William Wyler, which was gonna happen, and Best Supporting Actor for Harold Russell, which, as I said here, I actually really, really hate. Best Actress was Olivia de Havilland for To Each His Own, which, as I said here, I love and support fully. And Best Supporting Actress was Anne Baxter for The Razor’s Edge, which I liked very much, actually.

So, in all, 1946 is a strong, strong year, with only one slip up that’s actually understandable (though still bad). And this category — looking at it objectively — as much as we all love Jimmy Stewart — this was a good decision.

BEST ACTOR – 1946

And the nominees were…

Frederic March, The Best Years of Our Lives

Laurence Olivier, Henry V

Larry Parks, The Jolson Story

Gregory Peck, The Yearling

James Stewart, It’s A Wonderful Life

March — I love this film. Love it, love it, love it.

It’s about three soldiers returning home from war. March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell. We’re only gonna talk about March here, because you need to have seen this film.

March returns home to his wife and kids — wife is the wonderful Myrna Loy, daughter is Teresa Wright, and son (nobody in particular). He used to be a banker before the war, and is now finding it hard to return to his old life. And we see him strain his relationship with his wife to the breaking point, because he just can’t deal with all he’s seen.

It’s a really perfect film, and March is terrific in it. Seriously, he deserved to win this, as much as I love Jimmy Stewart. He really did.

Olivier — Henry V is Olivier’s filmed version of Shakespeare’s play. Lots of speeches, battle scenes — you’ve probably seen the Branagh version of this.

It’s actually a well-directed film. I liked the location filming and the color palette.

As for the performance — Olivier doing Shakespeare. You knew he’d win for this one day, but this category is too strong to even consider it. He got his for Hamlet, and everything worked out.

Parks — The Jolson Story is a biopic of Al Jolson, vaudeville star who was in The Jazz Singer. It’s pretty standard, just chronicling his life. If you’ve seen a biopic, you know how it goes.

There’s really nothing groundbreaking at all here. Parks is really strong as Jolson. I don’t think there was ever a category where he was strong enough to win, but it’s a strong performance that adds class to the category. It’s really solid.

Peck — The Yearling is a great story about a boy and his deer.

A little boy finds an orphaned deer and takes it in. The deer helps him come out of his shell. Peck plays the boy’s father, who is more of a playmate than a father. He’s that father who is really cool, but always backs down to his wife, which makes the kid see his mother as slightly evil. And Jane Wyman plays his mother, who loves him, but is worried that if she shows him love, he will die, because that’s what happened to her other two children. And we see the boy and the deer, and eventually the deer gets too big and starts wreaking havoc, and the deer needs to be shot. Then the boy runs away and when he returns, his mother finally shows him love. It’s a great, great film. Perfect for children. It’s more of a young adult-type family story. It’s amazing.

Peck is really great here, and I love that he got nominated. Only thing is, it’s not a performance I can vote for, just because March and Stewart were too good. They just were. Peck is a distant third here.

Stewart — Seriously?

My Thoughts: This is a tough one for me. Because it’s clearly between Stewart and March. And both were spectacular. Both had Oscars by this point, and both won them under shitty circumstances. March tied (and probably shouldn’t have won for that role, all things considered, anyway), and Stewart won in a blatant makeup Oscar for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, for a performance he shouldn’t have won for. So, either way, someone was getting shafted here. I also voted for Stewart in 1950 and March in 1937, so I can’t balance it out by saying, “Well, I voted for him this other time, so I’ll vote for the other here.” Wow — this sucks.

Know what, though? I have to do it like this — it has to be March. Because he was tremendous, the performance and the role were very, very essential for this country during this time period, and, much more simply — if Jimmy Stewart wins this award and the film doesn’t win anything else — I think there’s an uproar. People will be asking why it won that and nothing else. So I feel like it’s gotta be an all or nothing type deal. So I just give this one to Best Years of Our Lives too, because at least then it’s uniform.

My Vote: March

Should Have Won: March, Stewart

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. If you’ve studied World War II and see this film, you’ll understand just how huge this was for a country coming back from a war. Very major, and a great performance. This is very acceptable.

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life — kill yourself.

If you haven’t seen The Best Years of Our Lives — you’re dead to me.

If you haven’t seen The Yearling — we can’t be friends.

The Jolson Story is very good. I highly recommend it. It’s a pretty standard biopic and is definitely worth checking out.

Henry V — Shakespeare — you know what you’re getting.

Rankings:

5) Olivier

4) Parks

3) Peck

2) March

1) Stewart

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