The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1947

1947 is so boring. There’s nothing interesting about it. The nominees were just so weak. Sure, Gentleman’s Agreement was a solid Best Picture choice, but the field was so weak. Elia Kazan won Best Director for the film (talked about here) and Celeste Holm won Best Supporting Actress for it (talked about here), both of which were great decisions.

Best Actress this year was Loretta Young for The Farmer’s Daughter (talked about here), which is one of the worst Best Actress decisions of all time. Rosalind Russell was so horribly snubbed here it’s ridiculous. Awful, awful decision. And Best Supporting Actor was Edmund Gwenn for Miracle on 34th Street (talked about here), which — he played Santa Claus. End of story.

And then we have this category, which is career achievement Oscar, and one that actually works out, because the category wasn’t that strong, and the performance reads very well (as one that would win an Oscar) even though the actual performance is a bit overdone. So it’s actually not that bad.


And the nominees were…

Ronald Colman, A Double Life

John Garfield, Body and Soul

Gregory Peck, Gentleman’s Agreement

William Powell, Life with Father

Michael Redgrave, Mourning Becomes Electra

Colman — A Double Life is about an actor who tends to let his roles get to him (one of those actors who loses himself in the role). And he’s now taking on Othello, and everyone around him is worried about what it’ll do to him. And over the course of the film, he starts having these blackouts where he can’t remember what happened, and it gets to the point where he remembers things that he’s not sure if he did or not (like killing a woman). And the whole thing culminates with him, on stage, actually stabbing himself. It’s a fascinating story.

As for the actual film — I felt it was a bit histrionic for my tastes. A bit too subjective — lots of spinny camera, soft focus, and musical swells. And Colman is way too over the top, I felt. This is a performance that should have, hands down won this award without question. You read the description of the role, and you’re like, “easy Oscar,” but, when you see (or at least, when I saw) the film, it actually made me question whether I’d vote for him. It’s not that the performance was bad, it’s just — I was expecting one thing, and got something way, way more theatrical. And it let me down. That’s all. Colman is a dude who was gonna get an Oscar, so it’s not like he shouldn’t have won. It’s just, I might not vote for him.

Garfield — Body and Soul is John Garfield’s only lead acting nomination. It’s a boxing noir. You know about those. They’re all pretty much the same. Fighter, trying to make money for ma and pa, pa dies tragically, he goes on, hungry, starts working up the ranks, gets involved with some shady mobsters, falls in love with a girl, the mobsters eventually tell him to take a dive, he doesn’t want to, it causes marital strife, and he needs to decide between redemption or not. Very standard story.

Now, the film, despite the fact that you’ve seen it a dozen times, works. It’s very good. The reasons for this are the cinematography (James Wong Howe did some of the most innovative fight choreography with this one. He was in the ring on roller skates. This was a major influence on the fight scenes of Raging Bull) and Garfield’s performance. He’s strong here. I didn’t feel the performance was good enough to win, but I like the nomination. It’s nice to see him get some love. (Because the industry would kill him four years after this — they blacklisted him, and caused him so much worry he stressed himself into a major coronary. Really terrible stuff.) But I can’t vote for him. Colman and Peck were better choices.

Peck — Gentleman’s Agreement is a film about anti-Semitism. Peck is a reporter who goes undercover as a Jew to test just how deep anti-Semitism in America runs. And he discovers some wild shit. He experiences it first hand, and it almost ruins his life. It’s a pretty powerful film. Really great.

Peck is amazing here, as he often is. And he was actually good enough to win. The vote’s gonna come down to him and Colman,

Powell — Life with Father is a comic story (kind of like an O. Henry or something) about a father trying to deal with his family. Powell is the father, and he’s strict and likes his things a particular way, and most of the family deals with it. And the film is mainly episodic, little episodes that are remembered from childhood. It’s almost like A Christmas Story, but if it weren’t quite done correctly. You know? It just feels slow and not funny. One of those films that’s just — flat. It’s weird. I tried to like it, but I just couldn’t. It’s just — there. The pieces were there, but — nothing.

Powell is fine, but, it’s not win material. His best chances to win were in the 30s (where he should have won, but didn’t). He feels out of place here. I love him, but, I can’t vote for him (and I wanted to vote for him).

Redgrave — Mourning Becomes Electra is a long ass film version of the long ass play. And it’s pretty great. I thought I’d hate it, but I was engaged for most of the almost three hours of this film. I’m not gonna summarize the plot, because it’s long and — who cares?

Just know that Michael Redgrave and Rosalind Russell are tremendous in this film. The performance that Michael Redgrave gives alongside Russell — if he were a bigger star and gave the same performance, he would have won this. Or, at least, he would have had a Rosalind Russell type deal where he should have won and was fucked over by the Academy going with a lighter performance. He’s really good here. It’s just that he’s not well-know. And for me, that hurts a person. Because I could vote for an unknown with a great performance, or vote for Gregory Peck with a great performance. Of course I’m gonna take Peck (unless I really loved the performance, which I didn’t. It’s great, but it didn’t need to win). That’s just how it is. So Redgrave is a third choice here. Good, but I can’t vote for him.

My Thoughts: Tough category. It’s pretty weak. I love John Garfield and William Powell, but they just weren’t good enough to vote for here. Redgrave might have been, but he’s not really well enough known, and it’s the kind of performance I’d only vote for if I absolutely had to. And I don’t have to. So I’m not voting for it.

So that leaves Colman and Peck. Colman should be an easy winner here. The role is fantastic. But he overacts the performance so much that he really screws himself out of an easy vote from me. It’s not so bad, because he won, and he probably deserved to win, but his overacting really leaves me to vote for Peck, who actually was also good enough to win. So it’s not like I’m sacrificing performance or anything. It’s just — I really want to be on board with the Colman win, and I am (as an end result), but I can’t be (in terms of voting for it). So it’s Peck for me.

My Vote: Peck

Should Have Won: Peck, Colman (in his own way)

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. It’s him or Peck, and Peck won his later on, so this is okay, in the grand scheme of things.

Performances I suggest you see: You need to see Gentleman’s Agreement. Don’t be an anti-Semite.

Mourning Becomes Electra features great performances and is a good film. If you feel you can sit through it (like you would a stage version of this play), absolutely see it. It’s good.

Body and Soul I highly recommend. It’s a really strong noirish boxing movie. Great film here.

A Double Life is a good film. Really solid in everything except the execution of the lead performance. I just can’t help but feel that it’s too histrionic. It feels like a stage performance. But, still, the film works in spite of that. It’s worth seeing.

Life with Father — enjoyable, but not great. It just feels kind of flat.


5) Powell

4) Colman

3) Garfield

2) Redgrave

1) Peck


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