The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1945

1945. Very strong year, in context. The Lost Weekend wins Best Picture, Best Director for Billy Wilder, and Best Actor for Ray Milland (talked about here). All fantastic decisions.

Best Actress this year was Joan Crawford for Mildred Pierce, and since I haven’t written the category up yet, I haven’t decided who I’m voting for, but regardless, it was a good decision. And Best Supporting Actress this year was Anne Revere for National Velvet, which is another perfect decision (talked about here).

So that leaves us with this category. And actually, along with Best Supporting Actress, this is my favorite category of the year. Rare for a Supporting Actor category to be tops.


And the nominees were…

Michael Chekhov, Spellbound

John Dall, The Corn is Green

James Dunn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Robert Mitchum, The Story of G.I. Joe

J. Carrol Naish, A Medal for Benny

Chekhov — Spellbound is a Hitchcock film. This is back when everything he did got nominated for awards. It’s like the Clint Eastwood run in the early 2000s. Then they just ignored him except when he threw together an exceptionally brilliant effort.

This one’s about Ingrid Bergman, a psychoanalyst (the fact that the entire film is about psychoanalysis pretty much ruined any chance I had of really liking this film past the Hitchcock respect that all his films get), wh meets Gregory Peck, another doctor. But soon, she starts realizing that he isn’t who he says he is. He tells her he killed the real doctor and took his place, but doesn’t know who he is. Bergman doesn’t think he really killed the dude but says he did out of guilt. And he flees, because everyone finds out, and she follows him, in order to figure out the truth and clear his name.

And they go talk to Chekhov, who was Bergman’s mentor when she was in school. And they analyze this trippy dream that Peck had (it was designed by Dali) that looks like this:

And they analyze the dream and help Peck get his memory back, and they realize he was set up and — I’m not ruining it. The important thing here is Checkov.

He’s not really in the film all that much, and I’m kind of surprised they nominated him. But then you realize that this is the same dude that developed a much-adhered to acting method under the tutelage of Stanislavski. So, to me, this nomination is kind of like Lee Strasberg being nominated for The Godfather Part II or Eve Le Gallienne being nominated for Resurrection. Famous acting teachers on film, they want to nominate them. That’s cool. Not gonna vote for him though. He didn’t do anything here.

Dall — The Corn is Green is a Bette Davis melodrama where she teaches John Dall how to read. That’s the film. She’s a teacher, he’s like, “I want to read,” and she teaches him. And some shit happens during. Pretty standard.

Dall is fine here. He’s believable, does a good job with the role. That said — never gonna vote for this film in a million years. Do you really think I’d vote for him over Robert Mitchum? Come on, now.

Dunn — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is such a wonderful film.

I actually knew nothing about it before the Oscar Quest. I might have heard about it here or there, but it never stuck as something I needed to see. I know the book is really famous, and the film was directed by Elia Kazan, but somehow I never encountered the book at all and it never really stuck that this was a Kazan film (his first, actually). So I went into this totally cold. And man, did I enjoy the hell out of this one. This was one of the best movies I saw from this Oscar Quest (a list that will be provided soon).

The film is about an Irish family in Brooklyn. They’re poor, but happy. The mother, Dorothy McGuire, scrubs the floors of the building to help pay the rent, while the father, played by Dunn, waits tables. He’s a good father and a hard worker, but he’s also an alcoholic. So he’s constantly unable to support the family, despite wanting nothing more than to do that.

And we spend a few months with them, it’s very episodic. But captivating nonetheless. The big dramatic moment in the film is when the mother finds out she’s pregnant, and Dunn, determined to find work, goes out into the cold of winter to do so, and then dies of pneumonia. And the great thing about it is — the film continues after this. It’s so wonderful. You need to see this one. It’s so good.

Dunn is terrific here, and hands down the best in the category. This is his Oscar all the way.

Mitchum — The Story of G.I. Joe is sort of a love letter to the forgotten soldiers. The ones who don’t get credit. Like — Patton gets lauded because he’s a big figure. This is about The Pvts. and Sgts. that do all the work, take most of the risk, and get none of the credit.

Burgess Meredith plays Ernie Pyle, who was a real war correspondent (who died not long after this was released). And he follows this platoon around and documents them. And Robert Mitchum plays the Staff Sergeant of the platoon, who allows Meredith to go along with them. And he’s a dude who is — the unsung hero of life. That guy who has to take shit from the higher ups, but is higher than the regular working class stiffs, and he’s constantly put-upon by people who aren’t involved in the day-to-day of everything, like, “Do better, work harder,” and he has to say yes while also knowing the people under him won’t like it. And he’s got the toughest job of all, because he’s at the mercy of the people above and below him, and gets no credit whatsoever.

To put it in movie terms — he’s the producer of the film. Like, the real, hands-on producer who has to scout locations, call people up to film there, deal with the problems of the actors, or the “the horse we got died and we can’t get another one before we start rolling” — shit like that. Meanwhile, when that film comes out, Steven Spielberg gets all the credit because he runs the company, even though all he did was check in every now and again.

It’s a very important role. Mitchum is good here. He wasn’t as good as Dunn, but, because he is who he is, and the nature of the role in general, I’d put him second for a vote. This is one of those roles that signifies more than it appears to be on the surface.

Naish — A Medal for Benny is a dramatic version of Hail the Conquering Hero, in a way. And, without the satire behind it — it doesn’t work.

A dude from a small town is in the army. He’s poor, lives in the slums. And he wasn’t a very heroic guy, but the army decides to paint him as one and give him a medal to make it seem like this big heroic thing. And Naish plays his father, who is overly proud of his son, who has to find out (after all this hoopla gets started. He finds out they’re giving the kid a medal but doesn’t know he’s dead) his son is dead.

Naish is fine here, but — the film really isn’t very strong and there were much better choices to be made in the category. He’s an easy #5 here.

My Thoughts: Dunn all the way. No rationalization needed. He gave the best performance by far. Mitchum is a close second because of who he is, but even so, it’s Dunn all the way.

My Vote: Dunn

Should Have Won: Dunn

Is the result acceptable?: Hell yeah. Top ten or fifteen decision of all time in the category.

Performances I suggest you see: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is such a touching film. It’s really quite perfect in its own way. I have no idea how similar or not it is to the book, but if it is, this might be one of the finest literary adaptations ever put to screen. The film is incredible. I highly suggest you check this one out, especially if you have (and even haven’t) read the book. This film was perfect to me without having read it.

Spellbound is a Hitchcock film, which automatically gives it something similar to “must watch” status. It’s personally not one of my favorite Hitchcock films, but being a Hitchcock film does give it a certain level of quality. Me not loving it in comparison to some of his other films is like saying, “Yeah, I slept with that supermodel, but she wasn’t as good as some of the other supermodels I’ve slept with.” If you’re a film person, you’ve going to end up seeing this movie, along with at least 60% of the other movies Hitchcock made. So just watch it and ignore what I think.

The Story of G.I. Joe is a pretty solid film. I like it a lot. It evokes exactly the feeling it wishes to evoke, and does what it sets out to do, which is pay tribute to the soldiers that don’t get enough credit. Sure, the Sergeant York’s and the Patton’s get all the acclaim, but the staff sergeants busting their asses all their lives for nothing more than a pension (if they make it) are the ones this film is trying to pay tribute to. It’s a very solid film. Better than a lot of World War II movies I’ve seen (especially those made during the war), and that’s saying something, considering I don’t really like World War II movies.


5) Naish

4) Dall

3) Chekhov

2) Mitchum

1) Dunn

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