The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1949
Still not sure what I think about 1949. All the King’s Men wins Best Picture, which I think was probably the strongest choice among the nominees. It’s a really great movie. It’s just on the weaker side of all-time Best Picture choices, and that tends to make me feel like the year is on the weak side.
Broderick Crawford won Best Actor for the film (talked about here) and Mercedes McCambridge won Best Supporting Actress for it (talked about here), both of which were terrific decisions. Best Actress was Olivia de Havilland for The Heiress (talked about here), which is one of the best decisions of all time in the Best Actress category (though that specific category was so weak it’s beyond words). And Best Director was Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter to Three Wives (talked about here), which made absolutely no fucking sense to me at all. I cannot even begin to understand how they came to that decision.
And then there’s this category. This is another one of those decisions that I just don’t understand. Sure, the category was weak as hell, but — not Ralph Richardson? After the year he had?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1949
And the nominees were…
John Ireland, All the King’s Men
Dean Jagger, Twelve O’Clock High
Arthur Kennedy, Champion
Ralph Richardson, The Heiress
James Whitmore, Battleground
Ireland — All the King’s Men is a great film and a Best Picture winner. About the rise and fall of a politician. We see Willie Stark from his days as an idealistic candidate, to his rise to governor, and how he loses his scruples and becomes corrupt along the way. It’s a brilliant film.
Ireland plays a reporter who happens upon Stark at the beginning of the film and sort of follows him along the way. He takes a liking to him and sticks by him all along the way. He’s our eyes in the story, and sticks by Stark even when he’s totally corrupted. It’s a good performance, but he’s more of the lead of the film. It feels like he bullied his way into the category. I don’t like voting for leads. Plus the performance isn’t really standout as a lead or supporting.
Jagger — Twelve O’Clock High is a film about an air force regiment during World War II. They’re a group that’s suffered heavy losses, and their morale is down. And because of that, their performance is terrible. And Gregory Peck is assigned to it, and is a hard-ass. It’s like John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima, which, coincidentally, both were nominated for Best Actor this year. And Peck shows up and is a hard-ass and gets the men into shape, even though they hate him. But then they realize that he’s helping them, and they come around.
Anyway, Jagger is sort of the assistant officer to Peck — the guy who does all the paperwork and stuff. And he sits there and sees all of this happen. He’s the guy everyone comes to with all their stuff. Like, they all apply for transfers out of the unit and they have to go through him. And then Peck has him delay the transfers long enough for them to realize he’s not that big of an asshole. And he’s basically there throughout the film, and is our frame story narrative. So that’s something.
Overall, I don’t really see what Jagger did to deserve this win at all. To me, he was barely in the film, didn’t have much of an arc, and didn’t give that memorable a performance. To me, this category is Ralph Richardson all the way. But that’s just me.
Kennedy — Champion is Kirk Douglas’s star-making film. The film begins with him and his brother, played by Kennedy, who is crippled (the brother, not Kennedy), trying to get work at a restaurant. But then they find out it was a lie. So then, with the promise of some money, Douglas enters a prize fight. And he wins and becomes a boxer. And the film follows him as he rises to the top and becomes a huge dick to all the people who got him there.
Kennedy acts as the conscience of the film, and it makes sense that they nominated him. However, this is not his best nominated performance, and I see it as a start to his many nominations. The first “validation” nomination. I like that he’s here, but I’m not voting for him.
Richardson — The Heiress is a terrific film, about Olivia de Havilland as a plain woman who falls in love with Montgomery Clift. And Ralph Richardson plays de Havilland’s father, who thinks Clift is only after her for her money. And she, having never been in love before, falls head over heels for Clift and plans to run away with him. But Richardson tells her that if she does, he’ll disown her, and she won’t get any of his money. He tells her to take a year and go to Europe, and if she still wants to marry him after that, he won’t object. And she plans on running away with Clift anyway, and tells him what her father thinks. And then, that night, when she’s going to run away with him, Clift never shows up (making it seem like he was after her money all along). And then de Havilland becomes bitter and has an argument with Richardson, who dies shortly after. Then Clift comes back and says he still loves her, and she seemingly goes along with it. But then, at the end of the film, when he comes to elope with her, she coldly doesn’t answer the door. It’s a great film. Olivia de Havilland is terrific in it.
Richardson plays a really complex part here. He’s a dude who loves his daughter, but is also disappointed in her because she hasn’t gotten married. But then, when she does find a man, he disapproves of him. And he tells her he’ll disown her, and then when she tells him to go ahead and do it, he doesn’t. And dies. It’s a really complex part, and Richardson plays it beautifully. Not to mention, he was also in The Fallen Idol this year, which was 1948, but it technically counted for this year (since Carol Reed was nominated for Best Director for it this year). So, with those two performances, I don’t see how he’s not an automatic winner here.
Whitmore — Battleground is an amazing film. One of my favorite war movies. It’s a film about the men stationed in Bastogne during World War II. The men go into the forest, and get trapped there by the bad weather, and get surrounded by Germans all throughout the winter, with no supplies able to come in to help them. So they face a battle of lasting the winter without running out of supplies and not being overrun by the Germans. It’s a great story. And the film is so well-made. It feels like you’re on location in this forest. It’s terrific.
James Whitmore plays the platoon sergeant, and he doesn’t really have all that much to do as compared to everyone else. It’s an ensemble film, but a Best Picture film requires some sort of acting nomination, so Whitmore became the lucky man. Think of this as the nomination he didn’t get for Shawshank.
He is memorable, though, when you watch the film. He chews tobacco and is tough as nails. He does a good job with it. But if I voted for him, it would pretty much be me voting for the film and not the performance. And with Ralph Richardson having the year he had — that makes him the vote.
My Thoughts: I just don’t get it. What did Jagger do here? Maybe it’s because they liked him? I mean, the category’s not strong enough to where I hate the decision, but Richardson’s performance in The Heiress alone is enough to give him the vote. Add to that his great performance in The Fallen Idol (which, even though it’s a 1948 film, was eligible for Oscars this year, as evidenced by Carol Reed being nominated for Best Director for it) should really have put everything over the top. To me, it’s Richardson all the way. And otherwise, for me no one else really delivered a performance worth voting for. Ireland was good, but he was a bit too much of a main character for my tastes, and Whitmore — I love his film, so I give him preference over Jagger. Either way, this, to me is Richardson all the way.
My Vote: Richardson
Should Have Won: Richardson
Is the result acceptable?: No. Watch Richardson’s two performances against Jagger’s. You’ll see.
Performances I suggest you see: I highly, highly, highly recommend All the King’s Men, The Heiress and Battleground. They’re all terrific films, and are all very much worth seeing. They’re all amazing. You really should see them.
Twelve O’Clock High is a pretty good film. I didn’t love it the way some people do, but I liked it quite a bit. Recommended.