The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1954
1954 is a real easy year to recap.
On the Waterfront wins Best Picture, Best Director for Elia Kazan (talked about here), Best Supporting Actress for Eva Marie Saint (talked about here), and this category. All perfect decisions, obviously.
The two non-Waterfront winners were, first, Grace Kelly as Best Actress for The Country Girl. This is perhaps the most hotly contested Oscar category of all time, so you can read my thoughts on the matter here. And the other was Best Supporting Actor, which went to Edmond O’Brien for The Barefoot Contessa (talked about here). I’d have preferred a Waterfront nominee, but O’Brien was definitely worth an Oscar, so the decision works.
And then here — it’s Brando, it’s Waterfront. That “contender” speech alone gives him this Oscar.
BEST ACTOR – 1954
And the nominees were…
Humphrey Bogart, The Caine Mutiny
Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront
Bing Crosby, The Country Girl
James Mason, A Star is Born
Dan O’Herlihy, Robinson Crusoe
Bogart — The Caine Mutiny is such a great, great film. What a classic of cinema. You probably should have seen it.
Bogart, of course, plays the captain of the ship. And he’s brilliant in the role. One of the best performances he ever gave. Better than the performance he won his Oscar for. Ironically, for that Oscar, he beat Brando for A Streetcar Named Desire, so this is a nice little complement to that. He was great, but ain’t no one beating Brando here.
Brando — It’s On the Waterfront. Come on, now.
Obviously he wins this.
Crosby — Another terrific performance. This is really one of the strongest Best Actor categories of all time.
The Country Girl is about William Holden, who is putting on a new play. And he wants Crosby to star in it. Problem is — he’s a has-been. He’s a drunk who hasn’t been in anything good for years. But Holden believes this could be his big ticket back. So he gets him an audition, and even gets him the part. And he goes to meet with him, and meets his wife (Grace Kelly). And she comes off as cold and domineering to Holden, and he sees Crosby as a struggling drunk whose wife is sapping his confidence and holding him back.
So then rehearsals start, and Crosby seems to be doing really well. But then when Kelly shows up, he sees Crosby’s demeanor change. And then Crosby starts making all these demands, and Holden thinks its Kelly’s doing. Plus Crosby keeps making all these asides about how bad she is, which leads to Holden disliking her even more, and clashing with her. But then, of course, their antagonism turns into passion, and they begin an affair. And Holden confronts her about it, and discovers that it’s not her who is the problem — it’s Crosby. We find out that he’s the demanding alcoholic, and she’s standing by him. And Holden realizes what a conniving douchebag Crosby has been, and realizes that Kelly is actually the victim of all this. And then Crosby goes on stage opening night and is a hit, and his success, which once looked like redemption is now totally bittersweet. And Holden tells Kelly to come away with him, since now Crosby is a success again, and he knows that she’s only in for more suffering if she stays with him, but she refuses and sticks by him.
The film is really great. And with all the press that Kelly gets for her performance, the real revelation here is Crosby. He’s fucking amazing. In a way, I’m glad that he won his Oscar ten years before this, since his performance here is good enough to win almost every other year. He’s fucking terrific in this. Still, can’t vote for him because of Brando. It’s almost always the categories with the absolute winner that are the strongest.
Mason — A Star is Born is another classic film. You should probably have seen one version of it.
It’s about a girl, small town, moves to Hollywood to be an actress, meets and falls in love with a fading, alcoholic movie star. Her career takes off while his plummets into the ground. It comes to the point where they think he’s holding her back. She stands by him because she loves him. He drowns himself so she can be a success. It’s a terrific, terrific story.
Mason is great here as Norman Maine. I can’t fully get on board with the performance because I saw Frederic March do the same thing 27 years earlier. I love the original and the March performance, so to me, this is just a higher profile retread of that. Plus Brando’s in this category anyway, so he never had a shot regardless. So it’s all pretty irrelevant. To me he’s a #4 here. Maybe a #3 because Bogart and Crosby won. But even then, maybe not. Still Brando’s category.
O’Herlihy — You should probably know the story of Robinson Crusoe. It’s pretty famous.
This film version is really interesting because it was directed by Luis Buñuel. That would kind of be like hearing a film version of Pride and Prejudice was directed by David Lynch. That’s seriously what this is like.
Anyway, O’Herlihy makes a good Crusoe. At first I wasn’t entirely with the film, but by the end, I was totally on board with the nomination. He has to carry the film. I’m cool with him being here. He’s clearly a #5 though. But I’m cool with the nomination. That’s nice.
My Thoughts: Brando. No contest.
Crosby comes a distant second. Thank god he won ten years earlier, because he was good enough to win this. Bogart was also great, but he beat Brando for Streetcar. That shit wasn’t happening again.
No one was beating Brando, though.
My Vote: Brando
Should Have Won: Brando
Is the result acceptable?: One of the best choices of all time. Top five.
Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen On the Waterfront, end it all. You’re doing it wrong.
You need to see The Caine Mutiny and A Star is Born. They’re essential, and if you don’t see them, you’re dead to me.
The Country Girl is an amazing film. See it, because you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy it. It’s amazing. If we were friends, I’d make you see it.
Robinson Crusoe is a really strong film. I love all the Crusoe films (Robinson Crusoe on Mars is terrific). Highly recommended.