The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1950

Ah, 1950. Everyone has an opinion on 1950. So I won’t editorialize too much. I’ll just recap.

All About Eve wins Best Picture, Best Director for Joseph L. Mankiewicz (talked about here), and this category. It beat Sunset Boulevard for Best Picture and Sunset Boulevard and The Third Man for Best Director.

José Ferrer wins Best Actor for Cyrano de Bergerac (talked about here), beating Jimmy Stewart for Harvey. Judy Holliday wins Best Actress for Born Yesterday (talked about here), beating Anne Baxter and Bette Davis for All About Eve and Gloria Swanson for Sunset Boulevard. And Josephine Hull wins Best Supporting Actress for Harvey (talked about here). That category was pretty strong too.

As you can see — lots of people have opinions on this year.

Then we have this category, which is actually pretty clear cut. So that’s nice.


And the nominees were…

Jeff Chandler, Broken Arrow

Edmund Gwenn, Mister 880

Sam Jaffe, The Asphalt Jungle

George Sanders, All About Eve

Erich von Stroheim, Sunset Boulevard

Chandler — Broken Arrow is a film most people wouldn’t consider an Oscar nominee. But it is.

Jimmy Stewart plays a man who comes across a wounded Apache boy. And, to be fair, he helps him, rather than kill him like he instinctually thinks to. And then he’s captured by the tribe, who let him go out of thanks. And when he gets back to town, he thinks that there might be more to the Apache than the whites think. They just assume they’re bloodthirsty and react accordingly. But Stewart realizes they may be rational people. So he goes back, and goes to Cochise to organize safe passage for a mail train, and Cochise, impressed by his bravery, brokers a deal with him to let the mail go through. And Stewart and Cochise become friends, and help broker peace between the whites and the Apaches. And Stewart falls in love with a young Apache girl, of course. But then Geronimo, one of Cochise’s tribe members, refuses to make peace, is banished, and is the antagonist of the film. He also ends up killing Stewart’s wife. And the end of the film is them being like, “Peace may not be at hand, but at least we realize who the real danger is.” It’s a great entry into the western genre, and one of the first revisionist westerns.

Jeff Chandler plays Cochise, and this is one of those performances that’s nominated not because of the performance, but rather what it signifies. I totally understand this nomination, because seeing Cochise treated asa rational human being in 1950 would be like if someone made Downfall in the 70s. It’s unheard of to see someone universally vilified as a protagonist who you actually feel for, in a way. (Though, obviously, Hitler is still Hitelr.) So it’s a very important role. As for a vote — no way. Get the hell out of here. But I like that it was nominated, though. That’s nice. Rarely does the western get any kind of “official” support.

Gwenn — Mister 880 is a film about Burt Lancaster as a Secret Service agent on the trail of a man who has been counterfeiting money for years. It’s kind of like Catch Me If You Can, but instead of Leo as the guy doing it, it’s Edmund Gwenn, a nice old man. He counterfeits money and goes to all these local places. And he’s been doing it for years and years. And to Lancaster, he’s just some dude that should go to jail. And it obsesses him, since this man has never been caught. And eventually, they find him, and see that he’s just a nice old man, and eventually Lancaster goes easy on him. It’s actually a really strong film.

Gwenn plays the counterfeiter, and — he made a living playing nice old men during this time. He was Santa Claus, for christ’s sake! It’s a nice performance and all, but — there’s one thing about this performance that bugs me…

I’m pretty sure, nowadays, this dude would be considered a pedophile. All he does is go around, playing with kids, while also handing out counterfeit bills. Sure, they treat it as nice and innocent, but watch this with a 21st century eye and you tell me what it looks like.

Oh, also, not voting for him, since he had an Oscar from three years earlier, and because Sanders was better.

Jaffe — The Asphalt Jungle is a John Huston noir crime film.

Sam Jaffe plays a criminal mastermind who gets out of prison and immediately starts planning a heist. It’s actually a lot like Rififi, which most people say drew heavily from this film. Both have a long, nearly silent heist sequence at the center of the film. And basically this film is Jaffe assembling a cast of criminals to pull off this heist for the first half, and then the whole thing unraveling in the second half. It’s a great crime film. One of the best ever made. John Huston had a tendency to do that — make great versions of whatever type of film he decided to make.

Jaffe does a good job here, and deserved the nomination, but it’s nothing more than a ‘nomination is the reward’ deal. He had no shot at winning, nor would I vote for him. I respect the performance, but this category is between the final two nominees.

Great film, though.

Sanders — All About Eve is a film you need to have seen. You don’t get a synopsis.

Sanders plays the most conniving, scumbag critic possibly ever put to film. He is divine in the role. He is really, really great. What I liked best about it is how he had this ability as an actor to speak very, very quickly, fit a lot of lines into a short amount of time, and still have it flow so beautifully and have it make sense. He speaks really quickly here, and, as I’m a huge fan of dialogue, I like when actors have that ability to speak quickly and clearly. Listen to him talk here — it’s like poetry. He’s clearly the one to vote for here, along with Stroheim. After that it’s a matter of personal preference.

Stroheim — Sunset Boulevard is also film you probably should have seen. It’s pretty famous.

Stroheim plays Norma Desmond’s faithful butler. He’s great in the role. We know this. And he has the benefit of also being a classic director from the silent era, and has the benefit of having been terrific in Grand Illusion in an acting role. That’s a lot of stuff going for him. The category pretty much comes down to him and Sanders. I think most people would agree with that. Which do you vote for? Well, we’re gonna find out right now…

My Thoughts: It’s either Sanders or Stroheim. Gwenn won already for a better performance, Jaffe wasn’t worth a vote, and Chandler, while I liked it — no. Just no. So it’s Sanders or Stroheim, and the essential choice between the same two films that exists everywhere this year.

You vote for Sanders for the performance, and Stroheim for the history. I, personally, vote Sanders for the performance. He was just too good not to vote for.

My Vote: Sanders

Should Have Won: Sanders or Stroheim. Mostly Sanders.

Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. Watch the performance. You’ll see.

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen All About Eve or Sunset Boulevard, you’re dead to me.

You should probably see Broken Arrow. It’s a pretty classic western. Really well-done. Kind of like Pocahontas, but with Jimmy Stewart. Highly recommended.

The Asphalt Jungle is a solid film. Great noir directed by the great John Huston. Highly recommended.

Mister 880 is a really strong film. Also criminally underseen. Highly recommend this one. Lancaster, McGuire and Gwenn are great in it. Strong film.


5) Jaffe

4) Gwenn

3) Chandler

2) Sanders

1) Stroheim

One response

  1. j

    Sanders provides one of the best supporting performances ever, and the best winning supporting actor performance. I think he actually deserved to win for this and for Rebecca.

    Stroheim was forgettable.

    March 18, 2012 at 4:37 pm

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