The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1961

1961 is one of those years that’s so good that you can afford to get upset with it. I sometimes go off about how much I think I don’t like it, and then I realize, “Shit, I’m arguing between two or even three great films.”

West Side Story wins Best Picture, Best Director for Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins (talked about here), Best Supporting Actor for George Chakiris (talked about here) and Best Supporting Actress for Rita Moreno (talked about here). All would be perfect decisions in almost any year but this one. This one, however, has at least two other strong nominees in all the categories, which leads to situations where you think the winners weren’t good decisions.

Best Actress this year was Sophia Loren for Two Women (talked about here). I won’t get into it too much, but — I just don’t like it. I don’t.

And this category — the other one I really don’t like. This, to me, is one of the top five worst Best Actor decisions of all time. It’s horrible. Sure, they sort of made up for it, but the snub in and of itself is Unforgivable.


And the nominees were…

Charles Boyer, Fanny

Paul Newman, The Hustler

Maximilian Schell, Judgment at Nuremberg

Spencer Tracy, Judgment at Nuremberg

Stuart Whitman, The Mark

Boyer — Fanny is a film that I was actually surprised to see nominated for so many awards. I love it. It’s one of those films I watched the first time and was like, “Well, that was enjoyable,” and then forgot about it. Then I watched it again, and liked it. And again. And I realized that it’s one of those films that I can just watch. I like that about it.

Basically, Charles Boyer is a bar/restaurant owner at the French seaside. And his son is Horst Buchholz. Horst really wants to go off and see the world. Boyer wants him to take over the business. There’s also Leslie Caron, who is in love with Horst and is expecting to marry him. And he secretly books passage on a ship to go away the next day. And he ends up sleeping with Caron before he goes, and leaves anyway. However, she finds out she’s pregnant soon after he leaves. So what she does is agree to marry Maurice Chevalier, an older gentleman who had been wanting to marry her. And they get married and raise the child together. And then Buchholz comes back and tries to be with Caron, but she says no, since Chevalier has been such a good father. And then some years pass and Chevalier dies, and tells Buchholz (who he knows Caron is in love with) to marry her, but only if the child can keep his last name.

It’s a really good film. Boyer is Buchholz’s father, and it’s basically a veteran nom. He’s nice and feisty, and it’s a good performance and all. One of those, “Nice to see him get some recognition, but he’ll never win” nominations. There was no way he was winning here. Definitely like the performance, though.

Newman — It’s The Hustler. You need to have seen it.

Newman wins this award. Hands down. It’s not even a question.

Schell — I love double nominations. And I love this film. Which makes this easy.

Judgment at Nuremberg is a film about the Nuremberg trials. It’s perfect, and is a film you probably should have seen.

Schell plays the lawyer tasked to be the defense attorney. And rather do what everyone thinks he should do, and half-ass the job, since everyone knows they’re guilty, he pours himself into the defense, believing that due process is more important than obvious guilt. It’s a very idealistic and passionate performance by Schell. The only thing is — he’s not really the lead of the film. He’s more of a strong supporting character. I understand why they’d want to vote for it, and I might have even done so myself. Except Paul Newman is also in this category playing perhaps his most (well, one of them) iconic role. (And Schell really was more of a supporting character. Piece of trivia: He has the record for a Best Actor winner with the lowest billing. He’s fifth on the billing. Doesn’t really sound like a lead, does it?)

Tracy — Spencer Tracy plays the American presiding judge over the case. He’s pretty much our main character in the film. His big thing is about whether he should go with patriotism or justice. It’s actually a very heavy decision, since the whole thing is basically up to him and the other judges.

It’s a good performance. Not one I’d really vote for, simply because he had two, and I felt he was better in Inherit the Wind and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but he was good. Schell was the better choice for the film (even though he wasn’t really a lead).

Whitman — And, The Mark. This is the film I know almost no one has seen (because it’s one of the last ones I was able to find, and isn’t on DVD at all). But it’s really great.

Whitman is a convicted child molester. we open with him in prison, talking to a psychiatrist. And we see that he’s been rehabilitated. He’s come to terms with his affliction, he knows how to deal with it if he gets the urge — we truly believe that he’s better. And the film, of course, is a series of things that will put him in a position to possibly do it again, or fail because everyone thinks he’s going to do it again. And that’s the film. He gets a nice apartment under a new identity. He starts seeing a woman (who naturally has a young child). And we see him around the child, and he’s fine. It’s almost like alcoholism. When he’s stressed, the temptation goes up. And then there’s outside pressure. A crime is committed and they drag him in for questioning, even though we know he didn’t do it. It’s just a fascinating film. Especially for 1961. Here’s a film that takes a child molester, makes him sympathetic, and even makes him a victim (after the obvious crime, of course. But even that is put in perspective and you sort of understand that in the context of illness). I really liked it.

Whitman is really great in the role, and I get the nomination. I don’t think he should have won, but I feel like it’s one of those performances where — a nice pocket of people will really think he should have won. I like those performances. Because I can understand it. I wouldn’t vote for him, but I understand the people who would.

My Thoughts: It’s Newman. It’s not even close.

Boyer is a veteran nominee and had no shot. He was very enjoyable though.

The Nuremberg nominees cancel each other out, not to mention that it was clearly an ensemble film. No one individual should have won for it. And if they did, it should have been Supporting.

Whitman — I need to see the film, still, but even so, no one will change my vote away from Paul Newman.

Newman’s performance alone makes him the only person to vote for here. All others aside — it’s clearly his category. Let’s not overthink this.

My Vote: Newman

Should Have Won: Newman

Is the result acceptable?: One of the worst single decisions in Academy history. As acknowledged by everybody.

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen The Hustler and Judgment at Nuremberg, you’re dead to me.

You should see Fanny. It’s thoroughly enjoyable. Plus, if you love Leslie Caron, as I do — you want to see this one. It’s awesome.


5) Whitman

4) Boyer

3) Tracy

2) Schell

1) Newman

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