The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1935
I’m not the biggest fan of 1935. It’s strange to me how the Academy could choose a film for so many awards and not give it Best Picture. The Informer wins Best Director for John Ford (talked about here), Band this category (and even Best Screenplay), and yet, Mutiny on the Bounty wins Best Picture. It’s the only film to only win Best Picture and nothing else despite being nominated for other awards. That’s what makes it so strange.
The other award — remember, no Supporting categories yet. That’s the year after this — was Best Actress, which went to Bette Davis for Dangerous (talked about here). That’s largely a blatant makeup Oscar of Jimmy Stewart proportions. It’s acceptable, because it didn’t interrupt all that much, but I hate the decision. It’s far too blatant and short-sighted.
Which brings us to this category. I love it. I love it so much. Thank god Laughton had an Oscar already, because otherwise this might not have happened. And it deserved to happen. McLaglen was amazing.
BEST ACTOR – 1935
And the nominees were…
Clark Gable, Mutiny on the Bounty
Charles Laughton, Mutiny on the Bounty
Victor McLaglen, The Informer
Paul Muni, Black Fury
Franchot Tone, Mutiny on the Bounty
Gable — Triple nomination. How many times you see that in the Best Actor category? (I’ll tell you how many — never. Outside of this one. Purely because Tone is actually a supporting character in the film, and Best Supporting Actor wouldn’t be created until the year after this.)
It’s Mutiny on the Bounty. It’s very famous. You should probably know about it.
Clark Gable is Fletcher Christian, who starts the mutiny against Captain Bligh. It’s a good performance, and a great character, but let’s not pretend this isn’t Clark Gable doing Clark Gable. Plus he won the year before this. He never had a shot.
Laughton — Charles Laughton plays Captain Bligh. It’s clearly the most iconic character on this list, and had he not won three years earlier, he’d have won this hands down. But, he won, and I love Victor McLaglen, so he doesn’t get a vote. We blame the Academy here.
McLaglen — The Informer is such a brilliant movie. Victor McLaglen is an Irish man whose friend is a member of the IRA. And the Brits in town offer a big reward for anyone who will tell them about hie whereabouts. It’s not a big reward, but it’s like $20, which, at the time, is a lot of money in the right hands. It’s just enough to be perfect for this film. And McLaglen, in bad need of money, does it, and his friend is taken away and probably killed. And the rest of the film is about the horrible, crippling guilt he feels over it. It’s a tremendous performance. We see this dude totally unravel out of guilt. And there’s this one great interrogation scene near the end, that’s basically the climax of the film — the story is that John Ford told McLaglen that they weren’t shooting that day, knowing that he’d get good and drunk that night. And the next day, he called him to set really early, and McLaglen was hung over and feeling like shit. And you can totally see it in his performance. He’s sweating like crazy, and he looks like he’s physically ill. I love that story.
Anyway, McLaglen is fantastic here. It’s a performance where, if Laughton didn’t already have an Oscar, I might not vote for him, just because Laughton is more of a lead actor throughout history and McLaglen is more of a character actor (plus Bligh is more of an iconic role), but since Laughton had one, McLaglen is an easy choice here. A real easy one. Hell, I might have voted for him anyway even without it.
Muni — Black Fury is a film about miners. It’s basically about a labor dispute between the workers and the mine owners, and Paul Muni is an immigrant (Swedish) who gets caught in the middle of it despite not having chosen any side. His best friend gets killed, and then he starts fighting with the workers, and holds the mine hostage, threatening to blow it up if anyone comes down. And he holds out for a real long time, and they give in to the demands.
It’s actually a pretty good movie. I enjoyed it. I don’t really see what there was about his performance that required a win, but apparently the voting Academy in 1935 did, since he came in second based on write-in votes alone. And they liked the performance enough to make him an automatic winner the year after this. I, personally, think he’s been better. He was better the year after this and the year after that, not to mention later on in The Last Angry Man. This is good, but I don’t think he should have won for this. This, to me, is clearly a Laughton or McLaglen year.
Tone — Franchot Tone plays one of the crew members on the ship, who opposes the mutiny and tries to stop it. But later, when he encounters Bligh, Bligh thinks he was part of the mutiny, and brings him back to England and court-martials him. And he’s found guilty, even though he was Bligh’s biggest supporter. And before he is sentenced, he tells them how cruel Bligh was, and eventually he is pardoned and allowed to go back to sea. It’s a good role, and if Best Supporting Actor was around, he’d totally have won it. But it wasn’t so I can’t vote for him.
My Thoughts: It’s McLaglen all the way. Laughton runs a close second as Captain Bligh, but he won already, and that’s really the deciding factor. Gable is the weak second lead role that was good for a nomination but not the win (plus he won the year before this), and Tone is easily a supporting character (which possibly led to the creation of the category). And Muni — good, but he’d get his Oscar the year after this. It’s McLaglen all the way. He was so good here.
My Vote: McLaglen
Should Have Won: McLaglen
Is the result acceptable?: Oh hell yeah. Watch that performance. Spellbinding.
Performances I suggest you see: The Informer and Mutiny on the Bounty. If they’re not essential in the objective sense, they’re objective by me. Every American should see some version of Mutiny on the Bounty, just because it’s so classic a tale. The Brando version is good, but is all about the color and the awesome Tahitian landscape. They almost marginalize the Bligh character. Not here — Laughton is fucking terrific. This is the version I recommend. At least first. Then you can see the other version and watch all the great scenery. (And don’t bother with the Gibson/Hopkins version unless you really like the story. Watching that one first is like watching Down to Earth over Heaven Can Wait and saying you don’t need to see the latter.)