The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1963
I really don’t like 1963. In fact, I might go so far as to call it the single weakest year in the history of the Academy Awards. It has a weak Best Picture winner — Tom Jones — among a weak set of nominees, a weak Best Director winner — Tony Richardson for Tom Jones (talked about here) — a weak Best Actor winner — Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field (talked about here), which is a decision that is great historically, but I feel is weak because it’s basically like the mostly white Academy giving a black actor an Oscar on their own terms. Poitier played so many great roles, many of which were worth Oscars, yet they gave him an Oscar for playing a magical negro.
The year also features a weak Best Actress winner — Patricia Neal for Hud (talked about here), which I hate as a decision for many reasons, as talked about in the article — and a weak Best Supporting Actress winner — Margaret Rutherford for The V.I.P.s (talked about here), which is actually an okay decision, but the category was weak as hell and was crippled by three Tom Jones nominations.
The lone good decision from 1963 comes from this category (and even this one is slightly, ever so, but still, tainted by the terrible second win by Douglas in 1979). When your only good decision comes from the Best Supporting Actor category, you’re one shitty Oscar year.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1963
And the nominees were…
Nick Adams, Twilight of Honor
Bobby Darin, Captain Newman, M.D.
Melvyn Douglas, Hud
Hugh Griffith, Tom Jones
John Huston, The Cardinal
Adams — Fuckin’ wow. I loved this movie.
This was impossible to find for the longest time. It was one of the final eight movies I had to watch on the Quest. But, randomly, two months after this article was posted (almost to the day), I found this film. And wow. It was good. Really good.
The film is about the killing of a very respected man in a town. And they arrest a man for it and are going to put him on trial. It’s like — actually, there’s a movie comparison here — in His Girl Friday (or The Front Page, if that’s what you’re more familiar with), Earl Williams. It’s kind of like Earl Williams. Earl Williams by way of Tom Robinson (you better know who Tom Robinson is). A murder takes place, he’s the guy they pin it on. It’s going to be a public lynching. A trial is almost unfair. And they appoint Richard Chamberlain to defend the man (played by Adams). And he hasn’t tried a case in over three years (since his wife died, though he never really tried cases before that either. He’s not really that kind of lawyer).
And since this is a big deal to him. So he goes to his mentor (Claude Rains, in his penultimate film role) to discuss it (and there’s a love angle with Rains’s daughter and all that too), and they eventually realize that the reason this is all fixed up is because the man who was killed was having an affair with the defendant’s wife (who is basically a prostitute). And he goes about trying to prove all of this in court, and the whole thing is a pig circus (anyone get that reference?) — the fix is really in. And Chamberlain has to fight to prove all this. The great thing about the film is that what actually happen unfolds as it goes along. The film is more concerned with the trial than the facts. We really don’t know what actually happened until the last thirty minutes of the film.
Adams is great here. I like that they nominated him, because you’d think that Claude Rains would be the dude to be nominated. It’s kind of like in The Departed, when you’d expect them to nominate Nicholson, but then they go and nominate Wahlberg.
Adams plays the role perfectly. He’s not too bright, falls in love with this woman completely (even though it’s pretty clear it’s not mutual), and above all else, all he wants is to do right by her.
Darin — Captain Newman M.D. is a terrific film. Gregory Peck plays an army psychiatrist who runs the psych ward at a military hospital. And it’s a place that nobody wants to work. And the entry point into the story is Tony Curtis coming in and working there as an orderly. And we see Peck go about trying to cure all the men on the ward. It’s a terrific film. Definitely overlooked at the Oscars.
Bobby Darin plays an airman suffering from PTSD. But the thing is — he hides it. He’s very boorish, drinks and stuff. He hides what he’s really suffering from. And eventually Peck gets to the bottom of what is troubling him. I won’t tell you what happens, but Darin’s performance is quite astounding. And this is the dude who sang “Mack the Knife” and “Beyond the Sea.” This is kind of like Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm. It’s like, “Whoa — I didn’t know he could do that!”
Darin is utterly terrific here, and honestly, will strongly contend for a vote from me. There are two things holding him back, though — Melvyn Douglas’s performance, and John Huston.
Douglas — Hud is a really strong film about Paul Newman. Basically. Melvyn Douglas owns a farm, and is trying to keep it afloat. And he puts in really hard work and is also deeply religious. And Newman is basically a ne’er-do-well. The kind of performance Newman often played throughout his career. He doesn’t work, goes out, drinks, sleeps with married women. Basically gives his father a bad name. And he’s utterly in contempt of his father as well. He uses his father as the personification of his own issues. He doesn’t like that he was born in a place where his future is basically, grow up, get married, work on the farm, that’s it. He wants more. And he blames his father for there not being more. And we see Newman go around dealing with this. He’s got a younger brother (played by Brandon de Wile, who, ten years earlier was the kid in Shane), who he tries not to let fall into his behavior, and a crush on his housekeeper (played by Patricia Neal), who has basically been his nanny of sorts for a long time. It’s a good film. Newman and Douglas are terrific in it.
Douglas is Newman’s father, and he is disappointed in his son because he doesn’t share the same beliefs he does. And he and Newman fight for most of the film, and then he eventually dies. And Newman, of course, is hit really hard by this. It’s a good performance. I think it might have been the best in the category. I still remember it as being the best, which is saying something, since this is a dude who was involved in the single worst Best Supporting Actor decision of all time. So I have to like the performance if I’m willing to vote for it. And I am.
Griffith — Tom Jones is a picaresque film about a ne’er-do-well and a series of… well, a long series of things. Basically, Albert Finney goes around and fucks women, and goes so far as to almost get himself hanged, but at the last second, a series of coincidences saves his life. It’s a funny movie. Not a Best Picture winner, but a funny movie.
Hugh Griffith plays a Squire whose daughter Finney wants to marry. But he becomes convinced that Finney is evil and does all he can to prevent them from marrying. And then at the end he finds out that Finney is actually of more noble birth and comes to save him at the last minute. It’s a nice comic performance. I’m convinced they’d have given this to him had he not already won for Ben-Hur. Both performances are similar. He’s a dude who was very good in supporting roles, but in both cases, the fact that the film was going to win Best Picture helped make his performance seem better than it was. I wouldn’t have voted for him either time, but since he won the other one, I’m definitely not voting for him here. He was good, though.
Huston — The Cardinal is an amazing film. I always knew about this because it was largely cited as an example of how the production code was defeated.
I don’t even want to give you a synopsis of the film. Just watch it. It’s incredible. Think about what you couldn’t talk about in a movie in 1963. This movie talks about it. Race, abortion, premarital sex, Nazis — everything. It’s terrific.
John Huston plays a cardinal in the film. He’s not really in it all that much, and I didn’t really see so much from his character except the fact that I kept going, “Man, John Huston is playing this guy and it’s making it so much more interesting than if anyone else played him.” So the fact that Huston is playing the dude makes me all the more likely to vote for him. That and the film being so strong makes him a second choie for me here. Darin was a better performance, but Huston has the intangible working for him. So Huston is second. Douglas still gave the best performance, I felt.
My Thoughts: It’s Douglas. He was best. Griffith had his, Darin wasn’t as good as Griffith, and honestly, as much as I love Huston, Douglas was still better. Adams was really good, but also not as good as Douglas. (It’s a tight race for second between Adams and Huston. Adams almost certainly gave the better performance, but Huston is Huston, and I love him. Still, they both take a backseat to Douglas.) So Douglas gets my vote. What happened with him 16 years after this cannot be helped.
My Vote: Douglas
Should Have Won: Douglas, Huston (but only because he’s John Huston)
Is the result acceptable?: Yes. Best performance in the category.
Performances I suggest you see: You should see Hud. It’s really good. Great performances, great film. Highly recommended.
Captain Newman, MD is also a great film. I really enjoyed this one. Gregory Peck, Tony Curtis — strong film. Highly recommended as well.
Tom Jones is very enjoyable. I just don’t like that it won. It’s a very fun film, though. I recommend you check it out, if only to see why it shouldn’t have won.
The Cardinal — wow. What a film. I really loved this one. Considering its era, this is a powerful, powerful film. Admittedly, I saw it after having taken a class about the studio system and was really on top of just what things were like in the industry on a very specific level at this time, so its impact may have been stronger for me — even so, though, it’s a great film, and should mostly come off for you the way it did for me. Think of it this way — this was filmed around the time West Side Story won Best Picture and released before My Fair Lady did — and it deals with abortion, Nazis, and all this other juicy stuff. I think you understand why this is so powerful. Plus, it’s just great. It’s so well-made and engaging for its run time. I highly, highly recommend this one, from a viewing and a historical standpoint.
Twilight of Honor — you almost certainly can’t find it (though I may be able to help with that), but if you can see it — do so. It’s amazing. It really is. Trial films are always interesting. And this is no different. Great film. Nice hidden gem.