The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1955

1955 is a bit of a forgotten year in Academy history. Mostly because it’s small. A small film won the big awards, and the rest of the awards aren’t particularly memorable. So most people tend to overlook it.

Marty wins Best Picture, Best Director for Delbert Mann (talked about here), and Best Actor for Ernest Borgnine (talked about here). I love all the decisions, mostly because I love Marty, and because the year was very weak, and I think it was the best film in the bunch. (Could have done without Best Director, but whatever. James L. Brooks won for his film, so it’s not like it hasn’t happened.)

Best Actress was Anna Magnani for The Rose Tattoo (talked about here), which I don’t like because she’s not really an actress who needs an Academy Award, plus I felt Susan Hayward was much better in I’ll Cry Tomorrow, and if she’d won here, she wouldn’t have had to win in 1958 and then either Deborah Kerr or Rosalind Russell or Elizabeth Taylor could have won. (Kerr and Russell never won Oscars, and if Taylor won that year, she wouldn’t have had to win in 1960, and then Shirley MacLaine, the fifth nominee in 1958, could have won. Amazing what one decision can do, huh?) Oh, and Jo Van Fleet won Best Supporting Actress for East of Eden (talked about here). I understand it, but I went another way.

And then this category — meh. Pretty weak. But, Jack Lemmon is awesome. So he makes this feel a bit better.


And the nominees were…

Arthur Kennedy, Trial

Jack Lemmon, Mister Roberts

Joe Mantell, Marty

Sal Mineo, Rebel Without a Cause

Arthur O’Connell, Picnic

Kennedy — Trial is a film about a young Mexican boy who is caught at the feet of a dead girl and is about to be put on trial and strung up by a town. Glenn Ford is a law teacher whose job is in jeopardy because he’s never tried a case. So he ends up on the case of defending the boy. He goes to work with Arthur Kennedy, who is a tried and true lawyer. Ford is the idealistic type, and Kennedy is the down and dirty type. Ford believes in the law and these lofty ideals the law was founded upon, and Kennedy isn’t above greasing communists and bullshitting everyone to get what he wants. Though we find out he might have some other agenda in mind instead of helping his client.

It’s a trial film, so you know you’re in for the goods. These things are always interesting, and get exponentially more so once they get into court. This is a bit of a progressive film for 1955 — it’s kind of a precursor to 12 Angry Men — only with Glenn Ford chewing up the scenery and eating up all the screen time. (Ford was a notorious scene stealer. He made sure he owned every scene he was in. Very selfish actor.) But it’s good. It’s almost impossible to find. I didn’t find this until almost a year (no joke — I watched it exactly two weeks shy of one year) of this article’s posting. So I highly recommend it if you can find a copy.

Kennedy’s performance — the usual Kennedy deal. He’s good but it’s hard to vote for him. There are times when he’s on screen where you think he’s the lead, but then he disappears for a while and Ford does his crap and you want him to come back. He’s solid, but I wouldn’t vote for him over Lemmon, even if Lemmon is blurring the line between lead and supporting. And I’d probably vote Mantell over him for every reason except that he’s Arthur Kennedy and has delivered enough great supporting performances to have earned one of these. Personally, I think his best work (that he was nominated for, since he’s always great and I don’t want to get into unnominated performances) was in Peyton Place. I’d say Bright Victory, but there was no chance of him winning there. I liked him in Champion, but nah. And I liked him in Some Came Running, but he wasn’t beating Burl Ives. To me, Peyton Place was the pinnacle of his nominated performances. This is almost as good, but I still wouldn’t vote for it.

Great film, though. Highly recommend it, given its difficulty to see.

Lemmon — Mister Roberts is a film about a particularly unimportant ship during World War II. The men are on the boat, and all the stuff that happens is on board stuff. The captain is a dude who loves that he has a perfect record, and works for that, but doesn’t particularly care about the welfare of the crew. However, Henry Fonda, his chief officer, is beloved by the men and is more of a captain than he is. And — well, a lot of stuff is a conflict between the two men and how they handle the crew. It’s a great film. Just see it. You don’t need to know what it’s about.

Jack Lemmon plays Ensign Pulver (who actually had a sequel named after him. But Lemmon didn’t star in it), who is lazy and does his own thing. He’s a dude who actively avoids the captain and does all these illegal things, but they’re so on the down low that the captain not only doesn’t know about them, but he also doesn’t even know what Pulver looks like. And Lemmon is sort of the comic relief of the film. But it’s great comic relief. And he ends up being the new Henry Fonda in a way. He learns to stop being selfish and help the men, and it’s shown at the end when he stands up to the captain the way Fonda did (after Fonda was transferred off the ship). It’s a great performance.

Honestly, in this weak ass category, I vote for Lemmon. He’s a man that deserved two Oscars, plus it’s weak, and he wins by sheer strength factor. I like it.

Mantell — Marty is a perfect film, and a Best Picture winner. See it.

It’s a simple love story of a lonely bucher and a lonely schoolteacher. Mantell plays Marty’s friend Angie, who hangs out with Marty, but isn’t really the best friend he could be. He sits at the bar with him, sipping beers and talking sports and stuff, and then when they go out to find girls, he immediately finds one and leaves Marty in the lurch. Then when Marty finds Betsy Blair, and Mantell’s girl falls through, he goes out looking for Marty, and gets upset when he thinks Marty left him in the lurch. And then Marty tells him off at the end of the film.

Mantell is fine here, but it’s one of those “along for the ride” nominations. He was never going to win. No vote. Didn’t like it enough to vote for it.

Mineo — Rebel Without a Cause is a very famous film, and you should have seen it.

Sal Mineo plays the younger kid who idolizes James Dean’s character. And he’s got a lot of problems, and Dean’s character helps keep him relatively on keel. And he ends up being the one who gets shot at the end.

It’s a goot performance, but I wouldn’t vote for it. It’s — I think the whole film is a bit overdramatic. I like the performance, but I’d vote for Lemmon over Mineo. So… yeah.

O’Connell — Picnic is a film that I always call a quintessential studio film of the 1950s. It feels like studio filmmaking. The whole film takes place on clear soundstages made to look like outdoors. It’s awesome.

The whole film takes place over the span of a day as William Holden comes back to his small town. He meets his former college roommate and gets a job out of him at his father’s factory, and meets Kim Novak and falls for her. All while they go to the town picnic. And shit happens, and Holden gets in trouble — it’s a whole thing.

Arthur O’Connell plays a meek shopowner who Kim Novak’s family tries to set up with Rosalind Russell, who is her charismatic self. And they get together and have fun, and he sneaks in a bottle of booze to the picnic, and he and Russell get drunk. And Russell, not wanting to be caught while drunk, blames Holden for having the alcohol. And O’Connell tries to tell everyone it was his whiskey, but he’s meek, so no one hears him. And then later he takes Holden in, since he knows it was his fault. And then we find out Russell wants to marry him, but he tells Holden he doesn’t want to marry her so soon, and later on, he comes to tell her that, but she thinks it means he’s coming to take her away, and gets really happy, so he just goes along with it and marries her. He’s basically the comic relief of the film.

He’s funny here, but it’s not a performance you vote for. His Anatomy of a Murder performance, however, is one you vote for, and is one I did vote for. So I see no reason to vote for him here. I didn’t like the performance past a nomination.

My Thoughts: I don’t really like the category, even though it has some heavy hitters in it. Kennedy is a dude who should have won this category two years after this (or at least, was good enough to). O’Connell is a dude who should have won this category four years after this (no qualifications). I wouldn’t vote for Kennedy, even if he was solid, and I didn’t like O’Connell’s performance enough to win, so for our current purposes, they’re out. Plus I actually voted for them in those other respective years (I did, right?), so I feel no pressure to vote for them here.

Mantell — love the film, loved his performance. He’s not in the film enough for me, and plus the film is really about Borgnine and Blair. I’d have gone with those two for awards and not Mantell. He’s lucky to be nominated, and leave it at that. He didn’t need to win.

It’s really between Mineo and Lemmon for me. And while I liked Mineo’s performance, I just liked Lemmon’s performance better. Rebel Without a Cause feels a bit overdramatic to me at points, and Lemmon’s performance is just funny. Plus, it’s nice that he has two Oscars. So I vote Lemmon. He was great.

My Vote: Lemmon

Should Have Won: I guess Lemmon.

Is the result acceptable?: Yeah. I think we’re all cool with Jack Lemmon having two Oscars.

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Marty, you’re dead to me.

If you haven’t seen Mister Roberts, we can’t be friends.

If you haven’t seen Rebel Without a Cause, you don’t really love films. This is really essential.

Trial is a trial film. These are always worthwhile. And it’s a really solid film. Highly recommended. And even more so because you can barely find it. There’s nothing better than seeing a great film you know nobody has seen. It’s like being on the other side of a curtain in first class or something. And when the movie is good, and you can pull back the curtain for someone and they can see it — that’s the best. So see it. Come on in. The water’s fine. (And so is the film.

Picnic — I like it as a prime example of studio filmmaking in the 50s. Not essential, but a nice film to watch nonetheless. You really get a snapshot of the studio system from the 50s from this film. That’s why I recommend this highly.


5) O’Connell

4) Mineo

3) Kennedy

2) Mantell

1) Lemmon

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