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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 1955-1956)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1955

Arthur Kennedy, Trial

Jack Lemmon, Mister Roberts

Joe Mantell, Marty

Sal Mineo, Rebel Without a Cause

Arthur O’Connell, Picnic

Analysis:

Trial was one of the absolute last films I found on this Quest. It was impossible to find.

It’s about a Mexican kid who is hanging out in a place with whites where he’s not supposed to, and a girl does (having nothing to do with him). He’s arrested and charged with her murder. And it’s up to Glenn Ford to defend the kid and prove him innocent. In case you didn’t know it was a trial movie.

Arthur Kennedy plays the man who runs Ford’s law firm who, on the surface, really wants to help the kid be free. Though we find out that what he really is doing is using the case to put forth a communist agenda. He’s in tight with the boy’s mother and brings her to a bunch of fundraisers. So she thinks he has the boy’s best interests at heart. But what he really wants is the appearance of defending the kid while he gets convicted and dies, proving a useful propaganda piece for his own agenda. And after Ford figures this out, Kennedy becomes a villain. He manipulates the situation in order to get the kid on the stand, thereby almost ensuring a conviction.

Kennedy is pretty great here. He’s such a sleazy scumbag. He plays the part perfectly. This is one of those situations where you could make a case for him. I know no one’s really seen the film, but if you have, you’ll see that, in a category like this, he’s top three. And since there’s not a clear winner here, you can definitely make a case for him as the choice.

Mister Roberts is a great comedy. One of those premises that works no matter how you do it.

It’s basically about the hijinks that happens on a not-particularly-important ship during World War II. (McHale’s Navy, MASH, Operation Petticoat — they’ve done this story a bunch.) And the cast is Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, James Cagney, William Powell, Ward Bond. How can you go wrong?

The specifics are — James Cagney runs the ship, and everyone hates him. He’s like a comedy version of Bogart in The Caine Mutiny. And Fonda is the sort of second in command, who is beloved. And he tries to keep things going smoothly and keep things fun for the men, even though he longs to actually be involved in the fighting. And of course, hijinks occur, and it’s hilarious.

Jack Lemmon plays Ensign Pulver (who got his own spinoff/sequel film, which didn’t star any of the original cast), a crew member who is so lazy and avoids the captain so much that Cagney has no idea what he even looks like. He hears about all the shit that Pulver does but has no idea who Pulver actually is. So Lemmon gets away with doing all this illegal shit. The idea is that he’s resourceful but not really the most helpful soldier… until the end, when he ends up having the courage to stand up to Cagney and take up where Fonda left off.

He’s… mostly comic relief. He gets a nice dramatic moment in the end when he reads the letter. But otherwise it’s just comedy. Interesting win. But I get it. He’s a great comedian and this was his third or fourth movie. So the win makes sense. I love him and I like the movie quite a bit and I think he’s really good in it. But I’m not sure if the performance screams “vote.” This will be interesting.

Marty is a fucking masterpiece. Such a small, beautiful film.

Ernest Borgnine is a lonely butcher in Brooklyn. He’s 35 and still single. And one night, he goes to a dance and meets a shy schoolteacher. And they hit it off. And they make a real connection with one another. And all of a sudden, even though everyone’s been asking him why he hasn’t gotten married yet, now they’re saying, “You can’t see that girl again.” It’s a really wonderful film. Borgnine and Betsy Blair are so good in this.

Joe Mantell plays Borgnine’s best friend. They sit in the coffee shop and do the same thing every day. Although Mantell decides that this time, they’re going to the dance, and he convinces Borgnine to go with him. And pretty quickly, Mantell finds a woman who doesn’t want to hang out with Borgnine and he leaves him alone. Though after Borgnine finds Blair and they go off, it’s Mantell who ends up alone. And he gets bitter about it, and the next day shits all over her to Borgnine. He (along with everyone else) almost convinces Borgnine not to call her back.

Mantell is good here. It’s a very realistic portrayal of a certain kind of character. He supports the film really well, and is one of the true definitions of this category. However, as solid as he is, it takes a certain kind of respect for that to take him over some of the other, flashier performances. But I think you can definitely make that case if one were so inclined. This is an interesting year where you could actually make the case for him.

Rebel Without a Cause is an all-time classic, that doesn’t need a whole lot of explaining.

It’s all about them wayward youths, unloved and left alone and struggling to find a place for themselves.

Sal Mineo plays Plato, the fucked up kid. He’s a few years younger than Dean and Wood, and he’s the one with the real fucked up home life. The others are brought in to the police station for minor stuff — he killed some puppies. His father left when he was a kid and his mother’s never home, so he’s left with no adults around him whatsoever. And Dean becomes friends with him, and he looks up toe Dean like a father figure. And you get the sense that this kid really needs someone to be there for him, so of course he overdoes it. Which leads to what happens in the end of the film.

Mineo is really good here. A good character, a solid nomination, and I think he acquits himself well in the role. I don’t know if I take him, but he’s definitely someone worth considering in this category.

Picnic is a film that, to me, represents 50s studio filmmaking. That is to say, the “prestige picture” of the 50s. It’s based on a Pulitzer Prize winner, it’s very stagy, but also shot CinemaScope, big cast of actors. This is your classic “Oscar” movie of the 50s.

It’s about a single day in a small town while their annual Labor Day picnic is taking place. William Holden is — you know, this is kind of like Sweet Bird of Youth — he comes back into town after going off to “make something” of himself, and he just hasn’t. So he comes back into the lives of the townfolk, and we watch all their shit play out over the course of the day. It’s good. Not great, but very good.

Arthur O’Connell plays a store owner who takes Rosalind Russell to the picnic. He’s very sweet and nice, and he and her have a nice little middle-aged romance going. And he sneaks some booze to the event in his jacket, and one of the younger kids finds it and starts drinking from it, and they blame Holden for it. And O’Connell’s like, “No, it was me!” but nobody cares. And then later, Rosalind Russell tells him she wants to marry him, and if he’s not, she never wants to see him again. So he goes to say he doesn’t want to marry her, but she thinks he does, so she’s really happy, and he just shrugs and marries her. He’s the comic relief of the film. It’s a sweet role and he’s good in it. More of a token nominee than anything. Someone from the film had to get nominated to justify the Best Picture nomination. That’s how these works. I get it. No one actually votes for him here. Clearly fourth or fifth in the category.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I don’t much like this category. O’Connell is nice but filler. Mineo is good but not someone I’d want to take. A lot of the film feels too overacted for me. It works for the era, but now… too much. Mantell is so good and so authentic in the part, but I don’t know if I like him enough to actually take him. Even though he fits the category really well. Kennedy is really solid, and if I watched the performance again, I might take him. He’s great and he’s always really good in these types of roles. But even so, as much as Lemmon is not much in the way of acting, his performance is the most fun, so I get his win and I kinda want to take him myself. So I’ll say — if I actually watched Kennedy once more, I might make a case for him as the choice, but for now, Lemmon is fun, and in a weak category like this, he looks good to me.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Jack Lemmon, Mister Roberts
  2. Arthur Kennedy, Trial
  3. Joe Mantell, Marty
  4. Sal Mineo, Rebel Without a Cause
  5. Arthur O’Connell, Picnic

Rankings (films):

  1. Marty
  2. Mister Roberts
  3. Rebel Without a Cause
  4. Picnic
  5. Trial

My Vote: Jack Lemmon, Mister Roberts

Recommendations:

Rebel Without a Cause is an all-time essential film. The title speaks for itself. Even casual film buffs need to see this.

Marty is a must for real film fans. It’s great. Plus, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor — lot of reasons to see this. It’s incredible. One of my all-time favorites.

Mister Roberts — essential for fans of great movies. The cast is stacked, John Ford co-directed it, and it’s just a really terrific movie. Must see for film buffs, not in the objective sense, but in the sense of — I say it’s essential because it’s fantastic, and you trust my opinion, so just go with it, because I don’t steer people wrong.

Picnic is worth it for a lot of reasons. CinemaScope, very reminiscent of its year, great cinematography, solid cast, and a good picture. Not essential, but serious film buffs should see it. Especially those interested in film history. If you just really love movies you can probably take it or leave it. But I recommend it because it’s pretty good. Ensemble movie that takes place over a single day with an all-star cast. Those are almost always worth your time.

Trial is hard to find (at least it was for me), but it’s decent. Can easily be skipped, though. The only real recommend I have is that it’s worth it just because it’s hard to find. So if you can, why not? Otherwise, just okay.

The Last Word: Lemmon holds up the best. Kennedy would be decent. Mantell would be okay but not look as good as Lemmon does, historically. O’Connell wouldn’t hold up and Mineo… ehh. Lemmon makes the most sense and is an easy choice here. Even though he’s not really doing all that much real acting here. Just straight comedy. Which is also admirable and worthy of praise. He works and is a solid choice, historically.

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– – – – – – – – – –

1956

Don Murray, Bus Stop

Anthony Perkins, Friendly Persuasion

Anthony Quinn, Lust for Life

Mickey Rooney, The Bold and the Brave

Robert Stack, Written on the Wind

Analysis:

Bus Stop is a strange movie. Part comedy, part drama, part musical, and not really any of them.

Don Murray — yes, he’s the lead of the film — is a backwoods cowboy who comes to town for a rodeo. He meets Marilyn Monroe and falls in love with her. And he just kind of decides they’re gonna get married, and the rest of the film is Stockholm Syndrome.

Murray is good in the film, but, he’s the lead. And it’s a variation on the country bumpkin kind of role you see a lot in early days that doesn’t really translate much anymore. The character is supposed to be funny, but I just didn’t like him. Or the film all that much. And by didn’t like him, I mean the character. He’s annoying as fuck. He’s a stalker and he’s really unlikable, and I was very turned off by the character. And with him being the lead… no way am I considering this for a vote. Not a chance at all.

Friendly Persuasion is William Wyler making a movie about Quakers. No joke. It’s actually pretty good. The Wyler part is the hint. If I just said it was about Quakers you’d go, “What?” But then William Wyler directed and a Best Picture nominee. And it’s good.

The first half of the film is the Quaker family living their life. Very episodic and enjoyable, and the second half is the coming of the Civil War and their pacifism being tested. It’s good. Not great, but very good and better than you think it’s gonna be.

Anthony Perkins plays the oldest son of the family. His big arc is that he believes that he has to fight, and that puts him at odds with the family. But eventually he picks up his gun and helps keep his family safe. He’s good in the film. I can’t really argue with the nomination, though I don’t think it’s particularly strong and am convinced that no one would actually take him on performance alone. Very plain start to this category. Nothing overly

Lust for Life is easy. Vincent Van Gogh biopic. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, stars Kirk Douglas. That’s pretty much it.

Anthony Quinn plays Paul Gauguin, a fellow artist and friend of Van Gogh. He’s — good. I mean, it’s Anthony Quinn, he’s always good. But he’s only on screen for twelve minutes. So I’m left torn, because he’s very good in limited screen time, and he leaves me wanting more. Which is both a good and bad thing. I don’t know what to do. He’s not really worth taking on his own, but in this category, he kind of is. I feel like — and I have’t gone back to look, but my knowledge of how the years run with foreign films leads me to believe that he probably won for his performance in La Strada as well as this. Since La Strada is ’54, but I feel like it only came out in the US in ’56.

The Bold and the Brave is another of the hardest movies I had to find for this Quest. This one I actually had to buy a Region 2 DVD because I couldn’t find it anywhere else.

The film is pretty much about a group of soldiers. The protagonist, the gambler, the religious man, etc. And we follow them in battle, on leave, etc.

Mickey Rooney is a soldier who runs an illegal gambling run among the soldiers. And his dream is to win enough money in the game to buy his family a house. Which he eventually does. So for much of the performance he gets to be cocky and charismatic, but then he gets some depth when you find out why he wants to win, and then you get the drama of the card game, and the happiness to see him win. Followed quickly by him dying. Kind of like Henry Travers in Mrs. Miniver. Just without the gambling.

Rooney’s good here. I’d think about voting for him because he’s Mickey Rooney and because the category’s weak. He’s good enough to be in the conversation in this category. Though no one votes for him because no one’s seen the film. So I’m essentially fighting a losing battle here.

Written on the Wind is Douglas Sirk. He’s the best. This is his most overt, most over the top film, but I love it.

Rock Hudson grew up best friends with Robert Stack. Stack’s rich, Hudson’s poor. Stack’s the son of an oil tycoon. As adults, Hudson’s the one who went to school and has the level business head while Stack drinks and parties with women all the time. They meet Lauren Bacall and she and Hudson fall for one another, but she marries Stack because he’s rich and sweeps her off her feet. So there’s that going on, along with a subplot about Stack’s sister (Dorothy Malone, who we talked about in Supporting Actress for this year). It’s good.

Stack is really melodramatic in this. It’s a perfect performance for the type of film. To some, he’s gonna come off as too flat, and to others he’s gonna come off as too much. His crazier moments come near the end when he’s been drinking more and more upon finding out that he can’t have children. It’s a solid performance. Not sure he’d have held up as a winner, but in this category, he’s got about as much a shot as anyone.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Not a particularly interesting category, but I think there’s an easy way out.

Murray is too annoying to take, and I won’t do it. Plus he’s the lead. Perkins is fine, but not for me. Rooney is really solid, and he’s Mickey Rooney. Do I think the performance is worth the win? No. But the actor is. So that helps. I could make a case that he’s worth it. Then there’s Stack. Who is really solid in a film I like. Over the top, a bit. Bland, sure. But that’s Sirk. Between Stack and Rooney — it’s close. I liked the Stack performance more, so he takes the lead there. But… and here’s where I think the out is — Anthony Quinn is very good and has La Strada this year. I’m not gonna let that be the vote, but I will let it be the tiebreaker. I don’t have a preference here. Stack probably gets the vote on personal preference, but I’ll give the Quinn performance + La Strada the edge here. It’s not a great category.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Anthony Quinn, Lust for Life
  2. Robert Stack, Written on the Wind
  3. Mickey Rooney, The Bold and the Brave
  4. Anthony Perkins, Friendly Persuasion
  5. Don Murray, Bus Stop

Rankings (films):

  1. Written on the Wind
  2. Friendly Persuasion
  3. Lust for Life
  4. The Bold and the Brave
  5. Bus Stop

My Vote: Anthony Quinn, Lust for Life

Recommendations:

Written on the Wind is a great film. Douglas Sirk. His films — specifically the color melodramas of the 50s — are so great. All the ones that were nominated for Oscars (this, Imitation of Life, Magnificent Obsession) and All That Heaven Allows are all essential for real film fans. Casual film fans should just consider one of them essential. Pretty much whichever. See it to get an idea, and then if you like it you can keep going. But real serious film buffs should see them all.

Friendly Persuasion is a really solid film. Not essential, and not overly historically memorable, but very solid. William Wyler is always good for a solid film. Worth a watch, especially if it’s on TCM and you’ve got two hours to spare. You’ll enjoy it.

Lust for Life is solid. Kirk Douglas playing Van Gogh. That’s gotta appeal to a good percentage of film buffs. Not overly essential, but definitely worth seeing.

The Bold and the Brave was one of the hardest Quest movies for me to find five years ago. I imagine it’s easier, but still not that easy. It’s decent. If you can find it, go for it. Otherwise you can skip it and be fine.

Bus Stop — really only worth it if you love Marilyn Monroe. Otherwise it’s just a watchable comedy from the 50s.

The Last Word: Quinn, Stack, Rooney. The only ones really worth taking. Maybe some people wanna take Perkins, and I guess I can’t really argue against it. But it’s a bland category with no true #1. Quinn holds up because he’s Anthony Quinn and because the movie and roll feel like something that would win. Rooney wouldn’t have held up simply because no one’s seen the film in 50 years. Stack would be decent, but having him win wouldn’t be much better than Quinn. So really, it’s kind of a blank. I think the choice they made is understandable. This is clearly him winning for a different performance though.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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