Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1973: Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye

Elliott Gould did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye.

The Long Goodbye is a terrific neo noir by Robert Altman that modernizes private detective Philip Marlowe.

Elliot Gould after his breakout in the late 60's found himself in a career slump due to his behavior on the set of the film that eventually became What's Up Doc, and I would imagine his performance in Ingmar Bergman's The Touch did not help matters. Robert Altman though cast him here as Philip Marlowe which seems like a rather curious casting choice on paper. The role of Philip Malowe is usually reserved for tough guy actors like Humphrey Bogart, James Garner, James Caan, and even later on in the seventies Robert Mitchum. This is not a traditional representation of the role though, and not simply because it was given a contemporary setting. The film opens not with Marlowe taking care of a case but rather dealing with his cat who has gotten hungry in the middle of the night. This Marlowe lives in a lonely apartment but with a group of frequently nude hippie women live across the way from him. Don't take that as a glamorous setting because it's really not.

Marlowe, after attempting and failing to find the right cat food, still doesn't get a case just request to drive his friend Terry, who claims to have fought with his wife, to Tijuana. Gould casting suddenly starts to make sense as this is not the Marlowe of Bogart, and I'd say may have influenced Doc Sportello of Inherent Vice. Gould does not seem like a fit for a tough guy, and his performance isn't as a tough guy. The thing is he isn't separate entirely from the character either, he is Philip Marlowe but entirely Elliott Gould's Philip Marlowe. To explain, Gould's performance is not without the traits of Marlowe, and what is set up around the character. As required of a P.I. in the forties he smokes in basically every scene, and he always wears a suit. Again those features of Marlowe though not exactly Gould's performance per se. Gould's performance feels as though he is a Marlowe though is perhaps more of as an actual private detective rather than the hero of a detective novel.

That is not to say that this what one would charge as a "realistic" performance, not that it is fantastical though. Gould gives us perhaps the Marlowe of being in the life as he is and would be in as a private detective. Gould's delivery often is curious yet intriguing to the character in as he drifts out of conversations with those who really are not interested in him all that much. It's something brilliant though in this and the way Gould plays it. In that maybe the tough guy Marlowe might say similair things and seem "cool", the way Gould suggests perhaps a certain loneliness in this act as thought he man's life is made of these cursory interactions. Of course Marlowe has his time when he does get a bit more attention, where he fits in the role as the protagonist of a film noir. That begins as the cops come by the question Marlowe about the disappearance of his friend who asked for the ride, and the brutal death of that man's wife.

As Marlowe is arrested, on a trumped up charge, we are given a Marlowe perhaps more in his element as he deals with the police. Gould is rather hilarious in this scene as he kind of talks around the cops and makes fun of them for their severe attitude. Again though there something genius in how Gould approaches this in again he is the film noir hero, but he's also not at all. This is also apparent in his scenes where he deals with a strange vicious criminal Augustine (Mark Rydell) and his gang who wants money that was being kept by Terry which Augustine thinks was given to Marlowe. Gould seems to fulfill kind of the typical way of acting above those interrogating him and trying to menace him. As typical he's pretty calm and collected, kind of above it all while showing a certain disdain towards them. Gould even fulfills the requirement in that he's indeed rather enjoyable to watch in these scenes, but all of it is not truly in the normal way. Instead of being the master of the room, Gould plays it somewhat adrift as someone really would come across as who is not taking such a situation seriously. It is so different yet it still absolutely works.

That also is again not how Gould plays every scene as the detective, he carefully only plays scenes that way when technically the situation is a waste of time for Marlowe. We are also given scenes where we actually see him in action such as when he is hired to find a writer, Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden), by the man's wife Eileen Wade. Marlowe quickly finds the husband at a shady detox center, and even sneaks in to help the man escape. These scenes are actually a brilliant bit of directing by Altman, though Gould is important within them. Altman though directs them in this purposefully kind of low key way while Gould portrays more of that assertiveness of behavior that would be more fitting to more of closeups with some more pronounced edits. Marlowe saves the man and it soon becomes as though there is no mystery to anyone besides Marlowe. Here's kind of a part of the key of Gould's whole performance that makes it take a step further than it might have been as this approach could've been parody but it's not. It's something truly fascinating.

Gould again is adrift in those meaningless, to him, interrogation scenes but he's not that way towards the mystery that involves people that Marlowe does care about. Gould does bring this palatable undercurrent of an emotional connection there. When he quizzes Wade's wife on knowing more than she acts as though she does, there is a severity in his voice, and Gould makes Marlowe as someone who cares. There is something even more to this as again he's being the film noir hero, but this takes on yet another purpose that is surprisingly poignant. In that Gould again shows that Marlowe does care and the way he does, while no one else seems to, is made rather moving even. The performance in a way I found to be covert in its emotional impact. Now it was already an entertaining engaging work, but it's more. There's an incredible scene that closes the film where Marlowe finally "solves his problem". It is very cathartic moment as Gould attaches the emotion within that goes beyond just getting the villain so to speak. Gould reflects a further attachment of the personal betrayal involved but also the satisfaction of essentially being truly "Philip Marlowe". What Gould does here is this remarkable contradiction of a characterization. In that Gould has the features of that noir detective, Philip Marlowe. He's in the seventies though, and he's not exactly as everyone else should be yet he feels entirely natural to himself because of Gould's work. Gould never falls into caricature, but makes sense of this contradiction of character. This is such daring work that absolutely succeeds in terms of creating something completely new out of something old. I loved this performance.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1973

And the Nominees Were Not:

Donald Sutherland in Don't Look Now

Robert Shaw in The Hireling

Robert Mitchum in The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye

Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1947: Louis Jouvet in Quai des Orfèvres

Louis Jouvet did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Inspector Antoine in Quai des Orfèvres.

Quai des Orfèvres is a very effective mystery film, though in actuality it is more a comedy of errors than a thriller.

The veteran French actor Louis Jouvet does not enter the film until about halfway through. That first half focuses on the difficult relationship between an incredibly flirtatious singer Jenny (Suzy Delair) and her jealous husband Maurice (Bernard Blier). We see the two going back and forth as Maurice constantly threatens the men Jenny is flirting with them though she is completely devoted to him. Complications ensue though when one of the men, a sleazy photographer, turns up dead. This is made more complex by the married couple having separately visited the murdered man's house, and made even more complicated by Jenny's photographer friend Dora (Simone Renant), with an obvious crush on her, also visiting the crime scene. This leads Inspector Antoine to come in to attempt clear everything up despite the three doing their best to cover their tracks. Jouvet appears and this is great example of an old pro just going to town with some great material. That is to say Jouvet wastes no time in stealing the show.

Jouvet is exceptional as he sets up his whole character in his first scene as Antoine is informed of the crime. Antoine takes a moment to check on his adopted son before leaving. Jouvet's brilliant in just this slight interaction we are given with his son throughout these scenes as he grants such a rich history of the inspector with his son. Jouvet captures this sense of haplessness with his son, as well as this attempt at any sort of discipline in these interactions as he talks about his son's trouble with geography. Jouvet shows this perfect sort of appreciation if what he has, even though he also shows the inspector being perhaps slightly out of his element in this regard. Beneath all of it is such this sweet warmth that Jouvet exudes in almost this indirect way. This is the major personal element we are given on the inspector and Antoine makes the most of it. He humanizes the inspector far past the confines of the case or the confines of this supporting role. Jouvet makes this whole aspect of his character so very endearing while adding an extra layer to his character.

Of course the primary role of the Inspector is to solve the case and in this way Jouvet is again brilliant. Jouvet here reminded of the very best turns of this nature like say Morgan Freeman in Seven, Jouvet is just fascinating to watch as he works the case. The way Jouvet maneuvers every scene he is in is something in itself. I just love the physical presence of his work here as he dominates by almost being exactly where he shouldn't be. I have particular affection for Jouvet's stone face whenever Antoine appears from behind a doorway as though he's Frankenstein's monster. As the Inspector works the case though we are also granted a bit of his philosophy towards his profession. Jouvet delivers this certain acerbic tone even rather humorous as he ponders about the long list of costs to solve the murder for basically who was seen as an undesirable by most. What's best though is the way Jouvet shows that Antoine uses it to manipulate the situation, as Jouvet excels in his reactions in these moments as though he's watching to see guilt by supporting his own cynicism.

Jouvet is so good as he illustrates the technique of the Inspector in every scene as he goes about interrogating each of the principals to get to the bottom of the murder. Jouvet brings this elegance to his method as he shows the Inspector always switching things up so carefully. Jouvet often delivers a comedic moment, and plays it as though Antoine is speaking to a innocent person to get them to open up a bit more. Jouvet though makes it almost a dance of sorts the way he so seems to be playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers. Jouvet's delivery and reactions are truly remarkable in the way they do establish the incisiveness of Antoine. Jouvet portrays that Antoine does need to figure things out himself, but in front of the suspects he is always the one in charge. As he'll make a joke then suddenly switch to speaking of the severity of crimes actually, and Jouvet makes his intensity particularly effective by the way he springs it on the suspects as well as we the viewers. His work is excellent in the way he actually becomes a more than a little menacing by realizing this technique so effortlessly. I find Jouvet outdoes any Poirot of any kind in the final scenes of the film as Antoine fixes everything. Jouvet again tears through the scenes making it absolutely convincing that Antoine will get his man/woman in the end. Jouvet though goes even further to offer this touch of a philosophy though presenting again just the right hint of warmth. Jouvet's absolutely charming, in his own unusual way of course, as he makes final interrogation though this time offering such a genuine sympathy as he finally gets the truth. This is an amazing performance by Louis Jouvet as he steals the film wholesale though with such ease and grace as his atypical Inspector Antoine.
Updated Overall

Next Year: 1973 Lead

Friday, 17 March 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1947: Results

5. Orson Welles in The Lady From Shanghai - Welles's accent is more than a little problematic but he's good when he's silent.

Best Scene: Hall of mirrors.
4. Claude Rains in The Unsuspected - Rains is an easy highlight of the film giving an effectively diabolical performance explaining his villain even as the film fails to do.

Best Scene: A final broadcast.
3. Isao Numasaki in One Wonderful Sunday - Numasaki gives a moving and very honest depiction of just a man going through the ups and downs of a normal day.

Best Scene: At home breakdown.
2. Tyrone Power in Nightmare Alley - Power proves himself quite the capable actor in a far more daring role than usual creating the right captivating presence as the performer then the right amoral hollowness as the man.

Best Scene: Cold reading a hobo. 
1. Pierre Fresnay in Monsieur Vincent - Fresnay gives a brilliant performance as he manages to humanize yet still embodies a saint.

Best Scene: Vincent thinks on his faults. 
Updated Overall

Next: Review of Louis Jouvet in Quai des Orfèvres which is when I'll update supporting as well.

Alternate Best Actor 1947: Orson Welles in The Lady From Shanghai

Orson Welles did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Michael O'Hara in The Lady From Shanghai.

The Lady From Shanghai is an effective and visually stunning film noir, though like Citizen Kane Welles could've told some of his actors to tone it down a bit, about an Irishman who falls into a strange web of corrupt people by taking a job from a rich lawyer due to his fascination with the man's wife.

After watching Welles's version of Macbeth and now this film I've come to conclusion that Welles and foreign accents aren't exactly chocolate and peanut butter. As with his Shakespearean adaptation he takes upon a thick brogue this time an Irish one. As was his Scottish accent in Macbeth, the accent itself is a bit much, but what is worse is the way it attempts to hide Welles's naturally impressive voice. It creates this odd squishy sound of sorts as he tries to plug his normal voice with his attempt at an Irish accent. You know I always write that I don't mind accent too much unless they are so bad that they are distracting. Well, here an example of that. It's is made worse that Welles also narrates the film with his Irish brogue and it doesn't sound good. The reason being Welles always sounds as though he is putting on this curiously broad accent and unfortunately it is a sour point that it is the first thing we experience from his performance.

This is not a terrible performance though despite his  accent. O'Hara, despite narrating the film, is often a reactionary character within it. We follow him as he enters into this dark world of corrupt men by taking the job on the rich lawyer Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane)'s boat, due to having previously saved his wife Elsa (Rita Hayworth) from attackers. O'Hara most often observes the rich man, his wife, and the other strange people hanging around. Welles now non-verbally is very good in the role. Welles does well as he internalizes basically this strangeness in his performance through O'Hara as he watches these people. Welles speaks far more effectively when ,well, he does not speak. In this way Welles works well with himself as director in that he is careful to capture O'Hara's state within the pivotal moments which resonate far more than when he goes around speaking in his unnatural voice. Welles expresses the right unease as he interacts with or merely watches the very sleazy Bannister, but does equally well to convey the fascination O'Hara has with his enigmatic wife.

Welles does grant an understanding to O'Hara in mainly only his face and body language to the point that his narration perhaps was not even needed. Welles manages to create this sense of dismay towards basically the amorality presented by the situation, while giving  motivation to O'Hara staying where he is through the entrancement he reflects, rather understandably, to Hayworth's Elsa. Of course the creeps do not end at Bannister as he also meets the man's strange private detective George Grisby who comes to the man with a truly bizarre proposal to fake murder him. Again Welles's work, when he's not speaking, amplifies the atmosphere by offering O'Hara as possibly the only genuine person and portraying such honest confusion as he attempts to grasp the situation he is in. We are also given just a bit background where O'hara has killed before, in a war though, but Welles reflects the discomfort to being spoken of as a murderer when he felt the killing had been his duty. Everything eventually spins out of control when O'Hara finds himself caught in a plot he barely understands, and the final scenes are perhaps Welles's best work in the film. I suppose it helps that he doesn't say much, but he manages to make the ending resonate emotionally by powerfully revealing the sense of betrayal all within still a confused entrancement. Welles excels most in portraying the central "romance" since he realizes the complexity of the attraction to this woman who  This is a good performance, especially well used by Welles himself as the director, but with a less distracting accent I think it could have been a great one.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1947: Pierre Fresnay in Monsieur Vincent

Pierre Fresnay did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Saint Vincent de Paul in Monsieur Vincent.

Monsieur Vincent tells the true story of a French Catholic priest who dedicated himself to helping the poor.

This is a rather different part than the other two performances I've seen from Pierre Fresnay such as Grand Illusion where he played an aristocratic soldier with a particularly strong connection with his captor, and The Murderer Lives At Number 21 where he played a somewhat carefree detective. Fresnay seems almost unrecognizable in this role compared to those earlier performances. I write almost though because there is the idea of the charisma he revealed in those earlier performances, but utilized in a different way. The film opens with Vincent coming into a village where some are being quarantined off and basically ignored by the rest of the populace. Vincent comes onto the scene almost like a shrewd hero though still to only administer proper priestly duties such as healing and prayer. Fresnay again has that charisma of his other performances but he alters it properly given the man Vincent is suppose to be. In that Fresnay is charming as usual, but in a most unusual way. Fresnay underplays it so elegantly in that he comes across just as well as those earlier performances, yet somehow still maintains the modesty essential to such a role.

Fresnay's work is rather fascinating here in that it is a brilliant example of an actor both internalizing and externalizing in their performance. In that Fresnay's work is often reactionary here, and so powerfully so are his reactions. In the early scene where he tries to save the people from the plague his eyes are so piercing as he watches the people shirking their duties as human beings. What is so incredible though is it is not disdain that Fresnay realizes rather he conveys more disappointment towards those not taking up the duties as they should. Fresnay is careful as this certain condemnation of their actions never feels sanctimonious, though of course Vincent is always very much in the right, but nevertheless Fresnay captures the purity of this intention. Fresnay never seems above it all though and with that is so remarkable. Fresnay is able illustrate so much more about Vincent in such slight reactions. Fresnay never simplifies though with this as even as there is a moment where he must glance into someone's souls, he is just as able to speak with another person just as one human being to another.

Fresnay actually brings a certain humor in Vincent in so many moments, but always in such a generous loving way. Fresnay grants these moments as though Vincent wishes to attempt to share any joy he may have with those around. Of course what Vincent specializes in is finding suffering and attempting to try to alleviate it in some way. After Vincent helps as he can with the contagion, Vincent receives praise and thanks while he only really reacts by informing the villagers that he prayed for their sake as well because of their selfishness, though not in so many words. Fresnay doesn't mock in his delivery nor does he make too ethereal. He makes it a grounded yet earnest declaration alluding the man who wishes for others to be the best individual they are able to be, yet is well aware that may be unlikely with those he speaks to. Throughout the film we witness Vincent as he goes through the years helping one person after, noble, poor, slave whoever needs while not asking for thanks in fact purposefully avoiding it.

Again with this it seems like we should expect an angel among men, and in terms of his accomplishments he kind of is. Fresnay though does not allow himself to be pigeonholed as such in this brilliant work of his. Again this is in terms of how he externalizes and internalizes all that Vincent is as a person which extends beyond his good works, even if that's mainly what the film focuses upon. Fresnay's work feels just as reality since he refuses to be merely an idea of Saint, he instead intends to reveal the man in the Saint, even if that man is quite saintly. Fresnay's work is far greater than the film itself because of this approach. I love the way Fresnay makes the passions in Vincent so very real and palatable. In any scene where he is helping others Fresnay presents such genuine concern in every moment as helps, and the moving quiet joy he expresses when helping those who truly need it. Furthermore though Fresnay also echoes the world Vincent does live in, which is ripe with corruption and contemptible individuals, by providing the right sense of dissatisfaction with those people. Fresnay though is terrific in that he is incredibly incisive in just a glance or a calm remark, such when he is offered a scent candle to avoid the scent of suffering slaves on ship, as he alludes to that disappointment without becoming defined by it. Now that is what I even mean by his humanizing of Vincent though. What is so outstanding about this work is how deeply unpretentious it is despite playing a figure worthy of such pretenses.

Fresnay though gives that humor even almost alluding to his flawless delivery of his various bard from Number 21 in a few scenes where Vincent avoids any direct praise from an old acquaintance. Fresnay always brings these little moments, and they don't even have to be comedic. Even in the grand chambers where Vincent tries to encourage the best out of the "elite" emphasizes an understanding and embracing warmth by his unaffected portrayal of Vincent. Now I did not even mention that this is a story set over decades as we see Vincent age to an old man. Fresnay excels in just another facet of his work as he so gradually ages the man with his performances taking on certain mannerisms fitting to an older man, a squint, a hunch, yet doing it in such a natural way that there is no disconnect from Vincent of one year to the next. The film again is one great deed after another, which Fresnay elevates greatly by his nuanced work, and the film ends actually on Vincent only sort of criticizing himself for still not doing enough to help others. This could be terribly self-indulgent, but it is not at all. Fresnay makes it such a beautiful moment as again it is expressed with only a humble grace. Fresnay's whole performance is an amazing piece of acting as he allows a saint to be man even if he is a flawless one.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1947: Claude Rains in The Unsuspected

Claude Rains did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Victor Grandison in The Unsuspected.

The Unsuspected, though fairly well directed by Michael Curtiz, is a very oddly written thriller about the murders surrounding a mystery radio host.

The Unsuspected is so strange as it opens with brutal murder of the radio host's secretary. The film than proceeds to introduce a set of characters all around the host, Rains's Victor Grandison. It seems like it's building a mystery with these introductions of the suspects and even with Rains's first scene where Victor delivers one of his shows. Rains's voice seems so fitting for such a broadcast with Rains emphasizing every word to give a real certain ominous quality and as he warns about the "unsuspected" is quite something. The thing is, despite this set up, there isn't a mystery. and I don't mean just because Claude Rains is in the film, he's actually not the initial killer in the film. It reveals quite early, rather nonchalantly, who the killer is, a handyman who works for Victor. It further reveals that Victor himself is complicit since he figures out who the killer is yet only blackmails the man to do his bidding. The film then proceeds to follow Victor as he seems to try to kill everyone within his extended family for a reason that is never quite specified past Rains's performance.

The film honestly probably wouldn't have worked at all with its main cast being, while not bad, rather forgettable for the most part, if it were not for old Claude Rains being in this role. Rains basically is there to carry the entirety of the film, and is the only thing that really comes across all that well past a few atmospheric shots crafted by Curtiz. This is kind of Rains unleashed in a way though. In his scenes where Victor is interacting with his family Rains brings such a suave command as you'd expect from him. There is just the right assurance and style to his work that is perfect for this type of patrician radio host. To be entirely truthful Rains frankly seemed like he should have hosted a mystery theater at some point given that he brings the right sort of dark elegance for "murder in a mansion" style stories. Rains, as the surface Victor is more than he should be, and by that I mean by his sheer charm he makes some fairly tepid material engaging. Rains offers a real energy to role that is much needed to the film, although he extends that to further than merely Claude Rains being his usual amazing self.

Rains extends that energy to actually make sense of his character, who really doesn't make any sense just by what is written in the film, and with a lesser actor in the role the character would have fallen wholly flat. The thing is Victor goes about wanting to murder everyone in ways in which he makes everyone else look like a suspect or makes their deaths look like suicides. Again this is never explained but Rains's explains it through his rather brilliant performance. Rains throughout these scenes very carefully portrays them to convey the motivation all wordlessly of course. Rains does not simply have Victor set up the murder, nor does he portrays the sort of psychotic behavior you may expect, although his behavior is obviously that as well. Rains in the murder scenes does not even show any malice instead he's quite chilling by portraying instead this fascination in Victor in the act itself. He does grant a creepy joy as he does this, with that energy he has in the role, but again Rains depicts very carefully as Victor getting a kick out of the whole process. Rains makes sense of the character by showing this host who has become with obsessed with doing what he has only ever spoken of, and also makes a rather entertaining villain while doing so. I won't say he quite saves the film, but it is relatively easy to get through due to his dutiful work as always.