Saturday, 10 June 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1968: Tom Courtenay in A Dandy in Aspic

Tom Courtenay did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gatiss in A Dandy in Aspic.

A Dandy in Aspic is a spy thriller about a British agent, Eberlin (Laurence Harvey) being tasked to find a Russian spy among their ranks the problem is he is the Russian spy. The film suffers from what seems to be a central conceit to show a contrast between the inhuman loyal British agent against the supposedly sympathetic fake British agent, this is problematic when you cast the man best known for playing a robotized assassin as the "good" one, and an amazing actor as the "bad" one.

The role of Gatiss is an interesting change of pace for Tom Courtenay who usually played more sympathetic roles, even in Doctor Zhivago we learned how his Pasha became so cruel and bent. Gatiss's role is made clear from his first appearance where he is lurking in the shadows of a firing range. Gatiss is set up to be essentially the villain of the film, even though technically in most Cold war thrillers he's doing the hero's work. Courtenay is such a great actor though that he doesn't appear to have any intentions to simplify Gatiss at any point, even if perhaps the film would like him to at times. Courtenay knows though how to create such fascinating characters though, and use what is given to him and build upon that. There is something already intriguing about his shady operative, but they decide to go further in making him distinctive by giving him a strange looking cane he always has with him. The cane that does not help him walk, but rather is his secret weapon of choice. That idea that not even his walking stick can be trusted is within Courtenay's performance, though what Courtenay is doing is creating this man defined by the duplicitous world he lives in, but to be fair the end result of Gatiss's mission is noble.

Courtenay's performance, as usual particularly for his stellar 60's run, is incredibly gripping. Courtenay's physical manner has this certain tightness about him at all times, there is an exactness in any way he stands or even speaks to someone. Courtenay uses this to show the way Gatiss's lack of trust even in his body language. Courtenay portrays the man carefully never getting too close, and even when he does his cane seems always ready for its true purpose. Courtenay does not waste an ounce of himself though as in his eyes there is such an incisiveness as though is he constantly analyzing whoever or whatever is in front of him. There is no moment of rest that Courtenay portrays and reflects this in the restrictive nature of his manner which he reveals as the conditioned state of the man to always keep his distance. Courtenay actually approaches his work similair to the way Gary Oldman would later play spy master George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Courtenay though gives it a very specific inspiration in that instead of portraying the man as someone who hides his emotions, he instead depicts him as a man who covers it all up by instead always having such a negative view about all around him as a further defense mechanism needed for his line of work.

Courtenay is terrific as he oozes such palatable disdain for everyone and everything around him. Courtenay infuses such venom into every delivery as he shows the man who indeed seems to hate everyone, and everything. Courtenay never overplays this though and does not use this to just make Gatiss an obvious villain, which seems the film's intention. Now Courtenay acting as such a contemptible sort is compelling to watch in itself, but that is not all there is to his performance. Again Courtenay plays a certain game in this in suggesting that there is perhaps more to Gatiss than the hateful man he presents. This is partially in the way Courtenay always presents the hate with this certain control suggesting that Gatiss uses it for a purpose. He always keeps a certain obsession with his task always as part of his disdain for all things. There is an even more pivotal moment where we see Gatiss gather Eberlin from a hotel room with his love interest, a photographer Caroline (Mia Farrow). Courtenay is brilliant in the scene as in a brief reaction he reveals a certain pain in witnessing Caroline's affections for Eberlin, seeming to suggest Gatiss's frustrations in seeing something he does not allow himself to have. Gatiss does leave a final comment to Caroline that is at the expense of both her and Eberline, but the same venom is not in Courtenay's delivery. He eases it to convey just the slightest hint of empathy that the man usually destroys within himself. He steals the film completely and really the film should have just been from his perspective. Courtenay goes beyond the call of his duty to create a complex portrait of this spy, when it seems the film would have settled for a one note fiend.

38 comments:

Luke Higham said...

So happy Courtenay got his 6th five. :)

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Ratings/Thoughts on the rest of the cast.

RatedRStar said...

I am the one that kept pushing and pushing for this performance to get reviewed, I mentioned him numerous times on previous posts, some from over like a year ago. It makes me feel very happy that with my very limited film knowledge can pull the odd hidden gem now and then.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: I hope you'll review Courtenay in Let Him Have It.

Anonymous said...

Louis in Doctor Zhivago what did you reckon to the scene with Courtenay, Christie and Steiger when they talk at the table, I thought that was a chilling scene like a fight was going to happen at any moment?

Michael McCarthy said...

One of the things I really love about this performance is that Courtenay has so many of his trademark bitingly sarcastic lines, but he adjusts them in this performance to make them more "professional" sounding.

Charles Heiston said...

I knew you'd like him. I just love him here. Should be mentioned right alongside his all time great work in Doctor Zhivago.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Louis, do you consider Edgerton co-lead or supporting in It Comes At Night? I'm actually leaning towards supporting.

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what's your rating and thoughts on Richard Pryor in Superman III?

Matt Mustin said...

And I apologize for even making you think about that movie.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Harvey - 2.5(This is another example of like say Mickey Rourke in Year of the Dragon where it really isn't a terrible performance, but it is terrible casting choice. Harvey isn't bad at all in terms of portraying the emotions of any given scene, but he's too cold of a personality naturally for the part to make any sense. He does not create the proper contrast to Courtenay. The part needed someone with an innate likability or charm, maybe Peter O'Toole or Richard Harris. In the sardonic lines he's given Harvey just makes it seem obvious he's the double agent, where I think those lines where meant to be playful kidding. That just doesn't suit Harvey and neither does the role.)

Farrow - 2(No chemistry with Harvey, and really makes no impact with her pretty vapid performance.)

Stander - 2.5(He's an actor who was a bit hammy for 30's standards and he never seemed to really learn how to downplay a bit later on. That isn't terrible for this role, he's suppose to be a bit obvious, but that still does not mean he's very good either.)

Cook - 3.5(Along with Courtenay easily the best part of the film, and one casting decision that was actually rather brilliant. Cook offers the sleazy humor you'd expect from him, and delivers it properly. The thing is that is the trick and he is incredibly effective when he does the last minute switch to reveal the true nature of his character.)

Robert:

Co-lead, but I wouldn't say you're wrong to put him supporting either. I'd put him co-lead though for his early and later scenes with Abbott which feel like they are from his perspective.

Matt:

Pryor - 2(Though to be fair I have not seen the film in a VERY long time, but I have no intention on ever re-watching it. In fact I refuse to. One reason being Pryor's bad performance here where it seems like the director told him, "act scared and unfunny". It's odd just how unfunny he is, and how off his comedic timing is. It's the worst kind of comedy relief unfortunately as his shtick, in this film, is tired and not the least bit amusing.)

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Any scene in Zhivago with Courtenay is a great scene as far as I'm concerned.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

While I totally didn't see this coming, I am so glad Courtenay has another 5.
Louis: Your 21-40 favorite male lead performances of all time.

Calvin Law said...

Need to check this out, Courtenay's 60s run was amazing.

Louis: how would you rank a sort of top 10 of the film's you've seen this year (or if you haven't quite seen 10 yet, your ranking of all the films you've seen, I've lost track).

Louis Morgan said...

Tahmeed:

I don't mind doing the decades, but I will say it's hard enough just to choose a winner for certain years, doing the overall of all time I find becomes rather difficult the further I expand the list given how many performances there are to sort out. It's why I stopped doing the overall nominations ranking.

Calvin:

Logan
Wonder Woman
Get Out
Free Fire
John Wick Chapter Two
Beauty and the Beast
Alien Covenant
The Fate of the Furious
It Comes At Night
Kong Skull Island
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
War Machine

Major gap between Get Out and Free Fire, then a gap between John Wick and the rest which are all pretty interchangeable to me.

Robert MacFarlane said...

For me:

1. Get Out (A)
2. Your Name (A-)
3. It Comes At Night (forget what I said the other day, it just keeps growing on me) (B)
4. Wonder Woman (B)
5. Logan (B)
6. The Lost City of Z (B)
7. Ghost in the Shell (B-)
8. Alien: Covenant (B-)
9. The LEGO Batman Movie (C+)
10. Captain Underpants (C+)

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your cast and director for a 80's version of Wonder Woman.

Charles Heiston said...

Louis: Can Nakadai take the win for 66 lead?

Luke Higham said...

Charles: There's a possibility of a tie, but there's no way Wallach's losing that #1 spot.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Wonder Woman directed by Richard Donner:

Diana: Rene Russo
Steve: Kurt Russell
Antiope: Ursula Andress
Hippolyta: Julie Newmar
Charlie: Ian McShane
Sameer: Art Malik
Chief: Wes Studi
Etta Candy: Mariam Margolyes
Ludendorff: Maximilian Schell
Dr. Poison: Francesca Annis
Sir Patrick: Peter O'Toole

Charles:

I have considered the tie.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your cast and director for a 1960's version of Lost Highway.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

1960's Lost Highway Directed By Robert Aldrich:

Fred Madison: Cliff Robertson
Renee/Alice: Natalie Wood
Pete: Kevin Coughlin
Mr. Eddy: Ed Begley
The Mystery Man: John Carradine

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the Player King monologue in Branagh's Hamlet.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Don't overdue it with ties. I have a one tie per category policy for myself. I've only used this policy twice.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

One of the best scenes in that film, and a scene that reveals the benefit of the complete text. What stands out the most though is Heston's performance that seems to say to all the naysayers "So you thought I couldn't act huh?" which grants such power to the monologue to the point that I honestly would have preferred if there weren't the Gielgud/Dench cutaways, not that they are bad at all, but Heston is so captivating in his performance that they were not needed.

Robert:

I prefer to not give them, though I don't mind Julia/Hurt since their success is from working together. I plan on breaking the 2012.

Luke Higham said...

Give it to Mikkelsen. :)

Charles Heiston said...

Robert: I don't prefer to give ties because it feels like cheating. But i currently have 5 ties in acting. I want to break some of them.

Calvin Law said...

My top 10 at this point is still in a bit of a flux, but my acting wins are:

Best Actor: Hugh Jackman in Logan (runner-up, Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out)

Best Actress: Dafne Keen in Logan (runner-up, Florence Pugh in Lady Macbeth)

Best Supporting Actor: Patrick Stewart in Logan (runner up, either David Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or John C. Reilly in Kong: Skull Island)

Best Supporting Actress: Either Allison Williams or Betty Gabriel in Get Out

Calvin Law said...

And Jordan Peele for Best Director.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Please give it to Mikkelsen. I usually use a 'Best scene' comparison to break my ties, and that's how Mads Mikkelsen also wins over Phoenix for me.

Luke Higham said...

Tahmeed: That's how I would do it.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: How do you think Peter Dinklage would have done in Jordan Prentice's role in In Bruges? On my first viewing of the film, I honestly did mistake him for Dinklage xD.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the opening scene of Vertigo.

Luke Higham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what's your top 10 directing and acting scenes for Mel Gibson?

Anonymous said...

Louis: What is your thoughts on Nakadai in Kill! despite a feeling you've given them before.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on these Gladiator Scenes:
The Opening/Buildup to the Battle
The Battle
Commodus/Marcus Aurelius scene
Maximus discovers his family's corpses
Are You Entertained
and My Name Is Gladiator

Louis Morgan said...

Tahmeed:

I'm sure he would have been good.

Anonymous:

An example of Hitchcock's effectiveness whenever he goes full horror which the scene is as he manages to give you the fear of heights, creating a terrible sympathy with Stewart's Scottie, so effectively setting up that pivotal plot point at the same time.

Matt:

Acting:

1. One last run - Gallipoli
2. Fears the night before - Gallipoli
3. Killing the Sheriff - Braveheart
4. Speaking with the survivor - Gallipoli
5. Battle Speech - Braveheart
6. Brother's Death - Mrs. Soffel
7. Reunion - Gallipoli
8. "FREEDOM" - Braveheart
9. Gabriel's Death - The Patriot
10. "Talk to me" - The Road Warrior

Directing:

1. "You've Bled With Wallace Now Bleed with Me" - Braveheart
2. "FREEDOM" - Braveheart
3. Battle of Stirling - Braveheart
4. Attacking the Column - Braveheart
5. Battle of Falkirk - Braveheart
6. "I hear you" - Hacksaw Ridge
7. Taking the Ridge - Hacksaw Ridge
8. Murron's Funeral - Braveheart
9. Leap of faith - Hacksaw Ridge
10. Saving the Japanese Soldier - Hacksaw Ridge

Anonymous:

Nakadai - (It's an interesting performance as we get to see him play the character that "Yojimbo" played in Kurosawa's Sanjuro. Nakadai is given his own performance as the pure samurai hero, though this one is a bit more hapless. Nakadai gets to give a very direct leading man turn, as so many of his character are either such terrible people or inflicted something. Nakadai is quite the charmer himself though in his own way as usual, as he brings this sort of indirect charisma to the character, as he is humorous in this sort of self-deprecating fashion. Throughout the film Nakadai commands the film, but in such a clever way as he is so magnetic while playing almost every scene with this sort of unassuming command. Nakadai is absolutely the hero the character should be but in this atypical modest way only Nakadai could do.)

Luke:

The Opening/Buildup to the Battle - (This is where it all is with Maximus's rousing speech, and really giving the grandeur to the battle through the build up. It's a magnificent moment aided greatly by Zimmer's striking score.)

The Battle - (The battle itself less so I find in that it just feels a bit muddled actually in comparison to the truly great film battles. It's not poorly done but the build up is better than the battle itself.)

Commodus/Marcus Aurelius scene - (Though I've never loved Phoenix there it is a fairly effective moment particularly the switch from the embrace to the suffocation.)

Maximus discovers his family's corpses - (It's fine but I will say the scene never quite has the impact I'd expect it should more due to Scott's visualization than Crowe's performance though I'd say.)

Are You Entertained - (It's become iconic for a reason and it really is the second best example of just what Crowe does in the film. He owns the screen just as Maximus own the arena.)

My Name Is Gladiator - (Well here is the best one, being such a cathartic moment. This scene really has it all from every reaction shot, to Zimmer's powerful score, and Crowe absolutely flawless delivery of one of the best threats in any movie ever.)