Friday, February 21, 2014

Judge for yourself: 1944 Best Actor

Tonight's lineup on TCM is the Best Actor nominees of 1944. There are only four movies shown, because two actors -- Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald -- were both nominated for Going My Way, which kicks off the night at 8:00 PM. It's a movie I intensely dislike, but I've already blogged about that before.

Following Going My Way, at 10:15 PM, is the actor I htink probably ought to have won the Best Actor: Alexander Knox in Wilson. Knox plays the 28th President of the United States, starting from when he wsa president of Princeton University, through to when he leaves the White House broken from a stroke but unbowed. The big problem with the film is that is not just Hollywood-style uncritical; it's almost hagiographic. If westerns, or at least the ones before Anthony Mann came along around 1950, are a genre in which there's a very clear delineation between right and wrong, Wilson goes two steps further. As I wrote last February, there's a silly scene of Wilson talking about racial diversity. Not only was the real life military still segregated in 1944 when the movie was made, Wilson's real record on race relations was rather more checkered. It should be unsurprising for a politician in the 1910s, and the Republicans of the day wouldn't have been that much better on average, but when you're trying to make an icon out of somebody, this is the sort of stuff you have to whitewash.

None of the above is Alexander Knox's fault, of course, and he makes the movie completely his, helped in part that unlike many other actors, he wasn't a big enough star to have a well-established persona. This is in contrast to Cary Grant in None But the Lonely Heart, which rounds out the night at 3:00 AM. Grant does well, but unfortunately already had a screen persona that was quite different from the not very virtuous character he plays here. After all, Grant's persona had already caused producers to go nuts over the original ending of Suspicion back in 1941. None But the Lonely Heart isn't a bad movie, but it's one that the first time I watched it gave me the feeling that there was something not quite right with the whole production. (Strangely, I don't really get that vibe from Mr. Lucky.)

The final nominee was Charles Boyer in Gaslight (1:00 AM), playing a man trying to drive new wife Ingrid Bergman insane so he can find her aunt's jewels. Boyer does quite well, but as with Cary Grant, I sometimes wonder how much of the suave charm wsa what he was putting into his acting, and how much he might have had in real life.

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