Oct 18, 2013

Actor Round-up: 1931-1932

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Beery in The Champ reminds me of Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter--both are big stars of their respective times leading a boxing picture with a comeback angle, and both fade in the background while their male costars overshadow them with their own excellent performances. The only difference here is that unlike Wahlberg, Beery was recognized by the Academy and even given a statue despite his technically securing less votes than Fredric March. Beery is a capable actor, and I've liked him in Min & Bill and Grand Hotel, but there's something severely lacking with his performance here. I felt there was an absence of fire and drive in him, something that is crucial to a performance dependent on an inspiring narrative. He seems to be sleepwalking through the film, giving the minimal amount of effort necessary to get by, but he's hardly above the material, which, when you're dealing with themes of father/son bonds, alcoholism, and overcoming obstacles, gives an actor ample space to showcase his skills. But alas, he shows up, lazily gets the job done, and calls it a day--much like his character. It's far from an Oscar-winning performance, and it's far from the best performance in his own film.

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Say what you will about Alfred Lunt's theatricality, but now that I've had time to sit and reflect, I do appreciate his performance a little bit more. He takes a rather ridiculous plot and creates a performance that is funny and just as ridiculous as the story calls for. So in a lot of ways, the performance and the movie complement one another, and it's a performance that ranges from touching, quiet moments to typical theatrical acting to scenery chewing that brings to mind Mommie Dearest. In fact, there are moments in the film in which he acts so hard you'd think a theatre will fall from the sky and collapse on him, but given the context of his comedic film, I'd say his style of acting is appropriate. It's not necessarily my cup of tea and I don't know if I'd call it one of the best of the year (granted I can't say I've seen enough male performances from this particular year), but it's decent work and a nice opportunity to take a look at one of America's legendary stage actors.

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If there's anything from Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde that'll stay with me, it's the expressive face of Fredric March which is wonderful at displaying fear and distress. He is the perfect Dr. Jekyll--intelligent, handsome, tender, and capable of exhibiting a fragility in his tragic hero that Wallace Beery (and I suppose myself) wishes he could channel. His vocal eloquence is perfect for Jekyll--the way he is visibly and vocally torn when leaving his fiance was one of the most touching moments I've seen amongst all these films I've reviewed. This isn't the easiest role to master, and I have my own qualms about his Mr. Hyde, but nevertheless the contrast between noble Jekyll and wild Hyde is really a sight to see. You must give a man props when he tackles the role in such a way that he still manages to amaze viewers 80 or so years later. An excellent performance given by an excellent actor, this is surely one of my all-time favorite wins in the category.

NOTE: Originally I gave him 4 statues, but in retrospect I feel it's a performance that deserves 5. So with that, Fredric March is the first member of the 5 statues club at Oscargasms!

IN CONCLUSION: This particular field is a rather lopsided one--we have one excellent performance for the ages, a so-and-so performance that I either like or not really like depending on the day, and a sluggish performance that probably shouldn't have been nominated and technically shouldn't have won in the first place. How sad it must have been for Lunt, to have been the only nominee in the bunch of three to not have won an Oscar, but ultimately I'm glad that one of the winners was truly deserving. While I'm not so sure if there're any other performances out there worth looking at, there is one in particular that is near and dear to my heart and I will be specially blogging about soon. So stay tuned!

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