Nov 14, 2013

Actor Round-up: 1932-1933

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3. LESLIE HOWARD AS PETER IN BERKELEY SQUARE
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Inside Oscar quotes The Times as suggesting that had Oscar been influenced by general public sentiment of the time, Leslie Howard would have been the one to nab the prize. This is incredibly difficult for me to wrap my head around because I found Howard's work in Berkeley Square to be terribly ordinary in the most banal kind of way. One can suppose that his role as Peter Standish falls into the category of the stiff-upper-lipped Englishman, and that perhaps I've mistaken Howard's restraint for English disengagement. But the fact of the matter is, there was not a moment in which I was taken by him, and at the very least I expect my leading characters to be interesting, something that Howard simply isn't in a film that, while poorly executed, does offer opportunities to engage the audience.



2. CHARLES LAUGHTON AS KING HENRY VIII IN THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII
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I've debated over and over again about whether or not this performance actually deserves the rating that I gave it. So just the other day, I re-watched the scene in which King Henry devours his chicken, and it reaffirmed my standing--this is a performance that is loud and abrasive, and it remains loud and abrasive for most of its entirety, and it just depends on whether or not that's your cup of tea. To many, these qualities may be appropriate for the infamous king, but it just doesn't do it for me. Laughton gets points for encompassing the power that one would associate with Henry, but ultimately his work is too one-note for my tastes and there are moments (like the chicken scene) that cross a fine line between towering and just plain absurd.



1. PAUL MUNI AS JAMES IN I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG
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At the other end of the spectrum is a performance that I wish was turned up a little more. For much of I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, I found Muni to be rather unremarkable. That's not to say that he was bad, I just ended up being more interested in the film itself than I was with him. Muni is kind of the in-between of the nominees--he isn't necessarily banal like Leslie Howard and he never becomes preposterous like Charles Laughton. Ultimately, while I think that Laughton is more consistent (in that he chooses to be over-the-top and sticks to it for the entire film), Muni transforms from uninteresting to extraordinary by film's end. It came down to which performance resonated with me the most--when I think of Muni and this film, I may never forget the heartbroken emotion he displays upon finding out that he isn't allowed to leave the chain gang. When I think of Laughton and The Private Life of Henry VIII, I think of him barking at people with a mouth full of food.



IN CONCLUSION: My issues with both Laughton and Muni are pretty neck-and-neck. Muni doesn't quite run away with top honors for me, but and at the end of the day, I feel that his best moments trump Laughton's. Howard shouldn't even be in the running. I will never understand why Oscar limited the field to three nominees, and the fact that the qualifying period for this year's ceremony was a year-and-a-half makes it all the more perplexing. Surely these three weren't the top three to hit the screens from mid 1932 to the end of 1933. But alas, no point in wasting brain energy on the questionable decisions of AMPAs, for there are many and I would be brain dead.

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