December 28, 2013

Actor Round-up: 1934

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Upon re-watch, I've come to appreciate William Powell's Nick Charles much more than I did on my initial viewing. Much of the execution in his dialogue and the facial expressions or reactions he makes are subtle and quick and easily missed if you don't pay close attention. Powell is ridiculously charming and quite kooky and he's a joy to watch from beginning to end. Ultimately I do think the other two actors had more challenging roles and as much as it kills me to have Powell come in last, he is neck and neck with Morgan and I'd likely swap their positions on a different mood and day.

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The slight edge Frank Morgan had over Powell is that he is a character actor--his specialty is to create interesting personalities and infuse them into films he's not exactly leading. Morgan, and his character Alessandro for that matter, aren't "leading" anything in The Affairs of Cellini, but I'll be damned if he doesn't steal every single one of his scenes from the rabid likes of Constance Bennett and Fredric March with his utterly goofy, incompetent, but totally lovable ruler. If one's part is small but one manages to shine bright enough to upstage everybody else, that is worth applauding.

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Peter Warne and Nick Charles really aren't too different--they're both sharp and witty gentlemen with charm and charisma oozing out of their pores, played wonderfully by two of classic Hollywood's most handsome actors. But Nick never really changes in his film, whereas Peter's got a little vulnerability to him. Watching this handsome man lay in bed and talk about his wish of meeting the girl of his dreams someday and whisking her away to a private island offers a tender glimpse into this wise-talking tough guy, making his eventual fall for Ellie Andrews all the more gratifying to watch, as cliche as it is. He's a total delight--a classic gent who's funny, frightening when he needs to be, and has got shades of gentleness that's capable of making you rethink your preexisting ideas about macho men.

IN CONCLUSION: For the first (and what I'm assuming is the only) year ever, all the men nominated for Best Actor were for comedic performances. What's more, they're all really wonderful performances in comedic films that I adored. Inside Oscar highlights John Barrymore in Twentieth Century (yet another screwball comedy) as one who may have been close to getting onto the shortlist. But as nice as it'd have been to see the legendary actor get an Oscar nod, I picked up a copy of Twentieth Century and my opinion is that he was rightfully snubbed. One wonders how close Charles Laughton got to a nomination as the frightening father in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, especially since the Academy liked the film enough to give it a Best Picture nomination in addition to Norma Shearer's Best Actress nod (and eventual second place finish). Plus, Laughton was fresh off an Oscar win and he'd still be liked enough to get another nom in the next year, and I certainly wouldn't have minded his inclusion. And since we're on the topic of previous winners, Wallace Beery in Best Pic nominee Viva Villa! could have been in the mix as well. Regardless, this is a solid shortlist, and one that I enjoyed a lot more than I was expecting to. 

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