July 27, 2014

Actor Round-up: 1928-1929

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4. GEORGE BANCROFT AS THUNDERBOLT IN THUNDERBOLT
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"Thunderbolt is in actuality not as interesting a character as the synopsis would have you believing. Bancroft himself looks exactly the same through much of the film--whether he's supposed to be disappointed in Ritzy, filled to the brim with anger and hatred towards Bob, or feeling remorse for the frame in which he conspired--to me he looked exactly the same in each instance, and I was never really able to see any sense of nuance to these different emotional touch points. I was bored by him, and it didn't make sense to me how something so energetic in concept could be characterized in such a feeble and flavorless manner. Simply put, it's not bad but it's a disappointment."



3. PAUL MUNI AS JAMES/JOE IN THE VALIANT
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"...with a running time of a little over an hour, Muni's probably got around five minutes of screen time in the first thirty minutes...When he does appear, he's quite solemn, going through his lines in a manner that isn't trying to attract nor repel attention. There's a beautifully acted moment with his onscreen sister, in which the camera pulls into Muni's face which shows such great conflicted pain. I can see how the material and Muni's style of simplistic acting might have gotten him notices back then, [but] ultimately, what brings the performance down is the film's lack of focus on Dyke. It's a decent debut, simple in its acting but a bit ordinary in its concept and execution..."


2. WARNER BAXTER AS THE CISCO KID IN IN OLD ARIZONA
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"Flaunting an accent that is mostly Mexican, sometimes Italian, and sometimes Greek (though the Cisco Kid later tells us that he's Portuguese...go figure), Baxter gives a racially insensitive and entirely unconvincing performance as the Latin/ethnic bandit...Racism aside, I didn't hate Baxter's performance as much as I thought I would...while he wasn't so good at being ethnic, Baxter does do suave bandit well. Although he ventures into "cheesy" territory often, it helps that he is lovable and his good looks help to accentuate the charming aspect that role requires...And while both performance and film haven't aged well (not that the ones from this time usually do), I can see why people may have been taken by him."


1. CHESTER MORRIS AS CHICK IN ALIBI
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"Chester Morris' one and only shot at Oscar glory is a sleeper kind of performance, in the sense that he doesn't do much in the beginning but suddenly hits the ground running after a certain point in the picture...Morris is on cruise control for the first half of the film, at which during I was questioning his merit. But once the film reveals Chick's true colors, Morris kicks it all into high gear. Chick is a different person, and a terrifying one at that, and Morris can communicate this all in a single glare. It all sort of hit me by surprise seeing this two drastic sides of a character...Morris would never again have the chance to be recognized by the Academy--like Robert Montgomery it seems as if he'd become underutilized after the early thirties. But just like Montgomery, we'll always have his great nominated turn, and it's a doozy."



IN CONCLUSION: Overall, a pretty substandard kind of year. I'm not knowledgable enough about this period at all to properly figure out if this was indeed the best batch of performances the Academy could muster. Bancroft was underwhelming in a part that I feel could have been very interesting, Muni had instances of finesse in a considerably smaller part, and Baxter was about as good as a caucasian actor in 1929 could be in a non-caucasian role. I chose to place Bancroft last just because his performance was merely the least impressive. Muni came in second-to-last in part because the size of his role compared to the others, and Baxter got second place in spite of all that awkward racism because at least he was trying for something and was obviously having fun in the process. I'm sort of thrilled that Morris got my win as I feel it's an under-seen performance by a very interesting actor (at least interesting from what I've seen him in). I've heard Bancroft is quite good in The Docks of New York, also directed by Josef von Sternberg and released less than a year prior to Thunderbolt, but I assume he got nominated for the latter due to it being fresher on the mind as well as everyone being in a fever over talkies. Funny that two actors from Oscar's very first shortlist each had vehicles the next qualifying period and were both overlooked--I've heard good things about Richard Barthelmess in Weary River (directed by my favorite director ever Frank Lloyd to boot!) and Emil Jannings in The Patriot was clearly shunned in favor of Lewis Stone. Stone has made a big enough impact in films like Grand Hotel, The Big House, and The Sin of Madelon Claudet for me to remember him, so it's a dirty shame that his one Oscar-nominated turn is for a film that's presently lost (he's advertised in the film's trailer as a "polished acting genius"--very true). Naturally I am interesting in seeing an Ernst Lubitsch collaboration with these actors, but digging up tidbits of info on Stone's role makes its lost status all the more frustrating--Variety says Stone's Count Pahlen "is really the star part", and the New York Times says that "although Mr. Jannings dominates the whole picture, Mr. Stone is capital as the plotting Pahlen. Through Mr. Lubitsch's skillful guidance it seems quite natural that Pahlen should be able to coax Paul to do what he wants..." And who doesn't love a devious character?! In fact, the overlying theme of this year's batch of men seems to be bad boy, because that's pretty much what they all are. An manipulative Count, a gangster on death row for robberies and murders, a man on death row for murder, a wanted Portuguese bandit, and another gangster suspected of a murder during a robbery. Anyways...onwards to the next year!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for checking out the year.

    You move along so fast :)

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    1. Thank you :D

      lol, you call it "fast", I call it "get these guys over and done with as quickly as possible". My guess is that I probably won't be blogging at this pace again.

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