July 1, 2014

George Arliss, Disraeli

Won: Academy Award - Best Actor

When an actor originates a role on stage and then goes on to reprise said role in two film adaptations, one would naturally expect some sort of masterful performance. This was just the case with George Arliss and Disraeli, and his work as the British Prime Minister is in fact fascinating...but for all the wrong reasons. His is a performance that embodies what it means to be "old-fashioned", from the stiff poses, to the bug eyes and the much-too-demonstrated emoting, to his habit of awkwardly elongating his lines, and there is precious little to Arliss' acting that would translate as modern to a 2014 viewer. It's an old-school style of acting that believes in emphasizing, and as jarring as Arliss can be at times, it's kind of fun in a way to watch such an antiquated technique play out. He is cartoonish and yet unusually potent at times (he is tender and touching in his final scene) and I suppose that unusual is the perfect word to call his work here. Beyond the technical abnormalities lies a nice little performance, and perhaps on a rewatch I'd bump it up to three statues, but as it stands he gets a two because Arliss' misfires resonate much more than that of his accomplishments.


  1. eh, the voting must've been so messed-up back them. :)

    will probably never watch.

  2. Good heavens! ... This museum piece is a curiosity as well as an oddity. Aside from the antiquities of early sound films (set-em-and-forget-em camera shots; silent film gesticulating by most of the cast), it displays one of the strangest 'Oscar' winners ever. Arliss' bug-eyed performance is a sight to behold. He announces every line, barely looks at the other actors and has a propensity for staring directly into the camera for no apparent reason, which is both weird and off-putting. Everything thing he does comes across as entirely pre-planned and etched in stone, which means he has not one whit of chemistry or connection to the other actors who come across as little more than his props.

    Early sound acting can be trying to modern viewers but the best of them still contain enough artistry to remain relevant. This is not one of the best of them, not by a long shot. It's creaky, stuffy and as alien as E.T. would be 53 years later ... but a lot less appealing.