July 25, 2014

Paul Muni, The Valiant

as JAMES DYKE/JOE DOUGLAS
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 photo Muni2.jpgNot many actors can boast an Academy Award nomination for their film debut. The Valiant was the vehicle that introduced Paul Muni to the world, just the sampling of Muni's eventual dominance throughout the 1930's. There are no gimmicks here (no makeup, no accents) and the film itself isn't trying hard to sell an important message nor is it oozing with self-importance as a prestige picture. It's merely a simple, short film, starring an interesting actor who plays everything by the cards--it doesn't seem as though he's trying very hard to act for us...in fact, he's much more downplayed than you'd come to expect after watching four of his other nominated turns. I was surprised how little you see of him in the film...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. It's quite ironic that the man who would eventually go on to create the worst Oscar-affiliated performance I'd ever seen is so unappealingly composed here. 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, especially when you compare this performance to the output of Warner Baxter and George Arliss, who're trying their damnedest to make us shudder with their crazy vocals and visual projecting. 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, but at least it's a performance that's to-the-point.

1 comment:

  1. It was his first film, Academy really liked him at the time.

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