November 30, 2014

Robert Montgomery, Here Comes Mr. Jordan


Given the type of work that the Academy frequently nominates, you'd think that you'd need makeup, some sort of overwhelmingly dramatic arc, some sort of real life historical figure, immersive mimicry and tics, or some sort of combination of the aforementioned in order to make a "good" performance. There's almost always a gimmick involved that in turn signifies to us that what we're watching is outstanding. We've become conditioned to hold that big scene in high regard, that "Oscar-clip" of which fine acting is exemplified. After having trekked through Orson Welles aging an entire lifetime, Gary Cooper emulating a real life WWI sergeant, Cary Grant taking a stab at heartstring-tugging drama, and Walter Huston personifying diabolical wickedness, I can't tell you how refreshing it was to end with Robert Montgomery, who really hadn't anything to bring to the table outside of doing the very best he could with a wholly enjoyable picture.

Joe Pendleton isn't at all a complicated character--in fact, watching the film I was often bewildered by how little the role seemed to be requiring of Montgomery. There's not much that is actor-y here, and I suppose the best way to put it is that this is plainly an entertaining performance in an entertaining film. I suppose some people might interpret this as not doing anything special, but I feel that what the role does rely heavily on (and ultimately what made it work for me) is the charm of its leading man, to which Montgomery has an endless supply of. Perhaps it's that boyish mug of his, of which you can't help but be hopelessly fond of, but the truth is that Montgomery has always had an uncanny ability to pull me in and force me to be keen on him, whether he's playing an belligerent divorcée, a traitorous prisoner, or a psychopathic killer. In any case, Montgomery portrays a naïve demeanor trapped in the mold of a boxing man-child that is so lovable that I found myself delighted by him, always intrigued by what he's doing and saying, even if perhaps what he's doing and saying isn't significant whatsoever. This is what you would call magnetism, and Montgomery has got an innate personableness that is so fitting with Joe Pendleton's affable everyman, thus elevating a rather ordinarily written character into someone you can't help but adore. Once I started thinking about it, I realized that it's a great achievement on its own. He doesn't need to use ploys to show us that he can act--that's not what's asked of him. Rather, Joe Pendleton is just a guy you need root for, lovably stubborn and a bit of a dunce, but with enough heart to stay on your good graces, and Montgomery is more than up for the challenge. I wouldn't go as far as saying that this is a spectacular or a one-of-a-kind performance. It's hardly a massive contribution to the Best Actor Cause and I doubt that it'll rank among one of the best nominations I've ever seen, but it's one that is happy, it cheered me up, and it kept me in the best of moods. Sometimes you've got to just appreciate a performance for its entertainment value, and I think that that should count for something. What I liked most about this performance was how it didn't try hard and how it managed to be sustain my investment within its simplicity.


  1. I've not seen this but I'd be the last to begrudge a nomination to Montgomery. He was a welcome asset in the early talkies of both Shearer and Crawford, and for that alone I like him. His talented daughter did memorably well by us, too.

  2. I had to LOL at that 2nd phote, mr bulge-hunter. :D

    glad he's good (and fine) in this.