March 29, 2015

Paul Lukas, Watch on the Rhine

as KURT MULLER
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Won: Academy Award - Best Actor | New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actor | Golden Globe - Best Actor

The Role: As the mysterious transplant from Germany with a troubling and confidential political past, Paul Lukas won every damn Best Actor prize there was to win in 1943 (my count is 4, if you also include the National Board of Review's unorthodox "Best Actors" rewards), signaling to me that this is a bravura type of performance. His is a role that sounds really interesting on paper, so naturally I came into the film pretty interested.

 photo Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 1.58.52 PM.jpgWhat I Didn't Like: Watch on the Rhine is a terribly slow-burning, dialogue-driven film, a filmed stage-play that doesn't offer a whole lot of intrigue. It's so slow that once things do kick into gear, it's all a bit anti-climactic because all the excitement lies within what is being said and revealed, and nothing is really happening in front of our eyes. The film circles itself around Kurt Muller's revelations, and yet somehow Lukas didn't stand out for me (no one really did). He's a bit of a wallflower, not really contributing the film in any significant way until the last act of the film. So while watching the film I paid close attention to what it is that Lukas was doing--but what is he doing exactly? He'll pop up and make a solemn glance here, warmly fawn over Bette Davis a little bit there, perhaps shoot a perplexed reaction over there, but I'd be remiss to say that there was anything impactful happening on Lukas' part for two-thirds of the film. What I found most disappointing was that Lukas doesn't really bring any edge to Kurt throughout the film, so what we have is a hero harboring what is supposedly groundbreaking secrets, and yet he comes off as uninteresting in the process. And as a result, I'm sorry to say that the performance isn't nearly as extraordinary as all the accolades would imply.

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What I Liked: There is a moment near the end of the film when Kurt snaps, and from then on is when I started to really care about what I was watching. Lukas' bottled intensity is on full display here, and the way in which he channels through the mix of passion and verged extremity is a sight to see. He's also quite touching in his final send-off with his children. What Lukas achieves in the last act is what I was hoping for during the entire duration of the film, but alas, a stellar half hour or so is just not enough to redeem over an hour's worth of mediocrity.  

9 comments:

  1. Agreed. I saw it once, and was never driven back to it, even with the gossip of Davis not getting along with Lucile Watson, and sneaking Janis Wilson from her last film into this one. One author thought Davis brought noticeable shades of Charlotte Vale into her characterization, Rhine going into production very quickly after Voyager wrapped.

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  2. I haven't seen this.
    How's Bette? Was she in the cards for an Actress nomination?

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    1. I actually did like Bette! Thought that she does a solid job, though it's not necessarily a "special" performance where she's at the forefront like all her other previous nominations. Seeing as the Academy was so collectively drunk on the favoritism kool-aid during the 40s I wouldn't have been surprised if she was in the running for a nom at all, and like dvlaries mentions I do see some semblances of Charlotte Vale in there.

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    2. Well, that's what I thought (without seeing the film). More the Merrier, Bell Tolls, Bernadette, Marie Curie ---> all big films and BP nominees if I'm correct (Bell too?). But who actually bothered seeing Constant Nymph? Wouldn't it have been easier to simply give Bette a 6th consecutive nom? [that would've actually tied her to her 7th].

      Curious.

      Of course, if you say Fontaine was good, that changes things up. But, from my memory, sorry if I'm wrong, that Nymph didn't get any other noms, so it couldn't have been that popular.

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    3. Anyway, not sure what the point was, but let's get to the real topic: when are you writing about Jennifer? :)

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    4. I guess you could make an argument that Joan Fontaine was still very huge and relevant, having won pretty recently at the time, and I suppose that acknowledging Fontaine took precedence over Davis. Kinda like Amy Adams--perennial nominee, but maybe the Academy felt like focusing on someone else, albeit another perennial nominee. But I think Fontaine being good in the film, forgettable as it was, worked in her favor.

      As for Jones..........................you know I always save the higher profile perfs until last :)

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  3. I really did not like that movie - those AWFUL CHILDREN!!! OMG!

    But I agree about Lukas...during the first hour, he was hardly there and he really didn't do anything truly Oscar-worthy later. About Bette: I did not like her either...it seems that everyone was so busy thinking "oh, this is such an important prestige pricture" that nobody bothered to act...

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    1. THAT FAT ONE IS LITERALLY THE WORST, MOST CRINGE INDUCING CHILD ACTOR I'VE EVER SEEN, and I've seen a lot.

      I'm glad our opinions sync with each other. Especially that of the children. Ugh. I'd have called it out myself but I feel like a broken record by now. :D

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  4. I'm going to contradict my post in the 'Actor Round-Up' and say that Lukas deserved his award (from the nominees). His part needs its build-up time, but he delivers when he needs to. Overcoming the script contrivances and the melodramatic atmosphere, he seems real among the posh banality (which includes Bette). I still think Joseph Cotten is the best of 1943 but, among the nominees, Paul Lukas is a fine choice and I'm glad I reconsidered his fine work.

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