April 9, 2016

Clifton Webb, Sitting Pretty

I can't wrap my head around this nomination. From the opening credits, wherein we're treated to a happy and homey sung melody, I got an instant twanging feeling of unconventionalism. Sitting Pretty is hands down the most lighthearted and easiest viewing experiences of the 1940s Oscar-nominated films, so it's curious how a film with content so off-base from the typical AMPAs fare would be nominated, and in the Best Actor category for a not-completely-lead performance by a character actor to boot.

It's funny, because had I not already watched Laura a few months back, I may have appreciated Clifton Webb's work in Sitting Pretty a little bit more. Webb's Waldo Lydecker and Lynn Belvedere are practically identical characters, the variations being the obvious difference in genres and that Belvedere has more egotism to him. This was for the most part a peculiar performance for me, due to the fact that I couldn't trace any elements of the performance that stood out as outstanding to me. He is a curt and acerbic presence in the film, and he does this quite well, but isn't that his schtick? Much to the vein that Maggie Smith plays up the "crabby English woman" in the present stage of her career, I suppose there was an element of surprise or revitalization that I was hoping for from Webb that was otherwise unestablished for me. While I can say that I believe he played the part well and to the way it is written and meant to be played, the performance itself just didn't do anything for me. The comedic timing is there, and yet I didn't find myself laughing throughout the film. I didn't feel as though I was being forced to watch the movie, as it was an entertaining one--and yet I was a passive-viewer the entire time, neither bored nor stimulated by the movie or Webb. It doesn't help that Webb is only required to take this beat of acerbity and essentially put it on cruise control for the entire picture, hardly ever cracking the facade to show any other elements of the character. But perhaps I'm overreading it, and perhaps there aren't any other elements of Lynn to be had. If that's the case, this circles back to my suspicion that this character--as refreshing a presence as he may be to the usual uninspiring "prestige" dreck given to us by the Pecks/Coopers/Tracys of the era--doesn't have much to him to be considered an outstanding contribution to the category. Which--given how outstanding Belvedere believes himself to be--is incredibly ironic, no?


  1. I think of this as more of a supporting performance and the movie itself is rather bland. Webb got lots of attention for this role and had been nominated twice before so maybe that's why he made the list. Your exactly right: there's nothing new here he does in any way. He does his 'shtick' very well, but it's still shtick and he does it in almost every movie he's in. I was surprised at how underwhelming this performance was.

  2. Another performance I've yet to see, I generally quite like Webb but this doesn't sound like a particularly challenging role.