Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Katie-Bar-The-Door Awards (1946)

If Jimmy Stewart had died in the war while flying bomber missions over Germany, I think we would have said some nice things about him, but I don't think it would have occurred to anyone to carve his face onto acting's Mount Rushmore. After the war, Stewart either had within him an undercurrent of rage and melancholy that he fought to control or during the war he perfectly observed rage and melancholy and could draw on that understanding like the truest method actor. Either way, after World War II, I think he was just about the finest actor around.

By nearly universal acclaim, mine included, Jimmy Stewart's performance in It's A Wonderful Life was his best. It was his (and Frank Capra's) first movie after a five year absence and he had serious doubts about his ability to revive his career. The scene where George Bailey is praying in Martini's bar and the tears begin to flow, Stewart said that was real. He started thinking about himself and the war and his fears about his career, and the tears just came.

There are two scenes in It's A Wonderful Life you should especially watch for, bits with no dialogue, just concentrating on Stewart's face. The first is when's he's leaving to go to college and the guy says "but they'll vote with Potter otherwise." The second is a bit later when his brother comes home on the train with Ruth Dakin (Ruth Dakin Bailey!). In both, you see realization, then despair, then the conscious rearranging of his face so that no one else will see—the whole set-up of the movie in a pair of five second bits. Damn fine acting, in my layman's opinion.

In other scenes, Stewart is able to hit notes of despair and self-pity and anger that are scary, and he's not afraid to take it out on his wife and children. For an actor who has a reputation as a nice guy, in many scenes in this movie and others in the post-war era, he's a completely unredeemed bastard.

Anyway, if you've never seen It's A Wonderful Life and you've convinced yourself in advance that it's pure treacle, trust me, you couldn't be more wrong.

winner: It's A Wonderful Life (prod. Frank Capra)
nominees: The Best Years of Our Lives (prod. Samuel Goldwyn); The Big Sleep (prod. Howard Hawks); Gilda (prod. Virginia Van Upp); Great Expectations (prod. Ronald Neame); The Killers (prod. Mark Hellinger); A Matter Of Life And Death (prod. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger); My Darling Clementine (prod. Samuel J. Engel); Notorious (prod. Alfred Hitchcock); The Postman Always Rings Twice (prod. Carey Wilson)

PICTURE (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Make Mine Music (prod. Walt Disney)
nominees: Cluny Brown (prod. Ernst Lubitch); The Harvey Girls (prod. Arthur Freed); A Night in Casablanca (prod. David L. Loew); Road To Utopia (prod. Paul Jones)

PICTURE (Foreign Language)
winner: La belle et la bête (Beauty And The Beast) (prod. André Paulvé)
nominees: Paisà (Paisan) (prod. Rod E. Geiger and Roberto Rossellini); Sciuscià (Shoeshine) (prod. Giuseppe Amato and Paolo William Tamburella)

ACTOR (Drama)
winner: James Stewart (It's A Wonderful Life)
nominees: Dana Andrews (The Best Years Of Our Lives); Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep); Henry Fonda (My Darling Clementine); John Garfield (The Postman Always Rings Twice); Cary Grant (Notorious); Fredric March (The Best Years Of Our Lives)

ACTOR (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (Road To Utopia)
nominees: Ray Bolger (The Harvey Girls); Charles Boyer (Cluny Brown)

winner: Rita Hayworth (Gilda)
nominees: Lauren Bacall (The Big Sleep); Ingrid Bergman (Notorious); Joan Crawford (Humoresque); Irene Dunne (Anna and the King of Siam); Deborah Kerr (I See A Dark Stranger); Donna Reed (It's A Wonderful Life); Lana Turner (The Postman Always Rings Twice)

ACTRESS (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Jennifer Jones (Cluny Brown)
nominees: Judy Garland (The Harvey Girls); Dorothy Lamour (Road To Utopia)

winner: Frank Capra (It's A Wonderful Life)
nominees: Vittorio de Sica (Sciuscià a.k.a. Shoeshine); John Ford (My Darling Clementine); Tay Garnett (The Postman Always Rings Twice); Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep); Alfred Hitchcock (Notorious); David Lean (Great Expectations); William Wyler (The Best Years Of Our Lives)

DIRECTOR (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Jean Cocteau (
La belle et la bête a.k.a. Beauty And The Beast)
nominees: Ernst Lubitsch (Cluny Brown)

winner: Claude Rains (Notorious)
nominees: Lionel Barrymore (It's A Wonderful Life); Walter Brennan (My Darling Clementine); Oscar Levant (Humoresque); Thomas Mitchell (It's A Wonderful Life); Harold Russell (The Best Years Of Our Lives); Henry Travers (It's A Wonderful Life); Clifton Webb (The Razor's Edge)

winner: Myrna Loy (The Best Years Of Our Lives)
nominees: Ethel Barrymore (The Spiral Staircase); Anne Baxter (The Razor's Edge); Ava Gardner (The Killers); Leopoldine Konstantin (Notorious); Jean Simmons (Great Expectations); Teresa Wright (The Best Years Of Our Lives)

winner: Robert E. Sherwood, from the novella Glory For Me by MacKinlay Kantor based on a Time magazine article (The Best Years Of Our Lives)
nominees: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman, from the novel by Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep); David Lean, Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan (Great Expectations); Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett and Frank Capra, with additional scenes by Jo Swerling, from a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern (It's A Wonderful Life); Ben Hecht (Notorious)

Christian Berard, Lucien Carre and Rene Moulaert (
La belle et la bête a.k.a. Beauty And The Beast) (Art Direction-Set Decoration)


Maggie said...

Indeed, he was terrific. I never knew about the praying scene, but I can see the desperation. Yeah, great actor.

Eeeeewww, what's the arm thing from?

Yvette said...

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES and LA BELLE ET LA BETE are two of my all time favorite movies. I also love THE HARVEY GIRLS (did a post not too long ago on this one).

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, for me, wore out its welcome a couple of years ago but that's only because I'd seen is SO many times. But you are definitely right on the money when you say that it was James Stewart's finest performance. No question about it.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

I think i may have confessed here before that i never saw It's A Wonderful Life. Probably just a stubborn reaction to everyone telling me over the years that i SHOULD see it because it was A Movie With A Message -- and you know how i hate those :-) ... but here I think you've won me over: OK, i'll give 'er a whirl.

Mythical Monkey said...

Eeeeewww, what's the arm thing from?

It's not polite to mock the afflicted, Thingy.

I kid. That's Jean Cocteau, who not only directed Beauty and the Beast but was one of the original Surrealists in the 1920s. I saw that picture and I thought "That's him in a nutshell."

Mythical Monkey said...

I also love THE HARVEY GIRLS (did a post not too long ago on this one).

Any musical with Judy Garland is automatically a contender. It's just that by the time I'm done, I'll have awarded three Garland musicals a best picture nod -- The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St. Louis and A Star is Born.

The Disney picture was a modern-music sequel to Fantasia, which Disney quickly cut up into ten shorts -- one of which was Peter and the Wolf -- pretty much the only way to see it now.

Mythical Monkey said...

but here I think you've won me over: OK, i'll give 'er a whirl.

I pretty much had you in mind, Who. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

But rent it on DVD -- skip the commercial-laden NBC broadcast in December.

theduckthief said...

I love Jimmy in that movie and yes there is a bit of treacle but he also brings this hint darkness. And there's that closeup where he looks like he's lost his mind. Love it!