Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Katie-Bar-The-Door Awards (1950)

Spencer Tracy's performance in Father of the Bride is one of those that looks effortless until you start thinking of all the ways it could have gone wrong. The film's producers initially talked of casting Jack Benny, which on the surface makes sense—he was one of the most popular entertainers in America and he was famous for playing cheapskates:

"Your money or your life!"
"I'm thinking, I'm thinking!"

But Benny in the title role would have very quickly become a one-note joke—he's cheap, we get it.

And then there's the remake with Steve Martin, a very fine comic actor, but boy, was he a disaster in this part. His relationship to his daughter isn't touching, it's creepy, bordering on the incestuous. Not to mention I did the math in my head while I was sitting in the theater watching this some twenty-plus years ago (good lord, when did I get to be this old?) and I realized the wedding was costing him something like $125,000—those are 1991 dollars, mind you—a ridiculous amount of money. That Martin was unable to make his objections to this runaway insanity seem even remotely reasonable is an indictment of both him and the remake's writers.

With apparent ease, Tracy steered his performance away from all these potential disasters, and in the process, makes us feel sympathy for him—the money, the loss of his "little girl"—even as we laugh at his foibles.

It's another movie, perhaps as in all of his movies, where you're tempted to say, "He's not really acting, he's just playing himself." Except that when you see his top six or eight movies—Fury, Libeled Lady, Captains Courageous, Woman of the Year, Adam's Rib, Bad Day at Black Rock—and compare them to each other, you realize he's covered a lot of ground. What he consistently does is find the core of humanity in his character, no mean trick, I think.

winner: Sunset Boulevard (prod. Charles Brackett)
nominees: All About Eve (prod. Darryl F. Zanuck); The Asphalt Jungle (prod. Arthur Hornblow, Jr.); Gun Crazy (prod. Frank King and Maurice King); The Gunfighter (prod. Nunnally Johnson); In A Lonely Place (prod. Robert Lord); Night and the City (prod. Samuel G. Engel); Wagon Master (prod. Merian C. Cooper and John Ford); Winchester '73 (prod. Aaron Rosenberg)

PICTURE (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Harvey (prod. John Beck)
nominees: Born Yesterday (prod. S. Sylvan Simon); Cinderella (prod. Walt Disney)

PICTURE (Foreign Language)
winner: Rashômon (prod. Minoru Jingo )
nominees: Los olvidados (prod. Óscar Dancigers, Sergio Kogan and Jaime A. Menasce); Orphée (Orpheus) (prod. André Paulvé); La Ronde (prod. Ralph Baum and Sacha Gordine)

ACTOR (Drama)
winner: William Holden (Sunset Boulevard)
nominees: Dana Andrews (Where The Sidewalk Ends); Humphrey Bogart (In A Lonely Place); Marlon Brando (The Men); José Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac); John Garfield (The Breaking Point); Stewart Granger (King Solomon's Mines); Gregory Peck (The Gunfighter); James Stewart (Winchester '73); Richard Widmark (Night and the City, Panic in the Streets and No Way Out)

ACTOR (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Spencer Tracy (Father Of The Bride)
nominees: Ronald Colman (Champagne For Caesar); Broderick Crawford (Born Yesterday); James Stewart (Harvey); Clifton Webb (Cheaper By The Dozen)

winner: Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard)
nominees: Anne Baxter (All About Eve); Peggy Cummins (Gun Crazy); Bette Davis (All About Eve); Gloria Grahame (In A Lonely Place); Eleanor Parker (Caged)

ACTRESS (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday)
nominees: Joan Bennett (Father Of The Bride); Betty Hutton (Annie Get Your Gun)

winner: Akira Kurosawa (Rashômon)
nominees: Luis Buñuel (Los olividados); Jean Cocteau (Orphée a.k.a. Orpheus); Jules Dassin (Night and the City); John Huston (The Asphalt Jungle); Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy); Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve); Anthony Mann (Winchester '73); Nicholas Ray (In A Lonely Place); Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard)

DIRECTOR (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Henry Koster (Harvey)
nominees: George Cukor (Born Yesterday); Vincente Minnelli (Father Of The Bride); George Sidney (Annie Get Your Gun)

winner: George Sanders (All About Eve)
nominees: Louis Calhern (The Asphalt Jungle); Sam Jaffe (The Asphalt Jungle); Toshirô Mifune (Rashômon); Erich von Stroheim (Sunset Boulevard)

winner: Celeste Holm (All About Eve)
nominees: Jean Hagen (The Asphalt Jungle); Josephine Hull (Harvey); Machiko Kyo (Rashômon); Marilyn Monroe (The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve); Nancy Olson (Sunset Boulevard); Thelma Ritter (All About Eve)

winner: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, from the story "The Wisdom of Eve" by Mary Orr (All About Eve)
nominees: Mary Chase and Oscar Brodney, from the play by Mary Chase (Harvey); Akira Kurosawa and Shinobu Hashimoto, from the stories "Rashômon" and "In A Grove" by Ryûnosuke Akutagawa (Rashômon); Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr. (Sunset Boulevard)

Hans Dreier, John Meehan, Sam Comer and Ray Moyer (Sunset Boulevard) (Art Direction-Set Decoration); Russell Harlan (Gun Crazy) (Cinematography)


Maggie said...

Now we are getting into movies I know and love. My favorite role of Tracy's is in 'Adam's Rib' I also liked him in 'Deskset' (I think that's the name)

Farewell, Amanda....

LOL. I'll have to look at Martin's role in that movie, again.

Aubyn said...

Yay, you gave the drama award to Gloria Swanson, my personal acting favorite of 1950. Although I have to admit that Peggy Cummins was a standout too. Was there ever a better year for actresses than 1950?

Erik Beck said...

"Was there ever a better year for actresses than 1950?"

No. Definitely not. I rate Swanson and Davis as two of the 10 best performances in history and Baxter is also magnificent. There is no other year with 3 such lead actress performances.

Mythical Monkey said...

I agree, re: best year for actresses. I think Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Peggy Cummins, and possibly even Judy Holliday, all turned in the best performances their careers in 1950. That is a rare feat indeed.

Mythical Monkey said...

My favorite role of Tracy's is in 'Adam's Rib'

I love Tracy in Adam's Rib, although I confess, my favorite line was spoken by David Wayne: "Lawyers should never marry other lawyers. This is known as inbreeding from whence come idiot children -- and more lawyers."