200 Dates with Guys
After re-screening How Green Was My Valley as preparation for the next Best Pictures... installment, I decided to pop in the last Best Picture nominee from 1941 that I hadn't seen, the delightful and much-remade celestial comedy Here Comes Mr. Jordan. An even more ambitious and able director than Alexander Hall would have mined some more comic energy, I'm sure, from the second-tier players in the roles of the scheming wife, her lover-conspirator, the crooked boxing agent, etc. But as a tender, funny, consistent lark, obviously besotted with the fanciful conceits of its script but rarely weighed down by them, Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a pretty great ticket. Aware that handsomely puggish star Robert Montgomery had tried his hand at some interesting directorial experiments toward the end of the 1940s, I took a chance on his Tex-Mex neo-noir Ride the Pink Horse, which is about as inclined as you might expect to associate "Mexico" with fiestas, tequilas, crooks, shawls, and death. Yet for all thatand the film isn't nearly as exoticizing as it could bePink Horse succeeds excitingly at transplanting noir and gangster tropes into this unusual terrain, and Montgomery collaborates with legendary cinematographer Russell Metty to make frequently brilliant use of offscreen space, whether before, behind, or to either side of what's in the frame. And Thomas Gomez fully warrants his 1947 Best Supporting Actor nod as a corpulent carousel-operator (how's that for a character précis?) who becomes a key ally to the Montgomery character.
The happy accident of this double-header, besides yielding two solid entertainments and selling Montgomery as a limited but compelling Hollywood figure, is that I find myself on the eve of this year's Oscars at a symmetrically pleasing juncture: exactly 100 Best Actor nominees left to view after Montgomery, and 100 Best Supporting Actor nominees left after Gomez and Mr. Jordan's muggy but spryly appealing James Gleason. And no, "accident" isn't precisely the best word in this context. I'm into Oscar numerology, even when I have to force it a little. But for a site that tends to orbit obsessively around the gals, here's a nod to happy times ahead with a finite group of fellas. I'm hitting a campus screening of True Grit tomorrow, so this will quickly become dated information, but I'm excited to have so many Oliviers, Tracys, Mastroiannis, and Brandos left on my list, since I'm still resolving my feelings about these landmark figures. And for every outstanding Fanny and Wilson and Affairs of Cellini that I might have to push myself through, I have a San Francisco, a Serpico, an Under the Volcano, and a 'Round Midnight to get really psyched about.
Among the supporting blokes, I hold out the most hope for turns like Robert Mitchum's in The Story of G.I. Joe, Richard Widmark's in Kiss of Death, Richard Farnsworth's in Comes a Horseman, and Denzel Washington's in Cry Freedom, plus the nominated performances in such enticing projects as Four Daughters, Battleground, Seven Days in May, Marathon Man, and The Right Stuff. In the context of those glimmers on the horizon, who cares that I still have to deal with Mickey Rooney three more times?
I'm not going to type out a full list of my future itineraries, but by all means, fill out my picture of the field by telling me your favorite Actor and Supporting Actor nominees of years past. My most recent omissions are Depardieu and Harris in 1990 up top and David Paymer in Supporting in 1992, so err on the side of B.B.C. (Before Bill Clinton) as much as you can.