I took a little time (more than I should) to watch a couple of classic movies on the cable this morning, and I was struck by something fascinating.
First, I watched the original 1949 version of Robert Penn Warren’s “All The King’s Men,” which won the Best Picture Oscar that year over “The Heiress,” “Battleground,” “Twelve O’Clock High” and “A Letter to Three Wives.” When you see it in today’s context, it appears slightly dated, although the thinly-veiled story of Louisiana’s Huey Long remains powerful.
The picture has many excellent portrayals with Mercedes McCambridge winning a Best Supporting Actress honor and character actors John Ireland, Joanne Dru and John Derek (yep, Bo’s future husband) acquit themselves well.
But the picture belongs to a relatively unknown actor who has been in several “B” movies and always as a bad guy. Philadelphia-born Broderick Crawford would win the Best Actor Oscar over a formidable field – Kirk Douglas (“Champion”), John Wayne (“Sands of Iwo Jima”), Greogry Peck (“Twelve O’Clock High”) and Richard Todd (“The Hasty Heart”).
Although he played the “heavy” in the 1950 comedy “Born Yesterday,” it was Crawford’s only moment in the Hollywood spotlight – his only nomination. He played Lt. Dan Matthews from 1955-59 in the well-known TV drama “Highway Patrol,” but his career hit its zenith in 1949.
This Sunday, another character actor, also facing his only nomination, will win Best Actor. From all accounts, Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin is a shoo-in, sure thing for victory. And you have to wonder if this will be HIS moment in the spotlight or if he will emerge to do greater things.
Let’s hope so.
The second movie came this afternoon – the 1987 Stanley Kubrick honed “Full Metal Jacket,” the anti-war Vietnam saga. It is two halves combined into one movie with the second half excellent work but nothing like the haunting, inspired first half about Marine training at Paris Island.
You are riveted by Vicnent D’Onofrio and Mathew Modine are the trainees, but you will never forget newcomer R. Lee Ermey as drill instructor Sgt. Hartman. Few performances dominated every single second of the screen like Ermey and almost no one that year created a character that lived inside you for years to come.
Was he nominated as Best Suppporting Actor? Of course not. That field consisted of Albert Brooks (“Broadcast News”), Morgan Freeman (“Street Smart”), Sean Connery (“The Untouchables”), Vincent Gardenia (“Moonstruck”) and Denzel Washington (“Cry Freedom”). Connery was the winner is what was seen as a way to honor his body of work, rather than that movie (Robert DeNiro was better as Al Capone).
But no one was better than Ermey in “Full Metal Jacket.”
And the best picture of 1987? “The Last Emporer” over “Broadcast News,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Hope and Glory” and “Moonstruck.” Were any of them better than “Full Metal Jacket?” Hardly.