All of us who are enjoying Bogie's best performance year by year thread are having to make some judgment calls about which performances are leads and which are supporting. These are my musings about some of the choices ahead
Reviewing the thirty years of the studio era from the year that the Supporting Actor/Actress category was instituted, I’m finding an average of one performance a year which is arguably in the wrong category. In the early years, no star wanted to be listed in the supporting category, nor did the studios want them there. It has been pointed out that after Edmond O’Brien won an Oscar for best supporting actor, he was never again offered a leading role (granted, he was getting leads in B movies, but nonetheless leads). Obviously, things are different these days.
1936-1938: We seem to agree that Spencer Tracy’s role in SAN FRANCISCO is not a lead. Filmlover has argued that neither are his roles in CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS and BOYS TOWN. Luise Rainer has the largest female role in THE GREAT ZIEGFELD, but it can be argued that this is William Powell’s film, with everyone else in supporting roles. MGM saw Tracy and Rainer as stars, actual or potential.
1939: Brian Aherne as Maximilian probably has more screen time than Paul Muni in the title role of JUAREZ. I would classify this as a lead.
1940: James Stewart doesn’t get the leading lady in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, which is one argument that perhaps he has a supporting role. The argument could also be made that he has enough screen time to be a leading actor. On the other hand, Walter Brennan in THE WESTERNER probably has a large enough role as Gary Cooper’s antagonist that he should be considered a lead. The dimness of Cooper’s female love interest further skews the film into more of a man vs. man showdown.
1942: Some critics’ groups considered Agnes Moorehead’s work in THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS in their Best Actress category.
1943: SO PROUDLY WE HAIL is an ensemble drama, with Claudette Colbert as the star, but I am by no means sure that Paulette Goddard doesn’t also have a starring role, whereas Veronica Lake would be in the supporting category.
1944: Barry Fitzgerald was nominated in both the starring and supporting categories for GOING MY WAY, and he won the New York Film Critics prize as Best Actor. They did not have a supporting actor award at that time. For me the question is purely academic, because I can’t stomach Fitzgerald. Ethel Barrymore won Best Supporting Actress for NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART, but she had second billing and is clearly the second most important character in the film. I would consider this a lead.
1946: Myrna Loy wasn’t nominated for THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, but she should have been, and in the supporting category, despite her top billing. In my view, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Teresa Wright have the starring roles, and Harold Russell also has more screen time than Loy. In THE YEARLING Jane Wyman has much less screen time than Gregory Peck or Claude Jarman, and this could also be considered a supporting role. Wyman wanted to be seen as a star, of course.
1948: Is Ophelia a primary or secondary role in HAMLET? I don’t really object to Jean Simmons being put in the secondary category, and yet this doesn’t quite seem right.
1950: Anne Baxter chose to compete in the lead rather than the supporting category for ALL ABOUT EVE, and that probably is accurate, even if she may have cost Bette Davis an Oscar in the process.
1951: Oskar Werner wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for DECISION BEFORE DAWN, but he should have been. An argument could be made for either category. Shelley Winters was pleased to be in the top category for A PLACE IN THE SUN, but I would place that performance in the supporting class.
1952: Richard Burton obviously belonged in the star category for MY COUSIN RACHEL. I would probably put Colette Marchand there, too, for MOULIN ROUGE. Although she disappears after the first half of the film, it’s much the largest and most important female role, second in importance only to Jose Ferrer’s Toulouse-Lautrec.
1953: Children are almost automatically put in the supporting category, even Tatum O’Neal in PAPER MOON. SHANE is seen through the eyes of Brandon de Wilde, and I think he has a leading role. Geraldine Page in HONDO should be in the lead category, too, whereas Antony in JULIUS CAESAR is a supporting role—only Brutus is a lead—and Marlon Brando should be moved to supporting.
1954: Humphrey Bogart has a supporting role in THE CAINE MUTINY. Robert Francis has the starring role, but that’s hard to notice because he isn’t a star (imagine someone like Matt Damon instead, and it becomes obvious). Eva Marie Saint chose to be “downlisted” to the supporting category for ON THE WATERFRONT even though some critics’ groups had considered her as a lead. You can make the GREAT ZIEGFELD argument that Brando is the only star, but I would vote for this as a lead.
1955: Seeing what had worked for Eva Marie Saint, Betsy Blair was also downlisted for MARTY. I think it’s a lead.
1956: Assuming Don Murray should have been nominated for BUS STOP (he wouldn’t get my vote), it should have been as a lead.
1960: It’s been quite a while since I saw SONS AND LOVERS, but I think only Dean Stockwell is really a lead, which moves Trevor Howard to the supporting category.
1961: Neither Charles Boyer (FANNY) nor Maximilian Schell (JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG) has enough proportionate screen time for the lead category, in my view. Piper Laurie’s role in THE HUSTLER seems comparable to the Eva Marie Saint and Betsy Blair roles mentioned above, but she competed as Best Actress, probably correctly.
1963: CLEOPATRA is a long enough movie that Rex Harrison has plenty of screen time, but a less-known actor would probably have been placed in the supporting category. Rachel Roberts has much less screen time than Richard Harris in THIS SPORTING LIFE, so a GREAT ZIEGFELD argument could be made that she has a supporting role. (If Saint and Blair are supporting, so is she.) There’s an even stronger argument that Patricia Neal should have been in the supporting category for HUD, for two other actors (Paul Newman and Brandon de Wilde) have much larger roles than she, and the main story is built around them. The Golden Globes put Neal in the supporting category, where she lost to Margaret Rutherford, who also won the Oscar, so uplisting Neal to Best Actress probably put her in an easier contest.
1965: Neither Frank Finlay nor Maggie Smith was well known when OTHELLO was released, and both were placed in the supporting categories where they were likelier to be nominated. Desdemona is a lead role, and Iago has more lines than Othello. They belonged in the star categories along with Olivier.