Sunday, September 28, 2014

AFI's 25 Greatest Actors, Part 4

This article is part of a 15-Year Anniversary series commemorating the American Film Institute’s 25 Greatest Stars.  For the Actresses, click the numbers for Parts 12345, and 6.  For the Actors, click the numbers for Parts 12, and 3.

We've now gone through all of the actors that were on the list of the 25 greatest from the AFI.  A crowning achievement, to say the least.  And yet, don't you feel like a few names were missing?  Like I did with the actresses (click through all of the links above if you're catching up, as there's been a lot of discussion centering around this conversation), I thought it was appropriate to chronicle ten superstars of the era who probably just missed the cut.  These ten men were the closest in my opinion (if you disagree, click on the comments below):

Montgomery Clift (1920-1966)

Oscar Nominations: 4 nominations, though he would never win an Academy Award during his short but celebrated career.
Why He Was Close to the List: Montgomery Clift was one of the first leading men to really be emotional or sensitive onscreen.  Paving the way for the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando (and people like Ryan Gosling and James Franco today), he was intensely beautiful, but also someone with a secret, an introvert with something to tell.  He probably is still referenced so often today not just because of his tragic life and his closeted homosexuality (the gays are taking over this list, for the record-he's not the only one that I'm name-checking), but because his acting style is far more utilized by today's leading men and women than that of Bogie or John Wayne.  He was a pioneer of the hidden emotion.
Why He Missed: Clift's career never fully recovered after his near-fatal car accident in 1956, when his emotional state (already a bit damaged) and his physical appearance became altered and deteriorated quickly as a result.  Consequently, his filmography is impressive but quite brief, costing him against someone as prolific as Edward G. Robinson or Robert Mitchum.
My Favorite Performance: Looking through, I've actually seen almost all of Clift's films (I didn't realize this, but I have well over 50%, better than any other actor we've profiled, male or female, except for James Dean).  I will go with his sensational work in A Place in the Sun, where he plays a social-climber who wants nothing more than to leave his past where it is, but cannot escape it.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: As I said, I've seen most everything.  I'll go with Hitchcock's I Confess as I'm curious to see what Hitch does with an actor that he knew was gay off-screen (Hitchcock was pretty good about the gay allegory and worked it well with Anthony Perkins).

Bing Crosby (1903-1977)

Oscar Nominations: Crosby received three nominations in his career, winning for Best Actor for Going My Way.
Why He Was Close to the List: Crosby's stature in the film community is still recognized today, particularly with his work in Holiday Inn and White Christmas (it helps when you star in a holiday classic-take note actors wanting longevity).  Crosby's vocal prowess and singing ability was legendary, and his many films with Bob Hope are still remembered to this day.
Why He Missed: A couple of reasons.  For starters, like Hope, his principle fame didn't seem to just be from the cinema, but instead from a different format (for Hope, it was stand-up and television, for Crosby, it was music).  It appears that most of the actors listed by the AFI are chiefly famous for their on-screen ability (only Judy Garland really made the crossover to another medium with an equal level of success).  There's also the little factor that Crosby's reputation has taken a severe downturn since his death due to his parenting skills and bizarre will (much like Joan Crawford's, an actress who probably could have made it to the Top 8 had it not been for Mommie Dearest).
My Favorite Performance: Unlike Clift, I don't love Crosby in quite the same way (I always found Bing a bit stiff onscreen) and so I'll go with a personal favorite from childhood in White Christmas.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: In one of those rare situations where I haven't seen a Best Picture winner (I've seen over 80% of them), I've never seen Going My Way, which would need to be at the top of the list.

Errol Flynn (1909-1959)

Oscar Nominations: Flynn never received an Oscar nomination or win in his career, a stunning bit of news considering how long he was a Box Office draw.
Why He Was Close to the List: Flynn lives on today as a swashbuckler par excellence.  His name conjures images of dashing technicolor and elaborate sword battles.  It helps when you're creating an on-screen persona if you have one that no one else has ever had or can imitate, and that was the case with Flynn, who was a cad but one that you rooted for onscreen.
Why He Missed: Flynn doesn't have a particularly large list of easily-recognizable classics in his oeuvre, with the obvious exception being The Adventures of Robin Hood.  His extremely questionable relationship with Beverly Aadland (when she was just fifteen) further damaged his reputation in Hollywood, which was already pretty badly damaged from years of pretty open philandering (he reportedly romanced Marlene Dietrich and Delores del Rio while married).
My Favorite Performance: I'm not going to embarrass myself here.  I've seen a spattering of Flynn films, but none of note, and none that I'm going to claim as a favorite for such a legendary actor.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: Clearly I've got my work cut out for me (there's a chance you do too if my theories about his filmography are to be believed).  Together we can make a point of hitting The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, and The Sea Hawk.

Charlton Heston (1923-2008)

Oscar Nominations: Heston received only one Oscar nomination in his career, but he won for it in Ben-Hur.  He also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1978.
Why He Was Close to the List: Heston was one of the biggest and most recognizable stars of the 1950's, frequently leading his way through biblical epics like El Cid, Ben-Hur, and in particular The Ten Commandments that are still watched heavily today (most of these films you can catch on Turner Classic Movies during Easter).  He also made Planet of the Apes late in the 1960's, adding another classic to his list of motion pictures.  All-in-all, there is no one else in the history of the movies that quite had the stature and heroic gravitas that Heston did onscreen (for those unfamiliar with his onscreen work-and for the love of pete, please change that-Russell Crowe in Gladiator probably comes the closest), and with the shift toward more relatable heroes, we probably won't see another one ever again.
Why He Missed: While with Flynn and Crosby I think part of their miss on the list came from their offscreen behavior, I'm utterly confident that Heston's was a result of that as his filmography is too big to ignore otherwise.  Heston's neoconservative beliefs and in particular his strong advocacy for the National Rifle Association alienated him from a generation of moviegoers and bitterly divided public opinion on him, an opinion that only got worse in the years following the creation of this list (particularly after Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine was released).
My Favorite Performance: I genuinely loved Ben-Hur and think that it's an epic masterpiece, but Heston was better in Touch of Evil, where he has to match wits with Orson Welles and watches his entire world slowly deteriorate.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I've seen the Big Five films from Heston (all name-checked above), so I'll go with The Agony and the Ecstasy, an adaptation of the Irving Stone novel where Heston plays Michelangelo.

Rock Hudson (1925-1985)

Oscar Nominations: Hudson received one Academy Award nomination in 1956 for Giant (he lost to Yul Brynner).
Why He Was Close to the List: Hudson's fame comes from two different places.  First was his acting in the 1950's and 1960's in larger-than-life roles romancing Elizabeth Taylor and most frequently Doris Day (he later enjoyed success on television opposite Susan Saint James in McMillan & Wife).  The second source of his fame surrounded his personal life (he was one of the very first major stars in Hollywood to come out as gay) and his bringing AIDS to light in a major way to the public (Hudson ended up dying from the disease, but his admission that he had AIDS was a hugely influential point in the AIDS awareness movement considering now everyone in America knew someone who had the disease).
Why He Missed: Hudson's fame at this point is almost entirely surrounding his sexuality and his association with AIDS.  His filmography hosts films like Giant and Pillow Talk, but it's not really large enough to compete with someone like John Wayne or Kirk Douglas who enjoyed decades of hits and significant movies.  Also, Hudson suffers a bit from that stereotype that pretty men can't act (don't believe this is a stereotype?  Compare the Best Actor lineup to the Best Actress lineup in any given year and tell me I'm wrong).
My Favorite Performance: I love Hudson as the hunky fake Texan in Pillow Talk, where he manages to be both charming and incredibly sexy while wooing Doris Day.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: Like Clift, I've seen most of Rock Hudson's most significant films. I'll probably pick Ice Station Zebra (which plays constantly on Turner Classic Movies), one of his last major hits.

Charles Laughton (1899-1962)

Oscar Nominations: Laughton earned three Oscar nominations during his career, winning for The Private Life of Henry VIII.
Why He Was Close to the List: One of the great Shakespearean and theater actors, Laughton commanded major respect on the screen in almost everything he did (for those unfamiliar with his persona, think Philip Seymour Hoffman meets Laurence Olivier, with a bit of homosexuality for flavoring).  He brought a theatrical sense to the screen, and had the good sense to play in large epics during most of his career, meaning that his filmography is spattered with major classics from Mutiny on the Bounty to The Hunchback of Notre Dame to Witness for the Prosecution.
Why He Missed: Laughton never quite had THAT film to claim as his own.  All of those films are bona fide classics, but they aren't classics you instantly think of when discussing the term.  As a result, you end up with someone similar to Myrna Loy for the ladies-when you mention them as a candidate for a greatest stars list, you say "of course!" but they don't spring to mind unprompted.
My Favorite Performance: I'm going to cheat here, as I've missed most of Laughton's most significant acting work and don't want to embarrass myself, so I'll go with his sole directorial effort in The Night of the Hunter.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: If I cannot find a favorite performance that means another marathon list, so we'll put the four films I listed above along with Spartacus and Captain Kidd and make up for lost time.

Steve McQueen (1930-1980)

Oscar Nominations: McQueen received just one Oscar nomination in his career, for 1966's The Sand Pebbles.
Why He Was Close to the List: What James Dean was to the 1950's, Steve McQueen was to the 1960's.  McQueen was a devilishly handsome daredevil who played by his own rules and frequently romanced some of the leading ladies of his day (including Ali McGraw) and played rebellious, modern roles like that of Frank Bullitt in Bullitt, one of his most noted pictures.  His death at only age fifty added a mystique to McQueen's already enormous aura.
Why He Missed: Two reasons: one, McQueen's partying and racecar-driving caused him to miss out on a huge number of classic films, and as a result his filmography is much slimmer than most of the men listed here.  Secondly McQueen was more of an actor that was famous in the 1960's, considerably later than Hollywood's Golden Age and is more in-line with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Paul Newman, though his early death occasionally groups him with the stars of an earlier era.
My Favorite Performance: I have always enjoyed him as the totally crushable Rocky in the (admittedly dated, but still enjoyable) Love with the Proper Stranger.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I've never seen McQueen in Bullitt, a genre of film that isn't really my cup of tea, but clearly is one that I should hit sooner rather than later regardless of the film subject.

Anthony Quinn (1915-2001)

Oscar Nominations: Quinn received four Academy Award nods in his career, winning twice for Supporting Actor in Viva Zapata! and Lust for Life.
Why He Was Close to the List: Quinn was one of those actors that everyone deeply admired for his tenacity onscreen and his thespian chops.  Though he starred in very few major films (outside of a supporting role in Lawrence of Arabia), he, like Spencer Tracy, was an actor who carefully selected projects that would enjoy prestige and acclaim from critics, audiences, and awards' bodies.  It also helps that he worked for decades, right up until his death, giving multiple generations a chance to see his work in a theater.
Why He Missed: I touched on it, but Quinn never broke out in a specific role like other actors did.  His most famous part would be Zorba the Greek, but that's not a film a number of people see today.  He's well-respected, but not someone who survives in a memorable way in films since then (he also did a number of supporting parts, which may have cost him considering how headliner-heavy the AFI was in creating this list).
My Favorite Performance: It's been years since I saw it, but I have to imagine that Zorba the Greek will age pretty well if I ever re-visit it in the upcoming years, so I'll go with that for Quinn.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I've seen neither of his two Oscar-winning roles (though oddly enough I've seen both of the films he lost the Oscar for).

Mickey Rooney (1920-2014)

Oscar Nominations: Rooney received four competitive Academy Award nominations in his career, but won for none of them.  He did win a Juvenile Oscar in 1939 along with Deanna Durbin and then won an Honorary Oscar in 1983 for life achievement.
Why He Was Close to the List: He was the top box office draw of 1939 and 1940!  Okay, that's a joke that has frequently been thrown out (I don't know why Rooney in particular gets hammered with swipes in that regard).  He was clearly a very popular entertainer (his fellow actors adored him), and his star endured for decades (his career ended up spanning over ninety years), ending only this past year with his death.  He is one of those rare actors who did musicals, dramatic pictures, silent films, child star to aging grandpa-he was one of a kind.
Why He Missed: His onscreen (and offscreen) persona was an acquired taste, and one that not everyone was a fan of, quite frankly.  He was a very good actor, though, and I think if this list had been made a decade later, seeing that Rooney would still be working and would become one of the final links to Hollywood's Golden Era, he probably would have made the cut.
My Favorite Performance: I'm going to cheat here, but not in the way that I did with Laughton.  I'm going to pick Rooney's terrific solo effort on The Twilight Zone in "The Last Night of the Jockey"-if you want proof the man could act, here's a fine place to start.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I could go with one of the Oscar-nominated roles, but I'll instead go with some of the Andy Hardy pictures, getting a view of what Rooney truly became famous for (he made fifteen of these pictures in the days before television).

Peter Sellers (1925-1980)

Oscar Nominations: Sellers received two Oscar nominations for acting, for Dr. Strangelove and Being There, losing for both.  He also was nominated for his Live Action Short Film The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, which he also lost the trophy for.
Why He Was Close to the List: Sellers has long enjoyed an enduring fame, particularly amongst comedians, as one of the pioneers of the art form.  Think of how Steve Martin is revered amongst almost all comics now as being a true pioneer and artist-that's largely what Peter Sellers was in his era.  He also starred in Dr. Strangelove in not one but three roles, a comic triumph any actor would be envious of achieving.
Why He Missed: Sellers, like Steve McQueen, enjoyed his principle fame in later years, particularly the 1960's and 1970's, and as a result may not have felt like an appropriate choice for the "Golden Age Stars" list.  He was also very difficult to work with and very reclusive in his personal life, adding mystique but less public consciousness as a result.
My Favorite Performance: Only a fool wouldn't pick his comedic triumph in Dr. Strangelove, one of the most biting, provocative, and cutting films ever made, and Sellers is a key reason for all of that.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I've never seen Sellers in his last great film role, that of Chance Gardner in Being There with Shirley MacLaine (who, contrary to some opinions of Sellers, thoroughly enjoyed working with him).

And there are my hunches as to the ten men who just missed the AFI list-what are your guesses?  Who do you think was the closest (my gut is Heston)?  Who are your favorites?  Who did I forget from the just misses?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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