Sunday, May 25, 2008

Anti-D Supporters Cup, No. 1 [Melvyn Douglas - Being There]

[NOTE: In my continuing efforts to find a way to talk interestingly about classic movies, I'm instituting the Anti-D Supporters Cup, an irregular award dedicated to highlighting small performances that bring much to these films.]

The challenge of Melvyn Douglas' role as dying Senator Benjamin Rand in Being There is this: what at first must seem like an act of folly - mistaking the idiot gardener Chance/Chauncey (Peter Sellers) for an oracle of deep insight - must later seem like a perceptive moment of deathbed intuition. When an aide comes to reveal the secret, Douglas simultaneously must seem a fool and a man possessing a deeper wisdom that's lost on the mortals who will live beyond him. He also must give a touching portrayal of a dying man that is noticeably short on explicit Tuesdays with Morrie moments. A veteran of films since working with Greta Garbo in the 1930s and a veteran screwballer, Douglas deservedly would take his second Best Supporting Oscar for this role, his first coming as Paul Newman's father in Hud.


Craig Kennedy said...

Interesting and unconventional take on a film that doesn't get talked about enough anymore.

K. Bowen said...

It's such a mysterious movie. Ashby's feel is so straight and quasi-deadpan, like proto-Jarmusch in a way. I really enjoyed it. But it's so famous for Sellers' last major performance, it's odd that it was the same for Douglas. And does Shirley MacClaine get enough credit anymore?