Thursday, 31 July 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1997: Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce in L.A. Confidential

Russell Crowe did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Officer Wendell "Bud" White in L.A. Confidential.

L.A. Confidential is a masterful film about a three detectives as they investigate the mysterious spree of murders after the incarceration of the head of L.A.'s organized crime.

The first of the lead detectives that we meet is Bud White who brutally beats and busts a husband for beating his wife before going off to the Police station's Christmas party there he proceeds to go along with his thuggish partner to beat up some men accused of violently assaulting some of their fellows police officers leaving one with the impression that Bud is more of a violent thug than keeper of the peace. Russell Crowe was perfectly cast in the part as he has the needed physical presence to make Bud White an always imposing figure. Even more important though is Russell Crowe's incredible screen presence which makes Bud White, even when he is just beating a white beater, extremely compelling to watch. Although Crowe was not a star before this film it is very easy to see why that changed with this film. Crowe commands the screen here and even makes the early thuggish Bud White an interesting character.

Guy Pearce did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Det. Lt. Edmund "Ed" Exley in L.A. Confidential.

The second lead detective we meet in the film is that of Ed Exley played by Guy Pearce. Pearce, was also a fairly obscure name at the time, and although, for whatever reason, he did not become a star from this film it was definitely a breakout of sorts for him. Pearce in the opening is trying to run the police station where Bud and several other cops decide to beat up the suspects. Ed in this first also seems to be a very particularly man that being the straight forward cop who just wants to do things by the books, and refuses to break any of the laws while upholding the law. Pearce does not mind really playing Ed as the stiff he is, and does well to have it so there is a certain weakness in his attempt at command especially compared to Crowe's performance as Bud. A stiff also might seem like an uninteresting character particularly in the way we see Ed from the beginning, but Pearce also makes his character instantly watchable through his considerable charisma even in a part like this.

Both men and performances seems especially specific but this is all part of the brilliance of both the film and the work here by both actors. Shortly enough we learn that this initial view of the men truly is only the surface and we learn more about them. Bud, for example, does not just take on the occasional wife beater he seems to take on every one he hears about with an extreme prejudice. Crowe is excellent in his portrayal of Bud's reaction to any moment where violence against a woman is seen or even heard about. Crowe's portrays it as something very deep inside Bud as practically a psychotic burst of energy that drives the man. It is not just anger that Crowe shows in him as it is a primal force, but there is a righteousness about it that can be felt. Crowe brings, even in such a vicious intensity, that there is just as intense of an empathy that can be felt through his portrayal of Bud's behavior.

We don't instantly learn more about Ed, that's for a little later, but Pearce still excels in fleshing out the character. One particularly effective choice on Pearce's part is to show an immediate change in Ed since after the police brutality Ed choice to testify against his own officers ensuring himself a promotion to a higher ranking detective. Pearce very naturally brings out a greater command in his performance the moment Ed takes his new position. What Pearce does so well is show that Ed has in no one changed in the brief time from his first scene to this scene, but rather that there is very prideful, and even a certain smugness to Ed since he was only proven right in his dedication to his code. Pearce from this point carries Ed as a man with an unshakable confidence thanks to being vindicated, and it absolutely works in creating Ed, at least at first, as this sort of wall of justice so strong that it seems nothing can break through it.

Pearce and Crowe are both exceptional in portraying the officers differing styles in enforcing the laws through the performance, particularly when they both go to take down some men accused of committing a massacre. Both show a great precision in their performances although in very different fashions. Crowe, when Bud goes to infiltrate their hideout early to be able to kill the culprit rather than take him in, moves with a controlled passion. Crowe is terrific because he is able to, in complete silence, suggest both the extreme hatred behind Bud's eyes yet still in a completely controlled fashion fitting for a detective who's doing his duty in a professional way, well a professional way of sorts anyway. Pearce is a little different though as Ed seems to value brains over brawn which can be seen when he interrogates the men.

Pearce is fantastic in the interrogation scene showing in vivid detail Ed's method as he confuses each man to be able to derive the confessions he wants. Pearce carries the whole side with a considerable cool and completely shows Ed Exley in his element as a detective. Pearce portrays the different methods so flawlessly form his subtle constant intimating tone, but as well through a slightly casual manner about his method as well. Pearce almost weaves the scene as if he is putting on a magic show and just handles the scene beautifully. He commands and control every moment just up until the point in which Bud White literally crashes through into the interrogation room. When Ed gets almost everything he wants out of them in his confession you absolutely believe it because Pearce realizes it so incredibly well. It's just some marvelous work by Pearce, and easily one of the highlights of this performance.

After the take down of the men the two detectives either change or more is revealed about themselves. Bud White's revelations mostly come in through his relationship with a high class prostitute Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) a Veronica Lake look a like. Although my liking of Basinger's performance, which I already found  not particularly special, has lessened even more Crowe's performance in these scenes is outstanding. He begins it simple enough as he acts like the tough cop pushing forward the idea of masculinity as it pertains to his general toughness. What is so amazing about what Crowe does is peel that back and reveal the much more honest Bud under his tough exterior. When Bud finally does ask her out there is such a genuine vulnerability in the moment. Crowe does not over do it, but he gives us just the right glimmer of who Bud really. In the subsequent scenes with Basinger Crowe is extremely effective as he so honestly removes the intensity to reveal Bud as a man traumatized by his youth, and rather wounded by the way he is only used as a thug.

Pearce is not one to be outshone though and stays equally as compelling as Crowe as we see Ed as he begins to see that there are some compromises that he must make if he's going to be able to catch all the criminals. Pearce is such a great actor in portraying the reactionary change of a character with very little dialogue to convey. The film never stops to have Ed explain or even stop to talk about the fact that he's going to bending some rules. This is almost a wordless transformation and thankfully Pearce is on hand since he's pretty much an expert at this. Pearce is basically flawless as he slowly shows Ed lose his own crafted exterior a bit, and loses that smugness from before. It is not that Pearce shows Ed to become less of an officer, rather Pearce effortlessly portrays the way the realities of the cop naturally set in on Ed. When Ed makes the decision to kill the suspects it's quick and to the point, but given quite the power through Pearce's expression which shows what's going in Ed's mind at the time.

One of my favorite scenes with Pearce's portrayal of Exley's loss of veneer as he confronts Lynn over her affair with Bud only to learn that it is legit. Pearce is pitch perfect in the scene as he shows a visible effort in Ed as he tightens his jaw and keeps glare to try to show as if Ed is just as manly as the Bud. Pearce creates just enough of a childish notion in Ed's behavior that when he as sex with Bracken, it is basically his faulty attempt to out man Bud. To be fair to old Ed, it's not all about a loss of veneer as seen in an important scene with the other detective of the film Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey). Ed tells Jack why he became a cop in the first place which was to catch the idea of the man who killed his own father, who was also a cop. Although some of his moral statements might have had slight pomposity earlier none of that can be found in this scene. Pearce brings the needed poignancy to the moment as he reveals exactly what has driven Ed from the very beginning.

Despite both Pearce and Crowe being the leads of the film they actually don't interact all that much, until the third act. The wait is well worth it though as Crowe and Pearce play off each other impeccably well. The interesting thing is they manage to both have no chemistry and a lot of chemistry at the same time. On one hand their differing styles stay firmly in place and it is wonderful to see Crowe and Pearce handle every scene with the controlled Ed and the emotional Bud. They overlap and under lap in the scenes and it is really something watch. They also do have such a chemistry they form as the characters finally understand that both of them are, despite their differences, trying to do the right thing. It is an unspoken truth about the two and that is best shown by their final scene together where one of them isn't even allowed to speak. Crowe and Pearce create the connection though so even though you don't know what both of them are saying, you understand exactly what it means.

Despite the strength of their performances, and the fact that the film definitely had support neither Peace nor Crowe managed to garner any support from the Academy for this film. Although the academy should be blamed a bit for recognizing perhaps the weakest performance in the film while ignoring every other performance in the film somehow, technically so should many other awards bodies who did exactly the same thing. It's a shame though because Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe create one of the all time great screen duos in this film. Both manage to individually fully realize their characters not as simple archetypes, as they might appear in the opening scenes of the film, but rather as truly complex men. Their dynamic together carries this film to the incredible heights that it achieves. These simply are two great performances from two great actors.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1997: Ian Holm in The Sweet Hereafter

Ian Holm did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite receiving some critical citations, for portraying Mitchell Stevens in The Sweet Hereafter.

The Sweet Hereafter is an atmospheric and intriguing film about the way the lives of the people in a small town are changed after a tragic school bus accident. 

Ian Holm plays the opportunist lawyer who tries to get the town residents to utilize the tragedy to get money from the bus company that made the school bus. Holm plays Mitchell Stevens is technically a bit of an outsider, and if it were not for the flash forward scenes Holm would really just be a supporting character as the film focuses heavily on the reactions of the other people in the town as well. Holm almost plays two characters in the film as it cross cuts with Stevens while he is trying to get the people to hire him, and later as we meet him on far more personal terms. In the scenes that are set in the past Holm, who did so particularly well in Alien, is once again great at portraying a type of acting within in character. In the case of Mitchell Stevens he's not portraying an android pretending to be a man, but he still is playing a man who is pretending.

Almost all of the scenes set in the past show Mitchell as he attempts to sway the families of the victim into letting him represent them, this task is easier with some more than others. One of the early families is more than happy not only to hire him, but also dispense various information about the other families that might hurt the case. Holm's pretty straight forward in these scenes just showing Mitchell as an intelligent enough lawyer going through the steps as he is building his case. Things are not so straight forward though when he confronts some of the people who would rather forget the accident rather bring it all very much to the light again while going through a long court battle. Holm is terrific in these scenes as he portrays Mitchell putting on an act, the act of a true crusader rather basically just an ambulance chaser trying to make a quick buck off of people's tragic loss.

Holm is brilliant as Mitchelle tries to convince two of the parents that someone must be sued for the mechanical error. Holm delivers the speech with such a passion as Mitchell says that suing the bus company is almost a moral duty to supposedly prevent something like that from ever happening again. Holm is great because he is completely believable in bringing such an emotional power to what Mitchell is saying and you could easily see how the very emotionally vulnerable people of the town would be swayed by Mitchell's plead. Holm though is so great by showing the act within the emotional power though. There is a performance that Holm shows not in his own actual performance, but rather the performance that Mitchell is giving in his impassioned speech. It's an extremely tricky yet very effective dynamic that Holm manages to achieve.

Mitchell is far from a soulless individual  Although Mitchell's daughter is still alive it is almost as if Mitchell has lost her as she is a never recovering drug addict. During the film he receives a few calls from her and Holm shows the history between the two as he portrays Mitchell as almost responding monotonously to his daughter. Holm suggests as if she has called him in such a way so many times that he can barely bother to with an emotion. There was emotion once though as shown when Mitchell confides to an acquaintance about a time when his daughter almost died when she was young. Holm is absolutely heartbreaking as the love and loss in his voice when he speaks about the time he saved her life does not have a hint of falseness. The power of the scene is only amplified by the fake passion in the early scene and it is truly moving to see the "actor" from before only speaking the absolute truth. 

Holm's work is, I suppose, technically slightly limited by his screen time, and the fact that he's lead in what still feels like an ensemble film. That never seems like it diminishes his impact on the film as a whole as whenever Holm is given the chance in the material Holm utilizes it fully. Although I would not have minded if the film had given even more to do with the character since with what he is given he creates such an interesting complex character. It's a unique piece of work as he effortlessly and very believable realizes this lawyer as a both the lying lawyer but also a man who has some very real problems of his own. It is often the case that in a "director's film" the performances can be overshadowed by the vision, and that is sometimes the case, but Holm knows how leave his mark while never trying to make a spectacle out of himself. Holm's performance, is much like the film, rather unassuming in many ways yet carries such an palatable poignancy all the same.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1997

And the Nominees Were Not:

Russell Crowe in L.A. Confidential

Guy Pearce in L.A. Confidential

Ian Holm in The Sweet Hereafter

Philip Baker Hall in Hard Eight

Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1942: Joseph Cotten in The Magnificent Ambersons and Results

Joseph Cotten did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Eugene Morgan in The Magnificent Ambersons.

Joseph Cotten once again collaborates with Orson Welles in the role of Eugene Morgan a wealthy industrial whose life is very much intertwined with the the lives of those Magnificent Ambersons. As I wrote in my review of Holt's performance as the Amberson heir George, Welles, in the early scenes of the film, purposefully creates a false golden age as we first meet the characters. Cotten, unlike Holt, gives a fairly natural portrayal of the golden age for his character though. In his portrayal Cotten gives just enough charm to his role to make his character likable enough as well as with the right warmth to establish that Eugene certainly cares for his daughter Lucy (Anne Baxter), and in general just wants to see everyone happy in the simplest of ways. It's technically relatively simple, but Cotten never makes it seems as there is nothing, and just makes Eugene honestly a kind man.

Problems arise though when it becomes obvious that Eugene and George's mother Isabel have been in love for some time, and Eugene's presence is because of his desire to pursue this relationship once more after the death of George's father. Although George reacts quite harshly to this revelation Eugene's behavior is nothing to get in arms about. Cotten portrays in a wholly humble and fairly sweet fashion creating the needed sympathy for Eugene while showing George to be a word I won't write here. Anyway though George puts an end to it all by throwing a tantrum leaving Eugene alone. Cotten is moving enough showing Eugene basically just accepting this result in a quiet and somber fashion. The film keeps it fairly simple and short though but Cotten certainly makes us understand and care for his character's plight.

Cotten is consistently good here with some standout moments throughout, particularly his monologue about automobiles, but the material never allows Cotten do anything that notable with the role. He definitely is never bad in anyway, and he definitely steals every scene he shares with Tim Holt but that's not too much of challenge. Whenever he is on screen Cotten realizes Eugene properly as character, and he certainly allows you to understand and empathize with his character. The film is a brief one and the story of Eugene's love and loss seems to be one of the aspects of the film that was perhaps cut a little too short leaving Cotten's impact somewhat diminished. Cotten does solid work in every regard there just is not enough here to allow him to truly make something memorable with the role of Eugene Morgan.
Other Performances:

Roddy McDowall in The Pied Piper - Good Child actors are sometimes hard to come by and bad ones can almost ruin a film like say those atrocious ones in Watch on the Rhine. Luckily The Pied Piper has two of the best from the period with McDowall and Peggy Ann Garner. McDowall plays the overly smart type kid character with a few too many comebacks, which could spell disaster for most. McDowall though does it with such a considerable amount of charm and grace. I particularly found his chemistry with Woolley very endearing and they played off each other in such a wonderful and rather funny fashion. My major complaint with the film is later developments in the plot pushes McDowall to the background and there really is something lost there. The only problem with this performance is how little there is of it, the film never seemed to notice the gold they had with McDowall and Woolley.
Laird Cregar in This Gun For Hire - The more I see of him the more I think perhaps Cregar should be mentioned along with the likes of John Cazale when speaking of a great actor whose career was tragically cut short. Cregar has such a tremendous screen presence which he makes of great use as the liaison between Alan Ladd's hit man and a business man. Cregar has such a unique style about himself and he's one of those actors who is just fun to watch acting. This works well for the role of the weasel he plays here who is quite timid about death even though he is the man who hands out the money to cause death. Cregar makes it that, so you can't help but be a little sorry for his overly gentle fool, who is almost positively petrified by how black everything gets around them. Cregar has a very Peter Ustinov like quality about himself as the way he moves and deliveries his lines as the coward just has the perfect comedic tinge to it. Cregar made me enjoy his performance so much I actually was rather sad to see what happens to his character at the end of the film. It's a nice bit of work and shows his range as he manages to proves himself capable of playing a commanding character through his portrayal of Henry Morgan also in 1942.
Claude Rains in Now Voyager - Claude Rains, a noted player of villains, plays quite against that type as the doctor who plans on helping Bette Davis's character who is about to suffer a nervous breakdown because of controlling behavior of her cold mother. Rains does not have a huge role in the film showing up in various key turning points in the film basically to facilitate the best out of Davis's character. Rains, despite being such an expert at playing viscous could men, is quite adept a playing a warm one. Rains is performance is really quite strong here because it is not just the tender way he speaks that makes his character such a comforting factor. No Rains goes further than that with his performance as through his body language he conveys perfectly always a strong sense of empathy. When Davis character first appears the way Rains interacts and moves with the right delicacy and care.  The doctor just wants to help her get better, succeeding in doing so, and that is extremely easy to believe as Rains is so good at making the doctor so genuinely good. I liked every moment he appeared in the film, and like the other performances mentioned thus far I certainly could have gone for more of him.
I'm sure there's someone who's going to like this ranking.

Overall Rank:
  1. Claude Rains in Casablanca
  2. Claude Rains in Now Voyager
  3. Laird Cregar in This Gun For Hire
  4. Claude Rains in Kings Row
  5. Claude Rains in Moontide
  6. Laird Cregar in The Black Swan 
  7. Otto Kruger in Saboteur
  8. Pierre Larquey in The Murderer Lives At Number 23
  9. Noel Roquevert in The Murderer Lives At Number 23  
  10. Jean Tissier in The Murderer Lives At Number 23
  11. Roddy McDowall in The Pied Piper
  12. George Sanders in The Black Swan
  13. Walter Huston in Yankee Doodle Dandy
  14. Peter Lorre in Casablanca
  15. Joseph Cotten in The Magnificent Ambersons
  16. William Demarest in The Palm Beach Story
  17. Alexander Knox in This Above All 
  18. Walter Brennan in The Pride of the Yankees
  19. Otto Preminger in The Pied Piper
  20. Tully Marshall in This Gun For Hire
  21. Norman Lloyd in Saboteur
  22. Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca
  23. William Bendix in Wake Island
  24. Paul Henreid in Casablanca
  25. Thomas Mitchell in This Above All
  26. Charles Coburn in Kings Row
  27. Bernard Miles in In Which We Serve
  28. Stanley Ridges in To Be Or Not To Be
  29. Thomas Mitchell in Moontide
  30. Henry Travers in Mrs. Miniver
  31. Robert Preston in Wake Island
  32. Paul Henreid in Now Voyager
  33. Rudy Valee in The Palm Beach Story
  34. S.Z. Sakall in Casablanca
  35. Thomas Mitchell in The Black Swan
  36. Frank Morgan in Tortilla Flat
  37. Jimmy Durante in The Man Who Came to Dinner
  38. Robert Stack in To Be Or Not To Be
  39. Ray Collins in The Magnificent Ambersons 
  40. Anthony Quinn in The Black Swan
  41. Philip Dorn in Random Harvest
  42. Brian Donlevy in Wake Island 
  43. S.Z. Sakall in Yankee Doodle Dandy
  44. Anthony Quinn in Road to Morocco
  45. Robert Preston in This Gun For Hire
  46. Sheldon Leonard in Tortilla Flat
  47. Reginald Owen in Mrs. Miniver
  48. Donald Meek in Tortilla Flat
  49. Richard Travis in The Man Whho Came To Dinner
  50. Richard Ney in Mrs. Miniver
  51. Richard Whorf in Yankee Doodle Dandy
  52. Akim Tamiroff in Tortilla Flat
Next Year: 1997 lead

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1942: Results

5. Tim Holt in The Magnificent Ambersons -  Holt's character is an unlikable boring brat, and Holt in no way makes him compelling in any of that.

Best Scene: Fanny's revelation... I guess.
4. Noel Coward in In Which We Serve - Coward obviously had a very specific purpose for his film and his performance which is to give a passionate message for World War II. Well he accomplishes that well leaving other elements of his performance a bit simple.

Best Scene: The Captain delivers a speech to his troops.
3. Alan Ladd in This Gun For Hire - Ladd his the right notes in his portrayal of a brutal assassin, but just never quite seems to go the extra distance with his performance.

Best Scene:  Raven talks about his past.
2. Joel McCrea in The Palm Beach Story - McCrea gets kinda the short end of the stick in terms of screen time but he still gives an enjoyable portrayal of a husband exasperated by his wife's odd behavior.

Best Scene: Tom hears about his "sister's" idea.
1. Pierre Fresnay in The Murderer Lives At Number 21- Easily my favorite out of these five. Fresnay as is a great charmer here giving a highly entertaining portrayal that makes his film one enjoyable mystery to watch.

Best Scene: Inspector Wens stalls the killer.
Overall Rank:
  1. Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca
  2. Pierre Fresnay in The Murderer Lives At Number 21
  3. Monty Woolley in The Pied Piper
  4. Ronald Colman in Random Harvest
  5. James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy
  6. Joel McCrea in The Palm Beach Story
  7. Monty Woolley in The Man Who Came to Dinner
  8. Ronald Reagan in Kings Row
  9. Alan Ladd in This Gun For Hire
  10. Robert Cummings in Saboteur 
  11. Jack Benny in To Be or Not To Be 
  12. Jean Gabin in Moontide
  13. Bob Hope in Road to Morocco  
  14. Tyrone Power in This Above All   
  15. Robert Cummings in Kings Row
  16. Noel Coward in In Which We Serve 
  17. John Mills in In Which We Serve 
  18. Fred Astaire in Holiday Inn 
  19. Walter Pidgeon in Mrs. Miniver
  20. Tyrone Power in The Black Swan
  21. Gary Cooper in The Pride of the Yankees
  22. Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn
  23. Bing Crosby in Road to Morocco
  24. Tim Holt in The Magnificent Ambersons
  25. Spencer Tracy in Tortilla Flat
  26. John Garfield in Tortilla Flat
Next Year: 1942 Supporting

Alternate Best Actor 1942: Tim Holt in The Magnificent Ambersons

Tim Holt did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying George in The Magnificent Ambersons.

The Magnificent Ambersons is a decent enough followup to Citizen Kane by Orson Welles about a fading prominent family, although the fact that is was severely cut by the studio is quite noticeable.

Tim Holt, best known as the far less greedy miner in the Treasure of Sierra Madre, once again plays a role that seems thankless to the showier roles given to much of the cast. Holt plays George who will inherit what is left of the Amberson fortune. Holt in the early scenes plays George extremely straight as the lead character in a family drama like this, really in pretty much the way these sorts of characters are portrayed in parodies. Holt speaks every line as to the point as possible, and in all honesty is quite bland as George seems to just enjoy his status in life as well as the fact that he seems primed to marry his romantic interest Lucy (Anne Baxter). Although I think this was a purposeful directing choice on Welles part, Holt does not find any wiggle room to do something special within his restriction like say the way Daniel Day-Lewis eventually would in A Room With A View.

The reason George just seems the romantic hero is that Welles obviously wanted to give us this golden age appearance for the family of the Ambersons as well as for the life of George. This is torn down rather quickly though when a scandal arises surrounding George's mother and Lucy's father. This leaves George to confront it in a particularly selfish and fairly extreme way showing him to be actually just really a spoiled brat more that anything. Holt again keeps it incredibly straight to almost the point of parody as he plays George's reaction as basically just a temper tantrum. Again I think this does fit the character, and Welles's intent but Holt's performance does it in a particularly standard fashion. His George is just extremely likable Holt suggest no real substance to this, he does it with no style, and never attempts to do it in cleverly humorous fashion either.

Eventually, well rather quickly due to the brevity of the film, George falls on some hard times himself losing Lucy, having to get a job and eventually getting an automobile accident. Again Holt just stays quite bland and very uninteresting. Holt still keeps George as a man of no depth even when distraught, but I suppose that is true to form. Nevertheless George is still one boring man who I could care less about, and Holt does not even turn that into some sort of compelling anti-charisma. Holt's performance and George as a character just seems there to facilitate the more interesting characters who are performed by the likes of Agnes Moorehead and Joseph Cotten. This not a truly bad performance as I do think technically Holt fulfills his duty in a certain way, but that way is particularly forgettable.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1942: Pierre Fresnay in The Murderer Lives at Number 21

Pierre Fresnay did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Inspector Wens in The Murderer Lives At Number 21.

The Murderer Lives At Number 21 is a very entertaining murder mystery about a detective who knows the boarding house where the murderer lives, but does not know who the murderer is.

The Murderer Lives At Number 21 is a bit like the french version of the Thin Man. Both films are murder mysteries with a wide number of suspects, a comedic tone, and a detective who seems to spend just as much time dealing with his off-beat love interest as he does investigating the case. Pierre Fresnay in turn plays the role of Inspector Wens in much the same way that William Powell played Nick Charles in The Thin Man. Fresnay has a real casual demeanor in his performance as he walks along at an leisurely pace even though there is a murderer on the loose. This in turn is seen through his performance as Fresnay always stays quite calm and relaxed all the time, and treats the whole affair as a game, at least in part anyway.  

Fresnay is quite fun in the role actually though and does have that same time of dry delivery that suited William Powell, although Fresnay is a bit less sardonic in style. Fresnay has the same type of charm that is rather unassuming but so perfectly fitting in his creation of the assured detective. Fresnay makes Inspector Wens properly likable with his charm, and his attitude never seems distant rather it simply creates the right relaxed tone for the picture. Fresnay manner also allows him to play well off of Wens's opera singer girlfriend Mila (Suzy Delair) who is rather flamboyant in nature. Fresnay honestly makes Delair's performance work much more, by his manner of downplaying his part, and giving some rather funny reactions to some of her absurdity. 

All of it is not fun and games though as technically Wens does need to find a murderer which means going to the boarding house and interviewing each resident to find the culprit. Fresnay keeps the same tone even as the bodies start piling up but he does so in a convincing fashion. In his scenes of examination Fresnay oozes the right intelligence along with the wit in the character. Every line he delivers he brings the right incisive and piercing quality and he illustrates that Wens's relaxed attitude is actually part of his method of keeping the crooks off guard. Fresnay carefully never seems to aloof to the point that he seems that the murders don't matter, there is a substance that Fresnay subtly brings this in some key reactions, and he cleverly brings the dramatic weight well still being so eloquently lighthearted.

Pierre Fresnay makes Inspector Wens a great protagonist for a mystery. It's so easy to follow him through the mystery to its end by creating the necessary tone for the film creating an enjoyable story, but Fresnay goes further than that in making his own performance just enjoyable to watch all on his own. Fresnay is very entertaining throughout but my favorite scene of his is when he uncovers the culprit but not in the best of ways. It leaves Wens to distract the killer by delaying although this seems technically hard to believe its actually completely works because of the way Fresnay controls the scene so completely and so brilliantly. It's a marvelous scene for Fresnay and it shows how good Fresnay is at the role. Unlike the Thin Man, The Murderer Lives At Number 21 was a single effort without any sequels, which is a bit unfortunate as Fresnay made Inspector Wens such delightful company that I would not have mined seeing him on another investigation.