Best Male Performance of 1933 – Charles Laughton

Best Actor: Charles Laughton (The Private Life of Henry VIII)

Other Notable Performances:  Warner Baxter (42nd Street), Lionel Barrymore (Dinner at Eight), James Cagney (Footlight Parade).

This one is a no-brainer.  No other actor in 1933 matched the depth and complexity of Charles Laughton’s portrayal of King Henry VIII.  When I chose this picture as the second best of 1933, Sam Juliano from Wonders in the Dark said that some people find Laughton’s performance “stilted and dated.”  (A point, I should add, he rightly disagrees with.)  I don’t see that at all.  As I said in my review of the picture, Laughton was able to mold a complete character out of a figure in that has been demonized by history.  He is a real person, supposedly wielding absolute power, but wholly constrained in his personal life by that power.  Laughton’s Henry bulldozes his way through relationships, but when he loves he loves completely.  We never feel he is entirely selfish or arrogant; there are redeeming qualities to Henry’s personality.  Of course he is selfish and arrogant; after all, he is the king of England.  But Laughton is able to temper those qualities with an overbearing conflict between his desire to be loved and his duty to the throne.  We watch him use swagger and bluster to carve out some kind of happiness from a life that is by necessity designed to be lonely.  Yes, he uses women, but what are his options?  How else can he build a real relationship when the majority of people in his life see their relationship with him as a means to an end?  According to the movie his true love Katherine Howard betrayed him, further disillusioning him about the limited possibility for him to be happy.  Laughton plays Henry as a proud, but essentially amiable man prone to volatility.  That he is able to balance these different aspects of the character easily makes this the best performance of 1933.

Next up: Best Female Performance of 1933.



Filed under 1933, Yearly Best Performances

2 responses to “Best Male Performance of 1933 – Charles Laughton

  1. The irony is that Laughton’s storied career contains several other turns that at least match the one he gave here (Ruggles of Red Gap, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Rembrandt, Les Miserables, Mutiny on the Bounty, Island of Lost Souls, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, The Big Clock, Witness for the Prosecution) but there’s no doubt that this celebrated performance is probably the one that is most often mentioned when assessing his catalogue, helped by the Academy Award (which for once, was the right call.) Your runners-up are also (in my view) dead-on; I’d only pose to add Claude Rains (The Invisible Man) Niles Asther (Bitter Tea of General Yen) and Paul Muni (I Am A Fugitive for A Chain Gang). Actually I included Chain Gang as a 1932 film (hence it didn’t make my list in your annual round-up) but in the awkward overlaps of this period, Muni did get an Academy Award nomination, losing to Laughton.

    Nice descriptive qualification of Laughton’s performance here.

    • I think I added Muni to my 1932 list. The only reason I didn’t include Rains is, well, I just couldn’t get over not being able to see him. It’s more of a great voice over performance rather than a complete performance. Niles Asther was good too, but just didn’t quite cut it for me. But great thanks for your great points!

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