Best Supporting Actor: Ernest Thesiger (The Bride of Frankenstein)
Other Notable Performances: Frank Morgan (The Good Fairy), Edward Everett Horton (Top Hat), Wesley Ruggles (Ruggles of Red Gap), Edward Arnold (Crime and Punishment), Stepin Fetchit (Steamboat Round the Bend), Guy Standing (The Lives of a Bengal Lancer), Henry B. Walthall (A Tale of Two Cities), W.C. Fields (David Copperfield)
Let’s do it like the Academy Awards and get the supporting acting categories out of the way first.
There were a number of fine supporting roles by actors in 1935, especially from comedic movies. Frank Morgan in The Good Fairy and Edward Everett Horton in Top Hat exceeded their usual good work. And Stepin Fetchit, a shamefully derided actor, delivered another fine performance in the Will Rogers picture Steamboat Round the Bend. (Yes, we were meant to laugh at the racial stereotype of the lazy, dim-witted black man, but we are far enough away from the racist intentions of the filmmakers that we can assess Fetchit’s worth as an actor objectively. It wasn’t his fault that these were the only parts being written for him and he was genuinely funny in spite of the perpetuated racism.)
But there is one supporting performance of 1935 that topped them. This one is also a comedic performance, however, it is featured in the shock-fest (for 1935) The Bride of Frankenstein. Ernest Thesiger flamboyantly plays Dr. Septimus Pretorius, gleefully perpetuating horrible acts. Like Dr. Frankenstein, he creates life, but his work is limited and needs Frankenstein’s collaboration to fully complete it. That Frankenstein doesn’t want to help doesn’t faze a man who isn’t afraid to play the evil card; Pretorius has other ways to compel the beleaguered doctor to cooperate.
Thesiger’s razor-thinly coded homosexual character is one of the great movie villains. He is truly rotten, playing God in ways Freddy Frankenstein could have only dreamed when his heart was still in the monster making business. But Thesiger’s Pretorius is also genuinely charming. His mad scientist credentials don’t detract from his amiable personality and gracious sociability. He is one of the few people not to be repulsed by the Monster’s appearance, probably because he robs graves in his spare time and picnics in crypts. He is as happy to chat with the Monster as he is anyone else. His own exclusion from society has made him open to accepting that which others fear and hate. That he does it with panache is all the more captivating. Sure he often has an ulterior motive, but that would never compel him to be inhospitable or ungracious. He may be evil, but he isn’t rude.