Actors are artists, and the best of them hone their talents by trying out a multiplicity of roles. Some are best as leading men, but certain actors will take a seemingly “small” role and find a way to make a mark. Often this involves going beyond what is explicit in the screenplay and giving the character unexpected depth. When an actor finds a way to do this, he can be considered in the category of supporting actor.
In the year 1914, longer films and more complex storylines made for larger casts and gave more actors chances to do good supporting work. Lon Chaney (Sr.) gave one of his first memorable performances as the weaselly villain in “By the Sun’s Rays.” The hulking Bartolomeo Pagano created a powerful yet gentle giant named Maciste in “Cabiria.” Fatty Arbuckle seems to be tutoring Charlie Chaplin to be a funny drunk in “The Rounders,” while Charlie provided Fatty with critical support in “The Knockout.” Finally, Alec B. Francis was outstanding as the grouchy, rejecting father whose heart is won by his son’s fiancée.
The nominees for best supporting actor for 1914 are:
- Lon Chaney for By the Sun’s Rays
- Bartolomeo Pagano for Cabiria
- Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for The Rounders
- Charlie Chaplin for The Knockout
- Alec B. Francis for The Wishing Ring
And the winner is…Bartolomeo Pagano for “Cabiria!”
Once again with “Cabiria,” there was never any serious doubt in my mind that this was the winner. Maciste became a tremendous international star and would be the hero of Italian movies for decades, with a particularly strong revival in the 1960s. Many of these movies were released in the US as “Hercules” movies, so in fact I would argue that all American films about Hercules (including last year’s video-game-like version) have been influenced by Pagano’s performance. Few actors are still influencing performances so directly after 100 years.