The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1959

This is the one category for 1959 where I can really say — what a fucking terrible decision.

Ben-Hur wins Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Charlton Heston and Best Supporting Actor for Hugh Griffith. All of those are pretty okay. I talked about the Best Director and Best Actor already. The other category this year was Best Supporting Actress (which I’ve also talked about), which went to Shelley Winters for The Diary of Anne Frank. I’m less okay with that one, but I do understand that one. Which leaves this category. Seriously, what the fuck were they thinking here?


And the nominees were…

Doris Day, Pillow Talk

Audrey Hepburn, The Nun’s Story

Katharine Hepburn, Suddenly, Last Summer

Simone Signoret, Room at the Top

Elizabeth Taylor, Suddenly, Last Summer

Day — Pillow Talk is a fascinating example of a film clearly subverting every ounce of censorship that was in force and getting away with it.

The film is about Doris Day, who is a professional woman, who shares a party phone line with Rock Hudson. And this is a source of contention, because, even though they’ve never met, whenever she wants to use the phone, he’s always on it. He’s always romancing one of his many girlfriends, and she constantly overhears him lying to these women, saying they’re the only ones and singing them songs he “wrote for them,” even though he just exchanges their names when he calls a different one. It’s great how they do it, because the film basically tells you this dude fucks a lot (which, the added bonus to all this is the fact that it’s Rock Hudson, who was gay), and doesn’t really try to hide it. And basically the film is — Hudson sees her, is smitten, and pretends to be another man, a rich Texas oil man, because he knows if he’s himself she won’t give him the time of day. So he pretends to be this dude, and falls in love with her. Then his douchebag boss is also trying to fuck her, and he tries to foil things, but, you know, love wins out. Basically its about him only fucking one woman instead of a thousand, and her just fucking somebody. It’s a fun movie.

Doris Day is — well, she’s kind of there. I didn’t particularly love the performance, but I did enjoy it immensely. It’s one of those — it’s very fun, but can you really vote for it? If it were today, the answer would be yes. She was the biggest star in Hollywood at this time, and nowadays that automatically results in a win. And, between her and Simone Signoret, I’d have voted her. But, at this point, musical performances didn’t win (and wouldn’t for another five years). So, she was never going to win. And for me, she’s like, third for a vote. But she’s really good though, great with the innuendo, and the movie is definitely worth checking out.

Audrey Hepburn — And, Audrey. Swoon.

I can’t do this film justice. Because, as you watch it, or even think about it, you think, “There’s no way this can be a good film.” I’m not kidding. It’s about a woman who decides, seemingly rather suddenly, to become a nun. And the opening scene is her father dropping her off at the convent, objecting to her decision. And then the opening scenes — these are really what draw you into the film — they have her at the convent, going through nun training. And I think the thing is, at first, she’s not certain — or maybe it’s the audience that isn’t certain — whether or not she’s actually dedicated to this or has ulterior motives (or rather, no other choice). And she goes through it, goes to the Congo and studies tropical diseases. And the middle of the movie is scenes of her meeting a handsome doctor, and there being sexual tension, and her overcoming all these obstacles against her keeping her faith, and eventually the film ends with her, in the wake of World War II, giving up her vows because she finds she can’t stay neutral in the face of, you know — Hitler and shit.

First off, the film is about a dedicated nun. And it’s two and a half hours. I look at that and go, “Fuck that.” But then again, it’s Audrey. So I’m like, “I have to give it a shot.” And then I actually became invested very quickly. Mainly due to the performance. Once she got in the nun training, it was like the first half of Full Metal Jacket — you just get drawn in. And we see her learning to endure the hardships of the lifestyle and stuff. And then, by the end, I was just so captivated by the performance, I was able to completely block out all the religious shit. It was a bit distracting at the beginning, but no more than a, “Wow, this movie would be so much more enjoyable if they just toned down the Jesus,” but it was already enjoyable, so it’s kind of a minor gripe (that’s really a major gripe outside of the movie universe).

But, as for the performance — I’m not exaggerating when I say — she should have won for this. I know she won for Roman Holiday already, but, really, in this category, she was really the top choice. Of all the performances she gave, including the ones she was nominated for, this is probably her best overall performance. I know Holly Golightly is iconic and she was nominated for it, but, this is better. Eliza Doolittle is great, but she wasn’t nominated. Two For the Road is fantastic, but, she was nominated for Wait Until Dark instead. This is legit her best performance. And when I thought that, at first I got nervous. I was like, “No one’s gonna believe me. Everyone’s gonna think it’s part of my Audrey bias.” And then I saw other people who said the exact same thing, about how she legit deserved this one. So I stand by my opinion 100%. I’d have done so anyway, but once I saw there was actual sentiment behind my opinion, now I can be very firm in stating it. Seriously, she should have won this. Everything is set up for her to win. Three of the other four cancel each other out, and somehow they went with the other open choice and not her. That’s why this category was such a terrible decision.

Katharine Hepburn — Hooray. Double nominees for a film. I still don’t know why I get so giddy every time this happens.

The film is an adaptation of Tennessee Williams, which is why I waited so long before I saw this one. It’s primary stars — which are pretty much its only stars — are Hepburn, Taylor, and Montgomery Clift. That alone makes this film worthwhile. Basically, the film revoles around Clift as a surgeon who works for some — whatever — hospital, and his boss tells him that a wealthy woman (Hepburn) has promised a very large donation to the hospital just as long as he agrees to lobotomize her niece. You know, no biggie. And basically, Clift wants to talk to the niece first, since, you know, cutting out part of her brain is kind of a big deal. So he talks to her — that’s Taylor — and she’s traumatized because, on vacation with her cousin, Hepburn’s son, he died. And that’s the source of her trauma. And Hepburn’s got this crazy son fixation, and refuses to believe he was anything less than perfect, and then over the course of the film we find out that he was gay, but Hepburn refused to believe this, and then the whole source of contention is that Hepburn is trying to ignore the death of her son and Taylor is a reminder of that, so, she wants her gone. And basically we find out the son died because he was killed and eaten by the natives of, wherever they traveled to. I know, it’s fucked up.

So, Hepburn plays the crazy mother with the son complex. And she’s good, but, meh. Take it or leave it, I say. You pretty much know from the beginning that there’s nothing wrong with Taylor and that it’s Hepburn who’s the crazy one. Hepburn does a good job, since she’s a great actress, but, in terms of voting for her, I wasn’t particularly enamored with the performance.

Signoret — What can I say about this movie that I haven’t already said, and hasn’t been said about — actually, that would be too cruel, comparing it to a piece of shit film from recently. This film I just really didn’t like.

The film is about — I have to go over this synopsis way too much — an ambitious dude who is seeking to get ahead in life by getting a job at a business and worming his way in to marrying the boss’s daughter. And while that’s going, he ends up unexpectedly falling in love with an older woman. She’s in a dead marriage, even though they’re still technically married, though her husband comes and goes, takes the car upstate to fuck his girlfriend, shit like that. They’re very openly not married even though they are. And she hasn’t really partaken in men (I believe), and starts sleeping with this guy. And they fall in love, but you can tell it’s doomed. So the film is them falling in love, him struggling between love and ambition, and then, when he makes his decision, she ends up dying in a car crash and he’s forced to live the life he wanted, even though he doesn’t want it anymore. Yeah, it’s melodrama.

I hated this film. I didn’t like any of the performances, and I think it’s a travesty that she won for this. I think that about sums up my feelings rather succinctly, don’t you?

Taylor — Now, on the other hand, the one that’s not Kate Hepburn, Taylor was fucking great in this movie. I really liked her performance. It’s not my first choice for a vote, but she does get a default second choice because she’s been good for a while and hadn’t won at this point. Also, god-damn is she sexy in this. She wears a bathing suit that I swear could not have passed any kind of production code. They must have all just said, “Fuck it, let it go,” because, wow. But, yeah, the film is the film. I didn’t enjoy it past the performances of the leads, and Taylor was the best thing about it in my eyes. So, she’s a second choice here.

My Thoughts: This is the first, and only, year both Hepburns are nominated in the same category. I actually have to use first names. Anyway, Signoret is clearly your #5. Doris Day was good but not win-worthy, and Kate Hepburn and Liz Taylor basically cancel each other out. Audrey Hepburn is clearly your winner here, with Liz Taylor a backup because she hadn’t won yet and should have. But, this is, and should have been, Audrey’s year. She really earned it, and lost probably due to vote dilution.

My Vote: Audrey Hepburn

Should have won: Audrey Hepburn

Is the result acceptable?: I gotta tell you — no. I mean, I get why there were few options this year. Kate Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor split votes, if they got votes. I didn’t particularly like either of their performances enough to actually win, but if either of those two were gonna win, it was gonna be Liz. That would have prevented the issue we had the year after this. But, fine. Neither of them win. I get you can’t really give it to Doris Day. I mean, you can, and that would be the equivalent of what they do nowadays, give it to the actress of the moment. This is why Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon and Sandra Bullock have Oscars. They all put in a high profile performance that they coincidentally made a shit ton of money for. Pillow Talk was the fifth highest grosser of the year, behind Ben-Hur, Sleeping Beauty, North by Northwest and Some Like It Hot. Five years later, she’d have won for this. But at this point no one had won for a musical until Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison both won in 1964. So now you have just Signoret and Audrey Hepburn. But really, why not Audrey? She had a decade of great performances after Roman Holiday, and this was a fucking tremendous performance. This is a performance that actually elevates her film. Watch A Nun’s Story. I guarantee you that with another actress, the film would suck balls. It’s about a fucking nun. That is, a nun who doesn’t fuck. Seriously, she deserved this Oscar. Giving it to Signoret was just a cop out. To me, it’s one of the worst decisions of all time. Not sure if it’ll make the top five, but, it’s up there. Top ten for certain.

Performances I suggest you see: A Nun’s Story is an Audrey Hepburn film, so, that right there is about all the suggestion you need. She didn’t make a bad movie until later in her career. Everything she did from ’53 to ’67 is a great film. This is probably one of her most inaccessible films that not everyone would like, but, she’s fantastic in it, and this being a religious film, and that statement coming from me, know that it means it’s probably a pretty decent flick. Suddenly, Last Summer is a film I didn’t particularly enjoy except for the performances. You get Liz, Kate and Montgomery Clift, which makes for at minimum an interesting film. All three do good jobs, so, if you want to see them acting together, want to see Liz Taylor at the height of her sexiness, or like Tennessee Williams plays, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. And Pillow Talk is a lot of fun. It’s a great film to watch because of the amount of sexual innuendo that goes on. The whole film is innuendo. And it has the added bonus of seeing Rock Hudson play a womanizer. I highly recommend it.


5) Signoret

4) Day

3) Katharine Hepburn

2) Taylor

1) Audrey Hepburn

One response

  1. Greg Kipp

    Just my opinion but Doris Day was the only actress nominated in this category that actually deserved to be nominated for an Oscar in 1959. Both ROOM AT THE TOP and SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER are terrible films that basically wasted the talents of the cast members that appeared in them. I adore Audrey Hepburn but her performance in NUN’S STORY is merely passable and thus isn’t good enough to overlook the inconsistencies in the movie’s script. As far as i’m concerned, the Oscar nominees for Best Actress in 1959 should have been as follows:

    1.) Carroll Baker, “But Not For Me”

    2.) Doris Day, “Pillow Talk”

    3.) Shirley MacLaine, “Career”

    4.) Marilyn Monroe, “Some Like It Hot”

    5.) Maria Schell, “The Hanging Tree”

    Winner: either Schell and/or Monroe would have been fine by me

    December 28, 2017 at 9:58 pm

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