The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1937
Very important category. The second Best Supporting Actress category ever. As such, we have to view it in terms of legitimacy as much as we view it simply as just another category. That is, just like all the other categories — Picture, Director, Actor and Actress — the first few are always the ones that make it legitimate. Example: the first few Best Actor and Best Actress awards went to: Emil Jannings, Janet Gaynor, Mary Pickford, Wallace Beery, Marie Dressler, Frederic March, Charles Laughton — these are all really highly regarded actors at this time. These people had to get the awards in order to legitimize them and actually make them something worth having. Then, once they’re established, then they can start voting. Foundation. That’s the word I’m looking for. So this category is part of a foundation.
The first Best Supporting Actress award went to Gale Sondergaard for Anthony Adverse. She was a very respected character actress of the day, so it makes sense. Here, Alice Brady, another respected character actress, wins. This is a good decision historically. You establish what a supporting performance is by holding up the best known examples. There’s a reason Walter Brennan won Supporting Actor three times in the first five years of its existence. So for the first five years (1936-1940), you have to allow some leeway in the decision-making just to take into account the legitimization of the category. Bad decisions aren’t necessarily bad until the category is established.
And to recap the rest of this year before we get into the category. The Life of Emile Zola wins Best Picture, which is actually a bad decision. It makes some sense, but it’s not a very good decision and it’s a pretty weak effort overall. Spencer Tracy wins Best Actor for Captains Courageous, the first of his two back-to-back wins. I don’t love this decision, but I’ll accept it. It’s the second of his two wins that I really consider the terrible one. Best Actress this year was Luise Rainer for The Good Earth, the second of her back-to-back wins. I haven’t made up my mind on this one yet. There are a lot of elements to take into account. I’m gonna need a bit more time on this one. Best Supporting Actor, in its second year of existence, goes to Joseph Schildkraut for The Life of Emile Zola, which, I guess is fine. Haven’t yet decided on that one either. Oh, and Best Director this year went to Leo McCarey, for The Awful Truth, which was the best decision they could have made — only it was for the wrong film. I’ll explain that when I get to the category. All you need to know now is that it was a great decision.
Overall I consider this a weak year. This has little to do with the Supporting categories though, since they’re on their own timeline at this point. Still, a weak year. (more…)