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The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1957

1957 is one of those years that’s such an easy decision you just nod and move on. The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of those movie’s that so unquestionably good that you’re like — of course it won Best Picture. I mean, sure 12 Angry Men was up this year, but, when you think about which one is a “Best Picture” film — there’s really no comparison.

Alec Guinness wins Best Actor for it, which is a great (and also easy, especially when you see the category) choice. David Lean wins Best Director for it — also an easy decision (especially since he hadn’t won before this and should have, twice). Best Supporting Actor went to Red Buttons for Sayonara and Best Supporting Actress went to Miyoshi Umeki, also for Sayonara, neither of which I particularly understand. I’m going to watch the film again by the time I write up those categories, so I can try to find what the Academy saw in it to vote those two in.

But, as for this category — this one is as big a slam dunk as I’ve ever seen. It’s really just an easy decision to make. Which is great. I love those.

BEST ACTRESS – 1957

And the nominees were…

Deborah Kerr, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

Anna Magnani, Wild is the Wind

Elizabeth Taylor, Raintree County

Lana Turner, Peyton Place

Joanne Woodward, The Three Faces of Eve

Kerr — Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is one of those films you saw a lot of in the golden age of Hollywood, those films where religion is the primary theme. The film where one character is extremely religious and one is extremely not, and one character loosens up and the other finds religion. And I always wondered just how religious this country was at this time, when it was considered a positive change of character to suddenly gain religion. That’s literally what happens here.

Mr. Allison is played by Robert Mitchum. He’s an American soldier who is the only survivor of an attack and washes up on an island. He thinks he’s alone when he suddenly discovers Deborah Kerr, a nun, who’s been there for a few weeks. All the people that came with her died, and now she’s not looking to good herself. Together, her and Mitchum manage to survive. And while they’re doing that, they have long discussions. He’s an atheist and can’t see why she remains religious even though she’s stuck on the island and is likely to die. And her steadfast dedication to her faith intrigues him. And eventually she lightens up around him, which, of course. And then the rest of the film is about the sexual tension between them. He gets to the point where he almost jumps her bones, and she’s not interested in him because she’s married to god. And eventually she gets sick, and he cares for her, and he starts to come around on the religion, and then the Japanese show up on the island, and they have to hide in a cave. And eventually the Americans come and take the island, and they get off. That’s the film, really.

It’s a pretty decent film. A John Huston. Which means it was shot on location, and that, I’m very respectful toward. I love that Huston had the balls to shoot on location when most films were shot in studios and on sound stages.But, we’re here to talk about Kerr’s performance. She’s fine. But, this was more like one of those — she was never gonna win for this. Never gonna happen. If they really wanted to give her an Oscar, they’d have done it for either The King and I or Separate Tables. (She was great in From Here to Eternity and The Sundowners, but, both of those years had clear winners.) Outside of that, she was never gonna win.

Magnani — Anna Magnani is a former Best Actress winner. She won in 1955 for The Rose Tattoo. I’ll tell you right now, that automatically disqualifies her for a vote from me. The reason for that is because, I saw the performance. It’s not good enough to overcome a previous win two years earlier. Especially when I don’t think she should have won that award in the first place.

Anyway, Wild is the Wind is about Anthony Quinn as an Italian immigrant whose wife has died. So what he does is, he gets her sister to come and live with him and be his new wife. And she reminds him of his wife, and he tries to do right by her. But she falls in love with his ranch hand instead. The film is really just Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani being Italian. I truly think that’s the best and only way to describe it. It’s not a bad film, it’s just — they’re Italian. It’s like me spending an hour with the old people on my father’s side of the family. The ones that speak Italian and yell a lot.

Magnani is good, though. She does a good job. If there ever was an actress that conveyed what a real Italian woman was like — Anna Magnani is that actress. I rank her third, because she is entertaining, but, I can’t vote for her. She had one already for practically the same role.

Taylor — Ah, Liz. She’s one of those actresses I always want to vote for. Her, Audrey, Leslie Caron — I just love them. I think they’re perfect in everything.

This film — Raintree County — was supposed to be the new Gone With the Wind. And, really, if they were gonna cast anyone as Scarlett O’Hara who wasn’t Vivien Leigh, Liz Taylor was the perfect choice. Unfortunately though, this film was nowhere near as good as Gone With the Wind. It’s not even close. But it’s just as long. Which makes it really tedious.

Here’s what it’s about. Montgomery Clift is a good ole southern boy. He’s got a girlfriend — Eva Marie Saint — and life is good. Then comes Liz and she steals him away. Sound familiar? It’s exactly what happened in A Place in the Sun, only swap out Eva Marie Saint for Shelley Winters. Don’t worry, it gets different from there. Clift has an affair with Taylor and she leaves. Then she shows up later, pregnant, and they get married. They have honor down there in the south. You know how it is. So they live down south, and Clift is very against slavery, even though — well, it’s the south. And Taylor starts to get mentally ill, because — it runs in her family. Clift finds out she actually pretended to be pregnant in order to marry him. He’s not happy about this. They end up having a kid anyway, but she gets crazy and runs away with him. Then Clift seeks out his kid, because — he wants to see his child. He joins the army, figuring he’ll find them that way. I don’t understand why either. He eventually finds out that Taylor is in a nuthouse and is hurt bringing his kid back to Northern Lines. (Civil War, by the way, in case the whole “south” thing wasn’t a tip off.) He gets out of the army, rather conveniently, and brings his lunatic wife back home with him. She sees that he still loves Eva Marie Saint, so she goes and drowns herself in the lake in order to make sure he’s happy. That’s the film. It’s three hours long. Yeah, I know. Also, Lee Marvin is in it. Just sayin’.

I didn’t particularly love this film. It has its points of interest, notably Taylor’s performance, which is good, and the epic scope of it. Great production value here, just, not a great film. Shit happens.

Anyway, Taylor is really good in it, but it’s the type of performance that’s hindered from the lack of quality of the film. She made the film better and did elevate the material, but the material was still weak enough to hurt her when it came to a vote. Which is fine, she’d win two Oscars after this anyway. Still — no vote. Great performance, though.

Turner — Peyton Place is a film I watched very early on my Oscar Quest. Back when I still included the list of Golden Globes nominees as well. Which was over the first three months. At that time, this film had, I believe, one of the highest numbers of nominees of any film. Seven Oscar nominations. And that’s just in the major six categories. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, two Best Supporting Actors and two Best Supporting Actresses. Incredible, right? It came away totally empty-handed. I mean, Bridge on the River Kwai. It makes sense.

Anyway, this film is an out and out melodrama. But, while I usually don’t go for straight melodrama, I really loved this film. I found out as I was watching it that it gave way to the famous TV soap of the same name. I thought that was interesting. Anyway, let me try to explain all the different storylines here.

The film is basically one of those “true life” movies, that tries to show you what life is like in a particular town. Naturally, it’s all really embellished, but it’s the kind of thing where, I bet people were like, “This shit actually does happen!” Just wait. It’s awesome what happens. Here’s the first line of the summary from Wikipedia. It’s great:

The film is an exposé of the lives and loves of the residents of a small New England mill town, where scandal, homicide, suicide, incest, and moral hypocrisy hide behind a tranquil façade in the years immediately preceding and following World War II.

Look at all that stuff. This is going to be so complicated to try to get through. Let’s get Lana Turner out of the way first. She plays a sexually repressed housewife who once had an affair with a traveling salesman and had a child. She hid this from everyone and came back to the town to raise her daughter, telling everyone her husband died. And she’s now very repressed, and is dedicated to raising her daughter. She’s like the character in a 30s melodrama after that movie has taken place. And now she’s very repressed and strict, since her daughter is starting to become interested in boys and stuff. And the principal of her daughter’s school tries to get her to come out of her shell, but, she’s struggling, because of all this internal shit. You know how it is.

Anyway, the other major storylines of the film, because I’m going to try to sell you on it, involve Russ Tamblyn (aka Riff from West Side Story), who has a crush on Lana Turner’s daughter (who wants to be a writer when she grows up — they’re in high school, by the way), and is trying to gain the confidence to ask her out, the popular girl (who Wikipedia describes as a “bad girl”) who wants to get with the wealthy kid, and this one, which I find to be the most interesting of the bunch. Lana Turner’s daughter’s best friend (it’s a soap opera, you have to get used to these types of relationships), is a girl who was born to a — not very wealthy family. They all live in town, she lives out near the woods. Her father is a drunk, and they’re basically like the backwoods family of the town. And after the mother dies, the father comes home one night and tries to rape his daughter. She kills him in self-defense, and is put on trial for it. Because they think she murdered him. And there’s a big trial — which, you know what happens when a trial happens, a film becomes infinitely more intriguing — and lots of testimony, and it’s all really great. This is where the film shines.

I thought this film was really great all around, and really, really loved it. Which is surprising, since I’m not really into the whole soap melodrama thing. Anyway, Lana Turner. She’s — fine. I guess. Not really a performance she was ever gonna win for. She’s good in the movie, not really good enough to win. That’s the kind of performance. Anyone who should have won for this film should have been in the Supporting categories. But, it’s nice that she got nominated. She’s good. I’ll rank her high on the list, but mostly out of love for the film. Not so much because of the performance specifically. As for a vote — no way. Not good enough for a vote. Still though, I love this movie a lot. I really recommend it.

Woodward — And, this film. I really didn’t know what to expect from this film. I figured it would be okay, but I don’t think I ever expected what I got.

It starts off with Joanne Woodward as a timid housewife. We immediately start feeling for her, as it’s clear she’s not completely happy in her marriage and her husband isn’t the most loving man. She starts acting strangely and has these bad headaches and blackouts. For example, one day she comes home with boxes full of really expensive clothing, not remembering how they got there and believing her husband to have purchased them for her. He comes home, upset she bought them, but she says she didn’t. He says she was clearly seen by people in the store buying the clothes. She doesn’t remember it. Eventually she goes to a psychiatrist after she has a spell where she claims her child isn’t hers and tries to kill her. She goes to the psychiatrist, and they discover that she has multiple personality disorder. What happens is, she’s normally Eve White, but she has another personality of Eve Black, who is everything she isn’t. She’s fun, she likes to go out on the town, drinking, picking up men. The thing is, Eve Black knows everything about Eve White, but Eve White doesn’t know anything about Eve Black. She thinks she just has blackout spells.

The film is about the doctor who tries to treat the personalities, which themselves aren’t really full ones but rather two sides to the same coin. Eventually they go back to her childhood, to the event that led to the splitting of the personalities, and work to get her better. This, naturally, ruins her marriage, as her husband, and the world, really, doesn’t know anything about multiple personality disorder (it was barely diagnosed at the time). What happens is, over the course of the film, a third personality, Jane, shows up, and seems to be the most stable of the three. And eventually, all three personalities merge into Jane, and she goes on living her life as Jane.

The film is really fucking good. It does a great job with the multiple personalities thing. It kind of reminded me of The Snake Pit. It’s a film that deals very bluntly with mental disabilities. Of course, it’s probably not realistic in the medical sense, but when you realize the era it was made in, it’s a very explicit film for that era, and that’s why I thought it was so great.

Joanne Woodward is also fucking astounding. Just really, really, really great. She deserved this Oscar hands down, no competition. It’s no contest. Trust me. Watch the film, you’ll see what I’m talking about. This is one of the better performances I’ve ever seen.

My Thoughts: Woodward is the only choice here. The only one. If Raintree County were a better film, then maybe Liz would get some consideration. But, really, it’s Joanne Woodward all the way. It’s not even close. She’s incredible beyond words here.

My Vote: Woodward

Should Have Won: Woodward

Is the result acceptable?: Oh, absolutely. The best there ever could have been in this category. Woodward was amazing. One of the overall better decisions in all the winners the Best Actress category. Top 20, at least.

Performances I suggest you see: The Three Faces of Eve is a fantastic film, and is almost a medical procedural of sorts, and I think most people who see it will find it very interesting, at the very least. Plus, you get to see Joanne Woodward’s performance, which, I think may rank in the top ten of all the Best Actress winning performances. It’s seriously that good. I highly recommend this movie. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Peyton Place, I think, is almost a perfect film. In a different way, of course. It’s 50s, it’s straight melodrama, it’s very soap opera. But still, I really loved this film, and I recommend it very highly. Take a chance with this one, you might be very pleasantly surprised. Wild is the Wind is also an interesting film. It’s not particularly good, that is, I don’t love it, but it is fun to watch, since it does remind me of my family, having grown up around a side of my family that was all Italian. The performances are good, and it’s an interesting little film. I recommend it as that. Very Italian. And Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is interesting in that, it’s a John Huston film, Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr are in it, and it’s a pretty good film. If it seems interesting to you, you might want to check it out. I recommend it. Also, Raintree County. Not the best film, overly long, kind of boring, but, well-made. It looks great, has a good Liz Taylor performance, and has Montgomery Clift and Lee Marvin in it. It’s interesting as a study of big budget filmmaking or as a showcase for those actors. Otherwise, you don’t need to see it.

Rankings:

5) Kerr

4) Taylor

3) Magnani

2) Turner

1) Woodward

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