The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1954
Let’s get the recap out of the way quickly, because I’ve got a bone to pick with these nominees. On the Waterfront wins Best Picture in one of the best Best Picture decisions of all time. Elia Kazan wins Best Director in a good decision that almost had to happen, but one that didn’t necessarily need to (I talked about it here). Best Actor was Marlon Brando, a top five decision of all time. Best Actress was the big Grace Kelly vs. Judy Garland debacle. People feel very strongly about this. Grace won for The Country Girl. I’ll divulge my opinion some time in the future. And Best Supporting Actor this year was Edmund O’Brien for The Barefoot Contessa, probably because of a vote split among the three Waterfront nominees. So, that’s the year. Pretty good overall.
Now — this category. What a weak fucking category. That’s not to say they didn’t make the right decision (category fraud will do that. But still, thank god for category fraud), but, seriously, this is awful. There’s only one out of five decent nominees. Two, if you want to include the historically significant one. Still, three I disagree with, and that means — look for alternatives. Is it the category or is it the year. Let’s see.
Other supporting actresses that could have been nominated: …yeah, I got nothing. Maybe Thelma Ritter for Rear Window would have given the category a boost by giving it a stronger film. Mercedes McCambridge for Johnny Guitar would have been a fun one. But otherwise — nothing. Wow, this year sucked for supporting female roles.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1954
And the nominees were…
Nina Foch, Executive Suite
Katy Jurado, Broken Lance
Eva Marie Saint, On the Waterfront
Jan Sterling, The High and the Mighty
Claire Trevor, The High and the Mighty
Foch — Executive Suite is one of those films that could be really boring to certain people, but also is really fascinating at the same time. Especially because it was done in the 50s. But even if it were done today, I think it would still be interesting.
You see, the film is about the inner workings of the board of executives at a company. At the beginning of the film, the chairman of a major company dies very suddenly in the middle of the street. And the board has to scramble to elect a new chairman. And they have a few people to pick from. The obvious candidate is Frederic March, but he’s very driven and ambitious, and rubs people the wrong way. He’s more about pleasing the stockholders and making money than he is actually doing interesting things in the marketplace. The other major option is William Holden, who is a VP who is more of an idealist. He wants to try out new things, has a bunch of great ideas, and is the kind of person who’s enthusiasm for the position just oozes from him. And the film is about all the politics — dirty and not — that go on as people try to get promoted. Blackmail and all that. Good stuff.
Nina Foch plays the secretary to the chairman who died. They keep her on at her position, and she is basically there as sort of the audience figure. She’s really the most stable person in the film. She has a good scene where she speaks her mind, and I thought she did a good job in the role. Not really a role that would get nominated in a stronger year, but you know, here — I’ll give her third. No vote, but — I’ll give her third. I liked the film.
Jurado — Katy Jurado is an actress who is really significant, especially in regards to the western genre. She played Helen Ramirez in High Noon, Gary Cooper’s former lover and the woman who secretly owns the town store. It’s a very important role within the western, because she’s a woman, and a Spanish woman at that, who is independent and has a degree of power. The men in the film actually listen to her and treat her with respect. And in the western genre — that’s almost unheard of. It’s a performance that should have earned her a Supporting Actress nomination in 1952, but she was passed over (she did get a Globe nomination for it). This nomination, I feel, is a clear response to that.
The film itself isn’t very good. Another one of those films where — Spencer Tracy owns a ranch and has four sons. He’s married to Katy Jurado, an Indian woman. One of his sons, his youngest, is half Indian. He’s a respected man in town, but the people have no respect for Indians, but they treat her with respect because she’s Tracy’s wife. And then there’s a whole thing about the sons wanting to assume power from Tracy, cattle rustling, racism and stuff — the film is actually kind of boring. It’s basically about Tracy and his farm going up against the factory in town. And racism is compounded on top of that, and that’s really the film.
Jurado plays Tracy’s wife, but — she doesn’t do anything. She’s in an interesting position, but, doesn’t have anything to do. She shows up, is loving and subservient to her husband, loves her son, but mostly just sits there. Her big moment is at the end when she’s like, “I’m gonna leave here, to go with my people and die.” That’s really all she does. This nomination feels like — the High Noon nomination was too much for the Academy to take — too ethnic and powerful at the same time. The only way they could accept it is if they made her more subservient. It’s like the whole thing with black actors. The only way a black actor was nominated for an Oscar, pre-1970, is if they were made a stereotype of sorts. They were either a slave or a magical negro. It was the only way the white Academy could accept nominating them. Personally, I wouldn’t vote for this performance in a million years. However, I would vote for Katy Jurado, because her winning an Oscar would be a huge boost historically. However, me ranking her number two is really a stretch. She’s a 2 in the rankings when her performance is a 4 at best. And even that may be pushing it. But in this weak year, she gets consideration just because of what it would mean for her to win.
Saint — This is your winner here, hands down. It’s not even close. The reason for it is — this is clearly a lead role, and it was even said this year that they only put her in the Supporting category because she was unknown at the time. But it was agreed that, had she been nominated lead, she probably could have won. Would she have? I doubt it. Grace Kelly and Judy Garland were tough competition by themselves. Plus, if Eva Marie Saint were not in this category — man, would we have a big pile of shit to deal with.
On the Waterfront, as we know (because if you haven’t seen it, just stop watching movies, because you’re not watching the right ones), is about the corruption at the docks, but also an allegory for HUAC and the hunt for communists, based on Elia Kazan’s real life experiences. Brando is a former boxer who “coulda been a contender” and is now helping the mobsters at the docks eliminate undesirables. This gives him a cozy job doing nothing and being paid for it. His brother is a mob accountant, so, that helps too. Then when people at the docks, lead by Karl Malden, a priest, start to speak up and talk about unionizing and making things more fair, all hell breaks loose. The whole film is about Brando deciding to do what’s right and speak out against the illegal practices, even though it might mean his ass. The film opens with him helping them kill a guy who spoke out. It’s a wonderful film, and everyone knows this, because they’ve seen it. Films don’t come more perfect than this one is.
Eva Marie Saint plays the sister of the dude that is killed in the opening scene. Brando meets her, is attracted, and starts talking to her. He realizes who she is, and, after overcoming the whole, “I don’t like you because you work for the mobsters who run the dock,” business, they fall in love. And she redeems him. She’s also dead set on finding out who killed her brother and helping end all the corruption. It’s a great role, and, like I said, is too great for this category. Big fish in small pond. She’s really a lead, and they put her supporting because she was unknown. And actually, thank god they did, because without here, there would be no one to vote for here.
Sterling — Oh boy, a double nominee. Thank god. Because this film was just — good thing I only have to talk about it once.
Okay, take a melodrama. Then put it on a plane. Then add a disaster film. And somewhere in there — you’ll get this movie. Jesus. What a film. I guess because it was presented as classy was because it got nominated for so many awards.
A plane is flying from Hawaii to San Francisco. The Duke is the pilot. That’s John Wayne for those who don’t know. His copilot is Robert Stack, a man born to play melodrama (seriously, watch Written on the Wind). What happens is, one of the engines malfunctions and they discover they might not make it across the ocean. Stack panics, and almost gets everybody killed. The Duke, naturally, doesn’t. He gets that motherfucking plane to safety. Because, you know, if a gun is not involved, John Wayne is not dying in a movie.
Anyway, the rest of the film is what we’re interested in, and that’s the melodrama. They cut back and forth to a bunch of different stories, each more ridiculous than the next. The first is Jan Sterling. Jan Sterling plays a woman who’s — been around the block. Which is ironic, because that’s normally the role that Claire Trevor would be playing. Dead End, Stagecoach, Key Largo — she’s no stranger to that character, is what I’m saying. It’s weird that they gave it to someone who wasn’t her. Anyway, Sterling is a woman who’s slept with a lot of men but now wants to settle down. She’s been sending letters to a man and is traveling to meet him for the first time. She’s worried, because she’s seven years older than the photo she sent to him (and he’s even younger than that, I believe), and she thinks he’ll reject her. And her one big scene is one where she decides to take off all the makeup she has on and let her see him just as she is.
And of course it ends happily, you know, after they all don’t die. For some reason I’m remembering a line the dude has is the most hysterical thing. Like, she says she was worried she’d be too old, and he says something like, “My ex-wife was 70” or something like, “Oh no, I loved my mother,” or something that hinted at the most fucked up Freudian thing. Maybe I’m wrong, but, whatever.
Anyway, she does okay, but — no one should ever be nominated for these movies. It’s just so over the top. She rubs off all the makeup on her face like Lady Macbeth or something. And there’s all this music — like she’s pulling a sword out of a fucking stone or something. Jesus. No vote.
Trevor — And, the other nomination from the film. Claire Trevor plays a loud, brassy woman. That’s it, really. She really has nothing to do. She wants to die young and beautiful and is the stewardess on the plane. She’s hoping they all die because she doesn’t want to get old. Then, when they’re saved, she’s not so sure. That’s it, really. This is clearly just an excuse to nominate a former winner in the category. Whatever. Anything outside of Eva Marie Saint in this category is filler.
My Thoughts: This is a really weak category. Eva Marie Saint is the only one worth voting for. The two High and the Mighty nominations are melodrama and ensemble nominations. One of them is a popularity nomination. Nina Foch was good, but in a regular year would be no more than a #4. And Katy Jurado — well, I’m not sure why they nominated her for this film. She should have been nominated for High Noon. This seems like a makeup nomination for that.
Also, to clarify the rankings: Eva Marie Saint is by far the #1. Everyone else is tied for a #5. Now, Katy Jurado, having should have been nominated for High Noon, and being someone who, as a Spanish actress, would have been a historically significant winner, so, she’d be my next choice, vote-wise. Third is Nina Foch, since, out of this category, she was the second best performance. But that’s not really saying much. She’s good, but — you’ll see if you see the film. And the other two are just there. So, perhaps one of, if not the weakest, categories in the Best Supporting Actress history, especially considering the winner was a lead role.
My Vote: Saint
Should Have Won: Saint
Is the result acceptable?: Yup. Only one. She was really the only person worth voting for based solely on the performance. Which makes it by default one of the better decisions of all time.
Performances I suggest you see: On the Waterfront is a must-see film for everyone. It’s brilliant, and, in the canon of films you need to see, this is in the top 50. (I’m talking about, of everything.) See it.
That’s all, really. The rest — you really don’t need to see. Executive Suite is nice — Bill Holden, Frederic March, Barbara Stanwyck — but it’s not the most interesting of films, and it’s not for everyone. Unless you want to see people fighting for control of a company, scheming and shit, you don’t need to see it. The High and the Mighty is an okay film, but it’s an ensemble disaster film. Like Airport. Except this one is solidly melodramatic and more about the passengers than the situation. It’s got a huge cast too. John Wayne is the lead. But, huge cast. So maybe you’ll find it interesting. Personally I prefer Airport. And Broken Lance is a pretty boring Western. As Westerns go. I liked it as a passable film because I love westerns, but, unless you love westerns, you will not care for this at all, methinks.