The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1953

And the final of the 1953 categories (at least, as of how the articles are being posted now. Much later down the road, this will only serve to confuse people. And that amuses me). There’s almost nothing to say about the year as a whole now, because it’s all been done before. I love it.

From Here to Eternity basically sweeps most of the awards. It wins Best Picture, Best Director for Fred Zinnemann (talked about here), Best Supporting Actor for Frank Sinatra (talked about here) and this award. Four out of six is pretty good. The other two awards were William Holden for Best Actor (talked about here) Audrey Hepburn for Best Actress (talked about here). As you can see by the winners, this is a very strong year.

As for this category, it’s probably the weakest in bunch in terms of nominees. But, Best Supporting Actress has historically been the category with the weakest set of nominees. Look at most Oscar years, and I bet if you had to pick the weakest category, it would, the majority of the time, be Best Supporting Actress. In this one in particular, there were really only two choices, and of the two, one made the most sense because — well, I’ll let you know when we get to My Thoughts on the matter. Still — this makes a lot of sense.


And the nominees were…

Grace Kelly, Mogambo

Geraldine Page, Hondo

Marjorie Rambeau, Torch Song

Donna Reed, From Here to Eternity

Thelma Ritter, Pickup on South Street

Kelly — And we start with a biggie. Grace Kelly. Grace had a very meteoric rise within the industry within the span of literally two years. She didn’t appear in anything before 1950, and didn’t appear in anything but television until 1951, where she had a small role in the film Fourteen Hours. It’s a film about a dude standing on a ledge, threatening to jump for fourteen hours. Grace plays a lady in a nearby office, about to sign her divorce papers, who sees everything happen and then decides to give marriage another shot. Small role. Nothing more.

Then her next film — her second film ever — was a little film called High Noon. You may have heard of it. Then in 1953, her third film ever, she was in this film, which earned her her first Oscar nomination. And, honestly, having seen the film, she was good enough to win. But we’ll get to that in a second. I just want to get all this down, because, it’s only of my two chances to do so.

So, she made three films, 1951-52-53. Two of them are pretty big. Then, 1954 comes. Check this out. In 1954 she makes FIVE FILMS. Five! The first was a little film called Dial M for Murder. Not too shabby. The second was another little film called Rear Window. Uh huh. The third was a film called The Country Girl, for which she beat Judy Garland as Best Actress for 1954. The other two were Green Fire, a film about diamond mines, and The Bridges at Tokyo-Ri.

Let’s first pause to appreciate what a great year that is. Let us then look at that before we decry the fact that Judy Garland lost. I think that year as a whole kind of overtakes the dead heat the two of them were in for their performances. You can’t not take into account that she was in two other great films, one pretty good film, and — well, I haven’t seen Green Fire. But, still, hell of a year.

Then, 1955, she made another film, called To Catch a Thief. I know. It’s crazy. 1956, she played — quite ironically, actually — a woman being considered as the wife of the heir to the throne in The Swan. Then, in 1956, she was in High Society, the musical version of The Philadelphia Story. And that was her last film, since after that she became the princess of Morocco, and did not make any kind of dilm again, ever. Nothing. Still, those 11 films — pretty fucking good resume, if I may say so.

Now — Mogambo. I talked about this when I did Best Actress for this year, but, to remind you, it’s a remake of the film Red Dust, which also stars Clark Gable, and is humorous as a companionpiece to this film, because you really get a sense of how Gable has aged over the 20 years between the two films. He doesn’t look too hot here. Nor did he really look too hot in any of the films he made in the 50s (and his 50s). It’s about Gable as a big game hunter, who agrees to take a husband and wife out on safari. But before that, Ava Gardner shows up, looking for some guru dude, who hasn’t shown up. She flirts with Gable, but leaves, since she’s looking for the guru. Then Grace and her husband show up, looking to go on safari. Gable agrees. Then Gardner comes back, since her boat broke down and she has nowhere to go until they fix it. This is Africa, by the way — this shit happens.

So then they go on safari, and pretty quickly the husband catches some disease, and he’s out of the picture while he recuperates. And while that happens, Grace starts to have an affair with Gable. Which pisses Gardner off, since she wants to have an affair with Gable. After all, she’s the single one. (This is all hilarious when you see just what Gable looks like in this film.) So they start doing the angry women thing, and bitch at each other for a while, and Gable continues sleeping with Kelly, and the whole time her husband knows nothing. At all. And eventually Kelly goes back to her husband, and Gardner leaves, pissed off because Gable just doesn’t care, really. He just takes pussy when it comes to him, and she wants him to really care. So everyone leaves, and Gable’s like, “See ya,” but then at the last second Gardner jumps off the boat and comes back to him. (Which is really hilarious when you see what Gable looks like in this film.)

That’s the film. It’s pretty good. A John Ford film, in case I hadn’t mentioned it. But, really though, the best part about this film is Grace Kelly. She really was fantastic. Easily top two. The only thing I think that’s gonna keep her from a vote is the fact that she wins the year after this and the fact that Donna Reed is, well, Donna Reed.

Page — It’s weird to see a John Wayne film nominated for an Oscar. And when I say John Wayne film, I mean, a real John Wayne film. Not like a John Ford, John Wayne film. I mean a John Wayne film. One that was clearly written and developed for him, one that has his stamp all over it. You just don’t equate a standard John Wayne western with an Oscar nomination. This was Geraldine Page’s first Oscar nomination as well. First of 8. She won on #8. Not a big fan of that one. Anyway, this film.

I can almost guarantee you, this is probably the only film that’s only 83 minutes long that also features an intermission. I am not kidding you. 83 minutes, with an intermission. It was so awesome when I saw that. That’s either someone having fun, or someone being really pretentious.

It was also shown in 3D, which — this film just has everything.

The film is about Wayne as a half-breed, who moves back and forth between Indian territory and white territory, and is also a famous gunfighter. He shows up on a woman’s farm — much like Shane –and helps out in exchange for a place to stay. He works the farm, they find out who he is, and he leaves. After he leaves, he comes across her husband (who’d been missing from the farm for some time, which is why Wayne did so much work for them), who attacks him. Wayne kills him, though not wanting to. It’s one of those situations where, he gave him every opportunity to not be killed, and the dude did it to himself. The John Wayne killing. Justification by opponent’s stupidity. And he also finds out that the Indians are ganging up and attacking the whites, so he returns to protect them. He falls in love with Page, and Wayne gets involved with the army, who are fighting the Indians, and eventually Wayne leads them back to the fort, and they’re attacked by the Apaches, and he kills them, and then he has a speech where he’s like, “The Apache way has come to an end.”

That’s the film. 83 minutes. And boring as fuck.

Seriously. This was such a bore. No part of the story was interesting at all. If it weren’t John Wayne (or a western), I’d have really hated it. Even at 83 minutes. I really don’t know what they were going for here.

Also, Geraldine Page — I don’t get the nomination. She basically was just there, then pulled a gun on Wayne, then, comes back, her son stands up to some Apaches when they come by, an Apache wants to fuck her, Wayne kills him later, she lies and says Wayne is her husband, then she gets the scene where she finds out Wayne killed her husband, and then is like, “Meh, I never loved him anyway.” It’s — a performance. I don’t see why she was nominated (ditto, like, five of her nominations. Maybe even more). But, really, the one thing that keeps her from being #5 is the fact that it’s a John Wayne movie. Oh, wait, two things. #5 is a really boring film.

Rambeau — Oh, hey, it’s #5. I’m not even going to hide my contempt for this movie. I watched this movie 1 1/2 times. The first time, I got halfway through it and said, “There’s no way nothing could have happened in this film. I’m just not paying attention.” Then I watched it again — no, I was right. NOTHING happens. Nothing at all. Let me explain.

Joan Crawford — there’s your answer right there — is a broadway star. She plays the strong woman. As she always does. (God, I hate these movies.) Everyone hates her because she’s basically like Hitler, and is really, really strict about shit. Perfectionist. And she gets a new pianist, and drives him away because she’s a cunt. Then she asks him to come back when she realizes she needs to lighten up. He’s also in love with her. Naturally. He’s been in love with her for years. She doesn’t know. She continues to treat him like shit. She realizes who he is, and that he does love her, and goes to him. That’s literally the film.

Oh my god do not watch this film it’s so boring.

Marjorie Rambeau plays Crawford’s mother. She sits there all film, just being old. And that’s all she does. Then, at the end, she’s like, “Here’s an old clipping. That dude wrote it.” And Crawford is like, “He does love me,” and runs off.

Seriously, what the fuck is this film even doing here? #5. There’s no fucking way anybody is voting for this.

Reed — And, the Best Picture. I feel like I’ve described this film so fucking much over the course of this Quest. Well, once more, into the breach…

The film is about a soldier transferred to Pearl Harbor before Pearl Harbor. He used to be a platoon boxer, but killed a guy in the ring accidentally. He doesn’t want to fight anymore. The CO, a dick who doesn’t do any work and cheats on his wife, wants him to. He has the officers treat the dude like shit until he agrees. He still refuses. Also, the CO’s aide is sleeping with his wife. That’s Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, and the famous image from the film. Then there’s the Frank Sinatra storyline, which has nothing to do with this nomination, so we’ll skip it. It’s a great film, you need to see it.

Now, Donna Reed plays a prostitute. It’s pretty obvious when you watch the film, but, they clean it up because it’s a classy picture. On weekends, all the soldiers go to this one bar. It’s run by a madam, and she introduces the soldiers to girls. Introduces is actually the word they use. And Montgomery Clift, who plays the main soldier (the boxer who doesn’t want to fight), is introduces to Donna Reed. And he falls in love with her. And they get together, and she decides she wants to leave with him, and he wants to leave with her, but then he hears about the Japanese attack and goes back, and is killed. And then the last scene of the film is Reed leaving on a boat, coincidentally with Deborah Kerr, saying her fiancé was killed in the attack. But Kerr, having known about the situation through Lancaster, recognizes the name.

Anyway, the performance is fine. But, she really has nothing to do in the film. Like, at all. She really is just there. It’s not really a performance you vote for based on the performance. You vote for it based on the film and based on the actress. Same thing with Sinatra, really. But, I don’t really think anyone can say this performance — key word being performance — was really more deserving than Grace Kelly’s performance. The film, however, and Donna Reed, however — may have been. It’s a Wonderful Life alone earns her enough to get this. And, really, since Grace Kelly would win the year after this for Best Actress (which was really the category for her), I can understand why she won. Hell, I might even vote for her.

Ritter — I saw Pickup on South Street for the first time in my Intro Film class. My professor wrote a book on Fuller and was doing a week on him and his films. We watched this film in class one day, Shock Corridor at a night screening, then watched The Steel Helmet the following week. The Steel Helmet remains one of my favorite war films of all time. I really love everything about that movie. That movie singlehandedly led to me writing a war film as my thesis. My main character is so obviously based on Sgt. Zack. Or rather, not lead. It’s the John Wayne character. Anyway, this film.

This film is actually a really great film. Sam Fuller was not a man to beat around the issue. For example — during this time, Hollywood made a bunch of red scare films, and they did it in a pretty roundabout way, like in The Thing from Another World, “watch the skies,” that sort of thing. Not old Sam. This motherfucker was out on front street. Which, here, is South Street.


The film is about a local hoodlum — a pickpocket — who randomly picks a woman’s pocket (a hooker, no less) on the train, and discovers that the dude is carrying microfilm that contains top-secret information. He was just looking for money, and now this huge manhunt occurs for the film. The cops pick him up — they want the film. A communist spy ring — they want the film. And basically both sides of the cold war are coming down on this one dude. And he has to try to get out without being killed or arrested by either side.

It’s a great film. Fuller really knew how to do shit correctly. And bluntly. This is the most overt communism film ever made. Very clearly details what it was like for most people during this Cold War. Stuck between the evil people and the “good” people.

Anyway, Thelma Ritter plays Moe. She’s a street peddler, selling ties — she’s got one for every outfit — who also works as an informant. And she is so fucking good in the role. The thing about Thelma Ritter — you watch her do a character, but you’re not actually watching her do the character. It just is that person. That’s a real person. It’s amazing how effortless she is. This is really her best role. This is a film that — as s a young student, who didn’t want to be in class — tired, wanting to hang out with my new friends — I actually perked up when she showed up, like, “Who is that?” She’s really incredible.

It’s the kind of performance where, she shows up, talks to the main dude, then talks to the cops, and is helping the main dude and informing to the cops, but also helping the main dude more because of a code of the streets. And then eventually the communists come to threaten her, and she sees that they’re not nice people. There’s a great moment where the dude puts his feet on her bed, which is a no-no. And you can just see, she knows they’re gonna kill her, and she’s like, “You have to draw a moral line somewhere,” and refuses to say anything.

It’s a great performance. She really was good enough to win here, even though she wasn’t going to.

My Thoughts: Okay, to me this comes down between three people. First, Grace Kelly, for my money, gave the best performance in this category. However, I know that she won Best Actress the year after this, so I don’t really need to vote for her. Still might, though.

That leaves Donna Reed and Thelma Ritter. Both were great actresses who deserved Oscars. Ritter had more opportunities to win one, even though this was probably her best shot, performance-wise. That is, this was my favorite of her performances. But — not really one I can vote for, against these other two. So, she’s out. That’s a shame.

And Donna Reed — well, she was in It’s a Wonderful Life, and was in the Best Picture winner this year, so that makes her the sentimental favorite for both me and the Academy.

It really comes down to voting best performance versus sentimentality. And knowing all I know — that Grace Kelly would win Best Actress, that Donna Reed is awesome, and that she won here — I’m just gonna vote Donna Reed. Why not? She’s awesome.

Though if I think about this any longer, I’m gonna be wracked with guilt and doubt. So let’s just leave it at this and move on:

Grace Kelly gave the best performance.

Thelma Ritter gave my favorite performance.

Donna Reed is my vote.

Why? Because she’s a sentimental favorite and I know she won so I can just go along with it.

I’m a complicated man.

My Vote: Reed

Should Have Won: Reed, Kelly, Ritter. Either one. Mostly Kelly or Reed.

Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. Donna Reed was a great actress. She definitely deserved an Oscar. I mean, from It’s a Wonderful Life alone. Her and Thelma Ritter were the two that really deserved it. Either one would have been the best decision. I felt Grace Kelly gave the best performance, but in the long run, this was the best decision.

Performances I suggest you see: From Here to Eternity is a classic film and a great film, and comes highly recommended by me. It’s probably an essential film, given its stature and memorable beach scene. If you’re into film, this is one you probably should see. It’s more important to have seen it than to have not have seen it. So, see it. It’s a Best Picture winner. Look at the cast. You have no reason not to see it. Pickup on South Street is a nice red scare film made by the great Sam Fuller. It’s Fuller’s noir, and is a really great film. I highly recommend it. Fuller was the most in-your-face director of this era, and if you’ve seen a bunch of other films of this era, I bet you’ll be surprised at how different and refreshing this one is. Highly recommended. And Mogambo — it’s a John Ford movie, a Clark Gable movie, an Ava Gardner movie, and a Grace Kelly movie. Just one of those alone would make it worth watching. And all of them together make for a film I really do recommend. It’s not incredible, but it’s very good, and it’s just a great example of Hollywood filmmaking. Very recommended. And also, Hondo is a John Wayne movie, and that alone makes it worth watching. Not very good though, overall. But, 83 minutes including an intermission (originally shown in 3D too) — see it for that. That’s too much of a novelty (and easy length) to not see it.


5) Rambeau

4) Page

3) Reed

2) Ritter

1) Kelly

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