The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1949

1949 is a pretty solid year. Good, not great. I think I’ve covered that in the categories I’ve done before. All the King’s Men wins Best Picture (probably the Best Choice of the bunch, but, for me, it was four of five 4-star films and no real 5-star film. There were three legit choices here), Best Actor for Broderick Crawford (which I talked about here) and Best Supporting Actress for Mercedes McCambridge. I understand the Best Picture, and completely agree with both of the acting decisions. Those were great decisions.

Then Best Director was Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter to Three Wives, a decision that just baffles the shit out of me, which I talked about here. Then Best Supporting Actor was Dean Jagger for Twelve O’Clock High, which I just don’t get. At all. Ralph Richardson was clearly the vote there. So, in all, the year is pretty average. I agree with three of the six decisions, and can be swayed to liking a fourth. The other two make no sense to me, but, three of six leaning to four makes for a solid year. So that’s good.

Then there’s this category. What a weak category this is. I need to look for — actually, I kind of don’t. It’s really only two terrible nominees. And I’d gladly take one of the other two off if it meant a stronger set of nominees. Sacrifice one for the good of the many. But, just glancing at this year, I can see there weren’t any other performances, so it’s just the product of a weak year. I should feel lucky they managed three decent nominees. Regardless though — this one’s just a runaway. It’s not even close as to who deserved to win this.


And the nominees were…

Jeanne Crain, Pinky

Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress

Susan Hayward, My Foolish Heart

Deborah Kerr, Edward, My Son

Loretta Young, Come to the Stable

Crain — Pinky is a pretty solid film. This feels like Elia Kazan following up one social problem film with another. First, anti-Semitism in Gentleman’s Agreement, then racism in this. This film is pretty good, though, despite veering toward the melodramatic toward the end.

The film is about a half-white, half-black woman, who returns to her childhood home in the south. She’s in love with a white doctor who knows nothing about her heritage. She has to deal with racism, like when she’s almost assaulted by two white men and the police won’t do anything about it. Things like that. And eventually she takes a position caring for her elderly neighbor, played by Ethel Barrymore (of course. That’s all this woman played, was sick and dying women), who takes a liking to her, and eventually, when she dies, leaves her all her money and property. And of course, the town is up in arms, and bring her to trial, saying she killed the woman and forced her to sign the papers. And they all lie under oath and shit, and eventually she’s proven to be innocent and gets the property, and the whole thing is an indictment of racism. You know how it is.

It’s an interesting film. A bit too “Hollywood” as compared to Gentleman’s Agreement. Still, not a bad film. Jeanne Crain is good in it. And, honestly, in this weak ass category, she’d probably be my second choice for a vote based on performance. But, it’s a distant second, so it really doesn’t matter one way or another.

de Havilland — This is by far your winner here. It’s not even fair. It really isn’t.

The film is about a plain and shy woman, living with her father, a respected doctor. And her father is a bit worried that she hasn’t gotten married, but also because she hasn’t made good of the education she was afforded. She’s so shy she hasn’t been able to find a husband, even though she should be the most eligible woman in town. And along comes Montgomery Clift, whom she meets at a dance, and the two quickly fall in love. And he comes to ask her for hand in marriage, but, her father thinks Clift is a fortune hunter and isn’t worth marrying. And he threatens to disinherit de Havilland if she marries Clift. And she doesn’t care, so she plans to elope with him. They make plans for him to come get her that night. And there’s this great scene where she’s waiting downstairs for him to come, and he doesn’t show up. And she’s just heartbroken.

And then what happens is, her father gets sick, and she finds out he never would have disinherited her, so they have this big argument, and shortly after, he dies, and now she becomes a wealthy woman. And, of course, here comes Clift again, and he says that he made a mistake and wants to marry her still. And it’s hard to really tell what his motives are, whether he means it or not. And she sees to go along with it, and he says he’ll be by later that night to come get her. And that night comes, and she’s waiting downstairs, and he shows up, and she orders the maid to, rather than open the door, bolt it shut. She leaves Clift outside in the rain, the way he left her the first time. And the film ends with her walking up the stairs, which is a very important image.

This film is framed around walks up a staircase. The first time she’s planning on eloping with Clift, she’s filled with hope, and love. And she’s finally getting attention she never got from her father. And she refuses to believe he’s only after her money, despite what her father says. And then when he doesn’t show up, she’s just completely heartbroken and has to swallow her pride and walk up the stairs. And it’s this great moment. And then then, later, when she’s downstairs, and we think she’s finally going to marry him, we see her have the maid bolt the door, and then she sits there, with this detached look of enjoyment on her face, just enjoying the fact that this man is outside, suffering. And then she walks up the stairs once more, with the same look of detachment that her father had, and right there we see exactly what this woman has become, and how different she was at the beginning of the movie. Those two shots alone earn de Havilland this Oscar. The performance she gives in this movie — is just breathtaking. I really mean it when I say, this category is not even close. Not even a little bit. She runs away with this.

Hayward — Yeah. I hated this movie. Just did not like it at all. One of the few I out and out disliked. It was just — boring. Apparently J.D. Salinger, who wrote the story this was based on, felt the same, because he never let Hollywood get near his stuff ever again. One would think, on the surface, that a film directed by Mark Robson (director of several Val Lewton films, like The Seventh Victim and Isle of the Dead, The Bridges at Tokyo-Ri, Peyton Place, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Von Ryan’s Express, Valley of the Dolls, and Earthquake), starring Susan Hayward and Dana Andrews and written by the Epstein brothers (who wrote Casablanca), wouldn’t fail. But this one did. Big time.

This film is structured in that classic noir way, where someone thinks back to all the stuff that happened to get to that point. Hayward plays a drunk who is visited by an old friend. She passes out and dreams about her life. She was in love with a man at the beginning of the war, and he died, and then she marries the man who her friends was going to marry, and then is unhappy with him, and drinks a lot because she’s bitter. Susan Hayward played a lot of drunks. Maybe there’s something in here about her sobering up and deciding to be a better mother to her daughter, but that might be Smash-Up, another Susan Hayward-playing-a-drunk film that I did not like at all. Either way, it’s pretty clear that not only do I not like the film, that it’s clearly my #5 and that I would never vote for it in a million years. Hayward would deserve an Oscar in 1955, and would win one in 1958. Things worked out. This was not her time.

Kerr — Deborah Kerr deserved an Oscar. Just not for this film. This was her first nomination. So she wasn’t going to win anyway. So it’s fine.

This film is about Spencer Tracy and Kerr and their son, Edward. And Tracy starts the film burning down his business in order to get insurance money to afford an operation his son needs. And then we see the son growing up, doted on by Tracy, becoming an entitled prick, and then he gets older, starts drinking too much and doesn’t care about anyone or anything. And then a bunch of other shit happens, like, Tracy has an affair with a woman and she kills herself when he breaks up with her, and Kerr, his wife, threatens to tell their son, because to him, Tracy is his idol. But he threatens to ruin the man she’s having an affair with, so they end in a stalemate. And she starts drinking, and he focuses on his son, and eventually the son dies while serving as a pilot in the war, and Kerr leaves Tracy and Tracy, convinced his son is alive, continues searching for him.

That’s the film. It’s okay. Nothing special. I didn’t particularly care for it. Kerr is okay as the mother, but, in this category (and that’s only because it’s this category), she’s no more than a #3. And that’s because I hated #4 and #5. In most years, she’d be a #5, or a #4 because she’s Deborah Kerr. That’s how weak this category is. It’s sickening. And yet, at the same time, so easy to decide. Which makes it a lot easier.

Young — Another movie I out and out hated. This is just steeped in religion, which is just one of those things that will immediately turn me off of a film. Just listen to this.

Two nuns show up in rural Boston, saying they’re gonna build a children’s hospital on a hill. They show up at Elsa Lanchester’s house. She’s a painter. She painted a postcard of a chapel on a hill or something, and the two nuns, who are from Europe, somehow saw it and were convinced they had to go and build their hispital there. So they go there, without any money, and say they’re gonna build the chapel. The two nuns are Loretta Young and Celeste Holm, by the way. Both Holm and Lanchester were nominated for Supporting Actress and the film was nominated for seven Oscars. I do not understand that at all.

And basically, the land is owned by some mafia dude, and they try to get him to agree to let them build on it, and they of course find a way into his heart and he agrees to help them. And then problems arise, but there by the grace of god, of course, they are magically solved. And they have to raise money, and do so, and they build the place, and they all pray at it at the end.

Seriously why does this film exist? There are few types of films I hate more than ones about religious people who go do shit because they think it’s god’s will, and then things work out magically and they think it’s because of god. Seriously — why? Why are these things nominated for Oscars? This was a terrible movie. The climactic scene is a fucking tennis match! This looks like it was made for rich, white women to talk about after church.

I hated this movie. I hated that it was nominated for Oscars. So, in actuality, I was wrong when I said that Susan Hayward was a #5 in this category. Loretta Young is the #5. Because not only is her film terrible, but she also won in the second worst Best Actress upset of all time when she beat a much more deserving Rosalind Russell (and even Dorothy McGuire) in 1947. So, if I could rank her below #5, I would. But I can’t. So she’s #5. I hated this movie, by the way. In case that wasn’t clear.

My Thoughts: Olivia de Havilland runs away with this category so badly. It’s not even funny how far and away better she is than everyone else. This performance is seriously one of the top ten (possibly even top five) best Best Actress performances of all time. That’s how good she is.

My Vote: de Havilland

Should Have Won: de Havilland

Is the result acceptable?: Only acceptable decision in the category. This is seriously one of the top ten Best Actress decisions of all time. I don’t think you fully understand just how good Olivia de Havilland was in this film.

Performances I suggest you see: The Heiress. See it. It’s a brilliant movie. Scorsese used it as a reference for The Age of Innocence. Olivia de Havilland is also brilliant in the title role. Trust me, this is a great movie.

Then, Pinky is also worth checking out. It’s Elia Kazan, and is a good movie. Definitely recommended.

Don’t bother with anything else. Seriously. Don’t bother.


5) Young

4) Hayward

3) Kerr

2) Crain

1) de Havilland


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