The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1955

I actually really like 1955 as a year, even though most people would probably see this as a blank year for the Academy. The five Best Picture choices were a pretty weak set overall (at least two of the choices probably shouldn’t have even been nominated), and, while I think they made the best decision, their decision was not really one that would stand out among the other films that have won in the category.

Marty wins Best Picture, which I think was the best decision based on the nominees. It’s a film I love a lot. But I’m under no illusions that this film would ever win outside of a year like this. Not that I care. Delbert Mann winning Best Director for the film (which I talked about here), is a decision I don’t think was totally necessary, but I understand it. So I guess that’s okay. Ernest Borgnine winning Best Actor this year (which I talked about here) is also a decision that I like, but only because my first choice, Frank Sinatra, already had an Oscar, So it kind of worked out in the end. Best Supporting Actor was Jack Lemmon for Mister Roberts, which I think is a great decision, and Best Supporting Actress was Jo Van Fleet for East of Eden, which, I haven’t fully made up my mind yet (but I’m about 95% sure I’m gonna go another way).

And then we have this category. This category was really only between two people, and, while I can understand why Anna Magnani won here — when you watch the performance, you can see why she would win — I still don’t get why they wouldn’t give it to Susan Hayward here. She’s been nominated a bunch of times by now, hasn’t won, is someone they’re clearly looking to give an Oscar, and she’s playing a type of character she excels at — the pitiful drunk. That’s her character. Plus, this is the first time she’s really nailed it and is really worth voting for. And you don’t give it to her? I don’t get it.


And the nominees were…

Susan Hayward, I’ll Cry Tomorrow

Katharine Hepburn, Summertime

Jennifer Jones, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

Anna Magnani, The Rose Tattoo

Eleanor Parker, I’ll Cry Tomorrow

Hayward — Seriously, I don’t know how Susan Hayward didn’t win here. She was really the best in the category. At least, in 1958, you could make the case why she wasn’t the best and why you could vote for someone else, but the fact that she didn’t win here pretty much cemented the case for her winning that year. Here, she’s unquestionably the best (for me, anyway. I’ll admit that Magnani was a close second, so if people say Magnani did deserve to win, I won’t argue too much. Put it this way, though — if there were two actresses that you could say deserved to win Best Actress the most, would you take the pairing of Anna Magnani and Susan Hayward (’55/’58, respectively), or would you take Susan Hayward and Shirley MacLaine/Rosalind Russell/Deborah Kerr/Elizabeth Taylor? See what I mean? All five of the women in that category hadn’t won an Oscar, and Russell was long overdue (not that she would have won for Auntie Mame), Deborah Kerr was long overdue (and probably should have won for Separate Tables, all things considered), and Liz was good enough to win, and, had she won, maybe Shirley MacLaine wins her deserved Oscar in 1960 for The Apartment instead. See what I mean? I can’t see any reason to really say Anna Magnani should have won, even if you think she gave the better performance. That counts for a lot, but, it’s the Oscars. I learned to leave personal feelings at the door a long time ago. They can only come in when it’s necessary. (And, at least, for me, those feelings don’t include giving Sandra Bullock an Oscar.)

So, this film is about Susan Hayward who grew up with a stage mother (played by Jo Van Fleet, which, makes me understand a bit more why they gave her the Oscar this year), and was a star on broadway at a young age. And she pretty much goes along with it, because she has a man, and is in love with him. But then he dies, and she becomes a drunk. And the rest of the film is about her being a drunk. She gets married to another guy, and they drink and spend money. Then she gets married to another guy, who beats her. Then she tries to kill herself, and then she gets help and starts going to AA meetings and cleans herself up, and then has a big climactic argument with her mother and all that jazz.

I thought Hayward nailed the part. I thought the scenes where she was drunk she did perfectly. I really think that her performance, along with the fact that she was clearly gonna win one of these one day, should have gotten her the win here. I really do. I really don’t see why she didn’t win. Because, for me, while this film does have the melodramatic elements to it, what carries it is Hayward’s performance. There are more scenes that have her being drunk than scenes with swells of music and people saying mean things to each other, and all that shit melodramas have. Put it this way — it’s not a Bette Davis movie. And for me, that’s enough. I say she should have won.

Hepburn — Yeah, I don’t understand this nomination at all. Here’s Hepburn right in the middle of her spinster period. She had her spinster period in the middle of the 50s, and then moved into the elder stateswoman role that won her all the Oscars in the 60s. But, here, she mostly played aging women who were unable to get married. And this film I don’t think quite captures the performance as well as The Rainmaker, the year after this, does. Plus, I don’t think this film is particularly good. It’s like Eat Pray Love, just, slightly better and directed by David Lean.

The film is about Hepburn as an American schoolteacher who goes on vacation to Rome. And she goes around Rome, meets some fellow English people, hangs out with them, is upset that everyone has someone but her, then meets an Italian man, has a romance with him, and that’s the film. She falls in love, but has to leave, and doesn’t think it’s anything serious, but then it ends happily (they don’t get together, but it ends happily). The film is really not that interesting outside of some gorgeous exterior shots of Rome. That’s really what this film is about, looking like a travel guide.

Hepburn — I don’t get why she was nominated outside of the fact that she’s Katharine Hepburn and that this year was so fucking weak. And if that’s why, I get it. It still doesn’t change the fact that she’s no better than a fourth choice here (and that’s purely because #5 should not have been nominated at all).

Jones — Speaking of #5…

What the fuck was this film doing here? Is it a Korean War thing? I don’t get it.

The film is about Jennifer Jones as a half-Chinese doctor who falls in love with William Holden, an American. It takes place during the Communist revolution in China. Half the film is them falling in love. There are brief moments where they encounter racism or whatever (Hollywood-style racism. You know how it is. And by that I mean, the way they show it in the movies, not the way they practice it in their business practices), and then they decide they don’t care and fall in love anyway. And then he goes off to war and dies, and she’s upset. It’s one of those romances where, they’re really happy, and you know it’s gonna be tragic, and he dies, and — honestly if this were made in the 90s, Miramax would have squeezed a shit ton of Oscars out of it.

I did not like this movie at all. Even if I did find it watchable (I didn’t), any kind of respect I had for it went right out the window once I saw just how badly they were gunning for Oscar nominations with it. It’s just so pandering. They hit all the elements. It seriously reminded me of a Miramax film, but like, one of the bad ones, that’s really trying to hit all the right notes. (Like, The Reader.) I like Jennifer Jones, but I don’t think she deserved to even come close to winning this. Plus, she had an Oscar, so I don’t feel bad about this at all. #5.

Magnani — I do understand why she won. I will say that. When I watched the film, I definitely understand why she won. At least 40% of it is this weak ass category she’s in, but another 40% is definitely the performance. I don’t know what the other 20% is, because, to understand that, you understand how the Academy operates, and I’m pretty sure if I understood that, they’d find me dead on the toilet within a week.

The Rose Tattoo — listen to how terrible this story sounds on paper — is about a woman whose husband dies (and is also having an affair, but apparently that is of no consequence whatsoever) and she miscarries at the same time, and then goes into hiding and becomes a recluse. Then, three years later, she works as a dressmaker, stays inside all the time, and has her daughter deal with all the orders and the customers. And she’s let herself get ugly and everything. And then she meets Burt Lancaster, and starts having an affair with him, and then there’s this whole bit about the fact that her dead husband had a tattoo of a rose on his chest, so Burt Lancaster goes and gets one too and they have a big fight, but then they make up and it’s all okay.

I honestly don’t understand how anyone could think this would make an interesting movie. That’s seriously the film. Magnani — becomes a recluse after her husband dies. She makes dresses. Her daughter is frustrated because her mother is the weird parent and is embarrassed and wants to be normal. She starts fucking Burt Lancaster. She has a weird fascination with a tattoo her husband had. Lancaster, trying to impress her, gets one too. She throws him out of the house. He climbs a telephone pole to ask for her forgiveness. She forgives him, the end. What the fuck?

Magnani is really good in the film. I will admit that. I really can see why she win. I don’t think that means she should have, but I can see it. Am I voting for her? Absolutely not. I think Susan Hayward should have won this all the way. Also, having had to write out the plot of this film has made me like it a little less after the fact. I thought it was pretty good before. Now I think — what the fuck was that? It’s not bad, it’s just — who would find this story interesting?

Also, I found out that Jo Van Fleet is also in this movie. What the fuck? She’s like the John C. Reilly of this year.

Parker — Ah, the Oscar bait performance. AKA the female musical biopic. Works every time.

Interrupted Melody is about an Australian opera singer — look at this from an Oscar perspective, Australian … opera singer … right there you just go, “Oh. Wow.” — who gets polio. Done. Right there. Nomination. Fucking done. So she gets polio, struggles with it. Gives up. But her husband/eventual husband makes her deal with it and forces her to start working toward getting better. And she overcomes the disease as best she can and has a bit climactic performance where she sings and everything is great again.

You know how these movies work. It’s exactly by the numbers as you’d expect it to be. Parker is fine, but, this is just way too on the nose to even vote for. I mean, come on. We can’t just give it to everyone that does one of these. (Or can we? Reese Witherspoon?) So, I’m not voting for her. I’ll put her third though, because she does give a spirited attempt at an Oscar. I’ll give her that much.

My Thoughts: Yeah, this really comes down to Hayward and Magnani. I still say they should have went with Hayward, but at least they went with one of the top two. I still vote Hayward, though.

My Vote: Hayward

Should Have Won: Hayward. And, I guess, Magnani.

Is the result acceptable?: I guess. Maybe. I say no, because, Susan Hayward was, for me, clearly the best performance and the person who should have won here. Anna Magnani winning delays a Susan HAyward win until 1958, when she wins for I Want to Live!, which was a fine performance, but not necessarily one I’d automatically give to her. If she wins here, she doesn’t have to win for that, opening the door for a long overdue Deborah Kerr to win for her great performance in Separate Tables, or a just-entering-her-prime Elizabeth Taylor, for her fantastic performance in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Or, if they wanted to (which would have been a comparatively weak decision compared to those other two), they could have gave it to Rosalind Russell, who was so horribly snubbed in 1947, for Auntie Mame. Either way, what I’m saying is, Susan Hayward, for me, gave the best performance here, and, Anna Magnani, while she was second best for me, didn’t need the Oscar. So, if Susan Hayward wins here, maybe Deborah Kerr wins and then has a well-deserved Oscar, or maybe Liz Taylor wins and then doesn’t win in 1960, where Shirley MacLaine should so obviously have won. That’s why I consider this a bad decision.

Performances I suggest you see: Not much, really. You honestly don’t need to see any of these movies as just movies. I suggest you watch a few of them if you want to see specific things. Like, I’ll Cry Tomorrow has a great drunk performance. Susan Hayward plays one of the best drunks here I’ve seen in cinema, pre-1970. You have to take into account the era it was made in and cut it a little slack, but still, that’s not bad, for those familiar with how drunks act (if you take real drunks as you know them, add a dash of “acting” and allow for some 50s-ness, this is actually pretty good). And then, Summertime is gorgeously shot. That’s really about it though. See it if you want to see all the David Lean films (which is really not a bad endeavor for anyone to undertake). That’s it, though. Otherwise, you have a musical biopic. If you like those, see Interrupted Melody. The Rose Tattoo is an okay film. Burt Lancaster is in it and it has a Best Actress winning performance. And is a Tennessee Williams play. So, if any of those interest you, you should see it.

Really though, you can probably skip all of these unless you have a very specific reason for trying to see them.


5) Jones

4) Hepburn

3) Parker

2) Magnani

1) Hayward

2 responses

  1. Rick Sisson

    This is an amazing critique, rational, thoughtful, wise.
    I agree Miss Hayward was magnificent in ‘I’ll Cry Tomorrow’
    [everything a biography should be] and who, back then, could
    have played the part other than Hayward? I personally think
    Susan was snubbed because of the bad press just before the
    film was made. I also felt she was the deserving winner for
    her Jane Froman portrayal in ‘With a Song in My Heart’ (1952),
    and that Deborah Kerr deserved an Oscar win for ‘Separate Tables’

    June 16, 2015 at 7:16 pm

  2. Greg Kipp

    I totally agree that Susan Hayward should have won the Best Actress Oscar in 1955 for I’LL CRY TOMORROW. I like Anna Magnani but she did her best work in Italian movies. American film makers basically wasted Anna’s talents in their movies as far as i’m concerned. I also feel that Doris Day deserved a Best Actress nomination for her work as Ruth Etting in LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME because LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is a much better film than INTERRUPTED MELODY in my humble opinion. Why Eleanor Parker was nominated for Best Actress for her performance in INTERRUPTED MELODY is beyond me since the movie was basically boring in my opinion.

    December 28, 2017 at 9:25 pm

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