The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1960

This is one of the more infamous categories in Academy history. It’s widely regarded that the only reason Elizabeth Taylor won here was because she was going through a serious health scare at the time (not uncommon for her, sadly) and had a tracheotomy done. And the Academy, fearing that she’d die, gave this to her as sort of a tribute in case she’d never have the chance to win one again. It’s possible she’d have won anyway, but when even Shirley MacLaine publicly talks shit about the decision (everyone else does too), I think we can safely say that’s why she won. I felt we needed to get that out of the way now. It’s pretty open and shut, how this category should have gone.

As for the rest of the year, The Apartment wins Best Picture, a decision I love, Billy Wilder wins Best Director, a decision I like because I love the film, but don’t like based on who he beat (Hitchcock for Psycho. I talked about it here). Burt Lancaster wins his well-deserved Best Actor award for Elmer Gantry, and Shirley Jones also wins Best Supporting Actress for the film (which, is kind of okay, but, I’d have went with Janet Leigh here. But that’s just me). And Peter Ustinov wins Best Supporting Actor for Spartacus, which, considering he’s one of the premier character actors of all time (and was also in The Sundowners this year), this was without a doubt a great decision.

As for this category, it was always going to come down to Shirley MacLaine and Elizabeth Taylor. They were clearly the two best. Liz’s performance may have been a bit — much — maybe, for a win, but, she was good, so her winning isn’t that terrible a decision. And since Shirley MacLaine eventually got her Oscar, this isn’t as bad a decision as it could have been. So, ultimately, things worked out. But I think we can all agree that Shirley MacLaine should have won here. But, still, isn’t Liz just gorgeous in her movie?


And the nominees were…

Greer Garson, Sunrise at Campobello

Deborah Kerr, The Sundowners

Shirley MacLaine, The Apartment

Melina Mercouri, Never on Sunday

Elizabeth Taylor, BUtterfield 8

Garson — Sunrise at Campobello is one of those films you look at and go, “Oscar.” Like, if, next year you heard that Meryl Streep was coming out with a movie where she plays Margaret Thatcher. (Oh, wait…she is.) You just think, “Of course that’s gonna be nominate for Oscars. That’s the kind of film this is.” That’s what it’s like, Everlast.

The film is about Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt as he contracts polio. He goes from being a vigorous sportsman to being totally debilitated by the disease. And then we see him overcoming it as best he can and then going on to become president, all while no one knows he can’t walk. It’s a pretty great story. The film itself is so-so. The real selling point of the film are the performances of Greer Garson (the Meryl Streep of the 40s. Woman could do any accent you wanted) and Ralph Bellamy. Franklin is the basis of the film, but, as always, the wife role gets the nomination. Garson really got this because she’s such a respected actress and because — this part was always gonna get nominated. But she was never going to win. It’s like the Meryl Streep nomination (most years). You know why she’s there, and, unless there’s no one else who’s gonna win (and it always seems like there is), she won’t win. Nor should she have. She was fine, but, when watching this, I thought that 90% of the performance was the voice she used. Like Meryl in Julie and Julia. She didn’t really do that much past sound like her, and that was good enough to get a nomination because of her stature. Which, is cool. Still — this is #5 for the year. Maybe a 4, but, Melina Mercouri was lively, so she gets the 4th spot. This performance was not very lively at all.

Kerr — Deborah Kerr is one of the top five best actresses to never win an Oscar. Her and Rosalind Russell were so terribly overlooked in the 1940-1960 years it’s just disgusting. Russell had the bigger individual snub, but Kerr had a lot more win-worthy performances that just didn’t win at all. And that’s really a shame, because she really had like three or four performances where she was good enough to win and just didn’t.

The Sundowners is one of those films where I didn’t really know what to expect when I went into it. I don’t think I read a synopsis or anything beforehand. It might have been one of those, I saw it was nominated a bunch and it was just the next film I needed to watch. But when I put it on — man, was this unlike anything else I’ve seen from this period. It’s just an incredible film.

The film is about a family, led by Robert Mitchum, a sheepherder, who are “sundowners,” which means, they wander the land, and they pitch a tent and sleep wherever the sun goes down. Get it? And Kerr is his wife, who really wants to settle down and have a house that they can call their own. Their kids want it too. And the film is about Mitchum resisting that and Kerr trying to get him to agree to it. But the film is much more episodic than that. And that’s really what makes it work. At the beginning, Kerr tries to get him to agree to settle down, and he does, but then the next day he says he took a job as a drover for a herd of sheep and that after the job they’ll have enough money to settle down. And Kerr knows — that’s not true.

So they take the job, and they hire Peter Ustinov as an extra drover. And then they go on and herd the sheep. And then there are these interludes where they have a cooking contest where Kerr has to prove to the men that she can cook, because they have their own cook and she has her pride at stake. And then there’s a little romance btween Peter Ustinov and an innkeeper. And then there’s the best part of the movie — a sheep-shearing contest where Mitchum and another man have a contest to see who can shear the most sheep. It’s the most thrilling sequence in the film. It puts most action sequences to shame. Seriously. And then there’s a bunch of instances where they lost the money, and almost settle down, but don’t, and need to make the money, and then spend it, and then they get a horse and have to race it in order to afford the house — it’s just a great, great film. It’s really a film I think everyone needs to watch. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, no matter who you are. It’s that good a film.

A bit of trivia on it — the dude who allegedly had seen the most films ever or something like that — I forget exactly what his claim to fame was. I thought it was because he’d claimed to have seen some ridiculous number of films — he said that his favorite film of all time was always this film. So, that’s something. Right?

Anyway, Kerr is great here. I’d vote for her if there weren’t much competition. But, here, this is really between Taylor and MacLaine. Kerr never had a shot with this one. And that’s a shame. But she’s great and the film is amazing. Seriously. I love this film to death. They don’t make them much better than this.

MacLaine — The Apartment is a perfect film. There’s really no other way to put it.

It’s about Jack Lemmon as an insurance salesman who is basically just a nameless employee in this big corporation. He’s a man at a desk. However, all the big executives know his name. Why? Because he agrees to let them all have the key to his apartment on certain nights so they can bring their mistresses there. What happens is, they call him, schedule an appointment, and, that night, he leaves his apartment for four hours, they bring their girl, do their business, and Lemmon comes home. He does this because he’s Jack Lemmon. And if you know the Jack Lemmon character — especially in Billy Wilder movies — you know that he’s nebbish, very willing to agree to things because he gets so flustered and wants to help people.

So he rents out the apartment. And he’s also in love with Shirley MacLaine, who is an elevator operator in the building. All the men in the building are in love with her, but she is just completely disinterested in all of them. And no one can figure out why. And then, one day, Lemmon gets a call from the big executive of the company, played by Fred MacMurray, who got wind of Lemmon and his business of renting out his apartment. MacMurray tells Lemmon that if he refuses to let anyone but him have the key to the apartment, he’ll get a promotion and rise up the company much faster than he is now. So Lemmon agrees. Also, he manages to get Shirley MacLaine agree to go out on a date with him. However, she never shows up. And what happens is, we find out that Shirley MacLaine is actually the one who is having an affair with Fred MacMurray, and then he ends up dumping her on Christmas Eve — at Jack Lemmon’s apartment.

And then Lemmon comes home, having been at a bar, and finds Shirley MacLaine asleep in his bed. And he discovers that she’s taken a bunch of sleeping pills. And he rushes to get the doctor that lives next door to him — who, along with everyone else on the floor thinks Lemmon is some kind of lothario, since they hear all the executives playing music and carrying on almost every night and they think it’s him — to come help her. and he helps pump her stomach and save her life. And then the rest of the film is her and Lemmon stuck in the apartment together, getting to know one another better. And eventually you start to think she’s gonna end up with him, but then she goes back to MacMurray, but then, at the last minute, goes back to Lemmon, and there’s that brilliant final line of, “Shut up and deal.” It’s really just a perfect film.

MacLaine is wonderful in this movie. She really deserved this Oscar. There’s this one moment in the film, one that, when I read it in the script, which, when I saw the film for the first time, I was reading the script alongside it. And there’s this one moment that, when I read it and saw it, I just immediately burst into tears. It was such a powerful moment. MacLaine has taken the sleeping pills, and the doctor has came, pumped her stomach, pumped her full of coffee and Lemmon has paced the floor with her for hours, trying to keep her awake by this point. And Lemmon finally lets her go to bed, and takes her to lay down, and just as he’s putting her into bed, she finally says her first coherent sentence, and it’s, “Why didn’t you just let me die?” It’s so fucking heartbreaking. Right there, I was ready to give this woman the Oscar (and more so, give Billy Wilder the Screenplay Oscar). Some people might prefer Taylor here, but I’m taking Shirley MacLaine all the way. I have to. It’s like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. I’m voting for it regardless.

Mercouri — This is an interesting film. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either. I have a certain respect for it (un certain regard, if you will).

It’s about Melina Mercouri, as a Greek prostitute who doesn’t charge men to sleep with her. She just sleeps with the people she likes. That’s her character. And she runs around in skimpy (or no) clothing, and finds men and just makes appointments with the men she likes. And if she doesn’t like them, she won’t sleep with them. And Jules Dassin is a Frenchman who is obsessed with Greek culture and all things Greek. And he falls in love with her and tries to get her to quit being a prostitute. And it’s the classic hooker with a heart of gold story, and is basically a romance. It’s a fine film. It’s definitely a good film. It’s just — I didn’t particularly care for it because I’ve seen it a bunch of times. The only thing that stands out is Mercouri’s performance. And even that is — aside from her being so lively — not really good enough for anything but a nomination. So, that’s pretty much it, really. She’s good, probably deserves to be on here, but that’s it. This category was always between MacLaine and Taylor. And if anyone’s a third choice, it’s Kerr, because of how many times she should have won and didn’t. Mercouri was never coming close to a vote here.

Taylor — And Liz. I really liked this film. Most people consider it a bit over the top, but I went with it. I thought it was fine. The ending — whatever. Honestly, for me, this film was about Liz’s performance, and the way she looked in this film, she could have not acted and all and I wouldn’t have minded. I mean, damn, is she beautiful here.

The film is about a high priced call girl, of sorts. She has lots of one night stands with rich men, but never asks for a price. She mostly does it so she can pretend to feel rich. The opening scene is her waking up in a penthouse, walking around, trying on fur coats and stuff, and then she finds money on the dresser and a note asking if that’s enough. And what she does is, takes lipstick, and writes on the mirror, “No Sale!”, takes a fur coat and leaves. She basically just sleeps with a bunch of men. But, she falls in love with one. And he happens to be married. And that’s the film — a woman who sleeps around who falls in love, but in the worst circumstances possible. Because he’s married, and her best friend has been in love with her for years, and she doesn’t see him that way. And of course, it ends tragically. You know the deal.

It’s not a bad film by any means. And Taylor’s performance does carry the film. But, really, she didn’t need to win, and it wasn’t really a performance that should have won. But, it is passable as an Oscar-winning performance if they really did think she was gonna die. But, either way, she’s not getting my vote. I will say, though, that the film is not bad, and her performance is not totally unworthy either. I think people should see the film for themselves before they automatically trash the decision (if they do at all). Because she does a good job here. And, at worst, you get to see just how gorgeous she is in this movie. I mean — wow.

My Thoughts: MacLaine and Taylor are clearly the top two, and I’m going with MacLaine, as she was clearly the vote. I understand them going with Liz though. I just, can’t.

My Vote: MacLaine

Should Have Won: MacLaine

Is the result acceptable?: No. Not at all. And yet, kind of. But also not really. It’s considered one of the worst Best Actress decisions of all time. I don’t know if I’d call it that — because I love Elizabeth Taylor — even if it was a bit of an overreaction. But if she died, it would be considered a great decision. So, I can’t really give an opinion on this past — Shirley MacLaine really should have won this.

Performances I suggest you see: The Apartment is a perfect film and is in my top ten or twenty favorite films of all time. You need to see this movie. And if you haven’t, you’re basically dead to me.

Also, The Sundowners, for me, is a perfect film. It’s not a must-see film, but I think you should see it. It’s one of those films that’s not really big on plot — it has one, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not the main focus of the picture — and really immerses you in this family and their situation. And you just buy it. The whole time, you just watch this, and you’re never bored, and the film never drags, it never even feels like a film. It just — is. It’s just so great. I really think you ought to see this film, because there’s a very good chance you’ll come out of it saying, “Wow, that was really good.” The probability is very low that you won’t like it. That’s why I’m recommending this so highly. It really is an amazing, amazing film.

BUtterfield 8 is also a great film because it’s a great showcase for Liz, it’s an interesting film (at least for me), from a character perspective, and, she really is just stunning in this movie. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her as sexy in a movie as she is here. Maybe Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. But this is right up there as well. I mean, she’s just jaw-droppingly gorgeous here, you can’t even take your eyes off of her. You should really see it just for that.

And the other two — Never on Sunday is enjoyable. I’m not really into foreign films that much. And this, for me, is just a film with Melina Mercouri running around and being lively. It’s pretty good, it’s just, not for everybody. You’ll know if you’re the type of person who will like this or not. And Sunrise at Campobello is interesting for me because it’s a very specific type of film. It feels like an “Oscar” film for 1960. The kind the studio thought would be a bit hit at the Oscars. And that fascinates me. Plus you get Greer Garson, who was the Meryl Streep of the 40s (seriously. She had a different accent in every film she did), playing Eleanor Roosevelt and doing a voice that sounds like Julia Child with conviction and Ralph Bellamy playing old FDR. That’s all I need to want to see this. The films’ pretty good too, if not overly long and a bit overdone. But still, it’s not too bad. It’s worth a watch for me.


5) Garson

4) Mercouri

3) Taylor

2) Kerr

1) MacLaine

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