The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1944

I don’t know if my subconscious is really smart or really dickish. Or really dickish because it’s really smart. It seems like these last few days have been nothing but shit categories. Now, to show you behind the curtain: what I do when figuring out what posts are going up each month is, I figure out which categories are finished and which ones have the most years left to write up. I like to space out each category, so that you don’t get Best Actor after Best Actor every day (unless I have a lot of that category, like last month, where the first half was all Best Actress categories). Then what I do is just pick randomly which years go where. I try to make it so years aren’t in close proximity to years near it. Like, yesterday was 1990, today is 1944, tomorrow will be 1959, and then after that is 1976. It’s spread out.

I’m not really paying attention to what specific categories are going up when I plan this. It’s just about spreading out the years. Which is why, either my subconscious is really smart or really dickish. Because either it was like, “All of these categories really suck. Mike’s gonna hate having to write them up. Let’s put them in his birthday month so he has no choice but to do them and not put them off.” Or it was like, “Let’s put them in his birthday month because he’s got all that other stuff going on that he likes that he’ll be able to power through it and get them over with so he doesn’t have to deal with them all later.” I’d like to think it was the latter. But, honestly, it’s probably pure happenstance. I just thought I should mention it because I like weird coincidences like this. It’s rare to see so many shitty categories in a row.

Anywho, I find 1944 to be a very boring year. Mostly because the best film of the year lost to a crowd pleaser. Going My Way wins Best Picture, Best Actor for Bing Crosby (talked about here), Best Supporting Actor for Barry Fitzgerald (talked about here) and Best Director for Leo McCarey (talked about here). I love the acting decisions, but I don’t agree with the Picture decision and hate the Director decision. Hitchcock or Billy Wilder should have won there, and Double Indemnity really should have won Best Picture. Then there’s Best Actress, which was Ingrid Bergman for Gaslight (talked about here), which is clearly a makeup Oscar for her not winning the year before (she was nominated for For Whom the Bell Tolls instead of Casablanca, which is what she should have won for), which screwed Barbara Stanwyck out of a well-deserved Oscar. So this year is just chaos. Punctuated (or rather, underscored) by this piece of shit category, where once again, the Academy votes for the worst possible choice. And don’t give me that veteran shit — she shouldn’t have won.


And the nominees were…

Ethel Barrymore, None But the Lonely Heart

Jennifer Jones, Since You Went Away

Angela Lansbury, Gaslight

Aline MacMahon, Dragon Seed

Agnes Moorehead, Mrs. Parkington

Barrymore — None But the Lonely Heart is a film I thought would be good. It’s Cary Grant — when has he gone wrong? Oh, but he did. Well — he didn’t. The film does. Grant does an admirable job with it. His only problem is the attempted cockney accent. It seems like he fluctuates between doing it poorly or just dropping it altogether. It’s very distracting.

Anyway, the film is about Grant, a ne’er do well, who doesn’t want to settle down and act like an adult. His father is dead, his mother tries to get him to run the family shop, but he won’t do it. He has a good woman who cares for him, but he’d rather hang around with a gangster’s girl. And the film is about him finding out his mother has cancer, and him staying to help her out until she dies. And a bunch of shit happens — she ends up dying in prison — don’t ask why — and he loses everything, but then the film ends with him being like, “I’m gonna change,” and setting out to do so. What a fucking depressing movie this is.

Now, Ethel Barrymore plays Grant’s mother. And her screen time basically consists of, “Oh, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, life is sad, things are dreary, my son is wayward, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die.” You can hear the fucking bells and sad church organ as she speaks. And that’s all she does. Literally, all she does. And she has about, oh, ten minutes of screen time, and then dies like midway through. This is a bullshit nomination and she’s only here because she’s a veteran. Seriously, Academy, you should have done this eight years ago, not here. The category has legs now. These veteran wins without decent performances to back them are not okay almost ten years in.

Jones — Since you Went Away is a film that’s very major in film history. If you know your history — and I’d imagine you don’t. I have zero faith in the American public — you’ll know that this is one of the landmark films of the war years. Because, this film deals with the homefront. Not the war. It’s about all the people the men left behind. All the women at home, doing their part.

The film is about Claudette Colbert, whose husband is at war, trying to deal with him not being there. And at first, she’s just kind of going about life, waiting for him to return. Then she learns about the war effort, and starts helping out (she wasn’t doing so before). She takes a job in a factory, she befriends a Russian woman (which is a major thing for a 1944 film — the whole Communism thing — it showed a Russian character in a positive light), she takes in an extra person in the house. And the whole time, she’s trying to see her husband and find out if he’s okay. And she keeps getting thwarted from seeing him the whole time, but then at the very end of the movie, she finds out that he’s coming home, and everyone is happy.

The part of the film we’re most interested in is Jennifer Jones’s. She plays Colbert’s oldest daughter (Shirley Temple plays the younger daughter). And she falls in love with a soldier, and he has to leave, and she has this big teary goodbye at the train station (which was parodied in Airplane!). But overall, she’s really strong in the role. She was actually the best part of the film for me. Her and Monty Woolley. To me, she was actually the best performance in this category. In regards to a vote, though — well, I’ll explain that in a bit. But the film is amazing and Jones’s performance is great.

Lansbury — Gaslight is a film, as I say whenever I talk about it, that I didn’t really like all that much. The reason is because there’s a certain twist that occurs. Or rather, revelation. But the film telegraphs it very obviously really early. And at that point you’re like, “Oh, so that’s what it is.” And for the rest of the film you’re watching, going, “Why don’t you see this, Ingrid Bergman? This is really obvious what’s going on.” And you just sort of spend the film waiting for them to finish up, because you figured it out already.

The film is about Ingrid Bergman, whose aunt, a famous opera singer, was brutally murdered in her apartment. And Bergman goes away, becomes a singer in her own right, then after a while moves back to her aunt’s apartment. And she’s freaked out by it, because her aunt was murdered there. And soon after, she meets Charles Boyer. And he woos her, and they get married. And they live in the house, and pretty soon, Bergman starts to think she’s going crazy. The lights start flickering, pictures start disappearing from the walls, items disappear and reappear in other places. She thinks she’s losing her mind. Because Boyer doesn’t notice any of this. And he starts keeping her inside because he doesn’t want her scaring the neighbors. And she slowly starts losing her grip on reality — until Joseph Cotten shows up. He’s a policeman, and he pretty much tells her, she’s not crazy.

See, the thing is — Charles Boyer is a jewel thief. And he’s the guy who murdered her aunt. He did the same thing he’s doing with Bergman (getting close to her so he can find the jewels), but he had to kill her aunt before he found the jewels because she found out about him. So now he’s back with Bergman, and is keeping her in the house and making her think she’s crazy in order to keep her out of his hair long enough for him to search their upper floors for the jewels. And what happens is, she realizes she’s not crazy, finds him just as he finds the jewels, ties him up, and starts torturing him the way he tortured her.

The thing about the film is, though, early on, Bergman finds a letter her aunt had. And the letter is from Boyer (or rather, his alias). And when she brings it up innocently, Boyer, who hadn’t shown any behavior of this sort before, flips the fuck out. He’s just like, “Give it to me! Give me the letter!” and takes it and is really adamant about it. And even she’s like, “Why are you yelling?” Which makes it weird that she doesn’t figure out what’s going on.

Anyway, Angela Lansbury is a maid Bergman employs after Boyer forbids her from leaving the house. And she comes in and is immediately cold toward Bergman. Bergman becomes convinced that Lansbury hates her. And then later we find out that Boyer is paying her to do that and she doesn’t want to be unnaturally cruel to Bergman. She’s fine in the role, but, she’s not a very vital part of the movie, and doesn’t have that much screen time. But she is Angela Lansbury, so that deserves some consideration.

MacMahon — Dragon Seed is a film I went into with low expectations. But, I ended up liking the film quite a bit.

It’s based on a Pearl S. Buck novel, which, if you don’t know, she’s the woman who wrote The Good Earth. It’s about a village of people, mostly one family, dealing with the Sino-Japanese war. John Huston is the father, Aline MacMahon is the mother, Katharine Hepburn is their oldest daughter. Notice anything about that cast? Anything at all? Maybe the fact that they’re all white and playing Asian? Yeah…

The film begins peacefully. We meet them and know their problems. Hepburn wants to learn to read, and her husband wants her to be a demure wife. That sort of stuff. Oh, and they all have names like “Third Cousin’s Wife,” “Eldest Daughter” and “Youngest Son.” Then the Japanese come and take over, and everyone has to deal with it. Akim Tamiroff plays Huston’s brother or brother-in-law, and he ends up being a stoolie for the Japanese, and that causes conflict. And eventually Hepburn poisons a bunch of Japanese officers, and the family has to burn down the village in order to escape (because they realize they’re producing food for the Japanese and that they can’t survive if they burn down the land and leave). It’s a very fascinating film. I enjoyed it very much.

Aline MacMahon is the “ma” of the family. Basically. It’s the “ma” role. The only difference is — she’s Chinese. It’s like if O-Lan was old. That’s pretty much it. I refuse to vote for her because she’s in yellowface. I can’t condone that. But, outside of a vote, she’s a solid #4. Maybe a #3. I liked her performance and the film better than Lansbury and Gaslight, so she’s third on the rankings and fourth for a vote. (Though I’m still putting her fourth in the rankings, because I’m a complicated man.)

Moorehead — Oh Agnes. How I love you. I do not, however, love this film.

Mrs. Parkington is another Greer Garson special. Which, I notice these Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon films get worse as we go along. First was Blossoms in the Dust, which I think is the best one she did during this period. Then there’s Mrs. Miniver, which on the whole is very good, but has moments where it drags. Then there’s Madame Curie, which is a good film, but not a great one. Then there’s this, which is not very good at all. (She was also nominated for The Valley of Decision the year after this, but that was with Gregory Peck.)

The film is about a young woman who comes from an average background who gets married to a rich and prominent man. And they get married, have their problems, lose a child, she stops loving him, all that melodrama bullshit. And the film takes place with her as an old lady and all this stuff with her granddaughter wanting to get married or some such shit — it’s just Oscar bait to the max. The kind of film they make after they win the Oscar. Trying to repeat. It’s really not very good at all. I had to watch it twice just to find out what the fuck was going on.

The part we’re interested in is actually the most interesting part of the film. Agnes Moorehead plays a French baroness who is friends with Walter Pidgeon. And she’s been in love with him for a while, but he loves Greer Garson instead. And he goes to her for all of his problems (kind of the way Rhett Butler always went to Belle Watling, only classier). And he asks Moorehead to help make up Garson. He doesn’t like how she has all these middle class sensibilities, so he asks Moorehead to teach her how to dress like an upper class person. And she agrees, despite being very jealous of Garson because she got Pidgeon. And she starts helping her, not really liking her at first, but then becomes fond of her, and the two become friends. And she ends up helping Pidgeon design a house for Garson with all the stuff she likes. It’s a nice little complex character. Plus, if you didn’t know any better, you’d swear a French actress played the role. That’s how flawless Moorehead’s accent is. At least to me.

Now, Moorehead doesn’t have that much screen time, but the performance is still very good, very memorable, and she’s an actress who, like Claude Rains, could do anything. So that makes her fair game for a vote at any time. Plus there’s the whole thing with Jennifer Jones not really being able to be voted for…

My Thoughts: Okay, I need to reason this one out. Trust me. This is the best way to do it.

First off — Barrymore. Seriously, she does nothing in this film. She acts all dour and lays there dying for the film. She only got this award because she is who she is. Not worth a vote in the least. All of the other nominees were better choices.

Second off — Aline MacMahon. Nothing against her, but — I can’t condone white people in yellow face. Not when Oscars are involved. I just can’t. She was good, but, she wouldn’t be any better than a #4 anyway, so if it’s all the same, let’s leave her here and pretend like no one would be willing to condone the silent racism this role implies.

Third off — Lansbury. I love her, and she’s had a long and amazing career, but, this isn’t a performance to vote for. It just isn’t. She’s good, but, no. Her best chance came in 1962 for The Manchurian Candidate, and even there, she got beat out by two much better performances (Patty Duke as Helen Keller and Mary Badham as Scout Finch). So, she’s out. Good, but not worth a vote.

So now it’s between Agnes Moorehead and Jennifer Jones. And, based solely on performance — I go Jennifer Jones. Honestly, I loved Jennifer Jones’s performance in this film. I fell in love with the character and perked up whenever she was on screen. The film’s three hours, it drags a bit. But, I loved her performance and would normally vote for her unconditionally. But — we have a problem. She won Best Actress the year before this. And she kind of — shouldn’t have won. I mean, she was good and charming in The Song of Bernadette, and it’s cool that she won, but, in an ideal world, Ingrid Bergman should have won there for Casablanca, which would have let Barbara Stanwyck win this year for Best Actress. So even though Jones was good enough to win there, I hold a bit of a grudge against her because of all this other business, so that’s kind of what’s keeping me from voting for her here.

Plus, it’s not like there isn’t a good alternative. Agnes Moorehead is the best female character actor ever. Here’s a woman that could convincingly play anything. And, she’s great in this movie. So lively and energetic, and really spruces up the proceedings quite a bit. And on top of that — aside from playing the French baroness in that film, this same year she also played an Italian dress shop owner, Chinese peasant, and was also in two more films! She was in Since You Went Away and another film, Tomorrow the World, in both of which was she amazing. So, to me, this is a no-brainer. Give it to Agnes. Could anyone else convincingly play Italian, French and Asian in the same year and not win an Oscar?

My Vote: Moorehead

Should Have Won: Moorehead

Is the result acceptable?: No. I mean, Ethel Barrymore was very respected in her day, and to them, I bet this seemed like a good decision. But the performance wasn’t very good, and honestly — Agnes Moorehead is always good in every role she has. She’s like the female Claude Rains. She always delivers the goods. And for her (and Claude Rains!) to not have an Oscar — that’s just shameful. And even though this isn’t her flashiest performance, this is perhaps the best opportunity she ever had to win one of these (this and 1948), so of course I’m gonna say she should have won. No, this is not acceptable to me. Nor should it really be acceptable to almost anyone. Watch the performances for yourself. You’re gonna tell me Ethel Barrymore was any better than fourth? Third, maybe? Come on, now.

Performances I suggest you see: Since You Went Away is a wonderful, wonderful film. I’m not sure what I try to say to people to convince them that this is actually a good movie, but, it really is a great movie. I know it’s a 3 hour film about the war effort done by David O. Selznick, but, where in that is it a bad thing? It’s a woman’s picture, but not a melodrama (though it does have those elements). It’s refreshing to see a war film that deals with the homefront. And me loving film history as I do, I love everything about this one. Honestly, it’s a great movie, so just see it. Or don’t. You’ll miss out.

I just got righteous for a second. I got pissed off at the reader who hasn’t even read this yet. These shitty categories are getting to me.

Uhh — Gaslight is also a good film. But, as I say, I figured out the ending long before it happened. Because they telegraph it way early. So for me, the film wasn’t that interesting because I knew what was happening and thought the characters were all just stupid. But, I do recognize that this is a good movie and did enjoy it despite knowing what was going on. Maybe you’ll get more out of it than I did.

Dragon Seed — despite the horrendous bit of casting with all white actors in the lead roles — is actually a good movie. It was very engaging, and I actually liked it a lot. If you’re into old movies, and can stand movies from the 40s that aren’t just the “big” ones, you’ll probably enjoy this one. I really liked it. I actually liked it a lot more than I like The Good Earth. So, take that as you will. Plus, you get Walter Huston, Katharine Hepburn and Agnes Moorehead playing Chinese people. How could you not want to see this after that?

Mrs. Parkington — honestly, I didn’t like the film at all. However, I loved Agnes Moorehead’s part. Whenever she showed up on screen, I paid attention. Outside of her, you don’t really need to bother with this, unless you’re into the whole Greer Garson/Walter Pidgeon thing.


5) Barrymore

4) MacMahon

3) Lansbury

2) Moorehead

1) Jones

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