The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1949
I like 1949. I have some problems, but, when you look directly at it, based on the nominated films and performances, I think they made the right decisions most of the way. All the King’s Men wins Best Picture. And while it is a great film, it doesn’t really feel like a Best Picture winner. But, among the nominees, it’s between that and Battleground, which I like a lot. So, since those were my two choices, I think it’s a fine decision. Broderick Crawford also won Best Actor for the film (talked about here), which was a fantastic decision. He was incredible.
The Best Actress was Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (talked about here). Her second. And an absolute terrific decision. The performance alone is one of the top ten Best Actress decisions of all time, but, given the absolute weakness of the category (there’s no one else to vote for), this is a no-brainer all the way. Best Supporting Actor this year was Dean Jagger for Twelve O’Clock High, which I don’t like at all, since I think Ralph Richardson should have been a runaway winner in the category for his performances in The Heiress and The Fallen Idol. Oh, and Best Director — oh boy. This is the one I have big problems with. Joseph L. Mankiewicz wins for A Letter to Three Wives (talked about here). It’s just completely baffling that he wins here because — almost every other option in the category (specifically Carol Reed, Robert Rossen and William Wellman) was a better decision. A terrible, terrible choice, and one of the worst of all time in the category.
Which leaves us with this category. Which I love. Because — just looking at it, you go, “There’s only one choice.” And, she was clearly the best performance in the category. But, it’s like doing a polynomial fraction. Cross off everything on the top and on the bottom, and then you’re left with the one number. I love it.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1949
And the nominees were…
Ethel Barrymore, Pinky
Celeste Holm, Come to the Stable
Elsa Lanchester, Come to the Stable
Mercedes McCambridge, All the King’s Men
Ethel Waters, Pinky
Barrymore — Double double nominees. I love this category.
Pinky is a film about racism. Pinky is a mixed racial woman — a mulatto! — who was raised by a black mother in the black area of her town, but then she moves away and goes to college to become a doctor (or something), since she’s fair-skinned, and can pass for white. And then she comes back home with her mother, and the whole film is about her refusing to pass as white when she’s mixed. And she dates a dude (who might actually be a doctor), and there’s that, and then she also decides to care for Ethel Barrymore, who is an old woman in town. And Pinky cares for her, and Barrymore sees that she’s a good person, and before she dies, leaves her her house and some money. And the family, upset that she’d leave this to a black person (even though she is half white), sues, saying Pinky drugged her and mistreated her and forced her to sign it. Everyone knows it’s bullshit, but it’s one of those “Mockingbird” trials, where you know it’s about racism and not the actual charge.
And then they pretty much prove — look, this old lady was always an independent thinker and she wasn’t a fucking racist like the rest of you. And we all know Pinky’s a good girl. Come on now. And she wins and gets the house. Only, her doctor fiancé is like, “Let’s get married. Only, you’ll have to pass as white.” And she’s like, “No. Either I’m living openly or we’re not getting married.” So what she does is turn the house into a nursing school. It’s a good film. I enjoyed it. Not Kazan’s best film, and a nice film about racism that sort of piggybacks off the success of Gentleman’s Agreement, only not as successful as that film in dealing with the issue. I feel as though there better films about racism that better capture the issue. This feels more like a melodrama.
Ethel Barrymore plays the old lady who dies — of course. That’s all she played. It’s the same role she was nominated for in all but one of her Oscar nominations. She’s here, she’s cranky, she dies. She does something noble after she dies. The end. And she had her Oscar already. So there was no way in hell she was winning this. At all.
Holm — And, this film. One of the worst films I had to endure during this Oscar Quest. Bar none.
It’s a film about nuns with heavy religious over and undertones. Oh yeah, right up my abbey.
Two French nuns show up at Bethlehem in New England, deciding they’re gonna build a church there. Why? Because they saw a photograph that some local painter made for a postcard. So they show up — no money, no nothing — expecting to build the church with god’s help. And the film is about them trying to raise money through Christian charity.
Oh yeah. I clearly fucking loved this movie.
And they try to get people to give them money, and then there’s a tennis match, but then there’s a dude whose son died during the war, and he’s like, “I like you guys. You guys is good peoples,” and gives them money. The kind of thing where, the whole time, they’re like, “God will provide.” And he doesn’t, and doesn’t (because he only takes money), and then — he does. Oh man! My faith is renewed because of cinematic conventions!
This is like Frank Capra by way of the Holy Ghost. Fuck you.
Celeste Holm plays one of the nuns. She’s the one who has the tennis match. The fact that she plays a tennis match while wearing a habit makes her worth nominating for me. Why not? It makes the category easier, since she’s never gonna win. She won in 1947 for a performance that wasn’t particularly outstanding. Plus, fuck this movie.
Lanchester — Elsa Lanchester plays the local painter who painted the picture. She meets the women and is like, “I like you. I’ll help you.” That’s it. That’s all she does.
Seriously, how did this film get nominated for so many Oscars?
McCambridge — All the King’s Men is a great, great film. It really is. It’s just a great ride, with great performances, a great story — really everything that makes great films.
It begins with Willy Stark, a “local hick politician,” standing on the street corner, making speeches about how the state doesn’t care about them, and how everyone’s corrupt. And he goes in for the local elections, but loses, because he’s an idealistic young guy. He has no means to really reach people. But slowly he starts gaining popularity, and getting further, and as he starts winning, he slowly goes from being squeaky clean to just as corrupt as everyone else. And he slowly becomes the most powerful man in the state. By the midway point in the film, he’s gone from idealistic man on the street corner, to most powerful (and more corrupt) man in the state. At which point we start to see his downfall. We see him start to believe he can do anything, because the people will support him no matter what he does. And then scandals start popping up, and things get worse and worse, until eventually he gets shot at the end of the film.
Anyway — Mercedes McCambridge plays Sadie Burke, who shows up to be his campaign manager. And she’s a no-nonsense woman who get shit done. She doesn’t mince words, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get shit done. And she helps him out, and the big turning point is when Willy is really wound up one day, and won’t calm down. He’s going on about his wife, and how he’s worried, and then she just goes — I’ll take care of it. Cut to later, he’s in bed, sleeping, and it’s clear she fucked him. And she continues fucking him, which begins his descent into corruption. Soon he’s a hard drinker, and soon all the other stuff starts happening. She’s a really strong character. It’s rare to see women with this much strength and independence in films of this era. I mean, it’s not like there weren’t any, but not of this particular brand. I think she did a really great job with the role and absolutely deserved this Oscar. (And if you think she didn’t — look at the category. There’s no one else to vote for.)
Waters — And, the other Pinky nomination. Ethel Waters plays Pinky’s mother, and it’s mostly a Ma role. She’s more of a Mammy, but it’s the Ma role. She doesn’t really have much to do here — then again, the “Ma” role rarely does. But she does a good job with it. And in a category as weak as this — I’d put her second. Just because, the more black actors with Oscars, the better. But, let’s face it — ain’t nobody winning this category but Mercedes McCambridge
My Thoughts: It’s no contest. Mercedes McCambridge. Just look at the nominees. Even without seeing the films, doesn’t one just jump out at you? That’s it. That’s all you need. Also, she gave the best performance in the category. No brainer.
My Vote: McCambridge
Should Have Won: McCambridge
Is the result acceptable?: Hell yeah. She was awesome. Two of the other nominees had Oscars, and — oh yeah, she gave the best performance in the category. Seriously. No brainer. Great decision.
Performances I suggest you see: All the King’s Men. See this movie. It’s great, it’s a Best Picture winner, based on a Pulitzer Prize winning novel Broderick Crawford is amazing, Mercedes McCambridge is great — there’s no reason not to see this movie. (Also, do not see the Sean Penn remake of this until you see this version. Trust me.)
Pinky is also a solid film. Very good. Just, more melodrama than message film. At least Gentleman’s Agreement was more message focused. But, this is a solid film, and I think you should check it out. Elia Kazan does not make bad films.