The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1947
I don’t like 1947. I like the big decisions, but I feel the nominees this year were pretty weak, so, while they made the best decision, it just feels ho hum. Gentleman’s Agreement wins Best Picture and Best Director for Elia Kazan. Its competition was a B-movie version of the same story (Crossfire) two fantasies that are better served as Christmas films (The Bishop’s Wife and Miracle on 34th Street, which, if It’s a Wonderful Life didn’t win the year before this, these had no shot), and a classical literary adaptation (Great Expectations, which, is a great film, but not one that should win Best Picture. They wouldn’t make this mistake until the year after this). So, they made the right choice, but, the choices were pretty weak, so that’s why I don’t really think of this as such an amazing decision.
Best Actor this year was Ronald Colman for A Double Life. This was a “veteran” win, in that, he was a well-respected actor, and, like David Niven, it was only a matter of time before he won one of these. And, honestly, the category sucked so bad, I’m okay with it, even though I didn’t much like the performance (loved the concept behind the performance, but the performance itself felt very theatrical). Gregory Peck gave the best performance, but, he won an Oscar later, so it’s okay that he didn’t win. Then Best Actress this year was Loretta Young in The Farmer’s Daughter, which was probably the second worst Best Actress decision of all time. Rosalind Russell really should have won for Mourning Becomes Electra. This is considered to be the worst Best Actress decision, but, we already know my feelings on that one. And Best Supporting Actor this year was Edmund Gwenn for Miracle on 34th Street (talked about here), which I like a lot and accept, but Richard Widmark was so awesomely insane in Kiss of Death, I had to vote for him there. He pushes an old woman in a wheelchair down the stairs.
Which brings us to this category. It’s really weak. There were only two decisions they could have made that were okay. This was one of them.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1947
And the nominees were…
Ethel Barrymore, The Paradine Case
Gloria Grahame, Crossfire
Celeste Holm, Gentleman’s Agreement
Marjorie Mann, The Egg and I
Anne Revere, Gentleman’s Agreement
Barrymore — The Paradine Case is a Hitchcock film, but if you didn’t know it, you probably wouldn’t guess it. That’s because, it’s actually pretty straightforward as a film. I’m guessing this is because Hitchcock didn’t want to do it but was under contract with David O. Selznick to deliver a film, so he just did it. I remember reading that Hitchcock didn’t like Selznick’s meddling on the film. So I guess the straightforwardness of the film has a lot to do with that.
The film is about Gregory Peck as a lawyer (between this performance and Gentleman’s Agreement, explain to me why he didn’t win Best Actor this year again?), defending Alida Valli (Anna from The Third Man), who is accused of poisoning her much older husband. And he becomes fascinated by her and starts becoming obsessed with the case. His wife worries because she knows that if the woman is found guilty and hanged, Peck will remain obsessed with this woman forever. And Peck becomes devoted to getting a not guilty verdict. To the point where he destroys another man’s life, who he was trying to pin the murder on. But then he finds out that dude was the woman’s lover, and killed himself because of what Peck did, and she’s pissed. And she pretty much tells the court that she killed her husband so she could be with that guy. And Peck is just drained, because he really fucked up the case. That’s the film.
It’s interesting because, it’s a trial film, and those are always interesting. Plus I liked how Peck is so obsessed he hones in on this other dude to pin the crime on, and ends up essentially killing the man because of that. It’s great seeing Peck get unraveled.
Anyway, Ethel Barrymore plays Charles Laughton’s wife. Laughton is the judge, and he’s very cold toward Peck. He’s almost sadistically cruel toward him. And the two times we go to Laughton’s home, we see Barrymore. And she’s basically a zombie, half mad, because living with Laughton has pretty much ruined her. It’s like Allison Janney in American Beauty. She’s just zonked out most of the time. I actually liked this performance, because finally, Ethel Barrymore isn’t playing the dying old grumpy woman for a change. Thank fucking christ. But, she had an Oscar already, and the performance (like all of Ethel Barrymore’s nominated performances) isn’t really substantial enough to maintain a nomination. It’s like when Geraldine Page got old and they nominated her for anything even though she was only on screen for like four minutes. No way would I ever vote for her here.
Grahame — Crossfire is interesting because it’s kind of the B movie version of Gentleman’s Agreement. While Gentleman’s Agreement deals with anti-Semitism from a dramatic perspective, this deals with it from a programmer perspective.
If you’re familiar with B movies, the way they worked was — studios, back when they still owned all the theaters, before the days of the multiplex, would try to create “a night at the theater.” You could go out, see a double billing, and make a night of it. And, they would create these B movies as light entertainment (to play after the newsreels and after the cartoons) before the “feature” would play. And these films would be budgeted at a fraction of what an A picture would be. Example: Gentleman’s Agreement had a budget of about $2 million. Crossfire had a budget of $250,000.
And, since they were budgeted so low, and weren’t meant to be more than pulp entertainment, B movies tended to be in certain genres, so maximize entertainment. Westerns, noir, maybe a horror movie or thriller — genres that lent themselves to creating cheap entertainment. They were usually no longer than 80 minutes, and were usually somewhat campy, or generic. The idea was to give the audience more bang for the buck. So while Gentleman’s Agreement deals with anti-Semitism in an intellectual, dramatic manner, this film is about a murder mystery. Similar themes, yet different executions.
The film begins with a man being killed. The rest of the film is the police trying to figure out who did it and why. They find out a group of soldiers was at a bar, drinking with the dude just before he was killed. So they go and question them all, trying to find some answers. And that’s the film. I don’t want to give it away, since what’s the point of that? But, it’s a pretty good film for a B movie. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Gloria Grahame plays a woman who works at the gin mill where the soldiers were, who picked up one of the suspects. She plays a loud, brassy dame who lives on the wrong side of the tracks. She’s only in the film for two scenes, but they’re pretty strong scenes, and she does a good job with it. I personally wouldn’t normally vote for a performance this brief, but this category is so bad, she really jumps to the top of the rankings. It’s just barren, this one.
Holm — Yay, double nomination.
Gentleman’s Agreement is a film about Gregory Peck, a magazine writer, who decides to write a story about anti-Semitism. He decides the only way to do it is to give it some sort of angle, and the only one he can think of is to pretend he’s Jewish, and see how different he’s treated because of it. And it ends up really disrupting his personal life. He finds out that people are really anti-Semitic, and even in the smallest of ways. For example, he starts seeing Dorothy McGuire, and he’s good friends with John Garfield. And Garfield is having trouble finding a place to live, and McGuire owns a cottage in Connecticut. So Peck figures, instant solution. But McGuire refuses to so it because she doesn’t want to piss off the neighbors by renting to Jews. That sort of stuff. Passing things. McGuire says at the end of the film that she heard someone tell an anti-Semitic joke and let it pass without saying anything, and when she realized it, she was disgusted. That’s the sort of stuff this film deals with.
It’s a really strong film, and is so incredibly done. There are some moments that are a bit — overdone, and I’ll get to those when I get to Anne Revere. But, Celeste Holm plays a fashion editor who is stylish and cool. And she and Peck become good friends. And the thing with her is, she basically exists to be the temptation for Peck to cheat on Dorothy McGuire. That’s really only the thing she does. But, honestly, she’s a good actress, and, in a category like this, it’s so bad, I can totally see why they voted for her. You can’t treat things as you normally would in a category like this.
Mann — How the hell did this film get nominated? Really?
The film is a “woman’s” film. It’s almost like a Sex and the City (without the sex) of the 40s. Claudette Colbert is a big city writer who gets married and agrees to move to her husband’s farm out west. She’s not used to farm life, so the whole film is a series of fish out of water comedy, with her falling and failing and getting scared by cows — all that farm humor. And it’s supposed to be funny, because she’s from the city and isn’t used to all this! Seriously, if they made this nowadays (and I’m sure they will. It’s a matter of time), Sarah Jessica Parker would totally play the lead. It’s fitting because, while the film was supposed to be funny and be about Colbert acclimating to farm life, she (just like the author stand-in in Julie & Julia) comes off as a selfish cunt most of the time. You watch her and are like, “Jesus christ, fucking live with it. You knew what you were getting into. Either knuckle down or fucking leave!”
In case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t really like the film all that much.
Marjorie Mann plays a neighbor to Colbert, and is a typical backwoods “Ma” figure. She chews tobacco and spits and is very — farm-y. You know the type. That’s all it is, really. She’s that figure. There is no way in hell that I would ever vote for this performance. There is nothing here that even makes me think about it. The film isn’t good, the performance is stereotypical — no. Just no. A million times no.
Revere — Anne Revere plays Gregory Peck’s mother in Gentleman’s Agreement. I’m not quite sure why she’s in the film, because she seems to add unnecessary melodrama to it. She’s basically there to be the sensible, loving mother to Peck. She gets a few good lines, and then, later on, gets sick with heart trouble and dies. That’s really all she does here. It feels like unnecessary melodrama for a film that doesn’t need it. Revere is fine here, but, she always plays the mother role and won it for National Velvet, where I felt she played the part better and with more pathos and less — it’s less overdone than it is here. So I’m not voting for her. She won her Oscar.
My Thoughts: This is a weak category. Mann and Barrymore are out at the top. Mann wasn’t good enough to win and Barrymore won already and I didn’t like it. Out. Revere is out, because she won for a better performance. So without any thinking, this comes down to Holm and Grahame.
Now — of the two performances, I liked Grahame’s better. She had more screen time, and more dramatic scenes. Holm just got to act too cool for school. That’s really all she did. I like it, but, I liked Grahame’s performance better. But I like Holm more as an actress. And since Grahame will win this award in 1952, I’m cool with Holm winning. I’ll totally vote for her. She’s cool peoples. Don’t blame the player, blame the category.
My Vote: Holm
Should Have Won: Holm, Grahame
Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. Celeste Holm is awesome. She was good enough to win for All About Eve. I’ll totally take this. Though, if Gloria Grahame wins here, then she doesn’t win for 1952, and maybe then Jean Hagen wins for Singin’ in the Rain. But, honestly, I don’t have a problem with Grahame winning in 1952 (I just really wanted Jean Hagen to win), so it’s all good. Yes, this is a good decision.
Performances I suggest you see: Gentleman’s Agreement is a film you should probably see. It’s a real indictment against anti-Semitism in an era where that was widely still accepted. It’s a really, really strong film, and I’m even going to go so far as to say it’s an essential film. And you know what? You can’t really deny that, because if you say you don’t need to see it and don’t want to see it, I can call you an anti-Semite. So see this film, because if you don’t, you hate Jews.
The Paradine Case is actually a pretty strong film. One of the least “Hitchcock” films Hitchcock directed. Not that it doesn’t bear many of his traits, it’s just — it’s actually a pretty straightforward trial film. Good, engaging, just not quite classic. You probably don’t need to see it unless you love trial films or Hitchcock, but, it is pretty strong and is definitely worth checking out.
Crossfire is very much enjoyed because it’s a standard B movie but is also engaging. I liked it. I think people should check it out. You can turn it into a double feature with Gentleman’s Agreement. Play it as a programmer beforehand. I like that you can do that. Plus, it’s the only (or, first. But since the official B movies as they were known stopped in the 50s, I consider this the only) B-movie to be nominated for Best Picture. That’s worth something, right?