The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1950
This is a big category, historically. A lot of people have strong opinions on this one. I’m gonna be honest with you — you’re all right. In strong categories, there almost are no truly correct decisions. So let’s recap the rest of the year and then get into this one.
All About Eve wins Best Picture, Best Director for Joseph Mankiewicz (talked about here) and Best Supporting Actor for George Sanders. I don’t have a problem with Best Picture, even though my personal choice would have been Sunset Boulevard, and I really like Best Supporting Actor. I do, however, have major problems with Best Director. As I said in the article I wrote about it, I consider it to be the single worst Best Director decision of all time. Carol Reed should have won this award twice for his direction of The Third Man. I don’t care if it was the Best Picture, the best effort is the best effort. And Reed gave by far the best effort. Best Actor this year was José Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac (talked about here), which I don’t like at all. It makes no sense to me. Best Supporting Actress was Josephine Hull for Harvey, which is a great decision, based on the category.
So now, let’s get into this one. Where, to me, there are three legitimate contenders (not four).
BEST ACTRESS – 1950
And the nominees were…
Anne Baxter, All About Eve
Bette Davis, All About Eve
Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday
Eleanor Parker, Caged
Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard
Baxter — This really is double nomination month. (Not planned at all, I promise.)
All About Eve is the classic story of actresses being cunty toward one another. Bette Davis — Margo Channing — is an aging actress, the Queen of Broadway. One day, Anne Baxter — Eve — shows up outside her dressing room. She says she’s her biggest fan and is trying to be an actress. She comes off as sweet and innocent and naive. Bette likes her, even though the people around Bette don’t. Bette takes her on as an assistant. Slowly, over the course of the film, we discover that Eve is not who she said she was, and is actually a woman willing to do anything to make it. And things start happening that seem as though they were orchestrated by Eve to take Margo’s place.
It’s a classic film and a brilliant film. Anne Baxter and Bette Davis are at their cuntiest.
Baxter plays Eve, the stunningly conniving bitch, and —
Davis — Bette Davis plays Margo.
Personally, I liked Anne Baxter’s performance a lot better than Bette Davis’s. Plus, Bette Davis had two Oscars by this point, and I don’t think she was really good enough to have won both (the performances weren’t particularly standout). So, in terms of the two performances, I think Baxter was so much better. This is why this is a category I’m glad is so strong and distorted. Because so many people are adamant that Bette Davis should have won this, and I think that’s silly. So because the category is the way it is, I don’t have to engage in any arguments. I can just sit back, thinking what I think and thinking certain things about what other people think. Either way, the film is amazing, and between the two, I side wholly with Anne Baxter.
Holliday — Born Yesterday is a very funny movie, and features a really great performance by Judy Holliday. Did it deserve an Oscar? That’s up for debate. Is the performance great? Absolutely.
Broderick Crawford, fresh off his Oscar win, plays a gangster. He’s in DC to try to buy some politicians. He’s being investigated, and is trying to get out of it. He’s there with his mistress, Judy Holliday. They’re both pretty uncouth and uncultured. They stick out like herpes. He doesn’t want the government taking away all his holdings, so what he does is put them all in her name, and she doesn’t know the difference. But she decides she wants to be more educated, so she hires William Holden to tutor her. And over the course of the film, she learns more, and also falls in love with Holden. So what she does is, she uses the leverage of having control over all Crawford’s holdings to allow him to let her leave. It’s a really funny film.
Holliday is terrific in the role. She’s like a funny Marilyn Monroe. Watch this clip:
There isn’t anyone who can say she doesn’t perfectly characterize this woman. The only real knock against the performance you can have is saying she shouldn’t have won. But I love the performance. Maybe I wouldn’t have voted for it, but it’s still really great. It was definitely one of my favorites on this list.
Parker — Caged is a ‘woman in prison’ film. Eleanor Parker is a young wife who is arrested trying to rob a bank with her husband. And the film is about her time in prison. We see what it’s like for a person to deal with prison. It’s actually a very realistic and gritty film for 1950s standards. Sure, it’s embellished — with the sadistic warden and all — but considering it is Hollywood, and it is the 50s, this is about the closest thing to docudrama as you’re gonna get. It’s actually a really strong film that might get lost in the shuffle with the rest of these nominees.
Eleanor Parker gives a really great performance. But, just looking at the category, you know she never had a chance here. That’s a shame. Maybe in a weaker year (like, 1949), she’d be a number two or a number three, but here she has to be a 5. (Though, since I refuse to vote for Bette Davis, she actually becomes a #4 for a vote. but still a 5 on the performance. Sometimes people get stuck in the toughest years.)
Swanson — Sunset Boulevard is so classic I can’t give you a synopsis. You should know about it. It’s your fault if you don’t.
Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond. She’s brilliant here. Some might find her performance a bit too overdone, but I think it was great. Plus, knowing the All About Eve votes would be split and that this would essentially be between Swanson and Holliday, I’d rather take Swanson, just because people give you more shit if you vote for Holliday (one would think), and because, of the two, Swanson gave a performance that’s still iconic and still is regarded as one of the classic character of all cinema. Why would I vote for Judy Holliday in that case, despite me loving her performance?
My Thoughts: Okay, we throw Eleanor Parker off from the top. She was really strong, but this is one of the strongest categories in Academy history. So she’s off.
Also off is Bette Davis. She shouldn’t have won. She won twice, she didn’t need a third, and I thought Anne Baxter was way better here than she was. So she’s off. Didn’t like the performance at all.
So that leaves Judy Holliday, Anne Baxter and Gloria Swanson.
Now, I understand why Anne Baxter didn’t win. She split votes with Bette Davis, and never really had a shot. But for me, she does. Because she was really strong here. So, I need to decide between these three.
Honestly, I can’t eliminate people, I can just pick a winner. And my winner is Gloria Swanson. I loved Holliday’s performance and I loved Baxter’s performance, but Swanson gave one of the most iconic performances of all time. So she’s my vote. To me, it’s no contest.
(Though, I will say, I think I get Judy Holliday winning. Because, while Anne Baxter was better than Bette Davis, Bette commands more Academy respect, so she siphoned votes from Anne, which essentially eliminated the two of them. So the category was essentially between Gloria Swanson and Judy Holliday. And the Academy loves an up-and-coming actress. They love it. It’s almost like when Reese Witherspoon won. Though, you have to take into account, nowadays, they vote for bankable actresses after they get popular for a few years. Back then, they’d give it to an actress just starting out as sort of a “star maker.” So I totally get how Holliday won. I bet if this happened a few years later, though, Swanson totally would have won — the veteran love didn’t really start until the 70s.)
My Vote: Swanson
Should Have Won: Swanson, Baxter, Holliday
Is the result acceptable?: I’m torn. I really liked the performance. But it’s kind of light, and Swanson gave one of the most iconic performances ever. So, in that sense, it’s unacceptable. But honestly, I don’t see what was so affected by Holliday winning here. It’s not like someone didn’t win and then won later. Baxter had an Oscar, Davis had two. Sure, Gloria Swanson should have won here, but it’s not totally out of line that she lost. So I’m saying, on some level, this is acceptable. The deeper level. On the base level, hell no. Most people would say hell no. I think it’s cool, though.
Performances I suggest you see: All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard are two films you need to see. If you haven’t seen them, you don’t really love movies.
Born Yesterday is a really funny film. Judy Holliday is really funny, and the film is really great. Highly recommended.
Caged is a very engaging and fascinating film. A really strong “woman in prison” film. I recommend this film strongly. It’s really solid.