The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1943

Love me some 1943. Casablanca is such a perfect choice for Best Picture, I’m amazed it won. I really am. It also won Best Director for Michael Curtiz (talked about here), which he had coming to him for a while before this, so it was nice that it worked out the way it did. Now, Best Actor this year is a decision I hate very much. In fact, I think it’s a decision most people hate very much. Because Paul Lukas, who won for Watch on the Rhine, didn’t give that great of a performance. And he beat Humphrey Bogart for Casablanca. What the fuck happened?

Best Supporting Actor this year was Charles Coburn for The More the Merrier (talked about here). And, as I said in the article, while I love the performance, Claude Rains really should have won there. But I’m okay with it (because Claude Rains should have won in 1946 if he didn’t win here. So either way, it’s the Academy’s fault). And Best Supporting Actress was Katina Paxinou for For Whom the Bell Tolls, which, is pretty much a blank, since the category is really weak. I’d have gone another way, but, it’s not that major a decision where it’s good or bad.

Which brings us to this category. The big problem here is that Ingrid Bergman wasn’t nominated for Casablanca. That’s the performance that probably should have won here. Even so, it’s possible that she still could have won based solely on the strength of her year. I don’t think so, since they gave her three Oscars after this, but it’s possible that if she won here, maybe Barbara Stanwyck could have won her well-deserved Oscar the year after this. The world may never know.

BEST ACTRESS – 1943

And the nominees were…

Jean Arthur, The More the Merrier

Ingrid Bergman, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Joan Fontaine, The Constant Nymph

Greer Garson, Madame Curie

Jennifer Jones, The Song of Bernadette

Arthur — I fucking love The More the Merrier. It is a hysterical film. Absolutely hysterical.

It’s about the housing shortage during World War II. Charles Coburn is a retired millionaire who is visiting his friend in DC. He finds out that because of the housing shortage, his hotel won’t be available for two days. So what he does is, he applies to stay with Jean Arthur, who has an ad out in the local paper for a roommate. So he moves in with her, and he basically spends the rest of the film making her life a living hell. He ends up taking in a soldier who doesn’t have housing (without asking her), and proceeds to try to get the two of them together.

Seriously, it’s a hysterical film. See it if you haven’t. Don’t read my synopsis. It doesn’t scratch the surface of how great this film is.

Arthur is amazing here. She’s absolutely wonderful, as she usually is. The thing is, though — it’s a comic performance. Those rarely, if ever, win in the lead categories. So she never really had a shot here. But I’d love to be able to vote for her. I was in love with her since the first time I saw her in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington when I was younger.

Bergman — For Whom the Bell Tolls is based on a Hemingway novel — which makes it a perfect vehicle for Gary Cooper. (If you know about Hemingway prose and Gary Cooper’s acting style, you got that joke.)

Gary Cooper is fighting with some Spanish revolutionaries against Franco. They fight guerilla style, and he meets and falls in love with Ingrid Bergman. That’s mostly the film. It’s almost three hours and is boring as fuck. And Ingrid Bergman, about as Swedish as they come, plays a Mexican woman. I find that laughable.

Bergman is given about as much star treatment as anyone’s ever gotten in this film. This film seems to exist (past the obvious) to get America to fall in love with her. She gets glamorous close ups that have nothing to do with the story, and the whole thing seems designed to get her an Oscar. Granted, the exact same thing is happening with Jennifer Jones this year, but at least Jones got nominated for the correct performance. How they didn’t nominate Bergman for Casablanca is anybody’s guess. (Probably because of the amount of money they spent on For Whom the Bell Tolls.) She probably should have won for Casablanca. But this performance, I can’t vote for.

Fontaine — Joan Fontaine won her Oscar in 1941 for a performance that she gave in 1940. Now it’s 1943 and she’s not gonna win.

That might be the best description I’ve ever given.

The Constant Nymph is about Joan Fontain — a 14-year old girl (yeah…right), who falls in love with Charles Boyer, a 42-year old man. He’s also a composer. But he sees her more like a younger sister or daughter or something. Maybe niece. He doesn’t want to fuck her, is what I’m getting at. And he ends up marrying her cousin, which pisses her off, but then she moves in with them, and the cousin becomes pissed because Fontaine closer with Boyer than she is, and the film is just a big boring old melodrama.

Fontaine is fine. Likable. Sprightly. But clearly a #5 for all involved. Except for me. For me, she’s a #4. The reason for that is Greer Garson (either way, she wasn’t winning. She had her Oscar). Let me explain…

Garson — Greer Garson was like the 40s Meryl Streep. That’s what I call her. She had a period here she was nominated for six Oscars in seven years. Of those nominated performances — Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Blossoms in the Dust, Mrs. Miniver, this one, Mrs. Parkington and The Valley of Decision — the only two worth an Oscar were Blossoms in the Dust and Mrs. Miniver. The only two. Now, I say she should have won for Blossoms in the Dust, but since Joan Fontaine had to get a make-up Oscar for not winning for Rebecca, she won that year for Suspicion, which meant Garson won in 1942 for Mrs. Miniver, which makes sense and was a good decision for that year.

So she had her Oscar. She won the year before this. That alone makes her not worth voting for unless she delivers a jaw-dropping performance. Which, pre-1950, is almost impossible to do. There are very few performances pre-1950 that were so astounding that had to be given an Oscar. And for someone to have two of them — it’s almost unheard of. And on top of that — she’s playing Marie Curie here. How fucking Oscar bait can you get? I refuse to vote for Oscar bait performances. Flat out refuse. (Especially when she’d just won one and the performance was only okay.) So that’s why she’s a #5 for me.

Also, the film is about Marie Curie. Her and her husband make all those discoveries about radiation and such. It’s a very Oscar/prestige type picture. It hits all the correct notes. Only problem? It’s not that interesting. It’s an okay film, but it’s not anything more than just okay. It’s the kind of film that gets nominated because it has to. And I hate those.

Jones — The Song of Bernadette is a star vehicle for Jennifer Jones. That’s how you need to watch this film. You need to go in with the mindset of — the studio’s main purpose here was to turn Jennifer Jones into a star. Therefore, everything about the film is tailored toward that.

Now — it’s a religious film. Very openly. That was a major turn off for me. But — Jennifer Jones is so charming here that it didn’t matter as much for me. Which counts for a lot. It’s about Jones, a poor girl who isn’t a very good student but wants to be, who, in the town dump, sees an image of the Virgin Mary. She starts going back there and praying to it. No one else sees it. They say she’s crazy. But her innocence and complete conviction makes believers out of everyone, and soon she’s looked upon as a saint. And then she dies, because the dump was toxic, and the reason she saw the image was because the toxins were making her hallucinate and were poisoning her.

See what I mean about tailoring it to make her a star?

Jones is really strong here. It’s really hard to fuck something like this up. They handed it to her on a platter. But, she brings just the right amount of innocence and sparkle to the role that make it work so well. Honestly, when I watched this film, knowing Ingrid Bergman was nominated for the wrong film, I was ready to give Jones the Oscar. I really was. And I still am, in a way, if I can get over my apprehension toward religious films. We’re gonna find out right now which it is, since this is the last nominee.

My Thoughts: Okay. This should be interesting. I think we’ve established from the top that Fontaine and Garson are off from the top. They both won the two years prior to this, so they had their Oscars. They’re out. Then, Bergman. Love her, would have voted for her for Casablanca, but they nominated her for the wrong film. And she won three times after this (one of them being a really terrible decision). So I’m not voting for her. Didn’t like this nominated performance and have no reason to vote for her except out of my love for Casablanca. So she’s out.

Which brings me down to Jones and Arthur. Now, of the two, Jones clearly gave the more Academy Award-worthy performance. She’s great. I really liked the performance. But, it’s a very religious film. It’s deeply infused in my DNA to go against anything religious. I know that if I voted for Jennifer Jones here, as much as she probably should have won, I’d feel really shitty about it. So what I’m going to do is vote for Jean Arthur, with the full knowledge that Jennifer Jones should (and did) win for giving the best performance. I can live with this. Plus, if anything, the vote will get you to see The More the Merrier, which you totally should.

My Vote: Arthur

Should Have Won: Jones. Bergman, for Casablanca.

Is the result acceptable?: With these nominees, yes. Too bad Ingrid Bergman got nominated for the wrong film. But she won three times after this (including the year after this — clearly a Jimmy Stewart-sized makeup Oscar), so she ended up all right. And Jean Arthur, as much as I think she should have won, it’s a comic performance, and those seldom get voted for. You have to accept that. Plus, Jones really is charming in the role. So it’s fine. Everything worked out.

Performances I suggest you see: The More the Merrier. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. I guarantee you that you will enjoy this movie. That’s how funny it is. I will personally guarantee it. See this movie. Don’t make me hate you.

The Song of Bernadette — it’s an okay film. If you can tolerate religious films, then you’ll enjoy this one. Jones’s performance is really good. The film is a bit overly long and overly bait-y, but it’s still pretty strong. Check it out for the performance.

For Whom the Bell Tolls — I don’t like it. It’s almost three hours, and I think it’s boring as fuck. But, such a respected picture (one I recognize as a good film — I just don’t like it), Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, all the nominations, a win (Supporting Actress), based on Hemingway — I have to mention it. But you need to see for yourself if you think you’re gonna enjoy it. You’ll know better than anyone.

Madame Curie — standard 40s biopic of Marie Curie. See it for Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Otherwise, you’ll learn more from Wikipedia. You can skip this and you wouldn’t be missing a thing.

The Constant Nymph. This film was unavailable for the better part of 70 years, and honestly, I don’t think too many people missed it. Now you can find it (I have it), but unless you want to see it for the novelty of seeing it, or because of the stars — trust me, you’re not missing much. It was pretty bad. But I have to mention it because it was a film that was really hard to find for many years. You may want to sit through it just to say you watched something nigh impossible to find. Up to you.

Rankings:

5) Garson

4) Fontaine

3) Bergman (the fact that she was even in Casablanca apart from this bumps her here)

2) Jones

1) Arthur

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