The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1950

I’m very on the record about not liking 1950. Let me explain:

All About Eve wins Best Picture. I’m okay with this as a singular decision. I’d have chosen Sunset Boulevard, but this is an acceptable choice. However — with the amount of bad decisions they made in the rest of the categories, this goes from being okay to, “Well, I don’t really like it.” Joseph Mankiewicz won Best Director for the film, which, as I said here, I consider to be the single worst Best Director decision of all time. I know it’s the Best Picture winner and all, but — have you seen The Third Man? Some efforts need to win no matter what.

Best Actor was José Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac, which as I said here, I really don’t like as a decision. I accept it because all the principals involved had, or later won, Oscars, but I don’t like it at all. Best Actress was Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday, which, as I said here, is one of the most hotly contested decisions of all time. I think it’s somewhat acceptable, even though I’d have voted for Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. Oh, and George Sanders won Best Supporting Actor for All About Eve. A great decision for all time, there.

Now, this category. The shit of the shit. Best Supporting Actress is usually the weakest category. Also, I swear this wasn’t on purpose, all these double nominees. That must be like the tenth one this month.


And the nominees were…

Hope Emerson, Caged

Celeste Holm, All About Eve

Josephine Hull, Harvey

Nancy Olson, Sunset Boulevard

Thelma Ritter, All About Eve

Emerson — Caged is a prison film. Eleanor Parker is thrown in jail for robbing a bank with her husband. She’s young and stupid. She goes to jail and, dealing with the hard reality of prison, becomes a hardened woman. Some of this is natural, but a lot of it is due to the terrible conditions of the prison. The warden (Hope Emerson) is really sadistic. She’s– this is fucking character, let me tell you. You want sadistic and evil — that’s what Hope Emerson is here. You really want Eleanor Parker to shank this bitch by the end of it. That’s how effective Emerson is.

Will I be voting for Emerson? No. Did I love the performance? Absolutely. Seriously, if you see this film (and I recommend that you do. It’s definitely worthwhile), watch Emerson’s performance. She really knows how to make you hate her. That’s an invaluable tool for an actor to have.

Holm — Double nomination. Work cut out. Love it.

All About Eve is about a young actress (Anne Baxter) who worms her way into the social circle of a famous actress (Bette Davis), and then slowly manipulates and destroys her in order to further her own career. It’s fantastic. Actresses being cunts, is what it is. It’s so wonderfully bitchy.

Celeste Holm plays one of Bette Davis’s friends, the one who unknowingly brings Anne Baxter backstage to meet her, thus starting this entire chain of events. Later in the film, Holm, unsuspectingly helps Baxter sabotage Davis’s car, getting her and Holm stuck out in Connecticut and unable to make it back for Davis to go on stage, which coincidentally leads to Baxter, her understudy, going on and being “discovered” as the next star. And then, knowing she can be implicated, Baxter blackmails Holm into getting of the writer of the play to give her and not Bette the lead in his next play. It’s actually a really strong performance by Holm. This is the performance she should have won for, over her Gentleman’s Agreement performance. But, this category is stronger than that one, so it makes a bit of sense. Either way, she has an Oscar. So that’s good. As for the vote here — I don’t know. It’s gonna be close.

Hull — Harvey is a very famous film. You’re not getting that much of a synopsis from me. Just see it. It’s brilliant.

Jimmy Stewart is an alcoholic who talks to a six foot tall invisible rabbit named Harvey. His family thinks he’s crazy and tries to institutionalize him. This, naturally, leads to crazy screwball situations. It’s hilarious. And it’s a great film. This is an essential film. See it if you haven’t.

Josephine Hull plays Stewart’s sister, who wants to put Stewart in a sanatorium. But, things end up backfiring, and she ends up being committed instead. Gotta love screwball comedies. She gets to be the put-upon character of the film. She’s really funny here. While she doesn’t reinvent the wheel with the performance, I do think it’s strong, and I think that this category ultimately comes down between her and Celeste Holm.

Olson — You better know Sunset Boulevard. It’s so unquestionably famous that you have no excuse for not seeing it. So I’m not giving you a synopsis.

Nancy Olson plays an assistant and aspiring writer. A producer at Paramount gives Olson William Holden’s script, and she tears it apart. She says she hates it. And Holden is put off by that. Later, she meets him at a party, and tells him that one of his scripts has potential. So the two of them start working on it together, and, naturally, fall in love. And as they work together, Holden realizes that he doesn’t need to be with Gloria Swanson anymore, and starts drifting away from her. Which leads to the film’s climax (the pool).

Olson is actually really good in the part. I liked the performance a lot. She feels like an assistant. At least, how an assistant would be portrayed accurately by 1950s standards. That’s enough for me. But, I wouldn’t vote for the performance. Unless there was a sweep on (which there clearly wasn’t), in which case I’d be cool with it. But I’m not voting for it. I used to think she shouldn’t even be nominated (before I watched the film again, after not having seen it for many years). Now, I think she gave one of the stronger performances in the category. That’s enough for me.

Ritter — Thelma Ritter plays Bette Davis’s maid, who is the only one who immediately distrusts Anne Baxter. She sees right through the facade and says she doesn’t like her, which makes Bette turn cold toward her, because she really loves Baxter, which leads to Ritter quitting. That’s really the performance. She’s in like two scenes.

The thing about the performance, though, is the fact that it’s Thelma Ritter. Thelma Ritter was such a strong character in her own right, that she didn’t have to do anything and she’d have been considered to have given a strong performance. Her Brooklyn accent was so strong, she had this down to earth, realistic quality that made her feel like a real person. Most of her Oscar nominations are simply that. She just spoke the lines, and her realness took care of the rest. Of all her nominated performances, the only ones I feel were win-worthy (or at least consideration-worthy) were her performances in Pickup on South Street (my personal favorite of hers) and The Mating Season (though that one is a lead role that went Supporting because she’s a character actress).

But, here, she’s barely in the film. She shouldn’t have won this for any other reason than the fact that she’s Thelma Ritter. And that, honestly, is probably what lead to a big vote split between her and Holm. But, for my purposes, I can’t vote for Ritter because Holm clearly gave the better performance in the film. So as much as I’d like her to have an Oscar, I can’t do it here.

My Thoughts: This makes perfect sense to me, this decision. Hope Emerson was never winning, and neither was Nancy Olson. Then you have the two All About Eve nominees. Holm gave the better performance, but Ritter was the more overdue actress (plus Holm had won this category already in 1947). So they split the vote. I love Thelma Ritter, but she’s barely in this movie. If I’m gonna vote for any of the Eve nominees, I’m voting for Holm.

So that leaves Hull, who gave a perfectly delightful performance in Harvey. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty great, and in the event of a vote split, I can see how she would win this category and how it would be totally acceptable that she did so. Again, don’t hate the player, hate the category. But, between Holm and Hull, while I liked Holm’s performance better, she won an Oscar already, plus I like the Academy showing some love to Harvey. So I support the Hull vote.

My Vote: Hull

Should Have Won: Hull, Holm

Is the result acceptable?: Absolutely. Why wouldn’t it be? Instead of Holm having two, now she and Hull both have one, Hull gave a great performance, and one of the classic comedies of all time gets some Academy love (which it didn’t get for Jimmy Stewart). This seems great all around to me.

Performances I suggest you see: If you love movies, you’ll see Sunset BoulevardAll About Eve and Harvey. If you don’t see them, you don’t love movies. (PS: You need to. Movies 101. This will be on the test.)

Caged is a pretty good film. I recommend it. It’s a strong one. Better than your av-er-age film. Give it a chance.


5) Ritter

4) Emerson

3) Olson

2) Holm

1) Hull

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