The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1951
I should dislike 1951 more than I do. The big decisions were terrible. An American in Paris is a film that should not have won Best Picture at all. It’s a good film, but, A Streetcar Named Desire is better. You can tell An American in Paris was a cop out decision because it didn’t win Best Director (and when a Best Picture is directed by Vincente Minnelli and doesn’t win Best Director, there’s a problem).
George Stevens won Best Director for A Place in the Sun (talked about here), which is just a terrible, horrible decision. And I love George Stevens. But it was terrible. Best Actor was Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen (talked about here), which, while the performance wasn’t particularly outstanding (especially next to Brando in Streetcar), Bogie deserved an Oscar (and Brando won two of his own, so it works out).
And the rest of the awards for this year rightfully went to A Streetcar Named Desire. Vivien Leigh wins Best Actress for the film, Karl Malden wins Best Supporting Actor for the film (talked about here), and then there’s this category. All three were perfect decisions.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1951
And the nominees were…
Joan Blondell, The Blue Veil
Mildred Dunnock, Death of a Salesman
Lee Grant, Detective Story
Kim Hunter, A Streetcar Named Desire
Thelma Ritter, The Mating Season
Blondell — The Blue Veil is a film about Jane Wyman, who, at the beginning, loses her child (her husband is already dead). Upset, she starts taking jobs as a nanny for other children. And we see her over the years, caring for different children. The first time, the mother decides she wants to care for the child. The second time, she goes off to get married (then doesn’t), the third time, the daughter becomes too attached, and starts referring to Wyman as her mother instead of her actual mother. The fourth time, the boy’s mother flees the country and doesn’t come back, so Wyman adopts the boy as her son. But then the mother comes back and Wyman flees with the child. But eventually she is found and has to give him back. Then she ends up being a janitor in a school so she can be near children. And eventually she meets the adult on from the first family, and he arranges for her to have dinner with all her former “children,” and then tells her he wants her to be nanny to his children. It’s a sweet little film.
Joan Blondell plays the third mother. She’s a fading singer/actress, who is trying to get work even though she’s too old to do so. And she means well, but inadvertently neglects her daughter. And Wyman sees this, and it comes to a head at the girl’s communion, where Blondell is at an audition and misses it, and the girl tells everyone that Wyman is her mother. And Wyman, not wanting this to happen to the girl (and to Blondell), abruptly quits so Blondell can be a mother to her daughter.
Blondell is fine here, but it’s not a performance that can win. It just isn’t. It’s too small in the film, and there are at least three performances worth voting for over hers. So, no vote.
Dunnock — Death of a Salesman is pretty famous. You probably should know about it.
Mildred Dunnock plays Linda, Willy’s wife. Famous role, gets the “attention must be paid” line. Dunnock is simply okay here. The whole film is just simply okay. For some reason they’ve never really made a successful film adaptation of this play. Don’t really know why. Dunnock is fine and all, but definitely wasn’t good enough to win. At best she gets fourth (and that’s absolute best).
Grant — Detective Story is a great film. It all takes place at a police station throughout the day. And lots of different major and minor plot points converge and interweave. It’s not as hokey as it sounds — it’s actually a really solid film, because most of it feels like you’re sitting in a police station as things are happening.
And Lee Grant is sort of the structuring element to the whole thing. It begins with Grant being arrested for shoplifting. And she basically sits in the precinct all day and watches all this happen. And she’s kind of the chorus of the play. She comes in, gets some scenes — like an interlude almost. She’s very entertaining in the role, it’s just — there’s really nothing of substance here to take down Kim Hunter or a veteran like Thelma Ritter. So — good, but no vote.
Hunter — You probably should know about A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s pretty famous.
Kim Hunter plays Stella. That Stella. That’s pretty much all you need to know. Obviously she blows everyone else here out of the water.
Ritter — The Mating Season is a pretty delightful film. Thelma Ritter plays a woman who owns a hamburger stand in New Jersey. And the film begins with her losing it. She can’t keep it afloat anymore, so she has to sell it. And she decides to go visit her son. Meanwhile, her son is married to a socialite, and has told her (clearly not a housewife) he’ll hire a maid to tend to the house for her. And Ritter shows up, and a series of mistaken identities occur, whereby the wife thinks Ritter is the maid, and Ritter, ashamed of her working class nature, goes along with it. And a series of things occur, and Ritter basically helps solve the rift that occurs between the couple, and — it’s a touching little film. I really liked it.
Ritter is great here, as always. Thing is, though, she’s kind of a lead here. I mean, she disappears while the “stars” of the movie get scenes, but she’s really the main character. She just got nominated here because she’s the quintessential supporting actress of the 50s. Everything she did would have went here. Like Walter Brennan. Even so, as a lead, she really wasn’t good enough to beat out Kim Hunter. So she ends up a #2. This is Hunter’s category.
My Thoughts: It’s no contest. Kim Hunter wins this by a mile. There’s no point in even trying to argue otherwise.
My Vote: Hunter
Should Have Won: Hunter
Is the result acceptable?: Yup. The best decision is a good decision.
Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen A Streetcar Named Desire, you’re dead to me.
Detective Story is a great, great film that I highly recommend. It’s really great. Definitely one of the gems of this Oscar Quest.
The Mating Season is a worthwhile film. It’s entertaining, and you get to see Thelma Ritter in a rare lead role. If you like her (and why don’t you, if you don’t?), you’ll enjoy this. It’s nice to see her get this.
Death of a Salesman is okay. Not amazing. Okay. I say, if you’re gonna watch it, watch the Dustin Hoffman version. They’re basically the same, so at least you get Hoffman and Malkovich.
The Blue Veil isn’t bad at all. It’s a bit stagy, and doesn’t hold up particularly well, but it’s a good film. Worth checking out if you love movies like I do.