The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1964

1964 is a quintessential Oscar year. My Fair Lady is so obviously a Best Picture choice that it’s almost not even worth questioning the fact that it beat Dr. Strangelove. Sure, (all of those things), but when you look at what the Academy likes, it makes perfect sense.

George Cukor (finally) won his well-deserved and earned-twice-over Best Director statue for the film (talked about here), and Rex Harrison also won Best Actor for it (talked about here). Then Best Supporting Actor this year was Peter Ustinov for Topkapi (talked about here) and Best Supporting Actress was Lila Kedrova for Zorba the Greek (talked about here). Both categories were shitty and both decisions really don’t matter too much. I’m cool with the Supporting Actor decision but dislike the Supporting Actress one. 1964 is actually a pretty weak year masked by some iconic, “Oscar” decisions.

Like this category. Weak as hell. Weak, weak, weak, weak, weak. Yet — Mary Poppins wins. Who’s gonna argue with Mary Poppins winning? The decision masks how weak the whole thing is.


And the nominees were…

Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins

Anne Bancroft, The Pumpkin Eater

Sophia Loren, Marriage, Italian Style

Debbie Reynolds, The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Kim Stanley, Séance on a Wet Afternoon

Andrews — It’s Mary Poppins. Come one now.

Bancroft — The Pumpkin Eater is an interesting film. Anne Bancroft is a woman who has been married three times. And the film is about her finding out that her third husband has cheated on her. And basically, the story revolves around her  and her disposition toward getting pregnant and having children and her husband’s disposition toward affairs. And most of it is psychological, her reliving her experiences and dwelling on the matter. And then by the end, he admits his affairs, she goes and sleeps with her second husband, he doesn’t give a shit, and then she goes and sleeps in a windmill on their property overnight. And the next day, the kids show up with food, and she sees how happy they are with her husband, so she basically decides to stick with him, even though she’s unhappy and he’ll keep cheating, for the sake of the children.

The film itself is okay. But the real great part of it is Bancroft’s performance. She basically is the film. It’s all her. She’s featured prominently in close-up and long takes. She carries the film with her expressions. It’s a really great performance. She’d strongly contend for a vote here if she hadn’t have won two years earlier. Otherwise, no vote, and the movie itself is not really for everyone. It’s okay, but her performance is really its strong point.

Loren — Marriage Italian Style is an Italian comedy. Marcello Mastroianni meets Sophia Loren, a prostitute, and starts an on-again, off-again relationship with her. As in, he keeps coming back to her all the time, but she keeps working there, because he doesn’t want to be anything serious. And the only time he does bring her closer to him, it’s because he wants her to take care of his mother, who is now senile. He basically uses her as a mistress while he goes and meets a younger girl and falls in love with her. But Loren, wanting to be with him, pretends she’s dying and says she wants to marry him. And he agrees, figuring she’ll be dead and the marriage won’t be official anyway. Then once they’re legally married, she’s like, “Ha ha! I wasn’t really sick!”

It’s a good movie. Loren is great in it, as is Mastroianni. Loren already had an Oscar, so this was never going to happen. Especially since I don’t really like her having won the first one (based on the category, not the performance).

Reynolds — The Unsinkable Molly Brown is a great little musical about, well, guess who. Most people know her as the woman on the Titanic who is boisterous. Kathy Bates played her in Titanic. This movie is based on a Broadway show, and documents her life from a young girl on a farm, to marrying her husband, to being poor with him, striking it rich, and dealing with being nouveau riche. Much of the film deals with them being rich and him being the same old dude but her trying to fit in with the upper class people. And eventually they have a fight, she goes away on a trip, and just happens to be on the Titanic, and then she gets back (because she’s “unsinkable”) and they make up.

It’s a great film. Very strong musical. Debbie Reynolds actually gives an amazing performance in it. I’m surprised it was nominated, because it’s one of those performances that’s really extraordinary for a musical. She never would have won, but being nominated is a great reward in itself, because this is a really terrific performance.

Stanley — Séance on a Wet Afternoon is a fucked up movie. Kim Stanley is a phony psychic. Her business isn’t going well, and in order to make it go better, she convinces her husband (Richard Attenborough) to kidnap the child of a wealthy family, so that way she can come to the police and pretend to use her “visions” to help find the child, meanwhile also getting a ransom out of the family. And over the course of the film, they kidnap the child, hold her hostage in a room upstairs, pretending it’s a hospital and that she’s very sick and in quarantine. Meanwhile, she’s also going to the police and manages to get in with the family, especially the mother of the girl, who comes and visits her in order to ease her stress about her missing daughter. And — well, just see the film. It’s pretty great.

Stanley does a good job here, but honestly, I didn’t think it was particularly special. I actually liked Attenborough’s performance better than Stanley’s. But Stanley was fine, and it was a very weak year for lead actresses, so I’m cool with the nomination. Brings more attention to the film. But voting wise — I’m not voting for her.

My Thoughts: Jesus. I don’t know what to do here. The category feels weak at first glance, but looking at the individual performances, they’re all pretty strong, in their own way. None really seems worth voting for, though. So, we have to do this the hard way.

First off is Loren. She won one, and, while she was good, I’m just not voting for her again (because I didn’t think she should have won the first one). That’s one.

Second off — is Bancroft. She also won one. She was good, but, not a performance that’s gonna win two Oscars within three years. So she’s off. Great job by her though.

Third off is — fuck, I don’t know. I guess Stanley. I wasn’t really taken by that performance enough to vote for it. Nomination — sure. Vote? Nah. It’s okay but not win-worthy. That’s it, really.

That leaves only the two musical performances. Which, let me reiterate, why the fuck was Audrey Hepburn not nominated for My Fair Lady? Just a question.

So, we have Julie Andrews and Debbie Reynolds. Both really good. Personally, I enjoyed Reynolds’s performance more, but, it’s Julie Andrews. I need to vote for Julie Andrews. And the real reason I’m doing this — I’m not gonna lie — is because the year after this, for The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews might well have won if she didn’t win here. And her winning here allowed Julie Christie to win for her brilliant performance in Darling (as well as her great performance as Lara in Doctor Zhivago, also that year). So, I vote Julie Andrews. Plus, it’s Mary Poppins. That’s like voting for female Santa Claus. Of course you vote for it.

My Vote: Andrews

Should Have Won: Andrews. And, honestly, Reynolds. (And if she were nominated, Audrey Hepburn.)

Is the result acceptable?: Hell yeah. It’s Julie Andrews. She totally earned one of these. And to have it be for her very first film makes it even more awesome. Of the actresses on this list that hadn’t already won one, she’s definitely the one that should have had one. So it’s a great decision for that alone.

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Mary Poppins, just stop trying. Seriously.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown is utterly delightful. Definitely one of the better musicals from the Quest. Highly recommended.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon — good, but not for everyone. Recommended though. It’s an interesting film.

The Pumpkin Eater — not a particularly great film, but a strong performance by Anne Bancroft. That’s what makes this worth seeing. Recommended, but definitely not for everyone.

Marriage, Italian Style — light, delightful, not really my thing. Some people will like it a lot, though. You’ll know best if you’re one of those people.


5) Loren

4) Stanley

3) Bancroft

2) Reynolds

1) Andrews


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