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The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1945

1945 is a solid, if not very memorable Academy year. The Lost Weekend is a strong film and a good Best Picture choice (based on the nominees), but in the whole of the Best Picture history, it’s not one of the more memorable winners. The other categories are strong too, but again, not particularly memorable unless you know them well.

Billy Wilder won Best Director for the film, which was a great decision, since it was the Best Picture winner, and because he probably should have won for Double Indemnity the year before this. Ray Milland also won Best Actor for the film (talked about here), which was a terrific decision all around. Best Supporting Actor this year was James Dunn for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (talked about here), which was just phenomenal, and Best Supporting Actress was Anne Revere for National Velvet (talked about here), which was also terrific.

And then this category — I was torn for the longest time on who to vote for. I’m still not entirely certain of who I’ll vote for. Either way though, Joan Crawford having an Oscar is a good thing, so however I vote, this worked out.

BEST ACTRESS – 1945

And the nominees were…

Ingrid Bergman, The Bells of St. Mary’s

Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce

Greer Garson, The Valley of Decision

Jennifer Jones, Love Letters

Gene Tierney, Leave Her to Heaven

Bergman — The Bells of St. Mary’s is a sequel to Going My Way. It’s basically the same film, for the most part. The first film deals with Bing Crosby as progressive priest Father O’Malley, who is sent to a failing parish to gradually succeed the aging priest in charge. Here, O’Malley is sent to Ingrid Bergman’s church because it’s about to go under because a businessman is going to buy it and knock it down and put a strip mall there. And they have to find a way to save the parish. You can pretty much guess exactly what happens.

Bergman is very likable here, though. I remember watching, and that scene where the one kid has been fighting and losing, she scolds him in public, but in private gives him boxing lessons. I thought that was a great scene. So, I did like the performance a lot. But she won the year before this. This performance was never going to win. I liked it though, so that’s something.

Crawford — Mildred Pierce is a terrific film. What I like most about it is how the very adaptation of it from novel to screen perfectly personifies what Hollywood was in the 40s. Here’s a book that’s unabashedly a melodrama (which you know if you saw the Kate Winslet miniseries adaptation that came out last year), that they turned into a noir. It’s still a melodrama, but it’s very much structured like a noir.

Mildred Pierce is a woman whose daughter is a cunt. That’s basically the film. Her youngest daughter is nice, and her oldest is a cunt. She gets divorced from her husband and starts working in a restaurant, and her daughter just berates her for it every day. And then she works her way up to owning a restaurant, and her daughter is still a bitch to her. And then she gets involved with another guy, but then the daughter steals him away, and then there’s a shooting — it’s a great film. It’s really well done.

To me, Crawford deserved this just because she was who she was, and this was her best nominated performance. This was her time to win. I don’t know if I’m going to vote for her, though, since I also really loved Gene Tierney’s performance. So it’s tough. Fortunately, I don’t have to decide right this second, so I can stall a little longer.

Garson — The Valley of Decision is a Greer Garson melodrama. She’s the daughter of a poor coal miner who falls for the son of the owner of the mine. And when the workers go on strike against the mine, she’s in a tough position. And Peck plays the son of the mine owner. And Garson has to decide between her family and Peck. But eventually Peck chooses sides against his father, and all that stuff.

It’s a melodrama. You know the drill. Garson had already won an Oscar, and this was the last of what were essentially six nominations in a row (she was nominated ever year from 1939 to 1945 except 1940). She won on the third. This, to me, was the weakest performance in the bunch. It’s like — say Meryl Streep is nominated for five years in a row (this isn’t a very big stretch of a hypothetical), and she had won the Oscar for Doubt — after Doubt, would you have considered her worthy of winning again for Julie & Julia and The Iron Lady? Do you still, even though she didn’t win? That’s how I view this performance. It’s just whatever. I’ve seen her do this better before.

Jones — Love Letters is a really weak film. Jones seems to have gotten a stature nomination here. She’d won, so that meant she had that three year window to get nominated for anything. And she took advantage of it, being nominated for Since You Went Away the year before this (in Supporting), this film, and then Duel in the Sun, the latter two not really being good enough for her to win for.

The film is about Joseph Cotten as a dude who writes letters for his friend to a woman he’s in love with. The friend doesn’t write well, so Cotten composes the love letters for him. Then, when he gets home after the war, he finds out the dude is dead, and so is the woman, and that the man’s death was a murder. So he sort of tries to figure out what happened, while also meeting and falling in love with Jennifer Jones, a woman who has amnesia and doesn’t remember her past. You can probably guess what happens.

Jones is okay here, but honestly — she was much better in The Song of Bernadette, and also better in Since You Went Away. This is just a filler nomination. She never had a shot, nor should she have won.

Tierney — Leave Her to Heaven is a melodrama that is kind of like Charade. Not plot-wise, but — you know how they say Charade is the Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never directed? Well this is the Douglas Sirk film that Douglas Sirk never directed.

The film is about Cornel Wilde meeting Gene Tierney and falling in love with her. And she tries to be a good wife to him, going so far as to tell him they’ll honeymoon at the place where his crippled brother is staying at a hospital. And she takes a liking to him (somewhat falsely, in order to get into her husband’s good graces), but then when Wilde says he wants to take the kid with them to the family’s cabin, she gets upset. She wants him to herself (which is somewhat understandable, since it is their honeymoon after all. But the way she goes about it is — interesting). And then she pretends to be okay with the boy, even though she really starts to dislike how intrusive he is. And eventually he drowns because she goads him into swimming with his bad legs and doesn’t try to help him when he gets a cramp.

And then she gets pregnant. But she realizes the baby will take up her time and be an inconvenience to her, so she “trips” down the stairs and loses it. And after this, Wilde starts to drift away from her and gravitate toward her much nicer sister. And she realizes this, so what she does is kill herself, but deliberately do so in order to frame her sister for murder. She’s quite a bitch here. And then what happens is, rather than get her sister convicted, Wilde is convicted, and is sentenced to prison time. But then he gets out and returns to the sister and they live (somewhat) happily ever after.

It’s a really great film, and it’s gorgeous. I’m telling you. When you watch this film, watch how the Technicolor enhances the drama. Just brilliant. Really brilliant.

Tierney’s performance is also really strong, and I’ve been toying with whether nor not to vote for her from the start. I saw a restored print of this for a class, and I remember knowing nothing about this film and being really affected by her performance. And yet, she’s up against Joan Crawford. I still don’t quite know what I’m going to do for a vote. But since we’re at that point in the article, I guess it’s time to figure it out.

My Thoughts: I had a really tough time with this one. I deliberately pushed it toward the end so I’d have more time to think about who I’d vote for. Just to break it down:

Bergman won the year before this and the role wasn’t a role you win for (especially considering she wasn’t nominated for Casablanca and won for Gaslight). So she’s out. Jones had one, and Love Letters definitely isn’t a film you win for. So she’s also out. Garson had one, and The Valley of Decision is probably her weakest nominated performance. So she’s out.

The category to me was always between Crawford and Tierney. And Crawford totally deserved this. She was a legend, and this is one of her best performances — she deserved to win. I was mostly talking about who I’d vote for.

I remembered seeing Leave Her to Heaven in a class I took about Color. And man, what a gorgeously shot film this is. And I remembered Gene Tierney’s performance being really effective. I remembered her being a real ice queen and a really despicable person, and getting totally swept up in the performance. So I thought I might want to vote for her. I still don’t know what to do.

Here’s the thing: I love both Mildred Pierce and Leave Her to Heaven. I think they’re both terrific films. And I wrestle with knowing that Crawford deserved it more, since she was the better actress, but also knowing that I might love Tierney’s performance more. And then I think, “Well, who deserves the Oscar more? Do I really want to give Gene Tierney an Oscar over Joan Crawford?” It’s tough.

But I think what will ultimately decide it for me is the fact that — as long as I can convince people to see Leave Her to Heaven (and if I can’t, how about this one? Martin Scorsese thinks it’s a brilliant piece of cinema with gorgeous Technicolor. So take that, naysayers!), I can vote for Crawford and not feel bad about it. (Because you feel bad voting against your favorite film/performance. Not that I thought Tierney gave the best performance, but it was certainly my favorite. You know?)

So that’s what I’m going to do — tell you to see Leave Her to Heaven again (since the Technicolor is amazing, and it’s a wonderful melodrama. It really is. It’s so good), and vote for Joan Crawford, since she really deserved it more, and Mildred Pierce was the perfect film for he to win for.

My Vote: Crawford

Should Have Won: Crawford, Tierney

Is the result acceptable?: Yeah. Pretty weak year, and Joan Crawford is a legend. Bergman had one from the year before, and was in a sequel to an Oscar winner, so she wasn’t going to win. Jones had one, and probably wasn’t going to win another. Garson had one, and probably wasn’t going to get it for this film unless there was no other choice. Which leaves only Crawford and Tierney as the choice here. And, industry-wise, Crawford was the better choice. Based on performance, I’m partial to Tierney. But still, it was a good decision.

Performances I suggest you see: You should definitely see The Bells of St. Mary’s, Mildred Pierce, and Leave Her to Heaven. I’m not saying they’re essential, but they’re damn close. So see them. They’re great. You’ll be a better person for seeing them.

And Leave Her to Heaven especially — believe me when I say that this film is such a great piece of cinema. It’s like Douglas Sirk (which is funny, since John Stahl directed a few of the films that Sirk would later remake. So there’s a wonderful symmetry there) — the color enhances everything about the film. Trust me when I say you should see this. It’s amazing.

The Valley of Decision — good, but uneven, I felt. A bit too long and a bit too — I don’t know. Not entirely great. Good though. Worth a look.

Love Letters — okay, but standard, and melodramatic. Not essential, and not particularly amazing, but okay. Worth a mention.

Rankings:

5) Jones

4) Garson

3) Bergman

2) Tierney

1) Crawford

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