The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1935

1935 is a weak year for me. I don’t like it very much. Mutiny on the Bounty is a great film and a classic film, but it’s not my favorite film from 1935 (that would be The Informer. And Top Hat, but that wasn’t winning). It’s the only Best Picture winner to not win any other award (and be nominated for them. Not like Grand Hotel, which was only nominated for Best Picture).

Victor McLaglen wins Best Actor for The Informer, which was a terrific decision. He was fantastic. And John Ford also wins Best Director for the film (talked about here). Hmm…maybe that’s a sign that the film was actually better than the film that won, don’t you think?

And this category — what the hell? Bette Davis wins by default. Don’t think she didn’t. There was such an outcry that she wasn’t nominated for Of Human Bondage the year before this (which she should not have won for at all) that, after a write-in campaign that almost got her the win, they pretty much were willing to give her this one for just about anything she put up on screen. And I didn’t think she was that good.


And the nominees were…

Elisabeth Bergner, Escape Me Never

Claudette Colbert, Private Worlds

Bette Davis, Dangerous

Katharine Hepburn, Alice Adams

Miriam Hopkins, Becky Sharp

Merle Oberon, The Dark Angel

Bergner — Escape Me Never is basically a star vehicle for Elisabeth Bergner. She plays a waif of undetermined ethnic origin who is found  starving on the street and taken in by this dude and his family. And she’s very outgoing and talkative (she has this one line where she’s telling her history to people where she’s like, “And that’s where I had my baby,” and they’re shocked, like, “You had a baby?!”, since it’s 1935, and women were supposed to be, you know, pure, and she’s like, “Yeah, want me to tell you about it?”, and they’re like, “No, no, don’t tell us about it.” Shit like that. And she’s basically shoehorned into the lives of these brothers. And one falls in love with her and another falls in love with another woman. It’s honestly not that great a film. It’s all about her performance. That’s all that’s worth seeing here.

She’s clearly the best thing about the film, and is very likable. It’s a character that you like, which makes you think you might want to vote for it, but honestly, it shouldn’t have won. I actually think, as much as I hate it, that Bette Davis should have won over her. But she’s really likable. She’s much more free-spirited than most actresses. She does stuff here that most actresses wouldn’t do. I’m talking movement-wise. She’s very free. Most actresses would be really still and straight. She’ll just sway back and forth on her knees during a scene. I really like that. I like when actresses can express free-spiritedness through movement. So she definitely was one of my favorites here, but I wouldn’t vote for her.

Colbert — Private Worlds is a film about doctors. Claudette Colbert plays a psychiatrist who cares deeply for her patients, even when the hospital she works for does not. And Charles Boyer plays the new head of the hospital who disapproves of Colbert because she’s a woman in a presumed man’s field. And — well, you can guess what happens.

Colbert is fine here, but she’d just won the year before this, and this isn’t exactly the kind of performance that wins a second Oscar. Especially the year after the first one. Filler nominee.

Davis — Dangerous is a Bette Davis melodrama. What a surprise.

It’s about a dude who is seemingly happy, and married to a rich woman, but then meets Bette Davis. She’s an actress who used to be the biggest rising star but is now a drunk. And he takes her in to sober her up and maybe get her back to the way she was. But she thinks that she ruins whatever she touches, even though he’s convinced he can save her. And he tries to marry her, but she says no, because she’s still married to another guy. So she goes to the guy, asking for a divorce, and he says no, so she runs him over with a car and cripples him. And then she realizes all her problems are her own fault, tells the guy to marry his fiancée and goes and cares for her now crippled husband.

Typical Davis melodrama. She’s a bitch, she redeems herself through sacrifice, yet still ends up unhappy. The only reason she won here is because the year before this, there was this minority outcry that she should have won, and then when this year came, they just voted for her in whatever she did just to shut people up. That’s seriously why she won. The performance isn’t that great. This is what happens with the Academy. There’s a groundswell of “How come Bette Davis didn’t win?”, or “How come you never award Oscars to black people?”, or “How come Kate Winslet has never won?”, or “How come you never let superhero movies get nominated for Best Picture?”, and then they rush out and rectify that in the most overt way possible.

I’m not voting for her, in case you were wondering.

Hepburn — Alice Adams is by far my favorite film on this list.

It’s about Katharine Hepburn as this average girl from an average family who wants to be accepted by the upper class. And she goes to a social gathering and meets Fred MacMurray. And he’s rich, and he likes how refreshing she is. So she invites him to her house for dinner (even though she’s terribly ashamed of her background), and it goes comically wrong, but then he says he likes her anyway. And then there’s also this other thing about the father and his business, but that’s not really that big a plotline.

The film is actually really good. I was surprised at how much I liked it. And then when I saw that it was directed by George Stevens, it made sense. His films have this ability to capture my attention. They’re just — good.

And Hepburn’s performance — I hate to say it — was the best on this list. I know she won four times and all, but for my purposes, I only voted for her once (1932-1933), plus, I’m taking this as if it were 1935. She only had one, and I know Bette Davis is winning anyway, so it doesn’t matter who I vote for. So, since I thought she gave the best performance, she’s who I’m voting for.

Hopkins — Becky Sharp is the first all-Technicolor film ever made. That’s a big achievement. It’s also a film version of “Vanity Fair.” And it’s about — Becky Sharp is a huge cunt. And she tries to scheme her way to the top of society. And she gets there, but then she fucks it up, and pretty much ends up where she should have anyway. That’s the film.

First, I like the film a lot. Mostly because of the Technicolor history (and having taken an entire class on Technicolor, I appreciate it more than the average viewer, I’d guess). Also — Miriam Hopkins does give a good performance here. The character is a raging bitch. But I don’t really think it was good enough to win. Maybe it sort of was, but since Bette Davis had the inside track, she was probably the better decision (just because it would keep her from winning other times she was nominated in the future). Plus, I still thought Hepburn was better.

Oberon — The Dark Angel is a melodrama, the kind meant to highlight Oberon’s performance. It’s one of those — she’s friends with two boys growing up, then they grow up, both are in love with her. She knows she’s going to marry one of them, so she picks the one she wants. The other, jealous, sends the other dude off to war, and he gets blinded in battle. She ends up marrying the other guy, but then the blind one comes back home and they realize how they should have been together.

Standard melodrama, nothing really interesting. Frederic March again. This dude was in so many of these Oscar films, it’s ridiculous. The film is basically a star vehicle for Merle Oberon. She’s fine in it, but it’s not something you really want to vote for. The early years are littered with roles like this. The only reason you’d be voting for it is because you want to vote for Merle Oberon. Which is fine, as long as you admit to that. I, personally, don’t feel the need to vote for Merle Oberon or this performance. So my vote stays with Katharine Hepburn.

My Thoughts: For me, it’s Hepburn. She clearly gave the best performance on this list. So she’s the vote. I thought Hopkins was second best, and Bergner was third. I’d put Davis fourth just because I knew she was gonna win anyway. Still, it’s Hepburn.

My Vote: Hepburn

Should Have Won: Hepburn. Maybe Hopkins. Not Bette Davis.

Is the result acceptable?: Look, I know Bette Davis should have won an Oscar. But it’s just that her performances that she won for were not very good in my eyes. I honestly think she shouldn’t have won anything in the 30s and should have just won for All About Eve and everything would have balanced out evenly. But even so, her 30s wins didn’t interrupt anything, so I guess it’s acceptable.

Performances I suggest you see: Uhh…

Alice Adams is pretty great. It actually is a great film. It’s definitely worth seeing. George Stevens is a good director. His films are largely (and by that I mean, upwards of 70-80%) watchable and/or really good. This one is really good. Highly recommended.

Becky Sharp is a very major film historically. It’s the first film to use the three-strip Technicolor process. That is — it’s the first all-color feature film. Ever. That makes it essential for anyone who really gives a shit about film history. This is, in its own way, just as important as The Jazz Singer. The choice is yours whether you see this or not.

The Dark Angel — it’s okay. Melodramatic, but it was star power, and is watchable. If you’re into these kinds of films, it’s definitely not a bad one to watch.

Escape Me Never — it’s all about Bergner. She’s great here. And it’s worth seeing for that.

Private Worlds — not particularly great, but it’s Claudette Colbert, so that’s something. Meh. Take it or leave it, I say.

Dangerous — well, you know my opinion on this. But it won, so that makes it worth mentioning.


6) Colbert

5) Oberon

4) Davis

3) Bergner

2) Hopkins

1) Hepburn

One response

  1. I have never seen Alice Adams, but I love Katherine Hepburn. So I will agree with you.

    March 24, 2012 at 5:08 pm

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