The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1955
1955 is a year that seems to get lost in the shuffle among Oscar years. It’s wedged between the behemoth that is On the Waterfront, and the disaster (sort of) that is Around the World in 80 Days. Not to mentionFrom Here to Eternity and The Bridge on the River Kwai being on either side of those movies. So it makes sense that a small film about a lonely butcher finding love would get overlooked.
Marty wins Best Picture, Best Director for Delbert Mann (talked about here), and Best Actor for Ernest Borgnine (talked about here). I love the film. I think it’s perfect, and I think it was the best choice among the nominees. Sure, the set of nominees was weak, but best choice is the best choice. Anna Magnani wins Best Actress for The Rose Tattoo (talked about here). I don’t like it. I think Susan Hayward should have won for I’ll Cry Tomorrow, leaving the Hayward 1958 win open for one of several actresses who could have won (some of whom never won an Oscar). And Best Supporting Actor was Jack Lemmon for Mister Roberts, which I like very much, because Jack Lemmon is awesome (and the category really sucked).
And that brings us to this category, which is tough for me. Well, not really. It’s tough because I know I’m not gonna do the logical thing.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1955
And the nominees were…
Betsy Blair, Marty
Peggy Lee, Pete Kelly’s Blues
Marisa Pavan, The Rose Tattoo
Jo Van Fleet, East of Eden
Natalie Wood, Rebel Without a Cause
Blair — Marty is a perfect film. So low key, so wonderful.
Marty is a lonely butcher. 35, unmarried. And everyone asks him why he hasn’t found a nice girl. (He comes from an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. If you’re from there, you know just how much he’s asked.) And one night, he agrees to go to a local dance with his friend. And while there, he meets Betsy Blair, and the two of them have a long conversation that spans most of the night. And it’s one of the most simple, and beautiful films I have ever seen. It’s so fucking good.
I’m not even going to ruin it by talking about it. See this movie.
Betsy Blair is amazing as Clara. I think she should have gone lead, but I get why they pushed her as supporting. She is terrific here, and I’m going to vote for her just because I love the film. I understand those who would not vote for her, but I have to vote for her.
Lee — Peggy Lee, in case the name sounds familiar, is the singer. She sang “Fever.” It’s one of those instances (for the most part) of a singer being nominated for simply singing.
The film is kind of a Technicolor noir. It’s about a bunch of jazz men. The story is — there’s a great story somebody told about Martin Scorsese. I think it was Robbie Robertson, who has been his music supervisor since The Last Waltz. He was talking about how Scorsese was trying to give him ideas of what music to use, and he showed him this movie, and was like, “It’s not one of Jack Webb’s best,” and Robertson was like, “Not one of his best? I’m pretty sure Jack Webb never even had a best!” The joke being that Scorsese was like, “It’s not one of his best.” Which would be kind of like me saying, “Yeah, The Lost City isn’t one of Andy Garcia’s best,” meanwhile you’re like, “Who the hell pays any attention to Andy Garcia’s best?” He’s just someone you know from places. No one actually has a list of what his best stuff is.”
Anyway, that was my roundabout way of entertaining you long enough to say — I’m not giving you a synopsis. The film is decent, but the real selling point of it is — well, a few things. The music is good, the Technicolor is great, there are a nice amount of character actors in it (Edmond O’Brien, Janet Leigh, Andy Devine, even Lee Marvin), plus Ella Fitzgerald and some jazz greats are also in it. So there’s reason to see this if you’re interested. I’m just saying — the plot isn’t the reason you’d see this.
So Peggy Lee plays the jazz singer girlfriend of a gangster. And she’s also a drunk. And she does a good job with it. She gets to act drunk, have a nervous breakdown. It’s a good performance. I like the nomination. Wouldn’t vote for her, but it’s well worth checking out. I think you should. There are enough single, loose elements to make you consider seeing this. So that way if you see it, you can take care of all of them at once.
Pavan — The Rose Tattoo is based on a Tennessee Williams play. It’s one of those films that — while I enjoyed it, I’m still not quite sure why it exists. I don’t get why the story was worth telling.
Anna Magnani is a woman who, at the beginning of the film, discovers that her husband, who she loves very much, is having an affair, has been illegally transporting goods, and has been killed after a police chase. This causes her to become a recluse. And we cut to years later, as she sits in her house, has completely let herself go, and makes and fixes dresses for the town, using her daughter as her proxy for the sales. And then eventually Magnani meets Burt Lancaster and starts an affair with him. And the big thing with the film is how her dead husband had this rose tattoo on his chest, and Lancaster goes and gets one, and there’s a whole series of fights and stuff between her and him, and eventually she gets over the husband’s death when she realizes he was cheating on her, and the tattoo meant nothing.
I honestly didn’t like the film all that much. Pavan does a decent job as the daughter. Lots of feisty scenes. But really nothing of substance for a vote, I feel. To me she’s a distant fourth.
Van Fleet — East of Eden is a very famous film, and you probably should have seen it.
Jo Van Fleet plays James Dean’s biological mother, who owns a brothel in a nearby town. She really only has one or two scenes in the film. They’re powerful scenes, but they’re really not that numerous. (Or am I misremembering that?) I could swear she’s only on screen for two scenes, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen the film.
Personally, I wouldn’t vote for her. But I kind of get why the Academy did.
Wood — It’s Rebel Without a Cause. You probably should have seen it.
Natalie Wood is the female lead of the film, and she does a really good job. Not her best performance, but a good one.
I can’t vote for her because I’m voting for Betsy Blair. Personally, though, I’d vote for her after Blair, just because I really don’t get the Van Fleet performance. And I think Wood was horribly snubbed over her career, so any excuse to get her a statue, really.
My Thoughts: Jo Van Fleet was good in East of Eden, and also had an MVP-type year, also logging strong supporting performances in The Rose Tattoo and I‘ll Cry Tomorrow, so it was a foregone conclusion that she’d win here. But, I love Marty. I really do. And I loved Betsy Blair’s performance. She was really a lead actress, but she had the best chance to win here (plus you could actually label her as supporting is you wanted to), and I just have to vote for her. I love the film and the performance too much not to. (I totally understand the Van Fleet vote, though. Or even maybe a Natalie Wood vote, but I love her, and even I wouldn’t vote for her here.)
My Vote: Blair
Should Have Won: Blair (and I guess Van Fleet)
Is the result acceptable?: Yeah. But I’m not happy about it. It’s tough seeing your favorites get beat.
Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Marty, we’re not friends.
If you haven’t seen East of Eden, you don’t really like movies.
If you haven’t seen Rebel Without a Cause, you don’t really like movies, and you’re dead to me.
The Rose Tattoo — it’s okay. Not bad. Won Best Actress, so that’s worth mentioning. Worth a look. Not my favorite film, but not bad either.
Pete Kelly’s Blues. It’s interesting. A noir in Technicolor. A jazz film. Lots of music. Peggy Lee does a good job in it. Definitely worth a look. A very interesting film in many respects.
3) Van Fleet