The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1936-1938)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1936

Beulah Bondi, The Gorgeous Hussy

Alice Brady, My Man Godfrey

Bonita Granville, These Three

Maria Ouspenskaya, Dodsworth

Gale Sondergaard, Anthony Adverse

Analysis:

The Gorgeous Hussy is a forgotten film. One of those films where we glorified politicians, and turned what were probably real infidelities and romanticized them.

This is about the famous Petticoat Affair, where Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War was ostracized by all the wives of the cabinet members because his wife was good friends with Jackson.

Joan Crawford is an innkeeper’s daughter who is tight with Andrew Jackson, then senator. She’s very outspoken and feisty, as all women of this era that we like are. She has a bunch of men who are in love with her, and we follow her through some suitors until finally she marries John Eaton, Secretary of War. Thus begins the ostracizing, and eventually Jackson forces his entire cabinet to resign except for Eaton.

It’s a nice film. Not great, but solid. Lionel Barrymore is Andrew Jackson, and you have Jimmy Stewart, Franchot Tone, Robert Taylor and Melvyn Douglas in it as well. And Gene Lockhart and Louis Calhern in there too. That’s the thing about these 30s movies. All the actors are the same.

Beulah Bondi plays Andrew Jackson’s wife, who has her own subplot. When Jackson runs for president, he faces a huge scandal because he married Bondi before her divorce from her previous husband was final. So all the media just talks shit about her to discredit Jackson and keep people from voting for him. And she stays strong and silent throughout the whole thing. And eventually she shares a nice scene with Crawford, telling her to look after Jackson when she’s gone, and promptly dies.

It’s one of those roles designed for this category. Here’s the thing, though — she’s barely on screen. Her part is minor, but important. She definitely leaves an impression. And this being the first Supporting Actress category, they’re still figuring everything out. You can’t quite hold it to the same standards as we know now. I think she’s worth a vote for the impression she makes on the film.

My Man Godfrey is a comedy masterpiece. William Powell is a man living in the city dump. He comes across a rich family, who offers him money to be their “forgotten man” as part of a fucked up, rich people scavenger hunt. He eventually gets a job as the family’s butler, and hilarity ensues.

Alice Brady plays the family matriarch. She’s pretty crazy. She gets to play flighty and drunk and is a lot of fun. But there’s no real character arc there. She just gets a bunch of fun moments that don’t amount to much. So she might be the favorite performance on entertainment value, but I don’t know if that adds up to a vote.

These Three is the first film adaptation of the play “The Children’s Hour.” The famous version is the 1961 version with Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn.

It’s about two friends who run a small private school. One of the students is a real shit. She’s just terrible. So the teachers discipline her. And she’s bitter. So one day she overhears a private conversation and decides to spread a rumor that both teachers are lesbians. Which of course, back in the 30s, means scandal. All the parents freak out and take their kids away, because the girl convinces her grandmother she’s telling the truth, and the grandmother believes her over the two women. And of course it ruins the teachers’ lives. The real complication though, is that it’s not entirely false. One of the two actually is a lesbian (the single one), and is in love with the other. It’s a great story. The ’61 version is better, but this one is still very good.

Granville plays the little girl who spreads the lie. She’s fantastic. The two showiest roles in the film are this one and the lesbian teacher. She’s definitely in consideration for a vote. The trouble is — in the first Supporting Actress category, do you want to give it to a child? That’s something one has to decide before making their decision.

Dodsworth is one of the best films of the 30s, and it’s been utterly forgotten. But trust me, you will not find a better hidden gem than this one in the 30s.

Walter Huston is a self-made millionaire. He built a car company from scratch. And now, he’s retiring. He thinks he’s going to be happy when he doesn’t have to work anymore. He and his wife take a cruise to Europe, and it becomes apparent very quickly how little Huston knows his wife. He’d been working so much, he never really spent time getting to know her. He realizes they’re two completely different people. She’d rather hang around and pretend to be noble with all the upper class people, and he’d rather go around and see the sites. He meets a divorcee on the trip (Mary Astor), and finds much more of a kinship with her than with his wife.

It’s such a great movie. Trust me on this. This, more than almost any other movie I’ve told people to seek out is the one I hear most that people loved. You wouldn’t think so, but it’s just really good.

Ouspenskaya plays the mother of the man Huston’s wife wants to marry (after divorcing him). She essentially always plays the same character — the wise old woman. She tells her that she won’t give her blessing for the marriage. She spouts wisdom and all that.

It’s basically a five-minute part. I get why they’d think she was worth nominating at the time. Though now, this part comes off like… you know how every few years the same actresses are nominated for Emmys purely because of who they are? Remember that year where Ellen Burstyn, I think, was nominated for Best Guest Actress in a TV movie even though she was only in it for like ten whole seconds? That’s what this feels like.

Anthony Adverse is a classy novel adaptation. The 30s were full of these. This movie, by the way, or rather the book it was based off of, is how Tony Curtis picked his stage name. So there. You learned something from Best Supporting Actress 1936.

It’s about an Italian orphan. Claude Rains is married to a woman who doesn’t love him. She has an affair and has a son with the guy. Rains tracks them down, murders the man and dumps the baby at an orphanage after the wife dies in childbirth. The kids grows up in the orphanage, and by chance (like a Dickens book), the kid’s grandfather discovers who he is. So when he dies, he leaves the kid a bunch of money. Only Rains figures out what’s going on, and plots to keep the kid from the inheritance.

Sondergaard plays the grandfather’s housekeeper, who is also Rains’ lover. She’s very shifty. She often plays the shifty character. I honestly don’t remember her doing all that much in the movie. She’s just kind of there, looking shifty. I don’t think I’d put her higher than fourth here. Maybe third if I thought there was more to the performance than I remember.

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The Reconsideration: Not a very strong category to start with. Then again, it’s not like the first Oscars were particularly strong either. So I get it.

Ouspenskaya is a glorified cameo, so she’s off first. I didn’t see enough out of Brady to vote for her. She’s really entertaining, so I’ll rank her solidly but I wouldn’t even consider her for the vote. Sondergaard — I honestly don’t remember her being in the film all that much or really having any memorable moments, so she’s also off.

So right there, without much thought at all, we’re left with Bondi vs. Granville. Granville’s character is very much what this category is all about. And Bondi is an actress that represents what this category is all about. In terms of screen time, Granville fits better. In terms of impact on the film… it’s close.

But honestly, thinking of the performances, Granville is the one who most made me feel something for the character, so I’m taking her. I don’t feel great about it, but it’s the first category ever, what are you gonna do?

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Rankings (category):

  1. Beulah Bondi, The Gorgeous Hussy
  2. Bonita Granville, These Three
  3. Alice Brady, My Man Godfrey
  4. Gale Sondergaard, Anthony Adverse
  5. Maria Ouspenskaya, Dodsworth

Rankings (films):

  1. My Man Godfrey
  2. Dodsworth
  3. Anthony Adverse
  4. These Three
  5. The Gorgeous Hussy

My Vote: Bonita Granville, These Three

Recommendations:

Recommending 30s movies is one of my favorite pastimes.

My Man Godfrey is one of the great all-time comedies, and it’s essential for film fans.

Dodsowrth is a film that’s not essential, but I am telling you that you NEED to see. You must see this. If you respect my opinions at all, see this movie. Because it’s fucking great. I would also say the same thing I say to everyone — watch it cold. Don’t go in knowing anything about it. Trust me. You’ll love it.

These Three is a solid film. I recommend The Children’s Hour more than this, but as 30s movies go, this one is solid. Plus, if there’s a movie from the 50s and 60s that you like, there’s no reason not to see the 30s movie version of it. Like My Fair Lady. You won’t not like Pygmalion. This is the same. You don’t need to see it, but it’s a good watch.

The Gorgeous Hussy is fine. Take it or leave it. No obligation to see it unless you’re into the Oscars. Or really love Joan Crawford or the Barrymores. Or Jimmy Stewart. He’s in this too. Otherwise, it’s just pretty good and not something you need to see.

Anthony Adverse is… this is an interesting one. I don’t remember how actually good it is, but I do remember liking it. Plus, Olivia de Havilland. Claude Rains. So there’s reasons to see it. I’d say — 3.5 stars. To put a current day spin on it. It’s one of those movies I give a firm thumbs up to but am not saying you are under any obligation to see (unless you’re into Oscars. Then see it, because Sondergaard won for it).

The Last Word: Honestly, this is the first time they handed out this award. Pretty much whatever they did with the category we have wouldn’t feel perfect. I think you can do pretty much anything you want with this category. I don’t think anyone would (or should) take Ouspenskaya. Outside of that, I guess you could take Sondergaard. I’m curious to go back and watch that movie and see if she has anything remotely resembling an awards-worthy performance. Granville, I get. Though she’s a child, and not everyone would vote for that. Brady is awesome, and she’s hilarious in the movie, but Best Supporting Actress? I don’t know. I’d want to take her because of the movie and because at least the part was fun compared to the rest of them. Then — Bondi. The role itself makes sense as a winner, but she’s not in it for all that much, and outside of scenes designed to make you feel for the character, she doesn’t actually have a whole lot to do. But she is definitely someone you could take. I had her as the vote for a while and still think she could be if I did this category again on a different day. So, honestly, if you’ve seen all five of these and can pick a winner and make any sort of rational case for it, you’re good.

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1937

Alice Brady, In Old Chicago

Andrea Leeds, Stage Door

Anne Shirley, Stella Dallas

Claire Trevor, Dead End

May Whitty, Night Must Fall

Analysis:

In Old Chicago is a movie about… and I can’t believe I’m about to say this… Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. You know the legend that a cow started the great Chicago fire? Well, this is the story of that. Remember San Francisco from 1936? Sure you do. Don’t we all? This is the Chicago version of that.

We follow two brothers. One becomes a politician, one basically becomes a criminal. And there’s this whole familial conflict for 80% of the movie, and then their mother’s, Mrs. O’Leary’s, cow starts the fire that levels half the city. It’s basically a disaster film with a story in the first half. Hollywood has a rich tradition of these stories. What do you think Titanic is?

Alice Brady is Mrs. O’Leary, in case you couldn’t figure that part out. She’s… there. And she’s the mother. Oscar loves a good mother role for the first fifteen years of this category. The role is important. The performance is adequate. Don’t know if I’d vote for her.

Stage Door is a hell of a film. I know a lot of people love The Women, and that’s a great movie too, but I much prefer this film to that one.

This is an ensemble movie about a bunch of actresses and dancers who all live in the same boarding house. One of those houses you see in these types of movies. Where the old lady who runs it takes in all single women. The main three people in the film are Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn and Andrea Leeds. Hepburn is the protagonist. She’s the daughter of a rich guy going under a fake name, trying to make it on her own. Rogers is the cynical dancer who’s sleeping with a producer and has seen it all. Leeds is the one in the boarding house who had the most success early on, a really great part in a play that won her a lot of notices. But she hasn’t found work since, and is starting to get desperate. The issue comes when Hepburn gets put up for a part in a play being put up by Ginger Rogers’ boyfriend. And she gets it, which she thinks is because of her talent, but it’s actually because her father figured out what she’s doing and is secretly bankrolling the play on the condition Hepburn star in it. Which is fine, and that works out in its own way. However… Hepburn getting the part prevents the person who was previously cast in the role from getting it… which was Leeds.

Let me tell you — Leeds is fucking great in this movie. She’s so optimistic about finding work despite not getting anything for over a year. And literally everything that happens to her is a series of awful circumstances. Then she loses the part due to something totally beyond her control, and it’s just heartbreaking.

I remember watching this movie for the first time going, “Okay, I get this, I see what they’re doing,” and before I knew it, I was watching her. She made me more interested in the film because of what she was doing. You really sympathize with this character.

We’re so early in this category that I’m not gonna waste time — I’m voting for her. I’ll always vote for her. This is a performance where I straight up go, “This one.” This one actually made me feel something. You don’t get that a whole lot in these early supporting categories.

Stella Dallas is a straight up melodrama. You know what you’re getting from minute one.

Barbara Stanwyck is a regular woman who gets involved with a factory executive, managing to catch him at the right time at the right time. She gets pregnant and has a daughter. And suddenly all her intentions of social climbing shift over to caring for her daughter. All she wants is for her daughter to have a good life. This drives the husband away. He goes off to marry the woman he was originally going to marry. And she realizes her daughter will have a better life if she lives with her father. So she gives up her daughter and watches her grow up from afar. It’s one of those movies about a mother’s sacrifice. Classic melodrama.

Anne Shirley plays Stanwyck’s daughter. She’s solid in the role. I remember thinking she got to show a lot of range in her part. I think she’s definitely someone you could consider. Though she feels like one of those people who would end up middle of the pack for most people and not get the vote. Been a while since I’ve seen the film though.

Dead End is a great film. But weird how it’s built on children.

It stars the Dead End Kids, who would be a group you saw a bunch during this era. They were the kids in Angels with Dirty Faces. They’re a bunch of kids who are on their way to becoming criminals in their slum neighborhood in New York. Mostly they get into those kids kind of hijinks. Baseballs through windows, fights, stealing from the drug store etc. They idolize Baby Face Martin, played by Humphrey Bogart. Coincidentally, he is secretly in town to visit his mother, trying not to get picked up by the cops. And of course he’s gonna get killed and the kids are gonna learn a lesson about not being a criminal. You know how that goes.

The part of the movie that matters is when Bogart goes to see his girlfriend, played by Claire Trevor. Since he left, she’s become a prostitute. And is now “sick.” Which is code for syphilis. She has one scene, but it’s a powerful scene. Bogart returns home like, “I’ll see my mother and she’ll be happy to see me and then I’ll see my girl, and maybe she’ll be as beautiful as I remember and we’ll settle down and be happy.” And then his mother wants nothing to do with him and Trevor is now a whore who is dying of syphilis. She’s really good in her one scene, and that’s exactly the kind of performance this category is made for in these early years. Beatrice Straight won for one scene in 1976. You can definitely take Trevor here.

Night Must Fall is… a thriller. Not a particularly interesting one. You pretty much know how it’s gonna turn out from the start.

Robert Montgomery charms his way into an old lady’s house. She takes a liking to him. Her daughter doesn’t. She thinks he’s up to no good. So basically the entire film is her going around figuring out what those plans are, and not being able to find anything. It’s almost like Shadow of a Doubt, except without Hitchcock’s touch to it. You know he’s gonna try to kill her, but they spend two hours trying to misdirect you.

May Whitty plays the old woman. She’s the best part of the movie. She’s the loud, cantankerous old lady. It’s that old invalid role Ethel Barrymore played a bunch in the 40s. She makes sure you know she’s an invalid but spends every second getting up in other people’s business. She’s awesome. Would I vote for her? No. But that doesn’t take away from how entertaining she was in the role.

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The Reconsideration: It’s Leeds for me all the way. That performance has really stayed with me. The others are good, but they don’t make me want to vote for them.

Whitty is amusing, but I wouldn’t vote for her. Shirley is really solid, but same. Trevor is great in a single scene, and if not for Leeds I’d consider her. And Brady — she’s fine, but no.

I can’t even try to be objective about this because I don’t know what one would do in a category like this. Plus it’s so early, I don’t think many people have actually seen all five to be able to get into it. I guess, were that the case…

I imagine most people would take Trevor here. I feel like I’m not in the majority on Leeds’ performance. Not sure why I feel that, but I do. I don’t know if any of these are bad choices, so honestly you can probably go any way you want. They all are solid supporting performances.

I just… Leeds blew me away when I saw her performance, and I don’t even hesitate taking her in this one.

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Rankings (category and films):

  1. Andrea Leeds, Stage Door
  2. Anne Shirley, Stella Dallas
  3. Claire Trevor, Dead End
  4. Alice Brady, In Old Chicago
  5. May Whitty, Night Must Fall

Rankings (films):

  1. Stage Door
  2. Dead End
  3. Stella Dallas
  4. In Old Chicago
  5. Night Must Fall

My Vote: Andrea Leeds, Stage Door

Recommendations:

Stage Door is my favorite film on this list. Not particularly essential. None of them are, really. It’s got a solid cast (Hepburn, Ginger, Menjou, and I like the story. But no one particularly needs to see it. I recommend it though. Definitely worth a watch.

Dead End is a great because it’s a weird mix of a gangster movie and… I guess kids movie? Not sure what you even call that half. But it’s worth seeing because of the different tones at work. Plus Bogart. Solid film, recommended.

Stella Dallas is a decent melodrama. Barbara Stanwyck. Good, but again, not something you need to see.

In Old Chicago is only essential for Oscar buffs, and even then, not very. Otherwise, the last part of it is a disaster movie, and that’s worth seeing. Again, otherwise not particularly important for seeing unless you’re interested.

Night Must Fall — meh. It’s a non-Hitchcock movie that’s kind of a Hitchcock plot, but plays like one of his lesser ones (which would also have been around this era). It’s fine, but you don’t need to see it unless you’re trying to talk about these categories.

The Last Word: For me, it’s Leeds and then everyone else. I feel like I’m overly biased for this one, but I don’t know if that’s the case. I think she might actually be that good. But I can definitely see Trevor being the vote. Brady — not sure. The role feels right but it’s been a while since I’ve seen the performance. My gut says not really, but in the second year of the category, it’ll work. But I haven’t seen the film in years. Shirley feels solid. Maybe you could make the case for her if you wanted to. Whitty — awesome in the part, not sure if anyone would take her. I feel Leeds and Trevor have the most compelling cases to be made for them. I also feel like this is one of those categories where so few people have actually seen all the films, no real consensus is out there, leaving me with the majority vote. In which case — it’s totally Leeds. She’s the one.

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1938

Fay Bainter, Jezebel

Beulah Bondi, Of Human Hearts

Billie Burke, Merrily We Live

Spring Byington, You Can’t Take It With You

Miliza Korjus, The Great Waltz

Analysis:

Jezebel is Bette Davis doing Gone With the Wind. This film is Gone With the Wind, just as a melodrama.

Bette Davis is a headstrong southern girl who does whatever she wants. This will all sound familiar. She’ll show up to a party in her horse riding costume and just go with it. She’s dating Henry Fonda, who works for the bank, and they’re in love. Because she don’t give a fuck, she buys this big red dress for a party where all the single ladies are supposed to wear white. This causes problems. An impetuous decision causes pretty much her entire life to fall apart. And this is made worse by her arrogance. And then, well… she redeems herself in the most insanely melodramatic way possible. But I’ll leave that to you to find out if you haven’t seen it.

Fay Bainter plays Davis’ aunt. She’s just sort of hanging around for most of the film until she gets her one big scene, giving Davis advice to go after Fonda and tell him how she really feels.

I think she won because she was nominated both lead and supporting this year. Plus they were still figuring out the category. I didn’t see a whole lot in the performance itself, but what else do we have to vote for?

Of Human Hearts is a father/son story that actually kind of works. You haven’t heard of it but I’m about to make you go, “Oh yeah?” and want to see it based on one sentence. You ready?

Walter Huston and Jimmy Stewart are father and son.

See?

Huston is a preacher, and he’s strict. And Jimmy Stewart and he have a contentious relationship. And we watch that grow over the years. They continue to clash, as Stewart goes on to be a successful doctor and so on and so forth. I’m not doing it justice, but it’s good.

The real backbone of this movie, though, is Beulah Bondi. She’s the mother. And not only that, she’s the kind of mother this category was built for. The one who stands by her husband but also loves her son. So she’ll defer to the husband, but secretly let her son know that everything is all right. Like, dad breaks son’s sled? Mom sells off her earrings to buy the kid a new one without telling dad. That kind of stuff.

The good stuff happens near the end, when Stewart is really successful, and the film turns into Cats in the Cradle. He keeps saying “I love you, Ma, but I’m much too busy to come home and see you.” And she wants to see him so bad, but she loves him so much and is so proud of him, she doesn’t say anything.

My favorite part of this movie is the ending — Stewart meets Lincoln, for whatever reason, and Lincoln basically tells him, “I swear to god if you don’t go see your mother right now I will throw you in prison.” Which is awesome.

Bondi plays the suffering mother who sacrifices for her son. It’s the kind of performance this category was built on.

Merrily We Live. Remember My Man Godfrey? Good, because that’s basically what this movie is.

Billy Burke is the crazy matriarch of a family, who keeps hiring homeless people as butlers. Naturally they all steal from them. And she keeps hiring them. So they hire another guy who shows up at the door to use their phone after his car breaks down, and he becomes their new butler. And then a comedy of errors ensues. Who falls in love with who, miscommunications leading to awkward dinner parties — you know the drill.

Billy Burke is playing the Alice Brady role from Godfrey, except she’s the lead. That’s pretty much the part. You’ve seen it before. Except now it’s played by Glinda.

She’s good. No denying that. But can you really vote for something you’ve seen just two years ago (and maybe even voted for)?

You Can’t Take It With You. No, Dave. Stop it. I said you can’t. Fucking put it down, Dave!

This is actually the first line of the song “Put That Thing Back Where It Came From Or So Help Me.”

Look, nobody said the Oscars can’t be fun.

Except the producers, apparently.

Zing!

Anyway, this is Frank Capra, and this is one of those films movie buffs get to pretty early because it’s always ranked pretty highly on the IMDB type lists. So you probably know what it is.

It’s actually one of those Capra movies that doesn’t really have a plot. Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur want to get married. He comes from a rich family. His father runs a bank and they’re all hoity-toity. Meanwhile Arthur comes from a family of lunatics. Her house is basically a boarding house for creative types, who are allowed to do whatever they want. So people are just blowing shit up and roller skating in the living room and cutting up the furniture for projects and shit. That kind of household. So it’s a clash of sensibilities. It’s fun. And of course it has that Frank Capra ending where it’s all uplifting and makes you feel all good inside.

Byington plays the mother of the house, who sits around writing plays while all the madness goes on around her. She keeps jumping back and forth from one play to another, and she’s pretty much here because she is the supporting character that — you know how in every ensemble comedy, there’s always one standout? Where people are like, “Yeah, she was good, and he’s always good, but that person was excellent”? That’s her. She’s really funny here. Vote worthy? I don’t know. It’s debatable. It’s tough to know what this category means at this stage in the game. Technically she is one of the more memorable parts of the film, which seems like it would be worth consideration.

The Great Waltz was the most incredible dancing I’ve ever seen. It was Spring, 1872…

It’s a biopic of Johann Strauss. But like, a 30s biopic. So it told whatever story it wanted. Put it this way, Cary Grant played Cole Porter in a 40s biopic and it ended with him married to a woman. So take the term “biopic” with a grain of salt in this era.

Korjus, a trained opera singer, plays, naturally, a circus clown. What the hell do you think she plays?

She happens upon Strauss by chance (because it’s the 30s), and ends up singing in his operas. And then people worry that they’re “too close” because of their working relationship, and it causes problems. Look, she’s an opera singer playing an opera singer. She’s here because she can sing well. It’s not like Jennifer Hudson won the Oscar on her acting ability. She can sing like crazy, and that’s what the role called for. This is exactly the same thing. Korjus can sing, and she kills it.

Can you take her? Sure. Would you? That’s up to you.

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The Reconsideration: Category’s not great. But the first five are all gonna be like that in any Oscars. Wouldn’t take Burke. She’s amusing, but no. Bainter, I don’t think she does enough in the movie for me to take her, the lead performance this year notwithstanding. Korjus sings really well, but ehh. Byington is hilarious, but no way. Honestly, it’s Bondi. I could have led with her. She’s the loving mother who puts up with neglect and everything else with a silent dignity. She gets great scenes and she’s an actress who is always terrific. I’d take her even before thinking about how horribly snubbed she was the year before this for Make Way for Tomorrow. So she’s my vote, and it’s not even close.

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Rankings (category):

  1. Beulah Bondi, Of Human Hearts
  2. Spring Byington, You Can’t Take It With You
  3. Miliza Korjus, The Great Waltz
  4. Fay Bainter, Jezebel
  5. Billie Burke, Merrily We Live

Rankings (films):

  1. You Can’t Take It With You
  2. Jezebel
  3. Of Human Hearts
  4. Merrily We Live
  5. The Great Waltz

My Vote: Beulah Bondi, Of Human Hearts

Recommendations:

You Can’t Take It With You is an essential film. You need to see it. It’s Frank Capra, it’s amazing, it won Best Picture, and just about every great character actor of the 30s is in it. Required viewing for movie buffs.

Jezebel is worth seeing for a lot of reasons. Good example of a melodrama, women’s picture, what have you. Won Best Actress. Good example of what a Bette Davis movie is at the height of her powers. And it’s so similar to Gone With the Wind you should see it for that alone. Oh, and I guess Henry Fonda. Lot of reasons to see it. Not essential, but recommended.

Of Human Hearts. Look, if a movie with Jimmy Stewart and Walter Huston doesn’t appeal to you, then I don’t know what to tell you. I’m leaving it at that. Because either you’re gonna see it because of those two names alone, or you don’t care about those two names, and there’s really nothing I can do to get you to see this.

The Great Waltz — meh. It’s fine. Don’t love it. Lot of opera singing in it. So if that’s for you, this is worth a watch. Otherwise, not something I’d really recommend unless you’re deep into the Oscars. Not even casually into them. Even casual Oscar heads could skip this and be fine.

Merrily We Live — it’s a screwball comedy. I will never tell you to not see a screwball comedy. And no self-respecting film buff would turn down a screwball comedy. Plus it’s similar to My Man Godfrey, which is never a bad thing.

The Last Word: I feel like Billie Burke won’t get many votes because we’ve seen her role before. Maybe you take her because of who she is, but I doubt many people would actually pick her. Korjus is great because of the singing. A lot of people would take Jennifer Hudson in 2006, so this isn’t very different. Same thing, just for 1938. So I can see her being the choice. Bainter had the double nomination, so that might sway some people toward taking her. Personally, I feel the lead performance was better. This is just window dressing. Byington is funny, but I don’t know if there’s substance there. Though in a category like this, does it matter? I think Bondi’s the one. That role is exactly what you want to see in a category like this. She gets scenes where you get to fall in love with her character, she has enough of a presence and character arc that you don’t feel like it’s a cameo, and she’s a respected character actress with a rich history of good performances. What more can you ask for? So I think Bondi is clearly the winner. Maybe a case can be made for the others, but it’s 1938, so I won’t think about what that case may be. I’ll let people actually have seen all five of these performances first. Then I’ll listen to any case they want to make for any one of the other four.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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