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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1943-1944)

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.

1943

Gladys Cooper, The Song of Bernadette

Paulette Goddard, So Proudly We Hail

Katina Paxinou, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Anne Revere, The Song of Bernadette

Lucile Watson, Watch on the Rhine

Analysis:

The Song of Bernadette is a very overly religious film. Which normally turns me off, but I actually quite enjoyed it. Which was a nice surprise.

It’s about a young girl who is just not very good at the whole schooling thing, even though her heart is in the right place. And then one day, while playing around the toxic waste dump (as you do), she sees a vision of the Virgin Mary. Naturally this causes a stir. But she’s adamant about what she saw, so they believe her. And then she’s taken in to a convent and allowed to become a nun. And even then, no one really believes in her or takes her seriously. But she keeps working. And then dies, as you do.

Gladys Cooper plays the role Gladys Cooper always plays, the cold woman who has the power to make others feel terrible for not being who she wants them to be. Just like Now Voyager. Here, she’s a nun who seems to intensely dislike Bernadette and constantly puts her down, as a student and later as a member of the convent. It’s like that teacher that goes out of their way to shit on you even if you weren’t doing anything. And then when Bernadette is dying, she suddenly has a giant change of heart and realizes the error of her ways.

You’ve seen her do this before. There’s nothing wholly new or particularly interesting about this. I find it difficult to want to vote for her giving the same performance as the one I saw a year before this, though not as good (in my mind) as that one. So she hangs around middle of the pack.

And then Anne Revere, who also typically plays the same role, does so again here. She’s the doting mother. She’s not given a whole lot to do in the movie and doesn’t really factor into the plot at all. She’s just Ma. You’ve seen the Ma nomination a bunch so far. This is nothing new. The way this nomination works is if the character means something to the overall plot (like… in two years, when Revere would win. That character meant something). Here, she’s just Ma, and she’s the character you know has unconditional love for her daughter, while everyone else is skeptical. She’s fine, but at best she’s a fourth choice. No one would rightly take her here, I don’t think.

So Proudly We Hail. It’s 1943, so you better expect most of your movies to have something to do with the war.

This one’s about the army nurses who try to keep wounded men alive both medically and emotionally. Naturally each one is in love with a soldier, and we see them around some major battle scenes (which I remember as being well done, to the point where it almost takes away from the film, because it’s so heavily juxtaposed with what’s going on with them on the dramatic side).

Claudette Colbert plays the lead nurse, and Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake play the other two main ones. Lake seemingly has the part that would be nominated here. She’s the one who’s really cold and distant toward the other nurses and eventually we find out it’s because her fiancée was killed in action. And she gets a death scene where she sacrifices herself.

But it was Goddard who was nominated. So she’s the one we talk about. She plays the really flirty nurse who’s got a couple of “fiancés” among the soldiers and constantly wears a nightgown throughout the film to “raise moral.” And then she falls in love with one of the soldiers for real and, after seeing the horrors of war, converts to the cause.

She’s really good here. There’s no denying that. You get to see her acting chops. And I see why they nominated her because of the moral of the performance. They love a character that comes around to the cause. And since it’s Paulette Goddard acting charismatic, it’s hard not to love her in this movie. Add to that a weak category, I could see why (I think) I took her last time. Pretty sure I voted for her. Still think I might, in such a weak category. Not wholly sure though. Because Paxinou is admittedly really good.

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a rock opera based on the music of Metallica. Ingrid Bergman really slays “Enter Sandman.”

Based on the Hemingway novel, a bunch of guerillas fight during the Spanish Civil War and try to blow up a bridge.

Stars Gary Cooper as an American schoolteacher and Ingrid Bergman as a woman who was taken in after her parents were murdered and she was gang raped by the fascists. (So it’s a comedy…)

Akim Tamiroff plays the head of the rebels, and Katina Paxinou plays his wife. She’s feisty and stubborn and all the things this category likes, and eventually takes over as the leader at one point. It makes complete sense that she won here, and in such a weak category, I really can’t see taking anyone else in terms of pure performance. The only other person you might take seems to be Goddard, because she’s great and the character is sexy and fun. (Paxinou is, admittedly, not that.)

Watch on the Rhine is a film that I knew was on my list to watch again for these articles. Because I was so utterly biased against it last time there was no way I was going to give it a fair shake.

Paul Lukas is a man who fights against fascism in Europe. He comes to America to visit his brother-in-law and seek asylum. But then a Romanian count comes by who’s been working with the Germans. He starts to become suspicious about who Lukas is, and may discover his identity and ruin everything. The film is fine. It’s a weird mix of war, melodrama and laid-back family comedy. I just saw it before writing this up, so my opinion is fresh. It’s not something I love because there are too many differing tones at work.

Lucille Watson plays the matriarch of the family. You’ve seen this role before. If you’re going through all of these categories, watching all the performances, you’ve seen this type of performance at least four times. To put it in perspective — the Maggie Smith performance. Old, rich woman who gets to be cranky and say whatever she wants. It’s fine.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I’ve always considered this one of, if not the weakest Best Supporting Actress categories of all time. But, this is the category we have, so here we are.

Watson is a no, right off the bat. Cooper does a lesser version of what she did the year before. So no on here. Revere is a Ma role. Not one central to the plot, either. So no on her. Which means, without even really putting thought in it, we’re down to two people: Paxinou and Goddard.

At this point, with such a generic category, you can’t go wrong taking either of the two interesting performances. Goddard is the fun, charming performance, and Paxinou is the best one in terms of pure performance.

I want to take Goddard because she’s awesome, but Paxinou gave the best performance. Maybe if this is 1943, I take Goddard, but now, being totally honest (and since this category means absolutely nothing historically), I’m sticking with the best performance, and that’s Paxinou.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Katina Paxinou, For Whom the Bell Tolls
  2. Paulette Goddard, So Proudly We Hail
  3. Gladys Cooper, The Song of Bernadette
  4. Anne Revere, The Song of Bernadette
  5. Lucille Watson, Watch on the Rhine

Rankings (films):

  1. The Song of Bernadette
  2. So Proudly We Hail
  3. For Whom the Bell Tolls
  4. Watch on the Rhine

My Vote: Katina Paxinou, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Recommendations:

The Song of Bernadette is a religious film that I don’t hate. It’s solid. Not essential, but recommended. Essential for Oscar buffs because it won Best Actress (and was the most nominated film of 1943). Otherwise, take it or leave it.

So Proudly We Hail is worth it because it has solid war scenes and a great cast. Very much of its time. Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake. Otherwise, no need to see this at all.

For Whom the Bell Tolls — big, colorful, based on Hemingway. A big classic literary adaptation. I don’t love it, but I think it’s fine. I guess you could see it. Won Supporting Actress, making it more must-see for people into the Oscars. Though — Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, I imagine that will carry some weight for people. It’s fine.

Watch on the Rhine is essential for Oscar buffs. Paul Lukas won Best Actor for it over Bogart for Casablanca. You must see it if you want to wager an opinion. That’s the nature of the beast. Otherwise — meh. No need to see it. It’s all right. Not particularly great. There are interesting elements in it, but that’s the part of the film that gets the least attention.

The Last Word: Standard Ma role, standard cranky old lady role, domineering old lady role. Three things you’ve seen several times already done again. And then — charming Paulette Goddard and feisty, energetic Katina Paxinou. They seem like the only two choices. And because it’s so weak, go with either and you’ll be right. That’s what this is. It’s probably the weakest category in history for Supporting Actress.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1944

Ethel Barrymore, None But the Lonely Heart

Jennifer Jones, Since You Went Away

Angela Lansbury, Gaslight

Aline MacMahon, Dragon Seed

Agnes Moorehead, Mrs. Parkington

Analysis:

None But the Lonely Heart is one of the very few times Cary Grant went dramatic. And when he did, they nominated him.

Grant plays a ne’er-do-well who just doesn’t want to get his shit together. He comes, he goes, never really having a job. His mother tells him to either stay home or go away and never come back. He chooses leaving. However he finds out his mother is dying of cancer. So Grant stays home to take care of her, and also starts becoming a thief in order to make some money.

Ethel Barrymore plays Grant’s mother. Literally named Ma. We find out pretty early that she’s dying, and she gets to hang around, in pain for most of the film, and then ends up in prison and dies indirectly because of Grant. So she gets a death scene and all that.

She’s fine. I feel like she won because she’s Ethel Barrymore. But in this category, there’s also not a whole lot going on, so she rises near the top. I can see a vote for her.

 

Since You Went Away is a big, epic movie about the effort of World War II  on the homefront. Not totally though. There’s a lot of family drama going on, and that’s mostly what this is. It becomes more about the war at the end. It’s three hours, so a lot of stuff happens.

Claudette Colbert’s husband has volunteered to fight in the war and she’s left at home to raise her two daughters, Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple. And they have to deal with food rationing and things like that. They have to rent out a room in the house in order to stay afloat. There’s a lot of stuff going on, where a friend of Colbert’s shows up, and he’s attracted to her, and Jones is attracted to him, and then the son of the boarder in the house shows up, and they have a strained relationship, but he’s then attracted to Jones — it’s kind of a soap opera at times. But eventually they all, specifically Colbert, come around to the war effort, realizing they can get their family back by doing their part at home. So Colbert goes to work in a factory. Etc. etc.

The film is about the family at home, and does a good job giving you an interesting drama infused with war politics and all that stuff. It works. It’s not perfect, but it works.

Jennifer Jones plays Colbert’s oldest daughter. She’s there to be the attractive one, with the nice closeups and the soft lighting. She gets moments early to have a crush on Joseph Cotten, even though it’s unrequited. And then she gets to fall in love with Robert Walker, leading to one of the more famous moments in film, the teary-eyed goodbye at the train station. (You’ve seen it even if you haven’t seen it. They parodied it in Airplane!) She’s utterly charming in the role, and it’s the exact same kind of charm she displayed in The Song of Bernadette that won her the Oscar the year before this. If she hadn’t won there, she probably would have won here.

The performance is solid. She gets to show a nice range too. She basically grows up. The way she is at the beginning of the film to where she is at the end is a marked difference. It’s — yes, of its time. You have to understand that going in. Even so, she does a fine job.

Not sure if I vote for her, though. Depending on where things shake out, she’s probably a #2 or a #3. But we’ll see. Have to reconsider some of the other performances I haven’t gone back to in a few years.

Gaslight is quite the film. There are a few films throughout history that are “Hitchcock movies that Hitchcock didn’t make.” This is one of them. (Charade is another.)

Ingrid Bergman is the niece of a famous opera singer… who has been murdered. She’s sent off to train as an opera singer herself (as the aunt was her guardian). Upon her return, she meets and falls in love with Charles Boyer. She and him move into her aunt’s house, which causes some concern. But he allays her suspicions and convinces her it’s all okay. Yet the house does seem kind of spooky, and there does seem to be a kind of a supernatural presence to it. And slowly, Bergman starts to see the lights dim all the time, starts to misplace things, and thinks she’s losing her shit. And… well, if you haven’t seen it, I’ll leave it there. Some good shit happens.

Angela Lansbury plays one of the maids of the house, who… it’s hard to get into everything without giving away some of the plot. But she’s a cockney maid, who is pretty saucy, and is quite cold toward Bergman for much of the film, which we realize is a bit by design. Lansbury gets to play a bunch of different emotions, and is quite memorable in a smaller part. She’s not that vital to the film, but she is solid. You will remember the performance.

Dragon Seed is a film about a bunch of white people playing Asian people in that classic Hollywood tradition of passive racism.

The film takes place during the Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese invade a Chinese village. And at first, they coexist in peace, but of course that can’t last, since the Japanese start turning people against one another, and eventually it all boils over into overt conflict.

I will say, that despite the troubling issues of casting, the actors are quite good in their roles.

Aline MacMahon is basically — she’s basically a Ma role. Except Chinese. Which I think might be the same word. She’s the sturdy wife and the loving mother. That’s the role.

I have a personal issue with taking actors doing any sort of racial stereotype. I don’t like blackface or yellowface, so I refuse to vote for MacMahon on that. She does a good job with teh role and is fine in the performance. If we were just going by performance, I might have her fourth. But I rank her fifth here because I refuse to condone white actresses simply playing Asian. I wouldn’t vote for the performance anyway, but I’m doubly against the nature of the role. So she’s out right off the top.

Mrs. Parkington is Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. They made a number of films together in this era. Eight, I think is the number. Blossoms in the Dust, Mrs. Miniver, Madame Curie and this one are the first four. Then they made a bunch more after this, including a Miniver sequel.

Garson plays a rich woman who flashes back over her life while in the middle of dealing with some shit with her children. Her grandson is being investigated for some business crime, and she has to decide whether or not to give him the money to cover it so he doesn’t go to prison — it doesn’t really matter. Mostly we’re dealing with the flashback part of the story.

Garson starts as a maid in an inn, where she meets Pidgeon, a rich dude. They marry. Then most of the film is the ups and downs of their marriage. In love, not in love, losing a child, separating, etc. etc. It’s melodrama. As you can see, I don’t really love the film. It’s fine, but I don’t love it.

The part that matters is Agnes Moorehead. She’s a French baroness who was engaged to marry Pidgeon before he went off and married Garson. So when she shows up, you think she’s gonna be jealous and hate Garson. When in fact it’s quite the opposite. She helps her learn how to dress and behave like an upper class woman. Meanwhile Pidgeon keeps a close relationship with Moorehead, which is kind of annoying to Garson. At one point, when the two separate, Garson goes to live with Moorehead. And she gets this one great scene where she convinces Garson to take Pidgeon back, even though she herself has always been in love with Pidgeon, and is doing so in the face of her own potential happiness. She gets a really complex character across in this film.

I love Agnes Moorehead, and I think she can do anything. She’s terrific here. She’s utterly believable in anything she does. She’s for sure worth voting for. And there are other reasons, which I will get to below.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: MacMahon is out immediately for reasons stated above. Lansbury is fine, but no. Not over the other three. Jones is solid, and I’d consider her. But I think I’d take Barrymore over her. So it’s Barrymore or Moorehead. So I totally get the Barrymore win, but for my money, you can never beat Agnes Moorehead for authenticity.

Not to mention, this year — not one, not two, not three, not four but five movies.

Agnes Moorehead was in five movies in 1944. This is one. The second — Dragon Seed. The third, Tomorrow, the World, which I haven’t seen, but apparently she plays a spinster aunt who is against taking a boy into the home but then falls in love with him. Seems like she delivers the goods there too. Then fourth is Since You Went Away — so, to keep count, Agnes Moorehead is in three of the nominated films IN THIS CATEGORY — where she plays the socialite neighbor who the family dislikes but puts up with and eventually tells off (she played a similar role a decade later in All That Heaven Allows). And the fifth is The Seventh Cross, where she plays an Italian woman who helps Spencer Tracy escape Nazis. So yeah. I’d say she earned at the very least a nomination.

It’s also not a secret which way I’m voting with this category. I just wanted to present all my reasoning. I get Barrymore as the vote, and maybe you can take Jones as well. But for me, it’s Agnes.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Agnes Moorehead, Mrs. Parkington
  2. Ethel Barrymore, None But the Lonely Heart
  3. Jennifer Jones, Since You Went Away
  4. Angela Lansbury, Gaslight
  5. Aline MacMahon, Dragon Seed

Rankings (films):

  1. Since You Went Away
  2. Gaslight
  3. Dragon Seed
  4. None But the Lonely Heart
  5. Mrs. Parkington

My Vote: Agnes Moorehead, Mrs. Parkington

Recommendations:

Gaslight is kind of an essential film. Put it this way, if you love Hitchcock (and everyone does), then you’ll love this movie. Because it’s basically that. Really well done, great performances, and just a wonderful film. See it.

Since You Went Away is a solid film. Very important for the war years, and basically an essential film if you’re a movie buff and are into film history.

Dragon Seed is loaded with cast, and it’s actually a solid film. Well made. The whites playing Asians is troubling, but once you get past that, it’s actually a good film. Don’t need to see it at all, but I recommend it.

None But the Lonely Heart is actually a good film. I didn’t care for it the first time I saw it, but I’ve come around after seeing it again. I think it was because the quality of it was bad, and it’s a slow drama. Not the kind of movie I was expecting. But it’s a good character study and worth seeing.

Mrs. Parkington is a melodrama. Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Decent. Don’t love it. Not essential or necessary to see at all. You’ll know better than I would if you think you want to see this.

The Last Word: Relatively open category. I don’t think anyone takes MacMahon, and I don’t think anyone actually takes Lansbury, but I guess you could think about making that case. Jones is a tough one. I feel like she could be the vote, but don’t know if anyone actually would take her. And then Moorehead and Barrymore are the two that make the most sense. This was the perfect situation for a Barrymore win, so I get it. But I can’t get over Moorehead and how many awesome performances she had this year, so that’s why I took her. Otherwise, Barrymore is a solid choice.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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