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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1945-1946)

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.

1945

Eve Arden, Mildred Pierce

Ann Blyth, Mildred Pierce

Angela Lansbury, The Portrait of Dorian Gray

Joan Lorring, The Corn Is Green

Anne Revere, National Velvet

Analysis:

Mildred Pierce is a noir melodrama. Mostly a melodrama, but framed like a noir. It starts with a murder, and then we flash back to how we got there.

Eve Arden plays a restaurant worker who befriends Mildred when she gets a job as a waitress and remains her friend throughout her success. Eventually she becomes her right hand woman when she runs her own restaurant. She’s very much the wise-cracking type. The sassy friend character. Like… what’s a good example later on… Diane Ladd in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. It’s more of a comic role, but she’s really solid in it. Though honestly, with two performances in this film, this clearly is the lesser of the two. I don’t see how you take this performance over Blyth’s.

Ann Blyth plays Mildred’s daughter Veda. Who is just the worst child in the world. The film is really a two-hander, even though it’s made to look like Mildred’s story. Veda is only concerned with being rich and having a place in high society, and can’t stand her mother having working jobs. She openly mocks her. And yet Mildred does everything she can to provide a better life for her daughter. And even when Mildred becomes successful, Veda still doesn’t respect her.

Just watch the performance. It’s a hell of a job by Blyth. You really don’t like this girl. She’s for sure top two in the category, and may well even be the choice.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a famous story. Guy has a painting that ages instead of him. And the worse things he does, the worse the painting looks. The painting reflects all the horrible things he does. It’s a great film. Really, really well done.

Angela Lansbury plays a small, but crucial role in the beginning of the film. She’s the person that’s only on screen for a few minutes, but makes a definite mark, and her absence is felt for the rest of the movie.

She plays a singer who meets and falls in love with Dorian. Most of her screen time is her singing. But the two fall in love, and eventually Dorian is persuaded to break it off with her in order to live a life of… you know, sinful pleasures. It’s that moment where he has to decide between a life of love or an unfulfilled life of sex and so forth. So he chooses that, and Lansbury kills herself.

She really doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but it’s well-utilized when she is on screen. I don’t know if I can rank her any higher than fifth. She’s really not in the film all that much.

The Corn Is Green is a pretty simple film. It’s a Bette Davis melodrama where she plays a woman determined to educated a poor mining town. No one really wants to be educated, so she thinks about giving up, until one student shows up. The student is John Dall, who decides he’d rather not be poor, uneducated, and end up with the life that was laid out for him (you know, the mine worker you see in all those movies, who goes and spends almost all his wages on the drink after work and churns out kid after kid until he dies from overwork or an accident).

Joan Lorring plays a local girl who has her sights set on Dall. She constantly tempts him, and is basically the temptation to not continue with his higher education and sink back down into the life he’d have lived otherwise. She does pretty much everything he can to keep him from studying, and eventually gets him to get her pregnant. And then promptly blackmails him for money to raise the child. She’s really quite an unlikable character here, and does a great job making you not like her.

She’s very memorable here, and some people might consider voting for her. I could see that. Though I feel like she’s destined to end up in that dreaded #3 territory for me. We’ll see.

National Velvet is one of my favorite films on all the Oscar Quest. There’s something so perfect about it.

It’s about a family in a small town. Elizabeth Taylor is the youngest daughter, who loves a local horse and wants nothing more than to own it. One day, she wins the horse in a raffle and decides to enter it into the Grand National, the annual steeplechase race. Eventually she ends up, with the help of Mickey Rooney, training to ride the horse herself in the race. It’s so wonderful.

Anne Revere plays Taylor’s mother. It’s a sort of Ma role. Except she gets an actual character here. She’s the laid back, sarcastic, but loving mother, who knows more than she says. She’s constantly keeping her husband in his place, and it’s clear there’s a real partnership there. As a child, she swam the English Channel, and her trainer in doing so was actually Mickey Rooney’s father. She allows Taylor to have this dream, and even gives her all the money she needs in order to do it.

She has a terrific scene where she shows Taylor all the clippings from when she swam the channel and says that everyone deserves to go for a dream once in their life, and gives her all the money she needs to enter the race, straight from her winnings from swimming the channel. It gets me every time.

It’s not the best performance in the bunch. She’s very good, but it’s the role that gets me more than the actual performance. It’s gonna be difficult to pick a winner here.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I’m so torn as to what to do.

We’ll start by taking Lansbury and Arden right off the top. Lansbury is not nearly in the film enough to warrant a vote from me, and Arden isn’t the best nominated performance in her film. So that’s two off the top right there.

Lorring is very good, and a case could be made for her, but in terms of characters who are really unlikable and great performances by their actresses, she’s not the best one in the category.

So that leaves the other two choices — Ann Blyth and Anne Revere. Between the two, I feel Blyth gives the better performance, but Revere… I just love that character so much. It’s a really tough decision, because I know I’m gonna take Revere, and I know Blyth gave the better pure performance. But then, if you really love a character and how the character comes across in a film, isn’t that the performance? I don’t know. I still think Blyth is the best in the category, but I still want to take Revere. It kills me, but sometimes I’m a sucker.

But I will let cooler heads prevail. I’ll take Blyth, because she honestly deserved it. But I’m very okay with Revere having won.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Ann Blyth, Mildred Pierce
  2. Anne Revere, National Velvet
  3. Joan Lorring, The Corn Is Green
  4. Eve Arden, Mildred Pierce
  5. Angela Lansbury, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Rankings (films):

  1. National Velvet
  2. Mildred Pierce
  3. The Picture of Dorian Gray
  4. The Corn Is Green

My Vote: Ann Blyth, Mildred Pierce

Recommendations:

National Velvet is, in my mind, an essential film. It’s probably not, but it just makes me so happy, and it’s one of those films I feel people should see as children, because it makes you feel so happy inside. I like it because it’s sweet and unassuming, encourages children to chase a dream, and because it’s essentially a sports movie. The horse race at the end is positively thrilling. You know how you get that feeling at the end of sports movies when the team wins? You get that here. Why would you not want to feel that? This movie should be seen by all, and to me, it’s essential.

Mildred Pierce is also probably an essential movie. It won Best Actress, so Oscar buffs need to see it. But otherwise, it’s a melodrama/noir, and has great performances, and is just one of the great movies of the 40s. For some reason I can’t tell how essential it is, but I feel like it is, so I’ll just call it essential. Because most film fans would enjoy it.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a really solid film. Well made. Not a classic, or a film that requires being seen, but it’s good, and I do recommend it if you have the chance.

The Corn Is Green is a Bette Davis melodrama. If you like those, you’ll think this is fine. You don’t need to see it, but it’s worth seeing for the supporting performances, specifically Lorring’s.

The Last Word: While a case could be made for Joan Lorring, I feel as though this category is either between Ann Blyth or Anne Revere. Revere gives the sentimental performance, and I feel like most people wouldn’t take her, even though my heart wants to vote for her all the way. But, after seeing Mildred Pierce, it’s hard to deny this to Ann Blyth. What she does with that character is truly impressive. It’s a two hander with her and Crawford, and I feel like if Crawford wins, it’s only fitting that Blyth wins too. They both made each other better in this movie. Either is a good choice. I’m very happy with Revere having won, even though I feel Blyth was overall the better performance.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1946

Ethel Barrymore, The Spiral Staircase

Anne Baxter, The Razor’s Edge

Lillian Gish, Duel in the Sun

Flora Robson, Saratoga Trunk

Gale Sondergaard, Anna and the King of Siam

Analysis:

The Spiral Staircase is a great thriller. Incredibly well-directed.

It’s about a serial killer who murders disabled women. So we follow Dorothy McGuire as she cares for an invalid, played by Ethel Barrymore. And naturally the murderer makes his way to the house…

Barrymore gets to play the old woman who has an idea of what’s going on and keeps telling McGuire to leave, but is unable to do anything to help her. Of course, you know, until the end. She’s the cranky bedridden woman who rambles a bunch but also is completely right and powerless to do anything about it.

She’s fine, but no. She’s coming off a win two years earlier, and doesn’t do a whole lot in this movie. The problem is, the category is so weak she might end up accidentally being in contention simply because of extenuating circumstances.

The Razor’s Edge is the big, classy adaptation of this year. Based on a novel, big production values. This is the definition of a classical Hollywood “A” film.

 

Tyrone Power is a guy who doesn’t care for social climbing and being sophisticated, so he breaks off his engagement and goes to live abroad. Ten years later, he comes back, and checks in with his friends. He gets involved with them, sees that they’re still basically the same people they were, and pretty much decides, “Yeah, this isn’t for me,” and goes back abroad. That’s the story in a nutshell. Other stuff happens, but that’s broad strokes.

Anne Baxter plays Power’s childhood friend. She’s the one who settles into a nice marriage. Brenda and Eddie. You know how that works. They’re the couple that’s got it all figured out. Until, of course, something happens. In this case, she loses her husband and child in a car crash. She becomes a drunk. And when Power comes back, he works to get her back on her feet, and even decides to marry her to keep her sober. But then, Gene Tierney, who was Power’s original fiancée, is jealous, so she manipulates Baxter into falling off a wagon and disappearing on a bender. She’s later murdered.

Baxter is great in the role. And honestly, in a category like this, there’s really no one else to even consider voting for, making her one of the easiest winners I’ve ever seen. It’s open and shut pretty much before you even get to how good she is in the part. So that’s nice.

Duel in the Sun is a film you’ll have heard of if you are really into film or take a film history class. (If you’re really big into Scorsese, you’ll also come across it. He cites it as the first film he saw in a theater.)

It’s a big romantic epic set in the desert. Jennifer Jones (playing Mexican, naturally) whose father kills her mother, so she’s sent off to live with his family. She then is torn between the family’s two sons, Joseph Cotten and Gregory Peck. Cotten is a gentleman, and Peck is the bad boy. Naturally, she picks Peck, and they have a pretty volatile relationship, to put it mildly.

Lillian Gish plays the mother of the family. She had pretty much retired by this point, and came back for this role. That, coupled with David O. Selznick being the producer (and pretty much the director) pretty much guaranteed she’d be nominated. The amount of respect they have for her — that’s what this is. Like Ruby Dee in American Gangster, or Lauren Bacall in The Mirror Has Two Faces. The nomination that’s about the person more than the performance.

She’s pretty much just the happy mother who is glad to take in the half-breed girl, when her husband is not. She mostly gets to stand by and look afraid while everything happens around her. She’s not the focal point of any scene she’s in until she dies. She gets one scene where she’s sad Cotten is leaving home and a death scene.

She doesn’t get a whole lot to do in this movie, and there’s no way you can actually vote for her on performance alone. If you’re taking her, you’re clearly doing it because she’s Lillian Gish. Her performance is a real throwback too. Her vocal inflections sound like they’re coming out of the 30s. Like Glinda, but without a squeaky voice.

But really, go back and watch this. Looking at the category, seeing her here might trick you into thinking she’s worth a vote, but when you see how little a performance there is, there’s no way you can really vote for her.

Saratoga Trunk is a whatever film. Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. They’re in New Orleans, trying to get revenge on society for wronging them in some way. Doesn’t matter. I don’t much care for the film, and the film isn’t what we’re talking about here. We need to spend all the time we can to talk about the performance of Flora Robson.

I believe the best way to describe Robson’s performance in this movie is “oh dear god.”

She plays a cajun mammy (no, I am not kidding) and she looks like this:

This is what she looks like in real life:

I think you get the picture.

You know what this character is? This character is what Robert Downey Jr.’s character was doing in Tropic Thunder. I cannot believe that this performance was even allowed to happen, let alone be nominated for an OSCAR.

There aren’t that many clips of this online, so I can’t find you a good one that plainly shows what I’m talking about (but you can find a few small ones on TCM where she appears). It’s so fucking offensive (and it’s not even the only one in the category!) that I can’t even think to consider this for a vote. I might rank this as the lowest Best Supporting Actress nominee of all time if I were to even attempt to do such a thing (I won’t. Certainly not on my own, anyway. Maybe as part of a committee or something where we could discuss it, sure, but not on my own). This is by far the most racist performance I’ve seen nominated for an Academy Award.

Anna and the King of Siam is the non-musical version of The King and I. So if you know the story of The King and I, you know this movie.

The rundown: schoolteacher arrives in Siam to educate the king’s many children. The king has very defined ideas about how things are supposed to be. She has very different ideas and does not automatically bow to him. He likes that. That’s pretty much the story. There’s more to it, but seriously, you should know this story. It’s really famous.

Sondergaard plays the king’s head wife, meaning the first wife, among his many mistresses. So she’s the one with the most seniority whom he respects the most, even though he hasn’t really been romantically interested in her in a while. But she’s the one who gave birth to the son who will be king. So her only goal is to make sure the son becomes educated so he can be as great a king as he can.

She’s really empathetic in the role, and this is the one nomination of hers I actually do understand. She does a great job with it and you really feel for her. However… she is a white woman playing Asian. And I’m just not okay with that. She gets ranked third based on performance, but she’s not getting voted for at all because I can’t condone the racism aspect. So she’s out. Sorry, but everyone has things they just won’t do.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Not much to reconsider. Robson is right off the top, not even gonna consider her. The part is too racist. Sondergaard legit makes second on performance alone, but again, yellowface. Not voting for her. So that’s two.

Gish is there because she’s Lillian Gish and there’s nothing in the performance for me to vote for. So she’s out.

So without any effort, we have either Anne Baxter or Ethel Barrymore. And it’s not even a competition. Baxter wins this every day including Sunday. The performance speaks for itself, and in this category, she wins handily.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Anne Baxter, The Razor’s Edge
  2. Gale Sondergaard, Anna and the King of Siam
  3. Ethel Barrymore, The Spiral Staircase
  4. Lillian Gish, Duel in the Sun
  5. Flora Robson, Saratoga Trunk

Rankings (films):

  1. Duel in the Sun
  2. The Spiral Staircase
  3. Anna and the King of Siam
  4. The Razor’s Edge
  5. Saratoga Trunk

My Vote: Anne Baxter, The Razor’s Edge

Recommendations:

Duel in the Sun is the most essential film in this category. It’s David O. Selznick, it’s big and colorful and romantic, and it crosslists a lot, historically. Not all-time essential, but maybe film buff essential. Or maybe film student essential. You know what I mean? If you study film, you should see this. If you simply like movies, it could go either way. Depends on what kind of film buff you are. I recommend it though. It’s good.

The Razor’s Edge is pretty good. I don’t love it, but it’s fine. Decent film with a solid cast. Baxter is great, and she won, making it essential for Oscar buffs. Regular movie buffs should consider it something they might want to check out, but aren’t obligated to see it.

The Spiral Staircase is a great thriller. This is the film on this list I’d recommend most on pure entertainment value. Very well made, and just a terrific film all around. I call it essential. Meaning, if I’m making the list, you’re seeing this because you’re gonna enjoy it.

Anna and the King of Siam is a good film. And it’s the same story as The King and I, which you need to see. So why not see this too? It’s easy. The story is good and the acting is great. Check it out. You don’t need to, but you should because it’s worth a watch.

Saratoga Trunk is… a film. It’s Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. So I guess there’s that. I don’t particularly like it. Maybe it’s worth seeing because Robson’s performance is so racist it should be seen what Hollywood did back in this era for minority characters. Otherwise I’m not the person to recommend this film outside of the leads.

The Last Word: It’s Baxter. Not sure who else one votes for if not Baxter. Barrymore again? Sondergaard is good, maybe her? It’s not Gish. If you’re voting Gish, I’d be curious to see if you actually saw all the performances. And it’s definitely not Robson. That’s just — yeah. This seems like an easy Baxter vote for all.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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