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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1947-1948)

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.

1947

Ethel Barrymore, The Paradine Case

Celeste Holm, Gentleman’s Agreement

Gloria Grahame, Crossfire

Marjorie Main, The Egg and I

Anne Revere, Gentleman’s Agreement

Analysis:

The Paradine Case is Hitchcock, but Hitchcock doing a legal thriller. Not a joke. This is pretty much a court case. I couldn’t believe it. The film is great, but it doesn’t even feel like Hitchcock. But that’s probably because it’s a Selznick film that Hitchcock only did because he had to under contract.

Gregory Peck is a lawyer defending a woman of murdering her husband. He becomes fascinated by her and starts obsessing over the case. He’s so in love with her that if he doesn’t get her acquitted, it’ll haunt him forever. And because he’s so bent on getting her acquitted, he does some things that might end up ruining other peoples’ livesin order to make that happen.

Charles Laughton plays the judge in the case, who is very cold and almost sadistic toward Peck in the courtroom. And Barrymore plays Laughton’s wife. We go to Laughton’s home twice over the course of the film, and seeing Barrymore serves to tell us everything we need to know about Laughton. Remember American Beauty? Seeing Alison Janney sitting at the table like a zombie? That’s basically what Barrymore is to Laughton. Submissive, half-crazy, sitting there silently as he rules her entire life.

She’s really only in two scenes, but she’s great in them. For once, she’s finally not playing the same role I always see her play. Which is nice. Though she’s not in the movie at all, really, and it’s hard for me to actually consider her for a vote when she’s not even remotely essential to the film. It’s like an extended cameo. Her being there really only serves as character development for her husband, who actually is a major character in the film. She falls near the back of the pack for me in this category.

Gentleman’s Agreement is a hell of a film. Much more hard hitting in 1947 than it is now, but for those who watch a lot of older movies, you’ll see how frank the treatment of the subject matter is in this film. It stands out.

Gregory Peck is a magazine reporter looking for his new story. He decides to go undercover as a Jewish man to see how people treat him. So he does. And he realizes how anti-Semitic the population is. Even those who allow minor comments to be made and slip by unnoticed. It’s pretty fucked up what happens to him when people think he’s Jewish.

Celeste Holm plays a fashion editor at Peck’s magazine. She’s very charming, and liberal minded. She’s got a crush on Peck, and is disappointed that he’s not interested in her. And she has this nice scene at the end where she comes right out and says how she feels. But Peck wants nothing to do with it because he’s too in love with his girl. She has a great monologue about how people like his fiancée are too afraid to do anything, and need to step up and act in order to affect real change.

She’s really infatuating in this part. On the likability factor alone she rates highly in this category. Only she’s not really in the film all that much. That could hurt her in the end. But she’s good enough to make it through to the final two in the category. That much is clear.

Anne Revere plays Peck’s mother. Because of course she does. That’s what Anne Revere plays. Mothers. She also played John Garfield’s mother in Body and Soul this year. She plays pretty much the same role you’ve seen before, and she gets to have a heart condition too. The double whammy. Between her and Holm, Holm is clearly the one to vote for. That’s not to say Revere isn’t worthy, because she is. She plays the same type of role, but she puts enough nuance into each one that you buy it. I’m talking about it purely in terms of a vote. I’m not gonna keep taking essentially the same thing unless it really makes itself essential to the movie.

Crossfire is the B movie version of Gentleman’s Agreement.

A Jewish man is killed, and police investigate why. And it’s a procedural all the way through. They find out a bunch of soldiers were at a bar with the dude before he was killed. So they start interviewing the soldiers. And eventually we find out what happened.

Gloria Grahame plays a woman at the bar who picks up one of the soldiers. She’s the smart-mouthed dame with a vulnerable center. She gets a sweet scene with the soldier and then gets to get the second degree from cops, who clearly look down on her for being a tramp. She’s very strong in the film, but it’s only for two scenes. It’s hard for me to take her on the two scenes alone, but given the rest of the category, I have to consider it.

The Egg and I is the equivalent of Bridesmaids being here. It’s just a comedy starring a big female star. So to see someone be nominated for an Oscar from it is almost shocking.

Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray become chicken farmers. And the farm is a mess and as they try to fix it up, comedy ensues. That’s it. That’s the film.

Marjorie Main plays Ma Kettle. You may have heard of Ma and Pa Kettle. They were so successful in this film they spawned their own franchise. They’re a hillbilly couple with fifteen children. So many she can’t even remember their names sometimes. The hillbilly character was really famous during this era. So many of those kinds of TV shows, Beverly Hillbillies, etc. Something with this performance struck a cord with the country, because they made nine more films with these characters due to the success of this one. So I get why Main was nominated.

Now, the character is just okay. The nomination makes sense in context when you know how successful the character became. It would be like if Peter Sellers were nominated for Inspector Clouseau from the first Pink Panther, and then went on with all those sequels. You’d understand it. Otherwise, don’t think anyone would take this as the winner. She’s fifth for me. Maybe you put her slightly higher. Can’t imagine she’d be the vote.

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The Reconsideration: Not a fan of this category. Not a fan of any category where I can eliminate most of it before I even roll up my sleeves.

Revere plays the same role as before, so I’m not voting for her. Main is entertaining, but no. Barrymore is in two scenes, and so is Grahame. Grahame makes more of a mark with her screen time, so I’m more willing to go with her.

But even so, Celeste Holm is so captivating in her screen time, and at least has a big monologue and purpose to her scenes that I feel like she’s the easy choice. So I’m not gonna overthink it. Like 1946, there really only seems to be one choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Celeste Holm, Gentleman’s Agreement
  2. Gloria Grahame, Crossfire
  3. Ethel Barrymore, The Paradine Case
  4. Anne Revere, Gentleman’s Agreement
  5. Marjorie Main, The Egg and I

Rankings (films):

  1. Gentleman’s Agreement
  2. The Paradine Case
  3. Crossfire
  4. The Egg and I

My Vote: Celeste Holm, Gentleman’s Agreement

Recommendations:

Gentleman’s Agreement is an essential film. No questions asked. Best Picture winner, important film socially and historically within film — you must see this.

The Paradine Case is Hitchcock, and it’s a really solid thriller. Great performances. Gregory Peck is terrific here. Highly recommended. And in a way, most Hitchcock is essential. Though this is one of those hidden gem Hitchcock films, so you don’t need to view it as essential, but you should see it because it’s awesome.

Crossfire is kind of essential if you’re into film history. B movie nominated for Best Picture — Oscar buffs should see it. Otherwise, it’s just solid and worth a watch. Not something I’d say is completely essential.

The Egg and I is all right. Easy comedy. Nothing great, nothing terrible. It’s fine. You don’t need to see this at all.

The Last Word: Weak category. No one today would take Main here, I’m convinced. Revere is doing the same thing she’s done at least three times, so I can’t see people actually wanting to take her again (don’t make the mistake of taking her because you didn’t take her before. That’s not how to do this. Though I guess technically you could do that, since people do that now. But it’s getting away from the point of it all for me). Barrymore’s in two scenes, even though she’s solid. So maybe some people would want to take her. Grahame also is only in two scenes, but is solid. Some people might want to take her for that. But to me, it’s all Holm. Since she has enough scenes to warrant a performance, has at least somewhat of a tragic arc, and gets a big scene with a monologue and some emotions at the end to seal it. So she’s the vote for me. I feel like the category is either Holm or Grahame for the vote for most people. I think they made the right decision.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1948

Barbara Bel Geddes, I Remember Mama

Ellen Corby, I Remember Mama

Agnes Moorehead, Johnny Belinda

Jean Simmons, Hamlet

Claire Trevor, Key Largo

Analysis:

I Remember Mama is such a wonderfully sentimental film. A Norwegian girl reminisces about her childhood. We see her and her brother and sisters growing up poor, trying to make ends meet, helping each other out. The story of an immigrant family, basically. And there are a lot of little vignettes throughout, much like in A Christmas Story. It plays like that. It’s really saccharine, but I don’t care. I love it.

Barbara Bel Geddes plays the oldest daughter of the family, who narrates the film. The Academy loved this kind of role. They nominated it a few times. She’s… there. She’s in it a lot, but doesn’t have a whole bunch to do. She’s probably fifth in the category, even if her part in the movie was more substantial than Corby’s.

Ellen Corby plays Mama’s sister. She wants to get married to the local undertaker, and it’s a source of comedy for most of the film. She’s the nervous, shy one who can never get out what she wants to say. She’s so worried about getting permission from the family, yet no one seems to care, because she’s 40. She’s present throughout the film, but doesn’t really get a lot of stuff to do. But she’s funny. So there’s that. No one would vote for either peformance in this movie.

Johnny Belinda is a film that I went into with absolutely zero expectations and came out loving. To the point where I’d put it on my ten favorite films from the entire Oscar Quest that I hadn’t seen before.

Lew Ayres is a doctor coming to a countryside town. He meets a family with a mute daughter, Jane Wyman. They run a farm and since she can’t speak, they think she’s stupid. But Ayres realizes she’s not, she just has no ability to communicate. So he slowly works to teach her sign language. And she really blossoms (and falls in love with him, even though it’s unrequited). And one day, a local asshole from the town rapes her and she gets pregnant. And she doesn’t tell anyone what happened, so naturally everyone assumes it’s the doctor…

Agnes Moorehead plays Wyman’s aunt. She works hard to keep the farm going, and doesn’t have time for nonsense. When Belinda gets pregnant, she gets really concerned for her and realizes she had her all wrong. She immediately starts doting on her. And when Belinda’s father dies she works extra hard to keep the farm afloat. It’s a really solid, backbone kind of performance.

I’ve taken Agnes Moorehead every time she’s been nominated, because she’s that good. Normally I’d take her here, but this time I really need to go back and watch Key Largo again and reevaluate Claire Trevor. Last time I know I took Moorehead strictly because of how much I loved the film. She’s still gonna be top two, it’s just a matter of whether or not I take her.

Hamlet is Hamlet. You know the story, you know what happens. I don’t need to tell you anything.

Simmons plays Ophelia, in case you couldn’t guess. (If someone’s nominated for Supporting Actress for Hamlet, it’s probably Ophelia.)

She’s good here. Not someone I’d vote for. She does an admirable job, but it’s Shakespeare, and this far into the Oscars, there’s not a lot of Shakespeare that makes me want to vote for it. She’d probably be fourth for me most years, but here she manages to make third. Not gonna make it anywhere near a vote though.

Key Largo is a classic noir.

I’d like to point out that Walter Huston directed both Supporting Oscar winners this year… for separate films. That’s a nice bit of trivia.

Bogart plays a former soldier who comes to visit his friend’s father’s hotel to pay his respects (the friend died saving his life in the war). There, he meets Edward G. Robinson, a gangster holed up there, waiting to escape to Mexico. A storm comes in, and everyone is trapped together in the hotel. Everything starts to boil up in the heat until an eventual confrontation. It’s a great film.

Trevor plays the alcoholic girlfriend of Edward G. Robinson. She’s a fun drunk, then she’s a pitiful drunk, who will do anything for a drink, then she’s the sad woman in a horrible relationship. She gets put upon for the entire film, until finally she can’t take it anymore and starts to help the good guys.

She has one great scene where Robinson makes her sing a song for a drink, and she does it. And it’s completely off-key and just sad and humiliating as shit, because it’s basically describing her entire situation. For sure top two for the vote, and it’s gonna be between her and Moorehead.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: The I Remember Mama nominations seem to cancel each other out. They’re fine, but I don’t think anyone would take them. Simmons ends up third by chance.

This category is really only between Moorehead and Trevor. They’re both awesome. And normally my inclination is to take Moorehead, but after watching Trevor again, and seeing that scene where she sings — it’s her Oscar all the way. There’s no denying that. Moorehead is great, but even I won’t take her this time, and I’m usually looking for a reason to take her.

This is Claire Trevor’s category in a very definitive way.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Claire Trevor, Key Largo
  2. Agnes Moorehead, Johnny Belinda
  3. Jean Simmons, Hamlet
  4. Ellen Corby, I Remember Mama
  5. Barbara Bel Geddes, I Remember Mama

Rankings (films):

  1. Johnny Belinda
  2. I Remember Mama
  3. Key Largo
  4. Hamlet

My Vote: Claire Trevor, Key Largo

Recommendations:

Hamlet is the greatest cinematic telling of this play there’s been. Well, this and the Branagh version are tied. The Branagh version is the full, four hour version, while this one is the streamlined version that gives you everything you need to know. It’s essential because everyone should see the best Shakespeare on film at least once. Plus it won Best Picture and Best Actor (in a competitive year, at that). All around essential.

Key Largo is John Huston directing Bogart, Bacall and Edward G. Robinson. An all-time noir. How essential can a film get? Why would a film fan willingly skip this?

Johnny Belinda is such a wonderful film. I love it so much. Jane Wyman is breathtaking, and all the performances are fantastic. It’s kind of a melodrama, but the way its set up — I love it. I think people ought to see it, but wouldn’t dare call it essential (though it is for Oscar buffs. Won Best Actress and was the most nominated film of the year), but I can recommend it very, very highly.

I Remember Mama is a great film. Not essential, and some people might hate it if they’re not into sentiment in their films. But I love this. I like films that are built on memories of someone looking back to their childhood. I think it’s wonderful, and recommend it highly.

The Last Word: The only two worth taking are Trevor and Moorehead. Both are solid choices. Maybe someone makes a case for Simmons, but I don’t see it. I think Trevor takes this handily (though I’d be okay with a Moorehead vote). There’s really no denying her after you see that performance.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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