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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1949-1950)

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.

1949

Ethel Barrymore, Pinky

Celeste Holm, Come to the Stable

Elsa Lanchester, Come to the Stable

Mercedes McCambridge, All the King’s Men

Ethel Waters, Pinky

Analysis:

Only three films in this category. Rare to get the double double nomination.

Pinky is the race version of Gentleman’s Agreement. Also directed by Elia Kazan.

Jeanne Crain is a half-black woman returning to the south to visit her mother. She’d been passing as white in the north and even has a white fiancée. And as soon as she returns, she sees all the inherent racism toward her just because she’s part black. She nurses an old woman who dies and leaves her estate to her, which causes a giant stir. They figure she made her sign the documents illegally and want to take it away from her. Racial injustice.

Ethel Barrymore plays the old woman. She’s feisty and loud, and we think she’s a racist, but we realize that she actually cared for Crain’s mother when she was sick. Crain gradually grows to like her. And then of course she dies and leaves behind her house, which is a nice final gesture.

The performance is solid, and she’s definitely someone you could vote for. But we’ve seen Barrymore play the strong-willed, dying, bedridden woman before. This time she gets to be the secretly not-racist woman, so that’s nice.

Ethel Waters plays Crain’s mother. It’s a mother role, but we get the added bonus of the race angle. She’s the uneducated woman who wants her daughter to succeed. I don’t really remember her having all that much to do. I’m torn between thinking Barrymore had the better performance but wanting Waters to win more, simply because I’d rather see the strong black woman get the Oscar over the old white lady who gets nominated a bunch. That said, in the end, I’ll be taking neither of them, so it really doesn’t matter.

Come to the Stable is a film about two nuns building a hospital. Seriously.

Two nuns arrive in a small town in Connecticut and say they’re gonna build a hospital there. There’s some convoluted reason for them doing so, but that’s what they’re doing. And they have to go convince a rich dude in order to give them the land, because he owns it. And then they have to raise more money, and the whole thing culminates in a tennis match — you can’t make this shit up.

I’m not a fan of this movie. It’s overly sentimental, and I’m not a fan of any movie where prayer is used to overcome obstacles.

Celeste Holm plays one of the nuns. She’s a tennis pro. I mean… she’s Celeste Holm, so we like her, but there’s no way anyone in their right mind would vote for these performances. She’s also basically the co-lead of the picture. So it’s category fraud at that.

Elsa Lanchester plays a woman whose painting of a hill is the reason the nuns came to build the church. So she helps them out. That’s pretty much it. She’s just kind of there for most of the movie. She’s Elsa Lanchester, so we like her. But again, nothing in this performance is worth voting for. Both her and Holm’s performances are really slight compared to the other three, in terms of actual performance and just pure meaning. You’re gonna tell you you’d vote for something like this over Ethel Waters and what she represents? Good luck.

All the King’s Men is about the rise and fall of a politician. It’s an incredible film filled with great performances all around.

Huey Long is an idealistic politician who gives great speeches on the corner. But he doesn’t really get anywhere. He’s very popular, but cannot seem to win an election. And then slowly he starts resorting to dirty tactics and becoming more corrupt, and the more corrupt he becomes, the more successful he becomes. And eventually he becomes governor. And then we watch him slowly fall apart over the latter stages of the film.

Mercedes McCambridge plays a woman who shows up to be Long’s campaign manager. She’s no-nonsense and ruthless woman willing to do whatever it takes to get things done. She slowly corrupts Long, getting him to cheat on his wife and drink more.

She’s a really strong character, and completely unlike other characters of this era. She’s totally independent. She really does a fantastic job with the part and deserved this Oscar all the way.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: On a pure logic level, the two double nominations cancel each other out and it’s McCambridge’s category. But even without that, she gave the best performance. I don’t see how she’s not the vote here. Barrymore could be worth a vote, and Waters is good and on a certain level is also worth a vote, but this seems like a really easy win for McCambridge. Open and shut.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category and films):

  1. Mercedes McCambridge, All the King’s Men
  2. Ethel Barrymore, Pinky
  3. Ethel Waters, Pinky
  4. Celeste Holm, Come to the Stable
  5. Elsa Lanchester, Come to the Stable

My Vote: Mercedes McCambridge, All the King’s Men

Recommendations:

All the King’s Men is an essential film. Best Picture, Actor and Supporting Actress winner, and an all time great film. Film buffs (and Oscar buffs especially) need to see this movie.

Pinky is a really good film. Not as essential as Gentleman’s Agreement, but you should see it. It deals with race in an important way for 1949, is directed by Elia Kazan, and has great performances. See it.

Come to the Stable is not a film I can recommend. I don’t like religious movies, and I think this movie is utterly inconsequential. So if you think you want to see it, see it. I can’t really recommend it.

The Last Word: It’s McCambridge. There’s no one else you could take. Maybe one of the Pinky nominations, but I don’t see how they’re half as good as she is. This looks like a no-brainer for McCambridge and they made the right choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1950

Hope Emerson, Caged

Celeste Holm, All About Eve

Josephine Hull, Harvey

Nancy Olson, Sunset Boulevard

Thelma Ritter, All About Eve

Analysis:

Caged is a female noir. Or, I guess, White is the New Black.

A young girl (Eleanor Parker) is sent to prison. And the film is about her becoming hardened by prison, among the other criminals and the sadistic guards. It’s pretty great.

Hope Emerson plays the head nurse at the prison. She’s cruel and loves to torture her prisoners. She’s utterly corrupt and has the prisoners pay her for favors. She’s the kind of person who openly does illegal shit but they can never pin the rap on her and get her fired. She’s really solid in the part. You hate this woman. She’s so bad you just want someone to shank her by the end of the film.

It’s a very effective performance. You could make a case for voting for her. For sure. She’d be a #3 or a #2 in other years. Here, she’s up there for a vote. Strange category.

All About Eve is one of the most famous films of all time. You’ve heard of it.

A famous broadway actress is taken in by an adoring fan, and before long, it seems as though the woman is trying to take her place. Great, great stuff.

Celeste Holm plays one of Bette Davis’ closest friends, who unsuspectingly plays a part in her usurping by Anne Baxter. And by the time she figures it out, she’s already been implicated, so she can’t say anything without seeming as though she was in on it.

It’s a really strong performance. This is the kind of performance someone wins for. But she’d just won three years earlier, which may have played a part in why she didn’t win here. That and the double nomination, I’m sure. She’s also someone you could make a case for.

Thelma Ritter plays Birdie, Davis’ loyal housekeeper, who is the first casualty of Baxter. She’s the only one who immediately distrusts Baxter and doesn’t trust her motives, seeing through the false facade. But Baxter picks up on it and makes it so Davis alienates Ritter, making her look jealous, leading Ritter to quit.

Ritter’s only in about two or three scenes. I think she got nominated because it was her first real role, and she’s such a distinct actress that she stood out. She actually got nominated four years in a row in this category, that’s how much they liked her, with that Brooklyn accent. She doesn’t have much to do here, and I wouldn’t vote for this performance over Holm’s, moving her quickly to the back of the pack for the category.

Harvey is a wonderful comedy.

Jimmy Stewart is a lovable alcoholic who hangs out with an invisible rabbit named Harvey. It drives his family nuts. Eventually his sister tries to have him committed. Comedy ensues.

Josephine Hull plays Stewart’s sister, who tries to get him committed and ends up looking like the insane one at every turn. She’s the put-upon character of the screwball comedy. She’s good. Mostly manic. Not sure I love the performance enough to vote for it.

Sunset Boulevard is an all-time film. You should know what it’s about.

Nancy Olson plays a script reader who tears William Holden’s script apart, not knowing he’s the writer. But he respects her honesty, and eventually the two start working together to fix it up. They fall in love. She represents salvation for him, if only he can get away from Norma.

Olson is really solid here. I really enjoyed her work in this. I wouldn’t vote for her, but I did quite enjoy the performance. She’s probably fourth for me.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Wouldn’t take Ritter, wouldn’t take Olson. The other three are fair game. So we have Hull, Emerson and Holm.

Hull… nice performance, but very manic. Like I said, not sure I love it enough to vote for it. So that leaves Emerson and Holm. I don’t know if I like either of them for a vote.

I guess… fuck it, let’s take Emerson. I got nothing else, and at least she had a nice character going there. I don’t particularly love anyone else for the vote. Her character felt the most rounded to me.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Hope Emerson, Caged
  2. Josephine Hull, Harvey
  3. Celeste Holm, All About Eve
  4. Nancy Olson, Sunset Boulevard
  5. Thelma Ritter, All About Eve

Rankings (films):

  1. Sunset Boulevard
  2. All About Eve
  3. Harvey
  4. Caged

My Vote: Hope Emerson, Caged

Recommendations:

Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve are some of the most essential films you’ll ever have. If you haven’t seen them, and you’re reading up on the Oscars, I’m curious as to what you’re doing with yourself as a film buff.

Harvey is also an essential film. It’s an all-time comedy, and it’s hard not to love this movie. Jimmy Stewart is the best.

Caged is a great movie that I recommend very, very highly. As noirs go, it’s one of the best, and you should see it.

The Last Word: Actually kind of a wide open category, strangely. There’s no #1 here. I don’t think anyone would take Ritter or Olson, but I guess a case could be made. Hull is definitely an option. I took her last time, though much of that was because I loved the film more than anything. Still think she can be the choice though. Holm and Emerson are also solid choices. I didn’t really know what to do between the two of them. Holm is good, but I don’t know if her character had any real arc to it. She’s just a solid performance. At least Emerson, you openly hated her character, and she had a lot of layers going. So I feel pretty good taking her. She feels like a solid choice. I think you can make a case for most of the people in this category though. It’s not as open and shut as one might think.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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