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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1951-1952)

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.

1951

Joan Blondell, The Blue Veil

Mildred Dunnock, Death of a Salesman

Lee Grant, Detective Story

Kim Hunter, A Streetcar Named Desire

Thelma Ritter, The Mating Season

Analysis:

The Blue Veil is one of the forgotten films of Oscar history. It’s quite an interesting film, too.

Jane Wyman is a woman who loses a child and ends up becoming a nanny to another person’s child. And we follow her throughout the years as she ends up becoming nanny to many different children. It’s a nice film with a sentimental ending.

Joan Blondell plays one of the mothers whose children Wyman cares for. She’s an aging musical star trying to hold onto her youth. She’s so focused on trying to get work that she inadvertently neglects her own daughter. So Wyman becomes a surrogate mother. And it all comes to a head when she goes to an audition rather than attend her own daughter’s communion, and the daughter starts calling Wyman her mother instead of Blondell, leaving Wyman to quit the job to make Blondell have to care for her child and fix their relationship.

It’s a good performance. It’s too small within the film though to really be something to vote for. Though I guess you could. Sometimes small performances make an impact. It depends on the kind of category you have. This one… don’t think you can take this performance all the way to a vote.

Death of a Salesman is kind of a famous movie. You probably should have heard of it.

Mildred Dunnock plays Linda Loman. Biff’s supporting wife. She’s fine. Does a good job here. Don’t think you could vote for her though. My one critique of this film has always been that it feels like TV movie acting. They’re doing stage acting in a 1951 film. Compared to Streetcar (also on this list), it’s kinda hard to see these performances as the better ones.

Detective Story is a really interesting film. It’s a mix of docudrama and melodrama. It all takes place in a single police precinct over the course of a single day. We weave in and out of different stories as people come in and go out, and stories intersect and tie together in interesting ways.

Lee Grant plays the person basically involved in the frame story. She’s a relatively wealthy woman who was arrested trying to shoplift a purse worth $6. And she’s stuck in the precinct all day, just sitting there, watching all this. And she gets to go home at the end of the day. She gets a scene here and there as we transition from story to story. She’s amusing. Not a whole lot of substance. She’s one of those Thelma Ritter types who is a unique presence that sticks out more than anything. So I get why she was nominated. But you definitely wouldn’t take her here. This is a category full of 2s and 3s with really only one #1.

A Streetcar Named Desire is also kind of famous. Maybe you should have seen it before coming here. You probably have.

Kim Hunter is Stella. Yes, that Stella. She’s married to Stanley, and they have a… fun relationship. She’s incredible here. Everyone in the cast is. Can’t see how she isn’t automatically the vote given everyone else in the category.

The Mating Season is a wonderful film.

Thelma Ritter is a woman who runs a burger stand whose son has gone on to marry a rich woman. She can’t keep the stand going, so she decides to go see her son. When she gets there, his wife mistakes her for the cook she hired for her party. And Ritter doesn’t correct her. And through a whole series of mistaken identities, she ends up being the maid of the house. Ritter doesn’t say anything because she’s ashamed of her blue collar background and doesn’t want to make waves for her son. It’s a sweet little film.

Thelma Ritter is always great. Here’s the problem, though. She’s the lead. She’s the lead the way Charles Coburn is the lead of The More the Merrier. She’s great, but she shouldn’t be in this category. It’s category fraud. So I guess you could take her, but that feels a bit unfair. Plus I don’t know if you actually do take her next to Kim Hunter.

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The Reconsideration: Is there anything to reconsider? Is this not a cut and dry Kim Hunter vote? No one takes Dunnock here. I can’t imagine they do. Blondell is basically an extended cameo, though she is solid. Grant is a comic relief interlude in her film, though also solid. And Ritter is great but she’s really a lead and it’s not quite the same as what Hunter does in Streetcar. I think this is easily Hunter, with Blondell, Grant and/or Ritter as the “maybe in another year, but not this one” entries.

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Rankings (category):

  1. Kim Hunter, A Streetcar Named Desire
  2. Joan Blondell, The Blue Veil
  3. Thelma Ritter, The Mating Season
  4. Lee Grant, Detective Story
  5. Mildred Dunnock, Death of a Salesman

Rankings (films):

  1. A Streetcar Named Desire
  2. Detective Story
  3. The Blue Veil
  4. The Mating Season
  5. Death of a Salesman

My Vote: Kim Hunter, A Streetcar Named Desire

Recommendations:

A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the most essential films of all time. Bar none.

Death of A Salesman — nah. Don’t need to see it. You should read the play. That’s the thing you should do. Maybe see the Dustin Hoffman version. But even then, they didn’t really translate this perfectly to the screen in my mind. I don’t think you’re required to see a film version of it in your life. Reading the play is the thing you should do.

Detective Story is an awesome film. William Wyler for one. He’s always worthwhile. Plus a solid cast, and a different feel than most films of the era. The single day narrative and the laid back storytelling. It stands out. It’s a really solid film and is highly recommended.

The Blue Veil is a solid film. It’s like a 50s Mr. Holland’s Opus, where a nanny reaches a lot of children over her life and does a lot of good even though she is unable to live her own personal dream. Not essential in the least, but if you can find it (and it’s not easy), you should see it. It’s worth it. And you can then say you’ve seen it when almost no one can find it anymore.

The Mating Season is a really sweet and likable film. Nothing particularly memorable historically, but definitely a film that’s worth a watch. A nice little gem.

The Last Word: It’s Hunter. How can it not be? Maybe you want to think about Blondell or Grant or maybe Ritter, but it’s so clearly Kim Hunter that I don’t think anyone can really argue that.

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1952

Gloria Grahame, The Bad and the Beautiful

Jean Hagen, Singin’ in the Rain

Colette Marchand, Moulin Rouge

Terry Moore, Come Back, Little Sheba

Thelma Ritter, With a Song in My Heart

Analysis:

The Bad and the Beautiful is perhaps the greatest film made about Hollywood of all time.

Kirk Douglas is a douchebag producer who has, over the course of his career, alienated everyone around him. The film is a series of three stories, about how he’s fucked over three people in particular. And it’s great. One of the great films of all time.

The story we’re interested in particular in this category is the third story. Dick Powell is an author. Kirk Douglas wants to adapt it into a film, and wants Powell to write it himself. Powell wants nothing to do with Hollywood, so Douglas uses another route to get him… his wife. Gloria Grahame plays the wife. She wants the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, so Powell eventually agrees to go and write it to make her happy. But then once they get out there, Douglas gets annoyed that she’s keeping Powell from actually writing. So he engineers an affair between her and a hunky leading man actor. It ends tragically.

Grahame is an actress who is typically very good in limited roles. And this is no different. This is very unlike her usual roles, as the brash dame of a lower class. Here she’s a southern belle. It’s the B movie actress going classy. Like what Shelley Winters did (to the tune of two Oscars). The problem with this performance isn’t the performance itself but of how little there is of it. She’s barely on screen. She makes the most out of her scenes, so it’s not as bad as I used to think. She feels like someone you can legitimately vote for. Though even with the pros and the cons, she’s still in a tight race with at least one other person for the vote.

Singin’ in the Rain is a classic. You should have seen this movie by now.

Jean Hagen is the star whose voice does not translate from silent pictures to sound. She’s got that Judy Holliday voice that sounds awful. And she’s a really conceited character to boot. It all adds up to one hysterical performance.

Can you vote for her? Sure. I did last time. Do I think she should have won? Not necessarily. But she definitely creates a rounded character that stands out, which goes a long way to this category.

Moulin Rouge is yes, about the same place as the musical. And yes, it’s actually quite tremendous. Completely forgotten (directed by John Huston, so don’t think less of it) and definitely not the same, tonally, as the other film.

It’s a biopic of Toulouse-Lautrec (the dwarf painter that John Leguizamo played in the other version). He’s a pitiful alcoholic who paints for booze and food. He’s only four and a half feet tall because of a childhood accident, and is constantly in pain. His paintings perfectly capture Paris life, but he’s such a lonely person that any success he has is meaningless.

Marchand plays a prostitute who happens upon Lautrec one night as she’s about to be arrested. He helps her out, claiming she’s been with him. She charms her way into his life, taking advantage of how lonely he is. She swears she loves him, but basically takes his money and gifts and goes out with other men all night and lies to him. They have a volatile relationship. Fight constantly. Eventually he throws her out. But then starts drinking heavily. Eventually he is persuaded to go win her back, like in a romantic comedy. And when he gets there, he finds out she never really loved him and was using him to get money for her actual boyfriend. It… well, I was gonna say cripples him, but you know what I mean.

Marchand is really good in the part. She slinks around the set like a predator. She was a ballerina in real life, so that probably has something to do with it. She’s actually someone I would consider voting for in this category. I’m curious to see where I go in the end.

Come Back, Little Sheba is a hell of a movie. Very underrated film. Burt Lancaster to boot.

Lancaster is a recovering alcoholic whose life got thrown away when he dropped out of med school to support his wife, Shirley Booth, when she got pregnant. The kid died and she was left unable to have any more children, so he became a drunk. The film begins as a young college student rents a room in their house. Lancaster starts to develop a crush on her, which threatens to throw him off the wagon.

Moore plays the college student. She’s fine in the part. Basically there as temptation for Lancaster. She comes off like a stereotypical 50s high school student. That’s the part. She’s good, but I don’t think anyone puts her higher than fourth in the category.

With a Song in My Heart is a big, classy, musical biopic. Song and dancing, colors, and then the star overcoming adversity.

Susan Hayward is a singer who becomes paralyzed in a plane crash. Then she has to overcome the paralysis in order to go out and entertain the troops. It’s pretty by the numbers. It’s solid.

Thelma Ritter plays the nurse who helps her in her rehabilitation. She’s the one who pushes her to want to get better, and eventually becomes a friend. She gets those scenes where she gets to yell at Hayward, not caring that she’s paralyzed, refusing to feel sad for her, and giving her the strength to not become complacent. She’s actually really solid here. The category’s really strong, so I can’t put her any higher than fourth, but she’s actually got substance to this part and isn’t there because the role is something they’d nominate.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Strong category. Not sure if there’s a #1 in it though. They all feel like #2s and #3s.

Not voting for Ritter, not voting for Moore. Moore is solid, but not higher than five, maybe four. Ritter feels like a solid four. Then there’s Grahame, Marchand and Hagen.

The knock against Hagen is that it’s pretty much a one-note comedic performance. (There’s more to it than that, but that is a legitimate knock.) She’s annoying and hilarious. It’s great, but is this something you really vote for?

The thing against Grahame is, if we see more of her after Douglas sends in the actor to “keep her occupied,” then I can see this being the vote. But she literally disappears and then dies off screen. She gets no big scene at all. She’s just solid and then is gone.

The knock against Marchand is… I guess she’s a non-actor. Didn’t really make another movie outside of this. Maybe that her character is unlikable? I’m actually not seeing a hell of a lot of a knock against her other than you didn’t love the performance.

And honestly, I had an inkling this was going to happen. Before I even got back into this category, I thought about who I’d vote for. And I assumed it would be Grahame, but saw Marchand as the dark horse candidate. And to be honest… I think she’s gonna be the vote. I don’t love the Hagen performance for a vote, and Grahame really isn’t there enough for me to take her. I’m happy she won because I love her and love the film, but this performance is not in the film enough for me to take. So that leaves Marchand. I really like the performance and it’s a hell of a part. She’s my vote.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Colette Marchand, Moulin Rouge
  2. Jean Hagen, Singin’ in the Rain
  3. Gloria Grahame, The Bad and the Beautiful
  4. Thelma Ritter, With a Song in My Heart
  5. Terry Moore, Come Back, Little Sheba

Rankings (films):

  1. Singin’ in the Rain
  2. The Bad and the Beautiful
  3. Moulin Rouge
  4. Come Back, Little Sheba
  5. With a Song in My Heart

My Vote: Colette Marchand, Moulin Rouge

Recommendations:

Singin’ in the Rain is so essential you shouldn’t be reading this without having seen it. (Because how is that possible.)

The Bad and the Beautiful is also essential. But not stop what you’re doing, make sure you’ve seen it before continuing essential. Just film buff essential. If you love movies, you need to see this.

Moulin Rouge is incredible, and comes highly, highly recommended. It makes a good double feature with the Baz Luhrmann version. It’s depressing as shit, but it’s a great film. Not essential, but you should see it.

Come Back, Little Sheba is essential for Oscar buffs, because Shirley Booth won for it. It’s worth seeing because it’s a great drama and Burt Lancaster is great in it (as he’s pretty much great in everything). Worth it for movie buffs because of Lancaster. I give it a solid thumbs up.

With a Song in My Heart is a pretty standard biopic. Solid, worth a watch, but if you’re not into the actors or the genre, you can skip it. Not essential, and easily something you could not watch and not be missing much.

The Last Word: It’s a tough category. They’re all solid. I imagine most people take Grahame because she won, the film is great and because it feels like the easiest choice. Hagen will get some votes because she’s hilarious and because people love the film. I understand that. Marchand, if anyone even bothers to see the film before you cast a vote (which you really should be doing in all of these categories), is clearly worth a vote against any of these people. Moore and Ritter, I guess you could make a case for them, I just don’t know how many people would. Ritter especially. I feel like people might want to take her on reputation, resume and role alone over straight performance. I’d say… the two best cases to be made are probably Grahame and Marchand. But that’s just me. I’m taking Marchand because her performance felt the most fully realized to me.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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