The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1953-1954)

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.

1953

Grace Kelly, Mogambo

Geraldine Page, Hondo

Marjorie Rambeau, Torch Song

Donna Reed, From Here to Eternity

Thelma Ritter, Pickup on South Street

Analysis:

Mogambo is a remake of Red Dust from 1932.

It’s a pretty simple plot, actually. Ava Gardener shows up deep in the African jungle. She meets up with Clark Gable, a hunter, who is about to take Grace Kelly and her husband out on safari. Both women are attracted to Gable. That’s pretty much the movie. Women really wanna fuck Clark Gable in the jungle.

Grace Kelly is really good in this movie. She’s the repressed and prudish wife who falls in love with another man. It’s a strong performance. Some people might hate it, but I think it’s a really impressive piece of work. She’s definitely someone you could vote for, and I feel like I may have done so last time. Or, if not, I didn’t do so for logistics reasons, which are not relevant to this go-through. So she’s definitely in play.

Hondo is one of my favorite trivia titles of the 50s. I don’t love the movie, but I love it because it’s a movie that’s 80 minutes long and contains an intermission. It’s also based on a Louis L’Amour novel. So there’s that.

Geraldine Page (the lead of the movie) and her son encounter John Wayne. He’s been injured in what he says was a fight with some Injuns, so they take him in and hire him to work on the ranch, since her husband has been gone for a while. Apaches start to attack the land, and he has to help them defend it. Oh, and there’s the issue of whether or not Wayne actually killed her husband.

The movie’s fine. Page is good. She was a respected stage actress in her first film. That’s the main reason for the nomination. And because she wasn’t a known commodity, they put her supporting, even though she’s clearly a co-lead of the picture. That happens all the time, and should surprise no one. The performance is good. Don’t think anyone could have her higher than fourth in this category. Maybe third.

Torch Song is a film that I remember thinking was one of the most boring films I watched on the entire Oscar Quest. It’s a Joan Crawford melodrama, but about ten years too late. Everything about it is from a bygone era, and it just feels tired. Oh, and she’s also in blackface. In (Techni)color. That’s also kinda troubling.

Crawford is a stage actress who is too demanding on everyone around her. The only person who stands up to her is her blind pianist. Naturally, romance can blossom and break her out of her hard shell. But then there’s the douchebag socialite who threatens it… you know the drill.

Rambeau plays Crawford’s mother. She doesn’t show up until about an hour into the movie. All her scenes are her rambling on about nonsense, and subtly manipulating her daughter for money. But not in a malicious way. Almost in a guilting kind of way. Eventually the two of them have a heart to heart, where Rambeau mysteriously remembers a phrase written in a review of Crawford years earlier, that just happens to be the key to Crawford’s relationship problems being fixed.

She’s fine in the part. Memorable, does a good job with the character. Mostly I think they nominated her because she’s a veteran. I could take it or leave it. Definitely wouldn’t vote for her. Probably fifth. Maybe you could make a case for fourth. She does chug an entire glass of beer in her final moment, so there is that.

From Here to Eternity is kind of a famous movie. You probably shouldn’t need me to tell you about it.

To put it simply — it’s about a bunch of soldier stationed on a Hawaiian base in the days leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. There are a lot of personal stories interwoven, and it’s a great drama.

Donna Reed plays a prostitute who has lofty aspirations to… a hooker with a heart of gold. Let’s just cut to the chase. She falls for Clift, tells him her real name, leaves a busy night to be with him… she’s the romantic side character.

She’s fine. I don’t think the performance is really worth voting for on its own, but I can totally see how she managed to win in this category. I have at least one other person over her, possibly two. We’ll see where it ends up.

Pickup on South Street is such an awesome film. Sam Fuller was hit and miss, but when he hit, did he really hit.

Richard Widmark picks a woman’s pocket on the train. Unfortunately for him, the woman’s wallet had some secret microfilm that contains government secrets. She was bringing the wallet to her boyfriend, not knowing he’s a spy for the communists. So now the cops and the communists are all after him, and the stakes (unbeknownst to him) are incredibly high

Thelma Ritter plays an informant. She’s utterly captivating in the role. It’s a very Thelma Ritter performance. She’s so good here. She gives information to the cops, and relishes doing so. She knows she’s got all the power, so she sells them ties and is deliberately obtuse. Makes them describe all these minute details, even though she already knows who it is, and shakes them down for a payday.

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The Reconsideration: Rambeau and Page are out right off the top. Wouldn’t vote for them. And then Reed — I like her and I like the part, but I don’t think the performance (or the screen time, really) is there. So no to her.

That leaves Kelly and Ritter. Both are really solid and both worth a vote. And to be honest… I just really love what Thelma Ritter did in Pickup on South Street. I saw it for the first time four years before I did the Quest, and she was the most memorable part of the movie for me. And when I wrote it up, I hadn’t seen the performance in years, and even so, I still probably had her right there for a vote. Well, I saw it again, and she’s my choice. Kelly is a close second, and is also right there on performance, but I’m taking Ritter.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Thelma Ritter, Pickup on South Street
  2. Grace Kelly, Mogambo
  3. Donna Reed, From Here to Eternity
  4. Geraldine Page, Hondo
  5. Marjorie Rambeau, Torch Song

Rankings (films):

  1. From Here to Eternity
  2. Pickup on South Street
  3. Mogambo
  4. Hondo
  5. Torch Song

My Vote: Thelma Ritter, Pickup on South Street

Recommendations:

From Here to Eternity is an all-time essential film. Best Picture winner, astounding cast, iconic imagery. On title alone you should know it’s essential.

Pickup on South Street is a great film. An all-time noir. It’s a cold war spy noir. Which — fuck yes. It’s not all-time essential, but I recommend it very, very highly, and for my money, it’s something you should see. I say it’s essential viewing for film buffs. If you love movies, you owe it to yourself to see this.

Mogambo is John Ford, Clark Gable, Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner. If that doesn’t interest you, I don’t know what else to tell you. It’s not essential, but on cast alone, you should probably want to see it if you love movies. It’s also really solid.

Hondo is okay. John Wayne western. Those are always watchable. Plus it’s literally only 80 minutes. That’s nothing. You can watch that. I recommend it, but it’s not essential enough that you have to see it if you don’t like westerns. You can skip this and be fine.

Torch Song is not essential, and I don’t particularly like it all that much. If you think it’ll interest you, by all means, go for it. But this one’s not for me.

The Last Word: Ritter, Reed and Kelly are the three worth voting for here. You can make a case for all three. I think we can all agree that Reed is the lesser of the three performances. Kelly’s is the most divisive, I feel. And then Ritter is just awesomely solid and I don’t think anyone would deny that. I feel like I’d want to take Reed sentimentally, and I get that decision. And then I couldn’t argue with a Kelly decision either. But this time, it’s Ritter for me. I just love that character so much and think she really knocked it out of the park. She’s my choice, despite two other good ones.

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– – – – – – – – – –

1954

Nina Foch, Executive Suite

Katy Jurado, Broken Lance

Jan Sterling, The High and the Mighty

Eva Marie Saint, On the Waterfront

Claire Trevor, The High and the Mighty

Analysis:

Executive Suite is a really fascinating movie. You don’t think much of it if you’re doing this Quest. Random Supporting Actress nominee in a category with a presumed winner. You’ve never really heard of it. Expectations aren’t that high. But I was stunned by how much I liked this movie. Plus the cast is great.

William Holden, June Allyson, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, Walter Pigeon, Shelley Winters, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Dean Jagger, Nina Foch. Directed by Robert Wise. See? You’re interested, right?

One day, the head of a major company drops dead. So now they need to pick a successor. And everyone in the company starts jockeying for position.

Nina Foch plays the secretary of the CEO. She’s ever-present around the office and each person is trying to use her for their own purposes. But she’s smart, and knows what’s going on. She’s the conscience of the audience in the film. She favors William Holden, therefore we’re supposed to root for him to be the choice in the end and also know that he’s really a good guy. She seems like a very unlikely nominee from the film, given Barbara Stanwyck and Shelley Winters also being in it. But she’s here, and that’s all that matters.

She’s good. But there’s no real moment in the performance to rally around for a vote. So ultimately you can be okay with the nomination, but there isn’t a whole lot to use as justification for a vote.

Broken Lance is a western. A ranch western. People fighting over land. And some race thrown in for good measure.

Spencer Tracy has a ranch and three sons. Though in order to make the ranch a success, he’s treated his sons like shit. One of his sons is mixed race, so everyone looks down on him. And the other sons keep trying to undermine him. So it’s about the disrespected son being the only one who actually cared for his father. I don’t love the film. It’s fine, but I found it kinda boring.

Katy Jurado plays Tracy’s wife. They call her Senora, but just out of respect for him. They look down on her the way they look down on any non-whites. She gave birth to his youngest son, but not the others. Mostly she’s there as a symbol for much of the movie, and she really only gets one big scene, where she tries to convince her son not to seek revenge and leave the country instead, like she’s doing.

I don’t think she did a whole lot in this movie, and I think this is a makeup nomination for the lack of one two years prior for High Noon. But nevertheless, she’s fine, but I don’t see this being enough to vote for on performance alone. If I were taking her, I’d take her for outside reasons. Performance-wise, I don’t think she ranks that high in this category.

Then again, most of the performances in this category don’t rank that high for me. So we’ll see.

The High and the Mighty is a melodrama of the air. It’s a disaster movie before disaster movies began. Kinda like Airport. Plane goes up in the sky, we see all the passengers and their little stories, and then something happens, and the pilot has to land the plane without getting everyone killed. Simple story. Since we have two nominations for the film, we’ll focus on those story threads.

Jan Sterling plays an aging woman who is losing her looks. She’s been around and had her fun, but now she wants to settle down. She’s been corresponding with a man and is now traveling to meet him for the first time. She’s concerned, because she sent a younger photo of herself and thinks if he sees how old she is, he’ll reject her.

Her big moment is when she decides to go to him as she is without pretense and takes all the makeup off. It’s actually a solid scene. She does a great job underplaying it. She takes off all the makeup and talks about how beat up she is and how she isn’t afraid of being who she is. The rest of the performance is kind of melodramatic, but that moment alone really holds the screen. It’s very impressive. And in this category, that puts her above most of the others.

Claire Trevor plays a former actress who starts flirting with a businessman on the flight. She’s loud and brassy, but ultimately doesn’t have a whole lot to do. She gets a monologue about how she’s getting old and is over the hill and how depressing it is. She gets her big scene after Sterling’s, which hurts, because it’s not as good. She’s fine, but Sterling’s is so captivating it just feels anticlimactic.

On the Waterfront is kind of a film you should know about. Dock workers coming clean about corruption on the dock. A metaphor for HUAC and the communist withc hunt. Brando “coulda been a contender” and is now working for the corrupt bosses on the dock, who aggressively put down any attempts to unionize. Great stuff. All-time classic.

Eva Marie Saint plays the sister of one of the dock workers Brando helps have killed in the opening scene of the movie. Mostly he gets him to go up to the roof, where the boss’s guys are waiting to throw him off. Brando mets her and is attracted to her. And despite initial troubles, they fall in love. She’s a redemptive woman.

She’s really strong in the part. Not someone who automatically wins most years, but in this year, I don’t see any other legitimate choice. Maybe Jan Sterling. And then, if you’re voting on more than just performance, then maybe Katy Jurado. This should be an easy win for her.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Saint. I don’t see how it isn’t. Maybe you want Sterling, but that movie comes off kind of melodramatic and doesn’t hold up as well as Waterfront does, which may hurt her. Foch and Trevor don’t seem to have enough to vote for, and Jurado, you’d be voting for because of factors that aren’t solely performance-based. I think this is open and shut for Eva Marie Saint.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Eva Marie Saint, On the Waterfront
  2. Katy Jurado, Broken Lance
  3. Nina Foch, Executive Suite
  4. Claire Trevor, The High and the Mighty
  5. Jan Sterling, The High and the Mighty

Rankings (films):

  1. On the Waterfront
  2. Executive Suite
  3. Broken Lance
  4. The High and the Mighty

My Vote: Eva Marie Saint, On the Waterfront

Recommendations:

On the Waterfront is so essential you probably have seen it by now, and if you haven’t, you realize what a negligent film buff you’re being by not doing so.

Executive Suite was one of the biggest surprises of the Oscar Quest for me. I quite liked it. The premise is really strong. The film isn’t great, but it’s really solid, when I was expecting forgettable. The cast is great, and you have a great director on it too. I recommend it, but it’s definitely not something you’d ever need to see.

The High and the Mighty is a solid movie. Disaster movies are usually very watchable, specifically when they’re character based and not CGI based. This one is so amusing, how melodramatic it is, and how classy it must have been perceived at the time. The cast is awesome, you get John Wayne and everyone — I recommend this movie. It’s a good time. You’ll either enjoy it for what it is or find it hilariously outdated. It’s still definitely something worth seeing.

Broken Lance — ehh. It’s fine. Western. Not my favorite. See it, don’t see it. You’re not missing a whole lot either way.

The Last Word: This is one of the five weakest Best Supporting Actress categories of all time. So it’s a blessing and a curse to have an easy winner. Because sure, easy winner, but then also you overlook how weak the overall category is. I don’t see how anyone takes someone who isn’t Eva Marie Saint in this category. And then if not her, maybe you’re taking Jan Sterling. Outside of that? What, Katy Jurado for reasons of race? I guess. I’m okay with that, but the performance isn’t quite there. Which gives me pause. I think this is easily Eva Marie Saint’s category and no one would argue that.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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