Rosalind Russell: Auntie Mame
Elizabeth Taylor: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Susan Hayward: I Want to Live! (winner)
Deborah Kerr: Separate Tables
Shirley MacLaine: Some Came Running
Let’s start with Janet Leigh in Touch of Evil, who may have been penalized because the Academy by this point had gotten tired of Orson Welles. She was also in The Vikings, which makes her omission even more surprising. It’s a shame, though, because I think she’s great in the role. Let’s toss in Kim Novak in Vertigo as well, especially since she was in Bell, Book and Candle in 1958. Kim Stanley’s turn in The Goddess is worthy of mention, too. As for other possibilities, I haven’t yet seen Houseboat (with Sophia Loren), Inn of the Sixth Happiness (with Ingrid Bergman), or Teacher’s Pet (with Doris Day), so I can’t comment on them. As for Leslie Caron in Gigi, I can only say I’m happy she wasn’t nominated.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I like Deborah Kerr, and I think I liked Separate Tables well enough, but if I had to bump anyone from a nomination, she’s the one I’d lose. The reason for this is simple and it doesn’t really reflect on Kerr herself. Her role in the film is mousey and subdued, and so I find her very difficult to remember. She may well be better than I’m recalling (or, more to the point, not recalling), but the truth is that both she and a great deal of this movie seemed to pass over me without making a deep impression. That’s not a good thing when it comes to an Oscar battle.
4. I like Rosalind Russell as well, and with the possible exception of His Girl Friday, nothing screams a role for her more than playing Mame. This is one of those rare instances where it feels like an actor’s entire persona ends up wrapped up in a single character. It’s a good, even a great performance, but it’s ultimately one that I don’t like very much. It’s probably not fair that I’m slotting this so low because I hate the character, especially in a situation where I honestly can’t think of another person to fill the role. I’d rather have Janet Leigh and Kim Novak in the running, though, even for a performance as complete as this one is.
3: With Shirley MacLaine’s performance in Some Came Running, we’re getting into territory where I like the performance pretty well even if I don’t love the movie. MacLaine’s job in this is to be sweet, a little dumb, and willing to go home with any man willing to buy her a couple of drinks. She’s heartbreaking. Some Came Running is a small story writ large and there’s a lot I like about it, Shirley MacLaine being at or near the top. I just like the other two performances more.
2. When I first started watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I didn’t understand Elizabeth Taylor’s nomination. I figured it was just a case of Liz being Liz and being nominated because of who she was more than the role she played. She comes into her own in the second half of the film, though, and produces a performance that matches everyone else on the screen. This is a blistering role, and depending on my mood, I might well come down on the side of her taking the trophy. It’s a tough call, since I think this is not only one of her best performances in general, but one of the better performances of its decade.
1: I spent some time waffling between the first and second positions here. Ultimately, I came down on the side of the Academy selecting correctly and giving the Oscar to the right person. Susan Hayward’s Barbara Graham is easy to root for in the sense that we know she is innocent of the crime of which she is ultimately convicted, but she’s not in any way a good person. Hayward makes her compelling through the whole film, forcing us to overlook all of her negative qualities and root for her. She’s an antihero in many respects, but Hayward makes her human in a world where this part of humanity didn’t catch a lot of breaks in the movies. I might vote for Liz now and then, I think Susan Hayward gets my vote more often than not.