Barbara Stanwyck: Ball of Fire
Greer Garson : Blossoms in the Dust
Olivia de Havilland: Hold Back the Dawn
Bette Davis: The Little Foxes
Joan Fontaine: Suspicion (winner)
I was a little surprised at the lack of nomination for Maureen O’Hara in How Green Was My Valley, but in retrospect, she may have been more supporting in the role. Barbara Stanwyck is here, but she may have been better served nominated for The Lady Eve. I’m not a huge Veronica Lake fan, but I think maybe Sullivan’s Travels could have gotten her here. A bigger miss is Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon. One of my favorites of the year is Dorothy Comingore in Citizen Kane, although that role is almost certainly a supporting one. As much as I like Jean Arthur, The Devil and Miss Jones probably wasn’t enough to gain her any consideration.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. So, this is going to be tough. With the exception of my winner, it feels like everyone here deserves to be in third. So, with that, I’m putting Greer Garson in fifth, but I don’t feel good about it. Garson’s performance is fine, but the movie itself is syrupy, so I guess I’m punishing her for that more than anything. She’s the best thing in a fiesta of glurge, which is admittedly damning with faint praise. Garson came into her own the next year, so that assuages my guilt in putting her last this year.
4. We’re in much the same situation with Olivia de Havilland and Hold Back the Dawn. She’s fine in the role, even good in it, but the role itself is so melodramatic and the film so obvious and drippy that it’s hard to take seriously. As was often the case, de Havilland was the best thing in the film (although Paulette Goddard is close), but for a film this telegraphed and soaked in melodrama, that doesn’t say much. I understand the nomination even if I can’t really work up any enthusiasm for the role or the film.
3. I said earlier that it feels like everyone should be in third. I’m putting Joan Fontaine, the eventual winner, here. Suspicion has real problems, not the least of which is casting. The things that actually do work in the film come directly from Fontaine, who is directly responsible for everything the audience knows and how the audience reacts. She is almost entirely the reason anything here is successful. It’s just not enough. Fontaine walks a nice tightrope, but it’s in service of a film not really worth the effort.
2. The only real thing I have against Barbara Stanwyck’s work in Ball of Fire is that the film just isn’t enough. This is a puffball of a film, so lightweight that a single gust of wind would send it flying away. Stanwyck is perfect in the role—goofy, flirty, and sexy. If the film was more than a screwball filled with extreme characters, she’d have a better chance. I was tempted to bump her to the top by virtue of her doing The Lady Eve the same year. Of course, I was also tempted because, y’know, Barbara Stanwyck.
1. Bette Davis earned a reputation for playing bitch roles better than anyone. Of Human Bondage and Jezebel may have started that, but The Little Foxes cemented it. There could not be anyone better for this role. It’s a thing of beauty to see Davis at the top of her game being nasty and then getting exactly what she deserves. Davis generally deserved to be in the running through most of her career. This is a case where she not only deserved to be in the running, she deserved to walk away with the statue. Oscar did her wrong for 1941.