Audrey Hepburn: The Nun’s Story
Doris Day: Pillow Talk
Simone Signoret: Room at the Top (winner)
Katherine Hepburn: Suddenly, Last Summer
Elizabeth Taylor: Suddenly, Last Summer
Since we’re talking about 1959 here, you know that I’m going to mention North by Northwest, right? Is Eva Marie Saint’s role big enough to qualify for Best Actress? I think so, and I’d love to see her in this line up if only because, well, North by Northwest. An exclusion that surprises me is Millie Perkins for The Diary of Anne Frank, although I don’t think she should be here. It’s the sort of role that attracts nominations, though. Lee Remick’s turn in Anatomy of a Murder may have simply been too much too soon for the Academy. The fact that Hiroshima Mon Amour is only partly in English probably kept Emmanuelle Riva out of the running, more to the Academy’s shame. For personal reasons, I’d toss in Jean Seberg for Breathless (and she also did The Mouse that Roared in the same year). Based only on reputation, I’ll suggest Lana Turner for Imitation of Life, although I haven’t seen this version.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Pillow Talk is cute, and Doris Day is a delight in it, but compared with the other four nominations, this is a cream puff of a role in a cream puff of a film. A lot of what Day had to do was look good in fashion, and she can certainly pull that off. Oh, she needs to do more than that, I admit. She has to be flirty and simultaneously a bit overwhelmed by what is going on around her. This is a fun movie and rightly nominated for Original Screenplay (even if it didn’t deserve to win), but Doris Day doesn’t belong as a nominee. Not with Emmanuelle Riva looking in from the outside she doesn’t.
4. And here’s where things get difficult. The nominees for 1959, with the exception of first and last place, all feel like they belong in second or third for me. Suddenly, Last Summer is a film that surprised me, so I feel a touch guilty dropping the great Katherine Hepburn in fourth place, but someone has to be here. Hepburn handles her role her with her typical skill, but it’s not a very nuanced role. Violet Venable is a bitch with a secret. I can’t help but think that this was tailor made for Bette Davis and in many respects, it’s Davis who I really want to see tackling the role.
3. We’ll stick with the same movie here and put Elizabeth Taylor in third, although a small part of me wants to move her to second. When Liz had good material, there were few people that could match her, and she’s got great material with Suddenly, Last Summer. There are a few places where I think her performance is affected in some way. Admittedly, this happens mostly when she is coming out of some sort of drug-influenced stupor, but those moments do pull me out of the film a bit, and they count against her.
2. This puts the divine Audrey Hepburn in second for The Nun’s Story, a performance I almost put in fourth place. Why? Because I don’t like the film that much. I liked it better than I thought I would, but it’s still like rubbing sandpaper on my skin. Hepburn does everything she can with it, though, and makes Sister Luke as engaging as she can. I won’t say she’s fighting a losing battle, but it’s definitely an uphill struggle when so much of the film and the ideology presented in the film is really hateful. Audrey does what she can, and that gets her to runner-up.