Barbara Stanwyck: Double Indemnity
Ingrid Bergman: Gaslight (winner)
Bette Davis: Mr. Skeffington
Greer Garson: Mrs. Parkington
Claudette Colbert: Since You Went Away
I disagree with the bulk of the nominations for Best Actress for 1944. I don’t hate most of them, but I think there are better options. Let’s start with Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not. I don’t love the film, but I like her in it. The same could be said of Gene Tierney in Laura, which I think I need to watch again; I suspect it’s better than I remember. I could see someone wanting to nominate Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis. I hate the film, but fans of it could certainly make a strong case. I might put up Betty Hutton in the entertaining The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. Finally, Lifeboat is kind of an ensemble cast, but Tallulah Bankhead might merit a nomination, or at least some consideration.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. It kills me a little to put Bette Davis last in anything like this, but I wouldn’t even nominate her for Mr. Skeffington. Bette was generally worth watching, and she may be the best thing in the film, but the film isn’t that good, and neither is the role. Line up all of her performances in her career from start to finish, and this one doesn’t place in the top half and probably winds up in the bottom 25%. This is no knock against her, but against the role and the film. She’s fine, but this didn’t deserve any acclaim.
4. I could say kind of the same thing about Since You Went Away. I’ve never been much of an apologist for Claudette Colbert in general, finding her generally serviceable but mainly forgettable post It Happened One Night. In Since You Went Away, she doesn’t do anything that terrible or egregious, but she also doesn’t do anything that makes her particularly memorable. Couple this with a plot that telegraphs every point and a film that itself could probably lose a third of its length and several characters with no real change, and I’m scratching my head as to why she was even nominated.
3. The opposite is true of Mrs. Parkington, where Greer Garson is just about the only thing in the film worth watching and the only reason to spend any time with the film. Garson is the first nomination here that I actually like at least a little, despite her good work being in the service of a film that is otherwise forgettable and not worth any time. She elevates what would otherwise be something that didn’t deserve anyone’s time or attention. I like that she’s here and considered putting her in second, but ultimately, I’m leaving her in third.
2. Ingrid Bergman, who did win this Oscar, moves into second place specifically for her work at the end of the film. I found Gaslight strangely compelling, and I’m not entirely sure why. Some of this certainly comes from Joseph Cotten, whom I love in pretty much anything, but some of this does come from Bergman herself, who manages to be vulnerable without being pitiable and compelling without slipping completely into melodrama. I get why she won, kind of, and again, I like that she was nominated. While I understand her win, she’s not my choice.
1. Regular readers of this blog will not be at all surprised that I am giving this to Barbara Stanwyck. My undying love of her has been well documented over the past several years. In Double Indemnity, she demonstrates that she could do a lot of what has been hinted at in her previous roles. She plays sexy well, and also plays devious and heartless to perfection. It’s my favorite of her roles, and the one that she handles so well that she is almost an archetype of the femme fatale in noir films in general. This was her year more than any other, and she should have crossed the stage with an Oscar by the end of the evening.