Dorothy Dandridge: Carmen Jones
Grace Kelly: The Country Girl (winner)
Jane Wyman: Magnificent Obsession
Audrey Hepburn: Sabrina
Judy Garland: A Star is Born
There are some really solid nominations for this award in this year and a few that I’d love to replace. I wouldn’t really want to replace anyone for one of the three principle actresses from Three Coins in the Fountain (Maggie McNamara, Jean Peters, and Dorothy Maguire), but I’m a little surprised that none of them showed up here. I could make a stronger case for Joan Crawford in the oddball Johnny Guitar. I’m also a little surprised at the lack of nomination for Jane Powell in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. For my money, there are two significant misses for this year. The first is Alida Valli in Senso. The second, and much bigger miss in my opinion is Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa. I’ve never been an apologist for Ms. Gardner, but I’ll be damned if she didn’t win me over with this performance.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. We’re going to get to some tough decisions soon enough, but dropping Jane Wyman and Magnificent Obsession right off the bat was an incredibly easy decision. This is a drippy, sappy film that is almost painfully melodramatic. Wyman’s character eventually goes blind, and when she does, her great acting appears to be sitting as still and as stiffly as possible. “Stiff” is actually a good description for just about everything on the screen. I like Jane Wyman, but I didn’t much like her here, and she didn’t deserve to be here.
4. It’s entirely possible that I might be dropping Dorothy Dandridge to fourth because I don’t much like Carmen Jones. The truth is that Dandridge is good in the film. She goes for the role and doesn’t hold back, and I respect that. The truth, though, is that I don’t like the story at all. A bigger problem is that Dandridge, despite being who she was, had her voice dubbed for the songs. If she’d been able to sing her own part, I have a feeling I’d move her up in the rankings. This isn’t her fault, of course, but it’s certainly something that affects how I feel about her performance.
3. I love Audrey Hepburn and I rather like Sabrina. So why is she third? Because Sabrina doesn’t ask a great deal of her. Her job here is to be lightly comic, slightly tragic, and heartbreakingly beautiful. Those are crumbs for Audrey Hepburn, who could do all of those three things (especially the third) standing on her head. I don’t have problems with her performance at all, but since her performance is something she could have done in her sleep. It’s hard to award her for something that doesn’t seem at all like a stretch for her.
2. It’s a good year when the hardest choice is between the two top spots, even if there were some significant snubs. I’m ultimately putting Judy Garland and A Star is Born in second, not because of anything that she did or didn’t do in the role, but because it’s not my favorite performance of the five nominees. It’s damn close, though. Garland was capable of just about anything put in front of her, and much of that opinion of mine comes from this film. Garland made her career in light, happy musicals. Playing tragic was clearly something she could do. And, of course, she had that angelic voice.
1. The truth is that Grace Kelly had a monster year in 1954. In addition to her nominated role in The Country Girl, she also made Dial M for Murder and Rear Window. The beautiful thing about The Country Girl is that it plays so strongly against expectations. Kelly, who was achingly beautiful played this film as a real and believable woman, much like the best roles of Olivia de Havilland. So much of what she does here she does without speaking. It’s a class in nonverbal communication to see so much tragedy and pain and restraint played across her face. It seems like a longshot at first glance, but I support the Academy’s choice.