Celia Johnson: Brief Encounter
Jennifer Jones: Duel in the Sun
Rosalind Russell: Sister Kenny
Oliva de Havilland: To Each His Own (winner)
Jane Wyman: The Yearling
At first blush, 1946 is another year where one has to wonder at least a little bit what the Academy might have been thinking when it comes to the nominations. Of course I’m going to mention Barbara Stanwyck here, in this case for The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers. I’ll also add Dorothy McGuire for The Spiral Staircase. More to the point, Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice and Ava Gardner in The Killers feel like they could have gotten nominations. I like Kim Hunter in A Matter of Life and Death, too. The biggest miss for me, though, is the incomparable Rita Hayworth in Gilda, who genuinely should be here.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I generally like Jane Wyman, and I don’t think her performance in The Yearling is a bad one. I’m putting her fifth for a very specific reason: she doesn’t belong nominated for Best Actress. At best, her performance is a supporting one. She has some very good scenes and I like her in the role; it’s simply not a big enough role to warrant her being nominated for this award. Oscar does this now and then. The truth is that I like this performance more than at least one of the other nominations. It’s simply the least deserving because she’s nominated for the wrong award.
4. Based on what I’ve said in the past, it’s not a shock that I’m dropping Jennifer Jones early as well. This is absolutely my least favorite of the nominated performances, although it is at least a leading role. I’ve always found that Jones was a wooden actress. She’s beautiful to look at and the magic vanishes the moment she moves or opens her mouth. That’s the case in pretty much everything I’ve seen her in, and it’s absolutely the case in Duel in the Sun, which isn’t even that good of a movie. Rita Hayworth should be here instead, and were she here, she wouldn’t be in fourth.
3. Rosalind Russell is very good in Sister Kenny, and of the nominations we have, this is the first one that I think is genuinely warranted. My problem here is less with Russell than it is with the film as a whole. Russell is good here. In fact, she’s very good, but I can’t help but think that she’s at least slightly miscast in this film. Still, Russell’s work in the film is absolutely good enough for her to be named, but not good enough for her to move above this position. In an open field, I’d probably still nominate her, but she’d probably be in last place.
2. I find Olivia de Havilland’s career absolutely fascinating. In the majority of her Oscar nominations, she plays a role like she does in To Each His Own, where she tones down the glamour she was capable of playing and instead opts for a meaty role that focuses on the character instead. I get precisely why she won, and I can’t really fault the Academy completely for giving her the statue. It’s a great role and she’s great in it. She’s just not my favorite performance from 1946. A great nomination, but not the right winner.
1. My winner, even in an open field, is Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter. This is such a fragile little movie, the kind of film that could be tipped into maudlin melodrama with a slight nudge. It never gets there, and a lot of the reason for that is the very careful and beautiful work of Celia Johnson. It makes what, in lesser hands, would be drippy and syrupy into something that is wonderful, tragic, and tender. It’s a career performance, and one that holds up and has held up for 70 years. She was the right choice, and she’s who should have won.